Jun 282017
 
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James Dean in a photobooth 1949

 

All Companies Hit By Ransomware Attack Used Bootleg Or Unpatched Software (WS)
Yellen: Banks Very Much Stronger; No Financial Crisis In Our Lifetime (CNBC)
There Is No Excuse For Janet Yellen’s Complacency (Steve Keen)
Yellen: “I Don’t Believe We Will See Another Crisis In Our Lifetime” (ZH)
Trio of Fed Speakers Warn on Valuations With Eyes on Tightening (BBG)
Car Loans, Credit Card Debt Push UK Back Towards Another Credit Crisis (Tel.)
UK Banks Ordered To Hold More Capital As Consumer Debt Surges (G.)
ECB VP: Slack In European Economy Looks Worse Than We Thought (CNBC)
Chinese Satellite Data Hint At Ominous Manufacturing Slowdown (ZH)
UK Government Refuses To Pay For Fireproof Cladding (Ind.)
Democrats The Only Thing Standing In The Way Of Single-Payer In California (CP)
Democrats The Only Thing Standing In The Way Of Single-Payer In California (CP)
The Human Tragedy Of Drug Abuse And Car Crashes (BBG)
Search Results Show Why Europe Is Mad at Google (BBG)
‘Google, Facebook Are Super Monopolies On The Scale Of Standard Oil’ (CNBC)
Greeks Work 203 Days Out Of The Year To Pay Taxes (K.)
Greek Garbage Collectors Reject Compromise As Trash Piles Up (AP)
At Least 24 Migrants Die Off Libya in 48 Hours, More Than 8,000 Rescued (R.)

 

 

Wolf Richter explains what happened yesterday. They’re all either thieves or extremely stupid/negligent.

Merck, Rosneft, Ukraine government, Ukraine International Airport, Maersk, WPP (world’s largest advertising agency), Mondelez etc. They’ve all been found to either use bootleg software or not having patched their systems with a readily available Microsoft patch.

All Companies Hit By Ransomware Attack Used Bootleg Or Unpatched Software (WS)

The Petya ransomware attack infected over 2,000 computer systems across the world as of midday today, according to Kaspersky Lab, cited by Reuters. Russia and Ukraine were most affected. Other victims were in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the US. When China starts up its computers, it will suffer the consequences for not staying in bed. The malware includes code known as “Eternal Blue,” which was also used in the WannaCry attack in May. Experts believe the code was purloined from NSA. The ransomware encrypts hard drives of infected machines and then demands $300 in bitcoin in order for the user to regain access. Petya takes advantage of the same vulnerability in Windows as WannaCry. But Microsoft released a patch to fix this vulnerability on March 14.

Patched computers were not affected by WannaCry, and are not affected today. The Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool detects and removes the malware automatically during the updating process. But that update isn’t available for bootleg copies of Windows – hence China’s disproportionate problems with the attack in May. And computers that are running legitimate versions of Windows but hadn’t been updated for whatever reason are vulnerable. Amazingly, when WannaCry hit, plenty of companies were mauled because some dude hadn’t updated their machines. Corporate and government networks were hit. You’d think after the hue and cry in May, all legit corporate systems would be updated, and bootleg copies of Windows would be replaced either by a legit copy of Windows or another operating system. But no. Rinse and repeat.

[..] These are big sophisticated companies, many of them with global operations, and therefore with global IT networks, not mom-and-pop operations. And yet the Windows machines in their networks hadn’t been updated and had remained vulnerable, or were using bootleg copies of Windows that couldn’t be updated, even after all the hoopla in May about this vulnerability. Just sitting here and shaking my head.

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Grandma goes nuts.

Yellen: Banks Very Much Stronger; No Financial Crisis In Our Lifetime (CNBC)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said Tuesday that banks are “very much stronger” and another financial crisis is unlikely anytime soon. Speaking during an exchange in London with British Academy President Lord Nicholas Stern, the central bank chief said the Fed has learned lessons from the financial crisis and has brought stability to the banking system. Banks last week passed the first round of the Fed’s stress tests to see how they would perform under adverse conditions like a 10% unemployment rate and turbulence in commercial real estate and corporate debt. “I think the public can see the capital positions of the major banks are very much stronger this year,” Yellen said. “All of the firms passed the quantitative parts of the stress tests.”

She also made a bold prediction: that another financial crisis the likes of the one that exploded in 2008 was not likely “in our lifetime.” The crisis, which erupted in September 2008 with the implosion of Lehman Brothers but had been stewing for years, would have been “worse than the Great Depression” without the Fed’s intervention, Yellen said. Yellen added that the Fed learned lessons from the financial crisis and is being more vigilant to find risks to the system. “I think the system is much safer and much sounder,” she said. “We are doing a lot more to try to look for financial stability risks that may not be immediately apparent but to look in corners of the financial system that are not subject to regulation, outside those areas in order to try to detect threats to financial stability that may be emerging.”

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Steve explains that Yellen knows Minsky, but prefers to ignore him.

There Is No Excuse For Janet Yellen’s Complacency (Steve Keen)

Janet Yellen has been reported by Reuters as saying in London yesterday that “she does not believe that there will be a run on the banking system at least as long as she lives”: “Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be,” Yellen said at an event in London. The only word I can use to describe this belief is “delusional”. The only way in which her belief could be justified would be in financial crises were truly random events, caused by something outside the economy—or just by a very bad throw of the economic dice. This is indeed the perspective of mainstream “Neoclassical” economic theory, in which Yellen was trained, and because of which she was deemed eligible—and indeed eminently suitable—to Chair the Federal Reserve.

This is the theory that led the OECD to proclaim, two months before the crisis began in August 2007, that “the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years”, and that they expected that “sustained growth in OECD economies would be underpinned by strong job creation and falling unemployment.”. It is the theory that led her colleague David Stockton, then the Director of the Division of Research and Statistics at the Fed, to dismiss the possibility of a recession after the crisis had begun, in December 2007—the very month that the recession is now regarded as having commenced: “Overall, our forecast could admittedly be read as still painting a pretty benign picture: despite all the financial turmoil, the economy avoids recession and, even with steeply higher prices for food and energy and a lower exchange value of the dollar, we achieve some modest edging-off of inflation.” (FOMC, Dec 2007)

So what we are getting from her is not merely her own personal complacency, but the complacency of an approach to economics which has always been grounded in the beliefs that (a) capitalism is inherently stable, (b) that the financial sector can be ignored—yes that’s right, ignored—when doing macroeconomics, and (c) that the Great Depression was an anomaly that can also be ignored, because it can only have been caused either by an exogenous shock or bad government policy, both of which cannot be predicted in advance.

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It’s a really crazy thing to say. Does she expect to be fired soon?

Yellen: “I Don’t Believe We Will See Another Crisis In Our Lifetime” (ZH)

If there was any confusion why the Fed intends to keep hiking rates, even in the face of negative economic data and disappearing inflation, it was put to rest over the past 2 days when not one, not two , not three, but four Fed speakers, including the three most important ones, made it clear that the Fed’s only intention at this point is to burst the asset bubble. First there was SF Fed president John Williams who said that “there seems to be a priced-to-perfection attitude out there” and that the stock market rally “still seems to be running very much on fumes.” Speaking to Australian TV, Williams added that “we are seeing some reach for yield, and some, maybe, excess risk-taking in the financial system with very low rates. As we move interest rates back to more-normal, I think that that will, people will pull back on that,

Then it was Fed vice chairman Stan Fischer’s turn, who while somewhat more diplomatic, delivered the same message: “the increase in prices of risky assets in most asset markets over the past six months points to a notable uptick in risk appetites…. Measures of earnings strength, such as the return on assets, continue to approach pre-crisis levels at most banks, although with interest rates being so low, the return on assets might be expected to have declined relative to their pre-crisis levels–and that fact is also a cause for concern.” Fischer then also said that the corporate sector is “notably leveraged”, that it would be foolish to think that all risks have been eliminated, and called for “close monitoring” of rising risk appetites.

All this followed the statement by Bill Dudley, who many perceive as the Fed’s shadow chairman, who yesterday warned that rates will keep rising as long as financial conditions remain loose: “when financial conditions tighten sharply, this may mean that monetary policy may need to be tightened by less or even loosened. On the other hand, when financial conditions ease—as has been the case recently—this can provide additional impetus for the decision to continue to remove monetary policy accommodation.” And finally, it was Yellen herself, who speaking in London acknowledged that some asset prices had become “somewhat rich” although like Fischer, she hedged that prices are fine… if only assumes record low rates in perpetuity:

“Asset valuations are somewhat rich if you use some traditional metrics like price earnings ratios, but I wouldn’t try to comment on appropriate valuations, and those ratios ought to depend on long-term interest rates,” she said. It was not all doom and gloom. Responding to a question on financial system stability, Yellen said post-crisis regulations (and $2.5 trillion in excess reserves which just happen to be fungible and give the banks the impression that they are safe) had made financial institutions much “safer and sounder.” “Will I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? No, probably that would be going too far. But I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will.”

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There were smokescreeens a-plenty too.

Trio of Fed Speakers Warn on Valuations With Eyes on Tightening (BBG)

When a trio of Federal Reserve officials delivered remarks on Tuesday, the state of U.S. financial markets came in for a little bit of criticism. When all was said and done, U.S. equities sank the most in six weeks, yields on 10-year Treasuries rose and the dollar weakened to the lowest level versus the euro in 10 months. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that asset valuations, by some measures “look high, but there’s no certainty about that.” Earlier, San Francisco Fed President John Williams said the stock market “seems to be running very much on fumes” and that he was “somewhat concerned about the complacency in the market.” Fed Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer suggested that there had been a “notable uptick” in risk appetite that propelled valuation ratios to very elevated levels.

The Fed officials’ comments came amid a torrent of events that buffeted financial markets Tuesday, from an IMF cut to its U.S. growth forecast, Google suffering the biggest ever EU antitrust fine, a fresh blow to the Republican agenda in Washington and a global cyberattack. Still, selling in U.S shares accelerated around 1:30 p.m. as Yellen delivered her assessment of the market since the central bank raised interest rates June 14. “Asset valuations are somewhat rich if you use some traditional metrics like price earnings ratios, but I wouldn’t try to comment on appropriate valuations, and those ratios ought to depend on long-term interest rates,” Yellen said during a speech in London.

Investors are on guard for signs of a change in its economic outlook that could delay rate increases or when it will begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. Yellen said the Fed’s plans for the balance sheet were “well understood” by financial markets. Officials have said they intend to begin allowing the portfolio to roll off this year. In the end, Yellen made it pretty apparent that that her plans for continued monetary policy tightening haven’t shifted. “We’ve made very clear that we think it will be appropriate to the attainment of our goals to raise interest rates very gradually,” Yellen said.

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All the credit was the only thing that kept the country going.

Car Loans, Credit Card Debt Push UK Back Towards Another Credit Crisis (Tel.)

Banks are “forgetting the lessons” of the financial crisis, increasing the risk of reckless lending which could land them — and the wider economy — in trouble later, Mark Carney has warned. Credit card lending is booming and the Bank of England fears that banks are becoming complacent, assuming the relatively good economic times will continue indefinitely. As a result lenders are cutting down the amount of capital they put aside to keep them safe if those loans turn bad — something that could leave them in financial trouble if there is a recession and customers cannot pay back their debts. “I think it is forgetting some of the lessons of the past, or not fully learning the lessons of the past,” said Mr Carney, the Bank of England’s Governor. He said that the economy overall is performing well and total lending is not getting out of hand, but consumer credit is growing by more than 10pc per year, with credit cards and car loans growing particularly fast.

“Most financial stability indicators are neither particularly elevated nor subdued. Nevertheless, there are pockets of risk that warrant extra vigilance,” he said at the publication of the latest Financial Stability Report. “Consumer credit has increased rapidly. Lending conditions in the mortgage market are becoming easier. And lenders may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of loans in benign conditions.” As well as holding more capital against credit card debt and consumer loans, banks have also been warned that next month the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority will also publish new affordability rules to make sure customers are likely to be able to repay their debts.

The situation is deemed relatively urgent — one part of an annual assessment of the losses which banks could make in a hypothetical recession has been brought forwards this year. Instead of publishing the results in November, the consumer credit part of the so-called stress tests will be revealed in September. That decision reflects the short-term nature of consumer loans. Short-term loans can also pose a threat to financial stability because households take them less seriously than mortgages. Consumer debts only amount to one-seventh of the total of mortgage debt, but they account for 10-times the amount of bad loans which banks write off.

That also has implications for the wider economy — a household in financial trouble will cut spending deeply to make sure it can still pay the mortgage, but is less worried about credit cards. Mortgage lending standards are also under the spotlight. The Financial Policy Committee told banks in 2014 that they should assess whether borrowers could still afford their mortgages if the Bank of England’s base rate went up by three%age points. Most banks calculated this by adding 3%age points to their standard variable rates, but some lenders said that in this scenario they might not pass the full cost onto customers. Officials reject this interpretation and have ordered banks to add the full 3 points to their rates when judging the affordability.

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First you lower rates, then you take measures against the fully predictable consequences.

UK Banks Ordered To Hold More Capital As Consumer Debt Surges (G.)

The Bank of England is to force banks to strengthen their financial position in the face of a rapid growth in borrowing on credit cards, car finance and personal loans. The intervention by Threadneedle Street means banks will need to set aside as much as £11.4bn of extra capital in the next 18 months and is intended to protect the financial system from the 10% rise in consumer lending over the year. The Bank is also bringing forward the part of the annual stress tests on banks that scrutinises their exposure to consumer credit by two months to September. The Bank’s Prudential Regulation Authority and the City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, will also publish next month how they expect lenders to treat borrowers in the consumer credit market.

The Bank’s half-yearly assessment of risk to financial markets also set out measures to rein in the riskiest mortgage lending, highlighted the risks associated with the UK’s exit from the EU and said commercial property prices were “at the top end of sustainable valuations”. While the Bank found risks to financial stability were neither “particularly elevated nor subdued” it warned that there “pockets of risk that warrant vigilance”. “Consumer credit has increased rapidly. Lending conditions in the mortgage market are becoming easier. And lenders may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of loans in benign conditions,” said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England.

Carney said the decision to call on banks to hold more capital – which is largely a rejig of their current resources rather than raising new funds – was taken after domestic risks returned to “standard” levels. A year ago, after the Brexit vote, the Bank had relaxed regulatory requirements on banks – using new tools it was given after the financial crisis – and is now reversing that decision.

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“..if we adopt, as in the U.S., a broader concept of unemployment (which in the U.S. they call U6) then unemployment in the euro area is at 18% whereas it is at 9% in the case of the U.S..”

ECB VP: Slack In European Economy Looks Worse Than We Thought (CNBC)

The difference between current and potential levels of output in the euro area economy could be greater than the ECB originally thought, its vice president, Vitor Constancio, warned on Tuesday. “What we see, what we observe is that domestic factors of inflation starting with wage and cost developments and then also price decisions are not responding the way we would expect in view of our more common estimates of this slack. So we have to ask ourselves – are these measures of the slack of the economy correct?,” explained Constancio, speaking to CNBC from the ECB Forum on central banking in Sintra. The board had therefore begun to ask themselves whether other variables should instead be considered to establish a more accurate view of the current economic situation.

