Nov 232017
 
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Nicolas de Staël Mer du nord 1954

 

Punxsutawney Phil Hammond, the UK chancellor, presented his Budget yesterday and declared five more years of austerity for Britain. As was to be expected. One doesn’t even have to go into the details of the Budget to understand that it is a dead end street for both the country and for Theresa May’s Tory party.

So why the persistent focus on austerity while it becomes clearer every day that it is suffocating the British economy? There are many answers to that. Sheer incompetence is a major one, a lack of empathy with the poorer another. Conservative Britain is a class society full of people who dream of empire, and deem their class a higher form of life than those who work low-paid jobs.

When you see that the British Parliament has even voted that animals don’t feel pain or emotions, you’d be tempted to think it’s a throwback all the way back to the Middle Ages, not just the British Empire. They’re as lost in time as Bill Murray is in Groundhog Day. Only worse.

But perhaps incompetence is the big one here. The inability to understand that if your economy is not doing well, you need to stimulate it, not drain even more of what’s left out of it. The people in government don’t understand economics, and therefore rely on economic theory for guidance. And the prevailing theories of the day prescribe bloodletting as the cure, so they bloodlet (let blood?). Let it bleed.

This is not a British problem, it’s pan-European if not global. Neither is the UK Tory party the only one being killed by it, all Conservative parties share that faith. They’re just lucky that their left wing opponents have all committed hara kiri, and joined their ranks when it comes to economics. All of Europe’s poorer have lost the voices that were supposed to speak for them, to economic incompetence.

Obviously, the US democrats did their own hara kiri years ago. One might label -some of- Bernie Sanders’ views left-wing, but he’s trapped in a system that won’t let him breathe.

 

All of this leads me to question the following:

A letter in the Guardian published on Sunday called on Chancellor Philip Hammond, ahead of his budget presentation on Wednesday, to end austerity in the UK. It is signed by 113 people, a veritable who’s who from the academic field, one -economics- professor after another. They include people like Joe Stiglitz, Steve Keen, Dave Graeber.

Looking at the letter itself, and then the entire list, makes me wonder: I’m sure you all mean well, guys, but I think perhaps you should first of all ask yourselves how it is possible that such a large group of well-educated ladies and gentlemen has become so utterly sidelined over time when it comes to major economic decisions, has allowed itself to be sidelined.

It’s one thing to ask what someone else is doing wrong, it’s another to ask yourself what you have done wrong. My question to y’all would be: where were you? Shouldn’t you have written and/or signed this letter 7 years ago, or 5, even just 3? Isn’t calling on the Chancellor to ‘end austerity now’ a bit late in the game?

Is it even the right call, or should you maybe be calling for him to simply resign (along with the entire cabinet)? After all, what are the odds that the Tories are going to turn on a dime and reverse their entire economic policies? They would look stupid, and they will avoid that like the plague. Here’s that letter:

 

The Chancellor Must End Austerity Now – It Is Punishing An Entire Generation

Seven years of austerity has destroyed lives. An estimated 30,000 excess deaths can be linked to cuts in NHS spending and the social care crisis in 2015 alone. The number of food parcels given to impoverished Britons has grown from tens of thousands in 2010 to over a million. Children are suffering from real-terms spending cuts in up to 88% of schools. The public sector pay cap has meant that millions of workers are struggling to make ends meet. Alongside the mounting human costs, austerity has hurt our economy.

The UK has experienced its weakest recovery on record and suffers from poor levels of investment, leading to low productivity and falling wages. This government has missed every one of its own debt reduction targets because austerity simply doesn’t work. The case for cuts has been grounded in ideology and untruths. We’ve been told public debt is the outcome of overspending on public services rather than bailing out the banks. We’ve been told that while the government can find money for the DUP, we cannot afford investment in public services and infrastructure.

We’ve been told that unless we “tighten our belts” we’ll saddle future generations with debt – but it’s the onslaught of cuts that is punishing an entire generation. Given the unprecedented economic uncertainty posed by Brexit negotiations and the private sector’s failure to invest, we cannot risk exacerbating an already anaemic recovery with further public spending cuts. We’ve reached a dangerous tipping point. Austerity has failed the British people and the British economy. We demand the chancellor ends austerity now.

If you ask me, Britain reached that ‘dangerous tipping point’ years ago. And talking about ‘an anaemic recovery’ sounds like total nonsense. There is no recovery, as you yourselves make clear with the examples you provide of the consequences of austerity. So why say it?

I don’t know if we can blame individual economists for missing out on the effects of political measures, although when those measures affect economics, we probably should. But regardless, the big game in town these days is politics, not economics. Everywhere there are ‘leaders’ fighting for survival, and it’s telling that Donald Trump is not nearly the most besieged among them.

That Theresa May is still PM of the UK is as surprising as it is ridiculous. But it also points to the lack of coherence and timing among her opponents, including those 113 academics. That once May goes, which could be soon, the Tories get to pick yet another one of their own as PM, is even more ridiculous. To top off the absurdity, the next in line could be Boris Johnson.

A country that finds itself in a quandary as immense as the UK faces post-Brexit vote, should not let one party that had a mere 42% of the vote, run all the plans, decisions and negotiations, be they domestic and/or international. There is no surer way for disaster to ensue. It’s the system itself that fails if that possibility exists, more than that one party.

The UK needs, more than anything, a national government (or something in that vein), an option in which at least a majority of the population is represented. That is much more important than some call for some policy to be halted.

Moreover, everyone should see this in the light of international political developments as a whole. What’s happening in Albion is not an isolated event, and it doesn’t happen under the influence of isolated forces or developments. What happened overnight on Sunday with the failure of Angela Merkel’s attempt to form a German coalition government makes that more obvious than ever.

Traditional political parties, left and right, have been swept out of power all over Europe. Germany is just one more example. The process doesn’t have the same shape, or the same speed, everywhere. But it’s real. It’s due to a mixture of rising inequality, deteriorating economic conditions and no left left to represent the people, the victims, at the bottom of societies. Well, and there’s the incessant lies about economic recovery.

But let’s take a little detour first. Just in order to illustrate the point even more. The Guardian ran a piece, also on Sunday, on newly minted French President Emmanuel Macron and his government and party, that is pretty hilarious.

 

New Head Of Macron’s Party Vows To Recapture Its Grassroots ‘Soul’

A fiercely loyal, self-styled “man of the people” has been appointed to lead Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling political movement, La République En Marche (The Republic on the Move, or La REM), promising to recapture the party’s“soul” after a hiatus since the recent election win. Christophe Castaner, 51, a burly member of parliament with a southern accent, styles himself as both in touch with everyday voters and devoted to Macron’s well-oiled communications machine. He was handpicked by the French president to take over the running of La REM.

Castaner, currently a minister and government spokesman, was a Socialist mayor of a picturesque small town in Provence for more than a decade before becoming one of the first politicians to jump ship to Macron’s centrist project in its early days. He grew up in a military family in the south of France, left school before his final exams – which he retook as an adult – and has a reputation for straight-talking. At La REM’s first party congress in Lyon this weekend, Castaner was the lone candidate for the role of party director.

He was picked by Macron at a presidential palace dinner, then confirmed by a group of party members with a show of hands rather than a secret ballot, sparking criticism from the media and political observers about undemocratic internal party practices. A small group of 100 party followers went public last week with an open resignation letter, claiming the party had no internal democracy. Others, including La REM members of parliament, responded that Castaner was “the obvious choice”.

Macron founded his own movement because he saw an opening to defeat all traditional French parties. He won the presidential elections, and only after that organized the movement into an actual political party ahead of parliamentary elections. I’d still like to see someone explain who paid for the campaigns of hundreds of candidate parliamentarians. It’s a mystery. France’s banking and business sector?

Macron has set an example for many people in other countries, provided they can unravel that mystery, of how they, too, can defeat incumbents and other long time power blocks. There are two countries where such tactics have until now not seemed possible: the UK and US. But that, too, will change.

In many other European countries, age-old blocks have already been beaten into submission. Even if many deep state powers in France et al have merely shifted allegiances. As their peers elsewhere will. But that’s just the way things are. It doesn’t negate the huge shifts in politics. Voters all over feel they’ve been had for too long. It’s all part of a tectonic shift. Deteriorating economic conditions will do that for you.

What makes the article on Macron et al so entertaining is the mention of the promise to “..recapture the party’s grassroots “soul”. A political party that’s barely a year old does not have grassroots, let alone a soul. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not thinking. And that is a good thing to keep in mind, because Macron’s example – and success- will inspire similar initiatives in many places, and similar nonsensical narratives.

 

Ironically, if that’s the right word, the world -or at least the EU- is now Macron’s oyster. Angela Merkel has shown her weaknesses, and she has blinked first, in her failed attempt to form a new cabinet, and she will not recover from that, not with anything remotely like her past clout. Maybe -more than- 12 years as head of state is not such a good idea.

While Macron is a blank sheet without a soul or grassroots, Merkel and her CDU party possess both in spades. It’s just that in today’s world these things tend to easily turn against you. You’re better off without a past that you can be blamed for. Macron has no past. And no soul.

Merkel leaves an enormous void both in Germany and in Europe (even globally). And it’s one thing for her to have become too powerful at home, but it’s quite another for the same to have been allowed on the entire continent. Germany, under any leadership, will remain the only power in Europe that matters, no matter what grand plans Macron devises. And that is the EU’s fatal flaw. If you have 27-28 sovereign countries and you try to order them around all the time, you have a problem on your hands.

 

There is an inherent contradiction in being both the leader of political union’s strongest country and -simultaneously- of the union as a whole, and Merkel has bitterly failed in addressing, let alone solving, that contradiction. Merkel didn’t create it, true enough, but because she is/was the boss, it is her responsibility to address it. Even if it’s ultimately unsolvable.

In the present setting, any German leader, Angela or someone else, will be voted in by Germans, and focus on their interests, to hold on to these votes. But German interests are not always the same as those of other countries. That means Germany will always come out on top, and more so as time passes. Ever more wealth will flow to Berlin. That’s the fatal flaw, and at present there’s no way out of it.

With Merkel weakened, or soon even gone, lots of voices will speak up across Europe for their countries’ sovereignty, and the attack on them from Brussels. We already have Poland, Czechia and Hungary. Expect a lot more noise from Italy in the run-up to its elections. The power balance that Merkel held together is gone for good.

Yes, her refugee policy backfired, which is no surprise given that she decided on it like some empress. But what may be more important is that her traditional opponent, the left wing SPD, was not only her coalition partner, but it has no ideas that are notably different from her conservatives, and its new head is the former head of the European Parliament.

Where does one turn as a German who doesn’t want all that more EU all the time? Either far left or far right. Everything else has become a homogenous blob, all across Europe. And all of that blob is in favor of imposing ever more austerity on the most unlucky in their societies, because bloodletting is the most advanced treatment they know of.

 

It’s not even so much the financial crisis that has caused a political crisis in Europe, it’s the answers to it, the incompetence. Greece is a far worse-off victim of austerity than Britain is, and Yanis Varoufakis has described very well why that is: an absolute stonewalling refusal to talk about any alternatives to bloodletting. Because austerity is an ideology bordering on religion, executed by people who care much more about their own careers than they do about their people.

Greece is beyond salvation, its economy has been so thoroughly destroyed it will take decades to recover, if it ever can. Britain is set to follow the Greek example. The blame for that will be put on Brexit, not disastrous economic ‘policies’. In the same way that the Greek crisis was blamed on the Greeks, not the German and French banks that treated the country like an overleveraged game of Texas Hold ’em.

After Merkel Europe will fall victim to a vast power vacuum. In effect, today’s already ‘After Merkel’, even if it will take people a while to understand that. The EU is unraveling, and the blame goes to austerity and its incompetent priests. Including Angela. The bloodletters destroy their own economies, and they don’t understand that either.

Merkel hasn’t just demolished Greece, she has, in doing that, fatally undermined the foundations of the EU as well. And Germany. Look, ‘Mutti’ Merkel invited a million refugees to her country, and now refuses to let hundreds of war-traumatized children stuck on Greek islands join their parents in Germany, because she fears it could cost her votes. Talk about priorities. Theresa May does the same as we speak.

There’s a price to be paid for incompetence. It’s a shame that Merkel and Theresa May and Punxsutawney Phil Hammond won’t be the ones paying -the worst of- it.

 

 

Nov 212017
 
 November 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Notting Hill Gate Station, London 1860s

 

China’s $15 Trillion Problem: Investors Don’t Believe in Losses (BBG)
Household Debt, Size Of Home Loans A Worry – Australia Regulator (ND)
Fiscal Sundown In America, Part 1 (Stockman)
The Approaching Silicon Valley Meltdown (St. Cyr)
Merkel Prefers Fresh Elections To Minority Government As Talks Fail (G.)
Italy To Go Beyond GDP, Measure La Dolce Vita (BBG)
Your Retirement Cash May Be In The Caymans. Can You Get It Back? (IBT)
Room Rates At Trump’s Hotels Have Fallen By Up To 63% (Tel.)
Why Are We Helping Saudi Arabia Destroy Yemen? (Ron Paul)
Spain ‘Ready To Discuss’ Greater Fiscal Autonomy For Catalonia (G.)
37.5% of Greece’s Children Are At Risk Of Poverty (KTG)
Greek Online Foreclosures To Start With Big Debtors’ Assets (K.)
EU Orders Greece To Recover Up To €55 Million In State Aid (R.)
As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear (Yale)

 

 

They wouldn’t let that happen…

China’s $15 Trillion Problem: Investors Don’t Believe in Losses (BBG)

When China unveiled plans on Friday to end the implicit guarantees underpinning asset-management products worth trillions of dollars, it should have been a bombshell for the nation’s savers. But for Yolanda Yuan and other individual investors who’ve piled into AMPs issued by banks, insurers and securities firms, the government’s announcement was largely a non-event. The reason: they didn’t believe it. “I don’t think any big banks will dare to take the risk of allowing defaults on AMPs, as that will lead to a flood of fund redemptions,” said Yuan, a 29-year-old sales manager at a state-run financial company in Shanghai. She has about 100,000 yuan ($15,069) of personal savings in products covered by the new regulations.

Over the past 13 years, assets in Chinese AMPs have swelled from almost nothing to $15 trillion in large part due to one key assumption: that investors would be made whole no matter what happened to the products’ underlying assets. Authorities are now moving to quash that belief amid concern that rampant moral hazard is distorting market prices and making the financial system vulnerable to crises. Yuan’s enduring faith in implicit guarantees suggests the government’s task won’t be easy. It may ultimately require an AMP blowup for Chinese regulators to convince investors that they’re serious about the new rules, which are set to take effect in mid-2019. But a major product failure is risky: In a worst-case scenario, it could spark a destabilizing stampede out of AMPs, which have become a key source of funding for banks and other financial institutions.

It’s not clear that’s a chance Beijing is willing to take, despite last week’s rhetoric. “It’s very hard,” said David Loevinger, a former China specialist at the U.S. Treasury Department who now works at TCW Group in Los Angeles. “You have to show people that there are no longer guarantees. The only way to show it is to force investors to take losses. They have to see it to believe it.”

Read more …

Not at all late.

Household Debt, Size Of Home Loans A Worry – Australia Regulator (ND)

The banking regulator is concerned about the size of mortgages being taken on by homeowners, issuing a warning to both lenders and borrowers. Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres on Tuesday said Australia’s household debt was high and would continue to rise, and that too many loans were still being approved above people’s ability to pay. “Household indebtedness is high. Perhaps more importantly, the trajectory is clearly for it to rise further,” Mr Byres told the Australian Securitisation Forum in Sydney. “Lenders need to be vigilant to ensure their policies and practices are both prudent and responsible. “In short, heightened risk requires heightened prudence by APRA but also – and preferably – by lenders and borrowers themselves.”

Mr Byres said APRA’s moves to limit investor and interest-only mortgages had worked, bringing growth in lending to property investors back into line with owner-occupier lending. APRA decreed in March that big banks should limit interest-only loans to 30% of new residential mortgages, on top of a 10% cap on investor lending growth. But Mr Byres said the size of loans being issued by the big banks was still an issue, with consumers vulnerable if historically low interest rates are lifted by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Mr Byres said there had been only a slight drop in the proportion of borrowers being granted loans six times the amount of their income – a level at which they would spend about half their net income on repayments if interest rates returned to their long-term average of about 7%.

Such leverage was far higher in Australia than in comparable markets such as the UK and Ireland, he said. That left considerable potential for banks to further tighten lending practices, Mr Byres said. “Aided by file reviews conducted by external auditors, we have confirmed there is more to do in this area to improve serviceability measures, particularly in relation to the assessment of living expenses and the identification of a borrower’s existing debts.” APRA’s move to limit investor lending has borne fruit, with interest-only lending accounting for about 23% of new lending in the three months to September 30, well below its 30% limit.

Read more …

Dave’s still an angry young man.

Fiscal Sundown In America, Part 1 (Stockman)

[..] at least the Democrats did attempt to finance the trillions in new tax credits and Medicaid costs generated by ObamaCare with some revenue raisers such as the medical device and insurance company taxes and the added levies on upper income earners and investment returns. Back in the day, in fact, this kind of “tax and spend” welfare statism is exactly what the Democrats stood for. And it was also the party’s political Achilles Heel because it enabled the GOP to periodically arouse the electorate on the dangers of “big government” and thereby obtain a resurgence in Washington’s corridors of political power. But after the break from the old-time fiscal religion of balanced budgets during the so-called Reagan Revolution in 1981, the GOP has slowly morphed into the “borrow and spend” party.

Indeed, as the historically ordained party of fiscal rectitude, the GOP’s apostasy has enabled two-party complicity in a mindless regime of fiscal kick-the-can since the turn of the century. That lapse, in turn, acutely aggravated an already perilous fiscal equation owing to the baby boom retirement wave and the Fed induced slowdown in the trend rate of economic growth (see below). In this context, it should be noted that the Senate bill is a farce insofar as it claims to be a middle class tax cut and growth stimulant – since it actually accomplishes neither. On a honestly reckoned basis (counting debt service and eliminating budget gimmicks), however, it would add $2.2 trillion of new debt over the next decade on top of the $12 trillion already built-in under current policy.

