Jun 302018
 


Paul Gauguin We hail thee Mary 1891

 

If The US Middle Class Disappears So Will The US Economy (Hutch)
Nervous Investors Exiting US Stocks At Near-Record Pace (CNBC)
Emerging Markets Are In A Death Cross (CNBC)
Are Central Banks Embracing Too Much Risk? (R.)
Stress Test Results Signal More Flexible New-Look Fed (R.)
EU Warns Deep Disputes With UK Threaten No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
EU Leaders Say Post-Brexit Single-Market Access For Goods A Nonstarter (G.)
Hidden Figures (Jim Kunstler)
Canada Hits US With Retaliatory Tariffs: ‘We Will Not Back Down’ (G.)
Merkel Confirms Bilateral Migrant Agreements With Spain And Greece (DW)
Not Up To US To Decide On Assange Asylum, Ecuador Says (AFP)
Edward Snowden Calls Russian Government ‘Corrupt’ (Ind.)
The Great Firewall Of China (G.)

 

 

“..the “Walmartization” of America.”

If The US Middle Class Disappears So Will The US Economy (Hutch)

Economies have ebbs and flows. In spite of what they teach you in economics 101 nothing is ever in equilibrium. There are just too many parts as well as internal and external influences although there are times when activity is stronger than others. The US built one of the greatest economic powerhouses on earth after World War II, however it was already well on its way from the 1800s as it built out its infrastructure and put many to work. There was a time when the US consumed the majority of what it produced as a nation and then exported the remainder. Who was responsible for the consumption? It was the middle class. The middle class made up the majority of the population. They had jobs and respectable salaries. So what happened?

According to a research report by the Pew Research Center in 2012, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class” they state: “For the half century following World War II, American families enjoyed rising prosperity in every decade—a streak that ended in the decade from 2000 to 2010, when inflation-adjusted family income fell for the middle income as well as for all other income groups, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.” The above graph shows that the 50s and 60s had the strongest middle class. In 1950 and 1951 the US had successive years of 8% GDP growth. The report also highlights how the net worth of middle income families—that is, the sum of assets minus debts— took a hit from 2001 to 2010 from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Median net worth fell 28%, to $93,150, erasing two decades of gains.

So we have a situation where consumer debt has increased over the years and incomes have fallen. There are a large number of reasons for this. The manufacturing base has shrunk as companies chose to produce goods in other countries in order to take advantage of cheap labour so they could give themselves pricing advantages. There is, what has become to be known as the “Walmartization” of America. Author John Atcheson writes, “If you want to know why the middle class disappeared and where they went, look no further than your local Walmart. People walked in for the low prices, and walked out with a pile of cheap stuff, but in a figurative sense, they left their wages, jobs, and dignity on the cutting room floor of the House of Cheap.” Driving prices lower and lower is just a race to the bottom that erodes everyone’s quality of life.

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Safety.

Nervous Investors Exiting US Stocks At Near-Record Pace (CNBC)

Investors bailed out of U.S. stocks at a near-record pace in the last week, as money flowing into Treasury bills surged to a 10-year high. Outflows from U.S. stock funds and ETFs totaled $24.2 billion, the third-highest ever, and the $30 billion that came out of global stock funds in total in the past week was the second-highest ever and largest since the financial crisis, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategists. The outflows from U.S. stocks were the highest since the stock market correction in February. Bonds, at the same time, saw small inflows of $700 million. “That nervousness, the losses people were experiencing in non-U.S. markets with the trade wars has probably led to what you’re seeing in the markets in the last week or so — a big unwind of positioning, a flight to quality,” said Michael Hartnett, BofAML chief investment strategist.

Hartnett said there was a “pervasive euphoria” about the U.S. at the beginning of the year and that has faded. Now, investors are adjusting positions, not panicking, though T-bills, considered the safest of safe haven bets, continued to pull in funds at a rapid pace. “It’s not like it’s February 2016. It’s not like we’re staring recession in the face, and everyone is cashed up to the eyeballs and policymakers are panicking. That’s not what’s happening. It’s just that people were pricing in Goldilocks forever earlier on in the year, and that was wrong. They’re probably unwinding that positioning,” he said. “It helps explain why the markets have firmed up in the last couple of days. You want to buy fear and sell greed.” Hartnett said July could be a month where investors sell volatility, but then the market could get rockier in August and September, ahead of the midterm elections.

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Prone to get a whole lot worse.

Emerging Markets Are In A Death Cross (CNBC)

Emerging markets are feeling the heat. China is in a bear market, Brazil is closing in on one, and the EEM emerging markets ETF could close out its worst quarter in nearly three years on Friday. Brace for more pain, says one technical analyst. “There’s really a time to own EEM and it’s time not to own EEM,” Piper Jaffray’s chief market technician Craig Johnson told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. “Our rising dollar is going to be an issue for EEM in here and it looks like to me you got probably another 12 percent downside before you get down to a material support area.”

A 12 percent decline from Thursday’s close would put the EEM ETF at around $37.50, its lowest level since March 2017. On Friday afternoon it had risen 1.5 percent to $43.35. The EEM ETF has also entered a death cross, a technical red flag for Johnson. A death cross marks the point on a chart where a longer-term moving average, such as the 200-day, breaks above a shorter-term moving average, such as the 50-day. The technical indicator demonstrates a sharp breakdown in a security’s price and often prefaces further downside.

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How is that a question?

Are Central Banks Embracing Too Much Risk? (R.)

Central banks are usually thought of as very conservative institutions; if they were cars they would be safe, family sedans. Lately, though, some central banks have been doing the market equivalent of zipping around in a sporty convertible. In recent years, at least two large central banks have been snapping up large quantities of equities, typically considered a risky investment. The Swiss National Bank now has about 20% of its reserves in equities, up from about 7 percent a decade ago. More than half of that is in U.S. equities. And to say that the Bank of Japan has become a player in that country’s equity market is an understatement; BOJ currently owns nearly 75% of the Japanese exchange-traded fund (ETF) market, again up sharply from just a few years ago.

Other central banks, including the European Central Bank and South African Reserve Bank, also make similar purchases, although Japan and Switzerland are the most aggressive buyers of equities. If the idea of a central bank owning a significant amount of stock in a company sounds strange to you, that’s hardly surprising. In the United States, for example, the Federal Reserve Bank is legally prohibited from owning equities, and instead invests its reserves in bonds and other government-backed securities. Some other countries, obviously, have different rules in their bank charters, and modest equity holdings have been a central bank strategy for years. Even so, the practice of central banks owning significant shares of equities is a very recent phenomenon. So why is it happening now, and what kind of risks does this unprecedented trend carry?

In the case of Japan, the motive is clear: for decades the country has had difficulty sustaining economic growth, and the Bank of Japan has already exhausted more traditional forms of stimulus, such as interest rate cuts and bond purchases. Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda have been at pain to stimulate growth and defy expectations of deflation. Switzerland’s bank, by contrast, seems to be acting more like an aggressive individual investor: it has been buying stocks because that is where money is to be made. Unbeknownst to many American investors, the Swiss National Bank is a significant shareholder in well-known American firms like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

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All in for Wall Street.

Stress Test Results Signal More Flexible New-Look Fed (R.)

This year’s Federal Reserve stress test results suggested a more flexible approach, a further sign the regulator’s new leadership is responding positively to a Wall Street push for pragmatic bank supervision, analysts and lawyers said. Banks that took a one-off capital hit due to the 2017 U.S. tax overhaul got a conditional pass, a departure from the Fed’s traditional strict pass-fail approach to quantitative capital issues, while scandal-plagued Wells Fargo was able to double share buyback plans. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were dinged since their capital fell below the Fed’s minimum, but the regulator’s response this year sounded a more industry-friendly tone under Chairman Jerome Powell and Vice Chairman Randal Quarles, President Donald Trump appointees, analysts and lawyers said.

“They have allowed firms to pass on the basis there were special circumstances and applied a level of pragmatism in the way they haven’t in the past. This is the new Fed and it signals to me an early retirement of this super-strict quantitative test,” said Mike Alix, financial services risk leader at PwC. The Fed on Thursday approved the capital plans of 34 lenders following the second leg of its annual tests, a process introduced after the 2007-2009 financial crisis to assess banks’ capacity to withstand a severe recession. The U.S. central bank has ramped up its worst-case scenarios each year.

The U.S. tax code rewrite signed into law in December meant Goldman and Morgan Stanley’s Thursday results were weighed, in part, by changes to the treatment of past losses on hypothetical tax bills under the Fed’s scenarios. But since the tax issue was a one-off and capital levels in the system are high, the Fed felt it was unnecessary to fail the two banks, senior Fed officials said.

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“Asked about Ms May’s dinner speech on Friday morning, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, looked confused, and said: “There was a speech? Haha.”

EU Warns Deep Disputes With UK Threaten No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

The European Union has warned that “serious divergence” between itself and Britain in Brexit talks risks the possibility of a no deal, following a meeting by the 27 national leaders in Brussels on Friday. After roughly an hour of discussion, leaders signed off a joint statement pledging to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal situation and highlighting their “concern” at the lack of progress on the Irish border issue. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, warned: “On Brexit, we have made progress, but huge and serious divergence remains, in particular on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

Mr Barnier called for “workable and realistic proposals” to be included in a UK government white paper scheduled for release next month. He added that “time is very short” and said UK negotiators should return to Brussels on Monday to intensify talks. The EU says a deal must be struck before October to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc in March without a transition period – a scenario that would be expected to cause economic chaos. Theresa May on Thursday night addressed leaders over dinner about Brexit for 10 minutes but her speech was apparently overshadowed by hours of discussions about the EU migration crisis, the main focus of the summit. Asked about Ms May’s dinner speech on Friday morning, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, looked confused, and said: “There was a speech? Haha.”

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One long litany of nonstarters.

EU Leaders Say Post-Brexit Single-Market Access For Goods A Nonstarter (G.)

Theresa May has been told by European leaders that an attempt to protect the UK’s industrial base by gaining single market access for goods alone after Brexit is a nonstarter, as the Irish prime minister warned: “We are not going to let them destroy the European Union.” After being given a “broad brush approach” presentation at a Brussels summit of May’s long-awaited paper, yet to be signed off by her warring British cabinet, the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, told her that unless the final document presented a departure from the UK government’s thinking over the last two years, it would be dead on arrival. The British government is continuing to push the idea of keeping frictionless trade on goods, claiming that it would be a good deal for Europe, given the large trade surplus it enjoys.

May has promised to publish her vision for the future trading relationship after a cabinet meeting at Chequers on Friday. Speaking at the end of a summit dominated by a row over migration, Donald Tusk, the European council president, said that “quick progress” in the Brexit negotiations was needed for there to be any hope of an agreement in October, at what is increasingly being billed as a make-or-break summit. “This is the last call to lay the cards on the table,” Tusk said, of the EU’s call for a workable plan. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said: “There is a clear message in this respect – we can no longer wait”.

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Anyone seen Jeff Sessions lately?

Hidden Figures (Jim Kunstler)

Now, Mr. Trey Gowdy (R – SC) is a different breed of porpoise among congressmen, kind of legal man-eating orca. In look and demeanor, he comes off as a cross between Atticus Finch and the young feller who played the banjo so well in the opening scenes of Deliverance. Mr. Rosenstein didn’t dare lay any mirthful smirky trips on Mr. Gowdy, who radiated the consolidated wrath of the legislative branch at this flock of executive branch popinjays. Mr. Gowdy, who is declining to run for his seat this year, may be bound for bigger things. Some say he may be the next Attorney General. In case you’ve forgotten, Rod Rosenstein is not the Attorney General, he’s the Deputy AG.

His boss is Mr. Jeff Sessions, an elusive figure for months now in the malarial DC backwaters, like that Louisiana Swamp Thang that turns up in the fake Bigfoot documentaries, looming hairily through the night-vision goggles in a cypress slough. Maybe three or four people have laid eyes on him since sometime back in April. Better check his office, make sure he isn’t hunched over face-down in a take-out order of tonkatsu ramen. It’s rumored that our president, the Golden Golem of Greatness, can, shall we say, put the Department of Justice and its subsidiary, the FBI, out of their current misery by finally firing a few of these conniving top dawgs. Order Rosenstein to release un-redacted files he’s been sitting on for a year, and fire his ass for cause when he refuses. In the case of Mr. Sessions, for Godsake, call the undertaker.

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Yogurt and whiskey.

Canada Hits US With Retaliatory Tariffs: ‘We Will Not Back Down’ (G.)

Canada has announced billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs against the US in a tit-for-tat response to the Trump administration’s duties on Canadian steel and aluminum. Justin Trudeau’s government released the final list of items that will be targeted beginning 1 July. Some items will be subject to taxes of 10 or 25%. “We will not escalate and we will not back down,” the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said. The taxes on items including ketchup, lawnmowers and motorboats amount to $12.6bn. “This is a perfectly reciprocal action,” Freeland said. “It is a dollar-for-dollar response.” Freeland said they had no other choice and called the tariffs regrettable.

Many of the US products were chosen for their political rather than economic impact. For example, imports just $3m worth of yoghurt from the US annually and most of it comes from one plant in Wisconsin, the home state of the House speaker, Paul Ryan. The product will now be hit with a 10% duty. Another product on the list is whiskey, which comes from Tennessee and Kentucky, the latter of which is the home state of the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. Freeland also said they are prepared if Donald Trump, the US president, escalates the trade war. “It is absolutely imperative that common sense should prevail,” she said. “Having said that, our approach from day one of the Nafta negotiations has been to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”

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How much money is on the line, Angela?

Merkel Confirms Bilateral Migrant Agreements With Spain And Greece (DW)

Spain and Greece have agreed to take back asylum seekers already registered in those countries who are intercepted at the Austria-German border, Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed on Friday. However she said no bilateral agreement had been made with Italy. The agreements are temporary measures to stem secondary migration until EU-wide policies take effect. “What we achieved here together is perhaps more than I had expected,” Merkel told reporters at the end of the summit. Merkel is to inform her coalition allies about the agreement on Friday evening.

Merkel was asked if the agreements with Athens and Madrid met demands from her German conservative CSU coalition partners. Merkel told reporters she believed they even surpassed them: “They are more than equivalent in their effect,” she said. “We are not at the end of the road. I always said that we would never be able to agree a common European asylum system here. But the more we agree among ourselves, the closer we get to a possible European solution. I’m convinced of that.” The tentative agreement with Greece and Spain came on the sidelines of an EU leaders’ summit that reached a breakthrough on migration. It will go into effect once operational details are worked out in the next four weeks, the Chancellery said.

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Does Ecuador have a spine?

Not Up To US To Decide On Assange Asylum, Ecuador Says (AFP)

It’s not up to Washington to decide the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Ecuador’s top diplomat said Friday, following the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence. Pence “raised the issue” of the Australian anti-secrecy activist – holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012 – when he met with Lenin Moreno on Thursday, an official with the US vice president’s office confirmed. “Ecuador and the United Kingdom, and of course Mr Assange as a person who is currently staying, on asylum, at our embassy” will decide the next steps, Foreign Minister Jose Valencia told reporters. “It does not enter, therefore, on an agenda with the United States.” Pence and Moreno “agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” the US official told reporters traveling with Pence.

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Snowden sure has a spine.

Edward Snowden Calls Russian Government ‘Corrupt’ (Ind.)

Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia after releasing thousands of documents from the US National Security Agency, has suggested his current homeland’s government is “corrupt in many ways”. The ex-IT contractor and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worker, said the country’s citizen’s were warm and clever but he “strongly” disagreed with the policies of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “I think the public feels disempowered. Russians are not naive, they know that state TV is unreliable. The Russian government is corrupt in many ways, that’s something the Russian people realise,” the 35-year-old told German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. “Russian people are warm, they are clever. It’s a beautiful country. Their government is the problem not the people.”

Mr Snowden was granted asylum in Russia after his flight from the US when he made public the NSA’s widespread undeclared surveillance in 2013. He faces three charges under the Espionage Act in his homeland, each of which carry a minimum of 10 years in jail. He has been granted permission to stay in Russia until 2020. Asked by the Suddeutsche Zeitung whether his comments could put him in danger by angering Mr Putin, Mr Snowden said: “There’s no question, it’s a risk. Maybe they don’t care, right? Because I don’t speak Russian. “And I am literally a former CIA agent, so it’s very easy for them to discredit my political opinions as those of an American CIA agent in Russia.”

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Thought control.

The Great Firewall Of China (G.)

In December 2015, thousands of tech entrepreneurs and analysts, along with a few international heads of state, gathered in Wuzhen, in southern China, for the country’s second World Internet Conference. At the opening ceremony the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, set out his vision for the future of China’s internet. “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber-development,” said Xi, warning against foreign interference “in other countries’ internal affairs”. No one was surprised by what they heard. Xi had already established that the Chinese internet would be a world unto itself, with its content closely monitored and managed by the Communist party.

In recent years, the Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online. Government policies have contributed to a dramatic fall in the number of postings on the Chinese blogging platform Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter), and have silenced many of China’s most important voices advocating reform and opening up the internet. It wasn’t always like this. In the years before Xi became president in 2012, the internet had begun to afford the Chinese people an unprecedented level of transparency and power to communicate. Popular bloggers, some of whom advocated bold social and political reforms, commanded tens of millions of followers.

Chinese citizens used virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blocked websites. Citizens banded together online to hold authorities accountable for their actions, through virtual petitions and organising physical protests. In 2010, a survey of 300 Chinese officials revealed that 70% were anxious about whether mistakes or details about their private life might be leaked online. Of the almost 6,000 Chinese citizens also surveyed, 88% believed it was good for officials to feel this anxiety.

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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.

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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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Apr 272018
 
 April 27, 2018  Posted by at 7:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Curtis Red Hawk 1905

 

Moon and Kim’s Unprompted DMZ Dance (AFP)
Sophisticated North Korean Diplomacy Rewards Kim Jong-un (Pieraccini)
China Open To Trade Negotiations With United States – Li (R.)
BOJ Maintains Stimulus While Removing Language on Timing of 2% (BBG)
What’s The Most Important Chart For Investors? (MW)
A New Type Of Poverty Is Hurting The Middle Class (SMH)
Amazon Cloud Revenue Jumps 49% In First Quarter (CNBC)
Facebook Profits Soar 63% Despite Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)
EU Doesn’t Need The City Of London, Says Chief Brexit Negotiator (G.)
Turkey Crackdown Suffocates Society, Creates Climate Of Fear (Amnesty)
Greece’s Economic Crisis Is Over Only If You Don’t Live There (WaPo)
Greece: Economic Health In Grim State (EN)
Solar And Wind Really Do Increase Electricity Prices (F.)
EU Member States To Vote On Near-Total Neonicotinoids Ban (BBC)

 

 

Kim needs money.

Moon and Kim’s Unprompted DMZ Dance (AFP)

It was a historic handshake that Koreans had waited more than a decade to see — and it sparked a completely unscripted dance with the two leaders hopping back and forth over the border that divides their nations. Everything about the inter-Korean summit had been minutely choreographed and rehearsed but the North’s Kim Jong Un went off-script when he invited his southern counterpart Moon Jae-in to join him over the border. After a prolonged clasp lasting almost half a minute over the Military Demarcation Line that acts as the border, a beaming Moon invited his guest over to South Korea. They posed for pictures as Kim became the first Northern leader to set foot in the country since Korean War hostilities ceased in 1953.

Kim then beckoned Moon over to the other side. Moon seemed initially hesitant but the North’s jovial young leader was not taking “no” for an answer, grabbing his hand and accompanying him across the border before they warmly shook hands again. Grinning broadly, the pair then crossed back to the South hand-in-hand, to be presented with flowers by children from a village in the buffer area next to the Demilitarized Zone. It all went to show that even for a moment as carefully planned as the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, where the North’s nuclear arsenal will be high on the agenda, the best-laid preparations rarely run completely to schedule. South Korean officials had carried out a full dress rehearsal on the eve of the summit, including stand-ins for the two leaders. “We examined every single detail including lighting and flower decorations,” a Moon spokesman said.


You put your left foot in: Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in were engaged in a metaphorical and literal diplomatic dance on Friday when they met at the frontier (AFP Photo/Korea Summit Press Pool)

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Sanctions bite too. And “United States with its back against the wall” is perhaps not the right picture.

Sophisticated North Korean Diplomacy Rewards Kim Jong-un (Pieraccini)

[..] what appears to be emerging is very similar to a strategy cleverly developed by the North Korean leadership over a number of years. As Pyongyang needed to bring the United States to the negotiating table, while at the same time guaranteeing its survival, it pursued its nuclear-weapons program. Since Washington seems to have understood that a military solution is not practicable, especially given the pressure brought to bear by its allies all too cognizant of a nuclear-armed DPRK, Pyongyang is now willing to display its good will, deciding to surprise the world by embarking on negotiations, with the renunciation of its nuclear weapons as a major bargaining chip.

Under these conditions, Pyongyang is willing to cooperate, and South Korea welcomes the initiative with open arms, accelerating the meeting between the two leaders and paving the way for peace on the peninsula. The People’s Republic of China applauds the diplomatic efforts and encourages South Korea, and later America, in these diplomatic efforts. Seoul, Beijing and Pyongyang have every interest in reaching an all-encompassing deal, with or without Washington. The diplomatic ability of this trio has managed to leave the United States with its back against the wall, first of all obliging it to sit down at the negotiating table (something already revolutionary for reasons explained above), and then requiring it to ease sanctions considerably.

Otherwise, North Korea would be seen as the party that is willing to achieve peace, while Washington is left isolated and looking like the warmonger. North Korea finds itself in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased and peace talks are managed in the right manner, then the process of socio-economic rebirth, which Kim Jong-un considers a priority, can begin. Should the rhetoric of war prevail in Washington, then Washington would find itself at odds with its main ally, Seoul. It is likely that China could even justifiably renounce its sanctions against the DPRK, blaming the US for not making any progress in the face of extraordinary offers by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

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Win win.

China Open To Trade Negotiations With United States – Li (R.)

China is open to negotiating with the United States to resolve trade tensions, Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying by state media late on Thursday, noting that the countries should manage their conflicts through dialogue. Li made the remarks at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is due to lead a delegation to China for talks intended to ease trade tensions. President Donald Trump has threatened a new round of tariffs on $100 billion worth of Chinese products that could target mobile phones, computers and other consumer goods. China retaliated against an initial round of U.S. tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese exports.

“There is no winner in trade conflict, which will not only affect the recovery of the world economy but also the global industrial chain,” Li said in comments reported by the official Xinhua news agency. “It is also what the international community expects from our two countries,” he said. Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, who will join Mnuchin’s delegation in Beijing, said on Thursday he hoped the talks with China would yield progress but that resolving U.S. complaints would be “a long process.” Xinhua cited Li as saying he hoped the two countries would be able to “manage and control” their differences. Li added China would “unswervingly open further to the outside world”, reiterating President Xi Jinping’s assurances over about the country opening more widely to trade.

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Abenomics was all about inflation targeting. Silently forgotten.

BOJ Maintains Stimulus While Removing Language on Timing of 2% (BBG)

The Bank of Japan left its stimulus program unchanged on Friday, while removing language from its statement declaring that it would reach 2% inflation around fiscal 2019. The decision to maintain the yield-curve control program and asset purchases was forecast by all analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. As he enters his sixth year at the helm, Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has the BOJ pushing forward with stimulus even as other major central banks move further toward policy normalization, if at a more moderate pace. Though it removed the language on reaching its 2% target, indicating that more time may be needed, the BOJ left its inflation forecasts largely unchanged. It still forecasts core inflation, which excludes fresh food prices, to reach 1.8% in fiscal 2019.

Still, seven of nine board members said risks to that forecast were weighted to the downside. “The momentum for achieving the inflation target as early as possible is fading,” said Masamichi Adachi, senior economist at JPMorgan Chase. “I take the change as a positive because you can say that their communication is becoming realistic.” Kuroda is expected to reiterate his intention to carry on with the stimulus during his news conference later on Friday. Doing so would likely provide a tailwind for the yen to continue falling, as rising U.S. bond yields widens the gap between returns in the U.S. and Japan.

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Pick your favorite.

What’s The Most Important Chart For Investors? (MW)

Wolf Richter, the man behind the Wolf Street blog, had no trouble zeroing in on the theme for his pick for “chart of the century”: U.S. debt. He did have trouble choosing whether the chart should show ballooning student loans, or ballooning government debt. Either way, ballooning’s the key, as he predicts both narratives will continue to raise alarms. When push came to shove, he opted for the government debt chart.

[..] Spending and debt are also the theme of the chart selected by Lance Roberts, chief strategist for Clarity Financial. But his chart focuses on the consumer side of that picture. Visualized here is the widening gap between cost of living, and the income and credit Americans have at their disposal. Up until the late 1980s, disposable income, savings and debt funded the standard cost of living. Since then, however, this chart shows that hasn’t been the case — and the national personal savings rate has dropped from above 10% in the 1970s to below 4% today.

[..] While we’re on the topic of the dollar and rising rates, Tadas Viskanta of the Abnormal Returns blog says this chart tells “the most important story of the century”. “Central banks engineered 0% or in some cases negative yields on cash for the better part of the decade,” Tadas said. “We’re only now coming out of it. Investors may once again begin to think of cash as a viable investment option.”

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From Australia, but applicable anywhere. You’re not poor yet? Give us a minute.

A New Type Of Poverty Is Hurting The Middle Class (SMH)

The banking and finance royal commission has cast light on a new type of poverty to emerge in our society: middle class poverty. To understand it, we have to go back to an earlier government inquiry: the 1972 Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, conducted by Professor Ronald Henderson [which] gave prominence to the Henderson Poverty Index: a measure of consumption described by Henderson as so austere that it was unchallengeable. Updated versions of this index remain a standard benchmark of poverty. But more than 45 years on, the royal commission into finance is revealing that poverty is no longer just about low income.

