May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 2:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vittorio Matteo Corcos Conversation in the Jardin du Luxembourg 1892

 

Obviously, there are tensions between Europe and the US. Just as obviously, these tensions are blamed on, who else, Donald Trump. European Council President Donald Tusk recently said: “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” EU Commission chair Jean-Claude Juncker even proclaimed that “Europe must take America’s place as global leader”.

These European ‘leaders’ love the big words. They think they make them look good, strong. In reality, they are merely messenger boys for Berlin and Paris. Who have infinitely more say than Brussels. Problem is, Berlin and Paris are not united at all. Macron wants more Europe, especially in finance, but Merkel knows she can’t sell that at home.

So what are those big words worth when the whip comes down? It’s amusing to see how different people reach wholly different conclusions about that. Instructive and entertaining. First, Alex Gorka at The Strategic Culture Foundation, who likes the big words too: “..a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US.” and “May 17 is the day the revolt started and there is no going back. Europe has said goodbye to trans-Atlantic unity. It looks like it has had enough.

 

Brussels Rises In Revolt Against Washington: A Turning Point In US-European Relations

The May 16-17 EU-Western Balkans summit did address the problems of integration, but it was eclipsed by another issue. The meeting turned out to be a landmark event that will go down in history as the day Europe united to openly defy the US. The EU will neither review the Iran nuclear deal (JPCOA) nor join the sanctions against Tehran that have been reintroduced and even intensified by America.

Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the JPCOA was the last straw, forcing the collapse of Western unity. The Europeans found themselves up against a wall. There is no point in discussing further integration or any other matter if the EU cannot protect its own members. But now it can.

[..] As European Council President Donald Tusk put it, “With friends like Trump, who needs enemies?” According to him, the US president has “rid Europe of all illusions.” Mr. Tusk wants Europe to “stick to our guns” against new US policies. Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, believes that “Europe must take America’s place as global leader” because Washington has turned its back on its allies.

Washington “no longer wants to cooperate.” It is turning away from friendly relations “with ferocity.” Mr. Juncker thinks the time is ripe for Europe “to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor.” It would have been unthinkable not long ago for a top EU official to say such things and challenge the US global leadership. Now the unthinkable has become reality.

[..] Sandra Oudkirk, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy, has just threatened to sanction the Europeans if they continue with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring gas in from Russia across the Baltic Sea.

[..] President Donald Trump has just instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to prepare a list of new sanctions against the Russian Federation for its alleged violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. [..] But nobody in Europe has announced that they want US nuclear-tipped intermediate- range weapons on their territory that will be a target for a potential retaliatory strike by Russia.

[..] The time is ripe for Brussels to stop this sanctions-counter-sanctions mayhem and stake out its own independent policies on Russia, Iran, defense, and other issues, that will protect European, not US, national interests. May 17 is the day the revolt started and there is no going back. Europe has said goodbye to trans-Atlantic unity. It looks like it has had enough.

As for placing new nukes in Europe, that will be a hard sell. But the US will probably find countries that say yes, provided they are compensated well. Just don’t try it in Holland, Germany or France. But also don’t forget the amount of nukes already on the continent: just call it an upgrade.

Nord Stream 2 is tricky, but mostly an economic issue: Trump wants to sell American gas to Europe, and uses the bad bad Putin narrative to make that happen. Still, the pipeline has been in the pipeline for a long time, and a lot of time and money has been spent on it. It’ll be hard for the US to cut it off at this late stage.

When it comes to claiming the EU will not review the Iran nuclear deal, isn’t that exactly what they are indeed doing? Reuters:

 

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists.

Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

All in all, Mr. Gorka doesn’t convince me. Europe doesn’t speak with one voice, and we wouldn’t even know which voice speaks for it. Just that it isn’t Juncker or Tusk, they’re handpuppets. Moreover, Europe has so many internal issues to deal with that it has a hard time speaking at all. A landmark event in US-EU relations may happen one day, but May 17 wasn’t it.

What I find more interesting is the account of academic John Laughland, ‘a historian and specialist in international affairs’, at RT:

 

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are

Donald Tusk may say “Europe must be united economically, politically and also militarily like never before … either we are together or we are not at all” but Europe is indeed not “together” at all. The Brussels commission is hounding Poland and Hungary on what are clearly internal political matters beyond the Commission’s remit; the EU is about to lose one of its most important member states; and a new government is going to take power in Rome whose economic policies (a flat tax at 15%) will blow the eurozone’s borrowing rules out of the water and perhaps cause Italy to leave the euro.

The Italian 5-Star/League government also wants an end to the EU sanctions against Russia; these are voted by a unanimity which, although fragile, has held until now but which, if the new power in Rome keeps its word, will shortly collapse. In other words, what Trump has done is to make the Europeans look like the fools they are. In circumstances in which the EU has placed all its eggs in one basket, a basket which Trump has now overturned, it will be impossible for it to come together. On the contrary, it is falling apart.

[..] the EU draws its entire legitimacy from the belief that by pooling sovereignty and by merging its states into one entity, it has advanced beyond the age when international relations were decided by force. It believes that it embodies instead a new international system based on rules and agreements, and that any other system leads to war. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this belief for European leaders; yet Donald Trump has just driven a coach and horses through it.

The angry statements by European leaders might lead one to think that we are on the cusp of a major reappraisal of trans-Atlantic relations. However, the reality is that the EU and its leaders have painted themselves into a corner from which it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to extricate themselves.

Like I said, completely different conclusions based on the exact same events. The EU risks what might turn into an existential crisis with Beppe Grillo effectively holding the reins of power in Rome. The new government may have dropped the demand for a €260 billion debt relief, but the basic income plan is still there, and so is dropping Russian sanctions.

The new guys can’t divert from their election promises much further, they need to maintain their credibility. But for a lot of their promises it is not at all clear how they could possible fit into the present EU structure. Try their demand for a mechanism to leave the EU.

Italy is so large that Brussels cannot be too aggressive against it. The ECB cannot stop buying Italian bonds, as it did with Greek ones. And at some point the debt relief demand will return too.

But Laughland has a lot more cold water to pour on the alleged but toothless European revolt. In the shape of NATO. This is scary for every European:

 

[..] the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Anything else about those dreams of standing up to Trump? Have the past and present leaders in Brussels, and in Berlin and Paris and Rome, betrayed their own citizens? Sold them out? How far removed is this from treason? And does this perhaps indicate that it’s high time for a complete and utter overhaul of the European Union?

It sure sounds a lot more realistic than Europe replacing America as the global leader.

Who needs enemies? NATO does.

 

 

May 192018
 
 May 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon 1890

 

Train Crash Preview (Mauldin)
Bear Market Repo’s (Roberts)
Mushrooming Matrix of Scandals (Jim Kunstler)
Italy’s New Parallel Currency Plan (ZH)
Italy’s Populist Coalition Government Poses New Threat To Eurozone (Ind.)
Trump Drives Wedge Between Germany and France (Spiegel)
Putin Seeks Common Cause With Merkel Over Trump (R.)
EU Considers Iran Central Bank Transfers To Beat US Sanctions (R.)
Common Fungal Infections Becoming Incurable (Ind.)

 

 

Mauldin sees a Jubilee in your future.

Train Crash Preview (Mauldin)

Unemployment may approach the high teens by the end of the decade and GDP growth will be minimal at best. What do you call that condition? Certainly not business as usual. Long before that happens, the Federal Reserve will have engaged in massive quantitative easing. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about QE, so let me clarify something important. Quantitative easing is not about “printing money.” It is buying debt with excess bank reserves and keeping that debt on the Fed’s balance sheet as an asset. The Bank of Japan is an example. They did not put currency (yen) into the market. That’s how Japan still flirts with deflation and its currency has gotten stronger. QE is the opposite of printing money, though there is a relationship. That’s one reason central bankers like it.

As this recession unfolds, we will see the Fed and other developed world central banks abandon their plans to reverse QE programs. I think the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet assets could approach $20 trillion later in the next decade. Not a typo—I really mean $20 trillion, roughly quintuple what they did after 2008. They won’t need to worry about the deflation that usually accompanies such deep recessions (dare we say depression?) because the Treasury will be injecting lots of high-powered money into the economy via deficit spending. But since we have never been in this territory before, I must say this is only my guess.

If that’s what they do, will it work? No. The world simply has too much debt, much of it (perhaps most) unpayable. At some point, the major central banks of the world and their governments will do the unthinkable and agree to “reset” the debt. How? It doesn’t matter how, they just will. They’ll make the debt disappear via something like an Old Testament Jubilee. I know that’s stunning, but it’s really the only possible solution to the global debt problem. Pundits and economists will insist “it can’t be done” right up to the moment it happens—probably planned in secret and announced suddenly. Jaws will drop, and net lenders will lose.

Read more …

“A 50% decline wipes out 100% of the previous gain. ”

Bear Market Repo’s (Roberts)

An interesting email hit my desk this morning: “The stock market goes up 80% of the time, so why worry about the declines?” Like a “bull” – rising markets tend to be steady, strong and durable. Conversely, “bear” markets are fast “mauling”events that leave you deeply wounded at best and dead at worst. Yes, the majority of the time the markets are “bullish.” It’s the “math” that ultimately gets you during a “bear” market. The real devastation caused by “bear market” declines are generally misunderstood because they tend to be related in terms of percentages. For example: “Over the last 36-months, the market rose by 100%, but has recently dropped by 50%.”

See, nothing to worry as an investor would still be ahead by 50%, right? Nope. A 50% decline wipes out 100% of the previous gain. This is why looking at things in terms of percentages is so misleading. A better way to examine bull and bear markets is in terms of points gained or lost. Notice that in many cases going back to 1900, a large chunk of the previous gains were wiped out by the subsequent decline. (A function of valuations and mean reversions.) Recently Upfina posted a great chart on “Bear Market Repo’s” which illustrates this point very well. To wit:

“Many confuse bear markets with being black swan events that cannot be predicted, however, this is a faulty approach to investing. The economy, market, and nature itself move in cycles. Neither a bear market nor a bull market last forever and are actually the result of one another. That is to say, a bear market is the author of a bull market and a bull market is an author of a bear market. Low valuations lead to increased demand, and high valuations lead to less demand.”

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“I won’t be completely satisfied until the editors of The New York Times have to answer to charges of sedition in a court of law.”

Mushrooming Matrix of Scandals (Jim Kunstler)

[..] a great deal is already known about the misdeeds surrounding Hillary and her supporters, including Mr. Obama and his inner circle, and some of those incriminating particulars have been officially certified — for example, the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on recommendations of the Agency’s own ethics committee, with overtones of criminal culpability. There is also little ambiguity left about the origin of the infamous Steele Dossier. It’s an established fact that it was bought-and-paid-for by the Democratic National Committee, which is to say the Hillary campaign, and that many of the dramatis personae involved lied about it under oath.

Many other suspicious loose ends remain to be tied. Those not driven insane by Trumpophobia are probably unsatisfied with the story of what Attorney General Loretta Lynch was doing, exactly, with former President Bill Clinton during that Phoenix airport tête-à-tête a few days before FBI Director Jim Comey exonerated Mr. Clinton’s wife in the email server “matter.” One can see where this tangled tale is tending: to the sacred chamber known as the grand jury. Probably several grand juries. That will lead to years of entertaining courtroom antics at the same time that the USA’s financial condition fatefully unravels.

That event might finally produce the effect that all the exertions of the so-called Deep State have failed to achieve so far: the discrediting of Donald Trump. Alas, the literal discrediting of the USA and its hallowed institutions — including the US dollar — may be a much more momentous thing than the fall of Trump. Personally, I won’t be completely satisfied until the editors of The New York Times have to answer to charges of sedition in a court of law.

Read more …

The EU will not like this.

Italy’s New Parallel Currency Plan (ZH)

In 2009/10, squeezed by insolvency, a lack of liquidity, and Federal limitations, the California government began to issue a ‘parallel currency’ in IOUs in lieu of payment on everything from supplies to contracted services and health-care costs, so it can actually preserve cash to make payments to its generous debtors. Now, eight years later, despite all the talk of ‘recovery’ and ‘global synchronous growth’ and ‘normalization’, Italy’s newly-formed coalition of The League and Five Star (which some have likened to Trumpian ‘nationalist’ Republicans merging with Bernie leftists) have put forward a plan that, among other things, includes the introduction of a parallel currency for Italy – ‘mini-BOTs’. The chart below, created by analysts at Nomura, shows where both stand on key policy issues, highlighting both their similarities and their differences as they prepare to govern together.

It is the Italian euroskepticism that dominates market concerns. Investors were initially spooked by a section where the nascent coalition floated plans to ask for €250 billion in debt forgiveness for the country. But, as Credit Suisse argued, “A markedly Eurosceptic prime minister… as well as concrete support for the introduction of a parallel currency (so-called Mini-BOTs’), would be major negatives, in our view.” So what are ‘Mini-BOTs’? In order to settle bills with suppliers or creditors the state might consider “instruments such as mini-government notes” which may also be used in turn to repay tax arrears, says the government program agreed by the two parties’ representatives and leaders. Earlier this year, outgoing Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan described the proposal as “a plan to circulate a disguised parallel currency”.

It is this section of the Five Star-League Accord that raised eyebrows… “Something must be done to resolve the problem of the public administration debts to taxpayers.” Claudio Borghi, the League’s economic chief who helped write the government plan, told la Verita newspaper that the new securities “could be spent anywhere, to buy anything”. Mike Shedlock previously noted that ‘Mini-Bots’ are a parallel currency based on future tax receipts, similar to the plans proposed by Yanis Varoufakis in Greece. The minibot was in the Lega’s election manifesto. Five Star is far less radical on the eurozone, having dropped the idea of a referendum, but also seeks changes that are incompatible with the the EU fiscal rules. A parallel currency stands a much greater chance of success in Italy, and it would go some way to solving the government’s fiscal dilemmas. The open question is whether it would constitute a slippery slope towards euro exit.

Read more …

Hard to find a headline on this, let alone an article, that does not mention ‘populist’.

Italy’s Populist Coalition Government Poses New Threat To Eurozone (Ind.)

Two Italian, populist, eurosceptic parties have reached an agreement to form a government of the eurozone’s third largest economy, setting up the single currency bloc for a possible new crisis. March’s national elections in Italy delivered a hung parliament, but also left the virulently anti-immigrant Lega Nord and the radical anti-establishment Five Star Movement as the two parties with the most seats. After a week of intense wrangling, the leaders of the two parties – which have sharply divergent outlooks in a host of areas – announced on Friday that they had agreed upon a common programme.

“This government contract binds two political forces that are and remain alternative, to respect and achieve what they promised to citizens,” said the Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio. Both parties ran on electoral platforms that threatened conflict with the eurozone and the EU, in areas ranging from busting national budget deficit rules, to clamping down on immigration to lifting sanctions on Russia. The two parties will stage informal ballots of their supporters on the programme over the next three days, meaning the coalition could take office early next week. Italian 10-year borrowing costs spiked above 7% in 2011 and 2012, threatening a fiscal crisis for Rome, as traders panicked that the the single currency could be on the verge of splitting apart.

They have since come down dramatically as the European Central Bank has been heavily buying up the country’s sovereign bonds as part of its money printing programme, with the country’s borrowing costs hitting a low of 1.051% in 2016. On Friday 10-year bond yields, which move in the opposite direction to prices, on Friday rose to 2.2%, the highest since October 2017, although the markets still seem generally unperturbed by the prospect of a Five Star-Lega Nord coalition. The common programme, published online on Friday, promises a universal basic income of €780 per person per month, which it says should be part funded by the EU. It wants “limited deficit spending” to boost GDP growth and a review of the EU’s fiscal rules. Sanctions on Russia should be lifted immediately, its says.

Read more …

Macron as Napoleon.

Trump Drives Wedge Between Germany and France (Spiegel)

The French president has recognized the opportunity that opposition to the U.S. sanctions presents. It provides him with a perfect chance to prove to the French people why they really need Europe. He believes that only Europe can stand up to the deal-breaking Americans. In Berlin, meanwhile, the focus is on “realpolitik” — the notion that there isn’t much Europe can do to oppose Trump. Officials in the German capital believe that the U.S. president will play hardball when it comes to Iran. What really appears to be the problem, however, is a lack of political will. When push comes to shove, the Iran deal is likely less important to Altmaier than the dispute over the Trump administration’s threat of punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe.

He wants to prevent the dispute from boiling into a full-fledged trade war that would spread to the heart of the German economy — the automobile industry. As a major exporter, America’s punitive tariffs would hit Germany much harder than they would France. “The U.S. can’t be the world’s economic police,” French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said earlier this month. Le Maire and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called a demonstrative joint press conference inside the monumental Finance and Economics Ministry in Paris looking like they were ready go toe-to-toe with Washington. Le Drian spoke of “our determination to fight to ensure that the decisions taken by the United States don’t have any repercussions on French businesses.” Le Maire added: “All of Europe is faced with the challenge of asserting its economic sovereignty.”

Read more …

My guess is the pipeline will be built.

Putin Seeks Common Cause With Merkel Over Trump (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday that he would stand up to any attempts by U.S. President Donald Trump to block a Russian-German gas pipeline project. Berlin and Moscow have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea four years ago, but they share a common interest in the Nordstream 2 pipeline project, which will allow Russia to export more natural gas to northern Europe. A U.S. government official this week said Washington had concerns about the project, and that companies involved in Russian pipeline projects faced a higher risk of being hit with U.S. sanctions.

“Donald is not just the U.S. president, he’s also a good, tough entrepreneur,” Putin said at a news conference, alongside Merkel, after the two leaders had talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. “He’s promoting the interests of his business, to ensure the sales of liquefied natural gas on the European market,” Putin said. “I understand the U.S. president. He’s defending the interests of his business, he wants to push his product on the European market. But it depends on us, how we build our relations with our partners, it will depend on our partners in Europe.” “We believe it (the pipeline) is beneficial for us, we will fight for it.”

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A bridge too far for Juncker?

EU Considers Iran Central Bank Transfers To Beat US Sanctions (R.)