Accordingly, the Senate version of Trumpite “tax reform” would accelerate the public debt toward $35 trillion by 2027 or 140% of GDP. Yet all of this added red ink would be “wasted” on cuts for 150 million individual taxpayers that are written in disappearing ink (i.e. they lapse after 2025) and on misbegotten corporate rate cuts that will do virtually nothing for economic growth. Indeed, contrary to the old Washington saw about “wasting a good crisis” the Senate bill involves something more like creating a good crisis and wasting it, too.

Read more …

“The Valley” (and its entire ancillary complex aka “the disruptor class”) is on the verge of receiving a wake up call..”

The Approaching Silicon Valley Meltdown (St. Cyr)

[..] there has been one outlier, for the most part, which seemed to skirt around all the current chaos, relatively unscathed. That would be Silicon Valley and all its ancillary provinces aka “Disruptive Tech.” So far the coveted group known collectively as “FAANG” (e.g., Facebook™, Apple™, Amazon™, Netflix™, Google™) seems to have held the “barbarians at the gates” known as investors relatively at bay, or “stable” in their positions, if you will. What has been, anything but, is their cohort of IPO brethren that were supposed to have joined them. “The Valley” seems to fit nicely as a moniker for a now self-recognized nation-state, after-all, if you include the market cap of these and a few others (e.g., Tesla™ and more) their combined valuations rival those of sovereign nations.

For all intents and purposes one could say they’re already developing and embracing their own newly formed currency, aka “Bitcoin™.” All that’s needed would seem is proposing a charter, and recognition. And that’s why it’s all about to burst, in my opinion. All of it. Why? Just as there are always clues, it’s in the consistency of further developments, along with weighing any prior, coupling them with the current, then trying to extrapolate whether or not they still stand, or are valid. This is the work most people (especially those paraded across the sycophantic mainstream business/financial media) won’t do. And not doing so for many – as of today – will have ramifications, maybe for a lifetime. So what’s the “Why?” Of course, it’s only my opinion, but I stand behind it more fervently than ever before. And it is this…

“The Valley” (and its entire ancillary complex aka “the disruptor class”) is on the verge of receiving a wake up call, the likes, that may make the dot-com era look relatively “stable” in hindsight. To use the political as an analogy, let’s just say, I believe the newly formed “nation-state” of FAANG will have much more in common with the turmoil in Brazil, Spain, Venezuela, and a few others in the coming months as it continues to desperately cling to the mythical Utopia of magical creatures known as unicorns, and cash out riches known as IPO’s. That “Utopia” has already been found to be a Potemkin Village made of spreadsheet papier-mâché analysis and valuation metrics, not worth the digital paper they’re written on.

Read more …

All of a sudden, both Merkel’s career and Germany’s role in Europe are under fire.

Merkel Prefers Fresh Elections To Minority Government As Talks Fail (G.)

Angela Merkel has indicated that she would rather have fresh elections than try to rule in a minority government as the collapse of German coalition talks posed the most serious threat to her power since she became chancellor more than a decade ago. Merkel, who has headed three coalitions since 2005, said she was “very sceptical” about ruling in a minority government and suggested she would stand again as a candidate if elections were called in the new year, telling public broadcaster ARD she was “a woman who has responsibility and is prepared to take responsibility in the future”. Exploratory talks to form the next German government collapsed on Sunday night after the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of marathon negotiations with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Green party.

Germany’s president had earlier urged political parties to resume efforts to a build a governing coalition following a meeting with Merkel. “I expect the parties to make the formation of a new government possible in the foreseeable future,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, adding that the parties had a responsibility that “cannot be simply given back to the voters.” Elections in September saw Merkel’s bloc poll first place but with a reduced share of the vote and with the FDP and Greens as its only plausible coalition partners. The collapse in the talks and possibility of fresh elections brings further uncertainty for the British government over Brexit, which had hoped that a strong German coalition, including the FDP, might help smooth the next phase of negotiations.

Read more …

“There may be cases when a government is willing to press ahead with a policy even if it reduces short-term growth because it produces benefits in terms of broader welfare.”

Italy To Go Beyond GDP, Measure La Dolce Vita (BBG)

Italy has long prided itself for its quality of life – and with good reason. Italy may be only just recovering from a long economic crisis, but its citizens are healthier and live longer than those of most other countries in the world. It is perhaps no coincidence then that the Italian government is pioneering the use of welfare indicators in its budget process. As of this year, the finance ministry will produce official forecasts for 12 indicators, ranging from income inequality to CO2 emissions to obesity – the first country to do so in the EU and the G7. Measuring “la dolce vita” is a complex task, but one other countries should consider too. Growth will remain the main indicator to judge a country’s economic success because of its conciseness.

But, to the extent they can, it is hard to see why governments should not monitor the broader impact their policies have on the well-being of citizens. The push to go beyond GDP as a measure of welfare dates back at least to former U.S. presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play,” said Kennedy in a speech in 1968. Since then, economists have produced a long list of reports on well-being – the most famous of which was probably one by the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission set up by the French Government in 2008. Yet, so far this paperwork has produced little action: Governments still base their economic policy-making primarily on the basis of GDP.

There are very good reasons for continuing to do so. The choice of other welfare indicators is arbitrary and may be imprecise. In Italy, one of the biggest drivers of inequality is the gap between the young, whose incomes have fallen the most during the crisis, and the elderly and yet this is not included in the range of selected measures. There is also an issue of weighting: How will the Italian government decide which of the 12 indicators it has chosen is the most important? Finally, forecasting some variables such as “predatory crime” is bound to pose some serious headaches. Yet, this does not mean the principle is wrong. There may be cases when a government is willing to press ahead with a policy even if it reduces short-term growth because it produces benefits in terms of broader welfare.

Read more …

Chasing yield. What ultra low rates do.

Your Retirement Cash May Be In The Caymans. Can You Get It Back? (IBT)

The release of the so-called “Paradise Papers” touched off new scrutiny of how moguls, celebrities and politicians stash their cash in offshore tax havens. The practice, though, is hardly limited to the global elite. In fact, government documents show that local government officials have sent hundreds of billions of dollars of public sector workers’ retirement savings to a tiny archipelago most famous for white-sand beaches — and laws that shield investors from taxes. Operating outside the U.S. legal system, the offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands give Wall Street firms leeway to make complex international investments and to earn big fees off investors’ capital. But with offshore accounts featuring prominently in high-profile Ponzi schemes, some critics warn that the use of tax havens can endanger the retirement savings of millions of teachers, firefighters, cops and other public workers — a situation that could put taxpayers on the hook for losses if the investments go bust, or the money goes missing.

The tidal wave of cash has flowed from public pension systems into so-called “alternative investments”: private equity, hedge funds, venture capital firms and real estate. While many alternative investment firms operate in Lower Manhattan, more than a third of all the cash in those private funds flows through vehicles domiciled in the Caymans, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records reviewed by International Business Times. Those same records show that public pension plans, university endowments and other nonprofits have funneled a massive $1.8 trillion into alternative investments.

Read more …

From the Telegraph’s travel section. Is it Airbnb?

Room Rates At Trump’s Hotels Have Fallen By Up To 63% (Tel.)

There is further evidence that Donald Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office has had a negative impact on his business empire, with new research showing that average room rates have fallen by as much as 63%at all but one of his 13 hotels. Hardest hit was Trump Las Vegas. The average cost of a two-night stay in a standard double room during January 2017, just before his inauguration, was priced at £637, according to analysis by FairFX, the currency provider. But a two-night break in January 2018, one year on, can be secured for just £237.

At Trump Turnberry, his Ayrshire golf hotel, the average cost of a two-night stay has fallen by 57%, from £498 to £215, while steep drops have also been found for stays at Trump Doral in Miami (down 53%), Trump Washington DC (down 52%), Trump Vancouver (down 48%), and Trump New York (down 32%). Only the president’s Irish hotel, Trump Doonbeg, has seen a rise in rates, from £334 to £357. “One year after Trump’s inauguration, prices for a weekend in one of his hotels have for the most part decreased,” said Ian Strafford-Taylor, FairFX CEO. “While big events, like the inauguration in Washington, will usually cause prices to rise in that city for a particular weekend, the decreases in other places suggest that it doesn’t necessarily pay to be president.”

Read more …

“Does holding hands with Saudi Arabia as it slaughters Yemeni children really reflect American values?”

Why Are We Helping Saudi Arabia Destroy Yemen? (Ron Paul)

It’s remarkable that whenever you read an article about Yemen in the mainstream media, the central role of Saudi Arabia and the United States in the tragedy is glossed over or completely ignored. A recent Washington Post article purporting to tell us “how things got so bad” explains to us that, “it’s a complicated story” involving “warring regional superpowers, terrorism, oil, and an impending climate catastrophe.” No, Washington Post, it’s simpler than that. The tragedy in Yemen is the result of foreign military intervention in the internal affairs of that country. It started with the “Arab Spring” which had all the fingerprints of State Department meddling, and it escalated with 2015’s unprovoked Saudi attack on the country to re-install Riyadh’s preferred leader.

Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and millions more are at risk as starvation and cholera rage. We are told that US foreign policy should reflect American values. So how can Washington support Saudi Arabia – a tyrannical state with one of the worst human rights record on earth – as it commits by what any measure is a genocide against the Yemeni people? The UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs warned just last week that Yemen faces “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.” The Red Cross has just estimated that a million people are vulnerable in the cholera epidemic that rages through Yemen. And why is there a cholera epidemic? Because the Saudi government – with US support – has blocked every port of entry to prevent critical medicine from reaching suffering Yemenis.

This is not a war. It is cruel murder. The United States is backing Saudi aggression against Yemen by cooperating in every way with the Saudi military. Targeting, intelligence, weapons sales, and more. The US is a partner in Saudi Arabia’s Yemen crimes. Does holding hands with Saudi Arabia as it slaughters Yemeni children really reflect American values? Is anyone even paying attention?

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What they refused to do 5 years ago. Now withdraw the warrants for Catalan elected officials.

Spain ‘Ready To Discuss’ Greater Fiscal Autonomy For Catalonia (G.)

Madrid is paving the way for Catalonia to be given the power to collect and manage its own taxes, similar to the system enjoyed by the autonomous Basque country, in an attempt to defuse the crisis over an illegal referendum on independence for the region. Senior sources in the Spanish government have told the Guardian that although there remains intense opposition within the ruling People’s party (PP) to any future referendum on self-determination, there is a renewed willingness to open discussions on a new fiscal pact under which Catalonia would have greater control of its finances. “If the Catalans ask for a fiscal pact, we are ready to discuss this,” one senior source said.

“The Basque country [in northern Spain] and Navarre collect their own taxes. They have their own system and there is a meeting between the Basque country and the central government and they decide how much they contribute to foreign policy and defence. It‘s a negotiation. Every five years. “We are open to discuss this, taking into account that the constitution of Spain also establishes solidarity [among the Spanish regions].” A fiscal pact was proposed in 2012 by Catalonia’s then president, Artur Mas, but the Spanish government blocked the move over concerns that it would be destabilising at a time when Spain appeared to be in dire economic peril. A cross-party commission on potential constitutional reform opened discussions last week on a new settlement between the Catalans and the Spanish government, with the support of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.

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Child poverty is high all over the EU. In Greece, it’s criminal.

37.5% of Greece’s Children Are At Risk Of Poverty (KTG)

Year in, year out since 2010, the number of children at risk of poverty is continuously increasing in Greece. With 37.5%, Greece is tops among members of the eurozone and third after Romania and Bulgaria within the European union. Four in 10 children aged up to 17 years old in Greece are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, Europe’s statistical agency Eurostat has found, putting the crisis-hit country at the top of the eurozone child poverty scale. In its report published on Monday and using 2016 data, Eurostat reported that with 37.5% of children facing the threat of poverty, Greece has the highest rate of at-risk children in the eurozone and the third highest in the European Union, behind Romania (49.2%) and Bulgaria (45.6%). At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest shares of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion were recorded in Denmark (13.8%), Finland (14.7%) and Slovenia (14.9%), ahead of the Czech Republic (17.4%) and the Netherlands (17.6%).

Greece also saw the highest rise in the number of at-risk children in the period between 2010 and 2016, growing 8.8% from a pre-crisis level of 28.7%. Cyprus also saw a spike of 7.8%, followed by Sweden (5.4%) and Italy (1.1%). In total in 2016, 24.8 million children in the EU, or 26.4% of the population aged up to 17 years old, were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means that the children were living in households with at least one of the following three conditions: at-risk-of-poverty after social transfers (income poverty), severely materially deprived or with very low work intensity. The proportion of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU has slightly decreased over the years, from 27.5% in 2010 to 26.4% in 2016, Eurostat reported.

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Prediction: a big mess.

Greek Online Foreclosures To Start With Big Debtors’ Assets (K.)

The first online foreclosures, set to start on November 29, will concern the assets of individuals or enterprises with debts of €500,000 or more (in some cases over €2 million). Villas, large buildings, historic buildings with one owner, plots of land, professional facilities and even parking spaces are among the assets slated to go under the electronic hammer as of end-November, when the online process finally begins. The amount of debts banks are seeking from these foreclosures comes to tens of millions of euros and concerns loans issued between 2005 and the outbreak of the crisis, when credit flowed handsomely.

Such is the case of one property with a single owner that will be auctioned for that individual’s debts of over €1.5 million to two systemic banks. The amount banks hope to claim is just €100,000, as it is common practice that the starting price is far smaller than the actual debt. The banks have vowed not to auction the homes of vulnerable groups or families without any other assets, but bank sources cannot rule out any exceptions made either intentionally or not, as 98% of debtors have failed to update their property details.

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The EU shouldn’t get to order Greece to do anything.

EU Orders Greece To Recover Up To €55 Million In State Aid (R.)

The European Commission ordered Greece on Monday to recover up to €55 million in state aid from Hellenic Defense Systems (HDS), a largely state-owned company that makes defense-related products. Greece granted a number of support measures between 2004 and 2011 including a direct grant of €10 million, a capital increase of €158 million and state guarantees for loans of up to €942 million. The Commission said in a statement that its investigation had concluded that the vast majority of Greek measures fell outside the scope of EU state aid control because they served Greek security interests. However, some measures worth up to €55 million did amount to illegal state aid because they supported the HDS’s civil activities, which include small pistols, explosives for construction and fireworks.

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Global.

As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear (Yale)

A steady increase in ocean temperatures — nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades — was all it took to doom the once-luxuriant giant kelp forests of eastern Australia and Tasmania: Thick canopies that once covered much of the region’s coastal sea surface have wilted in intolerably warm and nutrient-poor water. Then, a warm-water sea urchin species moved in. Voracious grazers, the invaders have mowed down much of the remaining vegetation and, over vast areas, have formed what scientists call urchin barrens, bleak marine environments largely devoid of life. Today, more than 95 percent of eastern Tasmania’s kelp forests — luxuriant marine environments that provide food and shelter for species at all levels of the food web — are gone.

With the water still warming rapidly and the long-spine urchin spreading southward in the favorable conditions, researchers see little hope of saving the vanishing ecosystem. “Our giant kelp forests are now a tiny fraction of their former glory,” says Craig Johnson, a researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. “This ecosystem used to be a major iconic feature of eastern Tasmania, and it no longer is.” The Tasmanian saga is just one of many examples of how climate change and other environmental shifts are driving worldwide losses of giant kelp, a brown algae whose strands can grow to 100 feet.

In western Australia, increases in ocean temperatures, accentuated by an extreme spike in 2011, have killed vast beds of an important native kelp, Ecklonia radiata. In southern Norway, ocean temperatures have exceeded the threshold for sugar kelp — Saccharina latissima — which has died en masse since the late 1990s and largely been replaced by thick mats of turf algae, which stifles kelp recovery. In western Europe, the warming Atlantic Ocean poses a serious threat to coastal beds of Laminaria digitata kelp, and researchers have predicted “extirpation of the species as early as the first half of the 21st century” in parts of France, Denmark, and southern England.

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Nov 202017
 
 November 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Stanley Kubrick Laboratory at Columbia University 1948

 

Banks Show An Almost Autistic Disregard For The Law – Australia Senator (Abc)
ECB Proposes End To Deposit Protection (GC)
Europe Faces a Hamstrung Germany as Merkel’s Coalition Bid Fails
3 Things That Could Destroy One Of The Greatest Stock Rallies Of All Time (BI)
China’s Clampdown On Shadow Banking Hits The Stock Market (BBG)
Mugabe Faces Impeachment as He Holds on as Zimbabwe Leader (BBG)
Yield Curve Flattening Could Derail Fed Interest Rate Hikes (BI)
Everything Is Overvalued And Implicitly Overleveraged (Peters)
Gresham’s Law (Rivelle)
Britain’s Gravest Economic Challenge Isn’t Brexit (R.)
UK Christmas Spending Expected To Fall For First Time Since 2012 (Ind.)
Many Americans Are Still Paying Off Debt From Last Christmas (CNBC)

 

 

Headline of the day. Will they actually get their inquiry?

Banks Show An Almost Autistic Disregard For The Law – Australia Senator (Abc)

Pressure for a commission of inquiry into the banking sector is growing, with Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan warning he might have the numbers to push his private members bill through Parliament. The banks “show an almost autistic disregard for prudential regulation and law and it’s time for these people to have their day in court”, the senator told ABC’s RN Breakfast on Monday. Senator O’Sullivan said he has support from as many as four colleagues. These include maverick Liberal National (LNP) MP George Christensen, who has already threatened to cross the floor, and fellow Queensland LNP MP Llew O’Brien, who has indicated “50-50” support. While a commission of inquiry would be an embarrassment for the Turnbull Government given its resistance to a royal commission, Senator O’Sullivan said it was time for the Prime Minister to listen.