“The unemployment rate now is 9.3% according to the normal international standard of measuring employment …. But if we adopt, as in the U.S., a broader concept of unemployment (which in the U.S. they call U6) then unemployment in the euro area is at 18% whereas it is at 9% in the case of the U.S. which would imply that the slack is then bigger than we could judge some time ago,” he noted. “That being the case it justifies fully what the president (Mario Draghi) said at the end of his speech (on Tuesday) that we need persistence. If we want to bring inflation to our target of below but close to 2% then we have to persist in the type of monetary policy that we been adopting,” he added.

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Earlier, we saw Yellen vs Minsky. Here’s China’s Minsky moment.

Chinese Satellite Data Hint At Ominous Manufacturing Slowdown (ZH)

A reading published by San Francisco-based SpaceKnow Inc. which uses commercial satellite imagery to monitor activity across thousands of industrial sites signaled deterioration in the country’s manufacturing sector for the first time since August. The gauge, known as the China Satellite Manufacturing Index, fell to 49.6, below the 50 break-even level. The index incorporates satellite data from thousands of industrial sites across China. Satellite imagery has often proved eerily presceint in the recent past: In the US, satellite data analyzing activity in retailers’ parking lots pointed to significant activity weakness at core US retail locations, even as sentiment indicators were suggesting an uptick in sales following the election. Meanwhile, small- and medium-sized enterprises showed the lowest level of confidence in 16 months, and conditions in the steel business remained lackluster, according to Bloomberg.

Some other indicators have been slightly more sanguine: sales-manager sentiment stayed positive, and outlook of financial experts recovered. Still, data suggest that output in China’s economy slowed during the second quarter after a strong start to the year, with investment slowing, some credit becoming tighter and signs that curbs on the country’s property market are starting to have an impact. Should growth continue to slow, China’s leaders would find themselves in an awkward position, with the country’s twice-a-decade leadership transition expected to occur this fall when the 19th Party Congress convenes to appoint its new senior leadership. It’s widely believed that China’s President Xi Jinping will begin serving his second five-year term.

[..] [That] could be the spark that ignites China’s “Minsky moment” – the financial cataclysm that Kyle Bass and other perma-china-bears have been waiting for when China’s overleveraged market crumbles to dust – might finally be in the offing. Indeed, though China’s markets have been relatively calm recently, the PBOC’s attempts to tighten liquidity have sparked some instability in recent months. Back in March, the central bank had to engage in mini bailouts when a jump in interbank rates caused some small regional lenders to default on their interbank loans after money market rates shot higher. Meanwhile, China’s weakening credit impulse should give any China bulls pause.

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Completely nuts. Feels like they’re looking to get tossed out.

UK Government Refuses To Pay For Fireproof Cladding (Ind.)

Councils face bills running to hundreds of millions of pounds to make tower blocks safe after the Government said it would not guarantee extra money to pay for vital work to prevent a repeat of the Grenfell disaster. Ninety-five high-rise buildings in 32 local authority areas have failed safety tests, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said yesterday, with hundreds more blocks still to be tested. The findings prompted Theresa May to announce a “major national investigation” into the use of cladding on high-rise blocks, with every sample so far tested in the wake of the Grenfell found to be unsafe. But despite emergency fire safety checks being carried out nationwide under central government direction, councils will not be reimbursed for refurbishment work carried out.

A DCLG spokesperson said there was “no guarantee” of central government funding and that it would be “up to local authorities and housing associations to pay” for the work needed to ensure residents’ safety. The spokesperson said financial support would be considered on a “case by case” basis for those that could not afford to carry out the necessary work, but did not clarify what the criteria for that consideration would be. The announcement was met with severe criticism from some of the councils affected, with local authorities already having their budgets severely squeezed after years of austerity measures. Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council, which is among the authorities to have discovered unsafe cladding, said “starved” councils would be forced to make cuts to other areas, including schooling, if central government did not help with costs.

“Local authorities have been starved of money over the past seven years. Our spending power has decreased,” she said. “There is no way we can afford to reclad our tower blocks. If we have to find that money, it will come from other projects, from investing in the fabric of our schools, capital investment in our infrastructure, the money has to come out of that. And it can’t really be done. “I say absolutely, categorically that the Government should pay. If they can find £1bn to send to Northern Ireland, that gets more spending per capita than anywhere else, to buy 10 votes, then these people, living in high-rise towers, deserve better.”

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There is no serious press left in the US to get to the bottom of this.

Democrats The Only Thing Standing In The Way Of Single-Payer In California (CP)

Nothing better illustrates the political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party—for all progressive intents and purposes—than California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s announcement on Friday afternoon that he was going to put a “hold” on the single-payer health care bill (SB 562) for the state, effectively killing its passage for at least the year. The Democratic Party finds itself in a bind in California. They hold the governorship and a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, so they can pass any bill they want. SB 562 had passed the Senate 23-14. There was enormous enthusiasm among California progressive activists, who [..] were working tirelessly, and hopeful of success. After all, Bernie’s people were taking over the California party from the bottom since the election.

I recall a night of drinking last year with an old friend who has been spearheading that effort, as he rebuffed my skepticism, and insisted that this time there would be a really progressive takeover of the California party, and single-payer would prove it. After all, once enough progressive pressure was been put on the legislators, the bill would be going to super-progressive Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown, who had made advocacy of single-payer a centerpiece of his run for President in 1992, saying: “We treat health care not as a commodity to be played with for profit but rather the right of every American citizen when they’re born.” Bernie foretold. Unfortunately, today that Governor is, according to Paul Song, co-chair of the CHC, “doing everything he can to make sure this never gets on his desk.”

And it won’t. Unfortunately, all the Democrats like Rendon, who “claims to be a personal supporter of single-payer,” will make sure that their most progressive governor is not put in the embarrassing position of having to reject what he’s been ostensibly arguing for for twenty-five years, of demonstrating so blatantly what a fraud his, and his party’s, progressive pretensions are. Thus unfolds the typical Democratic strategy: Make all kinds of progressive noises and cast all kinds of progressive votes, while carefully managing the process so that the legislation the putatively progressives putatively support never gets enacted. Usually, they blame Republican obstructionism, and there certainly is enough of that, and where there is, it provides a convenient way for Democrat legislator to “support” legislation they know will be blocked and wouldn’t really enact themselves if they could.

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Phones are as addictive as opioids.

The Human Tragedy Of Drug Abuse And Car Crashes (BBG)

More than 130,000 Americans are killed annually by preventable causes, and the number has been climbing at a faster rate recently because of opioid abuse and car crashes involving drivers distracted by mobile devices. The death count jumped more than 7% in 2015 to about 146,600, according to a report by the National Safety Council Tuesday. The council said lawmakers often overlook simple solutions that could avoid deaths on the roads or in people’s homes, while public attention is focused on events that are relatively rare in the U.S., like terrorist attacks or plane crashes. Vehicle mishaps and poisonings, driven by opioid abuse, killed more than 80,000 people combined in 2015. Preventable accidents cost society about $850 billion a year, according to the group.

“Culturally, we’re numb to these things,” NSC President Deborah Hersman said in a phone interview. “Why are these deaths any less tragic or important? We should be talking about these things every day because they affect our families.” The toll from opioids is worsening, partly because so many patients become dependent on painkillers, often turning to street drugs like heroin. Almost one in four people on Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor, received powerful and addictive opioid pain medicines in 2015, Express Scripts Holding Co. said this month. The council said lawmakers should tighten oversight of the distribution of prescription medications and improve access to drugs that can reverse overdoses and treat addiction.

[..] “We need to make distracted driving socially unacceptable,” Tom Goeltz, whose daughter Megan was killed in a car crash last year, said at a news conference held by the NSC Tuesday. “This tragedy could have easily been prevented.” Goeltz, a Minnesotan who works to help industrial companies avoid accidents, said his daughter was pregnant when her car was struck by a distracted driver. “As a safety consultant with over 30 years of experience, I was powerless to save my daughter,” he said. “We all know people that have been killed on our roads. We all know somebody. How is this acceptable to us? We need to do more. You don’t want to be a part of this club.”

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“..Google has 90 days to come up with its own solution [..]. If it doesn’t do that, the EU will fine it up to 5% of the entire company’s daily global revenue.”

Search Results Show Why Europe Is Mad at Google (BBG)

Europe hit Alphabet’ Google with a $2.7 billion fine on Tuesday, saying it broke antitrust laws by favoring one of its search services over rival websites. The case centers around Google Shopping ads, which place color pictures, prices and links to products that consumers have typed into its search engine. The EU’s Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager said Google’s search algorithms should treat its own Shopping service the same way as other price-comparison sites. What exactly does this look like in practice? Here’s a walk-through of what the EU is so upset about. This is for desktop computer searches. On phones, there’s less digital real estate, leaving even less space for competitors. Before we start, it’s important to note that Google argues customers aren’t that interested in clicking through to other price comparison sites and want to go directly to retailers’ sites from Google. It denies any wrongdoing and is considering an appeal.

Google Shopping Today: The screenshot below shows results for a search in Germany for “gas grill.” Five Google Shopping ads take up the most valuable part of the page at the top. No other comparison shopping websites show up in the first couple of links. Scrolling down, you see the first result for a competing price comparison service – Idealo – come in at number six. There’s another at number 11, Moebel24. But that link is listed as an ad, meaning Moebel24 had to pay for that placement, even though it’s near the bottom of the page. The EU says this is bad because consumers click far more often on results appearing higher up in Google’s search results. Even on a desktop computer, the top ten results on page 1 generally get about 95% of all clicks on generic search results (with the top result receiving about 35% of all clicks), the European Commission said on Tuesday.

2014 Proposal: The EU’s Google investigation has been going for years. Vestager’s predecessor tentatively struck a deal with Google in 2014 for a hybrid model that set aside space in those top Shopping search boxes for other price comparison websites. But the agreement fell apart when competitors realized they had to pay for that placement. [..] What could Google do to satisfy Europe’s demands this time? Vestager said Google has 90 days to come up with its own solution, as long as it gives equal treatment to competing price comparison sites. If it doesn’t do that, the EU will fine it up to 5% of the entire company’s daily global revenue. [..] Google would have to sacrifice space currently occupied by its own Shopping ads to make the latter idea work, cutting into a highly profitably and growing revenue stream.

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US anti-trust laws are strong enough to counter this. But you need politicians to apply them.

‘Google, Facebook Are Super Monopolies On The Scale Of Standard Oil’ (CNBC)

Google shareholders won’t be phased by the EU’s $2.7 billion fine against the company for competition abuses related to its shopping business, Elevation Partners co-founder Roger McNamee told CNBC on Tuesday. “As a shareholder of Google you’re looking at this and saying: ‘We won again,'” McNamee said. The venture capitalist spoke hours after EU regulators fined Google a record €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion), ruling that the search-engine giant violated antitrust rules for its online shopping practices. Google said it will consider appealing the decision to the highest court in Europe. “Google, Facebook, Amazon are increasingly just super-monopolies, especially Google and Facebook. The share of the markets they operate in is literally on the same scale that Standard Oil had … more than 100 years ago – with the big differences that their reach is now global, not just within a single country,” he said on “Squawk Alley.”

The fine is not large enough to change Google’s behavior, he added. “The only thing that will change it is regulations that actually say you can or can’t do something.” McNamee said Google’s business model isn’t structured in a way that allows for competition. “The way that Google’s product works makes its anti-competitive behavior much more obvious — but do not underestimate how powerful Facebook’s monopoly has been to boosting Instagram and WhatsApp,” he said. The competition issue with the big tech companies extends beyond the EU into the U.S., he said. “They do stifle innovation. They stifle entrepreneurship. … You can see this even in Silicon Valley it’s very hard for any of the unicorn generation of companies to actually reach successful critical mass because, you know, one of their competitors gets acquired by Google and Facebook and then the category is over,” said McNamee. “I think it’s a big policy question the world is going to have to deal with over the next few years,” he said.

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The problem is not even the duration, France and Belgium are worse. The problem is what Greeks are left with after taxes are paid, which is much less than the others.

Greeks Work 203 Days Out Of The Year To Pay Taxes (K.)

Greeks will work an average of 203 days this year to pay taxes to the state and social insurance contributions, according to research conducted by the Dragoumis Center for Liberal Studies (KEFIM) to raise awareness about tax freedom day – the first day of the year in which a country has theoretically earned enough income to pay its taxes. In the case of Greece, this day will be on July 23, which means that Greeks will have worked 15 days more than last year, when tax freedom day arrived on July 7. The only two European Union countries in which tax freedom day will arrive after that in Greece are France and Belgium. Cyprus celebrated its tax freedom day on March 29, while Malta and Ireland did the same on April 18 and 30 respectively. Bulgaria was next on May 18 before Finland on June 22.

KEFIM, which conducted research into the topic for a third straight year, said citizens are working an increasing number of days each year to meet their tax obligations and, compared to 2006, Greeks now work two months more to this end. Referring to the results of the research, financial analyst and member of KEFIM’s scientific council Miranda Xafa said the “government managed to achieve a primary surplus by tax hikes and not through spending cuts.” Xafa also said that for every 100 euros a self-employed professional makes, 82 go toward tax and and other contributions. New Democracy vice president Adonis Georgiadis said that Greece had “lost another month because of overtaxation.” “Our aim when we become the government is to reverse the trend,” he said.

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Today is day 12 of the garbage strike. Weekend weather forecast up to 44ºC (111ºF). Some judge needs to declare a public health emergency, if Tsipras is too scared to do it.

Greek Garbage Collectors Reject Compromise As Trash Piles Up (AP)

Greece’s municipal garbage collectors on Tuesday rejected a government compromise offer and decided to continue an 11-day protest that has left mounds of festering refuse piled up across Athens amid high temperatures during the key summer tourism season. Municipal workers union head Nikos Trikas said the protest will go on as planned until Thursday at least, after an inconclusive meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The union is pressing the left-led government to honor a pledge to provide permanent jobs for long-term contract workers, and rejected Tsipras’ proposals as a “slight” but unsatisfactory improvement on past offers. Greek authorities have warned that the uncollected trash poses a public health risk ahead of a heat wave forecast for later this week.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura urged the union to reconsider, arguing that the protest “endangers public health, and is bad for tourism as well as the country’s international image.” The Athens Trade Association has also called on the two sides to reach a compromise, warning that piles of garbage would discourage tourists from traveling to the Greek capital. Tourism is a vital source of revenue for Greeces battered economy. Although not technically on strike most of the time, municipal workers have been blockading garages where municipal trash collection trucks operate from, as well as landfill sites across the country. Trikas said that unions will review their position Thursday, when they have called a 24-hour strike. He also pledged to increase emergency crews that the union has on duty to ensure that the garbage mounds do not mushroom out of all control.

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Where are Merkel and Macron? Why are their voters not demanding they tackle the issue?

At Least 24 Migrants Die Off Libya in 48 Hours, More Than 8,000 Rescued (R.)

Red Crescent volunteers recovered the bodies of 24 migrants on Tuesday that were washed up in an eastern suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as large-scale rescues were made in the Mediterranean. Residents in Tajoura district said the bodies had begun washing up at the end of last week. Several had been partially devoured by stray dogs, according to a local coast guard official. The toll was expected to increase as the flimsy boats used to carry migrants as far as international waters normally carry more than 100 people. Three migrants died in the Mediterranean on Monday night, a German aid group said, during Italian-led rescue operations in which thousands more were pulled to safety.