The European Commission is proposing that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid U.S. penalties, an EU official said, in what would be the most forthright challenge to Washington’s newly reimposed sanctions. The step, which would seek to bypass the U.S. financial system, would allow European companies to repay Iran for oil exports and repatriate Iranian funds in Europe, a senior EU official said, although the details were still to be worked out. The European Union, once Iran’s biggest oil importer, is determined to save the nuclear accord, that U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned on May 8, by keeping money flowing to Tehran as long as the Islamic Republic complies with the 2015 deal to prevent it from developing an atomic weapon.

“Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed this to member states. We now need to work out how we can facilitate oil payments and repatriate Iranian funds in the European Union to Iran’s central bank,” said the EU official, who is directly involved in the discussions. The U.S. Treasury announced on Tuesday more sanctions on officials of the Iranian central bank, including Governor Valiollah Seif. But the EU official said the bloc believes that does not sanction the central bank itself.

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We use so many chemicals so much, we’ll end up eradicating ourselves. No caution, no precautionary principle.

Common Fungal Infections Becoming Incurable (Ind.)

Common fungal infections are “becoming incurable” with global mortality exceeding that for malaria or breast cancer because of drug-resistant strains which “terrify” doctors and threaten the food chain, a new report has warned. Writing in a special “resistance” edition of the journal Science, researchers from Imperial College London and Exeter University have shown how crops, animals and people are all threatened by nearly omnipresent fungi. “Fungal infections on human health are currently spiralling, and the global mortality for fungal diseases now exceeds that for malaria or breast cancer,” the report notes.

While the problem of bacteria becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics has been widely reported on, and likened to the “apocalypse” by medical leaders, the risks of disease-causing fungi have received far less recognition. Fungicides share a problem with antibiotics in that the organisms they aim to kill are becoming resistant to treatments faster than they can be developed, and there are growing numbers of people vulnerable to infection. “We’ve got increasing numbers of immunosuppressed patients, that’s what fungi love to parasitise,” Matthew Fisher, professor of fungal disease epidemiology at Imperial, told The Independent.

“Half a million people a year probably die from fungal meningitis in Africa, which wouldn’t affect them if they didn’t have Aids. “Similarly in the UK we have transplant patients as well, as soon as you whack them on immunosuppressants they start coming down with fungal infections.” “Transplant doctors are absolutely terrified of these fungal infections,” he added, and the same issues arise in cancer patients, or people whose immune systems are destroyed by disease or age – leaving them unable to fight off infection on their own.

Read more …

May 072018
 


John French Sloan Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair 1912

 

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)
Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)
WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)
Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)
In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)
Mueller Investigation is In Jeopardy (ZH)
Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)
Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)
Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)
A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)
Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)
Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)
Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

 

 

Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Brazil in a bit. The list will grow. As the dollar rises, emerging countries need more dollars to pay their debt, pushing the dollar up even more. And investors pull their money out of these countries. Vicious circles everywhere.

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)

Argentina even issued a one-hundred-year bond at a spectacularly low rate (8.25%) with a very high demand, more than 3.5 times bid-to-cover. That $ 2.5 billion issuance seemed crazy. A one-hundred-year bond from a nation that has defaulted at least six times in the previous hundred years! Worse of all, those funds were used to finance current expenditure in local currency. The extraordinary demand for bonds and other assets in Argentina or Turkey was justified by expectations of reforms and a change that, as time passed, simply did not happen. Countries failed to control inflation, deliver lower than expected growth and imbalances soared just as the U.S. started to see some inflation, rates started to rise.

Suddenly, the yield spread between the U.S. 10-year bond and emerging markets debt was unattractive, and liquidity dried up faster than the speed of light even with a modest decrease of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Liquidity disappears because of extremely leveraged bets on one single trade – a weaker dollar, higher global growth- unwind. However, another problem exacerbates the reaction. An aggressive increase in the monetary base by the Argentine central bank made inflation rise above 23%. With an increase in the monetary base of 28% per year, and seeking to finance excess spending by printing money and raising debt to “buy time”, the seeds of the disaster were planted. Excess liquidity and the US dollar weakness stopped. Local currencies and external funding face risk of collapse.

The Sudden Stop. When most of the emerging economies entered into twin deficits -trade and fiscal deficits- and consensus praised “synchronized growth”, they were sealing their destiny: When the US dollar regains some strength, US rates rise due to an increase in inflation, the flow of cheap money to emerging markets is reversed. Synchronized indebted growth created the risk of synchronized collapse.

Read more …

Is this really the end of cheap debt? It’s dangerous too: if Turkey gets into real trouble, Erdogan will seek a scapegoat.

Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)

A resurgent dollar and higher borrowing costs are smashing through Argentina and Turkey’s currencies like a wrecking ball and raising the likelihood more broadly that emerging markets’ three-year long interest rate cutting cycle is at an end. Emerging markets came into the year flying, riding on the back of a healthy global economy and rising commodity prices alongside tame inflation and a weak dollar. It looked more than likely that a wave of rate cuts would keep rolling, allowing a bond rally to continue. From Brazil and Russia to Armenia and Zambia, developing countries, big and small, have been on a rate cutting spree. With hundreds of rate cuts since Jan. 2015, the average emerging market borrowing cost fell under 6% earlier this year from over 7% at the time.

Fund managers’ profits too have soared in this time, with emerging local currency debt among the best performing asset classes, with dollar-based returns of 14% last year. Even in the first quarter of 2018, returns were a buoyant 4.3% Now though, almost exactly five years since the so-called taper tantrum shook an emerging market rally, these gains appear to be on the cusp of reversal. Argentina has jacked up its interest rates to 40% in response to a rout in its peso currency, while Turkey was also forced into a rate rise as its lira hit record lows against the dollar. Indonesia, after heavy interventions to stem rupiah bleeding, has also said it could resort to policy tightening.

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Déja vu.

WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)

If you’re watching Argentina’s economy, it hasn’t been a banner week. This week, Argentina had to raise its key interest rate three times to keep the Argentine peso from losing even more value against the dollar. Three interest rate hikes in one week is a lot – it implies the first two didn’t work, and the Central Bank is not in control. The interest rate currently sits at 40%. That means the Central Bank pays 40% per year on peso-denominated debt, which can imply that they expect the value of the peso to fall somewhere in the ballpark of 40% over a one year period. A year ago in April, the rate was closer to 26%. Yikes. And the exchange rate kicked off the week at around 20.5 ARS/USD. It jumped almost to 23 ARS/USD, and is currently hovering around 21.8 ARS/USD.

[..] When the US dollar increases in value, emerging market currencies decrease, meaning in Argentina’s case it will take increasingly more pesos to buy dollars. This then amplifies the risk that emerging markets will be unable to make payments on dollar denominated debt, causing investors to sell their emerging market investments, further amplifying the currency stress. The timing specifically in the case of Argentina is uncannily bad. Until this week, non-residents investing in Argentina were exempt from paying the equivalent of capital gains taxes across the board, including local-currency peso-denominated central bank notes, or LEBACs. This Tuesday, this exemption on LEBACs officially no longer applied, meaning foreign holders of these notes now incur a tax equal to 5% on profits.

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“Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy..”

Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)

Remedies the Trump administration is prescribing for U.S. trade problems won’t work, and forays in trade disputes with China will harm the United States, a veteran China expert with decades of experience in bilateral relations said [in Silicon Valley] on Saturday. “I believe that Washington has misdiagnosed our trade problems, that its remedies for them won’t work, and that what it is doing will harm the United States and other countries as much or more than it does China,” said Chas Freeman, senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute, when addressing the annual conference of a prominent Chinese American group, the Committee of 100 (C100).

“The United States and China are each too globalized and dynamic to contain, too big and influential to ignore, and too successful and entangled with each other to divorce without bankrupting ourselves and all associated with us,” Freeman, also former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said in an opening keynote speech. Pointing out that there are many reasons for the United States to seek cooperative relations with a rising China, Freeman added that the Trump administration has decided “to pick a fight — to confront China both militarily and economically.” “The fact that we Americans consume more than we save means that we import more than we produce. That creates an overall trade deficit. Ironically, the Trump administration has just taken steps guaranteed to increase this deficit,” he said.

“It has reduced tax revenues and boosted deficit spending, mostly on military research, development, and procurement. These actions take the national savings rate even lower while inflating domestic demand for goods and services. They cause imports to surge,” he added. “Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy explains why China’s trade surplus with the United States is again rising even as its surplus with the rest of the world falls,” he said. “Unless Americans boost our national savings rate by hiking taxes or cut our consumption by falling into recession, our overall trade deficit is sure to bloat,” he said.

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The Market Will Plummet if Global Central Banks Pull Plug

“..the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors..”

In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)

Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with two-time, best-selling author Nomi Prins, who just released “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged The World.” Will the next crash be worse than the last one? Prins says, “Yes, it will because we will be falling from a higher height. The idea here is you are sinking on the Titanic as opposed to sinking on a canoe somewhere. All of this artificial conjured money is puffing up the system, along with money that is borrowed cheaply is also puffing up the system and creating asset bubbles everywhere. So, when things pop, there is more leakage to happen. The air in all these bubbles has created larger bubbles than we have had before.”

How does the common man protect himself? Prins says, “They have to own things, and by that I mean real assets, hard assets like silver and gold. That’s not as liquid, so taking cash out of banks and sort of keeping it in real things and keeping it on site . . . keeping cash physically. You need to extract it from the system because the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors. . . . Also, basically try to decrease your debt.”

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Did Flynn plead guilty because he couldn’t pay the legal bills?

How much longer until Mueller is whistled back by his superiors? Can Rosenstein keep silent as one judge after another slams the Special Counsel?

Mueller Investigation In Jeopardy (ZH)

A funny thing happened on the way to impeaching Donald Trump. After two-years of investigations by a highly politicized FBI and a Special Counsel stacked with Clinton supporters, Robert Mueller’s probe has resulted in the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the arrests of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the indictment of 13 Russian nationals on allegations of hacking the 2016 election – along with the raid of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The nation has been on the edge of insanity waiting for that much-promised and long awaited link tying President Trump to Vladimir Putin we were all promised, only to find out that there is no link, the deck appears to have been heavily stacked against Donald Trump by bad actors operating at the highest levels of the FBI, DOJ, Obama admin and Clinton camp, and the real Russian conspiracy in the 2016 election was the participation of high level Kremlin sources used in the anti-Trump dossier that Hillary Clinton paid for. Now, as the out-of-control investigation moves from the headlines and into court, the all-encompassing “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, may be in serious jeopardy.

As of Friday, three separate Judges have rendered harsh setbacks to the Mueller investigation – demanding, if you can believe it, facts and evidence to back up the Special Counsel’s claims – in unredacted format as one Judge demands, or risk having the cases tossed out altogether. [..] And as we noted yesterday, some have suggested that Flynn pleaded guilty due to the fact that federal investigations tend to bankrupt people who aren’t filthy rich – as was the case with former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee “God damn you to hell” after having to sell his home due to mounting legal fees over the inquiry. “Your investigation and others into the allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia are costing my family a great deal of money — more than $125,000 — and making a visceral impact on my children.”

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Quite strong for the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust.”

Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)

Until this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fellow institutionalists at the department had fought Congress’s demands for information with the tools of banal bureaucracy – resist, delay, ignore, negotiate. But Mr. Rosenstein took things to a new level on Tuesday, accusing House Republicans of “threats,” extortion and wanting to “rummage” through department documents. A Wednesday New York Times story then dropped a new slur, claiming “Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about [Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s ] investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.”

Mr. Rosenstein isn’t worried about rummaging. That’s a diversion from the department’s opposite concern: that it is being asked to comply with very specific – potentially very revealing – demands. Two House sources confirm for me that the Justice Department was recently delivered first a classified House Intelligence Committee letter and then a subpoena (which arrived Monday) demanding documents related to a new line of inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump investigation. The deadline for complying with the subpoena was Thursday afternoon, and the Justice Department flouted it. As the White House is undoubtedly monitoring any new congressional demands for information, it is likely that President Trump’s tweet Wednesday ripping the department for not turning over documents was in part a reference to this latest demand.

Republicans also demand the FBI drop any objections to declassifying a section of the recently issued House Intelligence Committee report that deals with a briefing former FBI Director James Comey provided about former national security adviser Mike Flynn. House Republicans say Mr. Comey told them his own agents did not believe Mr. Flynn lied to them. On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said that isn’t true. Someone isn’t being honest. Is the FBI more interested in protecting the reputations of two former directors (the other being Mr. Mueller, who dragged Mr. Flynn into court on lying grounds) than in telling the public the truth?

We can’t know the precise motivations behind the Justice Department’s and FBI’s refusal to make key information public. But whether it is out of real concern over declassification or a desire to protect the institutions from embarrassment, the current leadership is about 20 steps behind this narrative. Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust. There is nothing to be gained from pretending this is business as usual, or attempting to stem continued fallout by hiding further details.

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And debt pooling. So much for closer integration.

Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)

Leading politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to pass a resolution at a meeting this week to reject any pooling of debts in Europe and any fiscal policy without national parliamentary controls, Handelsblatt reported. The daily business newspaper, citing sources from the conservative bloc’s parliamentary leadership, said the senior politicians also oppose European Commission plans for a European finance minister. The group includes the parliamentary leaders of the conservative bloc in the Bundestag, the European Parliament as well as from Germany’s 16 states, Handelsblatt reported.

Merkel will join them on Monday for a meeting in Frankfurt. The report highlights the resistance among Merkel’s conservatives to any euro zone reforms that could see more German taxpayers’ money being used to fund other member states. The conservatives are nervous about European Union reform after bleeding support to the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party at national elections last September. Last month, Merkel called for a spirit of compromise on reforming the euro zone at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed for solidarity among members of the currency union.

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No smooth sailing.

Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)

German industrial orders unexpectedly dropped for the third month running in March due to weak foreign demand, data showed on Monday, suggesting factories in Europe’s largest economy are shifting into a lower gear. Contracts for German goods fell 0.9% after a downwardly revised drop of 0.2% the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had on average predicted a 0.5% rise in orders. “The economy is slowing down, that’s the sure take-away from today’s industrial orders data,” VP Bank Group analyst Thomas Gitzel said, adding that some growth forecasts would soon have to be revised down.

The government last month cut its 2018 growth forecast to 2.3% from 2.4% and expressed concern about international trade tensions. “The debate about tariffs has probably created great uncertainty in Europe’s export-driven industry,” Gitzel added. As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States. In the run-up to a June 1 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide on whether to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Berlin is urging its European partners to be flexible and pursue a broad deal that benefits both sides. The drop in industrial orders was led by foreign orders which fell by 2.6%, while domestic orders rose 1.5%, the data showed.

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But the government says there a million LESS people in poverty.

A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)

The number of children growing up in poverty in working households will be a million higher than in 2010, a new study has found. Research for the TUC estimates that 3.1 million children with working parents will be below the official breadline this year. About 600,000 children with working parents have been pushed into poverty because of the government’s benefit cuts and public sector pay restrictions, according to the report by the consultancy Landman Economics. The east Midlands will have the biggest increase in child poverty among working families, followed by the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, the research found. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said child poverty in working households had shot up since 2010.

“Years of falling incomes and benefit cuts have had a terrible human cost. Millions of parents are struggling to feed and clothe their kids,” she said. “The government is in denial about how many working families just can’t make ends meet. We need ministers to boost the minimum wage now, and use the social security system to make sure no child grows up in a family struggling to get by.” [..] A government spokeswoman said it did not recognise the TUC’s figures. She said: “The reality is there are now 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010, including 300,000 fewer children. “We want every child to get the very best chances in life. We know the best route out of poverty is through work, which is why it’s really encouraging that both the employment rate and household incomes have never been higher.”

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Shares down 13% this morning.

Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)

The survival of strike-hit Air France is in the balance, according to the country’s economy minister. Bruno Le Maire’s warning that Air France could “disappear” comes as staff begin another round of industrial action over a pay dispute. Despite the French state owning 14.3% of the Air France-KLM parent group, the loss-making airline would not be bailed out, he said. On Friday Air France-KLM’s chief executive quit over the crisis. Air France-KLM is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, but has seen a series of strikes in recent weeks. Monday’s walk-out is the 14th day of action, as staff press for a 5.1% salary increase this year. The government’s response is seen as a test of labour reforms launched by French President Emmanuel Macron. There have also been strikes at the state-owned SNCF rail company.

On Sunday, Mr Le Maire told French news channel BFM: “I call on everyone to be responsible: crew, ground staff, and pilots who are asking for unjustified pay hikes. “The survival of Air France is in the balance,” he said, adding that the state would not serve as a backstop for the airline’s debts. “Air France will disappear if it does not make the necessary efforts to be competitive,” he warned. Despite the strike, the airline insisted that it would be able to maintain 99% of long-haul flights on Monday, 80% of medium-haul services and 87% of short-haul flights. On Friday, Jean-Marc Janaillac, chief executive of parent company Air France-KLM, resigned after staff rejected a final pay offer from him, which would have raised wages by 7% over four years.

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That’s about 1 in 20: “From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more..”

Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)

For salaried workers to bring home 1,500 euros per month net on a 12-month basis, or 18,000 euros per year not including holiday bonuses, their employers need to pay 2,610 euros a month or over 31,300 euros a year, given Greece’s particularly high taxes and social security contributions. For a self-employed professional to pocket the same amount , about 18,000 euros per annum, he or she would have to earn at least 50,000 euros on a yearly basis so as to cover professional expenses, taxes and contributions. As for new pensioners, a net income of 1,500 euros/month or 18,000 euros/year can only be achieved if they worked without pause for 40 years at an average monthly salary of 2,400 euros over that entire period.

The framework that has emerged in the last three years with tax and contribution hikes, in particular, as well as the new way pensions are being calculated are drastically reducing the chances of any worker or pensioner to have a decent monthly salary or pension. Official figures already highlight the shrinking of the so-called middle class: From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more, down from 840,000 in 2010. The shrinking trend of the middle class is expected to continue both for taxation and for practical reasons.

An employer will face the same cost hiring five or six part-timers offering a total of 20-24 working hours per day as in hiring one full-timer offering eight hours of work. Particularly in sectors where there is no need for highly skilled workers, such as retail commerce or tourism, the trend to replace well paid positions has already become dominant. Among the self-employed, overtaxation is this year anticipated to reduce the number of those declaring a taxable income of over 30,000 euros per year. As for pensioners, already the first pensions issues on the basis of the new system of calculation prove that the chances for anyone to secure a benefit of 1,500 euros after retirement are next to zero, and will shrink further in the years to come.