The commission has heard that Australian banks have adopted actual lending practices (as distinct from their official lending policies) that claim so much household income for contract payments that borrowers are left without enough money to fund basic consumption levels: they are living in poverty. This isn’t an accident: it is a strategic policy by banks. How much do banks think households need for daily living? According to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s submission to the royal commission, banks “typically use the Household Expenditure Measure [a relative poverty measure] or the Henderson Poverty Index in loan calculators to estimate a borrower’s living expenses”. So measures designed to capture the impacts of low incomes are now targeting financially-enmeshed middle-income households, and not as a statement of social shame, but as strategic objects of bank policy.

This has caused embarrassment to APRA, the regulator charged with overseeing those bank practices. In response, it was permitted to make a supplementary submission to the royal commission in March. A consequence of APRA neglect is that “poverty” now goes significantly up the income scale, well into what we generally call the middle class. Middle income people are the cohort in greatest financial risk. They are highly leveraged: they spend more of their income on loan repayments than do people with higher incomes. Second, their assets are undiversified: they own labour market skills, some home equity and some superannuation. Third, these assets are illiquid (not easily sold): you can’t transfer your skills to another, houses are costly to sell and superannuation is generally inaccessible..

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The cloud is not a safe environment.

Amazon Cloud Revenue Jumps 49% In First Quarter (CNBC)

Amazon’s cloud business exceeded analyst estimates, with revenue climbing 49% in the first quarter. Amazon Web Services reported sales on Thursday of $5.44 billion, compared to the $5.26 billion average estimate of analysts surveyed by FactSet. AWS contributed about 11% of Amazon’s total revenue for the period, up from 8.5% in the prior quarter. AWS continues to be a big revenue driver and even larger profit engine for its parent company, which dominates the low-margin e-commerce market.

In cloud-computing infrastructure, Amazon has a substantial market share lead over Microsoft Azure, Google’s Cloud platform and IBM, as well as other players like Alibaba and Oracle. While AWS has maintained growth above 40%, Microsoft and Google are currently expanding much faster and picking up share. In the first quarter Microsoft’s Azure cloud grew 93%. AWS produced $1.4 billion in operating income in the first quarter. That accounted for 73% of Amazon’s $1.93 billion in operating income.

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How much of that comes from selling data?

Facebook Profits Soar 63% Despite Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)

Facebook profits soared 63% to $5bn (£3.6bn) in the first three months of the year despite the company being engulfed in a data privacy scandal that has angered millions of users. Allegations that up to 87 million Facebook users’ data was collected without their knowledge and then used by Cambridge Analytica to try to sway the US Presidential election and the Brexit vote, did little to slow the tech company’s rapid growth. Total revenues jumped 49% compared to the same three months last year, Facebook reported on Wednesday. Facebook has been scrambling to mollify angry politicians and reassure users that it will safeguard their personal information.

Amid the turmoil, observers were keenly watching the company’s user figures to assess the potential damage and see if the scandal would suppress Facebook’s growth. Despite high-profile social media campaigns calling users to boycott Facebook, user numbers kept in line with expectations. Those results again demonstrated the company’s ability to thrive amid controversy. It continued to grow over the last year despite a steady drumbeat of revelations that Russian-linked actors used the platform to try and fracture the electorate and promote Mr Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

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But the CIty still has lots of political power.

EU Doesn’t Need The City Of London, Says Chief Brexit Negotiator (G.)

The EU does not need the City of London, and Theresa May’s “pleading” for a special deal for the UK’s financial services sector will not be rewarded, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said. In his toughest rebuff yet to the demands made by the British prime ministerin her landmark Mansion House speech, Barnier suggested the City would be granted nothing more generous than that enjoyed by Wall Street. “Some argue that the EU desperately needs the City of London, and that access to financing for EU27 business would be hampered – and economic growth undermined – without giving UK operators the same market access as today,” Barnier said at a meeting of finance ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria. “This is not what we hear from market participants, and it is not the analysis that we have made ourselves.”

May had argued in March, in a keynote speech spelling out her vision of a future UK-EU trading relationship, that failing to construct a special deal for the City would hurt economies on both sides. The City provided more than £1.1tn of cross-border lending to the rest of the EU in 2015 alone. May conceded in her speech that the current “passporting” regime, under which UK-based financial services would automatically have the right to operate across the EU, would not survive Brexit. However, she went on to suggest that a mutually agreed system would be necessary that would give the UK’s financial services sector greater assurances over future rules than the current “equivalence regime”.

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Our ‘leaders’ look the other way, they have other priorities.

Turkey Crackdown Suffocates Society, Creates Climate Of Fear (Amnesty)

The report reveals how few areas of Turkey’s once vibrant independent civil society have been left untouched by the ongoing state of emergency. A nationwide crackdown has resulted in mass arrests and dismissals, thehollowing out of the legal system and the silencing of human rights defenders through threats, harassment and imprisonment. “Whilst the jailing of journalists and activists may have hit the headlines, the profound impact that Turkey’s crackdown has had on wider society is harder to quantify but it is no less real,” said Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Gauri van Gulik. “Under the cloak of the state of emergency, Turkish authorities have deliberately and methodically set about dismantling civil society, locking up human rights defenders, shutting down organisations and creating a suffocating climate of fear.”

The state of emergency, declared in July 2016 as a temporary exceptional measure in the wake of the failed coup attempt, was renewed for a seventh time last week. Under its imposition, the rights to freedom of expression to liberty and security and to fair trials have been decimated. In so doing, the last line of defence for any healthy society – namely the work of human rights defenders – has been breached. Blanket bans on public gatherings in cities across Turkey have curtailed the right to assembly and association. Meanwhile more than 100,000 people have faced criminal investigations and at least 50,000 people have been imprisoned pending trial. More than 107,000 public sector employees have been summarily dismissed.

Many of the country’s most prominent journalists and human rights defenders, including Taner Kılıç, honorary chair of Amnesty International Turkey, have been jailed on baseless “terrorism” charges. But their arrests are merely the tip of the iceberg. Anti-terrorism laws and trumped-up coup related charges are used to target and silence peaceful, legitimate dissent. Prominent journalists, academics, human rights defenders and other civil society actors are subjected to arbitrary detention, prosecutions and, if found guilty in unfair trials, face long sentences.

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Greek recovery narrative is an insult.

Greece’s Economic Crisis Is Over Only If You Don’t Live There (WaPo)

Greece’s economic crisis is over only if you don’t live there. Everyone else, in other words, might have moved on because Greece isn’t threatening to knock over the other dominoes that are known as the global economy anymore, but its people are still stuck in what is the worst collapse a rich country has ever gone through. Indeed, if the International Monetary Fund’s latest projections are correct, it might be at least another 10 years before Greece is back to where it was in 2007. And that’s only if there isn’t another recession between now and then. Two lost decades, then, are something of a best-case scenario for Greece. The numbers are staggering. It’s not just that Greece’s economy shrank 26% in per capita terms between the middle of 2007 and the start of 2014.

That, as you can see below, might have put it on par with some of the biggest calamities in economic history — it was a little better than the United States had done in the 1930s, but a little worse than Argentina had done in the 2000s — but it didn’t distinguish it among them. No, it’s that Greece has grown only a total of 2.8% — again, adjusted for its population — in the first four years of what is supposedly a recovery. To give you an idea how miserable that is, 1930s America grew 30.2% and 2000s Argentina grew 26.9% during the first four years of theirs. The result is that, by this point of their recoveries, the United States was nearly all the way back to where it had been before its crash, and Argentina was actually 17.1% richer than it had been. Greece, meanwhile, is still 23.5% poorer than it was.

The IMF somewhat optimistically thinks that Greece will still be 12.8% poorer than it was in 2007 in 2023, which would put it on pace to get back to its pre-recession peak sometime around 2030 or so. They have made a desert, and called it a recovery.

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“..33% of Greeks now work for less than 380 euros a month. Gross, before tax…”

Greece: Economic Health In Grim State (EN)

In an extended interview in Lisbon, Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has given a very grim assessment of his country’s economic health. It came after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday, whilst on a visit to Athens, that Greece will become what he termed a “normal” country by the end of the summer. “Everyday is worse than the previous day. All talk of recovery, and of Greece having turned the corner, is to add insult on the injuries of the Greek people,” Varoufakis said. “We have a constant reduction in pensions, in wages. Do you know that 33% of Greeks now work for less than 380 euros a month? Gross, before tax.

“Already the government has committed, even legislated, to introduce pension cuts in January 2019, to introduce a further increase in taxation of the poorest families, after January 2019. They have comitted to escalate exponentially the evictions of poor families from their homes, repossessions. So, of course there will be no changes after the summer of 2018.” In 2016 Varoufakis formed the DiEM25, a pan-European left-wing party which is now asssembling a list of candidates for next’s year’s EU parliamentary elections.

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The only thing that counts is the energy that isn’t used.

Solar And Wind Really Do Increase Electricity Prices (F.)

In my last column I discussed an apparent paradox: why, if solar panels and wind turbines are so cheap, do they appear to be making electricity so expensive? One big reason seems to be their inherently unreliable nature, which requires expensive additions to the electrical grid in the form of natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries, or some other form of stand-by power. Several readers kindly pointed out that I had failed to mention a huge cost of adding renewables: new transmission lines. Transmission is much more expensive for solar and wind than other plants. This is true around the world — for physical reasons. Think of it this way. It would take 18 of California’s Ivanpah solar farms to produce the same amount of electricity that comes from our Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

And where just one set of transmission lines are required to bring power from Diablo Canyon, 18 separate transmission lineswould be required to bring power from solar farms like Ivanpha. Moreover, these transmission lines are in most cases longer. That’s because our solar farms are far away in the desert, where it is sunny and land is cheap. By contrast, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear plants are on the coast right near where most Californians live. (The same is true for wind.) New transmission lines can make electricity cheaper, but not when they are used only part of the time and duplicate rather than replace current equipment. Other readers pointed to cases that appear to challenge the claim that increased solar and wind deployments increase electricity prices.

[..] What is most remarkable about U.S. states heavy in solar and wind is that electricity prices rose so much given the huge decline in natural gas prices. Had natural gas prices not plummeted at what was almost the exact same time as the beginning of the large-scale build-out of solar and wind in the United States, price increases in solar and wind heavy states would have been far larger. Around the world, from Germany and Denmark to Spain and South Australia, even modest penetrations of solar and wind, compared to what advocates claim we will need to decarbonize, lead to large price increases.

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It’s a step alright. But it’s far from total.

EU Member States To Vote On Near-Total Neonicotinoids Ban (BBC)

Member states will vote on Friday on an almost complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides across the EU. Scientific studies have linked their use to the decline of honeybees, wild bees and other pollinators. The move would represent a major extension of existing restrictions, in place since 2013. Manufacturers and some farming groups are opposed, saying the science remains uncertain. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, but concerns about their impact on bees have been reinforced by multiple research efforts, including so-called “real world” trial results published last year. Back in 2013 the European Union opted for a partial ban on the use of the three chemicals in this class: Imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

The restrictions applied to crops including maize, wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape. The new Commission proposal would go much further, meaning that almost all outdoor uses of the chemicals would be banned. The action has been driven by a recent report from the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), which found that neonicotinoids posed a threat to many species of bees, no matter where or how they are used in the outdoor environment. Another key element that has pushed the Commission to hold a vote has been the UK’s change of heart on the use of these insecticides. Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced last November that the UK would now support further restrictions. “I think it has helped the dynamic,” Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace told BBC News.

“It has helped sway Ireland definitely, and then lately, the Germans, the Austrians and the Dutch. I think the fact the UK had come around was a good signal for them as well, that they could not stay behind.” During the partial ban, some countries including the UK were given permission to use neonicotinoids for short periods. However, the EU Commission is now signalling that it is seemingly intent on pushing the proposal through as it stands. “Several countries have said they want exemptions on sugar beet for example,” said Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth (FOE). “So far the Commission have been very strong on this, because they say the Efsa evidence backs the extension of the ban to sugar beet and therefore they are following the science and won’t put in an exemption for a compromise.”

Growers will be free to use neonicotinoids in greenhouses across the EU, despite some environmental groups having reservations about the chemicals leaching into water supplies. Other neonicotinoids including thiacloprid and sulfoxaflor will continue to be exempt from the ban.

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Jun 012017
 
 June 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ted Russell James Baldwin and Bob Dylan 1963

 

America Is Racing Toward Peak Polarization (NYMag)
US Middle Class Is Now The Company Store Class (Michael Hudson)
Theresa May’s Lead Slashed To Record Low Of Three Points In New Poll (Ind.)
Does Theresa May Pass The Turing Test? (PH)
Terror In Britain: What Did The Prime Minister Know? (John Pilger)
UK Policymakers Face A Dilemma Over Public’s Slowing Demand For Credit (G.)
UK Comes Bottom Of G7 Growth League, Canada Takes Lead (G.)
Europe May Finally Rethink NATO Costs (McGovern)
NATO Allies Can Spend More Money, More Wisely (BBG)
Oil Prices Crushed As Traders Bet Against OPEC, Russia (CNBC)
Fitch Warns Baidu Faces “Default Risk” Due To Growing Shadow Banking Business (ZH)

 

 

Very true of course, but what’s this worth coming from a polarized view?

America Is Racing Toward Peak Polarization (NYMag)

There is a venerable, centrist point of view that partisan polarization is a function of Washington’s warring politicians, who inflate artificial differences into causes for political war. Out there in the country, it is thought, Americans simply want politicians to come together and work out sensible, centrist policies. Whatever this gospel’s general applicability, it is increasingly clear that in the era of Donald Trump it’s The People who are even more polarized than their representatives in Washington. A new poll from Morning Consult for Politico has this jarring news: after the president’s first overseas trip, his job approval ratings rose. But so, too, did the percentage of Americans who want impeachment proceedings against him to begin post-haste.

Indeed, we are rapidly approaching the point where Americans are basically divided between those who think the president’s doing a good job (45% at present), and those who think he should be removed from office before his first term ends (43% at present). Unsurprisingly, these sentiments closely match partisan preferences. According to this same poll, 82% of self-identified Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance, 46% of them strongly. 79% of self-identified Democrats disapprove of Trump’s job performance, 65% of them strongly. These grassroots Americans are really, really at odds. That becomes even more obvious when the possibility of impeachment is introduced. Seventy-one% of Democrats want Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings.

Over half of these impeachment supporters say he’s unfit to serve, whether or not he has committed an impeachable offense. 76% of Republicans oppose the idea. For all the talk about anti-Trump Republicans and moderate Democrats, the truth is there is not a lot of support out there for anything other than the highly partisan approach Trump and the congressional GOP have taken this year, and for what some Democrats have called “the resistance.”

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Empty bags can get heavy.

US Middle Class Is Now The Company Store Class (Michael Hudson)

Students usually don’t think of themselves as a class. They seem “pre-class,” because they have not yet entered the labor force. They can only hope to become part of the middle class after they graduate. And that means becoming a wage earner – what impolitely is called the working class. But as soon as they take out a student debt, they become part of the economy. They are in this sense a debtor class. But to be a debtor, one needs a means to pay – and the student’s means to pay is out of the wages and salaries they may earn after they graduate. And after all, the reason most students get an education is so that they can qualify for a middle-class job. The middle class in America consists of the widening sector of the working class that qualifies for bank loans – not merely usurious short-term payday loans, but a lifetime of debt.

So the middle class today is a debtor class. Shedding crocodile tears for the slow growth of U.S. employment in the post-2008 doldrums (the “permanent Obama economy” in which only the banks were bailed out, not the economy), the financial class views the role industry and the economy at large as being to pay its employees enough so that they can take on an exponentially rising volume of debt. Interest and fees (late fees and penalties now yield credit card companies more than they receive in interest charges) are soaring, leaving the economy of goods and services languishing. Although money and banking textbooks say that all interest (and fees) are a compensation for risk, any banker who actually takes a risk is quickly fired. Banks don’t take risks. That’s what the governments are for. (Socializing the risk, privatizing the profits.)

Anticipating that the U.S. economy may be unable to recover under the weight of the junk mortgages and other bad debts that the Obama administration left on the books in 2008, banks insisted that the government guarantee all student debt. They also insisted that the government guarantees the financial gold-mine buried in such indebtedness: the late fees that accumulate. So whether students actually succeed in becoming wage-earners or not, the banks will receive payments in today’s emerging fictitious “as if” economy. The government will pay the banks “as if” there is actually a recovery. And if there were to be a recovery, then it would mean that the banks were taking a risk – a big enough risk to justify the high interest rates charge on student loans.

This is simply a replay of what banks have negotiated for real estate mortgage lending. Students who do succeed in getting a job hope to start a family, or at least joining the middle class. The most typical criterion of middle-class life in today’s world (apart from having a college education) is to own a home. But almost nobody can buy a home without getting a mortgage. And the price of such a mortgage is to pay up to 43% of one’s income for thirty years, that is, one’s prospective working life (in today’s as-if world that assumes full employment, not just a gig economy).

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Boy, is she doing a bad job. Calling an election and not showing up. And yeah, we get it: if she would show up, numbers would be even worse. On Twitter: “A Ladbrokes customer in Chelsea has just had £2,000 at 100/1 for Boris Johnson to be PM on July 1st. #GE2017

Theresa May’s Lead Slashed To Record Low Of Three Points In New Poll (Ind.)

Labour is closing the gap with Tories and now stands just three points from Theresa May’s party, a new YouGov poll shows. The poll, commissioned by The Times, found the Conservative lead has slipped dramatically in recent weeks and is now within the margin of error. The figures show the Conservatives on 42 points but Labour are close behind on 39. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are struggling to maintain the momentum of their “fightback” as they slip to just 7% vote share. The poll points to a remarkable change in fortunes for the Tories, which had a 24-point lead over Labour when the snap general election was called in April. Ms May has struggled in recent weeks after she was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over plans to reform social care in the party’s manifesto.

The party said elderly people who needed care will be able to put off playing for it until after their deaths so they could potentially stay in their own home for as long as possible. But critics said this would unfairly penalise people who suffer a slow decline from illnesses like dementia, over people who die suddenly and can then leave their estate to their children. Ms May has faced criticism for refusing to to engage with voters, especially after she declined to take part in televised debates. During the debate, Green party leader Caroline Lucas said: “You don’t call a general election and say it is the most important election in her lifetime and then not even be bothered to debate the issues at hand.” She added: “I think the first rule of leadership is to show up.”

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Fitting comment on Twitter to the original title “Three minutes of nothing”: “Does this pass the Turing test?”

Does Theresa May Pass The Turing Test? (PH)

Before 8.30am today, I had never interviewed a Prime Minister. Heading back to the office to transcribe my encounter with Theresa May at Plymouth’s fish market, I couldn’t be certain that had changed. To start with, it was quite an exciting experience. We got the call late on Tuesday night, and the visit was kept totally secret until her arrival. We waited in the drizzle as she chatted with fishermen and nodded earnestly at nets and buckets, leopard print heels click-clacking on the harbour floor. ired-looking campaign managers hurried back and forth, mulling over our request for a filmed interview which had been denied on her previous visit. Then suddenly we were on. I had a list of four questions, all on local issues, carefully prepared with the help of my newsroom colleagues.

Two visits in six weeks to one of the country’s most marginal constituencies – is she getting worried?

May: “I’m very clear that this is a crucial election for this country.”

Plymouth is feeling the effects of military cuts. Will she guarantee to protect the city from further pain?

May: “I’m very clear that Plymouth has a proud record of connection with the armed forces.”

How will your Brexit plan make Plymouth better off?

May: “I think there is a better future ahead for Plymouth and for the whole of the UK.”

Will you promise to sort out our transport links?

May: “I’m very clear that connectivity is hugely important for Plymouth and the South West generally.”

I was pleased to have secured the interview and happy to have squeezed all my points in. But no sooner had the ministerial car pulled away from Sutton Harbour than I began to feel a bit deflated. If the ultimate job of a journalist is to get answers, I had failed. Should I have stopped her and demanded she be more specific? Could I have gone full angry Paxman, or brought the interview to an abrupt close in protest? Back at the office, we scratched our heads and wondered what the top line was. She had and given me absolutely nothing. It was like a postmodern version of Radio 4’s Just A Minute. I pictured Nicholas Parsons in the chair: “The next topic is how Plymouth will be affected by Brexit, military cuts and transport meltdown. Theresa, you have three minutes to talk without clarity, candour or transparency. Your time starts now.”

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No, Theresa May in reality is not so funny or innocent.

Terror In Britain: What Did The Prime Minister Know? (John Pilger)

The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy. Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”. The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years. The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.

The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria. Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May? These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology.

The Manchester atrocity lifts the rock of British foreign policy to reveal its Faustian alliance with extreme Islam, especially the sect known as Wahhabism or Salafism, whose principal custodian and banker is the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Britain’s biggest weapons customer. This imperial marriage reaches back to the Second World War and the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The aim of British policy was to stop pan-Arabism: Arab states developing a modern secularism, asserting their independence from the imperial west and controlling their resources. The creation of a rapacious Israel was meant to expedite this. Pan-Arabism has since been crushed; the goal now is division and conquest.

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“The BoE has busted a gut to keep the mortgage market afloat with one scheme after another to subsidise everything from deposits to the lenders themselves. It must have been upsetting to see a fall in approvals for house purchases in April for the third month in a row.”

UK Policymakers Face A Dilemma Over Public’s Slowing Demand For Credit (G.)

As the election on 8 June nears, the debate has intensified over how much Britain’s frothy cappuccino-drinking economy can cope without endless dollops of interest-free credit. Financial regulators are worried about it. So are the debt charity workers who pick up the pieces when the debt merry-go-round grinds to a halt. And they should be worried. Many of the biggest, shiniest new cars zipping round UK streets would still be sitting on the garage forecourt without ultra cheap credit deals that rival mortgages for their rock-bottom rates. On the high street, shops have in recent years relied more heavily on consumers using their credit cards for big purchases. Back in 2014 these shoppers could avoid paying the 18.9% interest commonly applied to credit card balances and use the two, even three-year interest-free period many card operators allow.

As we know from recent experience, when debt bubbles burst, they hit everyone and drag the economy down into recession. The Bank of England’s most recent data for April shows that the mania for borrowing last year and the year before has paused somewhat since January. That should be seen as good news. Net mortgage lending is down at levels seen a year ago while unsecured borrowing on credit cards and loans has stabilised at a growth rate of of just over 10% a year. But not everybody at the Bank of England will be content to see consumers putting their credit cards in a drawer. The economists attached to the BoE’s interest rate-setting committee know the economy runs on debt. To adapt a well-known first world war poster, they know Britain needs borrowers. If a reminder of this basic economic rule was needed, it was made clear earlier this month when the latest UK GDP figures appeared.

The relative lack of borrowing in the first three months of the year coincided with a dive in GDP growth from 0.7% in the final quarter of 2016 to 0.2% in the first quarter of this year. The BoE has busted a gut to keep the mortgage market afloat with one scheme after another to subsidise everything from deposits to the lenders themselves. It must have been upsetting to see a fall in approvals for house purchases in April for the third month in a row. Now there are signs that the credit habit is returning as almost zero interest rates work their magic again, Easter’s spending is out of the way and wage rises are being outpaced by inflation. Analysts say GDP growth in Q2 will be higher for this very reason. Is that a return of consumer confidence with shoppers shrugging off the election, they ask? Or is it, as the debt charities suspect, cash-strapped consumers rolling over their debts and taking out a bit more credit just to get by?

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Yes, if you can’t get people to go deeper into debt, your growth shrinks. That’s economics these days.

UK Comes Bottom Of G7 Growth League, Canada Takes Lead (G.)

The UK has slumped to the bottom of the league table of advanced economies after Canada registered stellar growth in the first three months of the year. Canada was the final member of the G7 to report its growth figures, which confirmed the UK as officially the joint worst performing member so far this year. The announcement marked a significant decline for the UK economy, which a year ago was outshining Germany, the US and Japan. In February it was announced that Germany had pipped the UK as the fastest-growing G7 nation during 2016 by 10 basis points. However, the latest figures for Canada, which showed that growth accelerated to 0.9% in the first quarter, putting it top of the G7 performers, has left Britain languishing alongside Italy at the bottom of the table.

Germany is in second spot at 0.6%, followed by Japan with 0.5%, France 0.4% and the US at 0.3%. The UK and Italy are then level on growth of just 0.2%. The sluggish expansion in the first quarter provides the latest evidence that the early resilience to the EU referendum result last June is now wearing off as higher inflation puts consumers under pressure. Prices have been increasing since the Brexit vote because the referendum result sent the pound sharply lower and has raised the cost of imports to the UK. That higher inflation has hit household budgets and dented the main driver of UK growth, consumer spending. The Bank of England said earlier this month that it expected GDP growth would edge up marginally to 1.9% for 2017 from 1.8% in 2016. But it warned that living standards would fall this year because inflation would be higher than pay growth.

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NATO needs enemies or it will disappear.

Europe May Finally Rethink NATO Costs (McGovern)

President Donald Trump’s politically incorrect behavior at the gathering of NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday could, in its own circuitous way, spotlight an existential threat to the alliance. Yes, that threat is Russia, but not in the customary sense in which Westerners have been taught to fear the Russian bear. It is a Russia too clever to rise to the bait – a Russia patient enough to wait for the Brussels bureaucrats and generals to fall of their own weight, pushed by financial exigencies in many NATO countries. At that point it will become possible to see through the West’s alarmist propaganda. It will also become more difficult to stoke artificial fears that Russia, for reasons known only to NATO war planners and neoconservative pundits, will attack NATO. As long as Russian hardliners do not push President Vladimir Putin aside, Moscow will continue to reject its assigned role as bête noire.

First a request: Let me ask those of you who believe Russia is planning to invade Europe to put down the New York Times for a minute or two. Take a deep cleansing breath, and try to be open to the possibility that heightened tensions in Europe are, rather, largely a result of the ineluctable expansion of NATO eastward over the quarter-century since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Actually, NATO has doubled in size, despite a U.S. quid-pro-quo promise in early 1990 to Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in early 1990 not to expand NATO “one inch” to the east of Germany. The quid required of Russia was acquiescence to a reunited Germany within NATO and withdrawal of the 300,000-plus Russian troops stationed in East Germany.