“There’s no more important piece of business — millions and millions of Australians have been affected by the behaviour of the banks over time,” he said. “If both houses of Parliament think this is a good thing to do … then I think the Prime Minister has to … sit up and take note of that, and support the parliamentary decision.” But Senator O’Sullivan refused to comment on whether his move would embarrass and further destabilise the Prime Minister. “I am not going to be drawn on the question of the impacts on the Prime Minister and the Government — this is about democracy at work.” The proposed commission of inquiry would have similar powers to a royal commission. It would also look beyond banking and include superannuation, insurance and services associated with the scandal-plagued sector.

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Time to be afraid in Europe.

ECB Proposes End To Deposit Protection (GC)

It is the ‘opinion of the European Central Bank’ that the deposit protection scheme is no longer necessary: ‘covered deposits and claims under investor compensation schemes should be replaced by limited discretionary exemptions to be granted by the competent authority in order to retain a degree of flexibility.’ To translate the legalese jargon of the ECB bureaucrats this could mean that the current €100,000 (£85,000) deposit level currently protected in the event of a bail-in may soon be no more. But worry not fellow savers, as the ECB is fully aware of the uproar this may cause so they have been kind enough to propose that: “…during a transitional period, depositors should have access to an appropriate amount of their covered deposits to cover the cost of living within five working days of a request.”

So that’s a relief, you’ll only need to wait five days for some ‘competent authority’ to deem what is an ‘appropriate amount’ of your own money for you to have access to in order eat, pay bills and get to work. The above has been taken from an ECB paper published on 8 November 2017 entitled ‘on revisions to the Union crisis management framework’. It’s 58 pages long, the majority of which are proposed amendments to the Union crisis management framework and the current text of the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD). It’s pretty boring reading but there are some key snippets which should be raising a few alarms. It is evidence that once again a central bank can keep manipulating situations well beyond the likes of monetary policy. It is also a lesson for savers to diversify their assets in order to reduce their exposure to counterparty risks.

According to the May 2016 Financial Stability Review, the EU bail-in tool is ‘welcome’ as it: “…contributes to reducing the burden on taxpayers when resolving large, systemic financial institutions and mitigates some of the moral hazard incentives associated with too-big-to-fail institutions…” As we have discussed in the past, we’re confused by the apparent separation between ‘taxpayer’ and those who have put their hard-earned cash into the bank. After all, are they not taxpayers? This doesn’t matter, believes Matthew C.Klein in the FT who recently argued that “Bail-ins are theoretically preferable because they preserve market discipline without causing undue harm to innocent people.” Ultimately bail-ins are so central banks can keep their merry game of easy money and irresponsibility going. They have been sanctioned because rather than fix and learn from the mess of the bailouts nearly a decade ago, they have just decided to find an even bigger band-aid to patch up the system.

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Feels like the FDP never wanted the talks to succeed. But they will support a minority government.

Europe Faces a Hamstrung Germany as Merkel’s Coalition Bid Fails (BBG)

Angela Merkel may be running out of road after 12 years at the helm in Germany. With the chancellor’s attempt to form a fourth-term government in disarray, Merkel’s once unquestioned ability to steer Europe is waning as the region’s biggest economy heads into uncharted waters and possibly a protracted political stalemate. Markets reacted with unease, with the euro slumping the most in three weeks against the dollar. The breakdown in coalition talks late Sunday – amid disputes over migration and other policies between a grab-bag of disparate parties – raised the prospect of fresh elections, which probably would be held next spring. Relying on a minority administration with shifting alliances to pass legislation would run counter to Merkel’s promise to provide a stable government.

However she attempts to move forward, European decisions on everything from Brexit and Greece to Russian sanctions and French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for strengthening the euro will now be hemmed in by Merkel’s weakened role as a caretaker chancellor. “What it means is that Germany is pulled inward because it has to manage its political transition,” said Daniel Hamilton, executive director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. “So the state of drift in Europe continues and now Germany, which has been the stabilizer of the last number of years, is part of that.” Merkel, 63, said she plans to stay on as acting chancellor and will consult with Germany’s president later Monday on what comes next.

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We can all name 27 more.

3 Things That Could Destroy One Of The Greatest Stock Rallies Of All Time (BI)

Extreme leverage build-up Morgan Stanley points out that previous comparable cycles have been derailed by steep increases in a measure of US debt to GDP. While the firm doesn’t see conditions as dire as they were around the Great Depression or the most recent financial crisis, it notes that deleveraging has stalled. While this situation may be sustainable in the near-term, since interest rates are still locked near zero, that could soon change with the Federal Reserve signaling multiple rate hikes by the end of 2018. Morgan Stanley also notes that interest coverage — or the ability to service debt — has been declining for both US investment-grade and junk debt since 2015. The chart below shows the ratio of debt/GDP, which has gone sideways in the past few years, implying that companies are no longer reducing debt burdens like they did when they were trying to dig out of the last market crash.

Exuberant sentiment This next driver is one that was briefly addressed in the introduction: investor overconfidence. The thinking here is that when the market gets too cocky, it becomes blind to potential risks and therefore more susceptible to downward shocks. As Morgan Stanley puts it, when there’s a “descent from thinking to feeling,” that could spell trouble. Morgan Stanley doesn’t think the market is too exuberant quite yet. While one measure shows that expectations around the economy have gotten overly optimistic, it’s still lower than where it was during the last financial crisis or the dotcom bubble. Still, the chart below shows that US consumer confidence is the highest it’s been since 2000, including a precipitous surge since the start of the bull market in 2009.

Excessive policy tightening When Morgan Stanley says that cycle downturns follow prolonged periods of monetary policy tightening, it speaks from experience. After all, the Federal Reserve persistently hiked interest rates in the periods leading up to both the dotcom bubble and the financial crisis. And while the firm doesn’t see excessive tightening yet, it warns that it could be right around the corner. “We have a bit of a ‘runway’ to the cycle peak, but not much,” a group of Morgan Stanley strategists wrote in a recent client note. “Over the next 12 months, our US economists expect further hikes in excess of core inflation, which would take us to ~190bp of cumulative hikes over 24 months, in line with the typical end-of-cycle policy environment.”

But before you start to panic, Morgan Stanley would like to remind you that the stock market can continue to soar, even in the final year of an expansion cycle. They point out that in the past, the S&P 500 has rallied an average of 15% in the last 12 months of an equity bull market. “The final year of the bull market can still be uncomfortably profitable,” the Morgan Stanley strategists wrote. “Timing is everything.”

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A thin line.

China’s Clampdown On Shadow Banking Hits The Stock Market (BBG)

China’s sweeping new plan to rein in its shadow banking industry rippled through the nation’s stock market on Monday, sending the Shanghai Composite Index to a two-month low. Investors pushed the benchmark gauge down as much as 1.4% amid concern that the government’s latest attempt to tighten supervision of $15 trillion in asset-management products will siphon funds from the market. Developers and brokerages paced losses. While analysts applauded the plan as an important step toward curbing risk in China’s financial system, they also warned of turbulence as markets adjust to outflows from popular shadow-banking products. The government directives, which are set to take effect in 2019, add to signs that President Xi Jinping is willing to sacrifice growth as he tries to put the world’s second-largest economy on a more stable financial footing.

“The rules dealt a blow to the market,” said Zhang Gang, a Shanghai-based strategist with Central China Securities Co. “A lot of such products had positions in the equity market, and those that don’t qualify under new rules may choose to exit some small and medium caps.” The Shanghai Stock Exchange Property Index dropped 1.3%, with Gemdale Corp. losing as much as 2.6% and Poly Real Estate Group Co. declining 3.2%. China Vanke Co. sank as much as 4.9% in Shenzhen. A measure of securities firms fell to a five-month low, with Citic Securities Co. tumbling 3.7%.

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He reportedly has just agreed to step down.

Mugabe Faces Impeachment as He Holds on as Zimbabwe Leader (BBG)

President Robert Mugabe shocked Zimbabwe on Sunday night with a televised address that failed to announce his highly anticipated resignation, a dramatic twist that means the 93-year-old may face immediate impeachment hearings. Whether the final act of defiance was planned or simply the result of reading the wrong remarks, three senior party officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Mugabe deviated from an agreed-upon-text announcing he was leaving office. His ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front will start a bid in parliament on Monday to force an end to this 37 years in power, the officials said. Delivering the nationally televised address with the armed forces commanders who took power last week looking on, Mugabe, who is the world’s oldest serving leader at 93, frequently lost his place and had to repeat himself.

He said the southern African nation must not be guided by “bitterness” and urged Zimbabweans to “move forward.” “Mugabe is dragging down the process as he tries to look for a dignified exit on his own terms,” Rashweat Mukundu, an analyst with the Harare-based Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said by phone. “The impeachment process will still go ahead while on the other hand he will try and resign on his own terms.” Earlier Sunday, Zanu-PF central committee decided to fire Mugabe as its leader and ordered him to step down. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Mugabe dismissed as vice president this month, will be reinstated, take over as interim president and be Zanu-PF’s presidential candidate in elections next year, the party said. It also expelled the president’s wife, Grace, the nation’s other vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, along with several other senior officials.

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“..an inverted yield curve, where long-term interest rates fall below their short-term counterparts, has been a reliable predictor of recessions.”

Yield Curve Flattening Could Derail Fed Interest Rate Hikes (BI)

The Federal Reserve’s plan to keep raising interest rates could soon run into a wall of its own making: low long-term borrowing costs that signal expectations for weak economic growth and anemic investment returns for the foreseeable future. Why is the Fed to blame? They’re not the only culprits, but the subdued economic recovery from the Great Recession and continued expectations for weakness stem in part from an insufficient, halting policy reaction to the deepest downturn in generations — both from monetary, and importantly, fiscal policy. In the past, including before the Great Recession of 2007-2009, an inverted yield curve, where long-term interest rates fall below their short-term counterparts, has been a reliable predictor of recessions.

The bond market is not there yet, but a sharp recent flattening of the yield curve has many in the markets watchful and concerned. The US yield curve is now at its flattest in about 10 years — in other words, since around the time a major credit crunch of was gaining steam. The gap between two-year note yields and their 10-year counterparts has shrunk to just 0.63 percentage point, the narrowest since November 2007. In fact, Shyam Rajan, Carol Zhang, and Olivia Lima, rate strategists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, think low long-term bond yields could actually prevent the central bank from hiking interest rates further, as it plans to do. “We believe a precondition for the Fed to continue its hiking cycle in 2018 should be higher intermediate and long term rates,” they wrote in a research note to clients. “Without the latter, we would have doubts on the former.”

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Eric Peters gets the style price again.

Everything Is Overvalued And Implicitly Overleveraged (Peters)

“People ask, ‘Where’s the leverage this time?’” said the investor. Last cycle it was housing, banks. “People ask, ‘Where will we get a loss in value severe enough to sustain an asset price decline?’” he continued. Banks deleveraged, the economy is reasonably healthy. “People say, ‘What’s good for the economy is good for the stock market,’” he said. “People say, ‘I can see that there may be real market liquidity problems, but that’s a short-lived price shock, not a value shock,’” he explained. “You see, people generally look for things they’ve seen before.” “There’s less concentrated leverage in the economy than in 2008, but more leverage spread broadly across the economy this time,” said the same investor. “The leverage is in risk parity strategies. There is greater duration and structural leverage.”

As volatility declines and Sharpe ratios rise, investors can expand leverage without the appearance of increasing risk. “People move from senior-secured debt to unsecured. They buy 10yr Italian telecom debt instead of 5yr. This time, the rise in system-wide risk is not explicit leverage, it is implicit leverage.” “Companies are leveraging themselves this cycle,” explained the same investor, marveling at the scale of bond issuance to fund stock buybacks. “When people buy the stock of a company that is highly geared, they have more risk.” It is inescapable. “It is not so much that a few sectors are insanely overvalued or explicitly overleveraged this time, it is that everything is overvalued and implicitly overleveraged,” he said. “And what people struggle to see is that this time it will be a financial accident with economic consequences, not the other way around.”

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For some reason, people fail to apply Gresham’s law to all assets.

Gresham’s Law (Rivelle)

There is a tale told by a lesser known Nobel laureate, Kenneth Arrow. As a World War II weather officer, he was tasked with analyzing the reliability of the army’s long-range weather forecasts. His conclusion: statistically speaking, the forecasts weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. Captain Arrow sent along his report only to be told, “Yes, the General is well-aware the forecasts are completely unreliable. But, he needs them for planning his military operations.” Okay, maybe you don’t actually need a Nobel prize to know that rationality in the decision-making department is often lacking. Case in point: the capital markets. While subtle and ingenious in construction, the capital markets are, nonetheless, driven by the mass action of millions. They are a reflection of ourselves and necessarily express both the summit of our knowledge as well as the pit of our fears, and everything else in-between.

And, this brings us to the subject at hand: Gresham’s Law. Sir Thomas Gresham was a financier in the time of King Henry VIII and his name is, of course, attached to the principle that “bad money drives out good money.” Coin collectors of a certain age are familiar with the near immediate disappearance from circulation of all silver American coins once Congress had mandated the use of base metals beginning with the 1965 vintage. While all coins – silver and copper alike – carried identical legal tender value, it was the silver coins that vanished. Perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with bond investing? Everything! Consider the state of financial markets as witnessed by metrics of implied volatility:

VIX Index

 

MOVE Index

Both indices hover at generational low levels. If markets were “run” today by humanity’s better angels of wisdom and rationality, you would have to conclude that Mr. Market has drawn on his collective insight and pronounced the capital markets to be safer now than at any other time in the past quarter-century. That is a stunning conclusion! But if rationality can’t explain a 25-year trough in expected risk, then we must necessarily conclude that there must be some other, less rational explanation. How about this: investors are, by and large, famished for yield and willing to underwrite most any risk to get some income. In short, the marginal price setter is “irrationally exuberant”, or dare we say it out loud? “Greedy.”

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It’s productivity.

Britain’s Gravest Economic Challenge Isn’t Brexit (R.)

Few British budgets have mattered as much as the one that Philip Hammond will deliver to the House of Commons on Nov. 22. The chancellor of the exchequer must shore up Theresa May’s perilously shaky government ahead of a vital Brexit summit of European leaders in mid-December. At the same time Hammond has to keep a grip on the public finances. But the gravest challenge he faces is economic: Britain’s persistent productivity blight.Productivity – output per hour worked – is the mainspring of economic growth. In the decade before the financial crisis of 2007-08 productivity was increasing in Britain by just over 2% a year, outpacing the average for the other economies of the G7. But since the crisis British performance has been dismal. Although productivity jumped in the third quarter of 2017, prolonged weakness means that it is barely higher than its pre-crisis peak a decade ago.

The recovery in GDP has been driven overwhelmingly by more labor input, a source of growth that is running dry – not least since the vote to leave the European Union delivered a message to curb immigration. Other advanced economies have also experienced setbacks to productivity growth following the financial crisis. Where Britain stands out is in the severity of its reverse. The shortfall in productivity is the main reason real wages are now 4% lower than 10 years ago, a potent reason why the leave campaign prevailed in the Brexit referendum. Productivity is so central to prosperity and to macroeconomic management – by determining how fast the economy can sustainably grow – that a gaggle of economic researchers have been busy in their labs trying to diagnose the now decade-long disease.

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It could be disastrous.

UK Christmas Spending Expected To Fall For First Time Since 2012 (Ind.)

Christmas spending across the UK is expected to fall for the first time since 2012, research by Visa and IHS Markit shows. According to a report published on Monday, a challenging economic environment, in which real wages are falling and economic growth is sluggish, will likely lead to a 0.1% fall in consumer spending during the 2017 festive season. That’s in sharp contrast to last year, when spending increased by 2.8% over the Christmas period. “While it still looks likely that consumers will be hitting stores and websites in search of bargains this Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we expect spending for the duration of the festive season to be lower in comparison to last year,” said Mark Antipof, chief commercial officer at Visa.

“Looking back, consumers were in a sweet spot in 2016 – low inflation and rising wages meant there was a little extra in household budgets to spend on the festive period,” he said. “2017 has seen a reversal of fortunes – with inflation outpacing wage growth and the recent interest rate rise leaving shoppers with less money in their pockets.” The research anticipates that high street spending will be particularly hard hit, falling by 2.1% compared to equivalent figures for last year – the biggest contraction since 2012. Online spending, however, is still expected to rise – by 3.6% over this Christmas period – meaning that it will account for a record share of this year’s Christmas spend. Visa said that of every £5 spent during the period, almost £2 will likely be spent online.

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There’ll be more next Christmas.

Many Americans Are Still Paying Off Debt From Last Christmas (CNBC)

As the holiday season approaches, the pressure to spend spikes. This year, gift-buying Americans plan to spend $660 on average. That’s according to new data from NerdWallet’s 2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report, which analyzed spending and behavior trends of more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and over. And holiday-induced debt is a growing problem. Although survey respondents say they plan to spend roughly the same amount as they spent last year, 24% of shoppers say they overspent in 2016, while 27% admit to not making a budget at all. Even a budget is only a good start.

“There’s this myth that planning ahead and budgeting always ensures you don’t overspend. But in reality, creating and even sticking to a budget won’t make you immune to holiday debt,” Courtney Jespersen, a consumer savings expert at NerdWallet, says in the survey. “It’s so important to set a realistic ceiling for your spending.” During the 2016 season, boomers proved most likely to take on debt to finance their purchases, with 63% of respondents copping to the habit. Other generations took on debt as well, including 58% of Gen-Xers and 40% of millennials. What’s alarming about this pattern is that many Americans are still carrying last year’s debt as they head into yet another holiday season. Millennials are the worst culprits here: 24% still haven’t paid off credit card debt incurred during the 2016 shopping season, while 16% of Gen-Xers haven’t and only 8% of boomers haven’t.

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Nov 042017
 
 November 4, 2017  Posted by at 2:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Claude Monet The house at Yerres 1876

 

If there is one thing the Spain vs Catalonia conflict reminds us of, it has got to be Turkey. And that is a much bigger problem for the EU than it realizes. First of all, Brussels can no longer insist that this is an internal, domestic, Spanish issue, since Catalan president Puidgemont is in…Brussels. So are 4 members of his government.

That moves decisions to be made about his situation from the Spanish legal system to its Belgian counterpart. And the two are not identical twins. Even if both countries are EU members. This may expose a very large European problem: the lack of equality among justice systems. Citizens of EU member countries are free to move and work across the Union, but they are subject to different laws and constitutions.