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Curious. Bonaire and St. Eustatius are part of the Dutch Kingdom. Conoco can’t move without their permission.

Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips has moved to take Caribbean assets of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award over a decade-oil nationalization of its projects in the South American country, according to two sources familiar with its actions. The U.S. firm targeted Caribbean facilities on the islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius that play critical roles in PDVSA’s oil exports, the country’s main source of revenue. PDVSA relies on the terminals to process, store and blend its oil. “We will work with the community and local authorities to address issues that may arise as a result of enforcement actions,” ConocoPhillips said in a statement to Reuters.

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Mar 042018
 
 March 4, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea 1871

 

Global Bond Markets Have Become Grotesquely Distorted – Jim Grant (ZH)
From Currency War To Trade War To Shooting War (Rickards)
Central Banks Are The Agents Of Baby Boomers (G.)
Osborne’s Austerity Has Left UK Social Fabric In Tatters (Pettifor)
How America’s Clean Coal Dream Unravelled (G.)
Putin’s Megyn Kelly Interview (ZH)
Germany’s SPD Votes For Coalition Handing Merkel Fourth Term (G.)
Europe’s Band-Aid Ensures Greece’s Debt Bondage (Varoufakis)
Modern Food Farming Puts UK Wildlife Species At Risk Of Extinction (Ind.)
Three Billboards In Hollywood, California (TAM)

 

 

It’s all just one giant distortion.

Global Bond Markets Have Become Grotesquely Distorted – Jim Grant (ZH)

Jim Grant, the world’s most famous interest rate observer, ventured on CNBC this week to expose and explain the utterly farcical world of financial markets (and in particular, risk assets) and how grotesquely distorted global bond markets have become. He began with an example… “As an example of where the world is mispricing interest rates… look to Italy, which is having a big [potentially disruptive] election on Sunday… …there is a speculative grade Italian security, Telecom Italia, the 5 1/4’s of 2022 are trading at 0.61 percent, that is a junk bond with a zero handle.” This bond traded with almost a 6 handle just 5 years ago… Thank you Mr Draghi. But it doesn’t stop there, Grant warns…

“…and since interest rates are critical in the pricing of financial instruments, these distortions preceded the uplift in all asset values.. and the manifestation of this manipulation is in many ways responsible for what we are now seeing in the markets.” These distortions and the chaotic aftermath of their withdrawal are exactly what current Fed Chair Powell warned of in 2013… “[W]hen it is time for us to sell, or even to stop buying, the response could be quite strong; there is every reason to expect a strong response. So there are a couple of ways to look at it. It is about $1.2 trillion in sales; you take 60 months, you get about $20 billion a month. That is a very doable thing, it sounds like, in a market where the norm by the middle of next year is $80 billion a month. Another way to look at it, though, is that it’s not so much the sale, the duration; it’s also unloading our short volatility position.

“I think we are actually at a point of encouraging risk-taking, and that should give us pause. Investors really do understand now that we will be there to prevent serious losses. It is not that it is easy for them to make money but that they have every incentive to take more risk, and they are doing so. Meanwhile, we look like we are blowing a fixed-income duration bubble right across the credit spectrum that will result in big losses when rates come up down the road. You can almost say that that is our strategy.”

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But history merely rhymes.

From Currency War To Trade War To Shooting War (Rickards)

Currency wars do not exist all the time; they arise under certain conditions and persist until there is either systemic reform or systemic collapse. The conditions that give rise to currency wars are too much debt and too little growth. In those circumstances, countries try to steal growth from trading partners by cheapening their currencies to promote exports and create export-related jobs. The problem with currency wars is that they are zero-sum or negative-sum games. It is true that countries can obtain short-term relief by cheapening their currencies, but sooner than later, their trading partners also cheapen their currencies to regain the export advantage. This process of tit-for-tat devaluations feeds on itself with the pendulum of short-term trade advantage swinging back and forth and no one getting any further ahead.

After a few years, the futility of currency wars becomes apparent, and countries resort to trade wars. This consists of punitive tariffs, export subsidies and nontariff barriers to trade. The dynamic is the same as in a currency war. The first country to impose tariffs gets a short-term advantage, but retaliation is not long in coming and the initial advantage is eliminated as trading partners impose tariffs in response. Despite the illusion of short-term advantage, in the long-run everyone is worse off. The original condition of too much debt and too little growth never goes away. Finally, tensions rise, rival blocs are formed and a shooting war begins. The shooting wars often have a not-so-hidden economic grievance or rationale behind them.

The sequence in the early 20th century began with a currency war that started in Weimar Germany with a hyperinflation (1921–23) and then extended through a French devaluation (1925), a U.K. devaluation (1931), a U.S. devaluation (1933) and another French/U.K. devaluation (1936). Meanwhile, a global trade war emerged after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs (1930) and comparable tariffs of trading partners of the U.S. Finally, a shooting war progressed with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931), the Japanese invasion of Beijing and China (1937), the German invasion of Poland (1939) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941). Eventually, the world was engulfed in the flames of World War II, and the international monetary system came to a complete collapse until the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944.

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We’re going to be watching this unfold until it’s too late.

Central Banks Are The Agents Of Baby Boomers (G.)

The greatest threat to our economy comes from its ageing population. With the baby-boomer generation making up a large proportion of society, we find ourselves in a situation where public policy is mostly geared towards shoring up the gains made by boomers over the past 40 years, and industrial disputes are driven by an ageing union membership most worried about its pension entitlements. It is a problem that Britain shares with its continental cousins, the US and Japan, now that all are struggling with a situation where a fifth of their populations is aged over 65 and the proportion is rising fast. Ageing populations have many effects on an economy, not least the desire among those nearing retirement age to save excessively.

Each country’s baby boomers pursue the holy grail of wealth slightly differently, but in the main, property and pensions are the twin pillars supporting decades of retirement. When wealth is your goal, there is one evil monster that needs slaying, and that is inflation. This is one of the main reasons that since the 1990s the Bank of England is under instruction to keep inflation anchored around 2%. A recent blog by economists at the Bank has caused a stir by arguing that far from the baby-boomer savings glut being a passing phase – or at least a situation that will fade as the boomers die off – it will be with us for decades to come.

They argue that boomers have shown that they want to keep saving even as they move into their 80s and 90s, to fund possible extra health and care costs, and to pass on the maximum amount of wealth they can to their heirs. Some academics have argued that boomers will be forced to spend more than they save in later life to pay for health and long-term care, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. The $100 trillion of savings sloshing round the global financial system just keeps growing. This is not just because people in young nations such as Indonesia and India are starting to build up savings, but because older Brits, Germans and Swedes are doing the same when there had been an expectation that they would switch to spending.

[..] The Bank of England blog argues that the persistent glut of savings in stocks, bonds and property will maintain the trend of the past 30 years – of an excess of money chasing too few investment opportunities. And if older savers resist spending some of their pension, demand for goods is lower than expected, and inflation stays low. Central banks, in seeking to maintain a 2% inflation target, are the agents of baby boomers. It is their savings and wealth that are protected, not those of the young, who have much less, if any.

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This is not typical for Osborne or the UK. ‘Saving’ the economy by making the poor, poorer, is widely accepted.

Osborne’s Austerity Has Left UK Social Fabric In Tatters (Pettifor)

There is growing consensus among economists that Osborne’s post-crisis austerity programme deepened and lengthened Britain’s post-crisis recession, causing public and private investment to fall further and real wages to decline. Making large reductions to government spending is itself a major reason why the economy has been so slow in recovering. (Consider the multiplier effect where an injection of public money helps generate income and tax revenues.) In his first budget (June 2010) Osborne told parliament: “We are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this parliament” (ie March 2015).

He slashed welfare as promised, but the economy slowed further. While employment revived, jobs have been recast as part-time, temporary and insecure. As a result, productivity stalled. These declines will cause permanent damage to the British economy. Convinced that a chancellor should “never let a crisis go to waste”, Osborne used the opportunity to shrink the state, as cuts to government spending tore into welfare provision and public services. Real spend per head of population fell, and the real spend per head was particularly felt by the vulnerable citizen, as the population grew older and more fragile. Under his watch, total managed expenditure was cut in real terms by £14bn (2016-17 prices).

These cuts were made worse by a 3-4% rise in population, and by the increasing needs of an ageing population. Public sector net investment was allowed to fall from £60bn in 2010 to £35bn in 2016. It caused intense suffering to small and large firms and suppliers, many of which went and are going bust, laying off staff. The insistence on balancing the current budget also hurt millions of individuals innocent of the causes of the crisis.

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Oxymoron self-immolation.

How America’s Clean Coal Dream Unravelled (G.)

High above the red dirt and evergreen trees of Kemper County, Mississippi, gleams a 15-story monolith of pipes surrounded by a town-sized array of steel towers and white buildings. The hi-tech industrial site juts out of the surrounding forest, its sharp silhouette out of place amid the gray crumbling roads, catfish stands and trailer homes of nearby De Kalb, population: 1,164. The $7.5bn Kemper power plant once drew officials from as far as Saudi Arabia, Japan and Norway to marvel at a 21st-century power project so technologically complex its builder compared it to the moonshot of the 1960s. It’s promise? Energy from “clean coal”. “I’m impressed,” said Jukka Uosukainen, UN director for the Climate Technology Centre and Network, after a 2014 tour: “maybe using coal in the future is possible”.

Kemper, its managers claimed, would harness dirt-cheap lignite coal – the world’s least efficient and most abundant form of coal – to power homes and businesses in America’s lowest-income state while causing the least climate-changing pollution of any fossil fuel. It was a promise they wouldn’t keep. Last summer the plant’s owner, Southern Company, America’s second-largest utility company, announced it was abandoning construction after years of blown-out budgets and missed construction deadlines. “It hit us hard,” said Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority. Some 75 miners, roughly half living inside Kemper County, have already been affected in a region where unemployment is 7.1% compared to a national average of just 4.1%. “It was going to be the biggest project in the history of the county, possibly in the state of Mississippi,” Hitt said.

Instead, this year, Kemper County was home to one of the first large coalmining layoffs of the Trump era. It’s failure is also likely to have a profound impact on the future of “clean coal”. “This was the flagship project that was going to lead the way for a whole new generation of coal power plants,” said Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “If the initial project doesn’t work then who’s going to invest in any more like it?” [..] a review by the Guardian of more than 5,000 pages of confidential company documents, internal emails, white papers, and other materials provided anonymously by several former Southern Co insiders, plus on- and off-record interviews with other former Kemper engineers and managers, found evidence that top executives covered up construction problems and fundamental design flaws at the plant and knew, years before they admitted it publicly, that their plans had gone awry.

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“If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty..”

Putin’s Megyn Kelly Interview (ZH)

NBC’s Megyn Kelly has tried to establish herself as the US media’s preeminent “Putin whisperer” since confronting the Russian president last year over allegations he sanctioned interference by hacking groups in the 2016 US presidential election. In a formal interview with the Russian president, Kelly asked the Russian leader about the latest development in the ongoing controversy, Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities for election meddling. Ignoring that the indictment stated that the alleged activities of the trolls at the Internet Research Agency had no impact on the outcome of the election, Kelly insisted on pressing the Russian president about why Russia hadn’t acted to prosecute the men – including Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian businessman.

Putin pointed out that no formal requests had been made by the US government, and no effort to share the incriminating information had been made. “I have to see first what they’ve done. Give us a document, give us an official request” Putin said in the NBC interview adding that “We can not respond to that if they do not violate Russian laws.” Kelly responded by listing some of the allegations, before Putin insisted that they shouldn’t be presented to him personally – but to Russia’s general prosecutor. “This has to go through official channels, not through the press, or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress,” Putin said. The broadcast aired a day after Putin grabbed headlines in Western media by revealing that Russia had recently finished testing a range of nuclear weapons that were capable of evading US anti-ballistic missile batteries, showing animated footage and digital representations of the missiles’ capabilities striking Florida which prompted an uproar at the US State Department.

Meanwhile, even though Russia has repeatedly criticized the US and NATO for installing anti-ballistic missile shields in Eastern Europe that Russia says more closely resemble offensive missile batteries, Putin pushed back against questions about whether the US and Russia were entering a new Cold War. The Russian leader said anybody spreading these accusations are more concerned with propaganda than accurate representations of the relationships between the two countries. “My point of view is that the individuals that have said that a new Cold War has started are not analysts. They do propaganda.” Repeating a claim that has been made by many Russian officials, Putin said the arms race between the US and Russia began when George W Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002. “If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,” he said.

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Never a good idea for a party that losses big in elections to be in government; what are elections for? The SPD is so divided now it could turn its back on Merkel at literally any moment over the nexy 4-5 years.

Germany’s SPD Votes For Coalition Handing Merkel Fourth Term (G.)

Germany’s Social Democratic party has agreed to form another “grand coalition” government with the conservative CDU, ending months of political uncertainty in Europe and guaranteeing Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term in office. Sunday’s announcement by the party’s leadership ends almost six months of uncertainty in German politics, the longest the country has been without a government in its postwar history. A majority of 66.02% members of 463,723 eligible SPD members voted in favour of renewing the constellation that has governed Germany for the last four years, its treasurer, Dietmar Nietan, confirmed at the party’s headquarters in Berlin.

“We now have some clarity”, said the Social Democrats’ caretaker leader, Olaf Scholz, a contender for the role of finance minister, speaking at the Willy Brandt House. “The SPD will enter into government”. The leadership of the SPD had initially ruled out joining Merkel in government in the wake of historically disappointing results at federal elections in September last year. But the collapse of talks to form an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green party forced the German centre-left back to the negotiating table, where it managed to secure a surprising victory in getting the chancellor to cede control of the influential finance ministry.

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“..to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million…”

Europe’s Band-Aid Ensures Greece’s Debt Bondage (Varoufakis)

The big moment, it is said, will come in August, when Greece will be pronounced a “normal” European country again. Recently, in preparation for the government’s return to the money markets – from which it has been effectively excluded since 2010 – Greece’s public-debt authority has been testing the waters with a long-term bond issue. Unfortunately, all the happy talk about impending “debt relief” and a “clean exit” from Greece’s third “bailout” obscures an uglier truth: the country’s debt bondage is being extended to 2060. And, by ossifying Greece’s insolvency, while pretending to have overcome it, Europe’s establishment is demonstrating its dogged refusal to address the eurozone’s underlying fault lines. This augurs ill for ALL Europeans.

For an EU country to be considered “normal,” it should be subject to the scrutiny facing countries that were never bailed out. That means the standard twice-yearly checks of compliance with the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, as performed by the European Commission under the so-called European Semester procedure. Nevertheless, for countries like Ireland or Portugal, a tougher “post-program surveillance” procedure was designed following their bailouts: quarterly checks conducted not only by the European Commission but also by the European Central Bank.

It is plain to see why Greece’s road will be much bumpier than Ireland’s or Portugal’s. The ECB had already begun purchasing Irish and Portuguese debt in the secondary markets well before these countries’ bailout exit, as part of its “quantitative easing” program. This enabled the Irish and Portuguese governments to issue large quantities of new debt at low interest rates. Greece was never included the ECB’s quantitative easing program, for two reasons: its debt burden was too large to service in the long term, even with the help of ECB-sponsored low interest rates, and the ECB was under pressure, mainly from Germany, to wind down the program. Moreover, the post-program surveillance procedure does not give the “troika” of official creditors the leverage over Greece that they desire.

In celebrating Greece’s “clean exit,” while retaining its iron grip on the Greek government and withholding debt restructuring, Europe’s establishment is once again displaying its skill at inventing neologisms. Until 75% of Greece’s public debt is repaid – in 2060, at the earliest – the country, we are told, will be subject to “enhanced surveillance” (a term with unfortunate echoes of “enhanced interrogation”). In practice, this means 42 years of quarterly reviews, during which the European Commission and the ECB “in collaboration with the IMF” may impose new “measures” on Greece (such as austerity, fire sales of public property, and restrictions on organized labor). In short, the next two generations of Greeks will grow up with the troika and its “process” (perhaps under a different name) as a permanent fixture of life.

The celebration of Greece’s return to normality began a few weeks ago with the government’s oversubscribed €3 billion issue of its first seven-year bond in years. What the revelers failed to note, however, was that, to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million. Will Greece’s income rise by a similar amount between now and 2025 to make this sustainable?

Read more …

“The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit.”

Modern Food Farming Puts UK Wildlife Species At Risk Of Extinction (Ind.)

Some of Britain’s favourite wildlife is at risk of becoming extinct unless there is a new, 21st-century agricultural revolution, experts are warning. Species from hedgehogs to skylarks and birds of prey are being wiped out – in part by companies with vested interests in “destructive” factory farming, it was claimed on World Wildlife Day, which takes place today. The “alarming” declines in wildlife will threaten not just the richness of the planet but also our ability to grow food, according to the RSPB. After scientists warned last year that the world is facing a sixth mass extinction, turtle doves are on the brink of being wiped out, the latest survey figures show. Numbers of grey partridges, corn buntings and tree sparrows have dropped by at least 90 per cent in 40 years, leaving them all at risk of vanishing from Britain.

Earlier this month, a new report revealed that the number of hedgehogs in the countryside had more than halved since 2000. Nearly two-thirds of Britain’s skylarks and lapwings have disappeared, the European bird census showed, while Birdlife International says 95 per cent of turtle doves have vanished in 20 years. Just days after Environment Secretary Michael Gove unveiled plans to reward farmers who care for the environment, ornithologist Philip Lymbery warned of a culture among government policymakers and scientists of blaming biodiversity declines on climate change – instead of tackling those with “vested interests” in “disastrous” modern farming practices – because it was easier to avoid blaming anyone.

Mr Lymbery, head of charity Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), said changes in farming in the past half-century to drastically and artificially push up quantities of food produced were destroying species from nightingales to butterflies and peregrines. “I’m worried that policymakers and some scientists duck the issue by blaming all the things damaging nature on climate change,” he told The Independent. [..] “The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit. “It’s not the average farmer who benefits from industrial agriculture. And it needs to change.”

Read more …

Hollywood mirrors international charities like Oxfam. Pedophilia rules both.