About 5,000 migrants were picked up off the Libyan coast by emergency services, Italy’s navy, aid groups and private boats on Monday, and rescues were continuing on Tuesday, according to an Italian coastguard spokesman. “Despite all efforts, three people died from a sinking rubber boat” and rescue boats in the area are struggling to cope, German humanitarian group Jugend Rettet said on Facebook. Jugend Rettet (Rescuing Youth) is one of about nine aid groups patrolling seas into which people traffickers have sent more than half a million refugees and migrants on highly dangerous voyages towards Europe over the past four years. “We reached the capacity limit of our ship, while our crew is seeing more boats on the horizon. Currently, all vessels are overloaded,” Jugend Rettet added.

About 72,000 migrants arrived in Italy on the perilous route from Libya between Jan. 1 and June 21, roughly 20% more than in 2016, and more than 2,000 died on the way, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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May 142017
 
 May 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Sorrow of the King 1952

 

US Says Trump ‘Can’t Imagine Russia Pleased’ With North Korea Missile (R.)
Macron Takes Office As French President (AFP)
Tech Companies Have Become Monopolies, Drag On Economic Growth (AT)
‘We Can’t Do Brexit With Half The Brexiteers Outside The Tent’ (G.)
Schaeuble Says Financial Transfers In Euro Zone Are Necessary (R.)
Ireland Is World’s Fourth-Largest Shadow Banking Hub (ITimes)
London Home Raffled For £3.75m Bought With Right-to-Buy in 2014 For £360k (G.)
Media Blackout On The DNC Lawsuit Proves That It Is Nuclear (Med.)
Patriotism And Conscience: The Edward Snowden Affair (LibR)
Worried About ‘Wannacry’? You Should Have Listened To Julian Assange (Duran)
Steve Keen Defines A Production Function Based On Energy (Res.)
The Rise Of Rentiers And The Destruction Of The Middle Class (Ev)
The Economic School You’ve Never Heard Of (EpT)
The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Useless Jobs (Bregman)
US Much Women More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than 25 Years Ago (ProP)
Africa’s New Slave Trade (G.)

 

 

A more or less subtle way of trying to drag Putin into the situation.

US Says Trump ‘Can’t Imagine Russia Pleased’ With North Korea Missile (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” with North Korea’s latest missile test on Sunday, as it landed closer to Russia than to Japan, the White House said in a statement. “With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the White House said in its statement. The launch served as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against reclusive North Korea, the White House added.

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Macron takes office in a strange kind of void. On Monday he will appoint a prime minister, and on Tuesday a cabinet. But his party has zero seats in parliament, so what can they do? Whether they can win a majority in the June elections is very much up for grabs. They may wind up needing -and using- support from the Socialist party that was burned down in the presidential elections.

Macron Takes Office As French President (AFP)

Emmanuel Macron becomes France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, taking over from Socialist Francois Hollande in a solemn ceremony. [..] The new president faces a host of daunting challenges including tackling stubbornly high unemployment, fighting Islamist-inspired violence and uniting a deeply divided country. Socialist Hollande’s five years in power were plagued by a sluggish economy and bloody terror attacks that killed more than 230 people and he leaves office after a single term. The 64-year-old launched Macron’s political career, plucking him from the world of investment banking to be an advisor and then his economy minister. “I am not handing over power to a political opponent, it’s far simpler,” Hollande said on Thursday.

Macron’s first week will be busy. On Monday, he is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called “motor” of the EU. Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members. He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive 32-point victory over Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”. In June, Macron faces what the French media are calling a “third round of the presidential election” when the country elects a new parliament in a two-round vote. The new president needs an outright majority to be able to enact his ambitious reform agenda.

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A huge global problem.

Tech Companies Have Become Monopolies, Drag On Economic Growth (AT)

Once upon a time the US stock market had disruptive challengers changing the economic landscape – Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel and a half dozen other upstarts. The same companies are there, but they have morphed from the equivalent of Luke Skywalker to Jabba the Hut. Tech companies used to be aggressive growth stocks, the kind that young people bought for long-range gain, while retirees stuck to less-volatile instruments like utility stocks. The world officially went topsy-turvy this year, when the volatility of tech stocks fell below the volatility of utility stocks. The graph shows the implied volatility of options on the S&P tech sector ETF (ticker XLK) vs. the implied volatility of options on the S&P utilities sector (XLU). Options on volatile stocks cost more than options on stable stocks, because volatility increases the likelihood of a payout.

Implied volatility is backed out of the prices of traded options, and reflects investor expectations about future stability. Why would investors expect less volatility from tech stocks than from utilities? Because they are utilities, that is, utilities with neither debt nor regulation. Power, water and sewer companies charge a stable fee to a predictable base of customers. They borrow heavily to build facilities, and are subject to public regulation, such that changes in interest rates and public policy can affect their value. Historically, though, they were widow-and-orphan stocks, the least risky sector of the equity market. In the disruptive days of the 1990s tech boom, the volatility of the S&P technology subsector was two to three times the VIX index. Today the implied volatility of XLK, the tech sector ETF, is actually lower than the VIX. The tech companies have brought down the overall level of market volatility.

Tech companies now sit atop a virtual toll booth and impose a charge on a myriad of transactions. Like water and power companies, they have monopolies, although these monopolies are driven by the price of infrastructure and the network effect. Google has the Internet-advertising monopoly. Microsoft has the personal computer software monopoly. Amazon has the Internet sales monopoly. Facebook has the targeted advertising monopoly. And Apple has the oddest monopoly of all: it is the vehicle by which customers assert their individuality by overpaying the largest-capitalization company in the world. [..] They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88% market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77% of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74% share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.”

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“One Brexiter said: “There is no way to unpick Brexit that doesn’t involve civil war. “

Problem 1: Rich people trying to buy seats.

Problem 2: Both left and right across Europe want to “Love Europe Not the EU”. But the EU rules.

‘We Can’t Do Brexit With Half The Brexiteers Outside The Tent’ (G.)

As an investor in a Premier League football club and a collector of steam locomotives, Jeremy Hosking is used to expensive pursuits. The multimillionaire asset manager is under no illusions that his offer to fund well in excess of 100 local campaigns to unseat pro-Remain MPs could prove to be another. “This is going to stretch the bank’s ability to send out cheque books in a timely manner,” he says. “There is going to be a lot of ink involved.” Hosking has already spent in pursuit of securing Britain’s departure from the European Union shows his dedication to the cause. He gave about £1.7m to Vote Leave and even set up his own poster campaign, Brexit Express, as the referendum approached. Now the Crystal Palace co-owner wants to safeguard the result by funding Tory candidates trying to gain seats where most voters backed Brexit. He will do so through his Brexit Express campaign.

“For me, it is a long-running issue about sovereignty and the transfer of power,” he says. “It wouldn’t matter so much if the EU was constitutionalised properly, but one of the great things about being a democracy is we can boot the government out every five years, but we couldn’t boot out the EU. “A lot of the Remainers I know were really reformers – they held their nose and voted Remain in much the same way we are suggesting that traditional Labour voters should on this occasion hold their nose and vote Tory.” Hosking’s project is testing perhaps the most pertinent question posed by this election. Will the political fissure created by the EU referendum convince voters to abandon their traditional affiliations and back a party that more closely represents their views on Brexit?

The candidates eligible for his money must meet two simple tests. They must be a Conservative candidate trying to unseat an opposition MP that backed Remain. They must also be contesting a seat where most voters are believed to have voted in favour of Brexit. His team has come up with a list of 138 constituencies that they think fit the bill. All will be eligible for donations of up to £5,000 each. While there are some Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru-held seats on the list, the campaign is aimed overwhelmingly at Tories trying to win Labour-held seats in the north and the Midlands. There is a string of such seats that the Tories have a chance of winning. They include Coventry South, Bury South, Dewsbury, Gedling, Halifax and Bishop Auckland – a seat that has returned a Labour MP since 1935.

Hosking says that while Theresa May was not his “number one choice” as leader, he believes she is handling the Brexit issue well so far. He also believes that a cohort of Tory MPs from Brexit-supporting Labour seats could be key in safeguarding the referendum result and prevent any “backsliding”. “We need all the Brexiteers on the same side,” he says. “We can’t do this Brexit thing with half the Brexiteers outside the tent. “The thinking is, it would be strange if the Conservative party was dusting off inveterate Remainers to fight these seats… the Conservative party is more Brexit-orientated than it was a year ago.” Unlike some Brexiteers, Hosking knows there could be some bumpy times ahead. “We need the best team and you need the army fully equipped and as big as possible,” he says.

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He contradicts mis own words with impunity and of course doesn’t get called on it.

Schaeuble Says Financial Transfers In Euro Zone Are Necessary (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told a magazine he shared French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the euro zone. Macron, who is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, has promised to press ahead with closer European integration. Asked whether Macron was right in believing Europe and the euro zone need a “transfer union”, Schaeuble told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine: “You can’t build a community of states of varying strengths without a certain balance.” “That’s reflected in the European budget and bailout programmes, for example, and that’s why there are net contributors and net recipients in Europe. A union can’t exist if the stronger members don’t vouch for the weaker ones,” he added in an interview to be published Saturday.

Some conservatives around Merkel worry the euro zone could develop into a “transfer union” in which Germany is asked to pay for struggling states that resist reforms. Schaeuble, a veteran member of Merkel’s party, said if countries wanted to make Europe stronger, it was necessary for each individual country to become stronger first – including France and Italy but also Germany. Schaeuble also signaled he would not object if the European Commission gave its blessing to possible French budget deficits: “It’s up to the European Commission to design the budget rules.” He added: “The German government and I have never objected to a ruling of the Commission on how the deficits of countries like France should be judged.” The European Commission estimates France’s deficit will be 3% of GDP this year, from 2.9% previously forecast, and 3.2% in 2018 from the previous forecast of 3.1%. EU rules say countries should keep their deficits below 3% of GDP.

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Not very useful without solid China data.

Ireland Is World’s Fourth-Largest Shadow Banking Hub (ITimes)

Ireland is home to the world’s fourth-largest “shadow banking” industry, with $2.2 trillion of nonbanking financial assets based in funds, special-purpose vehicles and other little-understood entities in Dublin’s IFSC, according to a report published on Tuesday. The figure equates to almost eight times the size of the Irish economy, as measured by GDP. The US has the world’s largest shadow-banking sector, with $13.8 trillion of assets as of 2015, according to the latest annual review of the sector by the Basel-based Financial Stability Board (FSB) as it searches for potential risks in the increasingly complex world of international finance. The Cayman Islands, which has taken part in the FSB study for first time, is the second-largest, at $4.3 trillion, followed by Japan, at $3.2 trillion.

The G20 major industrialised and emerging economies gave the FSB the job in 2010 of keeping track of the expanding world of financial activities that take place outside of mainstream banks, given the role that the sector played in the 2008 global financial crisis. The key concern is that, as central banks have clamped down on excessive risk-taking in the banking sector in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, lenders might extend their use of shadow banking to escape the claws of regulators. “Market-based finance provides important diversification of the founding resources which support the real economy,” said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the FSB on the release of the latest report.

[..] The FSB said China, which ranked third with Ireland in the last report, published in late 2015, didn’t file data on time to be included in its narrow definition of shadow-banking activities that pose potential risks to global finance. Luxembourg, Ireland’s main rival in nonbanking financial activities in Europe, has not yet taken part in the annual survey. Nonbank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank funding and helps support economic activity, according to the FSB, adding that it can provide a “welcome” alternative supply of credit and provides “healthy competition for banks”.

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Where would we be without bubbles?

London Home Raffled For £3.75m Bought With Right-to-Buy in 2014 For £360k (G.)

A homeowner who tried to raise £3.75m by raffling her home online bought the property three years ago using the controversial right-to-buy scheme, and paid just £360,000. Renu Qadri, who lives in the house in Hardy Road, in south east London’s Blackheath, launched an online raffle on May 7. The dedicated website offered tickets for £5 each, with payments via Paypal. The stated aim was to sell 750,000 tickets, netting her £3.75m. A ticket picked at random would then win the property, including some of the furniture and £12,000 of “lead crystal chandeliers”. The raffle was halted on Thursday after advice from the homeowner’s local council, Greenwich, over “potential” breaches of Gambling Commission rules.

The website was taken down and replaced with a statement that said: “Ticket holders, please be advised that unfortunately we have been contacted by the local council informing us we will no longer be able to continue with this draw. Therefore we will be closing the site and all tickets holders will receive a full refund within 28 days. The five-bedroom flat is still on the market, however, and listed on property portal Rightmove for £1.25m. The owner, who is believed to have lived there since 2002, bought the property under the Government’s right-to-buy scheme three years ago, according to documents lodged with the Land Registry. It is understood that at the time it was valued at £460,000. Land Registry records confirm, however, that the price paid was £360,000, indicating the buyers benefited from a £100,000 right-to-buy discount. This is just under the maximum discount available through the scheme, which in London is currently £104,900.

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The media are too busy attacking Trump.

Media Blackout On The DNC Lawsuit Proves That It Is Nuclear (Med.)

I had the privilege of interviewing my newest personal hero yesterday, attorney Elizabeth Lee Beck, about her legal team’s fraud case against the Democratic National Committee. One of the many useful insights that this straight-shooting mom on fire brought to light during our conversation was her story about a time she reached out to New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro to get some help cracking through the deep, dark media blackout on this extremely important case. Barbaro had previously interviewed Beck and featured her in a front-page story not long ago, so she had every reason to try and contact him. What happened next? “The little piss head blocks me,” Beck said. Why is a journalist for the New York Times blocking a potential source from contacting him? Why is the mainstream media refusing to go anywhere near a legal case that has heavy implications for the future of American democracy?

You already know the answer to this deep down, whether you’re the kind of person who turns and faces reality or the kind of person who dissociates from reality at all costs while watching Samantha Bee and chugging cough syrup on the sofa. The function of the mass media is not to inform the American public of important things that are happening in their country, it is to turn attention away from the important things that are happening in their country and to keep them sleepy and compliant. The DNC lawsuit is one of the greatest threats to America’s power establishment right now, but only if people know about it. If the corporate media were to advance this story with even a fraction of the intensity that they’re advancing their xenophobic anti-Russia nonsense, they’d start waking up the sleeping masses to the fact that there is nothing resembling democracy happening in America at all.

And the DNC’s own lawyers have indeed made it abundantly clear to anyone who’s been listening that there is no democracy in America. You cannot make the case that you are not required to provide real primary elections in a rigidly-enforced two-party system and still say that democracy is happening to any extent within your nation. Being forced to choose between two establishment-selected corporatists is not democracy, and this revolutionary lawsuit has been showing in no uncertain terms that this is exactly what is happening both in practice and in theory. In order to say that there is any sort of democratic process in America at all, there would have to either be a way to run viable independent and third-party candidates, or the people would have to be able to determine who the candidates will be for the two parties that they are permitted to choose from. Currently neither of those things is happening.

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I’ve said it before: in Assange, Snowden, Manning etc., America -and the west- “persecutes, prosecutes, vilifies, condemns, exiles, or murders” its finest.