The way the Spanish government tries to go after Puidgemont is exactly the same as the way Turkish president Erdogan tries to get to his perceived archenemy, Fethullah Gülen, a longtime resident of Pennsylvania. But the US doesn’t want to extradite Gülen, not even now Turkey arrests US embassy personnel. The Americans have had enough of Erdogan.

Erdogan accuses Gülen of organizing a coup. Spanish PM Rajoy accuses the Catalan government of the same. But they are not the same kind of coup. The Turkish one saw violence and death. The Spanish one did not, at least not from the side of those who allegedly perpetrated the coup.

Brussels should have intervened in the Catalonia mess a long time ago, called a meeting, instead of claiming this had nothing to do with the EU, a claim as cowardly as it is cheap. You’re either a union or you’re not. And if you are, the well-being of all your citizens is your responsibility. You don’t get to cherry pick. You got to walk your talk.

Belgian news paper De Standaard today makes an interesting distinction. It says the Belgian judicial system is not asked to “extradite” Puidgemont to Spain (uitlevering), but to “surrender” him (overlevering). Legal gibberish.

The paper also states that the case will go through three different courts, each of which has 15 days to announce a decision, so Puidgemont is safe for at least a month and a half. And then on December 21, Rajoy had called elections in Catalonia. For which, reportedly, he will seek to ban several parties. Don’t be surprised if that includes Puidgemont’s.

Moreover, even if the democratically elected president of Catalonia loses all appeals available to him, he could then ask for asylum in Belgium (apparently, Belgium is the only EU member country in which EU citizens can ask for asylum). And then you would really get into a mix-up of EU versus Belgian versus Spanish laws. In a way this is good, it would test a system that is not prepared at all for such divergences.

But what a disaster this is, once more, for the EU. It has shown zero leadership in the case, neither from the likes of European Commission head Juncker nor from Angela Merkel, its most powerful head of state. How can one not conclude that the Union is completely rudderless? This is just as bad as the refugee crisis, and the beheading of the Greek economy.

Threatening people with 30-year jail terms for organizing a peaceful vote is not what the EU should stand for. And now that is does, it threatens its own survival. Europe cannot be the land of Erdogan or Franco, it cannot look the other way and live.

That may be why the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have prepared a report that looks at future scenarios for Europe, including worst-case ones. The article in Der Spiegel is in German only, and my command of the language is a tad rusty, but the translation through Google is surprisingly accurate, I only had to change a few words.

The authors don’t seek the worst case option in either Spain or Greece, but perhaps they should. Then again, some of their projections are stark enough to offer plenty food for thought.

 

Military planners think EU collapse is conceivable

According to SPIEGEL information, the Bundeswehr played through social and political trends until 2040 for the first time. Strategists are also developing a worst-case scenario. The Bundeswehr believes that an end to the West in its current form over the next few decades is possible. This is according to information from Der Spiegel from the “Strategic Perspective 2040”, which was adopted at the end of February by the top of the Ministry of Defense and since then kept under wraps.

For the first time in its history, the Bundeswehr’s 102-page document shows how social trends and international conflicts could influence German security policy in the coming decades. The study sets the framework in which the Bundeswehr of the future is likely to move.

The paper does not yet provide any concrete conclusions for equipment and strength. In one of the six scenarios (“The EU in Disintegration and Germany in Reactive Mode”), the authors assume a “multiple confrontation”. The future projection describes a world in which the international order erodes after “decades of instability”, value systems worldwide diverge and globalization is stopped.

“The EU enlargement has been largely abandoned, other states have left the community, Europe has lost its global competitiveness,” write the Bundeswehr strategists: “The increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment of Germany and Europe.” In the fifth scenario (“West against East”), some eastern EU countries are freezing the state of European integration while others have “joined the Eastern bloc”.

In the fourth scenario (“multipolar competition”), extremism is on the rise and there are EU partners who “even occasionally seem to seek a specific approach to Russia’s” state capitalist model “. The document expressly makes no prognosis, but all scenarios are “plausible with the 2040 time horizon,” write the authors. The simulations were developed by scientists of the Federal Armed Forces Planning Office.

Funny, that ‘future projection’ looks a lot like how I see the EU today, not in 2040.

There’s a longer article behind a paywall at Der Spiegel, but this should be sufficient to get a conversation going. Angela Merkel may be all EU all the time, just like all her EU peers, but her own army has serious questions about that. And given the Catalonia swamp, who could doubt that they are right about having doubts?

Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement is all set towards democratizing the EU, but how realistic is that goal? How divergent does a Union have to get before you give up on it? Poland, Hungary, Czechia all want completely different things from what Holland and Germany want. New French president Macron is finding out as we speak that he can only do what Merkel allows him to.

And then along comes Spain and tries to inflict Franco era laws and violence on its citizens. But Brussels does nothing, and neither does Berlin. Refugees can rot away on Greek islands if eastern Europe doesn’t want them, and Catalan grandmas can get beaten to a pulp by the remnants of Franco’s troops, Brussels has zilch.

The way the EU functions today is no accident, and it’s not some new development. Present-day Brussels is the culmination of 50-60 years of institutionalization. You don’t change that with an election here or there.

Will Catalonia be the endgame of Brussels? Will it be the refugee crisis? Brexit? It’s impossible to say, but what is certain is that in its present state, the Union has no future. And at the same time, there’s no solution in sight. The powers that be are deeply invested, and they’re not going to let go just because some country, or part of a country, or political party, or group of voters wants them to.

The EU is profoundly anti-democratic, and it intends to stay that way. But imagine that Belgium ‘surrenders’ Puidgemont, a man whose movement has lifted anti-violence to a whole new and modern level, and Rajoy jails him for 30 years, and the next day sits in on some meeting in Brussels, what picture does that paint for the 500 million EU citizens?

They’re crazy if they think they can get away with this.

 

 

Oct 202017
 
 October 20, 2017  Posted by at 7:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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René Magritte Youth 1924

 

Fed Flunks Econ 101: Understanding Inflation (MW)
Meet The Bears Predicting Stock Market Doom (CNN)
Catalan Groups Call For Mass Withdrawal Of Money From Bank ATMs (CN)
The World’s Largest ICO Is Imploding After Just 3 Months (ZH)
Scandal-Hit Nissan Suspends All Production For Japan Market (AFP)
End Of Australia Auto-Making Sector As Holden Closes Doors (AFP)
Top Startup Investors See Mounting ‘Backlash’ Against Tech (R.)
Native American Tribe Holding Patents Sues Amazon And Microsoft (R.)
Putin Slams West for Lack of Respect and Broken Trust (BBG)
Ditch Neoliberalism To Win Again, Jeremy Corbyn Tells EU’s Center-Left (Ind.)
Merkel Comes to May’s Aid on Brexit (BBG)
Italian Regions To Vote In Europe’s Latest Referendums On Autonomy (G.)
Greece Plans Billion Euro Handout For The Poor (R.)
Tensions Rise On Aegean Islands As Migrants Continue To Arrive (K.)
Global Pollution Kills Millions, Threatens ‘Survival Of Human Societies’ (G.)

 

 

As I’ve said 1000 times.

Fed Flunks Econ 101: Understanding Inflation (MW)

The Federal Reserve’s illusive quest to achieve 2% inflation over the medium term is becoming a long-term problem. The institutional anxiety over the chronic inflation undershoot is evident in daily news stories, Fed speeches and the increased focus in internal discussions, as reflected in the minutes of the Sept. 19-20 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). One doesn’t have to read between the lines to appreciate the degree to which policy makers fear the onset of the next recession without adequate “room” to lower interest rates. Hence, normalizing interest rates is “on track,” as the headline above noted, even though the relationship — between unemployment and inflation — is decidedly off track.

So what gives? The persistence of sub-2% inflation in the face of nine years of near-zero interest rates and an economy at what is perceived to be full employment has led to an array of silly explanations, embarrassing excuses and a host of pseudo-theories. Just maybe the Fed’s internal guidance system is flawed. The inverse correlation between unemployment and wages in the U.K. from 1861 to 1957 initially observed by New Zealand economist A.W. Phillips has morphed into a model of causation for Fed chief Janet Yellen and the current crop of U.S. policy makers. It’s not clear why. Just eyeballing the graph of the Fed’s preferred inflation measure and the civilian unemployment rate, one might conclude that the relationship broke down in the 1970s and has yet to reassert itself. Is a half-century malfunction enough to declare a theory null and void?

One would think so. Yet the notion of cost-push inflation as (supposedly) expressed by Phillips Curve lives, although faith in it has started to wane, even among ardent devotees like labor-economist Yellen. Instead, we are confronted with headlines such as, “Nobody seems to know why there is no inflation.” Really? Have they all forgotten Milton Friedman’s axiom that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon? When the central bank creates more money than the public wants to hold, people spend it. The increased demand for goods and services eventually exceeds the economy’s ability to produce or provide them. The result is higher economy-wide prices, or inflation.

That isn’t happening, not just in the U.S. but across the globe. For all the sturm und drang about the Fed debasing the dollar and sowing the seeds of the next great inflation, the public’s demand for money has increased. The increased desire to hold cash and checkable deposits has risen to meet the increased supply. Velocity, or the rate at which money turns over, has plummeted.

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“.. it’s central banks that typically end the party. And central banks are telling you it’s last call.”

Meet The Bears Predicting Stock Market Doom (CNN)

The red-hot stock market may continue its rapid ascent, especially if Trump delivers his promise for “massive” corporate tax cuts. And even if not, healthy economic fundamentals and corporate profits should continue to support stocks. Nonetheless, some bears are fighting the herd mentality on Wall Street by warning of serious trouble brewing just beneath the surface of the stock market. These market skeptics are reassured by the fact that betting against stocks wasn’t popular in 2007, either. “The best time to be a bear is the loneliest time,” Jesse Felder, a money manager and founder of The Felder Report, told CNNMoney. Here are some of the red flags these bears are warning about, including similarities between now and 30 years ago:

In 2007 and 2008, Chris Cole presciently bet that market volatility would skyrocket to levels no one had seen before. He took those crisis-era winnings and started Artemis Capital, a hedge fund that has amassed $210 million. Today, the stock market is unusually quiet. The VIX, a popular barometer of market fear, recently hit a record low. Cole thinks it’s a mirage, partly because popular trading strategies allow investors to bet on the low volatility itself. All those bets lead to even lower volatility – until something unexpected happens, like suddenly higher interest rates. “Any shock to the system could cause this to unravel in the opposite direction, where higher volatility drives higher volatility,” Cole told CNNMoney. “This is a massive risk to the system. The only thing we’re missing is a fire.” [..] “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Cole. “In the event there is a fire, this can cause a massive explosion.”

Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, is also having a flashback to 30 years ago. “If you look at the all of the different constituencies of the market today, it resembles the portfolio insurance debacle of 1987 on steroids,” Bass told Real Vision TV in an interview released on Wednesday. Bass fears that, once stock prices decline 4% to 5%, that will quickly morph into a 10% to 15% plunge. He isn’t sure about timing, but pointed to geopolitical trouble and central banks as potential triggers. “Buckle up, because I think you’re going to see a pretty interesting air pocket. And I don’t think investors are ready for that,” he said.

Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, predicts the “overvalued” stock market will run into serious trouble as central banks hit the brakes on the stimulus measures they used to prop up economies after the crisis. He pointed to the Federal Reserve shrinking its balance sheet and the European Central Bank slowing its bond purchases. “Historically speaking, central banks put us into recessions and bear markets. The same will happen this time,” Boockvar said. He estimates that central banks will be pumping $1 trillion less money into markets. “The liquidity spigot is going to be dripping instead of flowing. That’s a really big deal,” said Boockvar. He conceded that stocks could run higher before eventually reversing. “When it happens, I’m not sure,” Boockvar said. “But it’s central banks that typically end the party. And central banks are telling you it’s last call.”

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Chaos.

Catalan Groups Call For Mass Withdrawal Of Money From Bank ATMs (CN)

Civil society organizations in Catalonia call for a mass withdrawal of money from bank ATMs on Friday at 8am in order to pressure the Spanish government. Organizers don’t especify how much money should be taken out nor what to do with it. The action targets the five main banks in Catalonia: Caixa Bank, Sabadell, Bankia, BBVA and Santander. Organizers call on clients of Caixa Bank and Sabadell to show their disagreement with the banks’ recent decision to move their headquarters out of Catalonia due to the escalating political crisis between governments in Barcelona and Madrid.

This is the first “direct and peaceful” action organized by Crida per la Democràcia (Call for Democracy). This is an umbrella group which includes among others the two main pro-independence organizations in Catalonia: the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural. The mass withdrawal is also aimed at condemning the imprisonment of ANC and Òmnium presidents, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, held in custody on sedition charges since Monday.

Read more …

All’s not well in crypto land.

The World’s Largest ICO Is Imploding After Just 3 Months (ZH)

Earlier this summer, Tezos smashed existing sales records in the white-hot IPO market after the company’s pitch to build a better blockchain for cryptocurrencies made it one of the buzziest ICOs in the world. As we noted at the time, the company capitalized on that buzz by courting VC firms and other institutional investors with a $50 million token pre-sale. After the company opened up selling to the broader public, demand soared as investors greedily bought up tokens in spite of glitches that threatened to derail the sale early on. By the end of its weeks-long token sale in July, Tezos had sold more than $230 million. Now, Tezos is proving that authorities in the US and China were on to something when they decided to crack down on the ICO market, which has become a cesspool of fraud and abuse.

To wit, the company’s management revealed this week that progress on its vaunted product has stalled as it has struggled to recruit engineering talent, and an acrimonious dispute between several of the company’s leading figures has spilled out into the open. As WSJ’s Paul Vigna reports, “a battle between the founders of the company and the head of the Swiss foundation they installed to give it more independence has put most trading of Tezos coins on ice, possibly until early next year.” The shakeup started after Tezos founders Arthur and Kathleen Breitman reported the delays in a blog post published Wednesday. But even more alarming, the pair accused Johann Gevers, the head of a Swiss foundation which oversees their funds, of attempting to overpay himself using the massive pot of investor capital – despite the fact that the company will likely blow through its promised deadline of allocating tokens to buyers by December (the tokens have yet to be created).

In early September we became aware that the president of the Tezos Foundation, Johann Gevers, engaged in an attempt at self-dealing, misrepresenting to the council the value of a bonus he attempted to grant himself. We have been working with the Tezos foundation to resolve the matter and have advocated for his removal from the foundation council. We are confident in the council’s ability to handle this sensitive matter with care and diligence. In the meantime, Johann’s operational role in the foundation has been suspended, pending an investigation by the council’s auditor. The news sent Tezos futures contracts trading on BitMex, an exchange known for its cryptocurrency futures products, tumbling more than 50% as traders unwound bets the project would be launched before the end of the year, as Bloomberg pointed out.

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The final nail in the Made in Japan coffin.

Scandal-Hit Nissan Suspends All Production For Japan Market (AFP)

Nissan said Thursday it was suspending all production destined for the local market, as Japan’s number-two automaker grapples with a mounting inspection scandal that has already seen it recall some 1.2 million vehicles. “Nissan decided today to suspend vehicle production for the Japan market at all Nissan and Nissan Shatai plants in Japan,” it said in a statement, referring to an affiliate. The announcement comes weeks after the company announced the major recall as it admitted that staff without proper authorisation had conducted final inspections on some vehicles intended for the domestic market before they were shipped to dealers. On Thursday, it said a third-party investigator found the misconduct had continued at three of its six Japanese plants even after it took steps to end the crisis.

“Nissan regards the recurrence of this issue at domestic plants – despite the corrective measures taken – as critical,” it said. “The investigation team will continue to thoroughly investigate the issue and determine measures to prevent a recurrence.” Nissan president Hiroto Saikawa offered a blunt assessment, saying that “old habits” were to blame. “You might say it would be easy to stop people who are not supposed to inspect from inspecting,” he told reporters Thursday. “But we are having to take (new measures) in order to stop old habits that had been part of our routine operations at the factories.”

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Lost skills.

End Of Australia Auto-Making Sector As Holden Closes Doors (AFP)

The last car rolled off the production line of Australian automaker Holden on Friday, marking the demise of a national industry unable to stand up to global competition. The closure of the Elizabeth plant in South Australia is the end of an era for Holden, which first started in the state as a saddlery business in 1856 and made the nation’s first mass-produced car in 1948. The brand has long been an Australian household name, with 1970s commercials singing that “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars” were part of the nation’s identity. “I feel very sad, as we all do, for it’s the end of an era, and you can’t get away from the emotional response to the closure,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday.

Holden was marketed as “Australia’s Own Car” and became a symbol of post-war prosperity Down Under despite being a subsidiary of US giant General Motors. At its peak in 1964, Holden employed almost 24,000 staff. But just 950 were able to watch the final car leave the factory floor Friday. “There are a number of people who have been here since the seventies and today will be a very emotional day for some people and a very sad day,” Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary John Camillo told reporters. The union blamed the federal government for causing the closure by withdrawing support to the auto sector. The death of the industry was always on the cards after subsidies were cut off in 2014. Some Aus$30 billion (US$24 billion) in assistance was handed out between 1997 and 2012, according to the government’s Productivity Commission.

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The rich get scared. It’s about power as much as money.

Top Startup Investors See Mounting ‘Backlash’ Against Tech (R.)

Two of the technology industry’s top startup investors took to the stage at a conference on Wednesday to decry the power that companies such as Facebook had amassed and call for a redistribution of wealth. Bill Maris, who founded Alphabet’s venture capital arm and now runs venture fund Section 32, and Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, said widespread discontent over income inequality helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump and had put wealthy technology companies in the crosshairs. “I do know that the tech backlash is going to be strong,” said Altman. “We have more and more concentrated power and wealth.” The market capitalization of the so-called Big Five technology companies – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook – has doubled in the last three years to more than $3 trillion.