Three Billboards In Hollywood, California (TAM)

Just days before the first Academy Awards ceremony since Hollywood was hit with allegations of rampant sexual harassment, assault, and pedophilia, a Los Angeles street artist made a bold statement just a few miles from the Dolby Theater where the Oscars will be held. Sabo, a conservative-leaning artist who has previously tagged the city with art referencing former President Obama’s drones, purchased three billboards, echoing the sentiment of a Academy Award-nominated film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which tells the story of a mother who seeks accountability for her daughter’s rape and murder, which police in her small town have failed to solve. In the film, the mother purchases three billboards that read:

“RAPED WHILE DYING”

“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”

“HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”

In Sabo’s version, the billboards plastered in Hollywood read:

“AND THE OSCAR FOR BIGGEST PEDOPHILE GOES TO…”

“WE ALL KNEW AND STILL NO ARRESTS”

“NAME NAMES ON STAGE OR SHUT THE HELL UP!”

Kevin Spacey’s career went down in flames last year amid the fallout of widespread allegations of abuse by now-scorned producer Harvey Weinstein. Anthony Rapp accused the actor of making advances on him in 1986, when Rapp was only 14. Other accusations against Spacey followed, including some others that alleged Spacey attempted to take advantage of the victims when they were under the age of 18. Further, Corey Feldman, who has long warned of predatory, pedophilic behavior in Hollywood, revealed several of his accused abusers last year, citing John Grissom, former talent manager Marty Weiss, and Alphy Hoffman, who was the son of a high-power producer and ran the trendy Soda Pop Club, where Feldman claims widespread harassment took place in the 1980s.

Feldman claimed there were six abusers total, saying one is an A-list actor who might kill him. He has previously said his fellow child star, Corey Haim, now deceased, received worse abuse than he did. In a 2011 appearance on Nightline, Feldman said: “[T]he No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia…that’s the biggest problem for children in this industry… It’s the big secret.”

Read more …

Feb 152018
 
 February 15, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Grete Stern Sueño No. 1: Artículos eléctricos para el hogar 1949

 

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)
The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)
Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)
Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)
China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)
Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)
Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)
German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)
Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)
Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)
Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)
Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

 

 

There is no escape. No matter what anyone says about recovery etc., the piper will come calling.

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)

• Global debt ‘area of weakness’ and could ‘induce financial panic’ – King warns
• Global debt to GDP now 40 per cent higher than it was a decade ago – BIS warns
• Global non-financial corporate debt grew by 15% to 96% of GDP in the past six years
• US mortgage rates hit highest level since May 2014
• US student loans near $1.4 trillion, 40% expected to default in next 5 years
• UK consumer debt hit £200b, highest level in 30 years, 25% of households behind on repayments

The ducks are beginning to line up for yet another global debt crisis. US mortgage rates are hinting at another crash, student debt crises loom in both the US and UK, consumer and corporate debt is at record levels and global debt to GDP ratio is higher than it was during the financial crisis. When you look at the figures you realise there is an air of inevitability of what is around the corner. If the last week has taught us anything, it is that markets are unprepared for the fallout that is destined to come after a decade of easy monetary policies. Global debt is more than three times the size of the global economy, the highest it has ever been. This is primarily made up of three groups: non financial corporates, governments and households. Each similarly indebted as one another.

Debt is something that has sadly run the world for a very long time, often without problems. But when that debt becomes excessive it is unmanageable. The terms change and repayments can no longer be met. This sends financial markets into a spiral. The house of cards is collapsing and suddenly it is revealed that life isn’t so hunky-day after all. Rates are set to rise and as they do they will spark more financial shocks, as we have seen this week. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, gave warning about global debt levels earlier this week: “The areas of weakness in the current system are really focused on the amount of debt that exists, not just in the U.S. and U.K. but across the world,” he said on Bloomberg Radio last Wednesday. “Debt in the private sector relative to GDP is higher now than it was in 2007, and of course public debt is even higher still.”

Read more …

When you see US debt is out of hand, don’t stop there. All global debt is.

The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)

The US is drowning in debt and as long as rates are low it’s all fun and giggles, but there is a point where it cramps on growth and the simple question is when and where. In recent weeks we have had a nasty correction coinciding with technical overbought readings and both bonds and stocks testing 30 year old trend lines. In the meantime we continue to get data that keeps sending the same message: It’s a debt bonanza that keeps expanding and is unsustainable. Janet Yellen a few months ago said the debt to GDP ratio keeps her awake at night. Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence came out and described the national debt on an unsustainable path and a national security threat. This is literally where we are as a nation.

What’s Congress’s and the White House’s response? Spend more and blow up the deficit into the trillion+ range heading toward 2-3 trillion. What is there to say but stand in awe at the utter hubris that is being wrought. Last night the Fed came out with the latest household debt figures and it’s equally as damning, record debt and ever more required to keep consumer spending afloat:

The non-mortgage piece is particularly disturbing:

Higher interest rates will ultimately trigger the next recession as the entire debt construct will be weighted down by the burdens of cost of carry. And today’s inflation and correlated weakening retail sales data suggested that there’s price sensitivity already at these, historically speaking, still very low rates. The Fed may find itself horribly behind the curve and this will have consequences.

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Makes a lot of sense. Therefore not going to happen.

Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)

President Trump surprised a group of lawmakers during a Wednesday meeting at the White House by repeatedly mentioning a 25-cent-per-gallon increase on federal gasoline and diesel tax in order to help pay for upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure by addressing a serious shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2021. The tax increase was first pitched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January, while the White House had originally been lukewarm towards the idea. The federal gasoline and diesel tax has been at 18.4 and 24.4-cents-per-gallon respectively since 1993, with no adjustments for inflation. It currently generates approximately $35 billion per year, while the federal government spends around $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed pleasantly surprised at Trump’s repeated mention of the tax as a solution to pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) – the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was also present at the meeting, in which he says President Trump told lawmakers he would be willing to increase federal spending beyond the White House’s $200 billion, 10-year proposal. “The president made a living building things, and he realizes that to build things takes money, takes investment,” DeFazio said.

[..] Republican leaders have already rejected the idea, however, along with various other entities tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. [..] Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn’t think the gas tax has any chance of even coming up for a vote in the Senate. “He’ll never get it by McConnell,” said Grassley, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Bloomberg always has graphs for everything. But now that I would like to see how fast personal debt has grown in China, nada. Still, this is a whole new thing: Chinese never used to borrow, and now it’s the new national pastime.

Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)

For years, economists and policymakers have hailed the propensity of Chinese to save. Among other things, they’ve pointed to low household debt as reason not to fear a financial crash in the world’s second-biggest economy. Now, though, one of China’s greatest economic strengths is becoming a crucial weakness. Over the past two weeks, as they’ve held their annual work meetings, China’s various financial regulatory bodies have raised fears that Chinese households may be overleveraged. Banking regulators sound especially concerned, and understandably so: Data released Monday showed that Chinese households borrowed 910 billion renminbi ($143 billion) in January – nearly a third of all RMB-denominated bank loans extended that month.

While too much can be made of the headline number – lending is always disproportionately large in January, and bank loans are rising as regulators crack down on more shadowy forms of financing – the pace of growth for household debt is worrying. Between January and October last year, according to recent data from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chinese household leverage rose more than eight percentage points, from 44.8% to 53.2% of GDP – a record increase. By contrast, between 2009 and 2015, households had added an average of just three percentage points to their debt-to-GDP ratio each year, and that includes a large jump of 5.5 percentage points in 2009 as banks ramped up lending in response to the global financial crisis. Before 2009, household debt levels had hovered around 18% of GDP for five years.

In other words, the debt burden for Chinese consumers has nearly tripled in the past decade. Part of that rapid debt expansion has been deliberate. China’s government has encouraged increased borrowing and spending on items like cars and houses, to boost both consumption and investment. At the G-20 summit in February 2016, China’s sober central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan remarked that rising household leverage had “a certain logic to it.” Most worryingly, though, skyrocketing home prices seem to be driving much of the increase in household debt. Higher mortgage rates – and, especially, government policy – have compounded the problem. In order to slow rising prices, officials have raised down-payment requirements, pushed banks to slow mortgage lending and placed administrative restraints on purchases. That’s led buyers to borrow from different, often more expensive, channels.

Read more …

Beijing’s dilemma: allowing capital outflows (a no-no) would bring down the yuan (a yes please). Ergo: they can achieve what they want by allowing what they can’t afford to let happen.

China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)

In the fraught history of Chinese currency policy, a new chapter could be looming this year as authorities consider the consequences of a yuan that’s testing its strongest levels since mid-2015. After successfully shutting off potentially destabilizing capital outflows and putting a floor under the yuan, policy makers may now have the luxury of looking at relaxing some of the strictures on domestic money. But China watchers warn that any moves are likely to be gradual and calibrated, given the turmoil of 2015 – when a sliding yuan spooked global markets. “Big changes in the capital account are less likely, but some slight easing can be expected,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong. Policy makers have put a priority on deleveraging, “which is likely to cause instability,” he said – all the more reason to go cautiously on cross-border flows.

The yuan has strengthened 2.6% this year, after posting its first annual gain in four years in 2017. While no officials have clearly signaled an intent to relax controls, recent comments and moves hint at the potential for modification of the one-way capital account opening that China has been pursuing since 2016 – in which it has encouraged inflows but not outflows. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees foreign-exchange reserves, said last week it sees more balanced capital flows. Pan Gongsheng, the director of SAFE, said last week that there will be a “neutral” policy in managing cross-border transactions. In a free trade zone in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, officials have revived a program allowing for overseas investment that was suspended in 2015. Authorities in January removed a “counter-cyclical” factor from the daily fixing of the yuan, a move seen to let the market take more of a role.

Any return to the sustained appreciation the yuan saw over the decade to 2015 could hurt Chinese exporters’ profits – just as big companies face challenges from the leadership’s drive to reduce excess credit and cut back polluting industries. Yet the disorderly moves that followed 2015 efforts to promote international use of the yuan serve as a warning against any sudden lifting of barriers to capital outflows. “A degree of undershooting” in the dollar against the yuan “is probably necessary to provide reformists in China’s policy circle a window of opportunity to lobby for more capital account liberalization,” analysts led by David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC in London, wrote in a recent report.

Read more …

Merkel should have stepped down. This can only end in chaos.

Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)

Angela Merkel once claimed she had bested Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in the Kremlin, employing what she said was an old KGB technique: staring at the Russian leader in silence for several long minutes. As the sun rose over a frigid Berlin on Feb. 7, the German chancellor’s rivals from the Social Democratic Party used the same tactic. This time, Merkel blinked. Merkel and her team had spent the previous day and night at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union locked in tense negotiations with the SPD leadership. The SPD had issued an ultimatum that broke with long-standing protocol of German coalition-building: Off the bat, they demanded three key posts, including the finance and foreign ministries, power centers from which the SPD planned to set the government’s agenda, especially on Europe.

An earlier attempt at an alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats had failed. A second collapse in talks, more than four months after the September election, threatened to sweep out the governing elite, including the chancellor who has dominated German politics for 12 years. As delegates were summoned back to the CDU building, they could barely believe what Merkel and her party’s Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union, had negotiated. With so much at stake, she surrendered the portfolios for finance, foreign affairs, and labor to the Social Democrats (though the deal still needs to be approved by the SPD’s 464,000 members). CDU lawmaker Olav Gutting captured the mood with gallows humor. “Puuuh! At least we kept the Chancellery!” he tweeted Wednesday. On Sunday, Merkel took to the airwaves to explain her position. “It was a painful decision,” she told the ZDF television network. “But what was the alternative?”

Read more …

The New York Times making the case for Trump’s border wall?

Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)

The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. [..] In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs like those in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2004, the Portland police responded to 114 meth houses. “We rolled from meth lab to meth lab,” said Sgt. Jan M. Kubic of the county sheriff’s office. “Patrol would roll up on a domestic violence call, and there’d be a lab in the kitchen. Everything would come to a screeching halt.”

[..] But meth, it turns out, was only on hiatus. When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops. The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit. In Portland, the drug has made inroads in black neighborhoods, something experienced narcotics investigators say was unheard-of five years ago.

Read more …

Will they sponsor this in Greek cities too?

German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal. On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes. Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

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Never sell your basic needs to foreigners.

Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)

The privatization of public services “was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.” Those sentiments fueled a sell-off that put nearly every state-owned service or property in Britain on the auction block in the final decade of the 20th century, eventually including the country’s expansive public transportation infrastructure. Enshrined by parliamentary acts under Mrs. Thatcher and implemented by her two immediate successors, John Major, a Conservative, and Tony Blair of New Labour, the gospel of privatization was embraced by leaders around the world, notably including Mrs. Thatcher’s closest overseas ally, President Ronald Reagan.

In the realm of transportation, that gospel was soon betrayed by its own chief disciples. Put simply, there were few private-sector buyers with the expertise and deep pockets necessary to maintain control of a transit system that serves approximately seven billion passengers per year. With minimal transparency, operational ownership of the network of train and bus lines that crisscross the 607-square-mile sprawl of Greater London, linking it to the far-flung corners of Britain, was peddled in bits and pieces by the British state or acquired in corporate takeovers. But the new bosses were not private, business-savvy British firms. By 2000, the masters of British public transit — thanks to a scheme that was intended to replace state waste and sloth with soundly capitalist business principles — were foreign governments, most of them members of the European Union.

In short, the privatization devolved into a de facto re-nationalization — but under the direction of foreign states — that somehow went largely unnoticed. It now poses a startling and unprecedented dilemma thanks to Brexit, which will soon divorce Britain from the state bureaucracies beyond the English Channel that literally keep its economy in motion. The largest single stakeholder and operator in British transit is the Federal Republic of Germany [..] Germany is followed closely in the ranks of British transit bosses by France, proprietor of the London United bus system, among many other holdings. Its iconic red double-deckers openly announce themselves as the property of the RATP Group (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned Paris transport company, and are emblazoned with its logo of a zigzagging River Seine flowing through an abstract representation of the French capital.

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As EU growth is at 10-year highs, boomers keep it all to themselves.

Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)

The poor don’t often decide elections in the advanced world, and yet they are being wooed heavily in Italy’s current electoral campaign. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a “dignity income,” while Beppe Grillo, the comedian and shadow leader of the Five Star Movement, has likewise called for a “citizenship income.” Both of these proposals – which would entail generous monthly payments to the disadvantaged – are questionable in terms of their design. But they do at least shed light on the rapidly worsening problem of widespread poverty across Europe. Poverty represents an extreme form of income polarization, but it is not the same thing as inequality. Even in a deeply unequal society, those who have less do not necessarily lack the means to live a decent and fulfilling life.

But those who live in poverty do, because they suffer from complete social exclusion, if not outright homelessness. Even in advanced economies, the poor often lack access to the financial system, struggle to pay for food or utilities, and die prematurely. Of course, not all of the poor live so miserably. But many do, and in Italy their electoral weight has become undeniable. Almost five million Italians, or roughly 8% of the population, struggle to afford basic goods and services. And in just a decade, this cohort has almost tripled in size, becoming particularly concentrated in the country’s south. At the same time, another 6% live in relative poverty, meaning they do not have enough disposable income to benefit from the country’s average standard of living.

The situation is equally worrisome at a continental level. In the EU in 2016, 117.5 million people, or roughly one-fourth of the population, were at risk of falling into poverty or a state of social exclusion. Since 2008, Italy, Spain, and Greece have added almost six million people to that total, while in France and Germany the proportion of the population that is poor has remained stable, at around 20%. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the probability of falling into poverty increased overall, but particularly for the young, owing to cuts in non-pension social benefits and a tendency in European labor markets to preserve insiders’ jobs. From 2007 to 2015, the proportion of Europeans aged 18-29 at risk of falling into poverty increased from 19% to 24%; for those 65 and older, it fell from 19% to 14%.

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“..Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant..” What will the world do when the fighting starts? It could at any moment now.

Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)

The chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Turkey’s TRT channel that he is “in no doubt” that the US has a plan to make Greece attack Turkey while its military is engaged in Syria. Turkey’s response, Yigit Bulut said, will be tough, adding that Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant,” he said and warned that terrible consequences would follow for Greece. Bulut made similar comments earlier in the month referring to Imia over which Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996. “We will break the arms and legs of any officers, of the prime minister or of any minister who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean,” Bulut said.

Read more …

It may take Putin to halt Erdogan. But he will expect a reward for that.

Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

Greece is expecting the US administration to intervene and de-escalate the crisis with Turkey over the Imia islets, according to diplomatic sources in Athens. The Greek government is hoping that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ankara for an official visit, will persuade the Turkish leadership to tone down its actions in the Aegean. The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt will also be in Ankara and will brief Tillerson about recent developments. On Monday night, a Turkish patrol boat rammed into a Greek coast guard vessel near Imia, in the most serious incident between the two NATO allies in recent years. The two countries went almost to war in 1996 over sovereignty of Imia islets (Kardak in Turkish).

A confrontation was avoided then largely due to the intervention of Washington. The Department of State issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that Greece and Turkey should take measures to reduce the tension in the region. On Wednesday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos briefed Greece’s NATO allies on the incident at Imia and presented audiovisual material that prove Turkey’s provocation. “The Imia islets are Greek, the Greek Coast Guard and Navy are there and we will not back down on issues of national sovereignty for any reason. We ask our allies in the EU and NATO to adopt a clear stance,” he told AMNA. He also said that it was inconceivable that Turkey, a NATO ally, behaved like this toward another ally, in this case Greece.

Read more …

Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 3:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Chrysler reflection, 42nd Street near 5th Ave, New York 1950s

 

Update: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned at 5pm local time, before the parliamentary debate could take place. But that still leaves Rutte in place with his own version of “when it gets serious, you have to lie”.

 

 

There will be a parliamentary debate in Holland (the Netherlands) today about abject lies about Russia and Vladimir Putin that its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, has been telling the country for a few years now. Zijlstra is supposed to fly to Russia tomorrow to meet with his Russian peer, Sergey Lavrov. One would suppose Zijlstra will be fired later today, if only to prevent such a meeting from taking place, but that is by no means a given.

Here’s what happened: in 2006, there was a ‘conference’ in Putin’s dacha outside of Moscow. Zijlstra worked for Shell at the time at a lower level. Later, he has pretended he way present at a meeting with Putin in which the latter supposedly talked about his dreams for a ‘Greater Russia’.