The US reneged on its quo side of the bargain as the NATO alliance added country after country east of Germany with eyes on even more – while Russia was not strong enough to stop NATO expansion until February 2014 when, as it turned out, NATO’s eyes finally proved too big for its stomach. A U.S.-led coup d’etat overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installed new, handpicked leaders in Kiev who favored NATO membership. That crossed Russia’s red line; it was determined – and at that point able – to react strongly, and it did.

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No, Bloomberg, spending more is not an answer to any serious question.

NATO Allies Can Spend More Money, More Wisely (BBG)

If Donald Trump and Barack Obama agree on something, does that mean it’s true? In the case of Europe’s woeful support of its collective defense, yes: Member states need to contribute their “fair share” toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a phrase both men used in speeches in European capitals. The question is what “fair share” means. Instead of measuring how much member nations spend on their defense, NATO should pay more attention to how they spend it. The current definition – members are expected to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense – is both misleading and unfair. Currently, only four European members meet the alliance’s target and things are going the wrong direction. Across Europe, including non-NATO members, military spending as a percentage of GDP has dropped by almost 9% in the last five years.

But some kinds of military spending are better than others. Money for major training exercises, or transport planes and helicopters for airlift operations, is far more valuable than lots of spending on ill-equipped troops in glorified jobs programs. Spending on national defense is always going to reflect national priorities. That said, better coordination among member nations can bolster both their security and the alliance’s. A wealthy nation may want some shiny new fighter jets, but the collective defense may be better served by more prosaic equipment such as refueling tankers. To their credit, not only have the alliance’s newer members such as the Baltic States been paying up, they’ve been helpful in buying what NATO most needs. Arriving at a consensus as to what constitutes useful spending among 28 separate militaries would be contentious and difficult, to put it mildly. It would still be a useful exercise.

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Flip flop. Up down.

Oil Prices Crushed As Traders Bet Against OPEC, Russia (CNBC)

The oil market has serious doubts that the production deal between OPEC and Russia is sufficient enough to bring the world oil market back into balance, against a potential wave of new supply. As a result, traders appeared to be adding to short positions, as crude fell sharply Wednesday morning, analysts said. The decline in oil prices was triggered by news that Libya had increased its production to a three-year high of 827,000 barrels a day. “The game of chicken between them and the market is back on again,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital. West Texas Intermediate crude for July settled off 2.7%, at $48.32 per barrel after briefly breaking $48. Brent, the international benchmark, dipped temporarily below the psychological $50 for the first time in two weeks, and was down 3% at $50.66 in afternoon trading.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC agreed with Russia and other producers to extend their agreement to cut back output by 1.8 million barrels a day for another nine months. But market expectations had been hinging on the idea that producers would take even more barrels off the market because of the overhang of supply. Oil plunged 5% last Thursday, after the announcement. “The meeting was much more of a failure than people realize because of what wasn’t achieved. There are no caps on production for Libya, or Nigeria, or Iran,” said Kilduff. Libya has shipped an average of 500,000 barrels per day of oil so far this year, up from 300,000 per day last year. Production reached 800,000 barrels per day earlier this month.

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“Shadow bank run” is a good way to put it. I’ve been warning about Chinese shadown banking for years, and I haven’t been wrong. Baidu is a search engine, for pete’s sake… which “does not need to set aside large capital against potential defaults on its WMPs”… Beijing facilitates the shadows, and they in turn lend into the economy what Beijing’s state banks can’t do without raising bright red alarms.

Fitch Warns Baidu Faces “Default Risk” Due To Growing Shadow Banking Business (ZH)

Less than a week after Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating, prompting an unprecedented currency response by the PBOC which as noted earlier resumed its crusade against Yuan shorts by sending CNH overnight deposit rates as high as 65%, on Wednesday another rating agency, Fitch, took aim at what many consider the weakest link in China’s financial system: the nearly $9 trillion in shadow banking “assets”, of which roughly $4 billion are Wealth Management Products. Just as surprising was the target of Fitch’s wrath: none other than China’s tech giant Baidu, which Fitch put on “negative watch” warning that the company’s financial services division faced increased risk of default as a result of its growing reliance on shadow banking in general and Wealth Management Products (WMPs) in particlar.

As reported previously, China’s popular WMPs offer a higher yielding alternative to conventional financial instruments by bundling together investments into money market bonds, corporate loans and many other products, all of which are usually a mystery to the buyer. As of 2016, China had nearly 30 trillion yuan outstanding in WMPs. Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, has not been immune to the scramble for funding optionality provided by shadow banking alternatives, and has been getting into the WMP game by rapidly expanding its Financial Services Group, which Fitch says is increasing Baidu’s overall business risk. While Baidu is not under obligation to pay the returned target on these products, a failure could be potentially damaging to Baidu’s reputation, Fitch warned.

As with Chinese banks, Baidu does not need to set aside large capital against potential defaults on its WMPs … WMPs have become an alternative form of financing for projects or investments that would not qualify for bank loans,” Fitch said. This could lead to an increased risk of default or “shadow bank run”, since many of the bundled assets are of poor quality and would not qualify for bank loans. The WMP warning from Fitch came less than two weeks after Moody’s also put Baidu’s corporate debt on watch for a potential downgrade. WMPs have been behind the staggering surge in total assets of Baidu’s Financial Services Group, which have more than doubled to CNY25 billion in the period ended April 2017.

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Sep 062016
 
 September 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 6 2016


Harris&Ewing Agriculture Department, Cow jumps over moon 1920

These Are The Signs Of An Economic Collapse (Gray)
‘No Chance Of Russia And Saudi Arabia Oil Cooperation’ (CNBC)
Hanjin’s Creditors Ready To Provide $90 Million, But Debt Over $5 Billion (R.)
Trump Says US Interest Rates Must Change As Fed Weighs Rate Hike (R.)
Trump: Fed Has Created “Stock Bubble” And “False Economy” To Boost Obama (ZH)
There Has Never Been a Middle Class Without Strong Unions (I’Cept)
Auckland’s Surging House Prices Top Sydney, Parts of New York City (BBG)
New Zealand Needs Migrants As Some Kiwis Are Lazy And On Drugs, Says PM (G.)
Clouds Gathering In Brussels For Athens (Kath.)
If WalMart Held A Sale On Bullshit Filters… (Jim Kunstler)
Toxic Air Pollution Nanoparticles Found In Human Brains (G.)
We Are Making The Oceans Sick (AFP)
One Year After Launch, EU’s Dismal Failure On Refugee Relocation (EUO)
Prisoners Of Europe: The Everyday Humiliation Of Refugees Stuck In Greece (G.)
2,700 Migrants Rescued in Mediterranean on Monday, 15 Dead (R.)

 

 

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that the stock market is any indication of the health of an economy.”

These Are The Signs Of An Economic Collapse (Gray)

What does the beginning of an economic collapse look like? Do you see grocery stores closing? Do you see other retailers, like clothing stores and department stores, going out of business? Are there shuttered storefronts along your Main Street shopping district, where you bought a tool from the hardware store or dropped off your dry cleaning or bought fruits and vegetables? Are you making as much money annually as you did 10 years ago? Do you see homes in neighborhoods becoming run down as the residents either were foreclosed upon, or the owner lost his or her job so he or she can’t afford to cut the grass or paint the house? Did that same house where the Joneses once lived now become a rental property, where new people come to live every few months?

Do you know one or two people who are looking for work? Maybe professionals, who you thought were safe in their jobs? Friday’s anemic jobs numbers tell that tale. Did your high school buddy take a job at the local convenience store because he could not find work in sales? Is the pothole on your street getting larger instead of getting repaired? Is there more than one street light out in your town? Is the town pool closed this summer much more than usual? Have you seen a situation — any situation — and said, “Jeez, it wouldn’t take much money to fix that” — but it hasn’t been fixed? You may have witnessed many of these situations, but you tell yourself it can’t be an economic collapse because the stock market is at an all-time high. Does that mean all is well? No, this is what a 21st-century economic collapse looks like in the beginning.

[..] We are entering the problem months for the markets. September and October are historically times of greater market volatility to the downside. There was a time when this was very explainable. In the last two centuries, huge amounts of cash would move from the Eastern money markets over the mid- to late summer to the Midwest and Western states to buy crops, leaving the equity and bond markets in a liquidity squeeze come late summer/early fall. Now it’s down to the returning traders from the Hamptons or the Cape realizing that their trading book looks a little sick. Their bonus will depend on them making the right moves in the next three months, and they need to sell those dog stocks soon.

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Neither can afford it, and beides whatever they would not produce, someone else would.

‘No Chance Of Russia And Saudi Arabia Oil Cooperation’ (CNBC)

Energy experts poured scorn on the prospect of Russia and Saudi Arabia collaborating to stabilize the oil market, after the two countries made a joint statement to that effect on Monday. The two major oil producers announced at the G-20 summit in China that they would form a group to monitor the market and make recommendations on stabilizing prices, according to media reports. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak described the moment as “historic” and touted the possibility of the much-discussed-but-never-delivered crude production freeze. Commodity strategists told CNBC that the statement might push crude prices higher in the short-term, perhaps toward $50 per barrel, but insisted that little in the way of deeper cooperation was likely.

“The running gag of the ‘freeze’ means just nothing,” Eugen Weinberg, head of commodity research at Commerzbank, told CNBC on Monday. “As to the cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia – no chance! It’s clearly just lip service since real cooperation between these competitors is just impossible,” he later added. [..] “The press conference came and went without any significant initiatives being announced. Once again it highlights key producers’ ability to talk up the market without backing it by action,” Ole Hansen, head of commodities strategy at SaxoBank, told CNBC on Monday. “I expect the market to drift lower as this was an exercise in building up expectations without delivering anything,” he added.

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So it takes $90 million to let their ships unload their cargo. For a last time.

Hanjin’s Creditors Ready To Provide $90 Million, But Debt Over $5 Billion (R.)

Hanjin Shipping’s government-backed creditors are ready to provide the collapsed carrier with roughly 100 billion won ($90.60 million) of loans if Hanjin’s parent provides collateral, South Korean government officials said on Tuesday. The funding, however, is seen as falling far short of what the world’s seventh-largest container carrier needs after filing for court receivership last week when its creditors, led by Korea Development Bank (KDB), decided to halt support. “The 100 billion won funding, if it comes to pass, is not nearly enough to save Hanjin Shipping at all – it will most likely be used to pay fees to unload stranded cargo going forward,” said an official at a creditor bank, who was not authorized to speak with media and declined to be identified.

Hanjin Shipping shares jumped as much as 28% on Tuesday morning before trimming their gains to be up 20% by 0155 GMT. They had hit a record low on Monday. [..] Shares in Korean Air Lines, the biggest shareholder of Hanjin Shipping, fell as much as 5.7% on Tuesday. Hanjin Shipping had debt of 5.6 trillion won at the end of 2015. Last month, parent Hanjin Group submitted a plan to creditors pledging to raise up to 500 billion won for the troubled shipper, which KDB deemed inadequate.

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Sorry to say, but he’s right.

Trump Says US Interest Rates Must Change As Fed Weighs Rate Hike (R.)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has previously accused the Federal Reserve of keeping interest rates low to help President Barack Obama, said on Monday that the U.S. central bank has created a “false economy” and that interest rates should change. “They’re keeping the rates down so that everything else doesn’t go down,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s request to address a potential rate hike by the Federal Reserve in September. “We have a very false economy,” he said. “At some point the rates are going to have to change,” Trump, who was campaigning in Ohio on Monday, added. “The only thing that is strong is the artificial stock market,” he said.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last month that the U.S. central bank was getting closer to raising interest rates, possibly as early as September, saying that the Fed sees the economy as close to meeting its goals of maximum employment and stable prices. The Fed raised interest rates last December for the first time in nearly a decade, and at that time projected four more hikes in 2016. The Fed later scaled back that projection to two rate hikes this year in the wake of a slowdown in global growth and continued financial market volatility. Trump, during the primary campaign, as he took on 16 Republican rivals, had called Yellen’s tenure “highly political” and said the Fed should raise interest rates but would not do so for “political reasons.”

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“We have a bad economy, everybody understands that but it’s a false economy.”

Trump: Fed Has Created “Stock Bubble” And “False Economy” To Boost Obama (ZH)

One month ago, Donald Trump urged his followers to sell stocks, warning of “very scary scenarios” for investors, and accused the Fed of setting the stage for the next market crash when he said that “interest rates are artificially low” during a phone interview with Fox Business. “The only reason the stock market is where it is is because you get free money.” Earlier today, speaking to a reporter traveling on his plane who asked Trump about a potential rate hike by the Fed in September, Trump took his vendetta to the next level, saying that the Fed is “keeping the rates artificially low so the economy doesn’t go down so that Obama can say that he did a good job. They’re keeping the rates artificially low so that Obama can go out and play golf in January and say that he did a good job.”

“It’s a very false economy. We have a bad economy, everybody understands that but it’s a false economy. The only reason the rates are low is so that he can leave office and he can say, ‘See I told you.'” He then lashed out at Yellen, whom he accused of having a political mandate when conducting monetary policy: “So far, I think she’s done a political job. You understand that.” On whether we can have a rate hike in September: “Well, the only thing that’s strong is the artificial stock market. That’s only strong because it’s free money because the rates are so low. It’s an artificial market. It’s a bubble. So the only thing that’s strong is the artificial market that they’re created until January. It’s so artificial because they have free money… It’s all free money. When rates are low like this it’s hard not to have a good stock market.”

His conclusion: “At some point the rates are going to have to change.” Indeed they will, and that’s precisely what almost every bank, from Goldman yesterday to Citi today, and many others inbetween, have been warning about in recent months. Until recently, Trump’s latest anti-Fed outburst would have been swept under the rug as just another example of the deranged ramblings of an anti-Fed conspiracy theorist (trust us, we’ve been there). However, considering the spike in anti-Fed commentary in recent weeks coming from prominent, and established institutional sellside analysts all the way to the WSJ, it may be that Trump was once again simply saying what everyone else thought but dared not mention.

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Nice connection.

There Has Never Been a Middle Class Without Strong Unions (I’Cept)

The entire Republican party and the ruling heights of the Democratic Party loathe unions. Yet they also claim they want to build a strong U.S. middle class. This makes no sense. Wanting to build a middle class while hating unions is like wanting to build a house while hating hammers. Sure, maybe hammers — like every tool humans have ever invented — aren’t 100% perfect. Maybe when you use a hammer you sometimes hit your thumb. But if you hate hammers and spend most of your time trying to destroy them, you’re never, ever going to build a house. Likewise, no country on earth has ever created a strong middle class without strong unions. If you genuinely want the U.S. to have a strong middle class again, that means you want lots of people in lots of unions.

The bad news, of course, is that the U.S. is going in exactly the opposite direction. Union membership has collapsed in the past 40 years, falling from 24% to 11%. And even those numbers conceal the uglier reality that union membership is now 35% in the public sector but just 6.7% in the private sector. That private sector%age is now lower than it’s been in over 100 years. Not coincidentally, wealth inequality – which fell tremendously during the decades after World War II when the U.S. was most heavily unionized – has soared back to the levels seen 100 years ago. The reason for this is straightforward. During the decades after World War II, wages went up hand in hand with productivity. Since the mid-1970s, as union membership has declined, that’s largely stopped happening. Instead, most of the increased wealth from productivity gains has been seized by the people at the top.

[..] the degree to which a country has created high-quality, universal health care is generally correlated with the strength of organized labor in that country. Canada’s single payer system was born in one province, Saskatchewan, and survived to spread to the rest of the country thanks to Saskatchewan’s unions. Now Canadians live longer than Americans even as their health care system is far cheaper than ours. U.S. unions were also key allies for other social movements, such as the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, people generally say Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington – but in fact it was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and it was largely organized by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

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Close to the brink.

Auckland’s Surging House Prices Top Sydney, Parts of New York City (BBG)

The average house price in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has surged above NZ$1 million ($730,000) for the first time. The price for the Auckland area, home to a third of New Zealand’s 4.7 million people, jumped 16% in August from a year earlier and 6.1% in the last three months to NZ$1.01 million, according to data published Tuesday by government property research agency Quotable Value. The city’s average price has risen 86% since 2007. Record immigration, low interest rates and a supply shortage are driving Auckland’s housing market, and in turn fueling a nationwide boom. The central bank, which has been unable to raise borrowing costs because of weak general inflation, has introduced lending restrictions, focusing particularly on investors, in an effort to curb demand.

The Reserve Bank in October 2013 required banks to limit lending to borrowers with low deposits. It followed in November last year with measures targeting investors in Auckland. In July, the central bank announced a further round of restrictions, due to take effect Oct. 1, which require investors across the country to have a deposit of at least 40% to obtain a mortgage. Those measures may have caused an initial pick-up in buying but could now be starting to bite as banks begin to enforce the new rules early. [..] New Zealand isn’t alone in introducing new measures to try to cool surging house prices.

The Canadian province of British Columbia on Aug. 2 imposed a 15% tax on foreign buyers after average prices in Vancouver doubled over the past decade. The average price of a detached property in the city declined 17% in August from July, and 0.6% from a year earlier, to C$1.47 million ($1.1 million), according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Auckland’s average is still below London’s 705,600 pounds ($939,435) and some way behind New York’s $1.02 million, although that figure is boosted by Manhattan’s $2.2 million. Auckland prices are higher than those in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. CoreLogic data available for Sydney, which use the median rather than the average, show a price of A$780,000 ($593,000) in August.

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And you think your leaders are idiots?!

New Zealand Needs Migrants As Some Kiwis Are Lazy And On Drugs, Says PM (G.)

The New Zealand prime minister, John Key, has said the country is forced to rely on overseas workers to fill jobs because some Kiwis lack a strong work ethic and may have problems with drugs. The comments came on the back of record high immigration figures, showing in the year to July 69,000 people moved to New Zealand. In his weekly appearance on Radio New Zealand, Key was asked to explain high immigration figures, with 200,000 Kiwis currently unemployed. Key responded that schemes to get Kiwi beneficiaries into jobs had routinely failed because many lacked basic work skills. “Go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on,” Key told Radio New Zealand.

“So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income to work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.” Every year New Zealand brings in more than 9,000 seasonal workers from the Pacific islands to work on short-term contracts in the horticulture and wine industry. Both industries also say they are heavily reliant on overseas visitors with work permits – particularly backpackers. Leon Stallard, a director for Horticulture New Zealand and the owner of an apple orchard in Hawke’s Bay, said he had tried “for years” to get unemployed New Zealanders to pick his apples but had been let down time and again.

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Why the EU should be dismantled. Shameless. Or is that shameful?

Clouds Gathering In Brussels For Athens (Kath.)

Expectations are running low ahead of Friday’s Eurogroup meeting on Greece, as Athens is particularly late in implementing the 16 prior actions that were needed over the summer to secure the disbursement of a €2.8 billion subtranche. Friday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers is not expected to go beyond an update on the progress of the Greek program, which is seriously lagging. Meanwhile, a report in German newspaper Handelsblatt said that Greece should not expect any disbursements for now, even though the first review was completed in May, as the government has only implemented two out of the 16 prior actions. Finance Ministry sources say that this Eurogroup was never going to approve a payment anyway as it is an informal gathering and that the delays in the prior actions will be the reason for the arrival of the creditors’ representatives in Athens on September 12.

Despite the concerns expressed by eurozone officials and the completion of just two prior actions so far, the Greek side insists everything is running “according to schedule.” In Brussels, however, the climate is souring as the failure to implement all the prior actions will push the completion of the first review beyond September. One eurozone official told Kathimerini that “I do not see the first review completed any time soon and as for the second, I do not see it being completed in the near future.” The creditors are also growing increasingly alarmed by Athens’s rhetoric and stance in asking for more independence from the bailout program, seen as backtracking on reforms. Officials monitoring the government’s moves have expressed their opposition to the Education Ministry’s law banning teacher layoffs from private schools, as this contravenes the spirit of the bailout program.

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“Both Trump and Hillary are perfect avatars for this date with a hard landing.”

If WalMart Held A Sale On Bullshit Filters… (Jim Kunstler)

The former middle class of America has lost its ability to absorb anymore smart phones or Kardashian brand Pure Glitz hairspray©. They’re pacing grooves in the faux hardwood floors of their McHomes through reams of unpayable bills trying to stave off the re-po squad while Grandma slips into a diabetic coma. These are the good folks who supposedly comprise 70% of the so-called economy, a.k.a. “consumers.” You can stick a fork in them — and maybe we’ll hear a few reports of that on Tuesday when the holiday barbeques smolder their last. More concerning, though, are the conditions of the banks. When their true insolvency is revealed — which may coincide with the height of the election season — look out below.

The bankruptcy of one measly shipping company will look like a zit on the ass of a diving blue whale as countless trade operations seize up for lack of confidence that they will ever be paid. Then what? Then we are forced to pay attention to the actual dynamics now at work in the world. Or be driven crazy by our refusal to get with the program. I tend to think we’ll opt for the latter. We’re too unused to reality. We’d rather crash and burn than change anything about our behavior, or even our perception. Both Trump and Hillary are perfect avatars for this date with a hard landing. The disorder both of them are capable of inducing will be a spectacle for the ages.

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Nasty. Move to the country.

Toxic Air Pollution Nanoparticles Found In Human Brains (G.)

Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been discovered in human brains in “abundant” quantities, a newly published study reveals. The detection of the particles, in brain tissue from 37 people, raises concerns because recent research has suggested links between these magnetite particles and Alzheimer’s disease, while air pollution has been shown to significantly increase the risk of the disease. However, the new work is still a long way from proving that the air pollution particles cause or exacerbate Alzheimer’s. “This is a discovery finding, and now what should start is a whole new examination of this as a potentially very important environmental risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof Barbara Maher, at Lancaster University, who led the new research.

“Now there is a reason to go on and do the epidemiology and the toxicity testing, because these particles are so prolific and people are exposed to them.” Air pollution is a global health crisis that kills more people than malaria and HIV/Aids combined and it has long been linked to lung and heart disease and strokes. But research is uncovering new impacts on health, including degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, mental illness and reduced intelligence. The new work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined brain tissue from 37 people in Manchester, in the UK, and Mexico, aged between three and 92. It found abundant particles of magnetite, an iron oxide. “You are talking about millions of magnetite particles per gram of freeze-dried brain tissue – it is extraordinary,” said Maher.

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“We are no longer the casual observers in the room [..] What we have done is unwittingly put ourselves in the test tube where the experiment is being undertaken.”

We Are Making The Oceans Sick (AFP)

Global warming is making the oceans sicker than ever before, spreading disease among animals and humans and threatening food security across the planet, a major scientific report said on Monday. The findings, based on peer-reviewed research, were compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, experts said at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. “We all know that the oceans sustain this planet. We all know that the oceans provide every second breath we take,” IUCN Director General Inger Andersen told reporters at the meeting, which has drawn 9,000 leaders and environmentalists to Honolulu. “And yet we are making the oceans sick.”

The report, “Explaining Ocean Warming,” is the “most comprehensive, most systematic study we have ever undertaken on the consequence of this warming on the ocean,” co-lead author Dan Laffoley said. The world’s waters have absorbed more than 93% of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean, he said. “The ocean has been shielding us and the consequences of this are absolutely massive,” said Laffoley, marine vice chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN. The study included every major marine ecosystem, containing everything from microbes to whales, including the deep ocean. It documents evidence of jellyfish, seabirds and plankton shifting toward the cooler poles by up to 10 degrees latitude.

The movement in the marine environment is “1.5 to five times as fast as anything we are seeing on the ground,” Laffoley said. “We are changing the seasons in the ocean.” The higher temperatures will probably change the sex ratio of turtles in the future because females are more likely to be born in warmer temperatures. The heat also means microbes dominate larger areas of the ocean. “When you look overall, you see a comprehensive and worrying set of consequences,” Laffoley said. More than 25% of the report’s information is new, published in peer-reviewed journals since 2014, including studies showing that global warming is affecting weather patterns and making storms more common.

The study includes evidence that ocean warming “is causing increased disease in plant and animal populations,” it said. Pathogens such as cholera-bearing bacteria and toxic algal blooms that can cause neurological illnesses such as ciguatera poisoning spread more easily in warm water, with direct impact on human health. “We are no longer the casual observers in the room,” Laffoley said. “What we have done is unwittingly put ourselves in the test tube where the experiment is being undertaken.”

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Another reason to dismantle the disunion.

One Year After Launch, EU’s Dismal Failure On Refugee Relocation (EUO)

EU-led efforts to relocate people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece to other EU states remain dismal. The two-year plan, broadly hatched last September, aims to dispatch some 160,000 people arriving on Italian and Greek shores to other EU states. But one year in and less than 3% of that total have found a new home outside either country. Some ended up in non-EU states like Norway and Switzerland, which are also part of the scheme. As of earlier this month, just over 1,000 people left Italy and 3,493 people left Greece. The European Commission, which masterminded the scheme, on Monday urged national governments to step up efforts, but declined to answer questions on potential sanctions if they failed to meet the quotas.

“Relocations are still taking place, the last flights from Greece took place on the second of September,” an EU commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels. In July, the commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, sent a letter to the 28 EU interior ministers imploring them to relocate more people. But despite his appeal, in the period covering August and the first few days of September, member states took in just 65 more people. Finland took 40 asylum seekers from Greece. France took 18 and Cyprus took seven. Austria, Hungary, and Poland have yet to relocate anyone. Others, such as the Czech Republic, have relocated just handfuls of people. France took the most, with 1,431 from Greece alone.