Patriotism And Conscience: The Edward Snowden Affair (LibR)

Here’s the point: If the NSA were to be abolished today and if Congress were to order all of its documents and records to be released immediately to the public, nothing would happen to the United States. Nothing! The same holds true for the CIA and the military-industrial complex. If all their files and records were to be suddenly disclosed to the people of the world, America would continue to exist as a country. It would not fall into the ocean, and the federal government would continue to operate. In fact, full disclosure of all of the illegal and immoral actions that the U.S. national-security establishment has engaged in during the past 70 years of its existence would be the greatest and healthiest thing that could ever happen to the United States.

Full disclosure of such secrets would be an antiseptic that would help cleanse the federal government and the country of many of the long-lasting stains that the national-security establishment has inflicted on it — an antiseptic that might finally begin to restore trust and confidence in the federal government among the American people. To be sure, the secrecy is always alleged to be justified by “national security,” the two most important words in any nation whose government is a national-security state. But what does that term mean? It has no objective meaning at all. It’s just a bogus term designed to keep nefarious and illegal actions secret. But heaven help those who reveal those secrets to others. They will be persecuted, prosecuted, vilified, condemned, exiled, or murdered. Nothing matters more to a national-security state than the protection of its secrets.

Those who reveal them must be made examples to anyone else who contemplates doing the same thing. In the process, conscience is suspended and stultified. It has no role in a national-security state. Individual citizens are expected to place their deep and abiding trust in the national-security establishment and to unconditionally defer to its judgment and expertise. Its job is to protect “national security” and that’s all that people need to know. Sometimes that entails illegal activity, such as murder, torture, and kidnapping, but that’s just the way it is. What’s important, they say, is that the national-security establishment is on the job, a perpetual sentinel for freedom, protecting “national security.”

Imagine that Edward Snowden voluntarily returned to the United States for trial. Do you think he would be given the opportunity at trial to show why he disclosed the NSA’s illegal and nefarious surveillance schemes? Do you think he would be entitled to argue that he was simply following the dictates of his conscience when he chose to reveal that information to the American people and the world?

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“Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? ”

Worried About ‘Wannacry’? You Should Have Listened To Julian Assange (Duran)

A widespread computer virus attack known as ‘WannaCry’ has been compromising computers with obsolete operating systems across the world. This should be the opening sentence of just about every article on this subject, but unfortunately it is not. The virus does not attack modern computer operating systems, it is designed to attack the Windows XP operating system that is so old, it was likely used in offices in the World Trade Center prior to September 11 2001, when the buildings collapsed. Windows XP was first released on 25 August, 2001. A child born on the release date of Windows XP is now on the verge of his or her 17th birthday. Feeling old yet? The fact of the matter is that governments and businesses around the world should not only feel old, they should feel humiliated and disgraced.

With the amount of money governments tax individuals and private entities, it is beyond belief that government organisations ranging from some computers in the Russian Interior Ministry to virtually all computers in Britain’s National Health Service, should be using an operating system so obsolete that its manufacturer, Microsoft, no longer supports it and hasn’t done for some time. Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? The scathing reality of this attack is that Julian Assange warned both private and public sectors to be on guard against known vulnerabilities in such systems, vulnerabilities Wikileaks helped to expose. Assange even offered to help companies to get their digital security up to date. The fact that Assange’s plea fell on deaf ears must bring further shame to all those impacted by the ‘WannaCry’ attacks who refused to listen to Assange and get with the times.

[..] if only governments and mega-corporations took precautions to ensure actual safety measures were in place, rather than engaging in bogus fear-mongering in order to conceal their own incompetence and lack of modern technology, the people that such bodies are supposed to protect would be safe rather than misled and exposed to threats. The blame for today’s attack can and should be equally shared by the hackers themselves and by those who patently ignored the warnings of Julian Assange, who advised the wider world to get clever, get secure and get modern upon the release of Vault 7 by Wikileaks. When there is a wolf at your door, it is unwise to blame the person pointing out the presence of the hungry wolf. Those who attack Julian Assange for pointing out the wolf of un-secured computer systems are doing just that.

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How many people know and understand that the economic models on which all current policies are based entirely ignore both credit and energy in our economies? How crazy is that?

Steve Keen Defines A Production Function Based On Energy (Res.)

Professor Steve Keen may be the first mainstream economist to address a fatal flaw in economic theory: omitting or minimizing the role of energy. Keen has developed a production formula incorporating energy, not as one factor of production along with capital and labor, but as the indispensable flow activating both. “Labor without energy is a corpse” says Keen; “Capital without energy is a sculpture.” Keen was one of twenty or so economists who made a credible prediction of the 2008-9 crisis, which government economists in the US and abroad declared “unpredictable” – after it blindsided them.

His work draws on contemporary economic theory and generates real-world predictions. He’s the sort of economist who financial commentators, investors and even government economists listen to; folks who haven’t heard of Daly’s steady state economy, Odum’s energy flow analysis of the ecosystem-economy, or Hall’s EROI “cheese slicer” model. Keen’s model implies that economic production is measurable in energy units, as Odum and others argued. Wealth is “nothing but the food, conveniences and pleasures of life,” as the earliest economists recognized. But it results from useful work, which can be measured in kilocalories. (To us weight watchers, just “calories.”) Here is his fundamental equation (the only one here, I promise):

To test his model against real data, Keen correlated its results with historical statistics of US GDP, and then compared correlations of GDP with the key terms individually. Over 40-odd years of data, his function correlated 0.79 with US GDP. The correlations with employment (Labor) alone and energy consumption (E) alone were much lower, at 0.60 and 0.59 respectively. His model might have correlated better if applied to a closed economic system, such as the entire world, or the US prior to 1970, if good data were available. Most of the useful work that supports Americans today is performed in the Far East or in the engines of container ships, and the energy inputs are considerable. Introducing his test data, Keen remarked that government statistics showing minimal unemployment were “just nonsense”. He presented a measure of employment instead. “They ask what Trump is complaining about- here’s what he’s complaining about..” (This was back in November.)

Presenting a chart of industrial energy consumption 1960-present, Keen remarked on the on the long decline since the 1979 peak, his latest values showing consumption comparable to 1967-8. Partly the result of increased efficiency, he said, but also “..becoming intractable because we are moving from highly efficient oil and coal to much less efficient wind and solar.” (Efficiency as energy output per unit of energy input.) I don’t think I’m overstating to say that Keen’s model marks a breakthrough in mainstream economics, though Keen describes it as merely “..the beginnings of a decent equation to explain the role of energy in production.”..demonstrating that wealth is “..fundamentally created by the exploitation of free energy, as the Physiocrats argued two centuries ago.” For those who discount any economic reasoning not expressed in calculus, Keen’s work opens an access to the wisdom of the Physiocrats. Maybe that of Daly, Odum and Hall as well.

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Time to organize. Or keep losing.

The Rise Of Rentiers And The Destruction Of The Middle Class (Ev)

The facts about the decline of the American middle class are increasingly familiar, though startling nonetheless. After growing almost continuously since World War II, U.S. median income stagnated at the end of the 1980s and then, beginning in 2000, declined 11%. Middle-class incomes today are no higher in real terms than they were in 1987. Much of the debt that caused the crisis was accumulated by the middle class as people tried to compensate for stagnant incomes by mortgaging up their homes and running up their credit cards. Then the debt bubble burst and the median family lost nearly $50,000, or 40% of its net wealth, from 2007 to 2010. For the typical middle-class family, the crisis wiped out 18 years of savings and investment. With too much debt before the crisis and their modest savings hammered by the downturn, many middle-class baby boomers are facing a major decline in living standards as they age.

On the other side of the generational divide, this will be the first cohort in modern American history whose children will quite possibly be poorer than their parents. So what do the rise of rentier capitalism and the hollowing out of America’s middle class have to do with each other? It is too simple to say that one directly caused the other. But they are more tightly linked than might be expected. The usual explanations for the woes of the American middle class point to big tectonic forces—namely globalization and technological change. At a superficial level this argument is correct—competition from low-wage countries has depressed wage growth in certain sectors, and technology has eliminated some manufacturing and middle-management jobs. But what this analysis leaves out is what we didn’t do—we didn’t make the long-term investments that would have helped us better adapt to these tectonic shifts.

One of the great historical strengths of both American capitalism and the American political system has been their adaptability. When the Industrial Revolution threatened America’s largely agricultural economy, America adapted and went one better, leapfrogging European industrial production by the early twentieth century. When industrialization then unbalanced America’s political system and strained its social fabric, Teddy Roosevelt unleashed a wave of political and social innovation, busting up trusts and introducing protections for consumers and workers. In the depths of the Depression, another Roosevelt responded with rural electrification, the creation of Social Security, and financial regulation that kept the system stable for 70 years. When the Soviet Union challenged America in the Cold War, we made massive investments in technology, education, and the National Highway System. The benefits of these innovations and investments flowed broadly in American society, not least to the middle class.

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Austrian school.

The Economic School You’ve Never Heard Of (EpT)

Economics was once tasked with describing how man manages the world’s scarce resources, a process far older than economics as a science. But it has morphed into a field that blames the individual and reality for not measuring up to its theories, and then uses the coercive power of the state in an attempt to shape individuals and reality according to its ends. The Austrian school of economics, the once dominant school of economic thought at the turn of the 19th century, focuses on the individual—and his or her actions and motivations—to explain economic life. It derives its name from the many scholars from Austria who developed 19th-century classic liberalism into a coherent explanation of economic life.

“Economics is in reality very simple. It functions in the same way that it did thousands of years ago. People come together to voluntarily engage in commerce with one another for their mutual benefit. People specialize and divide work among themselves to advance their condition,” writes modern Austrian economist Philipp Bagus in his book “Blind Robbery!” A bedrock principle of this understanding is that exchange should occur voluntarily and not under the coercion of the state or any other party. If exchange is voluntary, the individual or company must offer something of value if it wants to obtain something of value. This premise encourages innovative, creative, and productive behavior. It also forces individuals to think about what their fellow humans may appreciate or need. Every decision to allocate capital and labor needs to stand the test of reason, argument, and negotiation.

On aggregate, this decision-making process is much more elaborate and prudent than any central planning decision, which must use force to compel its subjects. “Production is directed either by profit-seeking businessmen or by the decisions of a director to whom supreme and exclusive power is entrusted. . . . The question is: Who should be master, the consumers or the director?” Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) writes in his book “Human Action.” This approach to economics can do without the complex mathematical models of the current schools because it admits that perfection doesn’t exist. There is no equilibrium. Things aren’t perfect, but the best possible solution to economic problems will be found by private individuals acting voluntarily, each assessing new situations for themselves.

“This is precisely what the price system does under competition, and which no other system even promises to accomplish. It enables entrepreneurs, by watching the movement of comparatively few prices, as an engineer watches the hands of a few dials, to adjust their activities to those of their fellows,” Nobel laureate Friedrich von Hayek wrote in his 1944 classic “The Road to Serfdom.”

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How any people are still happy in their work? Why do they volunteer to work for others?

The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Useless Jobs (Bregman)

I admit, we’ve heard it all before. Employees have been worrying about the rising tide of automation for 200 years now, and for 200 years employers have been assuring them that new jobs will naturally materialize to take their place. After all, if you look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment. In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes was predicting that we’d all be working just 15-hour weeks by the year 2030. Yet, since the 1980s, work has only been taking up more of our time, bringing waves of burnouts and stress in its wake. Meanwhile, the crux of the issue isn’t even being discussed. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: what actually constitutes “work” in this day and age?

In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless. They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.

Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect. So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”

It starts with an age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Most people would say the meaning of life is to make the world a little more beautiful, or nicer, or more interesting. But how? These days, our main answer to that is: through work. Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless? That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.

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Painful. 3rd world.

US Much Women More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than 25 Years Ago (ProP)

The ability to protect the health of mothers and babies in childbirth is a basic measure of a society’s development. Yet every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world. American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians. In every other wealthy country, and many less affluent ones, maternal mortality rates have been falling; in Great Britain, the journal Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.”

But in the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014. In a recent analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60% of such deaths were preventable. While maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S. [..] The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the U.S. are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error.

Yet the worsening U.S. maternal mortality numbers contrast sharply with the impressive progress in saving babies’ lives. Infant mortality has fallen to its lowest point in history, the CDC reports, reflecting 50 years of efforts by the public health community to prevent birth defects, reduce preterm birth and improve outcomes for very premature infants. The number of babies who die annually in the U.S. — about 23,000 in 2014 — still greatly exceeds the number of expectant and new mothers who die, but the ratio is narrowing. The divergent trends for mothers and babies highlight a theme that has emerged repeatedly in ProPublica’s and NPR’s reporting. In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.

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Everybody in the west is responsible for this. Our governments willfully create the chaos that generates it.

Africa’s New Slave Trade (G.)

The dangers of attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels, have been highlighted by a series of desperate rescue missions and thousands of deaths at sea in recent years. Last week, at least 245 people were killed by shipwrecks, bringing the toll for this year alone to 1,300. Less well-known are the dangers of Libya itself for migrants fleeing poverty across West Africa. The country’s slide into chaos following the 2011 death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the collapse of the government have made it a breeding ground for crime and exploitation. Two rival governments, an Isis franchise and countless local militias competing for control of a vast, sparsely populated territory awash in weapons, have allowed traffickers to flourish, checked only by the activities of their criminal rivals.

Last year, more than 180,000 refugees arrived in Italy, the vast majority of them through Libya, according to UN agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). That number is forecast to top 200,000 this year – and these people form a lucrative source of income for militias and mafias who control Libya’s roads and trafficking networks. Migrants who managed to reach Europe from Libya have long told of being kidnapped by smugglers, who would then torture them to extort cash as they waited for boats. But in recent years this abuse has developed into a modern-day slave trade – plied along routes once used by slaving caravans – that has engulfed tens of thousands of lives.

The new slave traders operate with such impunity that, survivors say, some victims are being sold in public markets. Most, however, see their lives and liberty auctioned off in private. “They took people and put them in the street, under a sign that said ‘for sale’,” said Shamsuddin Jibril, 27, from Cameroon, who twice saw men traded publicly in the streets of the central Libyan town of Sabha, once famous as the home of a young Gaddafi, but now known for violence and brutality. “They tied their hands just like in the former slave trade, and they drove them here in the back of a Toyota Hilux. There were maybe five or seven of them.”

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Jun 082016
 
 June 8, 2016  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Washington Monument, view from air 1919

Bank of Japan’s Sovereign Debt Endgame Is The Naked Emperor (FP)
Japan’s Biggest Bank To Quit As JGB Primary Dealer (ZH)
Draghi Fires Starting Gun on Corporate Bond Purchases in Europe (BBG)
Public Support For The EU Plunges Across Europe (R.)
France Shuns Europe As Brexit Revolt Spreads (AEP)
Billions Of Pounds Taken Out Of Britain Amid Fears Of Brexit (Ind.)
China’s Exports Weaken, Signaling More Headwinds For Growth (BBG)
China Central Bank Holds Line On Growth Forecast, Sees More Pain To Come (R.)
US-China Talks Limited by Disagreements (WSJ)
Millions Around The World Are Fleeing Neoliberal Policy (RNN)
Only 10 Countries In The World Are Not At War (Ind.)
Arctic Sea Ice Hit A Stunning New Low In May (WaPo)
Greek Legal Rulings Back 35 Refugees Appealing Deportation (Kath.)
EU Considers Linking African Aid to Curbs on Migrant Flows (WSJ)

“The workability of the institution breaks down when a different set of rules are seen to apply to governments versus those that apply to everyone else.”