Silicon Valley broadly has amassed significant wealth during the latest tech boom. Altman and Maris spoke on the final day of The Wall Street Journal DLive technology conference in Southern California. Facebook’s role in facilitating what U.S. intelligence agencies have identified as Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election is an example of the immense power the social media company has amassed, the investors said. “The companies that used to be fun and disruptive and interesting and benevolent are now disrupting our elections,” Maris said.

Altman said people “are understandably uncomfortable with that.” Altman, who unequivocally rebuffed rumors that he would run for governor of California next year, said he expects more demands from both the public and policy makers on data privacy, limiting what personal information Facebook and others can collect. Maris said regulators would have good cause to break up the big technology companies. “These companies are more powerful than AT&T ever was,” he said. [..] Altman and Maris offered few details of how to accomplish a redistribution of wealth. Maris proposed shorter term limits for elected officials and simplifying the tax code. Altman has advocated basic income, a poverty-fighting proposal in which all residents would receive a regular, unconditional sum of money from the government.

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Curious legal battle.

Native American Tribe Holding Patents Sues Amazon And Microsoft (R.)

A Native American tribe sued Amazon.com and Microsoft in federal court in Virginia on Wednesday for infringing supercomputer patents it is holding for a technology firm. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was assigned the patents by SRC Labs LLC in August, in a deal intended to use the tribe’s sovereign status to shield them from administrative review. SRC is also a plaintiff in the case. The tribe, which would receive a share of any award, made a similar deal in September to hold patents for Allergan on its dry eye medicine Restasis. SRC and Allergan made the deals to shield their patents from review by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, an administrative court run by the U.S. patent office that frequently revokes patents.

The tribe would get revenue to address environmental damage and rising healthcare costs. Companies sued for patent infringement in federal court often respond by asking the patent board to invalidate the asserted patents. Both Microsoft and Amazon have used this strategy to prevail in previous disputes. A federal court in Texas separately invalidated Allergan’s Restasis patents on Monday. The company responded that it would appeal that ruling.Allergan’s deal with the tribe has drawn criticism from a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, some of whom have called it a “sham.” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill on Oct. 5 introduced a bill to ban attempts to take advantage of tribal sovereignty.

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“The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it..”

Putin Slams West for Lack of Respect and Broken Trust (BBG)

President Vladimir Putin has yet to declare his candidacy for re-election next year, but on Thursday the outlines of his campaign were clear, beginning from his strongest suit as the man who restored power and respect to Russia. Putin spent much of his address to an annual gathering of foreign-policy specialists from Russia and abroad recounting his country’s perceived humiliation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, singling out the West and the U.S. for special criticism. “The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it,’’ he said during a question-and-answer session that was carried on national television. What was needed, he said, was “respect.’’

In its portrayal of the U.S., “it was the most negative speech Putin has given’’ at the annual Valdai Club meeting, said Toby Gati, a former U.S. National Security Council and State Department official who is a regular at the event. At the same time, the Russian leader appeared to leave a door open to a rapprochement with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that he, too, deserved respect as the elected choice of the American people. [..] Even during the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had always treated each other with respect, said Putin, lamenting how the Russian flag was recently torn from the country’s consulate in California. “Respect has been the underbelly of the whole conference,’’ said Wendell Wallach, chairman of technology and ethics studies at Yale University.

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The only leftist in Europe left standing. Oh irony.

Ditch Neoliberalism To Win Again, Jeremy Corbyn Tells EU’s Center-Left (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned centre-left parties across Europe that they must follow his lead and abandon the neoliberal economics of the imagined “centre ground” if they want to start winning elections again. The Labour leader was given a hero’s welcome at the Europe Together conference of centre-left parties in Brussels, where he was introduced as “the new Prime Minister of Britain” and received two standing ovations from a packed auditorium. Continental centre-left leaders are looking to Mr Corbyn’s Labour as a model to reinvigorate their movement. Across Europe from France to Germany, Austria to Netherlands, and Spain to Greece, once powerful social-democratic parties have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves – with Labour a notable exception.

Mr Corbyn said low taxes, deregulation, and privatisation had not brought prosperity for Europe’s populations and that if social democratic parties continued to endorse them they would continue to lose elections. He berated the longstanding leadership of the centre-left, telling delegates from across the EU: “For too long the most prominent voices in our movement have looked out of touch, too willing to defend the status quo and the established order. “In a desperate attempt to protect what is seen as the centre-ground of politics: only to find the centre ground has shifted or was never where the elites thought it was in the first place.” Citing the rise of the far-right in countries like Austria and France, Mr Corbyn said the abdication of the radical end of politics by the left had created space for reactionary parties.

“Our broken system has provided fertile ground for the growth of nationalist and xenophobic politics,” he said. “We all know their politics of hate, blame and division and not the answer, but unless we offer a clear and radical alternative of credible solutions for the problem we face, unless we offer a chance to change the broken system, and hope for a more prosper future we are clearing the path for the extreme right to make even more far-reaching inroads into our communities. Their message of fear and division would become the political mainstream of our discourse. But we can offer a radical alternative, we have the ideas to make progressive politics the dominant force of this century. But if we don’t get our message right, don’t stand up for our core beliefs, and if we don’t stand for change we will founder and stagnate.”

Read more …

Does Angela not like what Corbyn has to say?

Merkel Comes to May’s Aid on Brexit (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Theresa May the political cover she’s been asking for to take further steps in Brexit talks, calling on both sides to move so that a deal can be reached by year-end. The U.K. prime minister signaled she’s willing to offer more on the divorce bill, according to a U.K. official. May urged leaders at a European summit to help her find a deal she could sell to skeptics at home, and her counterparts responded with words of encouragement – though no concrete concessions. Merkel said there’s “zero indication” that Brexit talks won’t succeed and she “truly” wants an agreement rather than an “unpredictable resolution.” She welcomed the concessions May made in a landmark speech in Florence last month and said she’s “very motivated” to get talks moved on from the divorce settlement to trade by December.

“Now both sides need to move,” she told reporters after hearing May speak at dinner, in a shift of rhetoric for the EU side, which has previously insisted that it’s up to the U.K. alone to make the next move. [..] he chancellor’s upbeat tone on Brexit was in marked contrast to Germany’s portrayal in the U.K. media as the principle obstacle to Britain’s attempts to shift negotiations onto trade and a transition period. In reality, Merkel has rarely commented on Brexit in the past two months or more as she fought for re-election to a fourth term. Even when she has weighed in, the chancellor tended to adopt a matter-of-fact approach that stuck to the facts. “So what I heard today was a confirmation of the fact that, in contrast to what you hear in the British press, the process is moving forward step by step,” Merkel said. “You get the impression that after a few weeks you already have to announce the final product, and I found that – to be very clear – absurd.”

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it’s not about borders, but about decentralizing power. Unstoppable.

Italian Regions To Vote In Europe’s Latest Referendums On Autonomy (G.)

Two of Italy’s richest regions are holding referendums on greater autonomy on Sunday, in the latest push by European regions to wrest more power from the centre. Lombardy and Veneto, between them home to a quarter of Italy’s population, are seeking semi-autonomy, giving them more control over their finances and administration. Although legally non-binding, the exercise is the latest ripple in a wave of votes on greater autonomy across Europe in recent years, from Scotland in 2014 to Brexit last year and Catalonia in September. Although both regions have in the past campaigned for complete independence from Rome, their leaders have made it clear the ballots are about autonomy and not secession.

Some insight into the dynamics can be gleaned from the example of Sappada, a mountainous town in Veneto that straddles the regional border with Friuli-Venezia Giulia. A skiing and hiking paradise, the town is on the verge of becoming the first in Italy to switch regions to become part of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, one of Italy’s five semi-autonomous regions. The plan was approved by the Italian government in September after a lengthy bureaucratic process. “The reasons for people wanting to be part of Friuli are varied: we have our own dialect, which originates from German, and culturally we feel closer to Friuli,” Manuel Piller Hoffer, the mayor of Sappada, told the Guardian. “But the main one is economic: living next door to a semi-autonomous region, people see advantages that they don’t have. They see finances being controlled better, a better health service and sustainable investments being made – they see a better standard of living.”

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Do you need to call it a ‘handout’, Reuters?

Greece Plans Billion Euro Handout For The Poor (R.)

Greece plans to offer handouts worth 1 billion euros to poor Greeks who have suffered during the seven-year debt crisis after beating its budget targets this year, the government said on Thursday. Greece expects to return to nearly 2% growth this year and achieve a primary surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – of 2.2% of GDP, outperforming the 1.75% bailout target. “The surplus outperformance which will be distributed to social groups that have suffered the biggest pressure during the financial crisis, will be close to 1 billion euros,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told reporters. It is not yet clear who would be eligible for what the leftist-led government calls a “social dividend.” Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs during a six-year recession that cut more than a quarter of the country’s GDP.

With unemployment 21.3% and youth unemployment at 42.8% many households rely on the income of grandparents – although they have lost more than a third of the value of their pensions since 2010, when Athens signed up to its first international bailout. The government will make final decisions in late November, once it gets full-year budget data, Tzanakopoulos said. Greece’s fiscal performance this year and its 2018 budget is expected to be discussed with representatives from its European Union lenders and the International Monetary Fund next week when a crucial review of its bailout progress starts. Tzanakopoulos reiterated that Athens aims to wrap up the review as soon as possible, ruling out new austerity measures.

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We’re really going to see this play out all over again?

Tensions Rise On Aegean Islands As Migrants Continue To Arrive (K.)

As dozens of migrants continue to land daily on the shores of eastern Aegean islands, and tensions rise in reception centers, local communities are becoming increasingly divided over growing migrant populations. A total of 438 people arrived on the islands aboard smuggling boats from Turkey in the first three days of the week, with another 175 people arriving on the islet of Oinousses yesterday morning. The latter were transferred to a center on nearby Chios which is very cramped with 1,600 people living in facilities designed to host 850. The situation is worse on Samos, where a reception center designed to host 700 people is accommodating 2,850.

The Migration Ministry said around 1,000 migrants will be relocated to the mainland next week. But island authorities said that this will not adequately ease conditions at the overcrowded facilities. Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos on Thursday appealed for European Union support during a meeting of regional authority officials in Strasbourg. He said the Aegean islands “cannot bear the burden of the refugee problem which is threatening to divide Europe.” There are divisions on the islands too. On Sunday rival groups are planning demonstrations on Samos – far-right extremists to protest the growing migrant population and leftists to protest the EU’s “anti-migrant” policy.

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When you think money is more valuable than life.

Global Pollution Kills Millions, Threatens ‘Survival Of Human Societies’ (G.)

Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”. Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world, the landmark report found, and the true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants are poorly understood. The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined. The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

Rich nations still have work to do to tackle pollution: the US and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths from “modern” forms of pollution, ie fossil fuel-related air pollution and chemical pollution. But the scientists said that the big improvements that have been made in developed nations in recent decades show that beating pollution is a winnable battle if there is the political will. “Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet on Friday. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, said: “We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry.” For example, he said, air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050. Landrigan said the scale of deaths from pollution had surprised the researchers and that two other “real shockers” stood out. First was how quickly modern pollution deaths were rising, while “traditional” pollution deaths – from contaminated water and wood cooking fires – were falling as development work bears fruit. “Secondly, we hadn’t really got our minds around how much pollution is not counted in the present tally,” he said. “The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million.”

Read more …

Oct 082017
 
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Fred Lyon Barbary Coast 1950

 

A friend sent me a post from the DiEM25 website last week, entitled Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees. DiEM25 is a pan-European political movement of which former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is a co-founder.

I started writing some lines as a response to my friend. Then it became a bit more. Wouldn’t you know… And then it was a whole article. So here’s my comments to it first, and then the original by someone calling themselves ‘dross22′. Now, in case I haven’t made this sufficiently abundantly clear yet, in my view Yanis’ knowledge and intellect is probably far superior to mine, and I’m a fan. But…

I don’t mean to imply that the views in the comment posted at DiEM25 are those of Yanis, but I do think it’s good to point out that these views exist within the movement. Moreover, as I wrote a few days ago, Yanis himself also thinks the EU should become ‘a federal state’. And I don’t agree with that. In fact, I think that’s a sure-fire way to absolute mayhem. Catalonia is only the latest example of why that is. Greece is an obvious other.

 

From that post on the DiEM25 site (see full text below):

[..] .. local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices.

That’s quite the hand- and mouthful. Nationalism must be eradicated and religion radically opposed. Yeah, that should get you elected… You don’t want Islam in Europe, and therefore you want to do away with Christianity too. “..a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion.” That’s 2000 years of often deeply ingrained history and culture out the door and down the toilet. And don’t even get me started on statues. Don’t you dare.

Look, I‘m not a religious person, but I would never want to even try to take anyone’s faith away from them. That’s the Soviet Union, China. That’s not Europe. Nor do I see what’s wrong with pluralism, seems kind of Orwellian to me. “..local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state.”  Say what? Why? What kind of movement is this? That’s not thinking, that’s dogma. And not a very clever kind of it.

Pluralism (differences) is the essence and the beauty of Europe. Plus, because of its divergence in language, culture etc., forget about unifying the whole continent, if that was ever desirable. I know the author specifically narrows it down to pluralism of values and lifestyle choices, but the EU already has enough rules and laws that regulate the worst of that.

Moreover, Europe has bigger issues than ‘pluralism in lifestyle choices’. Europe is in very troubled economic times, even if the media won’t tell you that. Because of that it’s all oil on fire, pluralism, immigration, the lot. People that do have jobs have much shittier jobs (gig economy my donkey) than those who went before them. Much of the EU is mired in way over-leveraged mortgages and other household and state debt, it’s just that you wouldn’t know it to listen to politicians and media. 

And that’s without mentioning bank debt, corporate debt, non-performing loans. Greece is paying the price right now for the credit casino (the house always wins) run by French/German banks. Other countries will be too in the near future. As soon as interest rates go up, there’ll be a mushroom cloud on the financial horizon. And Draghi will have emptied all his guns when it happens, saving EU banks but not EU citizens.

If by values and lifestyle you mean only that Islam should not replace Christianity in Europe, I’m your man. But that doesn’t mean Christianity should be suppressed or obliterated because of this. What you do instead is make it clear that you can be muslim, but only in as far as what it teaches does not contradict various European laws. And you actively enforce that.

 

[..] .. there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society.. [..] This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences.

[..] The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

The language is nigh unpalatable. As for (im-)migrants, it is obvious that wanting to incorporate too many of them too fast can only lead to trouble. Apart from all other discussions about values etc. After the financial crisis, it’s Europe’s main problem today. Or perhaps it’s a toss-up between finance and politics.

Perhaps what’s an even bigger issue is that what Merkel says happens, does in the EU. In economics, and in politics, and on the migration question. There is no sovereignty left. No democracy. As I’ve written before, tell the French, or Italians, that they have no say left in their own country, that Berlin controls it all. And then wait for their response. They have not a clue. Nobody told them. They sure never signed up to be ruled by Germany. But they are.

Ergo: The EU continues to exist only by the grace of media deception. And that’s an awfully thin veneer. I don’t know the ins and outs of DiEM25, but these lines make me seasick. Prediction: It’ll all fall apart at the first serious challenge and/or debate. Too many differing views from too many different locations and languages, and not nearly sufficient critical thought. 

Love Yanis though. And love him for trying. But what he must have experienced is what we at the Automatic Earth did too in 2010/11/12. That is, when the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss spoke in numerous locations in Italy, and we’re very grateful to our friends all over the country to make it happen, we needed translators at every talk. What I mean is you can get the big ideas across, but the details will always fall by the wayside. And that is Europe. 

 

A common European state is therefore neither desirable nor practical. The model of the European Parliament, with more translators than members of parliament, is as wrong as it is overkill. The EU is a step too far, a bridge too far. It serves a centralization dream, and the politics and economics that come with it, but it doesn’t serve the European people. 

Catalunya is just one more example of that. Greece is still the main eyesore, but you just wait till Spanish tanks appear on Barcelona’s Ramblas and Brussels has nothing. Their official response is that the use of ‘Proportionate Force’ is fine, but if that’s how you label having police in full battle gear beat up grandmas, how can you condemn tanks in the streets? Where’s the dividing line?

The EU is a giant failure. Ironically, it has done a lot of good on issues like food standards -though it tends to produce far too much paperwork on everything-, but the essence is it has -predictably- fallen victim to its upper echelons’ power grabbing. EU leaders don’t give a hoot what Europeans think, the way the important posts are divided means they don’t have to. And in the end, Germany wins (old British soccer joke).

Berlin, the European Commission, the ECB, they’re actively killing the Union, democracy, and all the good that has come out of Brussels. There’s no stopping it. And then Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25 come along and say they ‘must’ “.. eradicate local European nationalism by creating a common European state.” 

Sorry boyos, wrong time, wrong place. Europe today must find a way to function without being anywhere near a common state, because it won’t have one for a long time. Focusing on that common state can only lead to the opposite: trouble, battle, even war between the different and numerous nation states.

 

To repeat myself once again: centralization, like globalization, only works as long as people feel they economically profit from it. In the current global and European economy, they do not, no matter what any media or politician tell you. Therefore, the focus should be on countries working together, not on becoming one state (or fiscal union, banking union). It’s not going to work, it’s going to cause major trouble, including war.

Greece may have bent over and let Berlin screw it up its donkey, but not all countries will react that way. Watch Catalonia, Hungary, Poland. And then what can Brussels do? It doesn’t have an army. Germany has a feeble one, for good reasons. NATO? The Visograd nations, Hungary etc, have different ideas about issues like immigration than Brussels and Berlin do.

How do Merkel et al plan to force them to change their ideas? Or, come to think of it, why would they want to? What Europe should be doing, but isn’t, and what a movement like DiEM25 should actively propagate, but isn’t either, is an immediate end to the deliberate creation of utter chaos in Libya, Iraq, Syria. But the European arms industry makes too much money off that chaos.

If that doesn’t stop, immigrants will keep coming. And that can only lead to more chaos in Europe too. It’s not sufficient to say you want immigration to stop. You need to take a stand against the forces that make it happen, starting with the forces in your own countries and societies (this very much includes your governments).