Pledges from EU states to help Greece with border staff and asylum experts have also failed to fully materialise. Meanwhile, the issues and the numbers remain sensitive. Hungary has launched an anti-immigrant campaign in the lead up to a national referendum on 2 October on whether to boycott the EU relocation scheme. The German government is paying a political cost for taking in asylum seekers – on Sunday, the anti-immigrant AfD party beat chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party in regional elections. In Austria, the EU faces the prospect of having its first far-right head of state, as the FPO party’s candidate, Norbert Hofer, again leads opinion polls ahead of a presidential run-off on 2 October.

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Treat people as you would want to be treated.

Prisoners Of Europe: The Everyday Humiliation Of Refugees Stuck In Greece (G.)

Softex sits in an industrial wasteland on the northern fringes of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city. Refugees have been here since the border shut in May, forcing the cash-strapped Greek authorities to hastily house people in whatever spaces they could find. Several hundred have now smuggled their way north, but about a thousand are still left. Most of them live in tents inside the gloomy warehouse. The rest sleep outside, a few hundred metres from a grim row of burnt-out trains and factory chimneys. “We’re suffering, emotionally – we’re not good,” says Mohammad Mohammad, a 30-year-old taxi driver whose wife and children are under siege in a Damascus suburb. Mohammad came to Greece in February, hoping he could make his way to Germany, claim asylum, and then apply for his family to join him.

Instead, the border shut before he could leave – meaning that he must pay a smuggler to take him north, or wait for the EU relocation programme to assign him a permanent place elsewhere in Europe. But as so many stuck in Greece point out, relocation is not working properly – with just 5,100 places made available in the space of nearly 12 months. “The system doesn’t work,” says Mohammad. “At this rate, they’ll need 10 years to get it finished. But if we’re here for another month, we’ll be in a mental asylum.” It is a familiar sentiment. Interviewees consistently said that the limbo they are trapped in – which has left them far from loved ones, without access to work and education, and without any clarity on their future – has led to a wave of depression and mental health problems.

Abouni, 17, is at Softex without his parents and sister, who are still under siege in Aleppo. As a minor, Abouni hoped to apply for family reunification after being granted asylum. Instead he is likely to turn 18 before that can happen, and he says the anxiety of the situation has led to him being taken to hospital four times with panic attacks. “Sometimes I feel so angry that I can’t breathe, and then I fall unconscious,” says Abouni, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym to avoid being stigmatised at the camp. “I have family in Syria under the bombs, and when I talk to my little sister on the phone, she asks if she’ll ever see me again. I’m stuck here in this jail.”

At the Vasilika camp outside Thessaloniki, one of seven visited recently by the Guardian, the warehouse is brighter than at Softex but the despair is the same. Hisham worked as a medic for an international aid group for 10 years in Syria but now finds himself as its beneficiary rather than its employee. The work he did in Syria still haunts him, with the images of dead bodies flashing before him as he tries to sleep at night. “For years I saw people getting killed in Syria, and then you’re here for six months without knowing what’s going on, and I cannot sleep,” says Hisham. “What happened in Syria is playing every night like a film in front of my eyes. Psychologically, I need a doctor.”

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Rising death toll.

2,700 Migrants Rescued in Mediterranean on Monday, 15 Dead (R.)

Fifteen bodies were recovered and more than 2,700 boat migrants rescued off the coast of Libya on Monday, the Italian coastguard said, in another day of mass departures from north Africa. Italy’s navy and coastguard, ships patrolling on a European Union anti-smuggling mission, vessels run by humanitarian groups, and a commercial tug boat aided in the rescues. Earlier in the day, the Italian Navy said six bodies had been found after migrants fell out of a leaking rubber boat. The coastguard gave no further details. The migrants were saved from 19 dangerously overcrowded rubber boats and four small boats, the coastguard said. People smugglers operate freely in Libya, cashing in on migrants desperate to reach Europe.

Last week calmer seas and Libya’s lawlessness opened the way for smugglers to ship 13,000 migrants across the Mediterranean Sea in just four days. Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War Two is now focused on Italy, at Europe’s southern frontier, where some 93,000 people had arrived by the end of August, according to Italy’s Interior Ministry. The death toll on the route from North Africa to Italy has jumped to one migrant for every 42 making the crossing, compared to one in every 52 last year, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman said last week.

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May 132016
 
 May 13, 2016  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano AT&SF Railroad locomotive shops, San Bernardino, CA 1943

Iron Ore Goes From Boom To Bust In Just Three Weeks (BBG)
With $100 Billion In Debt, Glencore Emerges As The Next Lehman (ZH)
China Bubble Set To Rock Global Markets (CNBC)
The Biggest Source Of Global Growth In 2016 Is About To Hit A Brick Wall (ZH)
Middle Class Shrinks In 9 Of 10 American Cities As Incomes Fall (AP)
Congressman X: ‘Screw The Next Generation’ (DM)
Nassim Taleb Compares Monetary Policy to Novocaine (BBG)
Yellen Says Won’t Completely Rule Out Negative Rates (R.)
Dear Homeowner, What Exactly Do You “Own”? (CH Smith)
IMF Under Pressure From Germany Over Greece (WSJ)
The German Current Account Surplus Requires Deficits Elsewhere (Harrison)
Ideas For Reducing The Debt Burden (Economist)
‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century (Spiegel)
Europol To Send Experts To Greek Islands To ‘Identify Terrorists’ (Kath.)
EU Mission ‘Failing’ To Disrupt Mediterranean People-Smugglers (BBC)

So predictable one must wonder what Xi was/is thinking. A lot of money is being lost in China, and much of it by mom and pop. They’re not going to like it.

Iron Ore Goes From Boom To Bust In Just Three Weeks (BBG)

Don’t say there wasn’t any warning. Iron ore’s gone from boom to bust in the space of just three weeks, fulfilling predictions for a slump in prices that were jacked up to unsustainable levels by a short-lived speculative frenzy in China. The SGX AsiaClear contract for June settlement in Singapore sank as much as 3.5% to $48.64 a metric ton in Singapore [..] It’s collapsed 12% this week, the most since December, after losing 11% the week before. In Dalian, iron ore futures plunged on Friday to the lowest since February as steel in Shanghai headed for the biggest weekly loss on record.

Iron ore and steel are buckling once again after widespread predictions that the trading frenzy in China that had propelled prices upward in April wouldn’t endure as regulators clamped down and the rallies themselves induced higher production. Iron ore stockpiles at ports in China have expanded to near 100 million tons, while mills produced more steel than ever in March. Lower steel prices erode mills’ margins, cutting their ability to restock on iron ore, according to China Merchants Futures. “As steel profits have dropped sharply recently, the desire to replenish iron ore stocks is not strong,” said Zhao Chaoyue, an analyst at China Merchants, said in a note on Friday. “Supplies of steel are recovering as demand weakens. Steel prices remain vulnerable.”

Among those that foresaw a retracement, Goldman Sachs said on April 22 that iron ore’s rally was unsustainable, and a tight steel market in China was a “temporary distraction” from fundamentals. Days later, Fitch said the surge in steel prices wouldn’t last. And at the end of last month, Brazil’s Itau Unibanco said iron would soon drop by $10, describing the speculation as a short-term issue. Spot iron ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao fell 0.9% to $55.05 a dry ton on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin. Prices have sunk 22% since they peaked at more than $70 last month.

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China’s commodity casino starts to spread its losses…

With $100 Billion In Debt, Glencore Emerges As The Next Lehman (ZH)

One week ago, in a valiant attempt to defend the stock price of struggling commodity trading titan Glencore, one of the company’s biggest cheerleaders, Sanford Bernstein’s analyst Paul Gait (who has a GLEN price target of 450p) appeared on CNBC in what promptly devolved into a great example of just how confused equity analysts are when it comes to analyzing highly complex debt-laden balance sheets. In the clip below, starting about 2:30 in, CNBC’s Brian Sullivan gets into a heated spat with Gait over precisely how much debt Glencore really has, with one saying $45 billion the other claiming it is a whopping $100 billion. The reason for Gait’s confusion is that he simplistically looked at the net debt reported on Glencore’s books… just as Ivan Glasenberg intended.

However, since Glencore – like Lehman – is first and foremost a trading operation, one also has to add in all the stated derivative exposure (something we did ten days ago), in addition to all the unfunded liabilities, off balance sheet debt, bank commitments and so forth, to get a true representation of just how big, or rather massive, Glencore’s true risk is to its countless counterparties. Conveniently for the likes of equity analysts such as Gait and countless others who still have GLEN stock at a “buy” rating, Bank of America has done an extensive analysis breaking down Glencore’s true gross exposure. Here is the punchline:

“We consider different approaches to Glencore’s debt. Credit agencies, such as S&P, start with “normal” net debt, i.e. gross debt less cash and then deduct some share (80% in the case of S&P of “RMIs” – Readily Marketable Inventories. These are considered to be “cash like” inventories (working capital) in the marketing business. At the last results, RMIs were about US$17.7 bn. Giving full credit for RMIs plus a pro-forma for the equity raise and interim dividend we derive a “Glencore Adjusted Net Debt” of c. US$28 bn.

On the other hand, from discussions with our banks team, we believe the banks industry (and ultimately regulators) may look at the number i.e. gross lines available (even if undrawn) + letters of credit with no credit for inventories held. On this basis, we estimate gross exposure (bonds, revolver, secured lending, letters of credit) at c. $100 bn. With bonds at around $36 bn, this would still leave $64 bn to the banks’ account (assuming they don’t own bonds).”

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Never listen to people predicting black swans.

China Bubble Set To Rock Global Markets (CNBC)

For the moment, the following is the shock NOT heard ’round the world … at least not yet. Rampant speculation in China’s commodities markets could very well be the next “black swan” event that rocks global markets and possibly the global economy. Though very little attention has been paid to this recent action, speculative excesses in China’s commodity markets have taken traders and investors on a wild ride, which may likely soon spill over to the rest of the world. Trading volumes and volatility have been so extreme they make the recent swings in Shanghai and Shenzhen’s stock markets look mild by comparison. Chinese speculators have driven up, and then down, the prices of everything from iron ore to steel, and from soybeans to egg futures.

Prices in most of these commodities have fallen back to earth after massive, but relatively brief, spikes in prices. But, that’s not to say more damage hasn’t been done to China’s already fragile market system and economy. One truly astonishing feature of this bout of speculation is that the average holding period of a commodity futures contract was just three hours in April, according to Bloomberg. That makes other speculative trading episodes look like long-term investing. It also suggests a massive appetite for risk, which in and of itself, is potentially destabilizing, both in China and, by extension, elsewhere in the world. Why do we care? Well, first of all, the recent rebound in commodity prices, here at home, and the affiliated rebound in raw materials stocks, could have been driven, at least in part, by those very speculative excesses in China.

It also means that the rebound in inflation expectations could be a false signal, which on its face, reads as an indicator of a rebound in demand for raw materials, or a sign that the global economy could be stabilizing and re-accelerating. That’s the type of false signal that could convince the Fed that inflation is accelerating, causing them to mistakenly raise rates. While that hasn’t happened yet, it is a risk that bears watching. The “fake-out breakout” also could have suggested that supply of, and demand for, raw materials is coming back into balance in a world burdened by a commodity glut. That, too, appears to be have been a diversion. There is still more cotton, more copper, more steel and more soybeans than the world demands. The market-based signaling matrix appears to be broken thanks to this bout of speculative excess.

This is the Wild Wild East of markets these days. After speculating excessively in real estate a few years ago, in stocks last year, driven by heavy margin buying and then a crash, Chinese investors and traders have quickly moved on to commodities. These rolling bubbles are making the Chinese economy more and more unstable and more susceptible to a much-feared “hard landing” in the economy. That has implications for the Mild Mild West, where growth has been hard to come by and could be upended by another deceleration in Chinese economic activity.

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Yup. China again.

The Biggest Source Of Global Growth In 2016 Is About To Hit A Brick Wall (ZH)

After issuing a record $1 trillion in combined bank and shadow loans in the first quarter which just like during the financial crisis provided a short-term boost to global growth (while sending China’s debt/GDP to all time highs), China’s dramatic debt issuance binge is about to hit a brick wall. According to MarketNews, Chinese bank loan growth is expected to slow sharply in April compared with March as the pillar of bank lending, mortgage loans, slowed as the property market cooled. Citing bank officials, the news service said that robust first-quarter lending almost depleted their resources, making it difficult to find good targets to lend to, which also hurt loan growth. It also means that suddenly the credit impulse that drove both Chinese and global growth for the past two months is about to evaporate.

How big is the drop? Sources familiar with the loan number told MNI that combined new loans in April by the Big Four state-owned banks were more than halved from March’s level. As a reminder, the Big Four banks lent out CNY402 billion in March, according to the People’s Bank of China. While there is no preview of how bit (or small) the combined TSF number will be, it is safe to assume it will be a far smaller total than the CNY2.34 trillion in total social financing that flooded the Chinese economy in March. The slowdown mainly came from moderating mortgage growth, which has been the key driving force behind loan growth so far this year. In the city of Shanghai, mortgage loans hit a record high of CNY36.1 billion in March, beating the previous record of CNY34.6 billion set in January, according to PBOC data.

The PBOC said the country’s total outstanding mortgage loan was up 25.5% y/y at the end of March, much faster than the 14.7% of average outstanding loan growth. But that mortgage strength in the first quarter failed to continue into April as property sales growth slowed sharply on government tightening measures. According to Essence Securities, new residential house sales in tier one cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, fell 21.2% on month in April and only edged up 0.5% from a year ago, including a 38.6% m/m and 30.8% y/y plunge in the city of Shenzhen, which leads the current round of property rebound. But if April was bad, May was a disaster: “it appears the situation is even worse into May. Shenzhen saw house sales in the first week of May plummet another 49% when compared with the previous week, dragging year-to-date sales into a 1% drop in terms of floor space.”

Read more …

More on the Rew report. It warrants attention, lots of it. It paints the real picture of America. And that’s with Pew’s perhaps somewhat distorting definition of ‘middle class’, which includes 3-person households with incomes of up to $125,000. This may be statistically correct if you try hard enough, but an awful lot of people living on $40,000 or less will not agree.

Middle Class Shrinks In 9 Of 10 American Cities As Incomes Fall (AP)

In cities across America, the middle class is hollowing out. A widening wealth gap is moving more households into either higher- or lower-income groups in major metro areas, with fewer remaining in the middle, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. In nearly one-quarter of metro areas, middle-class adults no longer make up a majority, the Pew analysis found. That’s up from fewer than 10% of metro areas in 2000. That sharp shift reflects a broader erosion that occurred from 2000 through 2014. Over that time, the middle class shrank in nine of every 10 metro areas, Pew found. The squeezing of the middle class has animated this year’s presidential campaign, lifting the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Many experts warn that widening income inequality may slow economic growth and make social mobility more difficult. Research has found that compared with children in more economically mixed communities, children raised in predominantly lower-income neighborhoods are less likely to reach the middle class. Pew defines the middle class as households with incomes between two-thirds of the median and twice the median, adjusted for household size and the local cost of living. The median is midway between richest and poorest. It can better capture broad trends than an average, which can be distorted by heavy concentrations at the top or bottom of the income scale.

By Pew’s definition, a three-person household was middle class in 2014 if its annual income fell between $42,000 and $125,000. Middle class adults now make up less than half the population in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Houston. “The shrinking of the American middle class is a pervasive phenomenon,” said Rakesh Kochhar, associate research director for Pew and the lead author of the report. “It has increased the polarization in incomes.”

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‘We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. Screw the next generation..’ [..] ‘Nobody here gives a rat’s a** about the future and who’s going to pay for all this stuff we vote for. That’s the next generation’s problem. It’s all about immediate publicity, getting credit now, lookin’ good for the upcoming election.’

Congressman X: ‘Screw The Next Generation’ (DM)

A new book threatens to blow the lid off of Congress as a federal legislator’s tell-all book lays out the worst parts of serving in the House of Representatives – saying that his main job is to raise money for re-election and that leaves little time for reading the bills he votes on. Mill City Press, a small Minnesota-based ‘vanity press’ publisher describes ‘The Confessions of Congressman X’ as ‘a devastating inside look at the dark side of Congress as revealed by one of its own.’ ‘No wonder Congressman X wants to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. His admissions are deeply disturbing.’ The 84-page exposé is due in bookstores in two weeks, and Washington is abuzz with speculation about who may be behind it.

The book, a copy of which DailyMail.com has seen, discloses that the congressman is a Democrat – but not much else. The anonymous spleen-venter has had a lot to say about his constituents, however. Robert Atkinson, a former chief of staff and press secretary for two congressional Democrats, took notes on a series of informal talks with him – whoever he is – and is now publishing them with his permission. ‘Voters claim they want substance and detailed position papers, but what they really crave are cutesy cat videos, celebrity gossip, top 10 lists, reality TV shows, tabloid tripe, and the next f***ing Twitter message,’ the congressman gripes in the book. ‘I worry about our country’s future when critical issues take a backseat to the inane utterings of illiterate athletes and celebrity twits.’

Much of what’s in the book will come as little surprise to Americans who are cynical about the political process. ‘Fundraising is so time-consuming I seldom read any bills I vote on,’ the anonymous legislator admits. ‘I don’t even know how they’ll be implemented or what they’ll cost.’ ‘My staff gives me a last-minute briefing before I go to the floor and tells me whether to vote yea or nay. How bad is that?’ And on controversial bills, he says, ‘I sometimes vote “yes” on a motion and “no” on an amendment so I can claim I’m on either side of an issue.’ ‘It’s the old shell game: if you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.’

Read more …

“There is no evidence that 0% is better than 3%. Show me the evidence.”

Nassim Taleb Compares Monetary Policy to Novocaine (BBG)

Nassim Taleb, distinguished scientific advisor at Universa Investments and New York University professor of risk engineering, discusses monetary policy. He speaks with Erik Schatzker from the SALT Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on “Bloomberg Markets.”

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As Taleb says in the video above, Yellen is a very smart person but one who’s only recently found out that she’s stuck.

Yellen Says Won’t Completely Rule Out Negative Rates (R.)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday that while she “would not completely rule out the use of negative interest rates in some future very adverse scenario,” the tool would need a lot more study before it could be used in the United States. Yellen, in responses to written questions from U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman following her February testimony on Capitol Hill, said the Fed plans to raise interest rates gradually, given its expectations that the economy will continue to strengthen and inflation will move back up to the Fed’s 2% goal. She also said that if the economy unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse, the Fed will adjust its stance. Central banks in Europe and Japan have used negative interest rates to try to stimulate their economies, and Yellen said the Fed is attempting to learn as much as it can from their experiences. Before using negative rates at home, she said, policymakers would need to consider a number of issues, “including the potential for unintended consequences.”

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Charles revisits a theme Nicole and I talked a lot about in the past: “.. in effect, anyone “owning” a home with high property taxes is leasing the property from the local government for the “right” to gamble that a new housing bubble is underway.” As Nicole puts it: “..renting is paying somone else to carry the risk of owning..”.

Dear Homeowner, What Exactly Do You “Own”? (CH Smith)

We’re constantly told ours is an ownership society in which owning a home is the foundation of household wealth. The concept of ownership may appear straightforward, but consider these questions: 1. If the house is mortgaged, what does the homeowner “own” when the bank has the senior claim to the property? 2. If the homeowner owes local government $13,000 a year in property taxes, what does the homeowner “own” once they pay $260,000 in property taxes over 20 years? The answer to the first question: the homeowner only “owns” the homeowners’ equity, the market value of the home minus the the mortgage and closing costs. In a housing bubble, homeowners’ equity can soar as the skyrocketing value accrues to the homeowner, as the mortgage is fixed (in conventional mortgages). But when bubbles pop and housing prices return to reality-based valuations, the declines also accrue to the homeowner’s equity.

If the price declines below the mortgage due the lender, the homeowners’ equity vanishes and the property is underwater. The property may still be worth (say) $400,000, but if the mortgage(s) total $400,000, the owner owns nothing but the promise to pay the mortgage and property taxes and the right to claim a tax deduction for the mortgage interest paid. To answer the second question, let’s consider an example. In areas with high property taxes (California, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, etc.), annual bills in excess of $10,000 annually are not uncommon. If we take $13,000 annually as a typical total property tax in these areas (property taxes can include school taxes, library taxes, and a host of special assessments on top of the “official” base rate), the homeowner “owns” the obligation to pay local tax authorities $130,000 per decade for the right to “own” the house.

In states without Prop 13-type limits on how much property taxes can be raised, there is no guarantee that property taxes won’t jump higher in a decade, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the rate is unchanged. In 20 years of ownership, the homeowner will pay $260,000 in property taxes.Let’s compare that with the rise in their homeowners’ equity. Since home values are high in high-tax regions, let’s assume a $400,000 purchase price with an $80,000 down payment and a conventional 4% 30 year mortgage of $320,000. In 20 years of mortgage and tax payments, the homeowners paid about $197,500 in interest to the bank (deductible from their income taxes), and about $170,000 in mortgage principle, leaving them total homeowner’s equity of the $80,000 down payment and the $170,000 in principle, or a total of $250,000. Since they paid $260,000 in property taxes in the period, have they gained anything?

If we look at the property as merely leased from the local government for the annual fee of $13,000, then was “ownership” a good deal for the local government or for the homeowner? If the homeowner subtracts the lease fee (i.e. property taxes) from their equity, they are underwater by $10,000. The real estate industry answer is that “ownership” is great because the skyrocketing appreciation accrues to the homeowner. If the house doubles in value from $400,000 to $800,000 in a decade, who cares about the $130,000 in property taxes paid? If we subtract this $130,000 lease fee, the homeowner would still pocket a hefty profit: $800,000 sales price minus the $400,000 purchase price, the $130,000 in property taxes, the costs of 10 years of maintaining the home and the selling commission and closing fees. So in effect, anyone “owning” a home with high property taxes is leasing the property from the local government for the “right” to gamble that a new housing bubble is underway.

Read more …

Greece has a major payment to the ECB coming in July. Something will be found, but it will not be advantageous to Athens.

IMF Under Pressure From Germany Over Greece (WSJ)

In Europe’s battle with the IMF over Greece, Germany has a way to win. Germany, Europe’s dominant economic power, is leaning heavily on the IMF to accept hypothetical assurances that Greece’s debt burden will be addressed in the future if needed, rather than the definite and far-reaching debt relief that the IMF wanted, according to people familiar with the talks. Berlin believes the IMF will have to accept what’s on offer, even if IMF staff are unhappy about it, these people say. The IMF is also under heavy European pressure to accept Greek austerity policies that are less specific than the cuts the IMF wanted. An accord hasn’t been reached yet, and some warn it could take several weeks. The IMF’s Achilles’ heel: Its board is controlled by Germany, other European Union countries, and the U.S., none of whom want a new crisis over Greece.

That power reality weakens the IMF’s threat to pull out of the Greek bailout if it is unsatisfied. The EU currently faces multiple challenges that threaten to unravel the 60-year-old project of European integration, including the U.K.’s referendum on leaving the bloc, the migration crisis, and the rise of EU-skeptic populist parties. Germany and other European governments have no appetite for another round of brinkmanship over Greece like in 2015, and want a deal in coming weeks that settles Greece’s future—at least for now. Any deal is nevertheless likely to include some important concessions to the IMF. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble -who until recently adopted the hard-line stance in public that Greece needs no debt relief at all- has already permitted discussions to start this week about how eurozone loans to Greece might be restructured in the future.

A deal, which many European officials are now confident of reaching in late May or early June, is expected to include a promise by Germany and other eurozone countries to keep Greece’s debt burden below a certain threshold. That promise would entail easing the terms of Greece’s loans “if necessary.” Crucially for Berlin, however, any decision to restructure the loans would be delayed until 2018—after Germany’s 2017 elections. Mr. Schäuble and his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, are determined to avoid, for now, any material change to Greece’s bailout plan that would force them to hold an awkward debate in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, according to people familiar with their thinking.

An accord on Greek debt and austerity would allow Athens to stay afloat this summer, when large bonds fall due. But it is unlikely to resolve the country’s seven-year-old debt crisis. Participants in the troubled bailout are braced for further drawn-out negotiations in coming years about Greece’s fiscal and other overhauls. The main source of this year’s re-escalation of the Greek debt saga is Germany’s insistence that it cannot release any further bailout funds unless the IMF agrees to resume its own lending to Athens. IMF lending has been in limbo since last July, when IMF staff stated that “Greece’s public debt has become highly unsustainable.”

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One day perhaps more people will start to understand this. Germany is blowing up the eurozone. And the EU. The Q1 2016 growth announced today more than doubled, and that just makes it that much worse.

The German Current Account Surplus Requires Deficits Elsewhere (Harrison)

With the periphery’s downturn came austerity and internal devaluation. And this has meant two adjustments. First, the EU as a whole has moved from a roughly balanced external position to a net creditor position as the German and Dutch export-led model is forced onto the periphery via internal devaluation used to achieve export competitiveness. Second, the Germans and Dutch have been forced to turn elsewhere to maintain their mercantilist trading stance. And they have found willing buyers in Asia and the emerging markets writ large.

The thing to realize about multilateral trade is that the imbalances do not necessarily build up as bilateral imbalances between two countries. Rather, imbalances build multilaterally, with some countries – particularly the reserve-currency holding US – taking on the net debtor position. And we see that now, with the UK showing record trade deficits at the same time Germany is sporting huge surpluses. The IMF faults Germany for the surplus. Martin Wolf faults Germany for this too. Irrespective, there is no mechanism in the current global currency system to correct these imbalances except through balance of payments crisis and the rise of protectionist populist politicians.

And so my conclusion here is that these imbalances will only shift in a crisis – like the one we experienced within the eurozone. Except next time, the crisis will be global. It would be nice to think that world leaders would understand that dangerous imbalances are building that feed a populist and violent political response. Alas, there is no indication that the Germans or any other net surplus country gets this. And while the Swiss and the Dutch are small trading nations, Germany is a global behemoth. Like China, it will attract negative attention when the economy turns down. And the Germans will get the blame when the trade barriers go up. Right now, it seems only a matter of when not if.

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In which the Economist is found short of ideas.