Now, Zijlstra has revealed he was not at that meeting. He claimed ‘a source’ was there and told him about it, and he had wanted to protect the source and therefore pretended he himself was present. That source, then-Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, not only never asked for any such protection, he also sent an email to paper De Volkskrant saying that Zijlstra had ‘misinterpreted’ the story Van der Veer had told him (a diplomatic word for he lied).

Putin never talked about ambitions for a Greater Russia, and never said Kazachstan was ‘nice to have’. Zijlstra made that all up. There had been mention of Greater Russia, but in a nostalgic, historical manner. And now Van der Veer, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, gets dragged into this entire false tale.

Because the entire Dutch government, longtime Prime Minister Mark Rutte first and most of all, has said Zijlstra’s lies were somehow acceptable because the ‘inhoud’ (tenor, content, narrative) of his story was true. That is to say, Rutte claims that Putin does indeed dream of land-grabbing, of invading Ukraine, the Baltic States etc.

 

It doesn’t matter if you have no proof of something (see the painfully botched MH17 investigation), and neither does it matter if you just make the whole thing up. The only thing that matters in Holland is that you stick to the narrative. Which, there is no other way to look at it, is fully unproven and entirely made up.

This makes the government of Holland (a NATO member), and certainly Rutte, a danger to world peace. Therefore, Rutte has to go along with Zijlstra. Because he not only condones the latter’s lies and fantasies, maintained in his days as Foreign Minister, Rutte himself also makes claim after claim based on no proof at all. Or at least nothing he has ever revealed.

Holland should never have chaired the MH17 investigation, because it was its main victim (2/3 of the near 300 who died in the plane crash had Dutch passports). In the 3,5 years since the tragedy, not an ounce of evidence has ever been published by the investigators that proves Russia was the culprit. But claims to that end have been freely made over the entire period.

Fro his Putin-bashing, then-Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans got himself a cushy job as second to EU head Jean-Claude Juncker (and yes, Juncker’s “when it gets serious, you have to lie” comes to mind in the Zijlstra thing). Timmermans, like then-US Secretary of State Joe Biden, wasted no time in fingering Russia as the perpetrator. They both made this claim within minutes. Again, without any proof.

 

None of this is a specific Dutch issue. The western world, led by the US, has created an atmosphere and a narrative in which it’s deemed acceptable to lie about Russia, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian hackers, and about connections Americans and western Europeans who don’t abide by the narrative, have to Russia and everything connected with it.

And well, they are right in one sense: there is a pattern here. The Russiagate investigations in the US into ties of Trump associates with Russians, like the Dutch investigation into MH17, continue ad infinitum without producing a sliver of proof.

Various and multiple claims pertaining to alleged Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc. have come up hollow. Indeed, what actions Russia has undertaken are largely in response to American and EU ‘provocation’.

And yes, all this plays out against the backdrop of the military-industrial complex that hides behind the identity of NATO, an organization without a reason to exist even since the Berlin wall came down (the wall has now been gone longer than it ever existed). NATO is a convenient entity for the entirety of the western arms industry, and the neocons that still hold sway in various of its member-nations, to publicize its fear-mongering anti-Russia messages from.

Those messages keep being duly publicized by mainstream media. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in which it said “bilateral relations with Holland are being overshadowed by an unparalleled anti-Russia campaign in Dutch media.”

“Holland accuses Russia of spreading disinformation (fake news). People in the Dutch government keep on making such unfunded claims.” Dutch media readily and uncritically disperse the idea that Russian authorities are obsessed with the creation of a Great Russia. How is that not an example of fake news?”

 

Holland would be crazy to let Zijlstra go to Moscow tomorrow to talk to Lavrov. But, given what has already been said, one can only conclude that the country is indeed crazy. Or at the very least its government is. Still, even if parliament today decides that Zijlstra must leave his post, chances that they’ll send Rutte packing as well are zero.

Even though as prime minster he’s publicly stated that his Foreign Minister telling outright lies about another country is no problem as long as he stays with the narrative that said country is a threat, a narrative for which apparently no evidence must ever be presented.

At the next EU meeting Rutte is more likely to be hailed for his stance, because the narrative is that of the entire EU, of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. And NATO.

Will this episode wake up the Dutch people? Fat chance. They will focus on Zijlstra, and probably clamor for him to leave, and then go about their daily job of feeding their readers and watchers their, as Moscow puts it, “unparralleled anti-Russia campaign.”

People like Rutte and Merkel do a very good job of showing us that Europeans have more to fear from their own governments than they do of Putin. But nobody is listening. Because their media have become as much of an echo chamber as the US MSM.

Still, make no mistake: what Rutte tells his people is that he cannot be trusted. That there are things more important than the truth: the narrative. This means they will never again be able to trust him to tell them the truth. He just said so himself.

 

 

Jan 232018
 
 January 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


William Claxton John Coltrane at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 1960

 

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)
The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)
Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)
IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)
IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)
Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)
UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)
Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)
Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)
Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)
Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

 

 

Make your own solar panels. What’s wrong with that?

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, in his first major move to level a global playing field he says is tilted against American companies. The U.S. will impose new duties of as much as 30 percent on foreign-made solar equipment, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Monday. The president also approved tariffs starting as high as 50 percent on imported washing machines. Chinese and South Korean officials condemned the move, analysts said it could backfire, while markets largely shrugged it off. The tariffs were announced as Trump prepares to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the international business and political elite gather to mull the current state of the global order.

While the measures may sharpen the president’s “America First” policy after months of rhetoric and herald a hotter trade conflict with China, in Asia manufacturers and investors said the reality wasn’t as bad as they had feared. Investors “are used to bluff from Trump, which often turns out to be a non-event,” said Qiu Zhicheng at ICBC International Research in Hong Kong. “As long as the situation doesn’t escalate into a full-scale trade war, the market impact will be limited. We believe the two economies will stay rational, as a trade war would hurt both.” LG Electronics, a maker of domestic appliances, and South Korean solar panel makers fell initially in Seoul trading on the news before recovering. Samsung said the tariff on washing machines is a “great loss” for U.S. workers and consumers.

South Korea’s trade minister said Tuesday that his nation will file a petition with the World Trade Organization against the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping duties on Korean washing machine and solar panel makers. The U.S. decision is “excessive,” Kim Hyun-chong said. China exported more than 21 million washing machines worth just under 19 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) globally from January through November 2017, according to customs data. China is also the world’s largest exporter of solar panels.

Read more …

David knows his shutdowns.

The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)

Nowadays, government “shutdowns” are obviously not all that, and we do claim some expertise on the topic. Since 1975 there have been 14 shutdowns and we have had the privilege of being on-hand up close and personnel during 11 of these. Five shutdowns occurred while your editor was a member of the US House (1977-1981) and another six during his stint as director of OMB. The idea back then, needless to say, was that shutdowns came about mainly when anti-spenders refused to capitulate to the incessant demands of the swamp creatures for more appropriations, pork and graft.

[..] What is really happening, of course, is that the Trumpite/GOP is proving in spades that America is now saddled with two pro-government parties. This means a good shutdown is going to waste and that there is no stopping the fiscal doomsday machine that is now racing toward a national calamity, unimpeded. After all, the reason Washington is operating on its 3rd CR of the fiscal year and struggled a whole weekend to get a fourth one lasting a mere 16 days, lies in the utter irresponsibility of the Trump GOP approach to fiscal policy.

These clowns want to spend $120 billion on disaster relief without a single dime of off-setting cuts; raise defense by $80 billion when the Pentagon is already a $620 billion swamp of waste; appropriate $33 billion for an utterly idiotic Wall on the Mexican border when the problem could be solved by cancelling the $32 billion per year “War on Drugs” and putting up guest worker sign-up booths along the border; and authorizing tens of billions on top of that to pay for the backroom “deals” that were made in order to get the votes for a massive tax bill that not a single Senators or House member had read before it was ram-rodded into law by desperate GOP leaders on Christmas Eve.

So this shutdown is indeed different. Unlike the case back in the day, there is no fiscal red line whatsoever at issue; only a prospective eruption of more red ink and an interim game of political chicken about 700,000 Dreamers, who at the end of the day will not be deported and who will eventually get a path to citizenship. That’s because they, and millions of more immigrants to come, comprise the only available “growth” margin for the US work force in the decades ahead; and therefore constitute the next generation of Tax Mules which will be absolutely necessary to support today’s 50 million retirees. That is, as their population inexorably swells toward 100 million during the next four decades.

Read more …

Pressure on the FBI is set to increase tenfold.

Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)

On Sunday, the FBI revealed that it had lost five months of text messages between Trump antagonists Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The agency offered a lame explanation that “software upgrades” and “misconfiguration issues” interfered with the app that is supposed to automatically save and archive communications between officials on FBI phones. This was the couple who chattered about an FBI-generated “insurance policy” for the outcome of the 2016 election with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When will these three be invited to testify before a house or senate committee to inform the nation exactly what the “insurance policy” was?

The bad odor at the FBI seeps into several other areas of misbehavior involving Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and members of the permanent Washington bureaucracy. Did the Obama White House use the Christopher Steele dossier, paid for by the Clinton Campaign, to obtain FISA warrants against her opponent in the election for the purpose of conducting electronic surveillance on him? Was the FBI abetting a Democratic Party coup to get rid of Trump by any means necessary once he got into office?

Did the FBI conduct a stupendously half-assed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server by dismissing the charges before interviewing any of the principal characters involved, granting blanket immunities to Obama White House officials, and failing to secure computers that contained evidence? Does the FBI actually know what then Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed with Bill Clinton in the parked airplane on the Phoenix tarmac? Did the FBI fail to investigate enormous contributions (roughly $150 million) to the Clinton Foundation after the Uranium One deal was signed? Did they look into any of the improprieties surrounding the DNC’s effort to nullify Bernie Sander’s primary campaign?

Read more …

Growth is God.

IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)

The IMF on Monday revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019, saying sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners. However, the IMF, in an update of its World Economic Outlook, also added that U.S. growth would likely start weakening after 2022 as temporary spending incentives brought about by the tax cuts began to expire.\ The tax cuts would likely widen the U.S. current account deficit, strengthen the U.S. dollar and affect international investment flows, IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said. “Political leaders and policymakers must stay mindful that the current economic momentum reflects a confluence of factors that is unlikely to last for long,” Obstfeld told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said economic gains from the tax cuts would be partially paid back later in the form of lower growth as temporary spending incentives, notably for investment, expired and as rising federal debt took a toll. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde pointed to a “troubling” increase in debt levels across many countries and warned policymakers against complacency, saying now was the time to address structural deficiencies in their economies. Obstfeld said a sudden rise in interest rates could lead to questions about the debt sustainability of some countries and lead to a disruptive correction in “elevated” equity prices.

Read more …

IMF wants their cake and eat it. They warn against the failure of their own policy recommendations.

IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)

The global economy is growing faster than expected, fuelling CEO optimism as they arrive this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. But the IMFhas warned that the next crisis will hit sooner and harder that we thought. “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, issuing a warning by quoting British poet William Blake to describe the state of mind of businessmen and politicians in the world. The global economy continues to beat previous forecasts. The Fund revised upward by 0.2% the growth expected for this year and next. In Europe, the IMF increased further its outlook by 0.3% in 2018 (2.2%) and in 2019 (2%). But “complacency is one of the risks we should go against”, Lagarde told reporters in Davos hours before the official opening of the WEF.

The economy is growing but not because countries have lifted their growth potential via investment in human capital or technology. Instead, reforms have been elusive and growth has benefited just the few that are on top of the pile. “We are not satisfied,” Lagarde insisted, because “too many people have been left out of the acceleration of growth”. Against the backdrop of fragile growth and outstanding challenges, including a high level of debt, the Fund’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, stressed that “the next recession will come sooner and will be harder to fight”. He warned political leaders that the economic momentum is due to factors that are “unlikely to last for long”, including the monetary stimulus and supportive fiscal stance. For that reason, he urged countries to adopt measures aimed at improving the resilience of their societies in the fast-changing digital revolution and to improve the inclusiveness of their societies.

Read more …

Another huge surge in debt. Insane. But the only way to keep the zombie from dying.

Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)

Is anyone paying attention? I don’t know, but the cost of carrying debt has been rising and it’s already showing measurable impacts despite the Fed Funds rate still being very low. My concern of course is that the global debt construct will bring global growth to a screeching halt (see also The Debt Beneath). As the 10 year is already piercing above the 2.6% area now I want to pay attention to the data coming in as the Fed is dot plotting more rate hikes to come. After all the Fed has hiked 5 times off the bottom floor in the past 2 years:

Can we see any measurable impact? You bet we can. Here are personal interest payments for consumers:

Mind you we are still near the lows of the previous cycle and already total interest payments are near record highs. The driver of course is record consumer debt and credit card debt. But despite rates still being historically low this rise in interest rates has an impact on the consumer. Already we see this: “The big four US retail banks sustained a near 20 per cent jump in losses from credit cards in 2017, raising doubts about the ability of consumers to fuel economic expansion. “People are using their cards to get from pay cheque to pay cheque,” said Charles Peabody, managing director at the Washington-based investment group Compass Point. “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” Recently disclosed results showed Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo took a combined $12.5bn hit from soured card loans last year, about $2bn more than a year ago.”

I repeat: “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” [..] “Economists with Deutsche Bank expect the extra debt the Treasury must issue to fund President Donald Trump’s tax package and the amount of debt the Federal Reserve plans to redeem at maturity this year will bloat issuance to about $1tn in 2018. That’s up more than 50 per cent from a year earlier and, when coupled with a 30 per cent rise in the amount of corporate debt that’s due to mature, leaves questions of who the eventual buyer will be.“ A good question indeed. That’s a lot of debt issuance:

Read more …

2018 will be the year of the Brexit reversal.

UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)

Business leaders are privately pushing for a new campaign to reverse Brexit as concerns mount about the viability of government plans to prevent a collapse in exports to Europe. On Monday, the CBI launched its most sustained attack yet on the government’s Brexit strategy by calling for full customs union with the EU and single market participation, even if it means abandoning the pursuit of separate trade deals with the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, senior figures on the CBI policy council are urging the lobby group to toughen its message still further and spell out their belief that this logic should ultimately lead to a national rethink of the decision to leave the EU, perhaps through a second referendum or an election.

While this is not the CBI’s official position, the group says it has decided to speak out about the problems of the government’s approach to Brexit after “thousands of conversations” and workshops with its members over the past two to three months. “It’s not for us to say [whether to reverse Brexit], we are simply pointing out that you need single market access and you need a customs union,” said a spokesman. “If someone concludes that we therefore need to retest this, that’s a political decision, we are just being very practical about it.”

Government ministers reacted furiously to previews of the CBI’s evolving position over the weekend, which now directly challenges the British strategy of leaving the customs union so that new trade deals can be pursued outside a common tariff area. The CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, told an audience at Warwick University on Monday: “There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU; a day when investing in fast-growing economies elsewhere eclipses the value of frictionless trade in Europe. But that day hasn’t yet arrived.”

Read more …

The former government, to be exact.

Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the US to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10bn (£7.2bn) today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8bn. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government.

As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: • all lost business opportunities since 2012 • his legal costs • loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting • his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion • loss of reputation. “I cannot be expected to accept all the losses to myself and my family as a result of the action of the New Zealand government,” he told the BBC. “This should never have happened and they should have known better. And because they made a malicious mistake, there is now a damages case to be answered.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand: “This has obviously been an ongoing matter, so no it doesn’t surprise me.”

Mr Dotcom’s key argument over his extradition is the warrants used for the raid on his mansion and arrest in January 2012 were based on Section 131 of the 1994 Copyright Act of New Zealand. “Under the NZ copyright act, online copyright infringement is not a crime,” said Mr Dotcom. “92B of Section 131 – an amendment created by parliament in 2012 – prohibits any criminal sanction against an internet service provider in New Zealand. “In order for the US to be successful with an extradition, the allegation of the crimes that they are charging someone with also have to be a crime in the country from which they request the extradition.”

Read more …

We must find ways to protect Assange et al.

Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)

Former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa has warned that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s days are numbered at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Correa, who gave Assange asylum back in 2012, said that he’s “afraid for Julian Assange’s safety” due to the new government´s actions with regards to his case. He said that he believes President Lenin Moreno is likely “take away the support” previously afforded to the anti-secrecy activist. “It will only take pressure from the United States to” withdraw protection for Assange and “surely it’s already being done, and maybe they await the results of the Feb. 4 (referendum) to make a decision,” said Correa, in an article published by AFP.

When asked does he have evidence to support his claim, Correa said it’s clear that Moreno “has no convictions, it’s clear that he has yielded to the usual powerbrokers” and will “soon enough yield regarding the question of Assange.” The 54-year old economist added that the ambassador for the United States was shamelessly interfering in Ecuador’s internal affairs, something “hadn’t occurred during ten years” of his government. Earlier this week Correa officially left the ruling PAIS Alliance, the leftist political movement he founded in 2006 and which he first rose to political prominence. Having referred to Moreno as a “traitor,” someone who has called for an “unconstitutional” referendum that could spell an end to “democracy,” Correa went on to say that “they can rob us of Alianza Pais, but never our will and convictions. Despite the pain, this only strengthens us.”

Read more …

In the future, Manus will be compared to Birkenau.

Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)

Dozens of refugees held for years in Australia’s remote Pacific detention camps departed for resettlement in the United States on Tuesday, asylum-seeker advocates said. The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said 40 men flew out from Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby under a deal struck by Australia with former US president Barack Obama but bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump. “It was a bitter-sweet moment for the refugees — who on the one hand, are happy to be gaining the freedom that Australia denied them more than four years ago; but on the other, they remain extremely concerned for those that are being left behind,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

The refugees, from camps on Manus Island, flew to Manila from where they will fly on to the US in different groups in the coming weeks before being resettled across the country, it said. The group released photos showing the refugees lining up before dawn to get on buses for the airport, then waiting at the gate to board their flight to Manila. Another 18 men were due to leave Port Moresby in the coming weeks, it said. [..] Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Manus and the Pacific island of Nauru under a tough policy designed to choke off the flow of refugees to the country. More than 1,000 still remain in limbo in the remote locations.

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States. But until now only about 50 refugees have been sent to the US, under an agreement President Trump attacked after taking office as a “dumb deal”. The Refugee Action Coalition said a further 130 people on Nauru have been accepted by the US and are expected to depart next month.