Bank of Japan’s Sovereign Debt Endgame Is The Naked Emperor (FP)

Last week, Bloomberg reported in depth on Japan’s miraculous diminishing debt load. Turns out, despite a steady rise in government borrowing, the burden of repayment is diminished because the buyer of 90% of that debt is the Bank of Japan. This has serious implications for Canadian investors, yet the full significance has not yet been thoroughly unpacked by media. My bet is most analysts and economists are aghast at this admission by a G7 government that debt could just be summarily forgiven. It suggests the notion of liability in credit does not apply to government, or its associated (yet private, to varying degree) central banks. But it’s really quite simple. The single most important rule upon which our global debt-driven economic growth equation is dependent is that debt is repaid.

If it isn’t, assets are confiscated. Just like if you don’t keep up with the mortgage payments on your house, you lose it. But what happens when the biggest creditor is also the debtor? The entire debtor/creditor relationship is rendered nonsensical. The size of the debt any one nation can undertake is directly related to its ability to repay any proposed amount over time. Its ability to repay its debt, in turn, is derived from the consensus of markets that demand a higher rate of interest the closer a debtor gets to defaulting. The debt limit is reached when no one will lend, because even at the highest rate of interest, the chance of default is greater. Or when the debtor misses a payment. This works well in a world ostensibly governed by free markets, and when the rules are universally applied. The workability of the institution breaks down when a different set of rules are seen to apply to governments versus those that apply to everyone else.

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BoJ buys everything. Banks have to deal with a monopoly, no profit in that.

Japan’s Biggest Bank To Quit As JGB Primary Dealer (ZH)

Ever since the launch of Japan’s QE, and worsening in the aftermath of January’s shocking NIRP announcement, Japan’s bond market, which moments ago slid to new record lows yields across the curve, has had its share of near-death experiences: between repeated VaR shocks, to days in which not a single bond was traded, to trillions in bonds with negative yields, it has seemed that the Japanese Government Bond is on life support. That support may be ending. According to Nikkei, and confirmed by Bloomberg, Japan’s biggest bank, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, is preparing to quit its role as a primary dealer of Japanese government bonds as negative interest rates turn the instruments into larger risks, a fallout from massive monetary easing measures by the Bank of Japan.

While the role of a Primary Dealer comes with solid perks such as meetings with the Finance Ministry over bond issuance and generally being privy to inside information and effectively free money under POMO, dealers also are required to bid on at least 4% of a planned JGB issuance, which as the Nikkei reports has become an increasingly heavy burden for BTMU. In other words, one of the key links that provides liquidity and lubricates the Japanese government bond market has just decided to exit the market due to, among other thinks, lack of liquidity entirely due to the policy failure of Abenomics in general, and Kuroda’s disastrous monetary policies in particular.

One could, of course, ask just how does BTMU plan on also exiting the Japanese economy itself, if and when the country’s $8 trillion bond market implodes, but we doubt the bank will ever be able to answer that. The ministry is expected to let the bank resign. Japan has 22 primary dealers including megabanks and major brokerages. Several foreign brokerages had pulled out before as part of restructuring efforts at home or for other reasons, but BTMU will be the first Japanese institution to quit. In a revolutionary shift, one created by the Bank of Japan itself, banks, once the biggest buyers of JGBs, see little appeal in sovereign debt today. The bonds have very low yields, and a rise in interest rates could leave banks with vast unrealized losses.

Private-sector banks held just over 229 trillion yen ($2.13 trillion) in JGBs at the end of 2015, nearly 30% less than at the end of March 2013, before the BOJ launched massive quantitative and qualitative easing measures. Negative rates introduced this year by the BOJ reinforced the trend. The highest bid yield on benchmark 10-year JGBs sank to a record low of negative 0.092% on Thursday. BTMU was the fifth-largest buyer of Japanese government bonds among the 22 primary dealers until spring 2015, but ranked 10th or lower between October 2015 and March 2016 as shareholders turned up their nose on government debt.

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One day we’ll understand just how insane this is. One massive debt orgasm.

Draghi Fires Starting Gun on Corporate Bond Purchases in Europe (BBG)

Investors will be watching Mario Draghi’s first corporate bond purchases on Wednesday for an indication of whether they were right to snap up the notes before the ECB. The ECB is adding investment-grade corporate notes to its €80 billion monthly purchase program, which already includes covered bonds, asset-backed securities and government debt, as part of efforts to encourage growth. The challenge will be buying enough bonds in increasingly illiquid markets, investors and analysts say. “There is a fair amount riding on this in terms of the ECB’s credibility,” said Victoria Whitehead at BNP Paribas Investment Partners. “The perception is that if they can’t buy at least €5 billion of bonds a month, the program will be seen as unsuccessful.” Investors have piled into investment-grade corporate bonds on the promise of central bank purchases, driving up prices and cutting borrowing costs.

The average yield for euro notes tumbled to 1.002% on Monday, the lowest in more than a year, according to BofAML index data. Companies responded to the surge in demand by selling more than €50 billion of bonds in the single currency in May, the second-busiest month on record. While purchases of more than €5 billion of bonds may boost the market, investors may be disappointed if the ECB bought less than €3 billion a month, CreditSights analysts wrote in a June 5 report. Commerzbank and Morgan Stanley don’t expect the monthly purchases to surpass €5 billion. “We’re worried that they won’t be able to buy quite as much as they want to,” said Tim Winstone at Henderson Global Investors. “If the buying underwhelms and reported volumes are less than most people expect, there is a risk of a selloff.”

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Dissolve the monster peacefully while you still can. Or else.

Public Support For The EU Plunges Across Europe (R.)

Public support for the European Union has fallen sharply in its biggest member states over the past year, a survey showed on Tuesday, weeks before Britons vote on whether to leave the 28-nation bloc. The survey of 10 large EU states by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed strong support for Britain to stay in the EU, with 89% of Swedes, 75% of Dutch and 74% of Germans viewing a so-called Brexit as a bad thing. But most striking was a plunge in the percentage of Europeans who view the EU favorably, a development which appears linked to the bloc’s handling of the refugee crisis and the economy. The fall was most pronounced in France, where only 38% of respondents said they had a favorable view of the EU, down 17 points from last year.

Favorability ratings also fell by 16 points in Spain to 47%, by eight points in Germany to 50%, and by seven points in Britain to 44%. Public support for the EU was strongest in Poland and Hungary, countries which ironically have two of the most EU-sceptical governments in the entire bloc. The Pew survey showed that 72% of Poles and 61% of Hungarians view the EU favorably. “The British are not the only ones with doubts about the European Union,” Pew said. “Much of the disaffection with the EU among Europeans can be attributed to Brussels’ handling of the refugee issue. In every country surveyed, overwhelming majorities disapprove of how Brussels has dealt with the problem.”

This was especially true in Greece, which has been overwhelmed by migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Some 94% of Greeks believe the EU has mishandled the refugee crisis. In Sweden it was 88%, in Italy 77% and in Spain 75%. At 92%, Greeks were also the most disapproving of the EU’s handling of the economy, followed by the Italians at 68% and French at 66%. Roughly two-thirds of Greeks and Britons said powers should be returned to national governments from Brussels, far higher than in the other surveyed countries.

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Close to what I’ve written before: “They may have to dissolve the EU as it is and try to reinvent it, both in order to bring the Brits back and because they fear that the whole political order will be swept away unless they do..”

France Shuns Europe As Brexit Revolt Spreads (AEP)

France has turned even more viscerally eurosceptic than Britain over recent months, profoundly altering the political geography of Europe and making it impossible to judge how Paris might respond to Brexit. An intractable economic crisis has been eating away at the legitimacy of the French governing elites for much of this decade. This has now combined with a collapse in the credibility of the government, and mounting anger over immigration. A pan-European survey by the Pew Research Center released today found that 61pc of French voters have an “unfavourable” view, compared to 48pc in the UK. A clear majority is opposed to “ever closer union” and wants powers returned to the French parliament, a finding that sits badly with the insistence by President Francois Hollande that “more Europe” is the answer to the EU’s woes.

“It is a protest against the elites,” said Professor Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London. “There are 5000 people in charge of everything in France. They are all linked by school and marriage, and they are tight.” Prof Granville said the mechanisms of monetary union have upset the Franco-German strategic marriage, wounding the French psyche. “The EU was sold to the French people as a `partnership’ of equals with Germany. But it has been very clear since 2010 that this is not the case. Everybody could see that Germany decided everything in Greece,” she said. The death of the Monnet dream in the EU’s anchor state poses an existential threat to the European project and is running in parallel to what is happening in Britain.

The Front National’s Marine Le Pen is leading the polls for the presidential elections in 2017 with vows to restore the French franc and smash the EU edifice. While it has long been assumed that she could never win an outright majority, nobody is quite so sure after the anti-incumbent upset in Austria last month. “The Front National is making hay from the Brexit debate,” said Giles Merritt, head of the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels. “The EU policy elites are in panic. If the British vote to leave the shock will be so ghastly that they will finally wake up and realize that they can no longer ignore demands for democratic reform,” he said.

“They may have to dissolve the EU as it is and try to reinvent it, both in order to bring the Brits back and because they fear that the whole political order will be swept away unless they do,” he said. Mr Merritt said it is an error to suppose that the EU would carry on as a monolithic bloc able to dictate terms after a Brexit vote. “The British would have pricked the bubble. The Germans are deeply alarmed at how suddenly the mood is shifting everywhere,” he said.

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It’s going to be so much fun, the next two weeks. Can the footballers save England at the Euro Cup?

Billions Of Pounds Taken Out Of Britain Amid Fears Of Brexit (Ind.)

Investors are moving billions of pounds in assets out of British currency and assets ahead of the EU referendum, new figures suggest. An analysis by Sky News found £65bn left the UK or was converted into other currencies in March and April, the largest amount since the economic crash. In the six months to the end of April, £77bn was pulled out of British pounds, compared to just £2bn in the six months to the end of last October. The figures, published by the Bank of England, are consistent with investors worrying that the pound is due for a sharp fall should Brexit to occur. Because financial markets are prone to collective panic, investors’ views are the main factor in determining whether the pound will actually fall. Any perception that a fall was about to take place could end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In February, HSBC warned that 20% could be wiped off the value of sterling were Britain to leave the EU. In May this figure was corroborated by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The pound plunged to a three-week low yesterday, probably partly in response to polls showing the Leave campaigning ahead. It hit a seven-year low against the dollar the day after the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced he was backing Brexit, and also suffered the biggest one-day fall since David Cameron become Prime Minister. The collapse of the pound at the end of June would mean Britons going abroad during the summer would have their spending power reduced. Imported goods such as electronics would also likely become significantly more expensive.

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That is one damning graph. Where would China’s imports be without the fake invoices?

China’s Exports Weaken, Signaling More Headwinds For Growth (BBG)

China’s exports stabilized in May, with a weakening currency giving some support to growth in the world’s biggest trading nation. Overseas shipments fell 4.1% in dollar terms from a year earlier, the customs administration said Wednesday. Imports slipped 0.4% – the smallest drop since late 2014 – to leave a trade surplus of $50 billion. Reflecting a weaker currency, both exports and imports fared better when measured in local currency terms. The Shanghai Composite Index pared losses and the Australian dollar rallied. “The worst time for Chinese exports has passed,” said Harrison Hu at Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore, adding that the dollar-denominated export growth is slightly misleading due to the price changes.

“The quantity of exports actually showed a subdued increase. The yuan also depreciated against a basket of currencies, which supports exports.” Still, that support remains restrained. The World Bank on Tuesday cut its global growth estimate to 2.4% for this year, which would be the same as 2015, from the 2.9% projected in January. Ma Jun, chief economist of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, lowered his forecast for China’s exports this year to a 1% decline, versus a 3.1% increase seen previously, according to a work paper published Wednesday. “The weakening momentum of global growth is our main reason to lower the forecast,” he wrote. “A 10-percentage point decline in exports can drag GDP growth down by about 1%.”

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“China’s trade shrank 8% last year, compared with the government’s goal for 6% growth..”

China Central Bank Holds Line On Growth Forecast, Sees More Pain To Come (R.)

China’s central bank slashed its forecast for exports on Wednesday, predicting a second straight annual fall in shipments, but said the economy will still grow 6.8% this year. The People’s Bank of China also warned in its mid-year work report that the government’s push to reduce debt levels and overcapacity could increase bond default risks and make it more difficult for companies to raise funds. And ahead of a meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policymaking board next week, it said the pace of U.S interest rate rises would affect global capital flows and emerging market currencies, but it did not mention the yuan. “Since the beginning of this year, the global and domestic economic environment has experienced a number of changes,” the PBOC said in the report.

“Reflecting these recent developments, we revised our China macroeconomic forecasts for 2016. Compared with our published forecasts in December last year, we maintain our baseline projection of 2016 real GDP growth at 6.8%.” The report was released shortly after monthly data showed China’s exports fell an annual 4.1% in May, more than expected and the 10th decline in the past 12 months. Imports were more encouraging, however, declining only marginally and much less than expected, pointing to improving domestic demand and adding to views that the economy may be slowly stabilizing. Preliminary commodity trade data showed sharp rises in imports of copper and iron ores.

[..] Despite cutting its forecast for exports to minus 1% from growth of 3.1%, the PBOC saw a domestic recovery remaining on track. It upgraded its forecast for fixed-asset investment growth to 11%, an increase of 0.2 percentage points from estimates it made late last year. A government spending spree on major infrastructure projects and a continuing recovery in the housing market have boosted demand for materials from cement to steel. China’s trade shrank 8% last year, compared with the government’s goal for 6% growth , in the worst performance since the global financial crisis.

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And those are here to stay. Sharply conflicting interests.

US-China Talks Limited by Disagreements (WSJ)

The U.S. and China made little progress on a series of disagreements during two days of high-level economic and security talks, as both countries prepare for leadership change and further economic uncertainty. Statements by officials from both sides on Tuesday suggested mostly incremental results from the dialogue. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Chinese officials reaffirmed a commitment not to devalue an already weakening yuan for competitive purposes and pledged not to “target” an expansion of the steel industry, whose surging production he previously called market-distorting. Beijing widened access to its tightly regulated financial markets, offering U.S. investors a quota of 250 billion yuan ($38.1 billion) to buy Chinese stocks and bonds.

The two governments agreed to designate clearing banks in the U.S. for settling yuan transactions, a move that would promote greater use of the Chinese currency. Mr. Lew said it was too early to say which U.S. financial institution might be chosen but said the U.S. will have the second-largest quota after Hong Kong. On the more contentious issues in the relationship, the senior officials appeared to restate positions and, in some cases, outright disagree. A new Chinese law that grants police the authority to monitor foreign nonprofits provoked sharp differences. This year’s meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue is the last for the Obama administration, with the U.S. presidential election approaching. China soon will face its own important leadership transition.

In 2017, five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, are due to step down. The timing of the meetings, combined with tensions over the South China Sea—where the U.S. is challenging Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over islands, reefs and surrounding waters claimed by other countries—limited prospects for breakthroughs on issues such as trade and investment barriers and China’s currency policy.