Ideas For Reducing The Debt Burden (Economist)

DEBT levels grew spectacularly in the rich world from 1982 to 2007. When the financial crisis broke, worries about the ability of borrowers to repay or refinance that debt caused the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s. It could have been worse. The danger was that, as private-sector borrowers scrambled to reduce their debts, the resulting contraction in credit would drive the world into depression. Fortunately, this outcome was averted. First, the governments of rich countries allowed their debts to rise, offsetting the reduction in private debt. In addition, emerging markets (notably China) continued to borrow. So there was no global deleveraging; quite the reverse. Central banks also helped, slashing interest rates to zero and below.

Although lower policy rates have not always resulted in cheaper borrowing costs (in Greece, for example), debt-servicing costs have fallen in most developed countries. Although this approach has staved off disaster, it has not got rid of the problem, as a research note from Manoj Pradhan, an economist at Morgan Stanley, makes clear. “High debt forces interest rates to stay low, which encourages yet more debt,” Mr Pradhan writes. Central banks dare not push interest rates up too quickly for fear of causing another crisis; hence the stop-start nature of the Federal Reserve’s statements on monetary policy. The developed world seems stuck with sluggish growth and low rates. In health terms, the disease is chronic, not acute.

A lurch into another global crisis, Mr Pradhan reckons, would require three ingredients. First, the assets financed by the debt build-up would need to fall sharply in price or prove uneconomic. Second, the debtors would have to be concentrated in big, globalised economies. Lastly, global investors would have to be heavily exposed to the debt in question. All this was the case in 2007-08, as debt secured by American housing turned bad, raising doubts about the health of the Western banking system. This time round the debtors are in different places. Some of them are emerging-market governments and commodity producers. But, except for China, none of these is crucial to the world economy. And China’s debts are mainly in domestic hands, rather than widely dispersed in the portfolios of international banks, pension funds and insurance companies.

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“..more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine..”

‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century (Spiegel)

Herdsman Ighale Utban used to be a relatively prosperous man. Three years ago, he owned around a hundred goats. Now, though, all but five of them have died of thirst at a dried-up watering hole, victims of the worst drought seen in Ethiopia and large parts of Africa in a half-century. Utban, a wiry man of 36 years, belongs to a nomadic people known as the Afar, who spend their lives wandering through the eponymously named state in northeastern Ethiopia. “This is the worst time I’ve experienced in my life,” he says. On some days, he doesn’t know how to provide for himself and his seven-member family. “We can no longer wander,” Utban says, “because death awaits out there.” For now, he’ll have to remain in Lii, a scattered little settlement in which several families have erected their makeshift huts. Lii means “scorching hot earth.”

Since time immemorial, shepherds have wandered with their animals through the endless expanses of the Danakil desert. They live primarily off of meat and milk, and it was always a meagre existence. But with the current drought, which has lasted for over a year, their very existence is threatened. “First the livestock die, then the people,” Utban says. The American relief organization USAID estimates that in Afar alone, over a half million cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and camels have perished. Reservoirs are empty, pastures dried up, feed reserves nearly exhausted. With no rain, grass no longer grows. Many nomads are selling their emaciated livestock, but oversupply has led to a 50% decline in prices. Currently, millions of African farmers and herders are suffering similar fates to Utban’s. The UN estimates that more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine.

After years of hope for increased growth and prosperity, the people are once again suffering from poverty and malnutrition. The governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland have already declared states of emergency, and massive crop losses have caused food prices to explode in South Africa. Particularly hard stricken are the countries in the southern part of the continent as well as around the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and especially Ethiopia. Meteorologists believe the natural disaster is linked to a climate phenomenon that returns once every two to seven years known as El Niño, or the Christ child, a disruption of the normal sea and air currents that wreaks havoc on global weather patterns. The El Niño experienced in 2015-2016 has been particularly strong.

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Summing it up. Europe doesn’t send help to relieve the conditions refugees live in. They send policemen instead. 200 of them.

Europol To Send Experts To Greek Islands To ‘Identify Terrorists’ (Kath.)

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, is soon to deploy 200 officers to refugee centers on the Greek islands and mainland to help identify potential terrorists. The officers, specially trained experts in immigration and terrorism, will not be in charge of border protection but will examine individuals deemed to be suspicious. After several weeks of reduced inflows of migrants from neighboring Turkey, Thursday saw an increase in arrivals with 130 people arriving on Greek shores in one day, amid growing concerns about the fate of an agreement between Turkey and the European Union to curb migration.

The total number of migrants in Greece on Thursday stood at 54,542, according to the spokesman for the government’s coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis. Of this total, nearly 10,000 are living in squalid conditions at a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni close to the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Kyritsis said the Idomeni camp would be evacuated but did not specify when. The situation at the camp is tense and local residents are running out of patience, with the head of the Idomeni community on Wednesday lodging a legal suit against Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas for a “complete absence of state control” at the camp.

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Oh my, what a surprise.

EU Mission ‘Failing’ To Disrupt Mediterranean People-Smugglers (BBC)

The EU naval mission to tackle people smuggling in the central Mediterranean is failing to achieve its aims, a British parliamentary committee says. In a report, the House of Lords EU Committee says Operation Sophia does not “in any meaningful way” disrupt smugglers’ boats. The destruction of wooden boats has forced the smugglers to use rubber dinghies, putting migrants at even greater risk, the document says. Operation Sophia began in 2015. It was set up in the wake of a series of disasters in which hundreds of migrants died while trying to cross from Libya to Italy. The EU authorised its vessels to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for people smuggling.

The report states that “the arrests made to date have been of low-level targets, while the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe”. It says that there are also “significant limits to the intelligence that can be collected about onshore smuggling networks from the high seas. “There is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling,” the document concludes. It adds that the mission is still operating out in international waters, and not – as originally intended – in Libyan waters.

Read more …

Feb 152016
 
 February 15, 2016  Posted by at 2:57 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange We’ll be in California yet. We’re not going back to Arkansas 1938

Financial bubbles blown on the back of massive amounts of debt, of necessity lead to debt deflation (it’s just entropy, really). Fighting this is futile, and grossly costly to boot. The only sensible thing to do is to guide the process as best you can and try to minimize the damage, especially at the bottom rungs of society, because that’s where the deflation first takes hold, and where it spreads out from.

Attempting to boost inflation, or boost demand, before letting the debt deflation run its course through restructuring and defaults (perhaps even a -partial- jubilee) leads only to -further- distortion, and -further- impoverishes society’s poorer (at some point to a large extent the former middle classes). Whose lower spending, as nary a soul seems to comprehend, is the origin of the deflation to begin with.

All the attempts by central bankers to boost inflation that we’ve seen so far squarely ignore this, and operate on the false assumption that if only prices for financial assets and real estate can be raised even higher -artificially-, deflation can be warded off.

Thing is, deflation starts not at the top, it starts at the bottom. It’s not the banks or the bankers or the well-off who are maxed out and stop spending, but the people in the street.

They are responsible for most of the spending in an economy, and therefore for the velocity with which money moves in a society. And if the velocity of money falls below a critical point, no increase in the other side of the inflation/deflation equation -the money/credit supply- can make up for the difference. There is a point where all of the King’s horses and all of the King’s central bankers can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The people in the street are not just maxed out in the sense that they have no money, they have less than no money, since they’re deep in debt. An increasing part of whatever they do still have, and what they make in their ever lower paying jobs, goes toward debt payments. Yeah, that’s the giant sucking sound.

QE and other ‘plans’ like it don’t address this even in the slightest, and are necessarily failures before they even start.

Central bank stimulus measures are all exclusively targeted at the upper rungs, and therefore miss their aim entirely. Or perhaps we should say ‘alleged’ aim, since it takes quite a leap of faith to presume that all the world’s central bankers fail to understand their own field so thoroughly that all they can all come up with is failures.

However, given that they all studied the same faulty economics textbooks, we can’t rule out this possibility. It is certainly strongly suggested -once again- by Steve Keen in Our Dysfunctional Monetary System.

Rather than effective remedies, we’ve had inane policies like QE, which purport to solve the crisis by inflating asset prices when inflated asset prices were one of the symptoms of the bubble that caused the crisis. We’ve seen Central Banks pump up private bank reserves in the belief that this will encourage more bank lending when (a) there’s too much bank debt already and (b) banks physically can’t lend out reserves.

What may also play a role is that the upper rungs tend to be blind to anything outside of their own circles, that because they 1) have their hands on a nation’s wallets and 2) they see themselves as the most important segment of any given society, they elect to try and solve the problem inside their own circles -and truly believe this is feasible-.

This can of course not possibly work. Because they’re hugely outnumbered. They don’t have nearly enough influence on money flows in their societies. If they can’t sell the bottom, let’s take a number, 80%, of society sufficient produce or gasoline or homes or trinkets, the entire society seizes up the way an engine does that runs out of oil.

The top makes its fortune for a while getting the bottom ever deeper into debt, only to inevitably find that this kills off the entire economy. Then they do some more of the same, and find ever more of their own kind becoming part of the bottom.

The problem for the rich is simple: there’s not enough of them. Well, that and they don’t understand how societies function. Let alone economies. Scraps off the table won’t do the trick. Next stop pitchforks.

Any deflationary period would have been hard no matter what. Still, none would have had to lead to what we’re facing now.

But look out there at what’s happening in politics, at who’s popular in various places. It’s all geared towards more inequality, not less, like some tooth and claw Darwin version were the world’s economics teacher, wherever you look it’s all the well-off making ever surer they will remain well-off or better.

And even if you look for instance at Bernie Sanders in the US, he wants more for the bottom of society, but that seems more for sentimental or ideological reasons than a sign he actually understands why it would raise the odds of the States being a going concern going forward.

The actual Darwin could have taught us all a lesson or two three about the role of balances in ecosystems, and in human societies. But then he actually studied them. Economists, politicians and central bankers have not.

Dec 102015
 
 December 10, 2015  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935

If It Owns a Well or a Mine, It’s Probably in Trouble (NY Times)
Credit Card Data Reveals First Core Retail Sales Decline Since Recession (ZH)
America’s Middle Class Meltdown (FT)
Chinese Devaluation Is A Bigger Danger Than Fed Rate Rises (AEP)
China Swallows Its Mining Debt Bomb (BBG)
China’s Plan to Merge Sprawling Firms Risks Curbing Competition (WSJ)
Billions of Barrels of Oil Vanish in a Puff of Accounting Smoke (BBG)
Bond King Gets Antsy as Junk Bonds, Which Lead Stocks, Spiral to Heck (WS)
Banks Buy Protection Against Falling Stock Markets (BBG)
Dividends Could Be the Next Victim of the Commodity Crunch (BBG)
Copper, Aluminum And Steel Collapse To Crisis Levels (CNN)
US Companies Turn To European Debt Markets (FT)
Italy Needs a Cure for Its Bad-Debt Headache (BBG)
Swiss to Give Up EVERYTHING & EVERYBODY (Martin Armstrong)
Trump’s ‘Undesirable’ Muslims of Today Were Yesteryear’s Greeks (Pappas)
It’s Too Late to Turn Off Trump (Matt Taibbi)
War Is On The Horizon: Is It Too Late To Stop It? (Paul Craig Roberts)
Greek Police Move 2,300 Migrants From FYROM Border To Athens (Kath.)

Good headline.

If It Owns a Well or a Mine, It’s Probably in Trouble (NY Times)

The pain among energy and mining producers worsened again on Tuesday, as one of the industry’s largest players cut its work force by nearly two-thirds and Chinese trade data amplified concerns about the country’s appetite for commodities. The full extent of the shakeout will depend on whether commodities prices have further to fall. And the outlook is shaky, with a swirl of forces battering the markets. The world’s biggest buyer of commodities, China, has pulled back sharply during its economic slowdown. But the world is dealing with gluts in oil, gas, copper and even some grains. “The world of commodities has been turned upside down,” said Daniel Yergin, the energy historian and vice chairman of IHS, a consultant firm.

“Instead of tight supply and strong demand, we have tepid demand and oversupply and overcapacity for commodity production. It’s the end of an era that is not going to come back soon.” The pressure on prices has been significant. Prices for iron ore, the crucial steelmaking ingredient, have fallen by about 40% this year. The Brent crude oil benchmark is now hovering around $40 a barrel, down from more than a $110 since the summer of 2014. Companies are caught in the downdraft. A number of commodity-related businesses have either declared bankruptcy or fallen behind in their debt payments. Even more common are the cutbacks. Nearly 1,200 oil rigs, or two-thirds of the American total, have been decommissioned since late last year.

More than 250,000 workers in the oil and gas industry worldwide have been laid off, with more than a third coming in the United States. The international mining company Anglo American is pulling back broadly, with a goal to reduce the company’s size by 60%. Along with the layoffs announced on Tuesday, the company is suspending its dividend, halving its business units, as well as unloading mines and smelters.

Read more …

How bad will the holiday shopping season get?

Credit Card Data Reveals First Core Retail Sales Decline Since Recession (ZH)

While we await the government’s retail sales data on December 11, the last official economic report the Fed will see before its December 16 FOMC decision, Bank of America has been kind enough to provide its own full-month credit card spending data. And while a week ago the same Bank of America disclosed the first holiday spending decline since the recession, in today’s follow up report BofA reveals that if one goes off actual credit card spending – which conveniently resolves the debate if one spends online or in brick and mortar stores as it is all funded by the same credit card – the picture is even more dire. According to the bank’s credit and debit card spending data, core retail sales (those excluding autos which are mostly non-revolving credit funded) just dropped by 0.2% in November, the first annual decline since the financial crisis!

At this point, BofA which recently laid out its bullish 2016 year-end forecast which sees the S&P rising almost as high as 2,300, and is thus conflicted from presenting a version of events that does not foot with its erroenous economic narrative, engages in a desperate attempt to cover up the ugly reality with the following verbiage, which ironically confirms that a Fed hike here would be a major policy error and lead to even more downside once it is digested by the market.

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Not usual FT language: “..the forces of technological change and globalisation drive a wedge between the winners and losers in a splintering US society.”

America’s Middle Class Meltdown (FT)

America’s middle class has shrunk to just half the population for the first time in at least four decades as the forces of technological change and globalisation drive a wedge between the winners and losers in a splintering US society. The ranks of the middle class are now narrowly outnumbered by those in lower and upper income strata combined for the first time since at least the early 1970s, according to the definitions by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think-tank in research shared with the Financial Times. The findings come amid an intensifying debate leading up to next year’s presidential election over how to revive the fortunes of the US middle class.

The prevailing view that the middle class is being crushed is helping to feed some of the popular anger that has boosted the populist politics personified by Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. “The middle class is disappearing,” says Alison Fuller, a 25-year-old university graduate working for a medical start-up in Smyrna, Georgia, who sees herself voting for Mr Trump. Pew used one of the broadest income classifications of the middle class, in a new analysis detailing the “hollowing out” of a group that has formed the bedrock of America’s postwar success. The core of American society now represents 50% or less of the adult population, compared with 61% at the end of the 1960s. Strikingly, the change has been driven at least as much by rapid growth in the ranks of prosperous Americans above the level of the middle class as it has by expansion in the numbers of poorer citizens.

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Exporting commodities and deflation: “The excess capacity is cosmic.”

Chinese Devaluation Is A Bigger Danger Than Fed Rate Rises (AEP)

The world has had a year to brace for monetary lift-off by the US Federal Reserve. A near certain rate rise next week will come almost as a relief. Emerging markets have already endured a dollar shock. The currency has risen 20pc since July 2014 in expectation of this moment, based on the Fed’s trade-weighted “broad” dollar index. The tightening of dollar liquidity is what caused a global manufacturing recession and an emerging market crash earlier this year, made worse by China’s fiscal cliff in January and its erratic, stop-start, efforts to wind down a $26 trillion credit boom. The shake-out has been painful: hopefully the dollar effect is largely behind us. The central bank governors of India and Mexico, among others, have been urging the Fed to stop dithering and get on with it. Presumably they have thought long and hard about the consequences for their own economies.

It is a safe bet that Fed chief Janet Yellen will give a “dovish steer”. She has already floated the idea that rates can safely be kept far below zero in real terms for a long time to come, even as unemployment starts to fall beneath the 5pc and test “NAIRU” levels where it turns into inflation. Her apologia draws on a contentious study by Fed staff in Washington that there is more slack in the economy than meets the eye. She argues that after seven years of drought and “supply-side damage” it may make sense to run the economy hotter than would normally be healthy in order to draw discouraged workers back into the labour market and to ignite a long-delayed revival of investment. There are faint echoes of the early 1970s in this line of thinking. Rightly or wrongly, she chose to overlook a competing paper by the Kansas Fed arguing the opposite.

Such a bias towards easy money may contain the seeds of its own destruction if it forces the Fed to slam on the brakes later. But that is a drama for another day. The greater risk for the world over coming months is that China stops trying to hold the line against devaluation, and sends a wave of corrosive deflation through the global economy. Fear that China may join the world’s currency wars is what haunts the elite banks and funds in London. It is why there has been such a neuralgic response to the move this week to let the yuan slip to a five-year low of 6.4260 against the dollar. Bank of America expects the yuan to reach 6.90 next year, setting off a complex chain reaction and a further downward spiral for oil and commodities. Daiwa fears a 20pc slide. My own view is that a fall of this magnitude would set off currency wars across Asia and beyond, replicating the 1998 crisis on a more dangerous scale.

Lest we forget, China’s fixed capital investment has reached $5 trillion a year, as much as in North America and Europe combined. The excess capacity is cosmic. Pressures on China are clearly building up. Capital outflows reached a record $113bn in November. Capital Economics says the central bank (PBOC) probably burned through $57bn of foreign reserves that month defending the yuan peg. A study by the Reserve Bank of Australia calculates that capital outflows reached $300bn in the third quarter, an annual pace of 10pc of GDP. The PBOC had to liquidate $200bn of foreign assets. Defending the currency on this scale is costly. Reserve depletion entails monetary tightening, neutralizing the stimulus from cuts in the reserve requirement ratio (RRR). It makes a “soft landing” that much harder to pull off.

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China is trying to find ways to hide debts and losses…

China Swallows Its Mining Debt Bomb (BBG)

Remember that Bugs Bunny scene where the Tasmanian Devil survives an explosion by eating the bomb? China’s government is trying to do that for its indebted miners. Rather than let the domestic mining industry be dragged down by its $131 billion of debts, the authorities are looking at setting up what amounts to a state-owned “bad bank” to segregate the worst liabilities and allow the remaining businesses to survive. China Minmetals, the metals trader and miner tasked with swallowing up China Metallurgical Group in a state-brokered merger, will be one taker, these people said. That should help with its net debt, which already stood at 136 billion yuan ($22 billion) in December 2014. There’ll be no shortage of others lining up for relief.

Seven of the 17 most debt-laden mining and metals companies worldwide are in China, and all are state-owned or -controlled. Western credit investors have become so chary of miners’ debts that you can pick up bonds with a 100% annual yield if you’re confident the companies will last the year. Anglo American is firing 63 percent of its workforce and selling at least half its mines to cut debt, while Glencore today announced plans to further decrease its borrowings. The political strategist James Carville once joked that he’d like to be reincarnated as the bond market so he could “intimidate everybody.” In China, things are considerably more relaxed. Chalco, one of the top five global aluminum producers, hasn’t generated enough operating income to pay its interest bills in any half-year since 2011. Over the four-year period, interest payments have exceeded earnings by about 29 billion yuan.

It’s a similar picture in China’s coal industry. China Coal Energy, Yanzhou Coal, and Shaanxi Coal, the second-, fourth-, and fifth-biggest domestic producers by sales, have collectively spent 3.3 billion yuan more on interest over the last 12 months than they’ve earned from their operations. This situation can’t go on. While Chalco still has about 47 billion yuan in shareholders’ equity on its balance sheet, it doesn’t have an obvious path back to profitability and most of its excess interest payments were made before aluminum prices started to really slump, back in May. There are also some worrying dates looming: The company has 13.6 billion yuan in bonds maturing next year, and another 20.9 billion yuan in the two years following

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Beijing is trying to centralize control.

China’s Plan to Merge Sprawling Firms Risks Curbing Competition (WSJ)

Already massive, China Inc. is about to get bigger—and that may not be good for the country’s economy or consumers. Beijing is considering combining some of its biggest state-owned companies in a move that would tighten its grip over key parts of the world’s No. 2 economy. The government said Tuesday it would merge two of the country’s largest metals companies. Already it has combined train-car makers and nuclear technology firms and is in the process of combining its two largest shipping lines. It is considering combining more companies in areas ranging from telecommunications to air carriers. In recent weeks, shares of major state-owned enterprises like mobile-phone service China Unicom (Hong Kong) and China Telecom and carriers China Southern Airlines and Air China have surged amid speculation they will be next.

China Telecom said it doesn’t comment on speculation, while the others said they haven’t received any information about mergers. Beijing hopes to form national champions that can better compete abroad. But experts say the moves will likely reduce competition, lead to higher prices for consumers and do little to clean up China’s sprawling and largely wasteful portfolio of state-owned enterprises. “China is throwing the gears of reform into reverse,” said Sheng Hong, director of the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing, an independent research group. “Unprofitable state-owned companies should be closed, rather than merged,” he said.

[..] Economists say state-owned enterprises are a drag on China’s economy. They enjoy cheap lands, government subsidies and easy access to bank loans. Private firms face barriers to entering sectors such as oil and banking, and state-run companies’ dominance allow them to keep prices high. However, the performance of SOEs has been deteriorating. According to Morgan Stanley, the gap of return-on-assets between SOEs and private enterprises is the widest since the late 1990s. China’s SOEs had an average return-on-assets rate of 4% in 2014, compared with private companies’ 10%, said Kelvin Pang, an analyst at the bank. State-run Economic Information Daily, a newspaper published by the official Xinhua News Agency, reported in April that Beijing was considering merging its biggest state-owned companies to create around 40 national champions from the existing 111.

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“The rule change will cut Chesapeake’s inventory by 45%..” Its market cap will fall right along with it.

Billions of Barrels of Oil Vanish in a Puff of Accounting Smoke (BBG)

In an instant, Chesapeake Energy will erase the equivalent of 1.1 billion barrels of oil from its books. Across the American shale patch, companies are being forced to square their reported oil reserves with hard economic reality. After lobbying for rules that let them claim their vast underground potential at the start of the boom, they must now acknowledge what their investors already know: many prospective wells would lose money with oil hovering below $40 a barrel. Companies such as Chesapeake, founded by fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, pushed the Securities and Exchange Commission for an accounting change in 2009 that made it easier to claim reserves from wells that wouldn’t be drilled for years. Inventories almost doubled and investors poured money into the shale boom, enticed by near-bottomless prospects.

But the rule has a catch. It requires that the undrilled wells be profitable at a price determined by an SEC formula, and they must be drilled within five years. Time is up, prices are down, and the rule is about to wipe out billions of barrels of shale drillers’ reserves. The reckoning is coming in the next few months, when the companies report 2015 figures. “There was too much optimism built into their forecasts,” said David Hughes, a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “It was a great game while it lasted.” The rule change will cut Chesapeake’s inventory by 45%, regulatory filings show. Chesapeake’s additional discoveries and expansions will offset some of its revisions, the company said in a third-quarter regulatory filing.

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“The problem is the risk investors piled on over the past seven years, when they still believed in the Fed’s hype that risks didn’t matter..”

Bond King Gets Antsy as Junk Bonds, Which Lead Stocks, Spiral to Heck (WS)

“We are looking at real carnage in the junk bond market,” Jeffrey Gundlach, the bond guru who runs DoubleLine Capital, announced in a webcast on Tuesday. He blamed the Fed. It was “unthinkable” to raise rates, with junk bonds and leveraged loans having such a hard time, he said – as they’re now dragging down his firm’s $80 billion in assets under management. “High-yield spreads have never been this high prior to a Fed rate hike,” he said – as the junk bond market is now in a precarious situation, after seven years of ZIRP and nearly as many years of QE, which made Grundlach a ton of money. When he talks, he wants the Fed to listen. He wants the Fed to move his multi-billion-dollar bets in the right direction. But it’s not a measly quarter-point rate hike that’s the problem. Bond yields move more than that in a single day without breaking a sweat.

The problem is the risk investors piled on over the past seven years, when they still believed in the Fed’s hype that risks didn’t matter, that they should be blindly taken in large quantities without compensation, and that rates would always remain at zero. Those risks that didn’t exist are now coming home to roost. They’re affecting the riskiest parts of the credit spectrum first: lower-rated junk bonds and leveraged loans. Grundlach presumably has plenty of them in his portfolios. Tuesday, the day Grundlach was begging the Fed for mercy, was particularly ugly. The average bid of S&P Capital IQ LCD’s list of 15 large and relatively liquid high-yield bond issues – the “flow-names,” as it calls them, that trade more frequently – dropped 181 basis points to about 87 cents on the dollar, for an average yield of 10%, the worst since July 23, 2009.

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Sign of things to come?!

Banks Buy Protection Against Falling Stock Markets (BBG)

For more than a year, dealers in the U.S. equity derivatives market have noted a widening gap in the price of certain options. If you want to buy a put to protect against losses in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, often you’ll pay twice as much as you would for a bullish call betting on gains. New research suggests the divergence is a consequence of financial institutions hoarding insurance against declines in stocks. The pricing anomaly is visible in a value known as skew that measures how much it costs to buy bearish options relative to those that appreciate when shares rise. In 2015, contracts betting on a 10% S&P 500 decline by February have traded at prices averaging 110% more than their bullish counterparts. That compares with a mean premium of 68% since the start of 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

While various explanations exist including simply nervousness following a six-year bull market, Deutsche Bank says in a Dec. 6 research report that the likeliest explanation may be that demand is being created for downside protection among banks that are subject to stress test evaluations by federal regulators. In short, financial institutions are either hoarding puts or leaving places for them in their models should markets turn turbulent. “Since so many banking institutions are facing these stress tests, the types of protection that help banks do well in these scenarios obtain extra value,” said Rocky Fishman, an equity derivatives strategist at Deutsche Bank. “The way the marketplace has compensated for that is by driving up S&P skew.”