Read more …

Merkel can’t take that she’s yesterday’s news.

Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

It’s no longer about people, it’s about a number. It’s about the number of refugees who come to Germany, not about the refugees themselves. The most recent number is 223,000: That’s how many asylum applications were submitted last year, a far cry from the 746,000 applications received in 2016. The new number is rather convenient for Angela Merkel in that it is extremely close to the upper limit of 220,000 that has found its way into the German chancellor’s preliminary coalition outline agreed to by Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). This number is the expression of a political policy that has never been clearly verbalized and never been adequately explained. It is the expression of an about-face on refugee policy, away from open borders and toward harsh rejection.

Late in the summer of 2015, Merkel said that if Germany cannot show “a friendly face” in an emergency, “then it is not my county.” She kept the borders open to the incoming refugees, and much of the world was inspired by her humanitarian approach. Now, however, Germany is presenting a much less friendly face to the world. And the German chancellor has no country anymore. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Indeed, her views would seem to have completely changed. In 2016, Merkel engineered a deal with Turkey on behalf of the European Union which essentially shut down the refugee route across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. She also agreed to demands from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her own Christian Democrats (CDU), that an annual upper limit be established, though it isn’t allowed to be called an “upper limit.”

In the future, there is also to be a 1,000-per-month upper limit applied to family reunifications for most refugees. That is too low. The CDU and CSU are fond of emphasizing family values, yet they have joined forces to limit family reunification — even though it should be clear to everyone that men have the best chances at integration if they live here together with their families. But none of that matters anymore. The parties only care that the number is low. And SPD leaders are going along without complaint. That, too, is a disappointment.

Read more …

Jan 092018
 
 January 9, 2018  Posted by at 10:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Thomas Abercrombie Beirut 1957

 

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)
US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)
Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)
The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)
Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)
iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)
‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)
The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)
Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)
Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)
US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)
Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)
Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

 

 

A nation of expendables. To think how hard earlier generations fought for health care.

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)

As tax season approaches, some consumers are waiting for their refund checks to spend on a long-delayed purchase – a visit to the doctor or dentist. U.S. consumers boosted their out-of-pocket health spending by 60% in the week after they got a tax refund, according to new research from JPMorgan Chase, based on data from Chase customer accounts. Spending stayed high for about 2 1/2 months, with about two-thirds of the extra spending money going to in-person payments to doctors and dentists. Much of the rest was used to pay down past bills. Health insurers and employers have raised copays and deductibles for consumers, making them bear a larger portion of the cost of care when they go see a health-care provider.

As a result, patients sometimes lack the cash to get the care they may need, according to the report. “Cash-flow dynamics are a significant driver of out-of-pocket spending for health care,” the study found. “Even when consumers knew with near-certainty the size and source of a major cash infusion, they still waited until the infusion arrived before spending.” The researchers found that availability of cash had far less of an impact on health-spending decisions among those with credit cards, or who had higher bank-account balances.

Read more …

Until about 1970, the US had the lowest child mortality rates. Then something happened.

US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)

The United States has the worst child mortality rate among a group of 20 wealthy democracies, an analysis released Monday found. And despite overall improvement in the child mortality rate in the U.S. and those 19 other countries, the U.S. has persistently outpaced those nations in that grim metric for decades, the Health Affairs report said. “From 2001 to 2010, the risk of death in the US was 76% greater for infants and 57% greater for children age 1-19,” the report said. And during the same decade, children between the ages of 15 and 19 were 82 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide in the U.S. than in the comparison countries.

The authors of the Health Affairs report said that in the full 50-year period their study looked at, the U.S. had more than “600,000 excess deaths” among kids because of the country’s lagging performance in curbing child mortality. Those excess deaths have occurred even as the U.S. spends more money on health care for kids than the other countries. Among the countries looked at, “there has never been a better time to be born in any of these 20 countries,” the Health Affairs report said. “Despite this generalized trend, children are less likely to survive and transition into adulthood in the US than in other [countries examined],” the report said. “Persistently high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes, and a relatively weak social safety net have made the US the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.”

Read more …

Due to the tax law.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)

New Chapter 11 bankruptcies in the US more than doubled in December 2017 from a year ago to 699 filings. That jump of 362 filings from December 2016 was the largest year-over-year jump since the Financial Crisis. This chart shows Chapter 11 filings back to 2011, based on data from the American Bankruptcy Institute. I marked the prior five Decembers with red dots. Note how they’re near the low point of the seasonal swings. That makes the spike in December 2017 even more spectacular. A spike like this in Chapter 11 filings in a month of December is unheard of in normal times. Normally, bankruptcies jump during tax season, the first four or five months of the year, but not at the end of the year. But these are not normal times.

In December, Chapter 11 filings soared 61% from November. This is also highly unusual, as over the prior five years, presumably the “normal times,” the number of filings from November to December has fallen by an average 8.7%. The chart below shows the year-over-year change in Chapter 11 filings. I marked the prior Decembers in yellow. I circled the oil bust and the brick-and-mortar meltdown. But December 2017 was special.

I think companies and their owners and creditors know one thing: They can write off losses in 2017 under the old corporate tax rates, at 35%, thus getting the government to pick up 35% of the tab of their losses via lower taxes. In 2018, the new tax law applies and all kinds of uncertainties have yet to be ironed out, and these companies – the owners and creditors – are thinking (I assume) that it’s better to try to recognize the loss in 2017, support it with a Chapter 11 filing, and pull the write-off into 2017 against a tax rate of 35%, rather than 21% in 2018. A tax-law change of this drastic nature motivates people jump through all kinds of hoops to save some money – including waiting in line for hours to pay property taxes early, a hitherto unthinkable strategy. And I think this is the likely suspect for the spike.

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Wonderful history lesson about the robber barons. Go read.

The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)

The U.S. is now living through a second Gilded Age. Where once the robber barons were millionaires, today they’ve added a few zeros to their wealth and became billionaires. However, they act with no-less impunity, but a greater sense of entitlement. The Trump administration, together with the Republican-controlled Congress, are functional shills for the current generation of robber barons. As evident from the recently-passed tax bill, legislators jump when their big-money donors order them to deliver the goods — and they did. The U.S. economy has rebounded from the 2007-2009 “great recession,” with the stock market hitting new highs, unemployment the lowest in a generation and home prices recovering. But Americans still haven’t regained the wealth they lost, with incomes remaining stagnant and, on the whole, working Americans worse off than since the late-1990s.

The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances finds that median net worth for all families (measured in 2016 dollars) dropped 8% since 1998. Most sobering, the poorer you are, the worst your fate – and this is compounded by race, education level, gender and age factors. America’s poorest, the bottom fifth, saw their net worth fall 22%; the broad working class, the second-lowest income tier, were the hardest hit with their net worth shrinking by more than a third (34%); and those dubbed “middle class,” with incomes from $43,501 to $69,500, were barely treading water, with their worth gaining a whopping 3.5%. Since 1998, the top 10% saw their worth rise 146%. The share of the nation’s wealth held by the top 1% rose to 38.6% while that portion controlled by the bottom 90% fell 22.8% (from 33.2% in ’89).

Looking at the nation’s income for the period of 2013 to 2016, the same phenomenon is evident: income going to the top 1% climbed to 23.8% (from 20.3%) while the share going to the bottom 90% slipped to about 50% (from 54%). And then there is debt, the lubricant of the U.S. post-WW-II “consumer revolution.” During the 2013 to 2016 period, those with the lowest income (below $25,300), saw their debt rise by 57%; for the lower-middle class (incomes between $25,301 and $43,500), debt increased 58%; and for the middle class (incomes from $43,501 to $69,500), debt rose by a modest 12.5%.

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What beaking points are made of.

Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)

As far as the stock market is concerned, it took a while – in fact, it took eight years, but retail investors are finally all in, bristling with enthusiasm. TD Ameritrade’s Investor Movement Index rose to 8.59 in December, a new record. TDA’s clients were net buyers for the 11th month in a row, one of the longest buying streaks and ended up with more exposure to the stock market than ever before in the history of the index. This came after a blistering November, when the index had jumped 15%, “its largest single-month increase ever,” as TDA reported at the time, to 8.53, also a record:

Note how retail investors had been to varying degrees among the naysayers from the end of the Financial Crisis till the end of 2016, before they suddenly became true believers in February 2017. “I don’t think the investors who are engaging regularly are doing so in a dangerous fashion,” said TDA Chief Market Strategist JJ Kinahan in an interview. But he added, clients at the beginning of 2017 were “up to their knees in it and then up to their thighs, and now up to their chests.” The implication is that they could get in a little deeper before they’d drown. “As the year went on, people got more confident,” he said. And despite major geopolitical issues, “the market was never tested at all” last year. There was this “buy-the-dip mentality” every time the market dipped 1% or 2%.

But one of his “bigger fears” this year is this very buy-the-dip mentality, he said. People buy when the market goes down 1% or 2%, and “it goes down 5%, then it goes down 8% — and they turn into sellers, and then they get an exponential move to the downside.” In addition to some of the big names in the US – Amazon, Microsoft, Bank of America, etc. – TDA’s clients were “believers” in Chinese online retail and were big buyers of Alibaba and Tencent. But they were sellers of dividend stocks AT&T and Verizon as the yield of two-year Treasuries rose to nearly 2%, and offered a risk-free alternative at comparable yields. And he added, with an eye out for this year: “It’s hard to believe that the market can go up unchallenged.” This enthusiasm by retail investors confirms the surge in margin debt – a measure of stock market leverage and risk – which has been jumping from record to record, and hit a new high of $581 billion, up 16% from a year earlier.

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Duh!

iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)

Apple investors are shrugging off concerns raised by two shareholders about kids getting hooked on iPhones, saying that for now a little addiction might not be a bad thing for profits. Hedge fund JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) pension fund said on Saturday that iPhone overuse could be hurting children’s developing brains, an issue that may harm the company’s long-term market value. But some investors said the habit-forming nature of gadgets and social media are one reason why companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc added $630 billion to their market value in 2017. “We invest in things that are addictive,” said Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management.

He also owns stock in coffee retailer Starbucks Corp, casino operator MGM Resorts International and alcohol maker Constellation Brands Inc. “Addictive things are very profitable,” Gerber said. Still, the investment community is increasingly holding companies to higher social standards, and there is some concern that market-leading tech companies could draw attention from regulators much like alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies have in the past. Alphabet and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. Facebook has said social media can be beneficial if used appropriately. In a statement to Reuters, Apple said it has offered a range of controls on iPhones since 2008 that allow parents to restrict content, including apps, movies, websites, songs and books, as well as cellular data, password settings and other features.

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This leaves many questions about what the industry knew and what they did not. Hard to believe they were all entirely ignorant for 20 years.

‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)

It was late November and former Intel Corp. engineer Thomas Prescher was enjoying beers and burgers with friends in Dresden, Germany, when the conversation turned, ominously, to semiconductors. Months earlier, cybersecurity researcher Anders Fogh had posted a blog suggesting a possible way to hack into chips powering most of the world’s computers, and the friends spent part of the evening trying to make sense of it. The idea nagged at Prescher, so when he got home he fired up his desktop computer and set about putting the theory into practice. At 2 a.m., a breakthrough: he’d strung together code that reinforced Fogh’s idea and suggested there was something seriously wrong. “My immediate reaction was, ‘It can’t be true, it can’t be true,’” Prescher said.

Last week, his worst fears were proved right when Intel, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, said all modern processors can be attacked by techniques dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, exposing crucial data, such as passwords and encryption keys. The biggest technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon.com are rushing out fixes for PCs, smartphones and the servers that power the internet, and some have warned that their solutions may dent performance in some cases. Prescher was one of at least 10 researchers and engineers working around the globe – sometimes independently, sometimes together – who uncovered Meltdown and Spectre. Interviews with several of these experts reveal a chip industry that, while talking up efforts to secure computers, failed to spot that a common feature of their products had made machines so vulnerable.

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David Brooks exposes everything his paper -NYT- has done for well over a year: make it all up. A mea culpa between the lines.

The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)

Let me start with three inconvenient observations, based on dozens of conversations around Washington over the past year: First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by. Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment. Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade. It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation.

Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss. I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country. I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us. I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.

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Still up and down, but that will be a big problem at some point, not some quaint feature..

Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)

Bitcoin slumped, dragging down smaller rivals such as ether and litecoin, as concerns that regulators will tighten their grip on the market weigh on the the world’s largest cryptocurrency. Regulators in China and South Korea are increasing oversight on cryptocurrency trading and mining, while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission late last year started cracking down on some digital token sales, known as ICOs. Coinmarketcap.com’s decision to exclude Korean pricing data for coins helped create the appearance of a large drop in prices, which some traders attributed as playing a part in the selloff. “News on the regulatory front is dragging down cryptos,” said Gabor Gurbacs at VanEck Associates.

“South Korea and China tightening is weighing on bitcoin and in the ICO market, things started slowing down, with the SEC cracking down on illegal offerings.” Bitcoin slumped as much as 17% to $14,820, the most in more than two weeks. The rout in bitcoin is part of a broader selloff in the cryptocurrency realm, with all of the top 10 by market cap falling, and most tumbling by at least 10%, according to Coinmarketcap.com. Cardano fell 16%, while litecoin slumped as much as 16% to as low as $230. Bitcoin is little changed this year after surging about 1,400% in 2017.

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Liquidity concerns.

Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)

Two U.S. companies shelved proposals to launch bitcoin exchange-traded funds, citing ongoing concerns by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), filings showed on Monday. Staff at the regulatory agency “expressed concerns regarding the liquidity and valuation” of futures contracts based on the digital asset, according to one of the filings. The move adds a new hurdle to the bid by Wall Street firms to capitalize on investor interest in cryptocurrencies, and it opens a rare public divergence between two financial regulatory agencies over how to regulate them. Trusts controlled by Rafferty Asset Management and Exchange Traded Concepts each canceled plans to launch three bitcoin funds that could be traded by retail investors as easily as stocks. Neither firm could be reached for comment.

Fund managers thought the proposals had a chance at winning approval given the launch last month of futures contracts based on bitcoin on both the CME and the CBOE exchanges. Regulators have been scrambling to figure out how to deal with this relatively new asset, and no single one has control. The SEC has dominion over funds, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) governs futures contracts. The CFTC has been under pressure to address concerns it did not fully assess the potential risks that bitcoin poses to the financial system. [..] The SEC’s decisions also face close scrutiny given its power to clear the way for products that could be among the more volatile traded in U.S. equity markets.

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It was always nonsense, and they know it.

US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)

The US energy watchdog terminated Monday a key proposal by President Donald Trump’s administration to subsidize coal and nuclear plants, finding it neither justified nor reasonable. The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was handed down in a unanimous verdict by its five members, a majority of whom belong to the president’s Republican Party. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had in September proposed providing federal aid to nuclear and coal power plants with at least 90 days’ worth of production capacity, arguing the move was necessary to make the national grid more resilient in case of extreme events.

Both sectors have seen their share of the energy market diminish in recent years, losing out to oil, natural gas and renewables – which had all opposed Perry’s plan. There are currently only two nuclear reactors under construction in the US, in addition to the 99 in service. Coal is also facing a crisis, and Trump made reversing its decline a major campaign pledge. In announcing its decision, FERC cited an existing department study’s findings that “changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

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Of the Oprah kind.

Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)

Oprah might be the Democratic Party’s last best hope before it collapses into the mausoleum of US political history, where the Whigs, Free Soilers, and Anti-Federalists lie a’moldering. Politics in this land has failed in its effort to become show business, while show business is succeeding wildly in its attempt to replace politics. All Washington can produce these days is a succession of tedious irresolvable soap operas. Hollywood is enacting a grand moral drama of clear-cut heroines and villains, victims and oppressors, sticking to archetypal story-line of our lifetime: the campaign for freedom, equality, and decency. Show business loves the desert sunshine; politics is mired in the Potomac swamp. Oprah even has better hair than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Oprah herself is an object lesson in the social and political themes that America dares not talk about: a person of humble origins who succeeded wildly in American life by signing onto a once-sturdy and now-fading common culture. In fact, Oprah probably embodies all that remains of American common culture, and the multitudes adore her for it. They are reassured to know that the binding verities still exist. She moves in a realm where blackness and whiteness are emphatically irrelevant — which is surely a relief to people of good will who are sick of race-hustling from all quarters. Though she has credibly acted plenty of sharecropper roles in the movies, Oprah speaks English beautifully and doesn’t apologize for moving up from the ghetto patois of her rough childhood. She may not write all her own material — such as Sunday’s Golden Globes speech that may live on like MLK’s I Have a Dream oration — but she delivers her message with conviction.

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Stumbling from failure to failure.

Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to give her government a 2018 reboot was marred by a chaotic cabinet reshuffle as senior ministers refused to follow her orders. It’s a development that bodes ill for her ability to successfully navigate the next, even trickier stage of Brexit talks. May’s office flagged Monday’s events as “a refresh” of her top team. But instead of the usual parade of lawmakers arriving at her office in quick succession to accept their new roles, things went off script. First Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, then Education Secretary Justine Greening were locked in discussions with her after rejecting proposed moves. Hunt eventually won his argument to stay on, but Greening, who spent more than two hours in 10 Downing Street, quit rather than accept another job.

May was said to be “disappointed” at losing Greening, who opposed Brexit, and could now vote with pro-European Union rebels in the House of Commons. It was not the restart she wanted. There were echoes of her botched decision to call an election in her announcement of a reshuffle she didn’t have to carry out. In both instances May seemed to dissipate any political goodwill she recouped. She had begun the new year in a position of relative strength, having concluded a problematic first phase of talks over Brexit – still the issue that will define her political legacy and will only get more complicated this year. “She can’t have the government she would choose and has to select from a small group of people,” said Matt Beech, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull. “Even with a majority she’d be facing tough decisions because her party’s completely divided on Brexit.”

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Want to know when you’re being had? Look no further. The reasoning here is that the German economy is doing so well that climate targets can’t be met. But that’s an impossible contradiction. Because it tries to make you believe that the investments needed to meet the targets will be made when the economy is not doing so well. But they won’t, because by then the story will be that the money is needed to support the economy.

Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

Germany’s would-be coalition partners have agreed to drop plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, sources familiar with negotiations said on Monday – a potential embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Due to strong economic growth and higher-than-expected immigration, Germany is likely to miss its national emissions target for 2020 without any additional measures. Negotiators for Merkel’s conservative bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) told Reuters the parties had agreed in exploratory talks on forming a government that the targeted cut in emissions could no longer be achieved by 2020. Instead, they would aim to hit the 40% target in the early 2020s, the sources said, adding that both parties are still sticking to their goal of achieving a 55% cut in emissions by 2030.

The deal would represent something of a U-turn for Merkel, who has long presented herself as an advocate of climate protection policies on the international stage. Sources said both parties had also agreed that the share of renewable energy in Germany’s electricity consumption should rise to 65% by 2030 from roughly a third last year. Currently, the government plans to raise the renewable energy quota to between 45 and 55% by 2025. Negotiators also agreed to cut the tax on electricity in order to reduce energy costs, according to a document seen by Reuters. They also plan to tender an extra 4 gigawatts of solar energy as well as onshore and offshore wind-generating capacity.

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Dec 312017
 
 December 31, 2017  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Dancing Under the Empire of Fear 1938

 

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2017 Sets A Record (Roberts)
The Greatest Bubble Ever: Why You Better Believe It, Part 2 (Stockman)
China To Cap Overseas Withdrawals Using Domestic Bank Cards (R.)
Bitcoin Tensions Rise As Australia Investors Claim Banks Freeze Accounts (SMH)
South Korea’s “Bitcoin Zombies” (ZH)
Merkel Reclaims Role of EU Anchor in Outline of Her 2018 Agenda (BBG)
May Says 2018 Brexit Progress Will Renew British Confidence And Pride (AFP)
Ex-Catalan Leader Demands Regional Government Be Reinstated (AFP)
Facebook Deletes Accounts at the Direction of US and Israeli Governments (GG)
One Of Eight Turkish Servicemen Granted Asylum By Greece (K.)
Greek Gov’t Applies For Cancellation Of Asylum Granted To Turkish Soldier (R.)
Calgary Zoo Moves Penguins Indoors Because Of The Cold (Ind.)

 

 

Let’s not forget that 2017 was exceptional in many ways. Record debt and record tranquillity. What are the odds that 2018 will continue along that path?

2017 Sets A Record (Roberts)

In just the past year, the markets set a record by going 12-straight months without a loss. That liquidity driven surge was accompanied by extremely low volatility as noted last week by Dana Lyons: “Specifically, the average daily closing price of the VIX in 2017 was 11.10 (through 12/26/17). That is the lowest of any year — by more than one and a half points — since the VIX inception in 1986 (by comparison, the ‘average yearly average’ is over 20).”

Of course, with very little volatility, there were very few draw downs along the way as markets continued their advance higher. “Accordingly, we took a look at the amount of losses incurred by the stock market during the year as a measure of adversity faced along the way to its solid full-year gains. Specifically, we tabulated the amount of losses incurred during every down day in the market. We used the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as it has a longer history than the S&P 500. And based on these calculations, the stock market enjoyed less adversity in 2017 than any other year in history going back over 100 years (our daily DJIA data begins in 1915).”

All that exuberance has got Wall Street already prognosticating that next year could be as good, or better, than 2017. “‘I would expect 2018 to be an almost repeat of 2017,’ said Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James. ‘People are still way underinvested. Earnings are starting to come in better than expected. And with the tax reform, and especially the corporate tax cuts, I think earnings are going to continue to surprise on the upside. The professional investors are all in for the most part but the individual investor is not all in.’” Maybe. But there is more than sufficient evidence that not only professional investors, but individuals, are “all in.”

And, not only are they “all in,” they are all in with leverage as I noted previously: “While investors have been chasing returns in the “can’t lose” market, they have also been piling on leverage in order to increase their return.”

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In a 2-part article, Stockman doesn’t see 2018 as being quiet.

The Greatest Bubble Ever: Why You Better Believe It, Part 2 (Stockman)

During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different – it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance. It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those a heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion – a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered. Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse.

During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry – rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X. And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy – meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices. Wrong again! During the 20 months from the July 2007 peak to the March 2009 bottom, the RUT gave it all back. And we mean every bit of it – as the index bottomed 60% lower at 340.

This time the value of household equities plunged by $6 trillion, and still millions more baby-boomers were carried out of the casino on their shields never to return. Now has come the greatest central bank fueled bubble ever. During nine years of radical monetary experimentation under ZIRP and QE, the value of equities owned by US households exploded still higher – this time by $12.5 trillion. Yet this eruption, like the prior two, was not a reflection of main street growth and prosperity, but Wall Street speculation fostered by massive central bank liquidity and price-keeping operations. Nevertheless, this time is, actually, very different. This time the central banks are out of dry powder and belatedly recognize that they have stranded themselves on or near the zero bound where they are saddled with massively bloated balance sheets.

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Are card withdrawals an actual issue, or is this a show?

China To Cap Overseas Withdrawals Using Domestic Bank Cards (R.)

China’s foreign exchange regulator will cap overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards at 100,000 yuan ($15,370) per year in an effort to target money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion, it said on Saturday. Individuals who exceed the annual quota will be suspended from overseas transactions for the remainder of the year and an additional year, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) said in a notice posted on its website. Under the new rules SAFE will submit a daily list of individuals banned from making overseas bank card withdrawals, and banks must suspend the users by no later than 5 p.m. the same day, the notice said.

Domestic card users will also be barred from withdrawing more than 10,000 yuan a day overseas, it said. The new rules come into effect on Jan. 1, and reporting adjustments must be adopted by banks by April 1, 2018, it said. China has strengthened regulatory oversight of overseas card transactions in the past year, targeting illegal cross-border transfers and money laundering. In September SAFE brought in regulations requiring Chinese banks to report daily their bank card holders’ overseas withdrawals as well as every transaction exceeding 1,000 yuan. China’s foreign exchange reserves rose for the 10th straight month in November due to tighter regulation and a stronger yuan, which continue to discourage capital outflows.

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Banks targeting crypto. They’ve talked to each other beforehand, and presumably also with the government.

Bitcoin Tensions Rise As Australia Investors Claim Banks Freeze Accounts (SMH)

Bitcoin investors are claiming Australia’s banks are freezing their accounts and transfers to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a viral tweet slamming the big four and an exchange platform putting a restriction on Australian deposits. Cryptocurrency trader and Youtuber Alex Saunders called out National Australia Bank, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corporation on Twitter for freezing customer accounts and transfers to four different bitcoin exchanges – CoinJar, CoinSpot, CoinBase and BTC Markets. Bitcoin, a currency once known for its use by criminals trading online through a ‘Silk Road’ for drugs and weapons, has become a popular investment option.

After hundreds of shares and responses to the social media posts calling the banks’ alleged behaviour “disgusting” and “appalling” with some threatening to move their accounts, some users said their activities with the cryptocurrency had still been described as a “security risk” by their financial institutions. Banks were remaining tight-lipped on whether bitcoin activity was causing specific accounts to be closed or frozen, though its understood none had company-wide policies banning cryptocurrency investment activity. Yet the terms and conditions in some cases do reference Bitcoin. Commonwealth Bank’s June 2017 terms and conditions for CommBiz accounts specifically excludes this activity, saying it can refuse to process an international money transfer or an international cash management transaction “because the destination account previously has been connected to a fraud or an attempted fraudulent transaction or is an account used to facilitate payments to Bitcoins or similar virtual currency payment services”.

A Commonwealth Bank spokesman said it was receptive to innovation in alternative currencies and payment systems “however, we do not currently use or recommend any existing virtual currencies as we do not believe they have yet met a minimum standard of regulation, reliability, and reputation compared to other currencies that we offer to our customers”. “Our customers can interact with these currencies as long as they comply with our terms and conditions and all relevant legal obligations,” he said.

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This doesn’t ooze a healthy feeling.

South Korea’s “Bitcoin Zombies” (ZH)

[..] what happens in South Korean crypto trading, does not stay in South Korea: the country is the world’s third-largest market in bitcoin trading after Japan and the US, with roughly 2 million digital-currency investors by one estimate – one in every 25 citizens. The country is also home to one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency trading exchanges, Bithumb. The country’s crypto-trading craze is so pervasive that the country has developed the term “bitcoin zombie” referring to people who check the cryptocurrency’s price around the clock. Even the country’s prime minister Lee Nak-yeon expressed concerns over Korea’s bitcoin craze, warning that “young people and students are rushing into virtual currency trading to earn huge profits in just a short period of time,” and that “it is time for the government to take action as it could lead to serious pathological phenomena if left unchecked” forcing young people into illegal activities like drug dealing.

For now, the “bitcoin zombies” are winning. As an example, as Reuters details in its just released deep dive in South Korea’s crypto-community, on a recent weeknight at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, more than a dozen students crammed into a classroom not to study, but to share tips on investing in so-called cryptocurrencies, which have driven tales of fantastic returns for savvy investors. “The group sat in rapt silence – broken only by a sudden shout of “there was just a big jump!” from someone monitoring his virtual currencies – as one student gave a presentation on how to read financial data and predict future trends.” Make no mistake: it’s a countrywide craze: “I no longer want to become a math teacher,” said 23-year-old Eoh Kyong-hoon, who founded the club, Cryptofactor.

“I’ve studied this industry for more than 10 hours a day over months, and I became pretty sure that this is my future.” [..] Eoh said the talk of more regulation had not dented his plans, especially after making what he said was a 20-fold gain on his investments over the past six months. He added that many students were bringing laptops to class to track the movements of their investments and participate in actual trading. “Even when professors are giving lectures right in front of them,” he said. Meanwhile, with Bitcoin soaring to record levels, younger investors have gravitated toward “altcoins” which often trade at much lower values, analysts say. Today’s surge in Ripple is just one such example. Another is Iota, which traded at $0.82 in late November and now stands at $3.89, a gain of 375%. Energo gained 400% during the same period.

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Her own people don’t even want a full term from her anymore. Hard to accept you lost power, Angela? You have though.

Merkel Reclaims Role of EU Anchor in Outline of Her 2018 Agenda (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll team up with France to hold the European Union together and pledged to her form next government “without delay.” In a New Year’s Eve speech to the nation, Merkel outlined a vision for her fourth term that includes an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen Europe’s economic clout and control migration, while upholding values of tolerance and pluralism within the EU and abroad. “Twenty-seven countries in Europe must be impelled more strongly than ever to remain a community,” Merkel said in a copy of the speech provided by her office in advance of the televised address on Sunday.

“That will be the decisive question of the next few years. Germany and France want to work together to make it succeed.” Merkel’s effort to combine the strengths of the euro area’s two biggest economies has been hamstrung by Germany’s longest post-election party deadlock since World War II, which has left her a caretaker chancellor since September. Exploratory talks on renewing her coalition with the Social Democrats are due to start on Jan. 7. After a poll this week suggested that Germans increasingly don’t want Merkel, 63, to serve another full term, the chancellor sought to put her stamp on the political debate. Merkel said she’s committed to forming “a stable government for Germany without delay in the new year.”

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Straight faced lies. Or is it Python?

May Says 2018 Brexit Progress Will Renew British Confidence And Pride (AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May said 2018 would be a year of “renewed confidence and pride” for Britain as it confronts the challenges of negotiating Brexit, in her New Year message out Sunday. Divorce talks between London and Brussels are set to move on to transition arrangements, trade and security next year as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019. May said 2017 had been a year of progress for Britain as it struck agreement on its departure bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens, in the first phase of Brexit negotiations. “I believe 2018 can be a year of renewed confidence and pride in our country,” the premier said. “A year in which we continue to make good progress towards a successful Brexit deal, an economy that’s fit for the future, and a stronger and fairer society for everyone.

“And whatever challenges we may face, I know we will overcome them by standing united as one proud union of nations and people.” However, the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents thousands of firms across the country, warned that business was losing patience waiting for clarity on what will happen once Britain leaves the EU. “That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers,” director general Adam Marshall told The Observer newspaper. “Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity – after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation.”

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Once again we’ll see how the EU and democracy don’t go well together.

Ex-Catalan Leader Demands Regional Government Be Reinstated (AFP)

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Saturday demanded Madrid reinstate his regional government, which was deposed after an independence referendum that Spanish courts judged illegal, as part of a political settlement. “As president, I demand the Spanish government and those who support it… restore all they have expropriated from the Catalans without their say-so,” Puigdemont said from Brussels as he called on Madrid to “negotiate politically.” Puigdemont’s administration followed up the October 1 referendum by declaring independence but Madrid promptly sacked him and his team and, facing arrest, he fled into Belgian exile while colleagues were arrested and jailed. Puigdemont campaigned for the region’s December 21 snap election from his Brussels exile after a Spanish court charged him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

But a solid showing by pro-independence parties in the poll strengthened the hand of the secessionists, albeit they did not capture a majority of votes cast. In a seven-minute recorded message Puigdemont insisted he was still Catalonia’s “legitimate” leader and that the electorate had shown themselves to be “democratically mature, winning the right to constitute a republic of free men and women.” After the divisive regional elections, how the independence camp intends to rule remains a mystery, with other secessionist leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, behind bars pending trial. “The ballot box has spoken,” said Puigdemont, who said he hoped the election outcome could kickstart moves towards “dialogue and negotiation.” “So what is (Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy waiting for to accept the results?”

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Facebook will be a big story next year.

Facebook Deletes Accounts at the Direction of US and Israeli Governments (GG)

IN September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country. The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials.

[..] Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents. But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is.

A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.” As the Times notes, this rationale appears dubious or at least inconsistently applied: Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram. But just consider the incredibly menacing implications of Facebook’s claims. What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced?

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It took almost a year and a half to decide this. In custody.

One Of Eight Turkish Servicemen Granted Asylum By Greece (K.)

One of eight Turkish servicemen who sought protection in Greece in the wake of a botched coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016 was granted asylum on Saturday. The Asylum Appeals Committee that examines applications in the second degree approved a request for protection from the copilot of the helicopter that flew the eight servicemen into the northern Greek town of Alexandroupoli on July 16, 2016, a day after the attempted takeover by the military in Turkey.

According to the ANA-MPA news agency, the committee upheld an opinion from human rights groups, the Council of Europe and other international agencies decrying human rights violations in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup. The panel said that there is no evidence to suggest that the copilot was involved in the coup attempt, yet is nevertheless, being sought by Turkey for “political crimes” and on these grounds may not receive a fair trail if extradited. The other seven Turkish officers remain in custody until a decision is reached on their respective applications.

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At the exact same time that Athens lauds the independence of its courts, it seeks to interfere with their decisions.

Greek Gov’t Applies For Cancellation Of Asylum Granted To Turkish Soldier (R.)

The Greek government said on Saturday that it had filed a request for the cancellation of the asylum granted to a Turkish soldier accused of involvement in last year’s coup attempt. Greece’s administrative court of appeal will now look into the case. Eight Turkish soldiers fled to Greece following Turkey’s abortive July 2016 coup. Seven of them applied for asylum and were rejected, but have been kept in preventive custody. Angered by a decision to grant asylum to the eighth soldier by the Greek asylum service committee, a panel of judges and experts, Turkey said earlier in the day that the move would affect bilateral relations and cooperation. Athens said it was following its standing position regarding the eight soldiers, “as it has been repeatedly expressed, also in public”, a government official said.

The Greek government has said that it does not support coup plotters and that the country’s justice system is independent. A Greek police official said the soldier who was granted asylum would be released from custody. “By granting asylum to one of eight coup plotters involved in the July 15 coup, Greece has once again showed that it is a country that protects and embraces coup plotters with this decision,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Turkish authorities, drawing an angry rebuke from Ankara and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over various issues. During his visit to Greece earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara did not want Greece to turn into a safe haven for coup plotters.

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But the people still come to watch them.

Calgary Zoo Moves Penguins Indoors Because Of The Cold (Ind.)

Temperatures have dropped so low in Canada that Calgary Zoo has had to move its penguins indoors. As an extreme-cold warning was in effect for the country – temperatures hit a frosty -25C late this week – zookeepers thought it safer to move the penguins to their indoor enclosure. Larissa Mark, manager of communications at Calgary Zoo told Global News that: “On cold days like this, we have to make that choice for them because it is so cold, but on other days, we do give them the option of coming in and out as they please.” Ms Mark explained that king penguins, like the ones at Calgary zoo, are not as accustomed to sub-zero temperatures as their cousins, the emperor penguins.

King penguins, characterised by the bright orange spots on the sides of their heads and feathers at the nape of their necks, are generally found in sub-Antarctic regions in Chile and Argentina and temperate places like the Falklands, Macquarie and the Sandwich islands. However, the cold snap has not stopped people from going to the zoo. “Calgarians are a hardy bunch. A cup of hot chocolate and a warm fire and they are still coming out and enjoying Zoolights. Our attendance is doing well, it is on par with where we were last year,” said Ms Mark of the annual holiday-lights display event put on by the zoo.

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Dec 182017
 
 December 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Sign Along the Road Near Capulin New Mexico 1939

 

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)
Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)
Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)
China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)
Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)
UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)
Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)
Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)
Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)
Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)
Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)
If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

 

 

Shaky, but give it time before deciding.

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)

Update: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Futures have collapsed since the futures opened…

Dropping over $2200 to converge with spot…

Both CME and CBOE Bitcoin Futures contracts opened above $20,000 this evening (with Bitcoin spot hovering around $19,000). However, as soon as trading started, Bitcoin futures got hammered lower.

Those expecting a surge in futs volumes on the CME vs the CBOE will be disappointed: In fact, spoting actual trades in the first few minutes of trading is not heavy to say the least. Obviously Jan is seeing all the volume… And March not so much… (let alone the $1200 bid-offer spread).

The lack of trading will likely be a surprise to those who were expecting a more “vigorous” futures launch on the CME, such as Brooks Dudley, vice president of risk in New York at ED&F Man Capital Markets who told Bloomberg that “CME’s bitcoin contract may not be first, but they are a larger futures clearinghouse and we are looking forward to our clients trading their product on Sunday evening. Not all market participants have been able to short the Cboe bitcoin futures. We have allowed our clients to go long or short to take advantage of dislocations between the futures and the underlying spot market.” For now, nobody appears to be taking advantage of anything.

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This seems to be a reasonable fear.

Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)

This chart shows a seven-day average of the total number of minutes it takes to confirm a bitcoin transaction, since May 2016. Like the price of bitcoin itself, transaction time has been rising as the months go by. At the time of writing, it took four-and-a-half hours to confirm a bitcoin trade, on average:

If you are holding bitcoin, and you’re worried that the price is a bubble – it cleared $17,000 last week – then bitcoin transaction times should really start to scare you. The price of bitcoin is shifting up and down by hundreds or thousands of dollars each day. No one knows what the price will be one hour from now, except that we know it will be very, very different. The schedule for the world’s largest ICO, the $500 million Dragon casino offering, has been pushed back two weeks, the company says, “due to the extreme congestion on both the Bitcoin and Ethereum Networks, [in which] ICO investors or contributors have faced significant challenges when transferring their Bitcoin and Ethereum to participate in the Dragon Pre-ICO.”

The transaction time is built into the system. Each transaction must be confirmed by six bitcoin miners, and that takes time. There is a finite number of miners, and the more transactions they have to confirm, the longer it takes as their network bandwidth gets filled. Worse, they charge for transactions and prioritise transactions based on price. Those who pay more get processed first. Imagine how bad this is going to get on the day some negative news hits the wires and the really significant holders of bitcoin decide, “I’ve had enough of this. I’ve made my money. I am bailing.” The majority of bitcoins are held by a tiny percentage of the market. 40% are held by 1,000 people. Those few major holders can crash the market whenever they want.

As anyone who remembers the market crashes of 2000 and 2008 knows, these things happen fast. Billions get wiped off the market in minutes. People who need to cash out now, but who are an hour or so behind the news, can lose their shirts. It is brutal. And blockchain just isn’t equipped to deal with it. Part of the increase in transaction time has, no doubt, been caused by the recent arrival of new, less knowledgeable investors who are coming into the market only because they have seen the headlines about the price of bitcoin going up, up, up. That gives us an idea of just how congested it will be on the way down. It will also be expensive. By some counts, transaction fees are doubling every three months. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $26 per trade recently.

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Abe’s going to have to force his people to spend at gunpoint. And then find out they can’t.

Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)

Japanese exports accelerated sharply in November, yet again pointing to growing momentum in the world’s third-biggest economy. There was just one catch: inflation remained stubbornly low and well off the central bank’s 2% target. The combination of steady growth and benign consumer prices mean the Bank of Japan will lag other major central banks in exiting crisis-era monetary stimulus, with analysts widely expecting BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to keep the liquidity tap wide open at a meeting later this week. “Inflation expectation is in a gradual recovery trend, but a gap between firm economic indicators and weak price indexes remains wide open,” said Yuichiro Nagai, economist at Barclays Securities.

Indeed, a BOJ survey on Monday showed companies’ inflation expectations heightened only a touch in December from three months ago, despite a tight labor market and business confidence at over a decade high. The persistently low inflation – with core prices running at an annual pace of 0.8% – was also hard to square off with the robust performance of Japan Inc., which has benefited from booming exports thanks to upbeat global demand. Separate data from the Ministry of Finance showed exports grew 16.2% in the year to November, beating a 14.6% gain expected by economists in a Reuters poll and accelerating from the prior month’s 14.0% increase, led by a stellar sales to China and Asia.

[..] “The BOJ will likely be forced into cutting its price projections once again in its quarterly outlook report in January. That will highlight a distance to an exit from the BOJ’s monetary stimulus,” said Barclays’ Nagai. The BOJ quarterly “tankan” survey on corporate inflation expectations survey showed companies expect consumer prices to rise 0.8% a year from now, slightly ahead of their projection for a 0.7% increase three months ago. The marginal nudge up in expectations underscored why inflation is still well off the BOJ’s target, with firms expecting consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1% three years from now and 1.1% five years ahead, unchanged from three months ago, the survey showed.

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They’ll all go to the same places though.

China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)

Over the past few weeks, people here in Beijing have been riveted by the so-called migrant “clean-out” – the government’s attempt to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes in the poorer parts of the city. What’s not being discussed, however, is how the crackdown could threaten one of the government’s other main priorities: managing debt. In China, mobility is legally restricted according to a household registration system, called the hukou. Chinese citizens receive an urban or rural hukou which officially identifies them as residents of a specific area and which allows them to live and work only in that area. Few if any of the migrant workers affected by the current sweep possess a Beijing hukou. Previously, this didn’t really matter.

For the past three decades, during the period of China’s furious economic growth, the country’s fastest-growing regions were desperate for cheap labor to fill factories and build infrastructure. With local government officials graded in large part on their ability to generate rapid growth, they largely ignored hukou restrictions and made migration into their cities easy. Hundreds of millions of workers traveled from their hukou areas to wherever there were jobs, in particular big cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. The attitudes of local authorities may be changing now as the economy slows and officials become more concerned about unemployment and tensions over access to schools and other social services. One of the easiest tools the authorities have to manage both problems is to enforce the hukou rules that are already on the books.

In Beijing, the campaign is broadly popular among legal residents, who complain about overcrowding and rising rents. If it spreads, however, the crackdown could carry a significant macroeconomic cost. Enforcing the residency system nationally could severely limit labor mobility in China. This would in turn constrain monetary policy, which is critical to minimizing the cost to China of what’s likely to be a very difficult adjustment after decades of deeply unbalanced growth. How exactly would this happen? It’s important to remember that while China is a huge economy with a great deal of variety across different regions, it can nonetheless operate effectively with a single currency because it has most of the characteristics of an optimum currency area. In the 1960s, Columbia University’s Robert Mundell argued that four conditions were required to establish such an area.

They include high levels of labor mobility, high levels of capital mobility, a system of transfers that shares risks across the region, and coordinated business cycles. If labor mobility in China slows dramatically, growth rates in different parts of the country would diverge even more than they have already, rather than converge. As a result, monetary policies aimed at restraining credit growth overall might end up being too tight for some regions, leading to accelerating bankruptcies, and too loose for others, fueling out-of-control credit growth.

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Inevitable.

Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)

Price cutting by homeowners desperate to shift their property in a slowing market has reached the highest levels in six years, according to an analysis by website Zoopla. Just over 35% of the homes marketed on the site have marked down their price in the hope of achieving a sale, with the biggest discounts in the London property market. The 35% figure compares with 29% just before the EU referendum in 2016, although it is below the levels recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Sellers in Richmond and Kingston upon Thames in south-west London, both relatively prosperous areas, are among those to have made the deepest reductions in sale prices. Zoopla put the average mark-down by sellers in Kingston at £84,244.

It added that around half of all the properties for sale in Kingston and other nearby locations such as Mitcham and Camberley in Surrey have been reduced since their first listing, indicating that sellers are having to significantly readjust their hopes in the light of the Brexit vote. Lawrence Hall, at Zoopla, said it was good news for first-time buyers trying to get on the property ladder. “A slight rise in levels of discounting is to be expected at this time of year when house-hunters are likely to be delaying their property search until activity picks up in January,” Hall said. “Those on the look-out for a bargain should consider looking in Camberley or Kingston upon Thames in the south, or areas of the north-east – home to some of Britain’s biggest discounts.”

The average asking price reduction across the country currently stands at £25,562, according to Zoopla. The property website said towns in Scotland and northern England have proved more resilient to discounts. About 16% of homes in Edinburgh have been reduced in price, followed by 19% in Salford, 22% in Glasgow, and 25% in Manchester – all below the national average. In London, 39% of property listings have recorded a price reduction, up from 37% in July.

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Banks want to be no. 1 consideration.

UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)

Britain’s banks have written to Theresa May and Philip Hammond warning that a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU post-Brexit is not ambitious enough and that alignment with EU rules on finance is crucial. The open letter from UK Finance, which represents major banks and other financial institutions, said the government must place the City at the centre of Brexit trade talks or risk dealing a major blow to the economy. “Ceta [the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada] is an interesting template, but given the UK and the EU 27 start from a position of regulatory convergence that the UK and Canada didn’t have, we should seek to be far more ambitious,” said the letter.

The banks congratulated May on successfully negotiating a move to the second phase of withdrawal negotiations with the EU, which it called the first substantive evidence that a final deal could be agreed. But the trade body called on the government to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit and broker a smooth transition by focusing on alignment with Europe. “Pragmatic decisions to align the two regimes from a regulatory perspective … should be seen not as concessions, but as mechanisms to maximise benefits and choice within a deep regional capital market for the benefit of citizens and our economies,” it said. The alternative is “an unnecessary loss” of GDP, it added.

“A high degree of mutual cross-border market access is fundamental to the continued success of our financial services sector – and to the success of the economies and citizens which our sector serves in the UK and the EU 27,” UK Finance wrote.

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Stimulus instead of austerity.

Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)

[..] polling shows that the British people are disillusioned with the privatisation of key sectors, and favour nationalisation. They seek protection from the impact of deregulated market forces on their lives and livelihoods and on their children’s prospects. Business leaders have been made aware – by the IMF, the OECD and the Bank for International Settlements – that the Conservatives’ dependence on what David Cameron called his government’s “monetary radicalism and fiscal conservatism” has gone too far. There is now real concern about the long-term impact of quantitative easing which, coupled with austerity, has led to rocketing asset prices, falling wages and rising inequality. Those with access to central bank largesse have been enriched as the prices of assets have risen; while those without assets and dependent on earnings have suffered as incomes have fallen in real terms.

Falling incomes and spare capacity have not been good for business. While the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent watchdog, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a thinktank, have obsessed over supply-side issues, politicians have been persuaded by economists to sit on their hands, as Britain’s economy falters under huge, unused capacity. Howard Bogod, who runs a business with a turnover of under £20m, wrote recently: “Economic models have failed to explain why wages have not increased as unemployment has fallen so low. These same models are incorrect in their conclusions about productivity growth – indeed these two failures are linked. My conclusion based on observing actual businesses is that if nominal demand were to continue to grow then both productivity and real wages would start to grow more quickly, and economists would again be left scratching their heads.”

There is, nevertheless, anxiety over the scale of Labour’s public investment plans and their impact on the UK’s credit rating. But Labour has a record, in key respects, of being more fiscally conservative than Conservatives. For example, a review by economists at Policy Research in Macroeconomics of current budget deficits or surpluses (that is, excluding public investment) for the whole period before the global financial crisis, from 1956 to 2008, reveals that Conservative governments had an average annual surplus of 0.3% of GDP, while Labour governments had an average annual surplus of 1.1%.

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“Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week. ..”

Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)

In October 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the world when he grabbed a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation started there. The tale of how the 95 theses were posted is almost certainly false. Luther never mentioned the incident and the first account of it didn’t surface until after his death. But it makes a better story than Luther writing a letter (which is what probably happened), and that’s why the economist Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week.

Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the world’s leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the mediaeval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luther’s time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neo-classical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics. Keen was one of those heretics. He was one of the economists who knew there was big trouble brewing in the years leading up to the financial crisis of a decade ago but whose warnings were ignored.

The reason Keen was proved right was that he paid no heed to the equilibrium models favoured by mainstream economics. He looked at what was actually happening rather than having a preconceived view of what ought to be happening. Somewhat depressingly, nothing much has happened, even though it was a crisis neo-classical economics said could not happen. There was a brief dalliance with unorthodox remedies when things were really bleak in the winter of 2008-09, but by late 2009 and early 2010, there was a return to business as normal.

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“.. invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body.”

Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)

As she fights for her political life Soon-to-be-ex-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel will go down swinging against her stiffest political opponents in the European Union, the Poles. Merkel and French President Emmanual Macron publicly agreed to back Article 7 proceedings against Poland for refusing to comply with EU immigration quotas and changes to its judicial system. Immigration quotas, I might add, that are becoming harder to defend as the war in Syria is mostly over and the flow of refugees from there has slowed to a trickle. But, those brought in and stranded in camps in Italy and Greece apparently need to go somewhere else. But, no one wants them. And the rest of the EU is trying to bully Poland and the rest of the Visigrad countries – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – into taking on their ‘fair share.’

The problem with this is that Merkel made this decision unilaterally and foisted it on the rest of the EU. And she is determined not to lose this fight to Poland, not because this is any kind of humanitarian issue at this point. No, this is about the primacy of EU diktats being enforced at the expense of logic and political cohesion. And, as I’ve been warning about all year, Merkel will put the EU before any practical consideration and bring Article 7 proceedings against Poland. Because she has to. Immigration and the destruction of individual European cultures is the guiding principle behind the EU’s biggest benefactors. This policy is part of the long-term strategic goals of the EU. It has created an army which will be used to quell secessionist movements in the name of ‘continental security.’ Because despite the fevered dreams of a few hundred Latvians, the Russians are not invading Europe anytime soon.

And I have to wonder who will staff this Grand Army of the Oligarchy? After impoverishing an entire generation of people thanks to a decade-long banking system bailout, you shouldn’t be expecting the crème de la crème of the vanishing European middle class. You can expect a number of these newly-integrated immigrants that Merkel invited at everyone else’s expense will be in their ranks. And only the most politically-acceptable members of the current armies of each country will be invited to positions of authority in this new EU army. Their loyalty will be to the EU first and their homes second. The very definition of a Vichy gendarme for the 21st century. Poland and the rest of the Visigrad Four – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – are headed for a collision course with the rest of Western Europe over this issue and many others.

And invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body. While at that same time not allowing Poland free access to international trade because it will not be an independent nation at that point. Any move to extricate itself from the EU politically or practically will be met with the most strident opposition. Look no further than Brexit talks and the brutal put-down of Catalonia’s independence movement to see Poland’s future.

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They have that in common with Germans.

Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)

Greeks love cash: Not only do they make most of their payments in cash – more than in any other eurozone country – but they also use it to pay their regular monthly obligations, such as utility bills, rent and even their taxes. The main reason for this proclivity for paper money is not an inherent aversion towards electronic payments, but that the vast majority of Greeks, far more than in other eurozone member states, still get paid in cash. This is evident in the recent European Central Bank survey on cash use in eurozone households, which showed that 57% of Greeks are paid in paper. Cyprus and Slovenia come a distant second, with a rate of 28%, while in the other eurozone countries the share of people getting paid “cash in hand” ranges between 5 and 20%.

Behind this particularly high rate of people paid in cash in Greece lies the large number of small or family owned enterprises and freelancers who work for cash. This also serves to illustrate the extensive tax evasion in this country, which tends to be focused on a series of professional categories, mainly among freelancers. The above figures concern 2016, while banks estimate that this picture has started changing considerably after the compulsory payment of salaried workers via a bank account from early 2017. The ECB figures show that the cash culture is not a strictly Greek phenomenon, as 79% of transactions in the eurozone – with great variations from country to country – are conducted with coins and banknotes.

Yet contrary to European habits, Greeks use cash for a series of transactions that are regular every month: 40% of Greeks pay their taxes in cash against just 9% in the eurozone, 50% use paper to pay for their insurance against 10% in the eurozone, and 70% pay for their medicines in cash against 31% in the eurozone. Similarly, electricity and phone bills are paid by 60% of Greeks in cash, compared to 16% in the eurozone, and 30% of rents are covered by cash against just 6% in the eurozone. ECB data also revealed that Greeks hold an average of 80 euros in cash on them, against the Spaniards’ 50 euros and the Italians’ 69 euros, while the Portuguese like to keep just 29 euros at hand.

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In a system as overwhelmed as it is, this does not spell a lot of good.

Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)

In a bid to ease growing pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the government is drafting a law to accelerate the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament as early as this week. Arrivals of migrants from Turkey radically dropped after Ankara signed an agreement with the European Union to crack down on human smuggling over the Aegean. But the influx has picked up in recent months. Also the process of returning migrants to Turkey, as foreseen by the pact, is very slow, partly due to the influence of critics of the deal within leftist SYRIZA. “The only way to deal with the problem on the Greek islands is for the EU-Turkey agreement to be effectively enforced and for there to be a significant number of returns to Turkey,” an official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini.

Since the deal was signed in March 2016, around 48,600 migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, according to the United Nations refugee agency. During that time only some 1, 500 people have been returned to Turkey. Thousands of asylum applications are pending, chiefly because migrants generally appeal rejected claims. At a summit of EU leaders last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the asylum process and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, at the country’s frontiers with Turkey and Bulgaria, Greek officials said. Meanwhile, there are concerns that a decision by the government to move migrants from cramped island camps to the mainland could encourage smugglers to bring more migrants to Greece.

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“There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever.”

If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

Ask a woman right now how her Christmas is going and she will almost certainly unfurl her to-do list before your eyes, from the turkey to the costumes for the kids’ concerts. They should call it the Season of To-dos. For women, anyway. Christmas is the one time of the year when the gender pay gap is an open festering wound. Most of women’s work goes unvalued, unpaid, unseen by the patriarchal valuing system we call money. It’s invisible to money but it’s also pretty invisible even to ourselves. For a woman, it’s just what you do. For men, it’s stuff that just… happens. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up being Santa. I love it, I’m good at it, and I still do it for my kids even though they’re way past believing. That doesn’t mean it’s not work and it’s not worth something. People love their work and still get money for it.

(A little aside: isn’t it interesting that the man behind Santa is almost never a man? It’s almost like the patriarchy wants to take the credit for all of women’s work at Christmas time.) But whoever coined the term “holiday season” was clearly a bloke. It ain’t no holiday. For women, it’s the busiest time of the year. There’s something really broken about a valuing system that doesn’t recognize how much important work goes into bringing up children, socially integrating the tribe, bonding with each other and appreciating the beauty of each individual in the family and all the gifts they bring. A valuing system that doesn’t recognize the gains of having good-natured humans brought up in solid, loving environments that are closely networked in the goodwill economy. A family that will look after each other.

There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever. There’s something deeply sick about a valuing system that only knows how to pay people to make more problems, more sickness, more work for themselves. Invent a problem, and then sell your “solution” to it. That’s pretty much every business model ever. Libertarians will tell you earnestly that all our valuing decisions should be left up to “the markets.” If left to its own devices, the intelligence of money is meant to somehow create a handsome retirement savings package for a hardworking single mom of six. It’s somehow going to pay people to reuse and redistribute goods that they don’t need and fill all the unused houses with house-less people. It’s going to reward leaving minerals in the ground and pay for people to be healthy and live simply and for the environment to flourish and sustain life.

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