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TEXT

Millions Around The World Are Fleeing Neoliberal Policy (RNN)

What it tells is almost identical to what has already been narrated for Russia and Greece. And what’s responsible for the increasing death rates is actually neoliberal economic policy, neoliberal trade policy, and the polarization and impoverishment of a large part of society. After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, death rates soared, lifespans shortened, health standards decreased all throughout the Yeltsin administration, until finally President Putin came in and stabilized matters. Putin said that the destruction caused by neoliberal economic policies had killed more Russians than all of whom died in World War II, the 22 million people. That’s the devastation that polarization caused there.

Same thing in Greece. In the last five years, Greek lifespans have shortened. They’re getting sicker, they’re dying faster, they’re not healthy. Almost all of the British economists of the late 18th century said when you have poverty, when you have a transfer of wealth to the rich, you’re going to have shorter lifespans, and you’re also going to have immigration. The countries that have a hard money policy, a creditor policy, people are going to emigrate. Now, at that time that was why England was gaining immigrants. It was gaining skilled labor. It was gaining people to work in its industry because other countries were still in the post-feudal system and were driving them out. Russia had a huge emigration of skilled labor, largely to Germany and to the United States, especially in information technology. Greece has a heavy outflow of labor.

The Baltic states have had almost a 10% decline in their population in the last decade as a result of their neoliberal policies. Also, health problems are rising. Now, the question is, in America, now that you’re having as a result of this polarization shorter lifespans, worse health, worse diets, where are the Americans going to emigrate’ Nobody can figure that one out yet. There’s no, seems nowhere for them to go, because they don’t speak a foreign language. The Russians, the Greeks, most Europeans all somehow have to learn English in school. They’re able to get by in other countries. They’re not sure where on earth can the Americans come from’ Nobody can really figure this out.

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Curious ‘thingy’ from the Independent: somewhere in the article it says Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country, even though it’s not in that list of 10.

Only 10 Countries In The World Are Not At War (Ind.)

The world is becoming a more dangerous place and there are now just 10 countries which can be considered completely free from conflict, according to authors of the 10th annual Global Peace Index. The worsening conflict in the Middle East, the lack of a solution to the refugee crisis and an increase in deaths from major terrorist incidents have all contributed to the world being less peaceful in 2016 than it was in 2015. And there are now fewer countries in the world which can be considered truly at peace – in other words, not engaged in any conflicts either internally or externally – than there were in 2014. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, a think-tank which has produced the index for the past 10 years, only Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Vietnam are free from conflict.

Brazil is the country that has dropped out of the list, and as one of the worst performing countries year-on-year represents a serious concern ahead of the Rio Olympics, the IEP’s founder Steve Killelea told The Independent. But perhaps the most remarkable result from this year’s peace index, he said, was the extent to which the situation in the Middle East drags down the rest of the world when it comes to peacefulness. “If we look at the world overall, it has become slightly less peaceful in the last 12 months,” Mr Killelea said. “But if we took the Middle East out of the index over the last decade – and last year – the world would have become more peaceful,” he said. “It really highlights the impact the Middle East is having on the world.”

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Man was here.

Arctic Sea Ice Hit A Stunning New Low In May (WaPo)

The 2016 race downward in Arctic sea ice continued in May with a dramatic new record. The average area of sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean last month was just 12 million square kilometers (4.63 million square miles), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). That beats the prior May record (from 2004) by more than half a million square kilometers, and is well over a million square kilometers, or 500,000 square miles, below the average for the month. Another way to put it is this: The Arctic Ocean this May had more than three Californias less sea ice cover than it did during an average May between 1981 and 2010. And it broke the prior record low for May by a region larger than California, although not quite as large as Texas.

This matters because 2016 could be marching toward a new record for the lowest amount of ice ever observed on top of the world at the height of melt season — September. The previous record September low was set in 2012. But here’s what the National Snow and Ice Data Center has to say about that: Daily extents in May were also two to four weeks ahead of levels seen in 2012, which had the lowest September extent in the satellite record. The monthly average extent for May 2016 is more than one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) below that observed in May 2012. In other words, for Arctic sea ice, May 2016 was more like June 2012 — the record-breaking year. Going into the truly warm months of the year, then, the ice is in a uniquely weak state.

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The whole thing is turning into such a mess you would think this is happening on purpose.

Greek Legal Rulings Back 35 Refugees Appealing Deportation (Kath.)

Fears are rising about the possible breakdown of a deal between the European Union and Turkey for the return of migrants after legal committees in Greece upheld dozens of appeals by refugees against their deportation. By late Monday, Greek appeals committees had ruled in favor of 35 refugees, ruling that Turkey is “an unsafe country.” Only two rulings overturned appeals by refugees against their deportation. On Tuesday a crowd of refugees blocked the container terminal at the port of Thessaoniki to protest the slow pace at which asylum applications are being processed. Hundreds of applications are pending and there are fears that they too will result in rulings in favor of refugees, undercutting a deal signed between Ankara and Brussels in March to return migrants to Turkey.

Meanwhile there are also concerns about a pickup in arrivals from neighboring Turkey. For several weeks, a crackdown by Turkish authorities on smugglers had all but stopped the migrant influx. Now that ties between Turkey and the EU are strained over the former’s refusal to reform terrorism laws and its insistence that Turks be granted visa-free access to the bloc, more migrants have started arriving in Greece from Turkey. The total number of refugees in Greece is 57,458, according to government figures made public on Tuesday. The figure includes 5,700 people in rented accommodation arranged by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. The remainder of the migrants are living in makeshift camps or state-run facilities on the Aegean islands or mainland Greece.

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When in a hole, keep digging. One deal with a madman is not enough.

EU Considers Linking African Aid to Curbs on Migrant Flows (WSJ)

The European Union’s executive body on Tuesday presented plans linking trade and investment perks for African countries to their efforts in reducing migration to Europe, a controversial idea that still needs the backing of EU governments. While the bloc has managed to stem the influx of Syrian refugees and other migrants after striking a deal with Turkey in March, an increasing number of mostly African migrants are attempting to make the perilous journey via Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Nearly 50,000 people were rescued and brought to Italy this year and over 2,000 are feared dead after several boats capsized off the Libyan coast, according the United Nations’ refugee agency.

“We must do in the southern Mediterranean what we’ve done in the Aegean,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said Tuesday in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Under the proposed measures from the European Commission, which still need the approval of EU governments and the European Parliament, EU development funding and trade incentives would be linked to the countries’ level of cooperation on migration. “We propose a mix of positive and negative incentives, to reward those countries willing to cooperate effectively with us and to ensure there are consequences for those who do not. This includes using our development and trade policies to create leverage,” Mr. Timmermans said.

EU diplomats in Brussels expect “quite heated discussions” on the idea of linking development aid and trade policies to cooperation on migration, as governments have different views on whether it is ethical to make aid conditional on countries taking people back or preventing them from leaving. EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Friday will have a first exchange of views on the topic.

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May 142016
 
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Camp Meade, Maryland 1917

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)
The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)
Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)
China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)
China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)
S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)
US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)
The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)
The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)
Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)
What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)
“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)
Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)
Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)
EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

Ambrose strikes. Can’t go wrong with a headline like that. “..the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out.” And “..take your rotting pile of damp wood elsewhere Madame Lagarde.”

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)

If the IMF and its co-conspirators in the Treasury wish to deter undecided voters from flirting with Brexit, they have certainly failed in my case. Having listened to their irritating lectures, I am more inclined to opt for defiance, for their mask of objectivity has fallen. There can no longer be any doubt that they are playing politics with the democratic self-determination of this country. The Fund gives the game away in point 8 of its Article IV conclusion on the UK economy. It states that “the cost of insuring against a UK sovereign default has doubled (albeit from a low level)”. Any normal person who does not follow the derivatives markets would interpret this as a grim warning from global investors. Yes, the price of credit default swaps on 5-year UK debt – the proxy we all use – has jumped from 17 to 37 since late last year.

But the IMF neglected to mention that it has risen from 15 to 33 in Switzerland, from 26 to 43 in France, and from 45 to 65 in Korea. The jump has almost nothing to do with Brexit, and the IMF knows this perfectly well. The French have an expression that will be familiar to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde: ils font feu de tout bois. Her own IMF mentor and long-time chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, told me last month that there was no risk whatsoever of a sovereign bond crisis, or a Gilts strike, or a sudden stop of any kind. “Will financing be more difficult after Brexit? Will investors see the British government as more risky? I don’t think so,” he said. Professor Blanchard, who recently stepped down from the Fund and is free to speak his mind, says there may be a price to pay for Brexit but it is impossible to calculate.

“The cost of exiting will not be seamless, and the uncertainty will last for a very long time afterwards. Firms deciding whether to locate a plant in the UK or in the Continent will wait. Investment will drop,” he said. But he also said weaker pound would cushion the effects of falling investment to some degree. So bare this in mind when you comb through today’s Article IV statement with its delicious mix of precision and selective vagueness on the alleged damage of Brexit. The hit ranges from 1.5pc to 9.5pc of GDP. Note the decimal points. The range depends on whether it is “a la Switzerland, a la Norway, or a la WTO,” said Madame Lagarde. Perhaps it is churlish to point out that the IMF completely missed the onset of the global financial crisis, and was blindsided when the US fell into recession in November 2007. The Fund’s staff were still predicting sunlit uplands as far as the eye could see, even when the blackest of black storms was upon them.


The IMF misjudged the fiscal multiplier horribly in Greece

Its forecasts for Greece were wrong every single year following the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out. They originally said the Greek economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 and then recover briskly. What actually happened – as predicted at the time by the Indian member of the IMF board – was the most spectacular collapse of a developed economy in the post-war era. Output ultimately fell by 26pc from peak to trough. To its credit, the IMF later admitted that it had horribly misjudged the fiscal multiplier. Indeed. I don’t wish the denigrate the Fund. It remains a superb institution. I use its research all the time in my work. But on this occasion it has been misused for political purposes.

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Maybe they can pay people to dig a big hole to throw the produced steel in.?!

The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)

The grey smoke pouring once again into the sky above a rusty steel plant in a town in northern China is seen as a blessing by people who live nearby. One of the plant’s six blast furnaces was put back into operation earlier this month, breathing new life into Dongzhen in Shanxi province. The plant, formally known as Haixin Iron and Steel, was closed two years ago as demand for the metal plunged in China. Steel companies with little hope of turning a profit are among the enterprises known as “zombie firms” in China, many operating in ailing heavy industries that the central government has pledged to cut back as it attempts to create a modern, high-tech and innovation driven economy. Millions of jobs are due to be axed in the steel and coal sectors in the coming years.

But the plant at Dongzhen has been given a lifeline. It has been renamed and taken over by new owners amid signs of a rise in steel prices, plus massive support from the local government. And there is evidence that increasing numbers of other steel plants are also reopening in China, despite the government’s pledges that the industry must be cut back. Local people in Dongzhen, at least, now dare to believe there may still be hope for their beleaguered industry. Restaurants have reopened, new food stalls set up, and even watermelon vendors are driving their carts and trucks nearby to serve the thousands of workers coming in and out of the compound. Uniformed workers in red and blue helmets flow through the foundry gate, heavy trucks and cars blow their horns and there is a renewed sense of dynamism in this dusty town.

The fate of the Dongzhen steel plant highlights the dilemma facing many local government across the country: the need for massive economic reforms, weighed against the suffering created by massive job losses and the fear of social unrest. President Xi Jinping has said cutting overcapacity in ailing industries such as steel is an essential part of the government’s “supply-side” economic reforms. An unidentified “authoritative figure” was also quoted in a prominent article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday renewing calls to terminate “zombie companies”. Haixin, however, is not the only “zombie” steel firming coming back from the dead. As China pumped unprecedented amounts of credit to boost growth in the first quarter, many steel plants are back on stream to take advantage of a rise in steel prices.

Daily steel output on the mainland in March rebounded to a nine-month high and output in April could be even higher, according to analysts, although the steel price rally has started to fizzle away this month. “It’s difficult to take Chinese pledges to address surplus capacity seriously,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor of economics at Peking University HSBC Business School. “There is a recent track record of talking about the problem and not taking the steps required to solve it: like a dieter who wants to lose weight and still eats chocolate chip cookies.”

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Fighting for a share of a collapsing market.

Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)

A new front has opened up in the “steel war” between China and Europe after Brussels launched an investigation into whether the Beijing government is subsidising its steel producers. The European Commission said it was starting a probe into a complaint that China is subsiding its producers of hot rolled flat steel – one of the most widely used forms of the alloy. The Commission has already imposed tariffs on some forms of steel being exported into Europe after earlier investigations determined they were being “dumped” – sold at below cost – by Chinese plants, as they get rid of excess production in the wake of a drop in domestic demand. However, the new investigation could tackle the problem at source, by looking into claims China is subsidising its largely state-owned steel industry, damaging European rivals.

If it finds subsidisation is taking place, further duties could be imposed on Chinese imports in an attempt to level the playing field. The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority against China being given the coveted Market Economy Status. The move follows a complaint from Eurofer, the European steel association, and a spokesman said the group “welcomed the move into unfair subsidisation originating in China”. “Hot rolled flat steel is the bread and butter of the industry, going into everything from cans to cars and by far the most commonly used form of steel,” the spokesman added. “The European steel industry suffers damage from unfair trading practices originating in China.”

The European steel industry is in crisis at the moment as it battles the flood of cheap steel from China, and struggles against tougher environmental controls and higher prices, which are particularly punishing in the UK. More than 5,000 jobs have been lost in Britain’s steel industry in the past year as plants have struggled to compete. In April Tata launched the sale of its loss-making British steel operations based around the massive Port Talbot plant. Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, said the widening of investigations from dumping into subsidies was a progression of the campaign to fight unfair trade. “This is a welcome and much-needed investigation into Chinese Government subsidies which will run in parallel to its ongoing investigation into dumping of steel into the EU. The significant unfair trading practices carried out by China has been a major cause of the worst steel crisis in over a generation here in the UK.”

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“China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China..”

China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)

In another sign of escalating trade tensions between China and the United States, Beijing told the World Trade Organization on Friday that Washington was failing to implement a WTO ruling against punitive U.S. tariffs on a range of Chinese goods. China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said it had requested consultations with the United States over the issue, and anti-subsidy duties on products including solar panels, wind towers and steel pipe used in the oil industry. China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China, accusing it of unfairly continuing punitive duties on U.S. exports of broiler chicken products in violation of WTO rules.

“By disregarding the WTO rules and rulings, the United States has severely impaired the integrity of WTO rules and the interests of Chinese industries,” MOFCOM said in a statement distributed by the Chinese embassy in Washington. The case was first brought before the WTO by China in 2012 against U.S. duties on 15 diverse product categories that also include thermal paper, steel sinks and tow-behind lawn grooming equipment. In December 2014, the WTO’s Appellate Body ruled in favor of Chinese claims that the products subject to duties had not benefited from subsidies from “public bodies” favoring particular manufacturers.

The deadline for implementation of the rulings and recommendations of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, set through binding arbitration, expired on April 1, according to WTO records. A U.S. Trade Representative spokesman said the United States had been “working diligently to comply with the recommendations” and to fully conform with its WTO obligations. He added that the U.S. response to China’s request for consultations would come “in due course.”

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Dollar-denominated debt is the sword of Damocles.