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They already are…

Dividends Could Be the Next Victim of the Commodity Crunch (BBG)

As commodity prices tumble to the lowest since the global financial crisis, the dividends paid by the world’s largest oil producers and miners look increasingly hard to justify. Take the world’s largest 500 companies by sales. Of the 20 expected to pay the highest dividend yields over the next 12 months, 17 are natural resources companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They include BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest miner, with a yield – or dividend divided by share price – of more than 10% on its London shares. Plains All American Pipeline LP tops the list with a yield of 13.7%. Ecopetrol, Colombia’s largest oil producer, has a payout of 11.6%. That compares with an average among all 500 companies of 3.5%. “Investors are suggesting that dividend rates announced as recently as half-year results are generally not sustainable,” said Jeremy Sussman at Clarksons Platou Securities.

“The current environment is among the toughest we have seen across the resource space, putting increased pressure on management teams to deliver cost savings.” Miners Anglo American and Freeport-McMoran have suspended payments to preserve cash, following Glencore Plc earlier in the year. Eni SpA, Italy’s largest oil producer, and Houston-based pipeline owner Kinder Morgan have both reduced dividends. While other chief executive officers, especially at oil producers like Shell and Chevron have promised to keep paying, investors appear to be pricing in the likelihood of more cuts to come. “The fall in oil companies’ share prices and the increase in the dividend yield to historical levels is signaling that the market is fearing a cut,” Ahmed Ben Salem at Oddo & Cie in Paris, said by e-mail.

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They should have seen it coming when oil collapsed.

Copper, Aluminum And Steel Collapse To Crisis Levels (CNN)

It’s no secret that commodities in general have had a horrendous 2015. A nasty combination of overflowing supply and soft demand has wreaked havoc on the industry. But prices for everything from crude oil to industrial metals like aluminum, steel, copper, platinum, and palladium have collapsed even further in recent days. Crude oil crumbled below $37 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since February 2009. The situation is so bad that this week the Bloomberg Commodity Index, which tracks a wide swath of raw materials, plummeted to its weakest level since June 1999. “Sentiment is horrendous. It’s the worst since the financial crisis – and it’s getting worse every day,” said Garrett Nelson, a BB&T analyst who covers the metals and mining industry.

There was fresh evidence of the sector’s financial stress from De Beers owner Anglo American. The mining giant said it was suspending its dividend and selling off 60% of its assets, which could lead to a reduction of 85,000 jobs. The commodities rout is knocking stock prices, with the Dow falling over 200 points so far this week. It’s also raising concerns about the state of the global economy. “Markets are in the midst of another global growth scare,” analysts at Bespoke Investment Group wrote in a recent report. Soft demand is clearly not helping commodity prices. China and other emerging markets like Brazil have slowed dramatically in recent quarters, lowering their appetite for things like steel, iron ore and crude oil.

More developed markets don’t look great either. Europe’s economy continues to underperform, Japan is barely avoiding recession and U.S. manufacturing activity contracted in November for the first time in three years. But the real driver of the recent commodity crash is on the supply side, compared to the collapse in demand during the Great Recession. Cheap borrowing costs and an inability to predict China’s slowdown led producers to expand too much in recent years. Now they’re flooding the market with too much supply. “There’s a lot of froth and excess production capacity that needs to go away permanently. It’s hard to imagine we’re not in a low-commodity price environment for a fairly long time,” said Nelson.

That means you should brace for more plant closure and announcements like the one announced by Anglo American. In the U.S., roughly 123,000 jobs have disappeared from the mining sector, which includes oil and energy workers, since the end of 2014, according to government statistics. It’s also likely some companies won’t survive the depressed pricing environment. Financial trouble for commodity companies have already lifted global corporate defaults to the highest level since 2009, according to Standard & Poor’s.

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Debt addicts getting their fix wherever they can.

US Companies Turn To European Debt Markets (FT)

US tyremaker Goodyear Dunlop sold a €250m eight-year euro-denominated bond on Wednesday – its first such deal in four years – as US companies raise record amounts in the eurozone. The sale was the latest example of a reverse Yankee — euro-denominated debt issued by US companies. US companies have been the biggest issuers of euro bonds by nationality this year. Last week Ball Corporation, an avionics and packaging company, issued euro and dollar bonds to fund its acquisition of Rexam, a UK drinks maker. “Given the recent [US] disruption, the European market looks more positive,” said Henrik Johnsson, head of the Emea debt syndicate at Deutsche Bank. Diverging monetary policy has reduced the cost of issuing debt in euros as the European Central Bank continues to ease while the Federal Reserve is expected to increase its main interest rate from near zero this month.

Previously companies would issue debt in euros and convert it back into dollars. But the strong dollar has increased the cost of doing this. Many reverse Yankee issuers have significant euro-denominated cash flows and so have a “natural hedge” against exchange rate movements. The sell-off in the debt of US commodity companies – particularly in the energy sector – had been damaging for dollar credit, said Mr Johnsson. “As a matter of investor psychology, you’re not seeing losses in significant portions of your portfolio every day in Europe. It’s the same with fund flows, Europe is consistently receiving inflows.” Market participants expect the trend to continue into next year as successful deals demonstrate the depth of Europe’s markets. US companies have also issued a record amount in dollars, however.

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“In the third quarter, for example, GDP was worth €409 billion while the banks were saddled with more than €200 billion of non-paying loans.”

Italy Needs a Cure for Its Bad-Debt Headache (BBG)

Italy’s economy dragged itself out of recession this year, posting annual growth in GDP of 0.8% in the third quarter. That, though, was only half the pace achieved by the euro zone as a whole. And unless the Italian government gets serious about tackling the bad debts that are crushing the nation’s banking system, its economy will continue to underperform its peers. Economists are only mildly optimistic about Italy’s prospects next year. The consensus forecast is that growth will peak at 1.3% this quarter, slowing for the first three quarters of next year before rallying back to that high by the end of the year. One of the biggest drags on the country’s growth is the sheer volume of non-performing loans, typically defined as debts that have been delinquent for 90 days or more.

Italy’s bad loans have soared to more than €200 billion, a fourfold increase since the end of 2008. Moreover, more and more borrowers have fallen behind even as the economic backdrop has improved. That’s in sharp contrast with Spain, where bad loans peaked at the start of 2014 and have since declined by almost a third. The figures for Italy are even more worrying when you compare them with the growth environment. The burden of bad debts is approaching half of what the economy delivers every three months. In the third quarter, for example, GDP was worth €409 billion while the banks were saddled with more than €200 billion of non-paying loans. If that trend continues, Italy will soon be in a worse position than Spain, even though its economy is 50% bigger.

Here’s the rub: If a euro zone country’s banks are weighed down with bad debts, the ECB’s attempt to boost growth and consumer prices by channeling billions of euros into the economy through its quantitative easing program are doomed to failure. And it’s pretty clear that domestic investment in Italy isn’t showing any evidence of recovery despite the ECB’s best efforts.

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“The Swiss should have joined the Euro. What is the point of remaining separate when you surrender all your integrity and sovereignty anyway?”

Swiss to Give Up EVERYTHING & EVERYBODY (Martin Armstrong)

As of January 1, 2016, Switzerland is handing over the names of everyone who has anything stored in its Swiss freeport customs warehouses. For decades, people have stored precious metals and art in Swiss custom ports — tax-free — as long as they did not take it into Switzerland. Now any hope on trusting Switzerland is totally gone. That’s right — the Swiss handed over everyone with accounts in its banks. Now, they must report the name, address, and item descriptions of anyone storing art in its tax-free custom ports. This also applies to gold, silver, and other precious metals along with anything else of value. Back in 1986, the FBI walked into my office to question me about where Ferdinand Marcos (1917–1989) stored the gold he allegedly stole from the Philippines.

Marcos had been the President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 and had actually ruled under martial law from 1972 until 1981. I told them that I had no idea. They never believed me, as always, and pointed out that Ferdinand Marcos was a gold trader before he became president and he made his money as a trader. They told me he was a client and that I had been on the VIP list for the grand opening of Herald Square in NYC, which he funded through a Geneva family. I explained that I never met him, and if he were a client, he must have used a different name. But the rumor was that the gold was stored in the Zurich freeport customs warehouse. His wife, Imelda, was famous for her extravagant displays of wealth that included prime New York City real estate, world-renowned art, outlandish jewelry, and more than a thousand pairs of shoes.

Reportedly, there is a diamond tiara containing a giant 150-carat ruby that is locked up in a vault at the Swiss central bank. Some have valued it at more than US$8 million. The missing gold that people have spent 30 years searching for will surface if there are mandatory reports on whatever is hidden in the dark corners of these warehouses. This action to expose whatever whomever has everywhere in Switzerland may cause many to just sell since they will be taxed by their governments for daring to have private assets. They will not be able to get it out once it sees the light of day for every government is watching.

The Swiss should have joined the Euro. What is the point of remaining separate when you surrender all your integrity and sovereignty anyway? This is what bureaucrats are for. They act on their own circumventing the people. Welcome to the New Age of hunting for loose change. Your sofa and car glove box are next. Oh yeah – what about gold or silver fillings in your mouth? Time to see the dentist?

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Good to know one’s history.

Trump’s ‘Undesirable’ Muslims of Today Were Yesteryear’s Greeks (Pappas)

There are some things you might not know about Greek immigration to the United States. This history becomes particularly relevant when watching today’s news and political candidates like Donald Trump, supported by huge and vociferous crowds, call for the complete ban of people from entering the United States based on their race or religion. This is nothing new. In fact– today’s “undesirable” Muslims (in Donald Trump’s eyes), were yesteryear’s Greeks. It’s a forgotten history— something that only occasionally comes up by organizations like AHEPA or the occasional historian or sociologist. In fact, many Greek Americans are guilty of not only perpetuating— but also creating— myths of our ancestors coming to this country and being welcomed with open arms.

A look back at history will prove that this usually wasn’t the case for the early Greek immigrants to the United States. Greeks, their race and religion, were seen as “strange” and “dangerous” to America and after decades of open discrimination, Greeks were finally barred— by law— from entering the United States in large numbers. The Immigration Act of 1924 imposed harsh restrictions on Greeks and other non-western European immigrant groups. Under that law, only one hundred Greeks per year were allowed entry into the United States as new immigrants. Much like today, when politicians and activists like Donald Trump use language against a particular ethnic group— like his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, the same was the case a hundred years ago. Except then, Greeks were one of the main targets.

There was a strong, loud and active “nativist” movement that was led by people who believed they were the “true Americans” and the immigrants arriving— mainly Greeks, Italians, Chinese and others who were deemed “different” and even “dangerous” to American ideals, were unfit to come to America. As early as 1894 a group of men from Harvard University founded the Immigration Restriction League (IRL), proponents of a United States that should be populated with “British, German and Scandinavian stock” and not by “inferior races.” Their biggest targets were Greeks and Italians and the group had a powerful influence with the general public and leaders in the U.S. government in their efforts to keep “undesirables” out of America.

The well-known cartoon “The Fool Pied Piper” by Samuel Erhart appeared in 1909 portraying Uncle Sam as the Pied Piper playing a pipe labeled “Lax Immigration Laws” and leading a horde of rats labeled “Jail Bird, Murderer, Thief, Criminal, Crook, Kidnapper, Incendiary, Assassin, Convict, Bandit, Fire Brand, White Slaver, and Degenerate” toward America. Some rats carry signs that read “Black Hand,” referring to the Italian Mafia. In the background, rulers from France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Greece celebrate the departure of the fleeing rats.

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“..Trump does have something very much in common with everybody else. He watches TV….”

It’s Too Late to Turn Off Trump (Matt Taibbi)

[..] in Donald Trump’s world everything is about him, but Trump’s campaign isn’t about Trump anymore. With his increasingly preposterous run to the White House, the Donald is merely articulating something that runs through the entire culture. It’s hard to believe because Trump the person is so limited in his ability to articulate anything. Even in his books, where he’s allegedly trying to string multiple thoughts together, Trump wanders randomly from impulse to impulse, seemingly without rhyme or reason. He doesn’t think anything through. (He’s brilliantly cast this driving-blind trait as “not being politically correct.”) It’s not an accident that his attention span lasts exactly one news cycle. He’s exactly like the rest of America, except that he’s making news, not following it – starring on TV instead of watching it.

Just like we channel-surf, he focuses as long as he can on whatever mess he’s in, and then he moves on to the next bad idea or incorrect memory that pops into his head. Lots of people have remarked on the irony of this absurd caricature of a spoiled rich kid connecting so well with working-class America. But Trump does have something very much in common with everybody else. He watches TV. That’s his primary experience with reality, and just like most of his voters, he doesn’t realize that it’s a distorted picture. If you got all of your information from TV and movies, you’d have some pretty dumb ideas. You’d be convinced blowing stuff up works, because it always does in our movies. You’d have no empathy for the poor, because there are no poor people in American movies or TV shows – they’re rarely even shown on the news, because advertisers consider them a bummer.

Politically, you’d have no ability to grasp nuance or complexity, since there is none in our mainstream political discussion. All problems, even the most complicated, are boiled down to a few minutes of TV content at most. That’s how issues like the last financial collapse completely flew by Middle America. The truth, with all the intricacies of all those arcane new mortgage-based financial instruments, was much harder to grasp than a story about lazy minorities buying houses they couldn’t afford, which is what Middle America still believes. Trump isn’t just selling these easy answers. He’s also buying them.

Trump is a TV believer. He’s so subsumed in all the crap he’s watched – and you can tell by the cropped syntax in his books and his speech, Trump is a watcher, not a reader – it’s all mixed up in his head. He surely believes he saw that celebration of Muslims in Jersey City, when it was probably a clip of people in Palestine. When he says, “I have a great relationship with the blacks,” what he probably means is that he liked watching The Cosby Show. In this he’s just like millions and millions of Americans, who have all been raised on a mountain of unthreatening caricatures and clichés. TV is a world in which the customer is always right, especially about hard stuff like race and class. Trump’s ideas about Mexicans and Muslims are typical of someone who doesn’t know any, except in the shows he chooses to watch about them.

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“Unless Russia can wake up Europe, war is inevitable.”

War Is On The Horizon: Is It Too Late To Stop It? (Paul Craig Roberts)

[..] Washington is not opposed to terrorism. Washington has been purposely creating terrorism for many years. Terrorism is a weapon that Washington intends to use to destabilize Russia and China by exporting it to the Muslim populations in Russia and China. Washington is using Syria, as it used Ukraine, to demonstrate Russia’s impotence to Europe— and to China, as an impotent Russia is less attractive to China as an ally. For Russia, responsible response to provocation has become a liability, because it encourages more provocation. In other words, Washington and the gullibility of its European vassals have put humanity in a very dangerous situation, as the only choices left to Russia and China are to accept American vassalage or to prepare for war.

Putin must be respected for putting more value on human life than do Washington and its European vassals and avoiding military responses to provocations. However, Russia must do something to make the NATO countries aware that there are serious costs of their accommodation of Washington’s aggression against Russia. For example, the Russian government could decide that it makes no sense to sell energy to European countries that are in a de facto state of war against Russia. With winter upon us, the Russian government could announce that Russia does not sell energy to NATO member countries. Russia would lose the money, but that is cheaper than losing one’s sovereignty or a war. To end the conflict in Ukraine, or to escalate it to a level beyond Europe’s willingness to participate, Russia could accept the requests of the breakaway provinces to be reunited with Russia.

For Kiev to continue the conflict, Ukraine would have to attack Russia herself. The Russian government has relied on responsible, non-provocative responses. Russia has taken the diplomatic approach, relying on European governments coming to their senses, realizing that their national interests diverge from Washington’s, and ceasing to enable Washington’s hegemonic policy. Russia’s policy has failed. To repeat, Russia’s low key, responsible responses have been used by Washington to paint Russia as a paper tiger that no one needs to fear. We are left with the paradox that Russia’s determination to avoid war is leading directly to war. Whether or not the Russian media, Russian people, and the entirety of the Russian government understand this, it must be obvious to the Russian military.

All that Russian military leaders need to do is to look at the composition of the forces sent by NATO to “combat ISIS.” As George Abert notes, the American, French, and British aircraft that have been deployed are jet fighters whose purpose is air-to-air combat, not ground attack. The jet fighters are not deployed to attack ISIS on the ground, but to threaten the Russian fighter-bombers that are attacking ISIS ground targets. There is no doubt that Washington is driving the world toward Armageddon, and Europe is the enabler. Washington’s bought-and-paid-for-puppets in Germany, France, and UK are either stupid, unconcerned, or powerless to escape from Washington’s grip. Unless Russia can wake up Europe, war is inevitable.

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Europe’s creating no man’s land.

Greek Police Move 2,300 Migrants From FYROM Border To Athens (Kath.)

Police on Wednesday rounded up some 2,300 migrants from a makeshift camp near the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and put them on buses to Athens, where they are to be put up in temporary reception facilities, including two former Olympic venues. The police operation, which Greek authorities heralded last week, was carried out relatively smoothly following weeks of tensions along the border. A group of 30 migrants who initially resisted efforts by police to remove them from the camp on Wednesday morning were briefly detained before being put on a bus to the capital. A total of 45 buses were used to transfer the migrants from a makeshift camp in Idomeni and the surrounding area to the capital, according to a police statement which said most the migrants are from Pakistan, Somalia, Morocco, Algeria and Bangladesh.

The migrants are to be put up in former Olympic venues in Elliniko and Galatsi and in a temporary reception facility for immigrants that opened in Elaionas over the summer. Police officers on Wednesday were stopping buses heading toward Idomeni with more migrants from the Aegean islands and conducting checks. All migrants that are not from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria – the nationalities that FYROM border guards are allowing to pass – were being taken off the buses and sent to Athens, the official said. Complicating matters, FYROM police were said to have started building a second fence on the Balkan country’s frontier with Greece in a bid to keep out migrants trying to slip through.

The crackdown on the Greek-FYROM border is expected to lead to a buildup of migrants in Greece and encourage traffickers to resort to new routes to Europe. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) indicated on Wednesday that an alternative route traffickers are likely to favor could be via Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia.

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Apr 282015
 


NPC National Service Co. front, 1610 14th Street N.W., Washington DC 1920

The New Nothingness (Steen Jakobsen)
The Real War On The Middle Class (Ron Paul)
Over Half Of Americans Killed By Police Each Year Are Mentally Ill (Economist)
Who Is Really Choosing America’s Next President? (ProPublica)
If Greece Falls, No One Wants Their Prints On The Murder Weapon (Reuters)
Greece Shakes Up EU-IMF Talks Team But Keeps Varoufakis (AFP)
Greece PM Leaves Referendum Option Open, Rules Out Elections (Reuters)
Grexit, Grimbo, now Grexhaustion, Acropolis Now?
Greek President Promises Repayment of all Debt (Spiegel)
The Limits Of Propaganda (Dmitry Orlov)
Leaking CIA Secrets Leads To Severe Punishment, Unless You Are The Boss (RT)
Maryland Governor Declares State of Emergency, Activates National Guard (CBS)
The Hidden Lives Of Chernobyl’s Wildlife (BBC)
Norway’s Shift From Oil Starts With Two Left Feet (Bloomberg)
BP Oil Hunt Off Australia Coast Causes Fear of Another Deepwater Horizon (BBG)
East Australia 1 Of 11 Areas Good For 80% Of World Forest Loss (Guardian)
Is The Universe Really A 2-D Hologram? (Science Daily)

Best line in a while: “..I am normally introduced as someone who has predicted five of the last two crises.”

The New Nothingness (Steen Jakobsen)

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Churchill

I have noticed a very troubling trend recently – everywhere I go, I’m the optimist. This concerns me and should concern you as well as I am normally introduced as someone who has predicted five of the last two crises. I write this on the Copenhagen-bound plane that brings me back from a visit to Slovenia and Croatia, where everyone has given up on the future. I found the same on a recent trip to Hong Kong and Australia, and on another occasion in Turkey before that. We have zero growth, zero inflation and zero hope. That combination has left the countries of this circumstance in total apathy as zero rates are being interpreted as meaning that no reforms are needed. No inflation means no new margins as well as no new wage bargaining, and zero hope means politics and elections may change the affiliation of countries’ leaders, but not their politics and certainly not their vision for the future.

This is one of the unintended consequences of zero-bound economies and policies. This apathy has, however, reached a zenith-point that needs to be addressed. Media and policymakers continue to talk about what we can’t do, leaving no room for talk of we can do and characterising dreams as mere fantasies, things best left to children. This new nothingness is creating a youth, a political system and an economic outlook which is based more in peoples’ heads and minds than it is in reality. Every country I visit has terrible macro policies, and features a political class who are mainly interested in maintaining the status quo (as well as a dynamic micro economy). There are always business people and students who are willing to do more and better – to go higher, longer and further – but they are drowned in this “nothingness reality”.

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“These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans.”

The Real War On The Middle Class (Ron Paul)

One of the great ironies of American politics is that most politicians who talk about helping the middle class support policies that, by expanding the welfare-warfare state, are harmful to middle-class Americans. Eliminating the welfare-warfare state would benefit middle-class Americans by freeing them from exorbitant federal taxes, including the Federal Reserve’s inflation tax. Politicians serious about helping middle-class Americans should allow individuals to opt out of Social Security and Medicare by not having to pay payroll taxes if they agree to never accept federal retirement or health care benefits. Individuals are quite capable of meeting their own unique retirement and health care needs if the government stops forcing them into one-size-fits-all plans.

Middle-class families with college-age children would benefit if government got out of the student loan business. Government involvement in higher education is the main reason tuition is skyrocketing and so many Americans are graduating with huge student loan debts. College graduates entering the job market would certainly benefit if Congress stopped imposing destructive regulations and taxes on the economy. Politicians who support an interventionist foreign policy are obviously not concerned with the harm inflicted on the middle-class populations of countries targeted for regime change. These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans. Middle- and working-class Americans, and their families, who join the military certainly suffer when they are maimed or killed fighting in unjust and unconstitutional wars.

Our interventionist foreign policy also contributes to the high tax burden imposed on middle-class Americans. Middle-class Americans also suffer from intrusions on their liberty and privacy, such as not being able to board an airplane unless they submit to invasive and humiliating searches. Even children and the physically disabled are not safe from the Transposition Security Administration. These assaults are justified by the threat of terrorism, a direct result of our interventionist foreign policy that fosters hatred and resentment of Americans.

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So are their killers.

Over Half Of Americans Killed By Police Each Year Are Mentally Ill (Economist)

To the sound of electric guitars, heavily armed police officers fire assault rifles, drive squad cars fast and pull their guns on fleeing crooks. “Are you qualified to join the thin blue line?” asks a narrator, in the sort of breathless voice you might expect in a trailer for “Fast & Furious 7”. The advert’s aim is not to sell movie tickets, however, but to recruit police officers in Gainesville, a city of 127,000 in Florida. Would-be cops who take this video seriously are likely to be disappointed. The reality of the job, as one officer from a large west-coast agency explains, is far less glamorous. “The public want us to come up and deal with a neighbour who is mowing their lawn at 3am. They want us to deal with their disruptive child. They want us to deal with the crazy person who is walking down the street shouting.”

As crime has fallen across America since the 1990s, policing has shifted more towards social work than the drama seen on TV. Police culture, however, has not caught up. The gap may help to explain why American police are so embattled. The latest controversy is the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man from Baltimore who died on April 19th after being arrested (six officers have since been suspended). That followed the killing on April 4th in South Carolina of a 50-year-old man, Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by a police officer after running away from his car (the officer was charged with murder after a video of the killing emerged). In another case in Tulsa on April 2nd, a 73-year-old reserve police officer killed a man when he accidentally fired his gun instead of his taser. All three victims were black.

No one knows how many people die in contact with America’s roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. The FBI publishes reports, but police forces are not required to submit data. The incomplete FBI figures show that at least 461 people died in “justifiable homicides” in 2013, an increase of 33% since 2005. Other sources suggest the true number could be as high as twice that. In Britain, by contrast, police shot and killed precisely no one in 2013. American police resort to violence more partly because they meet it more. “We’ve never had a population who are so well-armed,” points out Ron Teachman, the chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. Twenty-six police officers were killed with guns in the line of duty in 2013, far more than in any other rich country.

“When you go to a police academy, the first thing they say to you is that it’s dangerous and you could get killed out there,” says Jim Bueermann, a retired police chief and the head of the Police Foundation, a think-tank. Yet fewer police officers are killed now than in the past, and the number who are shot is less than the number who die in traffic accidents. Over time, suggests Mr Bueermann, a justified alertness to danger may have warped into a belief that the swift use of force is the only thing keeping cops safe. At its worst, this manifests itself in a fiercely defensive culture. For example, in Seattle last year more than 100 cops sued the Department of Justice to protest against a revised use-of-force policy, arguing that it would cripple morale and endanger cops (the case, which was not supported by the city’s police union, was thrown out).

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The amounts are stunning. Democracy?

Who Is Really Choosing America’s Next President? (ProPublica)

Super PACS that get nearly all of their money from one donor quadrupled their share of overall fund-raising in 2014. The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters. More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players. A growing number of political committees known as super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records. During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million – 16% of money raised by all super PACs – went to committees dominated by one donor. That was quadruple their 2012 share. The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.

The trend may continue into 2016. Last week, National Review reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs. Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate. Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers” – volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns. Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”

While bundling intensified the impact of wealthy donors on campaigns, the dollar limits and the need to join with others diluted the influence of any one person. With a super PAC, a donor can single-handedly push a narrower agenda. Last year, National Journal profiled one such donor – a California vineyard owner who helped start the trend by launching his own super PAC and becoming a power player in a Senate race across the country. Beyond the single-donor groups, big donations are dominant across all kinds of super PACs, according to the analysis. Six-figure contributions from individuals or organizations accounted for almost 50% of all super PAC money raised during the last two cycles. “We are anointing an aristocracy that’s getting a stronger and stronger grip on democracy,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the influence of money on politics.