If you don’t focus on the basic conditions that must be fulfilled to ‘save Europe’, you will not save it. Europe is in such a crisis, or crises rather, that talking about programs and ideas from comfortable chairs is no longer a real option. Europe is very much like the orchestra on the Titanic: it keeps playing as if there is no threat ahead. And you have to tell them to stop playing. That’s your job.

Talking about what so and so would like to see by 2025 is a waste of time. But yeah, it’s comfortable, and comforting, to do it with a group of like-minded souls who fool themselves into thinking they’re smart and doing a good job. But the problem is here, now, not in 2025. And if you don’t work to solve it now, today, 2025 won’t look anything like what you have in mind.

Europeans must put a halt to European companies making billions on arms sales and oil in North Africa and the Middle East. And since these companies are protected and supported by the current leadership in Brussels and all other EU capitals, these will have to go too. That should be the focus. All the rest is the orchestra continuing to play.

Europeans don’t want a federal EU state. They don’t want to be forced to give up their national indentities, and they don’t want to lose their religions. Cue REM.

 

 

Still, Yanis has excellent ideas. As I said, I’m a fan. The way he describes his concept of parallel payment systems in the latter part of this recent video is outstanding, if you ask me. It’s the idea he never got to put into practice in Greece.

 

 

 

Here’s dross22’s full comment:

Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees (from DiEM 25’s official forum)

In my humble opinion the liberal way we’re approaching the refugee issue is very hard to market to the European demos. If Europe were one country and if the political climate were different, we’d have the resources to deal with the matter in the decent way we propagate. But unfortunately, Europe is currently at an advanced stage of disintegration making any discussion of a federal European state idle talk. As you all know, our mission here at DiEM is to get Europe out of the mire the establishment has got it into and then proceed to make of it a federal state. All of our very sensible and very realistic proposals take into account the fact that we’re not where we’d like to be. Yet when it comes to the refugee issue, we propagate a treatment that assumes away the current state of Europe.

Germany’s periphery and near east is divided between a collection of right-wing authoritarian states (Poland, Hungary, Ukraine etc.) and German industrial clients (Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland). In the Balkan South we have Brussels-Berlin protectorates (Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia), a debt colony and testing ground of the establishment’s policies (Greece) and states ruled by criminal syndicates (Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria). In the Romance countries (including France) we have states on the verge of fiscal breakdown, and in Germany and Brussels, the core of the establishment, we have a host of ruling incompetents that can only survive by feeding the monster they created in 2010. The feces of that monster feeds nationalistic flies and worms everywhere.

This is not a Europe that can handle the refugee issue. Indeed, all it has managed to do is let Germany bear the burden of adjustment, hence contributing significantly to AfD’s resonance in German society and forcing a desperate establishment to go as far as to bribe Turkey to stem the flow. The establishment did this hideous thing for tactical reasons and the case can be made that, in part, they owe their political survival to how they instrumentalize and adapt to the reality of xenophobia. We too have to understand quickly that racism is here to stay.

This unfortunate development is due to two things. It’s Islamist radicalism in the Mid-East and Africa, where the migrants come from, leading to terrorist activity within Europe, and a widespread plebian racism against which, given an environment where a strong left has been absent for many decades, no sufficient immune defenses exist. This is even more so in the illiberal states that succeeded the Soviet Empire. Notwithstanding their relative lack of migrants, the masses there are saturated with an almost autistic sense of nationalism.

This being the situation of the Europe we live in, there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society. It’s beneficial to continue to expose the unethical deal that the establishment has with Turkey but other than that we must cease with our polemic. Instead I propose adopting a different, more sophisticated electoral strategy. We should point out that we’re not opposed to migration in principle. That in fact migration empowers, not weakens a society. But that the surrounding situation is not always the same. When European masses went to America, they were going to a place where employment was in high demand and that had familiar institutions. Today we have a Europe in the midst of an existential crisis where unemployment is high and set to rise.

This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences. The strong patriarchalist values of the Islamic masses are a social impediment too. Even the most passionate activists must admit that those people don’t share our progressive values and breed too much, which is an ecologically unsustainable behavior. Their values can change only in a progressive environment that we don’t yet have. So what we can immediately do is subject all migrants to review and keep those with valuable skills and small families. The rest should be escorted to their countries of origin. Until Europe changes we shall enforce a moratorium on unqualified migration from those countries.

In a green Europe consumption is limited and breeding is not encouraged. Immigration from failed states, motivated (among other factors) by the desire to consume more and breed more with better safety, is undesirable. It is a liability that exposes us to the heavy ammunition from vast areas of a right-wing that, lest we forget, is stronger than we, the defeated left. In a progressive Europe, borders are internally shot down and Europeans can move and settle everywhere. But we still require European borders. There is no reason to burden ourselves with masses that are unaccustomed to the institutions of advanced societies, pose a lingering threat to our security and come with strong reactionary values. Instead of denying that fact we should point to the structural similarities of their ideology with that of the far right.

Migrants from areas within reach of the Islamist terrorist network pose a danger to our domestic security in three ways. First of all, by bringing their tribal and religious rivalries within our borders, secondly by their potential terrorist activity against European citizens and thirdly by helping our local nationalism gain ground. That local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices. In a Europe where capital has no rights over the public, where it serves human potential and not unbridled, wasteful consumerism, there can be no pluralism.

We should give up on the migrants. I understand the sorrows of those people forced to flee their countries. But I am not willing to sacrifice the progressive future of Europe, to let bigots win and see them screw this place for good just for the sake of a small minority of people that don’t share our values and that, should the bigots win, will be subject to mass abuse anyway. The surest way to protect people with such backgrounds from the worst scenarios is to defeat the nationalist international. But this won’t be done unless we become psychologically detached from the minorities and from political correctness which are tools the establishment uses.

Let’s don’t forget that people with a migration background are vulnerable to racism too once they get comfortable. For example Turks in Germany vote en masse in favor of right-wing parties, even the AfD. I look up to people that have the remarkable courage to actively help those in need but I don’t believe this advances our movement at all. The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

I understand what co-founder Yanis said about the global wall and how borders divide the planet. But, in spite of their truth content, expressions such as ”borders are wounds on the face of the planet” are Soviet-era anti-colonialist slogans that today only serve to discredit those who use them. I admire someone who has the moral courage for such unorthodox opinions but these things sound crazy to the masses, especially today. There is much at stake with DiEM’s new deal and it is imperative to be more careful with our choice of words and positions. When Yanis was finance minister, he was careful not to be as open and frank as he would have been as an outsider. But he is no longer the outsider he was before 2015. None of us are. We are here to do politics and our actions and words should be subordinated to the pursuit of success in the political arena. Only success can materialize our agenda and defeat the monster of the establishment and the nationalist international.

 

 

And if you still don’t have enough then, read the Mises Institute’s Why Small States are Better.

In small states the government is closer to its citizens and by that better observable and controllable by the populace. Small states are more flexible and are better at reacting and adapting to challenges. Furthermore, there is a tendency that small states are more peaceful, because they can’t produce all goods and services by themselves and are thereby dependent on undisturbed trade.

 

 

Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Fan Ho The Evening of Life 1963

 

“Forget Germany, Spain Is The Real Problem”, reads a headline. Eh… no. Germany is definitely the problem in Europe. Spain is a bit player. That doesn’t mean nothing major could happen in Spain in its fight with Catalonia, and soon, but Spain, like all EU nations, is a de facto province of Germany.

What matters in the end is how Brussels and Merkel deal with Spain. And while it’s tempting to say that perhaps Brussels, the EU, is the main European problem, the European Union is run exclusively by and for Germany, so that doesn’t work either.

The only thing that might work if you really want to find a bigger issue than Germany is if you would point at the role the incessant lies about economic conditions for people play. But that’s not a European issue, that’s global.

The talk about how economies are recovering, how there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and how any day now we’ll be back to where we were at some point in time that many can not even remember. But then, at least when it comes to Europe, that happy talk comes from Germany too, to a large degree. Just wait till Draghi starts cutting his QE.

You can try and tell people that they’re doing just great, using the media you control, and it’ll work for a stretch, if only because they want to believe it, badly, but when these same people can’t even feed their children while you make such claims, you will eventually lose their attention and support. The difference between beliefs and experiences.

 

If you’re a politician, you try to feed people what they want to hear, invariably an upbeat message, but there comes a time when you have to back it up. You can say that austerity is necessary, inevitable, and the only choice, and it will be beneficial to them, but austerity is one of those things that have a very limited best before date.

If you can only make employment numbers look good by creating a gig economy that takes away all their benefits, and their entire sense of security, they’re going to turn their backs on you. Because you’re lying.

Rising inequality is a one way street right up to the point where it turns into a dead end alley. Inequality breeds more inequality until it no longer can, until people say ‘I want that cake you are having because my kids are hungry. And I brought a pitchfork’.

That is where we’re at, and that is why Merkel lost some 25% of her votes. That is why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why an impossible candidate like Marine Le Pen in France gathered so much attention and support. It’s why eastern European countries will start fighting Brussels and Berlin much harder than they have to date, and why Berlin will fight back harder than it has. Poor Greece.

In the US, there’s only one party, and it divvies up the spoils of very rich campaign contributions. Bernie Sanders tried to circumvent this; not a chance. Trump succeeded. In Britain, there was no difference between left and right for a long time, and no alternative party either. That led to Brexit. In France, Macron started a whole new party from scratch and somehow got it funded (bankers?!). It wiped the left off the map.

The same happened in Holland, where like in France the right wing alternative was judged too unpalatable by too many. No left left. The leaders of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland do not have the visibility for that yet. In Italy, Five Star have a good shot at the throne. Greece’s Syriza already overtook both left and right. In eastern Europe, right wing parties often didn’t even have to overthrow an existing order, they could just slide in.

 

The pattern is so obvious only those who stand to lose from acknowledging it end up not seeing it, or telling themselves it’s all just an incident. But it’s not, because the shrinking economies everywhere are not. When left and right, either in public or in practice, rule a country together and their promises don’t hold up, people will look for a way out. If far right is the only way available, they will pick that.

It’s not because they’re all nazis or something like that. But people do lean towards smaller units of organization, decentralization, when they get poorer. And despite all the talk of recovery, that is what most people have seen happen to their lives, while their leaders told them they’re just fine. So you get this kind of headline (and map) for the US (h/t Mish/ZH).

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle. Economic Prosperity Quintiles.

 

 

And a very similar headline appears in the Guardian in a report about the German election.

 

‘A Lot of People Feel Left Behind’: Voters on the Far-Right Surge in Germany

Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn: “A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.”

Perhaps a lot of those who voted for Trump, and Brexit, Le Pen, Wilders, the AfD, are not so much looking for scapegoats, they’ve identified those as their incumbent politicians; they’re instead looking for a way away from them. All these people who feel left behind base that feeling primarily on their deteriorating economic circumstances. And if the only alternative they have rants, against foreigners and immigrants, they’ll go with that.

Angela Merkel pushed over 1 million refugees and immigrants down the German population’s throats. She never asked their opinion. But many Germans are not doing any better than many Americans or French or British. So the consequences of such things are predictable. You have to explain, you have to communicate with your people. Just saying ‘we can do this’ is not enough. No more than ‘change we can believe in’ was. It’s just hollow.

Merkel lost ‘only’ 25% of her votes. Because Germans know what right wing is, and what it can do. Germany is not full of nazis, no more than America is. Both countries just have a lot of people who feel trapped in a web of lies, and their existing and alleged democratic systems offer no way out of that web.

All these countries, the people and their politicians, have the tendency to see their situations as somehow unique, but they’d be much better off looking at what they have in common with others.

The only solution is to tell people the truth, that the incumbent political class has screwed up badly because of limited brain capacity and unlimited greed, and that they should elect people next time who are both smarter and less sociopathic. But that is not something that comes voluntarily, that takes a battle. And it tends to end careers, and lives.

That is what we can expect. In many different shapes and forms, but all for the same underlying reasons. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can’t even fool a majority for long. You can only fool a limited number of them for a limited amount of time.

Well, time’s up.

 

 

Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Paul Cézanne Curtains 1885

 

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)
Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)
China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)
The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)
King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)
The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)
Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)
‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)
Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)
EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)
EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)
ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)
French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)
Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)
Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

 

 

The last step before the fall.

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)

The toxic combination of “competition from other lenders” and slowing mortgage demand is cited by senior executives of mortgage lenders as the source of all kinds of headaches for the mortgage lending industry. Primarily due to this competition amid declining of demand for mortgages, the profit margin outlook has deteriorated for the fourth quarter in a row, according to Fannie Mae’s Q3 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. And the share of lenders that blamed this competition as the key reason for deteriorating profits “rose to a new survey high.” Demand is down for all three types or mortgages: • Mortgages eligible for guarantees by Government Sponsored Enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“GSE Eligible”), indirectly backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages not eligible for GSE guarantees (“Non-GSE Eligible”), not backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages guaranteed by Government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae, directly backed by taxpayers.

And how are lenders combating this lack of demand and the deteriorating profit margins that are being pressured by competition? They’re loosening lending standards. Fannie Mae’s report: Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs. Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. This chart shows the net share of lenders reporting loosening their lending standards for each type of loan (= the share of lenders reporting loosening credit standards minus those reporting tightening standards):

In many urban markets home prices have soared far beyond their peaks during the prior crazy housing bubble. That bubble ended with such spectacular results, in part because lending standards had been loosened so that more people could be stuffed into more homes, and more expensive homes that they couldn’t afford, and whose prices then plunged when the scheme fell apart. This time around, home prices, according to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, are now about 5% above the prior crazy bubble peak that imploded with such fanfare:

Read more …

Everything’s a casino now.

Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)

If a surge in covenant-lite levered loans is any indication that debt and equity markets are nearing the final stages of their bubbly ascent, then perhaps now is a good time for investors to take their profits and run. As the Wall Street Journal points out this morning, levered loans volumes in the U.S. are once again surging, eclipsing even 2007 levels, despite the complete implosion of bricks-and-mortar retailers and continued warnings that “the market is getting frothy.” Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. n Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, according to LCD, more than triple the number four years ago.

Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. “If feels like the market is getting frothy,” said Henrik Johnsson at Deutsche Bank. “We’re overdue a correction.” Meanwhile, volumes are surging even as traditional lender protections have become basically nonexistent. As S&P LCD points out, over 70% of levered loans issued so far in 2017 are considered “covenant-lite” versus only 30% of those issued in 2007. Before the financial crisis, the boom in leveraged loans was one of the signs of markets overheating. As the crisis intensified in 2008, investors in U.S. leveraged loans lost nearly 30%, according to the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.

Regulators are taking note. In its last quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted the growth of covenant-lite loans and pointed out that U.S. companies are more leveraged than at any time since the beginning of the millennium. That could harm the economy in the event of a downturn or a rise in interest rates, said the BIS consortium of central banks.

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Not quite yet. But they will.

China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)

The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac, the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday, before some rebounded on Tuesday. Record home sales and buoyant earnings helped spur an unprecedented rally this year for Chinese developers, especially large firms positioned to wrest market share through debt-fueled acquisitions.

Top of that list are the nation’s two most indebted developers – China Evergrande Group and Sunac – whose shares swelled 459% and 391% respectively. Some investors were starting to question how long the astonishing share gains could last, even before a raft of housing curbs over the weekend. “The drop of property stocks today brings a reality check,” Andy Wong at Pictet Asset Management said in a briefing Monday. “In the past few months investors have been focusing purely on growth. But it’s never wise to totally ignore the risk of leverage.” Sunac shares have plunged almost 16% from a Sept. 19 high, amid the general pall over the sector and news that a financial firm is scrutinizing its loans to Sunac, China’s most leveraged developer.

Evergrande shares have tumbled more than 12% in the past three trading sessions, matching the decline in a Bloomberg index of 22 mainland developers. Even with the recent selloff, Chinese developers remain among the world’s best-performing stocks this year. Evergrande and Sunac two top stocks in the MSCI All-Country World Index this year. Part of that rally was stoked by a housing market boom that buoyed developers’ earnings in the first half, sending sales soaring and boosting profit margins to the highest levels in three years, according to calculations based on earnings reports.

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It’s where the excess cash has gone.

The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)

Since 2007, a tremendous wave of innovation has swept across the financial sector, affecting almost every aspect of finance. New robo-adviser startups like Betterment and Wealthfront have begun dispensing financial advice based on algorithmic calculations, with little to no human input. Crowdfunding firms like Kickstarter and Lending Club have created new ways for companies and individuals to raise money from dispersed networks of individuals. New virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have radically changed our understanding of how money can and should work. These financial technology (or “fintech”) markets are populated by small startup companies, the exact opposite of the large, concentrated Wall Street banks that have for so long dominated finance.

And they have brought great benefits for investors and consumers. By automating decision-making and reducing the costs of transactions, fintech has greased the wheels of finance, making it faster and more efficient. It has also broadened access to capital to new and underserved groups, making finance more democratic than it has ever been. But revolutions often end in destruction. And the fintech revolution has created an environment ripe for instability and disruption. It does so in three ways. First, fintech companies are more vulnerable to rapid, adverse shocks than typical Wall Street banks. Because they’re small and undiversified, they can easily go under when they hit a blip in the market. Consider the case of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which was the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange until an apparent security breach took it down in 2014, precipitating losses that would be worth more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

Second, fintech companies are more difficult to monitor than conventional financial firms. Because they rely on complex computer algorithms for many of their essential functions, it’s hard for outsiders to get a clear picture of the risks and rewards. And because many of their technologies are so new and innovative, they may fall outside the reach of old and outdated regulatory structures. The recent proliferation of “initial coin offerings,” for example, has left regulators around the world scrambling to figure out how to respond. Third, fintech has not developed the set of unwritten norms and expectations that guide more traditional financial institutions.

In 2008, when Lehman Brothers was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the heads of the largest Wall Street investment banks gathered in New York to coordinate their actions and prevent further panic. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the fintech world. The industry is so new, and the players so diverse, that companies have little incentive to cooperate for the greater good. Instead, they prioritize aggressive growth and reckless behavior.

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If this is not a wake-up call for you…

King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese. But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards. “Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.” The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed.