China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)

The best time for China Inc. to repay its dollar debt may be coming to an end. The greenback is rallying after its worst quarter since 2010, threatening to drive up costs for companies seeking to either repay U.S. currency borrowings or hedge exposure. The yuan declined 1% since March 31, following a 2% rally between February and March. Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse see more depreciation. “If corporates haven’t taken advantage of this period of yuan gains, they really only have themselves to blame,” said Sue Trinh, Hong Kong-based head of Asian foreign-exchange strategy at RBC. “The government won’t hold down the exchange rate forever.”

RBC estimates Chinese companies’ outstanding dollar borrowings have now been trimmed to $430 billion, while Daiwa Capital Markets says as much as $3 trillion was borrowed to plow into the higher-yielding yuan, including by individuals and foreign companies. A rush to repay risks accelerating capital outflows and yuan weakness amid China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years. The yuan’s renewed depreciation is a challenge for companies that took advantage of the currency’s gains in the four years through 2013 to borrow dollars offshore, profiting from both an appreciating exchange rate and higher interest rates at home. The one-way bets began to unravel as the currency dropped 2.4% in 2014 and 4.5% last year.

The yuan sank 2.6% in August last year after a shock devaluation, and then rose for the next two months as the People’s Bank of China intervened in the market to support the exchange rate. The authority reiterated in its latest monetary policy implementation report released last week that it wants to keep the currency stable. “The recent yuan stability was artificial and likely helped by consistent verbal intervention from the PBOC that there is no depreciation pressure,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “However, in the background, there is growing concern of increasing debt issues. We are watching growing incidences of coupon defaults.”

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Pretty damning. But it will continue short term. And a few years down the road, infrastructure will start falling apart.

S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)

Companies are planning to devote billions to buying back their own stock this year, even though the strategy seems to be losing its bite. Statements accompanying first-quarter earnings indicate corporations are preparing to buy a total of $600 billion in their own shares, according to Goldman Sachs calculations. That comes after a year in which S&P 500 buybacks amounted to $572.2 billion, which itself was a 3,3% increase from 2014 and part of a trend that has seen repurchases amount to more than $2.7 trillion since 2010, data from S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Buybacks slowed in the first part of the year, with TrimTabs reporting a 35% decline over 2015. However, that’s not likely to last as companies struggle to find the best way to spend cash. S&P 500 companies have nearly $1.5 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.

“The main thing that determines that is whether they see their markets pop or not,” said Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management. “One of the things we really haven’t had in this recovery is getting all the economic boats moving north at the same time.” With the lack of sustained economic growth, companies have turned to buybacks and dividends to pick up the slack. However, the effectiveness of returning cash directly to shareholders doesn’t have the same pop it once had. Where buybacks had helped fuel the S&P 500’s meteoric rise and the second longest bull market in history, the market has been volatile but flat over the past year or so. Moreover, companies that have been the biggest movers in buybacks have underperformed significantly.

The PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Portfolio exchange-traded fund tracks companies that have bought back at least 5% of their shares over the past 12 months. The ETF is down about 0.7% in 2016 and off 8.4% over the past year. The fund’s biggest holdings include McDonald’s, Boeing, Qualcomm, Lowes and Mondelez. A big name missing from the top holdings is Apple, which has buyback plans totaling $175 billion for a stock that is down 13.2% year to date and 27.5% over the past year. Yet the buyback and dividend trend continues as companies remain reluctant to hire and invest in equipment and as the deal climate cools after a blistering 2015. Mergers and acquisitions activity plunged 25% in the first quarter, with much of the steam taken out by the collapse of multiple big-ticket deals, the most recent being the $6 billion Staples-Office Depot marriage.

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“..once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)

The wave of U.S. oil and gas bankruptcies surged past 60 this week, an ominous sign that the recovery of crude prices to near $50 a barrel is too little, too late for small companies that are running out of money. On Friday, Exco Resources, a Dallas-based company with a star-studded board, said it will evaluate alternatives, including a restructuring in or out of court. Its shares fell 35% to 62 cents each. Exco’s notice capped off one of the heaviest weeks of bankruptcy filings since crude prices nosedived from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014. Prices have bounced back to $46 a barrel from February lows in the mid-$20s, but the futures market shows investors do not expect U.S. benchmark crude to rise above $50 for more than a year.

That will not help smaller producers built for far higher prices. These companies have largely exhausted funding alternatives after issuing more equity and debt, tapping second-lien loans and shedding assets over the last two years to stay afloat as banks trimmed credit lines. Some companies are in more acute distress, faced with the expiration of derivative contracts that had allowed them to sell oil above market prices. “Everybody was able to hold on for a while,” said Gary Evans, former CEO of Magnum Hunter Resources, which emerged from bankruptcy protection this week. “But once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

Bankruptcy filers this week included Linn Energy and Penn Virginia. Struggling SandRidge, a former high flyer once led by legendary wildcatter Tom Ward, said it would not be able to file quarterly results on time. The number of U.S. energy bankruptcies is closing in on the staggering 68 filings seen during the depths of the telecommunications sector bust of 2002 and 2003, according to Reuters data, the law firm Haynes & Boone and bankruptcydata.com.

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I would normally shudder at the very thought of anyone quoting Larry Summers or god forbid Jeff Rubin, but this is a topic that warrants attention.

The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)

At the end of the day the $10-billion wildfire that consumed 2400 homes and buildings in Fort McMurray may be the least of the region’s problems. Although the chaotic evacuation of 80,000 people through walls of flame will likely haunt its brave participants for years, a slow global economic burn has already taken a nasty toll on the region’s workers. That fire began last year when global oil prices crashed by 40% and evaporated billions of investment capital in the tarsands. As the project’s most hight cost producers started to bleed cash, corporations laid off 40,000 engineers, labourers, cleaners, welders, mechanics and trades people with little fanfare and even less thanks. Many of these human “stranded assets” endured home foreclosures and lineups at the food bank.

Worker flights to Red Deer and Kelowna got cancelled and traffic at the city’s new airport declined by 16%. Unemployment in Canada’s so-called economic engine soared to nearly nine%. Despite the high cost of the oil price crash, most residents of Fort McMurray, along with Canada’s politicians, think that oil prices will rebound and things will turn around sooner or later. They’ve seen it all before, they say. But a number of economic trends and analyses suggest that bitumen’s glory days may be over. What resembles a string of bad luck may actually be the unfortunate consequence of rapidly developing a high risk and volatile resource with no real safety net. The first undeniable factor is weakening demand for oil, the engine of global economic growth. China’s economy, the world’s largest oil importer, is faltering as its industrial revolution peaks and fades.

Europe, Japan and the United States are also using less oil, and their economies are stagnating too. The global economy has become so stuck in neutral that famous financial power brokers such as Larry Summers now write depressing articles entitled “The Age of Secular Stagnation,” in Foreign Affairs no less. In such a world, little if any bitumen will be needed in the international market place. In fact economists now trace about 50% of the oil price collapse to evaporating demand. But there are many other potent signs and they have already covered the economic landscape with smoke. Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England. Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL’s budget in 2015. Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray’s company has lost 50% of its market value.

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“..the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions.”

The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)

For 200 years, there have been two schools of thought about what determines the distribution of income – and how the economy functions. One, emanating from Adam Smith and 19th-century liberal economists, focuses on competitive markets. The other, cognisant of how Smith’s brand of liberalism leads to rapid concentration of wealth and income, takes as its starting point unfettered markets’ tendency toward monopoly. It is important to understand both, because our views about government policies and existing inequalities are shaped by which of the two schools of thought one believes provides a better description of reality. For the 19th-century liberals and their latter-day acolytes, because markets are competitive, individuals’ returns are related to their social contributions – their “marginal product”, in the language of economists.

Capitalists are rewarded for saving rather than consuming – for their abstinence, in the words of Nassau Senior, one of my predecessors in the Drummond Professorship of Political Economy at Oxford. Differences in income were then related to their ownership of “assets” – human and financial capital. Scholars of inequality thus focused on the determinants of the distribution of assets, including how they are passed on across generations. The second school of thought takes as its starting point “power”, including the ability to exercise monopoly control or, in labour markets, to assert authority over workers. Scholars in this area have focused on what gives rise to power, how it is maintained and strengthened, and other features that may prevent markets from being competitive. Work on exploitation arising from asymmetries of information is an important example.

In the west in the post-second world war era, the liberal school of thought has dominated. Yet, as inequality has widened and concerns about it have grown, the competitive school, viewing individual returns in terms of marginal product, has become increasingly unable to explain how the economy works. So, today, the second school of thought is ascendant. After all, the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions. Of course, historically, the oppression of large groups – slaves, women, and minorities of various types – are obvious instances where inequalities are the result of power relationships, not marginal returns.

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“The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting.”

Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)

The remarkable swing in sentiment, from depression to relief, and, in some cases, euphoria, around the New York art auctions this past week was one of the most astonishing examples of herd mentality I have seen. Back in 1990, we would buy a paper from the newsboy that would describe a decline in the Japanese stock market that had taken place the previous year. Weeks later, bids for Renoirs would dry up, and there would be talk about a correction in the art market. These days, we are all in short-cycle businesses. But I am trying to take the long-term view here, one that might hold up until the US elections in November. So in that spirit of philosophical detachment, I would say it is time to buy euro-denominated high-yield bonds before the other bidders come in next month in response to the ECB’s corporate bond-buying programme.

I understand that most of the quantitative analysis done on art and securities markets tells us that equity prices “cause” art prices to rise or fall, but it seems to me that the present volatility and vicious feedback loops in both markets are being caused by a more general instability. The weak equity markets at the beginning of this year, and the decline in art prices that had set in by early 2015, apparently led collectors to hold off on consigning contemporary works of art to the spring auctions in New York. Then when the Christie’s evening contemporary sale on Tuesday night worked out better than many expected, with 87% of the lots sold, there was suddenly a shortage of works on public offer. This led to more frantic bidding for contemporary art in that market’s equivalent of junk or high yield, the day sales. All within a couple of days.

The same risk-averse sentiment earlier this year led euro-area junk-rated companies to hold off on selling new bond issues. According to Richard Briggs, credit strategist at CreditSights, a fixed income research provider, euro high-yield debt issuance declined to just €12.7bn in the year to date up to May 9, compared with €47.9bn in the same period in 2015. So euro-based investors are even more starved for yield than New York collectors were for contemporary art. Not everyone agrees with me about the relative value of European junk bonds. As Matt King at Citi Research says: “A lot of investors prefer, or have preferred, US high yield. Optically, the yields are higher. Most of that, though, is about duration and credit quality, and you should adjust for those. The US has more CCC credits [the bottom of the non-defaulting junk pile], and when you take that into account, all the US HY advantage disappears.”

[..] The ECB’s bond-buying programme could have an outsized effect. It is targeted specifically at non-financial corporate bonds. The ECB has indicated it will buy €3bn-€5bn of corporate bonds each month, which is about the same rate of non-financial bond purchases as euro-area financial institutions have maintained since 2012. The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting. If just one rating agency, including the Canadian DBRS, will give a corporate bond an investment-grade stamp, the ECB will be open to buying it. Mr King calculates that one little tweak will make about 4% of the European junk-bond market eligible for purchase. In a relatively illiquid €310bn market, every little bit helps.

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Intriguing by Matthew Klein. To be continued.

What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)

In 2012, the “official sector” lenders realised they needed to do something different. Over the course of the year they made new loans at low interest rates, lowered interest rates on existing loans, gave the Greek government much more time to repay existing loans, remitted profits from the ECB’s holdings of Greek government bonds back to the Greek government, and forced private lenders to accept getting repaid less than originally owed, among other things. The net effect was to sharply reduce the present value of the Greek government’s debt burden. According IMF data, the Greek government spent about €15 billion, or 7.3% of GDP, on debt interest payments in 2011. For perspective, the Italian government was spending 4.4% and the Portuguese government was spending 3.8%.

By 2013, the Greek economy had shrunk by 13%, in nominal euro terms, yet the sovereign debt interest burden was now 4.0% of GDP, against 4.5% for Italy and 4.2% for Portugal. Put another way, the debt modifications in 2012 cut the amount spent by the Greek government on interest payments by more than half. Subsequent debt modifications and the general decline in euro area interest rates have cut the amount the Greek government spends on interest payments by another 12.6%. Interest expense was 3.6% of Greek GDP in 2015, compared to 4.0% in Italy and 4.1% in Portugal. So why didn’t the 2012 modifications end the crisis? My colleague Martin Sandbu puts it well:

“The problem is the chill caused by the uncertainty the debt overhang causes: will the debt service cost at some point increase (perhaps to crippling levels), and will there be another refinancing crisis whenever a large portion of debt is set to mature? It is this uncertainty that must be erased for investment to pick up.”

In other words, investors don’t care about the decline in the interest burden nearly as much as they worry, reasonably, about the headline debt figures. This makes it impossible for the Greek government to fund itself in the markets at reasonable rates, leaving it dependent on the whims of “official sector” creditors to make its small interest payments and roll over its large debts. This is why it matters whether Kazarian is right about the accounting treatment of Greek sovereign obligations. There are plenty of weak economies in the euro area with miserable productivity growth, terrible demographics, and lots of debt. Greece isn’t that different except insofar as it’s excluded from ECB bond-buying and insofar as the markets and ratings companies treat it as a pariah.

So if the Greek government’s actual debt number were far lower than what’s commonly reported, investors would have little reason to charge it more than they demand from Portugal. And that would have big implications for an economy wracked for years by uncertainty about debt default, sky-high capital costs, and outside demands for “structural reform” and budget surpluses. In part 2, we’ll look at why exactly Kazarian thinks the Greek government’s net debt is only 39% of GDP, rather than 177%, as well as some potential objections. In part 3, we’ll imagine what sorts of budget surpluses would have been required to make the Greek government compliant with Maastricht criteria for debt levels by 2020 under different assumptions of the impact of the 2012 modifications, in comparison to what “official sector” creditors actually demanded.

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The US is falling apart in many places.

“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)

Almost 20% of Americans 65 and older are now working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most older people with a job since the early 1960s, before the U.S. enacted Medicare. Because of the huge baby boom generation that is just now hitting retirement age, the U.S. has the largest number of older workers ever. When asked to describe their plans for retirement, 27% of Americans said they will “keep working as long as possible,” a 2015 Federal Reserve study found. Another 12% said they don’t plan to retire at all. Why are more people putting off retirement? Three in five retirees surveyed by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies said making money or earning benefits was at least one reason they had retired later than they planned to.

Almost half said financial problems were their main reason for working past 65. The financial crisis, and the tech bust before it, devastated many baby boomers’ retirement savings. That’s if they had any to begin with. Today, 60% of U.S. households have no money in a 401(k) or similar retirement account, and the benefits of 401(k)s are skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found. The waning of traditional, defined-benefit pensions could also be delaying retirement, even for wealthier Americans. Instead of getting a monthly check, many retirees end up with a pot of 401(k) assets they’re not sure how they should be spending. The ups and downs of the market can heighten their anxiety and keep them going into the office.

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The sadness is hard to describe.

Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)

A retired South African sales executive who emigrated to Australia 30 years ago is hatching a daring plan to airlift 80 rhinos to his adopted country in an attempt to save the species from poachers. Flying each animal on the 11,000-kilometre journey will cost about $A60,500, but Ray Dearlove believes the expense and risk is essential as poaching deaths have soared in recent years. The rhinos will be relocated to a safari park in Australia, which is being kept secret for security reasons, where they will become a “seed bank” to breed future generations. “Our grand plan is to move 80 over a four-year period. We think that will provide the nucleus of a good breeding herd,” Dearlove said while visiting South Africa to organise for the first batch to be flown out.