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They can’t escape it.

If Greece Falls, No One Wants Their Prints On The Murder Weapon (Reuters)

While Greece’s leaders insist Europe must heed and respect the democratic will of the Greek people, its creditors reply that they too have democratic mandates from their voters. In Varoufakis’ narrative, euro zone countries did not lend all that money to save Greece in the first place but to protect their own banks, which had imprudently lent Athens billions. Nonsense, say euro zone officials. Those banks took losses in 2012 when Greek debt to private bondholders was restructured. Varoufakis has widened the circle of blame to the ECB, accusing it of «asphyxiating» Greece by starving its banks of liquidity and severely limiting their short-term lending to the government.

That prompted an indignant response from ECB President Mario Draghi, who told the European Parliament the central bank’s support for Greece amounted to some €110 billion, but it was barred by treaty from monetary funding of governments. For weeks Greek officials have been telling their euro zone counterparts they have run out of money, only to find spare cash to make the next debt payment. “They have cried wolf so often that when they are really going bust, no one will believe them,” one EU negotiator said on condition of anonymity. Insiders say the ECB is determined that the central bank will not be the institution that pulls the plug. If it considers support for Greek banks is no longer tenable, it will seek a political decision by European Union governments. “This is not something unelected central bankers should decide,» a source in the Eurosystem of central banks said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is eager to hold Tsipras’ hand until the last minute in the hope that he will impose an unpalatable economic reform deal on left-wingers in his Syriza party before it is too late. For Juncker, one of the fathers of Europe’s single currency, the departure of a single member from the 19-nation euro zone would be a grievous blow to the bloc’s global standing and could set a dangerous precedent, encouraging investors to speculate against other member states in future crises. Even if it stayed in the euro zone, a Greek default on other European governments or the ECB would be one of the most acrimonious moments in the history of the EU. Amid mutual recrimination over ruined Greek savers and cheated European taxpayers, some fear demonstrations by Greek pensioners or hospital patients and violence in Athens. If it happens, there will be plenty of blame to go around, but no one to take responsibility.

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Lot of goal-seeked mis-reporting on this.

Greece Shakes Up EU-IMF Talks Team But Keeps Varoufakis (AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shook up the team handling crucial talks with its creditors Monday after relations between his embattled finance minister and the EU hit a new low. A government statement said a “political negotiation team” would be formed under junior foreign minister Euclid Tsakalotos, a 55-year-old Dutch-born economics professor, to assist the troubled talks after months of fruitless discussions on Athens’ new loan deal. While some see the move as an attempt to sideline Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose negotiating style has infuriated Brussels, the radical left government insisted that it would continue to support the maverick economics professor against “manipulated” media attacks.

A government source claimed that the changes did not affect Varoufakis, who will be in charge of Tsakalotos’ “political team”. “This changes nothing as far as Varoufakis is concerned,” the official told AFP. “He will continue to represent Greece at Eurogroup meetings.” The move on Monday came after a stormy Eurogroup meeting in Riga last week where Varoufakis was reportedly “isolated” by his fellow finance European ministers. He reacted by quoting former American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who spurred major reforms in the United States after the Great Depression. “FDR, 1936: ‘They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred,'” Varoufakis tweeted on Sunday.

Analysts saw Greece’s reshuffling of its negotiators, with another co-ordinating team to be formed to support talks with EU-IMF officials in Athens, as a bid to placate its creditors. “To bypass Varoufakis and make clear the seriousness of the situation to the Prime Minister directly following the Riga shouting match between finance ministers, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem reportedly phoned Tsipras after the meeting,” Christian Schulz, a senior economist at Berenberg said. “Tsipras called German chancellor Merkel on Sunday, with German sources describing the tone of the talk as ‘positive’. However, as long as the institutions and Eurozone finance minister can’t certify that Greece is doing the requested reforms, Greece can’t get fresh money,” he added.

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Neutral.

Greece PM Leaves Referendum Option Open, Rules Out Elections (Reuters)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday said he would have to resort to a popular referendum if lenders insist on demands that the government deems unacceptable but was confident of striking a deal to avoid such a scenario. Athens is weeks away from running out of cash, but talks with EU and IMF lenders on more aid have been deadlocked over reform measures including pension cuts and labour market liberalisation that Greece must implement. Speculation has grown that Tsipras could call elections or a referendum to break the impasse. In his first major television interview since being elected in January, Tsipras said he expected a deal with creditors by May 9, three days before a debt payment to the IMF of about €750 million falls due.

He ruled out a default but stressed that the government’s priority was to pay wages and pensions. Pressed on what the government’s options were if no deal was found, Tsipras ruled out snap elections, saying it had only been a few months since the government had been voted in. But he said the government did not have the right to accept demands from lenders that fell outside the limits of its mandate to end austerity cuts and would have to ask Greeks to decide. “If the solution falls outside our mandate, I will not have the right to violate it, so the solution to which we will come to will have to be approved by the Greek people,” Tsipras told Star television in the interview. “But I am certain we will not reach that point. Despite the difficulties, the possibilities to win in the negotiations are large. We should not give in to panic moves. Whoever gets scared in this game loses.” [..]

Some of his sharpest comments were reserved for the previous government and certain unnamed quarters in Europe, which he accused of laying a “trap” for his government when it took power in the hope of tripping it up. “They derive pleasure from the prospect of a failure in the talks,” he said, saying his government took over a “minefield” when it came to power in January. “We received a country that was in a situation of financial asphyxiation.” He also hit out at the ECB, calling its decision to place a cap on Treasury bill purchases by banks – which prevented banks from financing the government – a “politically and ethically unorthodox” decision.

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“I’m sure it’ll get worse as the days go by..”

Grexit, Grimbo, now Grexhaustion, Acropolis Now?

The standoff between Greece and its creditors has spawned another bit of rivalry: the battle among analysts to coin the latest buzzword for the painfully protracted drama. “There’s definitely an element of who can come up with the best word to fit the scenario,” said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG. Word play on Greece has been picking up this month. Last week brought the word “Grimbo,” or Greece in limbo, coined by a group of Citigroup economists – led by Chief Economist Willem Buiter. They are the same people responsible for the now widely-used “Grexit” term in February 2012, when the idea Greece might leave the euro zone first became a possibility. On Friday, economists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch decided they wanted in on the game as well, coining “Grexhaustion.”

“There is always a deadline after the final deadline (contributing to the Grexhaustion),” economists Gilles Moec and Ruben Segura-Cayuela wrote, noting that the continual confrontation between Greece and its creditors has had one major casualty: the country’s economy. “Traders have gotten fairly comfortable with the idea of where Greece is, so there’s a bit of mocking and complacency,” said Weston, who suggested “Gretch” as a potential entrant. “Outside of the pain clearly evident in Greece, the rest of the world is quite happy to coin these great phrases as long as it doesn’t see a pickup in [market] volatility.” The Greece situation remains a Sisyphean mire. Over the weekend, media reports said the country’s colorful finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, faced a tough crowd and numerous snubs at a Latvian meeting with his euro zone counterparts.

The country is running out of cash and it needs a last tranche of bailout aid in order to meet debt repayments and to pay its domestic wages and pension bill this month. On Monday, Greece revamped its negotiating team, taking Varoufakis off the field and tapping Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, an economist well liked by officials representing creditors, as coordinator. Fresh entrants to the Greek vocabulary one-upsmanship are likely already lurking in the wings. “I’m sure it’ll get worse as the days go by,” said Richard Jerram, chief economist at Bank of Singapore, noting that the first two letters of the country’s name lend themselves well to word play. “A lot of countries couldn’t really do that,” Jerram noted, although he added that he finds other vocabulary plays more amusing than the ones that involve just “shoving ‘Gr’ in front,” such as “Acropolis Now,” a play on the movie title “Apocalypse Now.”

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And next up, we have….

Greek President Promises Repayment of all Debt (Spiegel)

Time is running out for Greece and its international creditors. If an agreement isn’t found by June, the country will face insolvency. The new Greek president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, has now told SPIEGEL ONLINE his views on the conflict: He rules out the possibility of a Grexit and promises that all the loans made to Greece will be paid back, but he is also critical of past austerity programs. “Some of the measures imposed on us go beyond EU law,” Pavlopoulos said to SPIEGEL ONLINE at his official residence in Athens. “We want to be equal members of Europe. Among other things, the law professor feels that international lenders’ criticisms of the minimum wage and other labor rights in his country are problematic.

Pavlopoulos pointed out that in Germany, too, there is a minimum standard of living. “We are not asking for anything more than for the Greek people to enjoy what Germany’s Constitutional Court considers as an established social right for the German people,” Pavlopoulos said. He also claimed that parts of the austerity programs “were not at all growth friendly, but rather would lead the Greek economy to a recessionary course.” Pavlopoulos is a member of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party and has been in office since March. Earlier in his career, he served as an advisor to former Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis, who led Greece as it transitioned from a military dictatorship to a European democracy. The comments mark the first time the new president has expressed his views on the euro debt dispute to any German media organization.

“Greece in the late 1970s fought a great battle to join Europe,” the president noted. For him, he said, it was “not conceivable to see Greece outside of Europe.” He also said that he views a Grexit, Greek’s possible exit from the euro zone, as unthinkable. “The thought of Grexit does not even enter my mind,” he said. Although Greece is under tremendous financial stress, with the government now forcing hospitals, universities and public agencies to hand over their savings to the central bank. Pavlopoulos stated that his country would fulfill all of its obligations. “We pay everything we owe to the last euro,” he said. “We need to keep a balanced budget and gradually decrease our debt.” The president also expressed optimism that the dispute over Greece’s debt can still be resolved. Pavlopoulos said negotiations for a new bailout program are “entering the home stretch.”

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“..their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own.”

The Limits Of Propaganda (Dmitry Orlov)

As Paul Craig Roberts has recently reported, the US government is in the process of launching an all-out war on truth. Those who express views contrary to the party line out of Washington will be labeled a threat. Eventually they may find themselves carted to one of the concentration camps which Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s old company) has constructed for $385 million. But that may take a while. In the meantime, we can expect lots of other, less dramatic developments.

Indeed, some of these are already happening. Here they are, listed in order of severity.

1. Self-censorship. Those who have previously tried to get the truth out no matter out become more reticent and prone to equivocation when reporting on “hot” issues.

2. Topic-avoidance. They start avoiding certain “hot” issues that they feel are most likely to get them into trouble.

3. Response to harassment. A few incidents of mild official harassment cause certain blogs to start watering down their content, or pulling down content in response to harassment.

4. Blacklisting. The officials start censoring content on a case-by-case basis, blocking or shutting down certain internet sites that they consider seditious.

5. Blocking communications. The officials start dealing with the “hard cases” of uncooperative individuals who remain, shutting down their communications by disabling their cell phones, shutting down internet access, and by imposing travel restrictions so that the “hard cases” are forced to remain in places where they can be watched.

6. Detention. Those found to be truly uncooperative, who try to circumvent the restrictions, are rounded up and shipped off to the above-mentioned camps.

This may seem like a dire prognosis, but actually I just want to present a relatively complete list of public measures for your consideration. Yes, there will be a few “hard cases” who will insist on getting right in the face of Washington officialdom in futile hopes of somehow affecting the political process or winning over a few of their compatriots. But at some point such individuals become indistinguishable from people with mental problems. That is because if you live in the US, actually know how the political system there operates, and still think that the US is a democracy, then you DO have a mental problem. You can’t have it both ways: either you buy into the official propaganda, or you don’t.

Also, it bears pointing out that the vast majority of people in the US are quite happy listening to Washington’s propaganda, be it from Fox or NPR, don’t consider it propaganda, and have been conditioned to consider anyone who attempts to tell them the truth to be tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut case. And that means that tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut cases have a role to play. They are important to have, in the same way that a village idiot is important to have, so that children can learn what idiocy looks and sounds like. So, why bother sending them to a concentration camp? And so it seems likely that the village idiots… ahem, truth-tellers will remain free-range for the time being, unless they really lose it and start tilting at windmills. But then that becomes a bona fide mental health issue.

Unless, of course, full-on war hysteria breaks out. In that case, while the external goons are busy pretending to be “not winning, not losing” but somehow “keeping America safe” in yet another wretched part of the world, the internal goons have to be kept busy. Rounding up undesirables would give them something to do. That’s the state of affairs in the United States and its subservient territories: Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and a few others. But Washington’s propaganda isn’t working at all well in the rest of the world, be it Russia or China or Latin America.

In all of these places, Washington’s message control has more or less failed. This is why the people in Washington are in a bit of a panic, and labeling internal dissidents as a “threat” is just them flailing in search of an answer. They can’t stop lying, and they can’t even pretend to rule the world if everyone knows that they are lying, so their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own. They may succeed at this within the US (some would say they already have) but as far as the rest of the world—good luck!

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Aint’ that the truth.

Leaking CIA Secrets Leads To Severe Punishment, Unless You Are The Boss (RT)

The problem with the lenient treatment of former CIA Director, David Petraeus, isn’t that he was lightly punished for his leaks. It is that other whistleblowers are punished at all. It’s a tale of two CIA employees. The first, Jeffrey Sterling, has just been convicted of leaking information about a bungled agency sortie to James Risen, a reporter. The operation took place almost 20 years ago, around the time everyone was doing the Macarena and Tom Cruise’s first Mission Impossible movie was released. Federal prosecutors are calling for a 24-year prison sentence for Sterling. The second, David Petraeus, has already learned his fate. He received a $100,000 fine and two-years probation. The six-figure sum may seem like a lot to you, but it’s less than the former 4-star general earns for a single speech.

Petraeus was the boss, Sterling an underling. However, Sterling’s so-called misdemeanor pales into insignificance when compared to Petraeus’ actions. The latter handed his lover, Paula Broadwell, information on the identities of covert officers, diplomatic discussions, war strategy and even private chats with the current US President, Barack Obama. This is about as top-level as it gets. Petraeus’ apologists emphasize that the difference between the two cases is that the public never learned the information that Broadwell was given. They use this to justify the leniency shown to the almost four-decade military veteran. Nevertheless, the case of John Kiriakou rather knocks this defense on the head. In 2007, Kiriakou admitted that the CIA had a secret torture program.

The following year, authorities issued criminal charges against him for slipping a journalist the name of a covert agent. As in Petraeus’ case, this name wasn’t published. Regardless, in 2012 Kiriakou was handed a 30-month federal prison sentence. He was partially released in February. Kiriakou freely admitted to his mistakes and those of the CIA. It’s pretty certain that his honesty was his downfall. On the contrary, Petraeus initially lied to FBI officials when they quizzed him about his, probably inadvertent, whistleblowing activities. Lying to federal agents is a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. For reasons unknown, the former CIA Director wasn’t charged with lying.

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Long time coming.

Maryland Governor Declares State of Emergency, Activates National Guard (CBS)

Governor Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to address the growing violence and unrest in Baltimore City. “I have not made this decision lightly. The National Guard represents a last resort in order to restore order,” Hogan said during a news conference Monday night. “People have the right to protest and express their frustration, but Baltimore City families deserve peace and safety in their communities and these acts of violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated.” Hogan said he executed the request 30 seconds after it was made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “When the mayor called me, which quite frankly we were glad that she finally did, we signed the executive order,” he said.

“It’s obviously very disappointing to us as Marylanders and people who love the city of Baltimore. What started out as a peaceful protest … I would say 95% of the people involved were conducting themselves in a very peaceful manner, it was well under control. We had a lot of outside agitators come in from around the country, and we had some rogue gangs and young people that were just out looking to cause problems.” Major General Linda Singh, the adjutant general of the Maryland Army National Guard, said during the news conference that the guard would be out in activation beginning Monday night. Up to 5,000 troops were available to patrol the streets and protect property. Hogan said he spoke to President Obama at length about the violence.

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Curious phenomenon. You’d need to check disease rates, though.

The Hidden Lives Of Chernobyl’s Wildlife (BBC)

Automatic cameras in the Ukrainian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have provided an insight into the previously unseen secret lives of wildlife that have made the contaminated landscape their home Throughout 2015, the cameras will be positioned at 84 locations, allowing a team of scientists to record the type of animals passing through the area and where they make their home. In the first four months since the cameras were deployed, the team has “trapped” more than 10,000 images of animals, suggesting the 30km zone, established shortly after the April 1986 disaster when a nuclear reactor exploded, ejecting radioactive material across the surrounding terrain and high into the atmosphere, is now home to a rich diversity of wildlife.

The network of cameras is gathering data that will help scientists choose the most appropriate species to fit with collars that will then record the level of radioactive exposure the animal receives as it travels across the zone. “We want an animal that moves over areas of different contamination – that’s the key thing we need,” explained project leader Mike Wood from the University of Salford, UK. “So we would consider some of the larger animals, such as wolves, because they would be ideal because the way the animal moves through the areas actually affects its contamination levels.” Commenting on the herds of Przewalski’s horses, Dr Wood observed: “They seem to have adapted quite well to life within the zone. “From the images from our cameras, they are clearly moving around in quite large groups,” he told BBC News.

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“This is hardly a good starting point for a major transition.”

Norway’s Shift From Oil Starts With Two Left Feet (Bloomberg)

Norway’s prime minister is fond of saying the nation is facing a “new normal” as a decade-long boom in its petroleum industry starts to fade. Erna Solberg has given little explanation of what that means, except to say that “knowledge is the next oil” and “fish will be Norway’s Ikea,” ideas she echoed in a speech on Friday at her party’s annual convention in Oslo. It’s no wonder then that economists are scratching their heads as to what will fill the gap in the economy once oil takes up less space. The biggest element crippling the oil and non-oil industry is the exorbitant price of labor. Average hourly wage costs in Norway were 47% higher than those in the European Union last year, according to government statistics.

“And that’s after taking into account the considerable weakening of the krone through 2013 and 2014,” said Kari Due-Andresen, chief economist at Svenska Handelsbanken. “This is hardly a good starting point for a major transition.” Rising oil and gas prices over the last 15 years kept Norway afloat, even during the financial crisis when the rest of the world was suffering. As western Europe’s biggest crude producer, the country relies on oil and gas for more than one-fifth of its gross domestic product. With oil investments set to drop and Brent crude stuck around $65 per barrel, politicians, economists and the central banker agree the nation’s economy needs some remodeling. So if the oil economy is slowing, what’s Norway left with?

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There’ll be many.

BP Oil Hunt Off Australia Coast Causes Fear of Another Deepwater Horizon (BBG)

Five years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill poured millions of barrels of crude into the sea, BP Plc is being challenged over its hunt for oil in the pristine waters off southern Australia. Just over a year before the U.K.-based company has said it expects to start drilling, environmentalists say the company hasn’t yet disclosed its full emergency-response plans for a potential spill in the Great Australian Bight, home to about 18 threatened species from whales to turtles. BP’s initial models show a less than 10% chance that a worst-case incident would lead to oil threatening areas where whales are likely to feed. It’s clear the project will face significant scrutiny before drilling begins.

“The Gulf of Mexico scenario was an absolute disaster, but the stakes are much higher out here,” said Peter Owen, the Wilderness Society’s South Australia director. “This is an undeveloped, non-industrialized part of the world, and the risks are high. It’s very deep, very rough and very remote.” BP said that it has “the technological capability and expertise to safely explore the Great Australian Bight,” according to an e-mailed statement. The company had initially planned to begin drilling in early 2016 and pushed that out because of potential delays with the rig.

More than 85% of species in the Bight aren’t found anywhere else, according to Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization. Species in the Bight include the southern right, sperm and blue whales as well as sea lions and sharks. BP estimated last year it would spend more than A$1 billion ($785 million) to drill 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Port Lincoln, in a region it describes as “pretty much the last big unexplored basin in the whole world.” About 250 kilometers to the north, endangered southern right whales gather to give birth, drawing visitors to cliff-top lookouts on the nearby coast.

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Let’s get to number 1!

East Australia 1 Of 11 Areas Good For 80% Of World Forest Loss (Guardian)

Eastern Australia is one of the world’s 11 deforestation hotspots that together will account for 80% of global forest loss by 2030, a new report has warned. Between 3m hectares and 6m hectares of rainforest and temperate forest, mainly stretching across New South Wales and Queensland, could be lost between 2010 and 2030 on current trends, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Forests report. This deforestation is part of a wider loss that could reach 170m hectares of forest worldwide by 2030 in 11 key areas, including the Amazon, Borneo, Sumatra, the Congo Basin and East Africa. Ten of the 11 areas are found in the tropics and contain some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, including animals such as tigers, orangutans and gorillas, as well as Indigenous communities.

About 70% of the eastern forests of Australia have already been cleared or disturbed, with just 18% of the area under any sort of protection, the WWF report states. Australia’s forestry loss has primarily been caused by land clearing for livestock, with unsustainable logging and mining also blamed for tree felling. WWF said the watering down of environmental protections by the previous LNP government in Queensland led to a sharp rise in land clearing, with 275,000ha torn down in the past financial year – a tripling of vegetation loss rates since 2010.

While the new Labor state government has promised to reverse this loss, the New South Wales government is set to amend land-clearing protections, despite pledging $100m to protect the state’s threatened plants and animals. “We are deeply concerned about NSW,” said Dermot O’Gorman, chief executive of WWF Australia. “These are laws that have been shown to have been effective in saving hundreds of thousands of animals, so it’s important that biodiversity continues to be protected. “Maintaining forest protections is vital at state level. We’ve lost the large majority of the eastern Australian forest, which means the remaining forests are even more important to maintain. “If business as usual continues, we will see more Australian species disappear, as well as the continuing decline of our water, topsoil and local and regional climate.”

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“Our universe, in contrast, is quite flat – and on astronomic distances, it has positive curvature..”

Is The Universe Really A 2-D Hologram? (Science Daily)

At first glance, there is not the slightest doubt: to us, the universe looks three dimensional. But one of the most fruitful theories of theoretical physics in the last two decades is challenging this assumption. The “holographic principle” asserts that a mathematical description of the universe actually requires one fewer dimension than it seems. What we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon. Up until now, this principle has only been studied in exotic spaces with negative curvature. This is interesting from a theoretical point of view, but such spaces are quite different from the space in our own universe. Results obtained by scientists at TU Wien (Vienna) now suggest that the holographic principle even holds in a flat spacetime.

Everybody knows holograms from credit cards or banknotes. They are two dimensional, but to us they appear three dimensional. Our universe could behave quite similarly: “In 1997, the physicist Juan Maldacena proposed the idea that there is a correspondence between gravitational theories in curved anti-de-sitter spaces on the one hand and quantum field theories in spaces with one fewer dimension on the other,” says Daniel Grumiller (TU Wien). Gravitational phenomena are described in a theory with three spatial dimensions, the behaviour of quantum particles is calculated in a theory with just two spatial dimensions – and the results of both calculations can be mapped onto each other.

Such a correspondence is quite surprising. It is like finding out that equations from an astronomy textbook can also be used to repair a CD-player. But this method has proven to be very successful. More than ten thousand scientific papers about Maldacena’s “AdS-CFT-correspondence” have been published to date. For theoretical physics, this is extremely important, but it does not seem to have much to do with our own universe. Apparently, we do not live in such an anti-de-sitter-space. These spaces have quite peculiar properties. They are negatively curved, any object thrown away on a straight line will eventually return. “Our universe, in contrast, is quite flat – and on astronomic distances, it has positive curvature,” says Daniel Grumiller.

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Apr 252015
 
 April 25, 2015  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee South Side market, Chicago 1941

How The Stock Market Destroyed The Middle Class (MarketWatch)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Death of the Republic (Ellen Brown)
US Bridges Falling Down Get No Help From Record 2015 Muni Sale (Bloomberg)
Crash Boys (Michael Lewis)
Flash Crash Trader Sarao Is A ‘Hero’, Says Fund Manager (Telegraph)
Can The Hound Of Hounslow Really Be A Wolf Of Wall Street? (Telegraph)
Chances of Greek Deal ‘Virtually Nil’ (CNBC)
Greece’s Varoufakis Takes Hammering From Riled EU Ministers (Bloomberg)
The Greek Crisis Has A New Buzzword: Grimbo (CNBC)
Greece Said To Get Respite Until May 6 For Next IMF Payment (Bloomberg)
ECB Has Started Buying Covered Bonds With Negative Yields (Bloomberg)
China Bad Debt Spikes By More Than A Third (CNBC)
Sweden’s Debt Headache Grows More Painful as Court Blocks Curbs (Bloomberg)
Washington Started All Modern Military Conflicts – Russia’s General Staff (RT)
EU Allows Sale Of More GMO Food Crops (BBC)

“The ‘buyback corporation’ is in large part responsible for a national economy characterized by income inequality, employment instability, and diminished innovative capacity..”

How The Stock Market Destroyed The Middle Class (MarketWatch)

There’s something seriously wrong with an economy that nurtures a few billionaires but can’t sustain the middle class. Many factors have been blamed for the plummeting fortunes of the American middle class: globalization, technology, deregulation, easy credit, the winner-take-all economy, and even the inevitable tide of history. But one under-appreciated factor is a pervasive business model that encourages top managers of American corporations to loot their company for short-term gains, depriving those companies of the funds they need to build and enlarge, and invest in their workers for the long haul. How do they loot their company? By using large stock buybacks to manage the short-term objectives that trigger higher compensation for themselves.

By using those stock buybacks to manipulate the share price, which allows them to use inside information to time their own stock sales. By using buybacks to funnel most of the company’s profits back to shareholders (including themselves). They use the stock market to loot their companies. “The ‘buyback corporation’ is in large part responsible for a national economy characterized by income inequality, employment instability, and diminished innovative capacity,” wrote William Lazonick, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in a new paper published by the Brookings Institution. Lazonick argues that corporations — which once retained a sizable share of profits to reinvest (including investing in their workforce by paying them enough to get them to stay) — have adopted a “downsize-and-distribute” model.