The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules. The situation further frustrates one of the many challenges already facing a government that has sought a form of bankruptcy protection after its debts swelled past $70 billion: boosting revenue by collecting money that slips through the cracks. In fact, the power blackout only exacerbates a situation that has always been, to a degree, a fact of life in Puerto Rico. Outside the island’s tourist hubs, many small businesses simply never took credit cards, with some openly expressing contempt for tax collectors and others claiming it was just a question of not wanting to deal with the technology.

But those were generally vendors of bootleg DVDs, fruit stands, barbers — not major supermarkets. Now, the better part of the economy is in the same boat. Cash was in short supply. Many Puerto Ricans were still living off what money they thought to withdraw ahead of the storm. Most ATMs on the island still weren’t working because of the power outage or because no one had refilled them. In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.”

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Washington has been a casino for decades.

The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” – especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company – country.” Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) – including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company – he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag.

We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.” To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

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People are being left behind everywhere.

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

Economic Prosperity Quintiles

As MishTalk.com’s Mike Shedlock writes below, the study notes: “America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet.” Distress is based on an evaluation of seven metrics.
• No high school diploma
• Housing vacancy rate
• Adults not working
• Poverty rate
• Median income ratio
• Change in employment
• Change in business establishments

Change in Distress Quintiles

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Merkel acts like an empress.

‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)

Despite gains made by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the breaking up of the ‘grand coalition’ could mark a positive step for Germany, according to voters who responded to our online callout. Here voters in Germany tell us why they think the AfD made gains, and what hopes they have for the future of the country’s politics.

‘A lot of people feel left behind’ – Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn My second vote was a tactical one. I gave it to the Linke. I knew that we’ll need a very strong voice against the AfD. I am pleased though, that the SPD decided to go into opposition to redefine themselves. A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.

The impact of the newly arrived is big. Some people are scared. Some that have been living in Germany for a long time feel disadvantaged. We can live together and be united in our diversity. I see this in school every day. If we treat each other with respect, then we do not need to fear. It is a long and strenuous way. But it is also very rewarding and fun to walk down that lane. At dinner I really had to get hold of myself to not cry in front of my children. I physically felt sick. A Nazi party being the third biggest party in Germany! I am still devastated.

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More Europe is dead.

Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel already faces complex coalition negotiations with at least three other parties. Now French President Emmanuel Macron wants in on the act. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on Tuesday, Macron will make proposals for re-shaping Europe that he acknowledges will require Merkel’s support to push through. While he isn’t seeking to interfere in German domestic politics, it makes sense to air the ideas before a coalition is formed rather than after, an official in his office told reporters. Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned overhauls of areas ranging from defense and immigration to the economy. Yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished.

“There was this expectation that the election would strengthen the German-French alliance, all kinds of reforms would be tackled and then we’re on the road to fiscal union,” Oliver Adler, head of economic research at Credit Suisse in Zurich, said in an interview. “This now seems politically very unlikely.” Macron will press ahead with his vision of remaking European institutions anyway, seeking to set the direction of debate. While a key element of his reform package is intended to reinforce the euro against future shocks, his speech won’t be all about the single currency area. Macron will propose as many as 10 projects in his speech, including a European agency for innovation and a system to improve start-up funding, a larger Erasmus student-exchange project, increased anti-terrorism cooperation, and a “digital plan” that includes a joint effort to push the EU Commission for a plan to tax Internet giants such as Apple and Google.

The goal is to have a roadmap in place by the summer of 2018 that will equip the EU for its next decade, according to the French official. Macron intends to discuss his plans with fellow EU leaders at a summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn at the end of this week. He may struggle to engage Merkel after Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic election challenger, upset her own plans by announcing his intention not to renew their respective parties’ coalition of the past four years.

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Politicians don’t understand technology.

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)

A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission’s original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called “link tax” or ancillary copyright and the upload filter. Regarding the upload filter, the text offers two alternatives:

Option A maintains the Commission’s original proposal of having in place an upload filter which will be under the control of platforms and other companies that are hosting online content. Although it removes mentions to “content recognition technologies”, in reality, there is no way to “prevent the availability” (another expression which remains in the text) of certain content without scanning all the content first. Option B is, at best, a more extreme version of Option A. In fact, it seems so extreme that it almost makes the first option look like a reasonable compromise. This may, of course, be the “diplomatic” strategy. In this extreme option, the text attacks again the liability regime of the e-commerce Directive – which, bizarrely, would not be repealed, leaving us with two contradictory pieces of EU law but adds a “clarification” of what constitutes a “communication to the public”.

This clarification establishes that platforms (and its users) would be liable for the copyright infringing content uploaded by its users. The proposals in this leak highlight a very dangerous roadmap for the EU Member States, if they were to follow the Presidency’s lead. The consequences of these flawed proposals can only be prevented if civil society and EU citizens firmly raise their voices against having a censorship machine in the EU. We will be turning on our call tool at savethememe.net before each of the key votes in the European Parliament. Make use of the tool, and call your representatives to stop the #censorshipmachine!

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Oh, get real: “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track. The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile. EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3% of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

Greece had a 0.7% budget surplus in 2016, and is projected to maintain its fiscal position within EU rules’ limits this year. “In the light of this, the Council (of EU states) found that Greece fulfils the conditions for closing the excessive deficit procedure,” the EU said in a note. “After many years of severe difficulties, Greece’s finances are in much better shape. Today’s decision is therefore welcome”, Estonia’s finance minister Toomas Toniste said. The EU states’ decision confirmed a proposal by the EU executive commission in July to end the disciplinary procedure for Greece. The economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the decision was “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

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Good cop bad cop. Rinse and repeat.

ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)

The ECB may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders. The IMF has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon. The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline. “The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament. “And what the SSM plans to do next year is to have a stress test, possibly frontloading the stress test, and basically the SSM sent a letter to the IMF concerning exactly this expected line of action,” Draghi said.

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Maybe Macron can do some good too.

French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)

France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France – Europe’s biggest food producer a- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer. But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term “the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides”. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto. The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France’s biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was “out of the question” for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors. “A sudden ban, no — a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening,” said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert. Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research. The EU’s chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing. But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

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Can mankind rid the earth of its presence? Stay tuned.

Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)

A “sixth mass extinction” is already under way, scientists are now warning us. Species such as the Bengal tiger and blue whale are vanishing at an alarming rate, and mournful eulogies are being written on how those born in 20 years’ time may never see an African elephant. But who is writing the eulogy for our food? Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply -known as agrobiodiversity- are just as endangered and are getting almost no attention. Take some consumer favourites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.

These crops are the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, 940 cultivated species are threatened. Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet is the biggest cause of early death and disability. Globally, 2 billion people are undernourished, while 2 billion are obese and at risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Focusing on large-scale intensive production of starchy crops for calories rather than nutritious diets has led to serious levels of obesity around the world, from the US to Kenya. Our agrobiodiversity base can be a source of affordable, nutritious food – provided we don’t let it disappear.

[..] About 33% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be degraded, lacking the nutrients essential for growing crops. Agrobiodiversity once again has a solution. Planting cold-tolerant legumes and forages throughout winter has helped farmers in France naturally reduce weed infestation as well as increasing soil’s nutrient content and capacity to hold water. Natural remedies such as this can enhance the sustainability of farms worldwide, reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

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“Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species”. In India, there used to be 100,000 varieties of rice. Today, there’s a big struggle going on to preserve a few dozen. There are many different banana species, but we all eat just one, the Cavendish. Which is under severe threat from a global fungus and could be gone in 5-10 years.

Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday. “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising. There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered. Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

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Sep 252017
 
 September 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Portrait of the artist’s mother 1896

 

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)
The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)
What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)
China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)
China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)
US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)
Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)
Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)
German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)
German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)
Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)
There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

 

 

Apparently, players never stood for the anthem until 2009. Then the Defense Department started paying teams to get them out of the dressing room and onto the field when the anthem was played. A recruiting tool.

But Kaepernick is a brave man no matter what. Trump should invite him to the White House and talk.

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)

All Colin Kaepernick ever asked was for his country to have a conversation about race. This, he warned, would not be easy. Such talks are awkward and often end in a flurry of spittle, pointed fingers and bruised feelings. But from the moment the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback first spoke about his decision to kneel or sit during the national anthem, he said was willing to give up his career to make the nation talk. In one speech on Friday night, Donald Trump gave Kaepernick exactly what he wanted. With a fiery blast at protesting NFL players that seemingly came from nowhere, the president bonded black and white football players with wealthy white owners in a way nobody could have imagined. By saying any player who didn’t stand for the anthem was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired by his team’s owner, Trump crossed a line from which no one could look away.

Come Sunday afternoon, players who wanted nothing of a racial dialogue stood before giant flags, linking arms in protest. Owners who once wished their kneeling players would just stop offending fans fired off statements in their support. Networks who have avoided showing the raised fists of dissent had no choice but show the rows of players standing strong against Trump’s rage. Whether anyone wanted it or not, Trump has forced the US to have the conversation Kaepernick has been requesting. [..] “I think this is something that can unify this country,” Kaepernick said in the summer of 2016, at his first press conference about his protest. “If we can have the real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people – if we can have this conversation there’s a better understanding where both sides are coming from. (And) if we can reach common ground and can understand what everyone’s going through, we can really affect change.”

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Why the dollar’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)

Companies and governments around the world can’t seem to stop borrowing U.S. dollars. This could be a problem, both for them and for the Federal Reserve. Not long ago, it seemed as though a global boom in dollar borrowing had to be reaching its limit. Encouraged by near-zero interest rates, non-U.S. borrowers had binged on trillions in new dollar-denominated debt. With the central bank aiming to increase rates and the U.S. currency rising, strains were beginning to show, as companies struggled to pay back the dollars with devalued local-currency earnings. Yet the party keeps going, perhaps thanks to the Fed’s extremely gradual pace of rate increases and a related decline in the dollar’s exchange rate. According to the Bank for International Settlements, total dollar borrowing outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, up about 6% from a year earlier and up 83% from 2009. Here’s how that looks as a%age of non-U.S. GDP:

About a third of the debt is owed by companies and governments in emerging markets, where the relatively high volatility of earnings and exchange rates can make dollar borrowing particularly risky. Here’s the dollar-denominated debt of the countries that the BIS tracks, as a%age of their GDP:

To be sure, some of the debt might not be too burdensome if borrowers have a lot of dollar revenue from, say, oil exports (think Russia and Saudi Arabia). But to the extent that the obligations aren’t hedged, they will make the world more sensitive to the Fed’s interest-rate moves. And if future rate increases trigger belt-tightening and defaults abroad, the malaise could easily spread back to the U.S., complicating the Fed’s efforts to keep growth on track. So the world is becoming increasingly exposed to the Fed, which leaves the Fed increasingly exposed to the world.

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What’s around the corner is more debt. Dollar-denominated debt.

What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)

Nothing has been able to silence the roar of emerging markets this year, be it Kim Jong-Un’s missiles, President Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric or a host of domestic political ructions from Brazil to South Africa and Turkey. Instead, investors have focused on economies supported by slowing inflation, a recent recovery in commodity prices and the comfort of watching central banks conducting policy by more conventional methods than their developed-nation counterparts. The MSCI EM Currency Index and the Bloomberg Barclays index of emerging-market local-currency government bonds both reached three-year highs this month, while a gauge of developing-nation equities is close to its highest since 2011. And now that the Federal Reserve has laid out a tapering game plan likely to drive down longer-maturity U.S. Treasuries, the bulls are taking new heart, betting the rally’s just getting started.

For others, it’s getting perilously near to closing time. “We all enjoyed the party, but this may be its last leg and there maybe more volatility in the year-end,” said Peter Schottmueller, the head of asset allocation at Deka Investment GmbH in Frankfurt, who helps manage the equivalent of $7.8 billion. “The market is very myopic and very short-term focused.’’ Corporate borrowing has outstripped economic growth over the five years through 2016, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s raised questions about how long it can continue as central banks in developed nations prepare to pare back quantitative easing, according to Toru Nishihama, at Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Research.

Emerging economies expanded 4.4% in 2016, almost half of the rate of a decade ago, when the Fed was in its last year of a cycle of interest-rate increases. “There remains a gap between the growth rate of emerging economies and developed countries as well as returns from investment, and investors will continue to pour funds into emerging markets,” Dai-ichi’s Nishihama said. “However, from here, not all emerging-market investments are rosy, and investors may become more selective in which country or countries to invest.”

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“China will create a centralized financing company..” Yes, but to oversee assets, or to oversee debt, liabilities?

China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)

China will create a centralized financing company to oversee some $304 billion of funds held by the country’s state-owned enterprises’ finance units, people familiar with the matter said, allowing the government closer supervision of SOEs’ borrowing and investments. The plan, approved by the State Council or Cabinet, will increase the government’s ability to supervise the non-financial central SOE finance companies’ investments, giving the entity a fuller picture of how these companies are using funds, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the plans have not been made public. Non-financial, central SOEs have their own finance units that currently offer various products and services such as deposits and loans, and the new entity could facilitate those efforts.

The plan would assist regulators by directing some 2 trillion yuan of funds held by the non-financial SOEs through the new company, meaning they could monitor the flow through only one financing company rather than dozens. Many details about the new entity were not immediately clear, such as who would control it, how much regulatory and oversight authority it would have, and how it might conduct external financing on behalf of the SOEs. The aim is to boost efficiency in the $20 trillion state sector in line with a government campaign to reduce the companies’ debt, according to the people. While the centralized finance company would have a regulatory oversight role, the SOEs would retain control over the funds, the people said.

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Not the plan.

China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)

China’s currency has swung from hot to cold in a matter of weeks, thwarting expectations that policy makers would keep the yuan stable before a crucial Communist Party Congress next month. The yuan fell 0.3% to 6.6075 per greenback at 2:29 p.m. in Shanghai, taking its decline from a Sept. 8 peak to 2.6%. That’s a sharp reversal from earlier this month, when the currency surged 1.5% in just six days. The stunning shift has propelled a gauge of 50-day price swings on the yuan to a six-month high. With China’s financial markets closed for the whole of next week due to National Day holidays, there are effectively just over two weeks of trading to go before the congress begins Oct. 18.

The turning point for the currency came when the PBOC eased a forwards trading rule that made betting against the currency more expensive – a clear signal that the surge had gone far enough. A mild recovery in the greenback thanks to a more hawkish Federal Reserve – the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is up 1.2% since Sept. 8. – has hastened the yuan’s decline. “Investors were too optimistic earlier, and they are now pushing the yuan lower because they figured the policy makers believed the currency was too strong,” said Eddie Cheung at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. “There’s still room for the dollar to rise in the short term if the market becomes more confident on U.S. rate hikes. That said, the yuan could weaken further this year, though the PBOC wouldn’t allow any sharp declines.”

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Hmm, really? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck?

US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)

From the Federal Reserve’s latest Z.1 Release (formerly, Flow Of Funds), we learn that in the 2nd quarter, household and nonprofit’s stock holdings amounted to 35.7% of their total financial assets. This is the highest%age since 2000. In fact, the blow-off phase from 1998 to 2000 leading up to the dotcom bubble burst was the only time in the history of the data (since 1945) that saw higher stock investment than now. You might say that everyone is in the pool. We’ve talked about this data series many times. It is certainly not a timing tool. Rather, it is what we call a “background” indicator, representative of the longer-term backdrop — and potential — of the stock market.

It also serves as an instructional lens into investor psychology. For these reasons, it is one of our favorite metrics pertaining to the stock market, as we wrote in a September 2014 post: “This is one of our favorite data series because it reveals a lot about not only investment levels but investor psychology as well. When investors have had positive recent experiences in the stock market, i.e., a bull market, they have been happy to pour money into stocks. It is consistent with all of the evidence of performance-chasing pointed out by many. Note how stock investment peaked with major tops in 1966, 1968, 1972, 2000 and 2007. Of course, investment will rise merely with the appreciation of the market; however, we also observe disproportionate jumps in investment levels near tops as well.

Note the spikes at the 1968 and 1972 tops and, most egregiously, at the 2000 top. On the flip side, when investors have bad recent experiences with stocks, it negatively effects investment flows, and in a more profound way than the positive effect. This is consistent with the scientifically proven notion we’ve discussed before that feelings of fear or loss are much stronger than those of greed or gain. Stock investment during he 1966-82 secular bear market provides a good example of this. After stock investment peaked at 31% in 1968 (by the way, after many of the indexes had topped in 1966 – investors were still buying the dip), it embarked on steady decline over the next 14 years. This, despite the fact the stock market drifted sideways during that time. By the beginning of the secular bull market in 1982, the S&P 500 was right where it was in 1968. However, household stock investment was at an all-time low of 10.9%.

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She won but lost. What happens here is the future of Europe is decided by German voters alone. That is the core of the European problem.

Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)

Angela Merkel’s election result four years ago was, to be sure, extraordinary. It was clear from the surveys that her conservatives wouldn’t be able to repeat it. But a fall like this? Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) saw their joint result fall by more than eight%age points – their worst showing since 1949. During her first appearance after the election at her party’s headquarters, the chancellor said she had, in fact, hoped for a somewhat better result. Those gathered at the headquarters dutifully chanted, “Angie, Angie.” Then things grew quiet again. Nobody waved the German flag. It was a far cry from 2013, when CDU politicians broke out into a spontaneous karaoke session after the results were announced. This time, the prominent members of Merkel’s party who had gathered behind her on the stage seemed sobered by the tepid showing.

Merkel can keep her job as chancellor, the “strategic goal” has been achieved, as Merkel refers to it. But it comes at a high price. Voters have severely punished the parties of the current governing coalition, with Merkel’s conservatives losing dozens of seats in parliament. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will now enter parliament with a strong, double-digit result. And it will be extremely difficult for Merkel to build a government coalition that will be stable for the next four years. There won’t just be a sprinkling of renegades representing the AfD in parliament. The right-wing populists will be the third-largest party in the Bundestag and they have announced their intention to “chase down” the chancellor as one of the party’s two leading candidates expressed it on Sunday.

The election campaign already gave a taste of what might be coming, with AfD supporters loudly venting their hatred and anger at events held by Merkel’s CDU. Merkel, who isn’t known for being the world’s best public speaker, will now be confronted by them on a daily basis. And the conservatives will also have to ask themselves what share of the responsibility they carry for the AfD’s success. What can they do to win back disappointed voters? More than a million voters are believed to have flocked from the CDU and the CSU to the AfD. And most of them say that it was the chancellor’s refugee policies that led them to vote for the right-wing competition. It’s little wonder, then, that Merkel has identified the enduring regulation of refugee flows and domestic security as the key topics for the coming years.

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I went for the headline. But good insights too.

Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)

1. Merkel’s twilight has begun SPD leader Martin Schulz told Merkel on live television she was the election’s “biggest loser.” A bit harsh perhaps (especially coming from a candidate who just recorded his party’s worst-ever result), but there’s some truth to it. Instead of addressing tough questions such as migration head-on, Merkel ran a vague, feel-good campaign, promising a “Germany in which we live well and happily,” while offering few specifics about how she wanted to get there.

2. Germany’s consensus-driven political model is shattered The next parliament will include seven parties (eight, if you count the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU), representing a much more diverse cross-section of the country’s body politic than its predecessor. Sparks will fly. The inclusion of the far right in parliament will make German politics louder and nastier. AfD leader Jörg Meuthen made it clear Sunday that confrontation and “provocation” were central to the party’s strategy. If other European countries where populists have a strong foothold are any indication, that no-holds-barred spirit will infect the political mainstream, creating a decidedly more raucous political climate.

3. Forget about meaningful eurozone reforms Merkel’s conservatives were skeptical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s reform proposals even before Sunday. A grand coalition represented the French president’s best chance for realizing his vision. With that option now off the table, a weakened Merkel is unlikely to be able win over the Free Democrats and skeptics in her own party, even if she wanted to. France and Germany may agree to establish some form of budget and an oversight position for the eurozone with the title of finance minister, but neither will have the scope the French, not to mention many economists, had been hoping for.

4. Berlin will play hardball with Europe on refugees German patience over Europe’s lack of solidarity on the refugee front was already wearing thin. After Sunday’s result, look for outright confrontation with countries like Poland and Hungary. In the view of many Christian Democrats, the AfD would have never gotten this far if other European countries had taken in their fair share of refugees instead of letting Germany bear the burden. It’s payback time.

5. This isn’t Weimar For all the breathless historical comparisons, it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering Germany is a stable democracy. The vast majority of Germans didn’t vote for the AfD and most of those who did, did so in protest. The coming years won’t be pretty, but Germany’s democratic foundations are robust enough to withstand the populist onslaught.

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Not could, will. Already has.

German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)

Weakened by the worst result for her party since 1949 and facing a more fractious political landscape at home, Germany’s Angela Merkel could be forced to rein in plans to re-shape Europe together with France’s Emmanuel Macron. Merkel’s conservatives garnered more support than any other party in the German election on Sunday, projections showed, ensuring that she will return for a fourth term as chancellor. But her party appeared on track for its poorest performance since the first German election after World War Two and its only path to power may be through an unwieldy, untested three-way coalition with the ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), fierce critics of Macron’s ideas for Europe.

Over the next four years, Merkel will also have to cope with a more confrontational opposition force in the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a eurosceptic, anti-immigration party that rode a wave of public anger after her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015.[..] This will be a new world for Merkel, who has grown accustomed to cozy coalitions and toothless Bundestag opposition during her 12 years in power. “In my mind, reform of the euro zone is the single most important foreign policy issue that the new government has in front of it,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who runs the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. But he predicted a so-called “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the FDP and the Greens – whose combined party colors of black, yellow and green are like those the Jamaican national flag – would struggle to deliver.

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Party in the streets of Athens.

German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)

In the aftermath of the German election, there could be one important casualty for markets. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Finance minister, could soon lose his influence on Germany and the euro zone if coalition talks remove him from his key ministry. Schaeuble became the face of austerity and had a determinant role in bailout programs across the euro zone, namely Greece, and is often described as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s co-chancellor, given his importance to the German government. However, given the tough political horse-trading that lies ahead, Merkel might not manage to keep her close ally. “Coalition building will be extremely difficult,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC Monday via email.

“If Schauble would really no longer be Finance minister it would be a watershed for the entire euro zone. An exit of one of the main characters of the entire euro zone crisis clearly marks the end of a historical chapter,” he said. Merkel’s center-right CDU and its Bavarian sister-party the CSU won 33% of the vote, provisional votes showed, down from 41.5% in the previous election. The pro-business FDP party, which placed fourth with 10.7% of the votes, has said it is open for coalition talks with Merkel’s CDU. The Greens are set to join coalition talks too, which could ultimately form Germany’s first four-party government in decades. In German politics, it’s usually the case that the largest party chooses the chancellor, and the second largest group picks the next post.

As such, the FDP could opt for the Finance Ministry and put an end to Schaeuble’s eight-year reign. The future for Schaeuble is “the question” from a market perspective, Carsten Nickel, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC Monday. “In the end, I think there is probably very little alternative to Schaeuble, right now, at least in terms of individual politicians. There’s nobody who really comes to mind as the key person who would challenge him for that role. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays on in the end,” he said. f Germany were to lose Schaeuble as Finance minister, the current momentum for further euro zone integration could also be damaged.

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The firesale continues unabated. Prices were cut in half over the last decade, even in the high end. Greeks won’t own anything in their own country anymore.

Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)

The rise of tourism and the popularity of certain destinations such as Myconos and Santorini have sent demand for and purchases of luxury holidays homes soaring. The first half of the year saw a 63.5% annual increase in the inflow of capital for property buys in Greece, following a 45.3% rise in the entire 2016 year-on-year to reach 270 million euros. Another factor boosting investments in holiday homes grow is the considerable decline in prices – averaging at 50% – compared to the period before the financial crisis, around 2008. The drop mainly took place from 2009 to 2013, as this section of the property market has become stable since then with some growth signs mainly regarding properties that have unique features and are regarded as emblematic.

Several foreigner buyers are scrambling to complete their acquisitions within the year, sensing that the window of opportunity may shut in the coming months, as there already are cases of owners who are raising their asking prices in view of the spike in demand. Franceska Kalamara, the head of the Franceska Properties estate agency that is active in the Myconos market, tells Kathimerini that “the buyers from abroad are interested in sizable and luxurious properties, from 400 square meters upward, and at very favorable locations, as close to the sea as possible. These are mostly individuals from Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, but also from the US, while there has recently been particular activity by Cypriot buyers.”

Among the recent well-known buyers of luxurious homes on Greek islands are Israeli entrepreneur Teddy Sagi (owner of Camden Market in London) who bought a series of properties on Myconos, according to estate agency sources, and Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, buyer of two villas on the same island costing a total of some 11 million euros. It should be noted that the actual volume of the funds invested in the Greek holiday home market is far greater than reported by the Bank of Greece, as the majority of sellers ask buyers to deposit the money in bank accounts abroad. This trend has grown considerably since the imposition of capital controls two years ago.

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But we like the story! Don’t take our modern mythology away.

There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

According to popular legend, the tulip craze took hold of all levels of Dutch society in the 1630s. “The rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade,” wrote Scottish journalist Charles Mackay in his popular 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. According to this narrative, everyone from the wealthiest merchants to the poorest chimney sweeps jumped into the tulip fray, buying bulbs at high prices and selling them for even more. Companies formed just to deal with the tulip trade, which reached a fever pitch in late 1636. But by February 1637, the bottom fell out of the market.

More and more people defaulted on their agreement to buy the tulips at the prices they’d promised, and the traders who had already made their payments were left in debt or bankrupted. At least that’s what has always been claimed. In fact, “There weren’t that many people involved and the economic repercussions were pretty minor,” Goldgar says. “I couldn’t find anybody that went bankrupt. If there had been really a wholesale destruction of the economy as the myth suggests, that would’ve been a much harder thing to face.” That’s not to say that everything about the story is wrong; merchants really did engage in a frantic tulip trade, and they paid incredibly high prices for some bulbs. And when a number of buyers announced they couldn’t pay the high price previously agreed upon, the market did fall apart and cause a small crisis—but only because it undermined social expectations.

“In this case it was very difficult to deal with the fact that almost all of your relationships are based on trust, and people said, ‘I don’t care that I said I’m going to buy this thing, I don’t want it anymore and I’m not going to pay for it.’ There was really no mechanism to make people pay because the courts were unwilling to get involved,” Goldgar says. But the trade didn’t affect all levels of society, and it didn’t cause the collapse of industry in Amsterdam and elsewhere. As Garber, the economist, writes, “While the lack of data precludes a solid conclusion, the results of the study indicate that the bulb speculation was not obvious madness.” [..] All the outlandish stories of economic ruin, of an innocent sailor thrown in prison for eating a tulip bulb, of chimney sweeps wading into the market in hopes of striking it rich—those come from propaganda pamphlets published by Dutch Calvinists worried that the tulip-propelled consumerism boom would lead to societal decay.

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Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Eugene Delacroix Greece expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1826

 

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, famous for his imbibition capacity and uttering -not necessarily in that order- the legendary words “when it becomes serious, you have to lie”, presented his State of the Union today. Which is of pretty much limited interest because, as Yanis Varoufakis’ book ‘Adults in the Room’ once again confirmed, Juncker is nothing but ventriloquist Angela Merkel’s sock puppet.

But of course he had lofty words galore, about how great Europe is doing, and how that provides a window for more Europe, in multiple dimensions. Juncker envisions a European Minister of Finance (Dutch PM Rutte immediately scorned the idea), and he wants to enlarge the EU by inviting more countries in, like Albania, Montenegro and Serbia (but not Turkey!).

Juncker had negative things to say about Britain and Brexit, about Poland, Prague and Hungary who don’t want to obey the decree about letting in migrants and refugees, and obviously about Donald Trump: Brussels apparently wants ‘to make our planet great again’.

What the likes of Jean-Claude don’t seem to be willing to contemplate, let alone understand or acknowledge, is that the EU is a union of sovereign countries. The meaning of ‘sovereignty’ fully escapes much of the pro-EU crowd. And if they keep that up, it will break the union into pieces.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary must accept their migrant ‘quota’, as decided in Brussels, and that, too, constitutes an infringement on these countries’ sovereignty. And don’t forget, sovereignty is not something that can be divided into separate parts, some of which can be upheld while others are discarded. A country is either sovereign or it is not.

The single euro currency is already shirking awfully close to violating sovereignty, if not passing over an invisible line, and a European Finance Minister would certainly constitute such a violation. At some point, the politicians in all these countries will have to tell their voters that they’re about to surrender -more of- their sovereignty and become citizens of Merkel Land. But they don’t want to do that, because as soon as people would realize this, the pitchforks would come out and the union would be history.

The EU will be able to muddle on for a while longer, but Europe is not at all doing great economically (however, to maintain the illusion ECB head Draghi buys €60 billion a month in ‘assets’), and when the next crisis comes people will demand their sovereignty back. It really is that simple. And what will the negotiations look like to make that happen? 27 times Brexit?

 

The real Europe is not the one Juncker paints a portrait of. The real Europe is Greece. That’s where you can see the economic reality as well as the political one. Greece has no sovereignty left to speak of, despite the fact that it is guaranteed it in EU law. Europe’s political reality is about raw power. About the rich waterboarding the poor, to the point that they are turned from sovereign citizens of their countries into lost souls in debt prisons.

This week, another chapter has been added to the dismal annals of the Greek adventures in the European Union. It’s like the Odyssee, I kid you not. Like the previous chapters, this one will not solve the Greek crisis, or even alleviate it, but instead it will deepen it further, and not a little bit. This chapter concerns the forced auctioning of -real estate- properties.

Not to Greeks, 90% of whom can’t afford to buy anything at all, let alone property, but to foreigners, often institutional investors. At the same time, bad loans, including mortgage loans, will be offloaded for pennies on the dollar to that same class of ‘investors’. Once the Troika is done with this chapter, Greece will have seen capital destruction the likes of which the world has seldom if ever witnessed.

People in the country have a hard time understanding the impact:

Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower

Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”

[..]Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH [..] told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”

He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”

A 10% drop? Excuse me? Even in the center of Athens, rental prices for apartments that are not yet absorbed by Airbnb have plummeted. With so many people making just a few hundred euro a month that is inevitable. You can rent a decent place for €200 a month, and if you keep looking I’m sure you can find one for €100. An 80% drop?! But property prices would only go down by 10% in a market that has 20 times more unsold properties than it sells in a year?

The Troika creditors found they had to deal with attempts to prevent the wholesale fire sale of Greek properties. They now think they’ve found the solution. First, they will force the government to lower official valuations concerning the so-called “primary residence protection”, which protected homes valued at below €300,000 from foreclosure. Second, they will bypass the associations of notaries who refused to cooperate in ‘physical’ auctions, as well as protesters, by doing the fire sale electronically:

E-Auctions Of Foreclosed Property For First Time This Month In Greece

Environment and Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis confirmed the development in statements to a local television station, announcing the relevant justice ministry is ready to begin electronic auctions in the middle of next week.At the same time, Stathakis noted that a law protecting a debtor’s primary residence from creditors will be expanded until the end of 2018. According to reports, the e-auctions will take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday over a four-hour period, i.e. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Some 5,000 foreclosed commercial properties will be up for sale by the end of the year, which translates into 1,250 properties per month, on average.

Currently, the primary residence protection against foreclosure extends to properties valued (by the State tax bureau) at under €300,000, a very high threshold that shields the “lion’s share” of mortgaged residential real estate in the country, if judged by current commercial property values in Greece. Creditors and local lenders have called for a decrease in the protection threshold, a prospect that is very likely.

The development is also expected to generate another round of acrimonious political skirmishing, given that both leftist SYRIZA, and its junior coalition partner, the rightist-populist Independent Greeks party, rode to power in January 2015 on a election campaign platform that included an almost universal protection of residential property from bank foreclosures and auctions.

Associations representing notaries – professionals who in Greece are law school graduates specializing in drawing up contracts and maintaining registries of deeds, property transactions, wills etc. – had also blocked old-style auctions from taking place in district courts by ordering their members not to take part. The e-auction process aims to bypass this opposition, as well as disruptions and occupations of courtrooms by anti-austerity protesters.

The claim is that Greek banks must be made healthy again by removing bad loans from their books. The question is if selling both properties and bad loans to foreign institutional investors for pennies on the buck is a healthy way to achieve that. But yeah, if 50% of your outstanding loans are bad, you have a problem. Still, at the same time, the problem with that is that many if not most of those loans have turned sour because of the neverending carrousel of austerity measures unleashed upon the country. It’s a proverbial chicken and egg issue.

If Brussels were serious about Greek sovereignty, it would make sure that Greek homes were to remain in Greek hands. You can’t be sovereign if foreigners own most of your real estate. By bleeding the country dry, and forcing the sale of Greek property to Germans, Americans, Russians and Arabs, the Troika infringes upon Greek sovereignty in ways that will scare the heebees out of other EU nations.

It’s not for nothing that the entire Italian opposition is talking about a parallel currency next to the euro. That is about sovereignty.

5,000 Greek Properties Under the Electronic Auction System by End of 2017

Auctions of foreclosed properties to settle bad debts are seen as key to returning Greek banks to health by helping reduce the burden of non-performing loans. These currently stand at roughly €110 billion, or 50% of the banks’ total loans. Under pressure from its lenders, in the summer of 2016 the Greek government passed measures allowing the sale of delinquent mortgages and small business loans to international funds, a move seen by many as yet another betrayal by the SYRIZA-led government.

Greek banks won’t return to health, they’ll simply shrink the same way the people do who can’t afford to rent a home or eat decent food. Austerity kills entire societies, including banks. If Mario Draghi would decide tomorrow morning to include Greece in his €60 billion a month QE bond-buying program, and Greece could use that money to stop squeezing pensions and wages, and no longer raise taxes and unemployment, both the people AND the banks could return to health. It would take a number of years, but still.

 


Attica! Attica!

 

Whatever you call what happens to Greece, and what’s been happening for nearly 10 years now, whether you call it fiscal waterboarding or Shock Doctrine, it is definitely not something that has a place in a union of sovereign nations bound together in mutual respect and dignity. And that will ensure the demise of that union.

 

Another aspect of the fire sale is the valuation of the properties austerity has caused to crumble (so many buildings in Athens are empty and falling apart, it’s deeply tragic, at times it feels like the entire city is dying). The press calls it a hard task, but that doesn’t quite cover it.

It’s not just about mortgages, many Greeks simply give up their properties because they can’t afford the taxes on them. People that inherit property refuse to accept their inheritance, even if it’s been in their families for generations, and it’s where they grew up. In that sense, it may be good to lower valuations to more realistic levels. But tax revenues will plunge along with the valuations, and the government is already stretched silly. Add a new tax, then?

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax.

Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Yeah, there’s the health of the banks again. And the government. And the people. A wholesale fire sale is the worst possible thing that could happen at this point in time. Greece needs help, stimulus, hope, not more austerity and fire sales. Juncker and his Berlin ventriloquist have this all upside down and backwards, squared. The one thing the EU cannot afford itself to do, is the one thing it engages in.

They may as well pack in the whole thing today, and go home. Actually, that would be by far the best option, because more of this will inevitably lead to the very thing Europe prides itself in preventing for the past 70 years: battle, struggle, war, fighting in the streets, and worse. If the EU cannot show it exists for the good and benefit of its people, it no longer has a reason to exist.

Saving the banks in the richer countries by waterboarding an entire other country is not just the worst thing they could have thought of, it’s entirely unnecessary too. The EU and ECB could easily have saved Greece from 90% of what it has gone through, and will go through going forward, at virtually no cost at all. But yes, German, French, Dutch banks would likely have had to cut the bonuses of their bankers, and their vulture funds couldn’t have snapped up the real estate quite that cheaply.

Summarized: the EU is a disgrace, morally, politically, economically. I know that French President Macron on the one side, and Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement on the other, talk about reforming the EU. But the EU is the mob, and you don’t reform the mob. You dismantle their organization and then you lock them up.