It’s not just lefty academics and pundits who think buybacks are ruining America. Last week, the CEOs of America’s 500 biggest companies received a letter from Lawrence Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, saying exactly the same thing. “The effects of the short-termist phenomenon are troubling both to those seeking to save for long-term goals such as retirement and for our broader economy,” Fink wrote, adding that favoring shareholders comes at the expense of investing in “innovation, skilled work forces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”

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Somebody better challenge this as unconstitutional.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Death of the Republic (Ellen Brown)

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” — Article IV, Section 4, US Constitution A republican form of government is one in which power resides in elected officials representing the citizens, and government leaders exercise power according to the rule of law. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison defined a republic as “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people . . . .” On April 22, 2015, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement that would override our republican form of government and hand judicial and legislative authority to a foreign three-person panel of corporate lawyers.

The secretive TPP is an agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries that affects 40% of global markets. Fast-track authority could now go to the full Senate for a vote as early as next week. Fast-track means Congress will be prohibited from amending the trade deal, which will be put to a simple up or down majority vote. Negotiating the TPP in secret and fast-tracking it through Congress is considered necessary to secure its passage, since if the public had time to review its onerous provisions, opposition would mount and defeat it. James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, . . . may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. . . . “Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator. . . .”

And that, from what we now know of the TPP’s secret provisions, will be its dire effect. The most controversial provision of the TPP is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section, which strengthens existing ISDS procedures. ISDS first appeared in a bilateral trade agreement in 1959. According to The Economist, ISDS gives foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever the government passes a law to do things that hurt corporate profits — such things as discouraging smoking, protecting the environment or preventing a nuclear catastrophe. Arbitrators are paid $600-700 an hour, giving them little incentive to dismiss cases; and the secretive nature of the arbitration process and the lack of any requirement to consider precedent gives wide scope for creative judgments.

To date, the highest ISDS award has been for $2.3 billion to Occidental Oil Company against the government of Ecuador over its termination of an oil-concession contract, this although the termination was apparently legal. Still in arbitration is a demand by Vattenfall, a Swedish utility that operates two nuclear plants in Germany, for compensation of €3.7 billion ($4.7 billion) under the ISDS clause of a treaty on energy investments, after the German government decided to shut down its nuclear power industry following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

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New new deal? Does the US need a Marshall Plan?

US Bridges Falling Down Get No Help From Record 2015 Muni Sale (Bloomberg)

The cheapest borrowing costs in five decades aren’t enough of an incentive for states and cities to address their crumbling bridges and roads. While municipalities have issued a record $130 billion of long-term, fixed-rate bonds this year, an unprecedented 70% of the deals have gone to refinance higher-cost debt, rather than fund capital expenditures, according to Bloomberg and Bank of America Merrill Lynch data. At about $40 billion, muni sales to finance projects are unchanged from the same period last year – even though the nation’s aging infrastructure has become a problem so dire and obvious that it was the subject of a feature by comedian John Oliver last month on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

“Refunding has taken precedence over infrastructure financing,” said Phil Fischer, head of municipal research at Bank of America in New York. “It’s going to save state and local governments a lot on debt-service costs, and it’s going to help them catch up in terms of their pensions and other fixed obligations.” “That can’t go on forever,” he said. “Infrastructure projects are needed all over the country.” The country requires about $3.6 trillion of investment in infrastructure by 2020, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group’s 2013 report gave the country a “D+” grade.

This year’s issuance mix shows state and local officials are reluctant to add debt even though the recession ended almost six years ago and yields on 20-year general obligations, at about 3.5%, are close to a generational low set in 2012. The $3.6 trillion municipal market shrank in 2014 for the fourth-straight year, the longest stretch of declines in Federal Reserve data going back to 1945. Municipalities often sell bonds that they can refinance after a set period, which is a windfall if interest rates decline. California lowered debt-service payments by about $180 million through a $1 billion refunding this week, according to the state treasurer’s office. Four of the five largest muni deals this year were for refinancing, including tobacco debt from California.

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Are the regulators going to claim incompetence?

Crash Boys (Michael Lewis)

The first question that arises from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s case against Navinder Singh Sarao is: Why did it take them five years to bring it? A guy living with his parents next to London’s Heathrow Airport enters a lot of big, phony orders to sell U.S. stock market futures; the market promptly collapses on May 6, 2010; it takes five years for the army of U.S. financial regulators to work out that there might be some connection between the two events. It makes no sense. A bunch of news reports have suggested that the CFTC didn’t have the information available to it to make the case. After the flash crash, the commission focused exclusively on trades that had occurred that day, rather than orders designed not to trade – at least until some mysterious whistle-blower came forward to explain how the futures market actually worked. But this can’t be true.

Immediately after the flash crash, Eric Hunsader, founder of the Chicago-based market data company Nanex, which has access to all stock and futures market orders, detected lots of socially dubious trading activity that May day: high-frequency trading firms sending 5,000 quotes per second in a single stock without ever intending to trade that stock, for instance. On June 18, 2010, Nanex published a report of its findings. The following Wednesday, June 23, the website Zero Hedge posted the Nanex report. Two days later the CFTC’s chief economist, Andrei Kirilenko, e-mailed Hunsader. “He invited me out to D.C. and I talked with everyone there (and I mean everyone – including a commissioner),” Hunsader says. “The CFTC then flew out a programmer to our offices where we showed him how to work with our data. Took all of a day. We sent him back with our flash crash data, and that was pretty much the last we heard about that project.”[..]

It would also be interesting to know how it occurred to Sarao that his trick might work. There’s a fabulous yet-to-be-told story here, about a smart kid in the U.K. who somehow figures out that the machines that execute the stock market trades of others might be gamed – and so he games them. One day while he is busy trying to trick the U.S. stock market into falling, the market collapses, more sensationally than it has ever collapsed. And instead of digging some hole in Hounslow in which he might hide for a decade or so, or fleeing to Anguilla, where he has squirreled away his profits, he stays in his parents’ home and keeps right on spoofing the U.S. stock market – and then is shocked when people turn up to accuse him of wrongdoing. He’s not some kind of exception to the standard operating procedure in finance. He’s a parody of it.

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“..a kid who is spoofing the market with a few thousand e-mini contracts and hence taken money from the front-running computers whose real goal is to rip you off.”

Flash Crash Trader Sarao Is A ‘Hero’, Says Fund Manager (Telegraph)

Navinder Singh Sarao has been hailed a “hero” who helps make financial markets “safe for ordinary investors” by a respected fund manager. Mr Sarao is accused of making bogus offers to trade on one of the world’s biggest financial markets, helping to bring about a market crash in 2010 from a house in Hounslow. He denies any wrongdoing. John Hempton, manager of Bronte Capital Management, said the trading methods allegedly used by Mr Sarao had actually helped to protect real investors and their clients. In a blog post, Mr Hempton said that it was “ludicrous” to say Mr Sarao could have brought about the crash through the trading of “a few thousand [futures] contracts”.

His comments echo those of former Barings trader Nick Leeson, who said that Mr Sarao may just be a scapegoat. The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) does not directly blame Mr Sarao for the 2010 Flash Crash, but said that his “manipulative activities … contributed to market conditions that led to the flash crash”. The US watchdog listed “at least” 12 days on which Mr Sarao was using his “automated system”. However, there’s only been one flash crash. Mr Hempton said: “I probably will contribute to his [Mr Sarao’s] defence.” The Australian fund manager said that the so-called “spoofing” techniques employed by Mr Sarao helped to fend off high-frequency traders, which he claimed rip off “real investors”.

Many investors believe that spoofing, the practice of creating fake demand or supply in the market to influence prices, could be widespread. But Mr Hempton argued that the losers from this are “front running” high-frequency traders who attempt to capitalise from ordinary investors. High-frequency traders try to place their orders before conventional investors when they see their orders to make a profit. Mr Hempton said: “[Regulators] have arrested a kid who is spoofing the market with a few thousand e-mini contracts and hence taken money from the front-running computers whose real goal is to rip you off.”

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“Ultimately, there are two possibilities. Either Sarao’s role in the flash crash is being overstated and the real cause remains a mystery, or it is frighteningly easy to bring the world’s financial markets to its knees.”

Can The Hound Of Hounslow Really Be A Wolf Of Wall Street? (Telegraph)

You can almost hear the scriptwriters cracking their knuckles over their keyboards. The prospective film even has a catchy title. You’ve watched The Wolf of Wall Street, now meet The Hound of Hounslow. Want something pithier? How about Flash Crash? This story has everything, except (as far as we know) a love interest. A lone trader has been accused of illegally earning millions of pounds and bringing chaos to the world’s financial markets from a computer in his parents’ semi-detached home in Hounslow. US financial regulators claim that Navinder Singh Sarao’s actions contributed to the so-called “flash crash” in May 2010, when hundreds of billions of dollars were wiped off the value of stocks in a matter of minutes.

They believe Sarao may have made more than $40m (£27m) over the past five years, with nearly $900,000 on the day of the flash crash alone. The 36-year-old trader has been arrested on charges of fraud and market manipulation. If extradited to America and convicted, he will spend the better part of the rest of his life in a federal prison. For the US regulators, this is a story with a happy ending. They’ve been searching for answers to what caused the flash crash since it happened. Sarao’s arrest provides a neat denouement. But, for the rest of us, this week’s developments have raised more questions than answers. Art might benefit from ambiguity, but not financial regulation. Here are some of the many things we still don’t know.

How did Sarao contribute to the 2010 flash crash? First, we need to look at what Sarao was supposedly up to. The thing to realise is that traders have access to a huge amount of information. A company’s share price may be, say, $10. But traders can also see how many people are prepared to sell how many shares at $10.01 and $10.02 and so on, or how many people are prepared to buy how many shares at $9.99, $9.98 and so on. That’s because there are open orders in the market, which, in effect, say: “I’ll buy or sell shares in this company but only when the price hits X.” This is what is meant by the term “liquidity” – the sum total of all the different buy and sell orders at different prices in the market. It’s one of the ways that the market works out what something is worth.

But what if some of those orders aren’t what they seem? What if someone said they wanted to buy or sell stock but actually had no intention of doing so? The financial regulators claim Sarao flooded the market with fake sell orders (saying: “I’ll sell at x”, but systematically cancelling the orders as the price approached x). This convinced other market participants that the quoted price was too high and put downward pressure on the relevant securities. It’s called spoofing. The idea is to try to create small but predictable movements in the market from which you can make a little money lots of times. Most definitely not a lot of money once – that would (or should) attract the attention of regulators. Crashing the market would be the very opposite of what a spoofer would be aiming to do.

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Strong: “Our task is to convince our partners that our undertakings are strategic, rather than tactical, and that our logic is sound. Their task is to let go of an approach that has failed,..”

Chances of Greek Deal ‘Virtually Nil’ (CNBC)

Greece appeared no closer to a reforms-for-aid deal after the country’s finance minister met with his euro zone counterparts on Friday. After the talks, which took place in Latvia’s capital city of Riga, the president of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers issued a stark warning to Athens. “A comprehensive and detailed list of reforms is needed,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, told reporters, according to Reuters. “A comprehensive deal is necessary before any disbursement can take place… We are all aware that time is running out.” According to Reuters, the discussion with Greece lasted little more than an hour, and Dijsselbloem warned that a remaining €7.2 billion in frozen funds would unavailable after June.

After the meeting, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stated that Athens was willing to make compromises to reach a deal. Varoufakis added that “the cost of not having a solution would be huge for all of us, Greece and the euro zone,” according to Reuters. Finding a compromise between Greece and the bodies which have overseen its two bailouts—the IMF, ECB and European Commission—over required reforms is proving difficult, despite numerous meetings on the issue. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he did not believe there would be decisive progress on Greece in Riga, while his Austrian counterpart said he was “quite annoyed” with the lack of progress, Reuters reported.

Lenders want Greece to implement far-reaching pension and labor market reforms, as well as implement privatization programs and more cost-cutting measures. However, Greece’s leftwing government, which was elected in January in large part because of its opposition to austerity measures, is strongly resistant to doing so. Varoufakis said in in a regular blog post on Thursday that Greece’s partners needed to let go of an approach focused on austerity that had “failed.” “Our task is to convince our partners that our undertakings are strategic, rather than tactical, and that our logic is sound. Their task is to let go of an approach that has failed,” he wrote.

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And he does it with a smile.

Greece’s Varoufakis Takes Hammering From Riled EU Ministers (Bloomberg)

Euro-area finance ministers hurled abuse at Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis behind closed doors as they shut down his bid to find a shortcut to releasing financial aid. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the euro-zone finance chiefs’ group, categorically ruled out making a partial aid payment in exchange for a narrower program of reforms after a stormy meeting in Riga, Latvia, in which Varoufakis was heavily criticized by his euro-area colleagues over his failure to deliver economic reforms. Euro-area finance chiefs said Varoufakis’s handling of the talks was irresponsible and accused him of being a time-waster, a gambler and an amateur, a person familiar with the conversations said, asking not to be named because the discussions were private.

“It was a very critical discussion and it showed a great sense of urgency around the room,” Dijsselbloem said at a press conference after the meeting. Asked if there was any chance of a partial disbursement, he said, “The answer can be very short: No.” Varoufakis said the two sides have come “much closer together” and Greece is aiming for a deal as soon as possible. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi added to the pressure on the Greek finance chief warning that policy makers may review the conditions of the emergency funding keeping his country’s banks afloat.

Euro-area governors will “carefully monitor” the haircuts imposed on Greek banks’ collateral when borrowing from the Bank of Greece, Draghi said, to take into account the “change in the environment.” “The higher are the yields, the bigger is the volatility, the more collateral gets destroyed,” he said. “Time is running out as the president of the Eurogroup said, and speed is of the essence.” The euro erased an advance against the dollar on the remarks. The single currency had gained earlier after Kathimerini newspaper reported that Greece secured €450 million from local authorities to boost government coffers.

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“Grexit in the next few months is not inconceivable, and it is certainly more likely if we consider Grimbo durations of a year or more..”

The Greek Crisis Has A New Buzzword: Grimbo (CNBC)

If you’ve been following the ongoing Greek solvency crisis, you have probably heard the terms “Grexit” – referring to Greece exiting the euro zone – and “Grexident” – if it accidentally leaves the bloc – being branded about. But now there’s a new term on the block to sum up the current impasse over reforms: a “Grimbo” – or Greece in limbo. The latest buzzword sums up the drawn-out negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors over its bailout program, which was extended by four months in February to give the country time to enact reforms. The word was coined by the same group of Citi economists – led by Chief Economist Willem Buiter – which thought up the now widely-used “Grexit” term in February 2012, when Greece leaving the euro zone first became a possibility.

In a note published this week, the term said “Grimbo” described a possible “drawn-out” process of negotiations between Greece and its lenders that could result in the country leaving the euro zone. “In our view, a last-minute agreement on a new program (and additional funding) without capital controls or a government default remains plausible. But it is similarly plausible that capital controls will be imposed in Greece or a government default takes place before an agreement is struck or that no agreement will be reached,” the economists said. If Greece did default on its debts and capital controls were issued, a Grexit would not necessarily be inevitable, the economists said. But they added that this could lead to a drawn-out process – a Greek limbo that could, if the gridlock persisted, lead to a Grexit. “Grexit in the next few months is not inconceivable, and it is certainly more likely if we consider Grimbo durations of a year or more,” Buiter and his colleagues remarked.

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That leaves May 9 open as a Grexit date, though it seems more likely that there’ll be more extend and pretend at the moment. Still, Athens must wonder what the use is of continuing on this path. And the election/referendum timing is a big one as well.

Greece Said To Get Respite Until May 6 For Next IMF Payment (Bloomberg)

The ECB prepares to debate on May 6 whether to make access to emergency cash for Greece’s banks more difficult if aid talks remain deadlocked, just as the cash-strapped country will be faced with yet another debt payment. While Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government struggles to pay pensions and salaries at the end of the month, Greece may get a brief respite in interest of about €201 million on its IMF loans due on May 1. As the deadline coincides with a holiday, followed by a weekend, the payment can be delayed until May 6, a person familiar with the matter said. The Fund will only send the payment notification on May 4, and Greece will have two days to make the payment, the person said.

The deadline for a principal repayment of about €766 million, which is due May 12, won’t change. The May 6 interest payment will be due on the same day that the ECB’s Governing Council will meet to discuss whether to extend funds from its Emergency Liquidity Assistance lifeline to Greek lenders. If the review of the country’s bailout remains stalled until then, euro area central bank governors may raise the haircut they apply on collateral they accept in exchange for the funds, which may eventually curb ELA access due to insufficient collateral, a separate person familiar with the matter said. Greek banks are being kept afloat thanks to €75.5 billion of ELA provision, subject to weekly review by the ECB. [..]

If talks over the disbursement of bailout funds reach a dead end, the government would consider the options of snap elections or a referendum, according to Greece’s deputy Prime Minister, Yannis Dragasakis. These alternatives are “at the back of our mind, as options to seek a solution, in case of deadlock” Dragasakis was cited as saying in an interview with To Vima newspaper, on April 19. A referendum on measures requested by creditors and euro membership looks to be the most likely way out of current impasse with a probability of 55%, Dimitris Drakopoulos and Lefteris Farmakis, analysts at Nomura said. If Greece were to act on one of these options, time is running short. The constitution dictates a minimum of three weeks after an election is called for the ballot to be held. This would mean that Tsipras would probably have to decide on this option by next week, or risk the country running out cash in the middle of the campaign trail.

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The absurdity intensifies.

ECB Has Started Buying Covered Bonds With Negative Yields (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank started buying covered bonds with negative yields as its asset-purchase program reduces the supply of the highly rated debt, according to two people familiar with the matter. The central bank bought the debt in the past two weeks, said the people. The notes were from Germany, one of the people said. The ECB has bought €69.7 billion of covered bonds since October as part of its latest measures designed to stimulus growth in the euro area. The accumulation of assets is driving down yields and the central bank now holds about 15% of the market, according to ABN Amro.

“The ECB has caused this situation by being a big buyer and has exacerbated the already negative net supply of covered bonds,” said Joost Beaumont, a fixed-income strategist at ABN Amro in Amsterdam. “If the ECB buys more, yields will go still lower and that’s going to affect the ECB itself.” The ECB, which is also buying government bonds and asset-backed debt, has said it will buy negative-yielding securities up to its cash deposit rate of minus 0.2%. A negative yield means investors buying the securities now will get back less than they paid if they hold them to maturity. Investors are willing to hold the notes because of their relative safety and because they still offer higher rates than top-rated government bonds and the ECB’s deposit rate.

The central bank’s covered-bond purchase program is its third since the financial crisis and has prompted some of the biggest buyers of the notes from Union Investment to MEAG Munich to scale back holdings. Negative-yielding covered notes account for 20% of the €747.4 billion iBoxx Euro Covered Index, a benchmark used by investors in the debt, according to Credit Agricole. “Supply in positive yields is getting scarce and the ECB may have no other choice to fulfill its targeted purchase volume than to buy negative-yielding bonds,” said Tobias Meyer, an analyst at Norddeutsche Landesbank in Hanover, Germany.

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Perhaps the biggest question concerning China: how does Beijing plan to eat all the bad debt?

China Bad Debt Spikes By More Than A Third (CNBC)

Chinese banks face a spike in bad loans amid slowing economic growth, PwC warns in a new report. “There are a variety of indications that credit risk exposure is accelerating,” said PwC China Banking and Capital Markets leader Jimmy Leung in a press release published on Thursday. Asset quality continues to worsen, while the average overdue loan period is constantly increasing, Leung said, noting there is growing pressure on overdue loans to be downgraded to the non-performing loan category. Slowing growth in the world’s second largest economy prompted the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) to stimulate lending, but that has seen the quality of loans deteriorate.

China’s economy expanded at its slowest full-year pace in 24 years in 2014, undershooting the government’s target for the first time since 1998. The economy continued to lose momentum in the first quarter of 2015 with on-year growth marking its slowest pace in six years. The PBoC has undertaken easing measures to prevent the economy from slowing further. Most recently, the central bank cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for banks by 100 basis points on April 19 to stimulate lending – the second RRR cut in as many months. As the economy slows, the loan books at China’s 12 biggest listed banks are growing, but the quality of their loans appears to be deteriorating.

Banks’ combined loan balance grew 11.49% on-year in 2014 to 52.31 trillion yuan ($8.44 trillion), according to PwC. But NPL, or bad loans, rose at a much higher rate of 38.23% to 641.5 billion yuan, the report said. Loans that could turn bad increased at an even faster pace; overdue, but not NPL loans, jumped 112.65% on-year. “The banks need to get to grips with credit asset quality pressures,” said PwC’s Leung. At the same time, interest rate liberalization, the introduction of deposit insurance and the stock market rally “will affect the stability of [banks’] liabilities,” he said.

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Housing bubbles tend to bite.

Sweden’s Debt Headache Grows More Painful as Court Blocks Curbs (Bloomberg)

Sweden’s central bank abandoned its efforts to cool household debt growth and the financial regulator’s plan was killed by a court. That’s left the new government with the responsibility of coming up with an answer no matter how unpalatable it may be for voters. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Thursday there’s a need for broad talks in parliament to address Sweden’s household debt headache. Measures could include lowering tax deductions on interest payments, a step that’s likely to be unpopular with voters. So far, most politicians, including Andersson, are rejecting such a move even as the subsidy cost could almost double by 2019.

The government was left holding Sweden’s macroprudential hot potato after the Financial Supervisory Authority dropped a plan to force Swedes to pay down their home loans faster after a key court said the proposal could be illegal. “It’s central that we have talks with the right-wing parties, because we need stable conditions,” Andersson said in an interview after a speech in Stockholm. “It’s important that everyone takes responsibility in this area.” The watchdog said the government now needs to act. It’s seeking to protect the economy after household debt rose to a record as home prices surged over the past decade. It has previously capped mortgage lending at 85% of property values and raised bank capital requirements.

Its preference is for tools that affect households directly over using measures such as raising banks’ capital requirements, already among the world’s highest. It also doesn’t want to lower a cap introduced in 2010. “The government and parliament must give us a clearer mandate,” acting Director-General Martin Noreus said, backed up by both the central bank and debt office. “But the government and parliament can also deal with this in other ways, there are also other tools.” “The FSA still thinks the amortization requirement is relevant, but we also need to look at other alternatives,” including the mortgage deductions, Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund told reporters. “If changes are to be made to mortgage interest deduction, it needs to be done at a slow pace that households can handle.”

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Not something you’ll see written in the western press.

Washington Started All Modern Military Conflicts – Russia’s General Staff (RT)

The US is the sole initiator of all modern military conflicts, maintains Russia’s top brass, adding that Washington and its allies have used military force against third parties over 50 times in a matter of just one decade. The central focus of the American administration has been consistent containment of Russia to prevent alternative center of power emerging, said Lieutenant General Andrey Kartapolov, head of the Main Operation Directorate of Russia’s General Staff. In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the support that Washington provides to the Kiev authorities and Ukrainian army is aimed at “achieving the geopolitical goals of restraining Russia.” Now the US has deployed hundreds of military instructors to Ukraine to train troops.

Yet Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov accused Washington of sending its soldiers not to training ranges, “but directly in the combat zone near Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Artyomovsk and Volnovakha.” “The US appears to be the ultimate instigator of all military conflicts in the world. The Western countries have begun to hold themselves out as ‘architects’ of the international relations system, leaving to the US the role of the world’s only superpower,” Kartapolov said at a military-scientific conference dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Russia’s victory in WWII. In September 2014, RT reported that although the US has not declared war since 1942, Syria became the seventh country that Barack Obama, the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, has bombed in the years of his presidency.

Since that recent campaign, US allies in the Persian Gulf, Sunni monarchies armed primarily with American-made weapons, launched a military offensive against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, bombing out country’s military depots and infrastructure. Kartapolov stressed that this position of the west has been officially spelled out in the US national security strategy, presented to American Congress by Obama on February 6. The course being pursued by the White House is determined by strategic ambition to keep the leading geopolitical and economic positions, Kartapolov said.

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But the US is still ‘disappointed’.

EU Allows Sale Of More GMO Food Crops (BBC)

The EU has approved the sale of 17 more genetically modified crops – mostly used in animal feed – and two types of GM carnation. The European Commission’s authorisation process is controversial. The latest approvals were condemned by Green MEPs and Greenpeace environmentalists. 58 GM crops are already used in food and animal feed in the EU. But cultivation is restricted to just one – a type of maize. US biotech firms want the rules eased. The 17 new crop authorisations consist of: soybean (five types), cotton (seven types), maize (three types) and oilseed rape (two types). Cottonseed meal and oil is used in animal feed. GM crops are used widely in the US, South America and Asia, but many Europeans are wary of their impact on health and wildlife.

In the EU, 60% of animal feed is imported. The protein-rich soya in that feed comes overwhelmingly from countries that plant GM soybeans – Brazil, Argentina and the US, the Commission says. GM in food is one of the toughest issues at the EU-US talks on a free trade deal, known as TTIP. Green MEP Bart Staes, a food safety specialist, accused the Commission of ignoring widespread opposition to GMOs among EU citizens. “This gung-ho approach to GMOs also has to be seen in the context of the EU-US TTIP negotiations and the long-running US campaign to force their GMOs on to the EU market,” he said. On Wednesday, the Commission proposed a new law allowing individual EU countries to restrict or ban imported GM crops, even if those crops have been authorised EU-wide by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa).

A country would have to justify its opt-out from a certain GM crop type, stating specific national or regional grounds for the restriction. Social or environmental impact could be cited as justification for a national ban, rather than purely health concerns. US Trade Representative Michael Froman said the proposal left the US “very disappointed” and he called it “hard to reconcile with the EU’s international obligations”. The only GM crop cultivated in the EU – Monsanto’s maize variety MON 810 – is banned in several EU countries. Spain is by far the biggest grower of MON 810 in Europe, but the crop accounts for just 1.56% of the EU’s total maize-growing area. The UK government is among several countries, including Spain and Sweden, calling for the EU’s GM rules to be eased. However, there is strong opposition in many other countries, including in Austria, France and Germany.

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