The Australian Rhino Project, which the 68-year-old founded in 2013, hopes to take six rhinos to their new home before the end of the year. Funding – from private and corporate sources – is nearly in place, and the first rhinos have been selected from animals kept on private reserves in South Africa. “We have got to get this first one right because it’s a big task, it’s expensive, it’s complex,” Dearlove said. When they are settled successfully in Australia, “then we hopefully will go up in gear,” he added. [..] Poachers slaughtered 1,338 rhinos across Africa last year – the highest level since the poaching crisis exploded in 2008, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN, which rates white rhinos as “near threatened” as a species, says that booming demand for horn and the involvement of international criminal syndicates has fuelled the explosion in poaching since 2007.

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A German point of view.

Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was standing on a stage in Ankara raging against the European Union. “Since when are you controlling Turkey?” he demanded. “Who gave you the order?” He then accused Brussels of dividing his country. “Do you think we don’t know that?” It sounded as though he was laying the groundwork for a break with Europe. Erdogan’s fit of rage is only the most recent escalation in the conflict over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee deal with Turkey. Thus far, officials in Berlin have been dismissing the Turkish president’s tirades as mere theater. “Erdogan is following the Seehofer playbook,” says one Chancellery official, a reference to the outspoken governor of Bavaria who has been extremely critical of Merkel’s refugee policies.

But things aren’t looking good for the deal, which the chancellor has declared as the only proper way to solve the refugee crisis. Indeed, Merkel’s greatest foreign policy project is on the verge of collapsing. The chancellor still hopes that Erdogan will stick to the refugee deal. A key element of that deal is visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens, and Merkel believes that Erdogan’s popularity would take a hit if that didn’t come to pass. That’s why she believes that Erdogan will come around in the end. But she could be mistaken. After all, no one aside from the German chancellor appears to have much interest in the agreement anymore. Erdogan certainly doesn’t: He does not want to make any concessions on his country’s expansive anti-terror laws, the reform of which is one of a long list of conditions Turkey must meet before the EU will grant visa freedoms.

The Europeans at large, wary of selling out their values to the autocrat in Ankara, are also deeply skeptical. And in Germany, Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have seized on the deal as a way to finally score some much needed political points against the powerful chancellor. Even within Merkel’s own conservatives, many are seeing the troubles the deal is facing as an opportunity to break with the chancellor’s disliked refugee policies.

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Brussels and Berlin would make a deal with Hitler if it suited them.

EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy. “Under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said at the talks that took place on March 23rd, the European Commission warned during the meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee. A staff member of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini even warned that Europe’s reputation could be at stake. Under the heading “TOP 37: Country fiches,” the leading diplomats that day discussed a plan that the EU member states had agreed to: They would work together with dictatorships around the Horn of Africa in order to stop the refugee flows to Europe – under Germany’s leadership.

When it comes to taking action to counter the root causes of flight in the region, Angela Merkel has said, “I strongly believe that we must improve peoples’ living conditions.” The EU’s new action plan for the Horn of Africa provides the first concrete outlines: For three years, €40 million is to be paid out to eight African countries from the Emergency Trust Fund, including Sudan. Minutes from the March 23 meetings and additional classified documents obtained by SPIEGEL and German public TV station ARD show that the focus of the project is border protection. To that end, equipment is to be provided to the countries in question. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges relating to his alleged role in genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.

Amnesty International also claims that the Sudanese secret service has tortured members of the opposition. And the United States accuses the country of providing financial support to terrorists. Nevertheless, documents relating to the project indicate that Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed that action plan is binding, although no concrete decisions have yet been made regarding its implementation. The German development agency GIZ is expected to coordinate the project.

The organization, which is a government enterprise, has experience working with authoritarian countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, German federal police are providing their Saudi colleagues with training in German high-tech border installations. The money for the training comes not directly from the federal budget but rather from GIZ. When it comes to questions of finance, the organization has become a vehicle the government can use to be less transparent, a government official confirms.

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Nov 082014
 
 November 8, 2014  Posted by at 1:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Auto transport passing through Eufaula, Oklahoma Feb 1940

For Wall Street, It’s Not Politicians That Matter, But Profits (MarketWatch)
Ron Paul: Two- Party US Political System In Reality A Monopoly (RT)
Majority Of New October Jobs Pay Below Average Wage (MarketWatch)
When Will Americans Ever Get Raises? (BW)
Only 92.4 Million Americans Not In Labor Force (Zero Hedge)
US Shale Drillers Idle Rigs From Texas to Utah Amid Oil Rout (Bloomberg)
Transocean Takes $2.76 Billion Charge Amid Rig Glut (Bloomberg)
Consumer Credit in US Climbs on Demand for Car, Student Loans (Bloomberg)
Fannie-Freddie CEOs Tout Do-It-Yourself Housing Finance Overhaul (Bloomberg)
China Export, Import Growth Slows, Reinforcing Signs Of Fragility (Reuters)
El-Erian: Strong Dollar Could Derail The Recovery (CNBC)
G20 Experts To Act On Corporations’ Internal Loans That Help Cut Tax (Guardian)
Luxembourg, The Country Where Accountants Outnumber Police 4:1 (Guardian)
The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare (Matt Taibbi)
Russia, China Close To Reaching 2nd Mega Gas Deal (RT)
Catalans Recast Spanish History in Drive for Independence (Bloomberg)
Greek Minister: Markets Are Sending Us A Message (CNBC)
Danish Women Urged to Drop Work Till 2015 to Protest Pay Gap (Bloomberg)
Drones Over French Nuclear Sites Prompt Parliamentary Probe (Bloomberg)

“.. much of Wall Street’s profit engine isn’t sustainable. For most of the last two years, too-big-to-fail bank profits haven’t been driven by banking, they’ve been driven by sharp increases in investment banking”.

For Wall Street, It’s Not Politicians That Matter, But Profits (MarketWatch)

There’s been much in the way of speculation about how the Republican sweep in Tuesday’s midterms may impact Wall Street — the industry. Some believe a shift in control will help. Others are less sure. Both may miss a bigger point: big financial firms are on a cyclical high that isn’t built to last. David Reilly and John Carney argue that big banks are unlikely to get big breaks from Congress even though Republicans have tended to be softer on regulation. Writing for the Wall Street Journal’s “Heard on the Street” section, Reilly and Carney note “reviving the debate over financial reform could also resurrect the question of what to do about too-big-to-fail banks and renew calls for them to be broken up.” On the flip side, MarketWatch’s Philip van Doorn writes that many banks may be able to lift dividends if the new Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate follows through on promises to ease restrictions on capital requirements. Both camps make strong arguments. And they’re not really in opposition.

Tuesday’s victory by Republicans opens the door for eased banking rules, but it comes with risk of a political backlash. Investors may be better served by looking at some trends in the industry to gauge just how profitable the big six — Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo may perform in the future. On the plus side, the stream of positive economic data, including Friday’s jobs report, is likely to lead the Federal Reserve to keep its distance from quantitative easing and enter a new phase of rate increases that, in turn, would boost interest rates paid on loans and other credit instruments. This has been a big drag on bank industry profits since the financial crisis and recession. That’s the good news. The potential bad news is that much of Wall Street’s profit engine isn’t sustainable. For most of the last two years, too-big-to-fail bank profits haven’t been driven by banking, they’ve been driven by sharp increases in investment banking: underwriting equity and debt offerings and advising on mergers and acquisitions.

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“What do they do with our young people? They send them all around the world, getting involved in wars and telling them they have to have democratic elections ..”

Ron Paul: Two- Party US Political System In Reality A Monopoly (RT)

Former Congressman Ron Paul told RT in the midst of Tuesday’s midterm elections that the “monopoly” system run by the leaders of the two main parties is all too evident as Americans go to the polls this Election Day. “This whole idea that a good candidate that’s rating well in the polls can’t get in the debate, that’s where the corruption really is,” Paul, the 79-year-old former House of Representatives lawmaker for Texas, told RT during Tuesday’s special midterm elections coverage. “It’s a monopoly…and they don’t even allow a second option,” he said. “If a third party person gets anywhere along, they are going to do everything they can to stop that from happening,” the retired congressman continued.

Paul, a longtime Republican, has been critical of the two-party dichotomy that dominates American politics for decades, and once ran as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president of the United States. While third-party candidates continue to vie against the left and right establishment, however, Paul warned RT that even the two-party system as Americans know it is in danger. “What do they do with our young people? They send them all around the world, getting involved in wars and telling them they have to have democratic elections,” he told RT. “But here at home, we don’t have true Democracy. We have a monopoly of ideas that is controlled by the leaders of two parties. And they call it two parties, but it’s really one philosophy.”

All hope isn’t lost, however; according to Paul, American politics can still be changed if individuals intent on third-party ideas introduce their ethos to the current establishment. Americans can “fight to get rid of the monopoly of Republicans and Democrats,” Paul said, or “try to influence people with ideas and infiltrate both political parties.” With respect to the midterm elections, though, Paul told RT that he’s uncertain what policies will prevail this year — excluding, of course, an obvious win for the status quo. “I think the status quo is pretty strong right now, and I imagine that the status quo is going to win the election tonight,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

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Erosion presented as recovery.

Majority Of New October Jobs Pay Below Average Wage (MarketWatch)

The U.S. is becoming an engine of job creation once again, but it’s more like a four-cylinder instead of an eight-cylinder one. The 214,000 gain in new jobs in October marked the ninth straight month in which net hiring topped 200,000. The last time that happened was in 1994. Yet only about 40% of the new jobs created in October were in fields that pay above the average hourly U.S. wage of $24.57. That’s down from 60% in September. The mediocre nature of many new jobs and slow wage growth are perhaps the biggest obstacle to a full-blown economic recovery. The biggest increase in hiring in October occurred at restaurants and bars, which added a seasonally adjusted 42,000 positions. Retailers hired 27,000 workers. Temps accounted for 15,000 jobs. Transport — think package deliverers — took on 13,000 new employees. All these industries pay less than the national average.

Some of the new jobs are also unlikely to last long. Restaurants and retailers, for example, tend to beef up staff ahead of the holidays and slim down after New Year’s. Temp jobs, on the other hand, have often been converted into full-time positions. Companies use temps sometimes as a trial for a full-time job. Whatever the case, it’s not a good idea to give too much weight to the composition of hiring in any one month. Some 60% of the 256,000 jobs created in September, for instance, were in fields that pay above the average U.S. wage. That’s higher than normal. There’s also been a pronounced shift in 2014 toward higher paying jobs vs. the prior year. A MarketWatch analysis shows that roughly 58% of the new jobs created this year pay above the average hourly wage, compared to less than 50% in 2013. Still, both the composition of jobs and the trend in hourly pay bear close watching over the next few months. Both have to improve to get the U.S. economy fully back on track more than five years after the recovery started.

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“The unemployment rate is no longer a sufficient statistic.” An accurate gauge of the market, he says, must include people who’ve given up looking for work and those working in part-time or low-paying jobs because they can’t find anything else”.

When Will Americans Ever Get Raises? (BW)

Americans are overdue for a fatter paycheck: Average earnings haven’t risen in more than six years. The labor market is finally recovering—the unemployment rate is down to 5.9% from 8.2% in July 2012—and that usually pushes up wages. But it’s not clear that job growth will translate into pay increases in 2015. In an August speech, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speculated that “pent-up wage deflation” might have held wages down during the recovery. What does that mean? “In a downturn, employers may need to cut wages, but they are reluctant to do so,” says San Francisco Fed economist Mary Daly. They prefer laying people off, which they believe tends to have less impact on workforce morale, she says. The result is that when the economy recovers, employers are slower to raise pay than if they had imposed cuts during the slump.

Daly says wages were slow to increase after the past three recessions, too. She estimates that unemployment will have to fall to 5.2% before wages begin rising. Even a drop to that level might not be low enough to spur gains. Dartmouth economist Daniel Blanchflower says the labor market is in worse shape than the unemployment rate suggests. “Something changed in 2010,” he says. “The unemployment rate is no longer a sufficient statistic.” An accurate gauge of the market, he says, must include people who’ve given up looking for work and those working in part-time or low-paying jobs because they can’t find anything else. Measures that include discouraged workers, such as the labor force participation rate, have worsened since 2008. Blanchflower says pay won’t increase until the slack is absorbed, and he can’t predict when that might happen.

Today’s unusually high long-term unemployment could keep wages low for years, according to Till von Wachter, an economist at the University of California at Los Angeles. People who’ve been out of work for six months or more “may have seen their skills deteriorate,” he says, “and some job losers found their previous occupation is no longer available and skills not in demand. This happens in every recession, but this last one was worse because there was more job loss.” He estimates that each additional month you’re unemployed after the first month lowers your next job’s pay by almost 1%.

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Smells like recovery?!

Only 92.4 Million Americans Not In Labor Force (Zero Hedge)

Following last month’s total collapse in the participation rate, dropping to 36 year lows, this month there was a modest improvement in the composition of the labor force, with the Household Survey suggesting the ranks of the Employed rose by 683K people, while the Unemployed actually declined by 267K, leading to a drop of the people not in the labor force to 92.378 million from 92.584 million. In other words, a little over 101 million Americans are unemployed or out of the labor force. Still, if only looking at this metric, the Fed would likely have no choice but to proceed with a rate hike in the first half of 2015.

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“There’s no doubt about it now. We’re already down 49 rigs since the peak in October. It’ll have fallen by more than 100 rigs by the end of year.”

US Shale Drillers Idle Rigs From Texas to Utah Amid Oil Rout (Bloomberg)

The shale-oil drilling boom in the U.S. is showing early signs of cracking. Rigs targeting oil sank by 14 to 1,568 this week, the lowest since Aug. 22, Baker Hughes said yesterday. The Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas lost the most, dropping nine to 197. The nation’s oil rig count is down from a peak of 1,609 on Oct. 10. Drillers are slowing down as crude prices tumbled 24% in the past four months. Transocean said yesterday that its earnings would take a hit by a drop in fees and demand for its rigs. The slide threatens to curb a production boom in U.S. shale formations that has helped bring prices at the pump below $3 a gallon for the first time since 2010 and shrink the nation’s dependence on foreign oil imports. “We are officially seeing the slowdown in oil drilling,” James Williams, president of energy consulting company WTRG Economics, said yesterday. “There’s no doubt about it now. We’re already down 49 rigs since the peak in October. It’ll have fallen by more than 100 rigs by the end of year.”

Orices are down 17% in the past year. Executives at several large U.S. shale producers, including Chesapeake Energy and EOG Resources, have vowed to maintain or even raise production as they reported earnings this week. They say their success in bringing down costs means they can make money even if prices slump further. The oil rig count will drop to 1,325 by the middle of next year amid lower prices, Genscape, an energy data company said in a report. Drillers from Apache to Continental Resources have said this week that they’re laying down rigs in some oil plays. Transocean, owner of the biggest fleet of deep-water drilling rigs, is delaying the release of its Q3 results after saying its earnings would be hit by $2.76 billion in charges from a decline in the value of its contracts drilling business and a drop in rig-use fees. Transocean’s competitors will probably have to take similar measures as “this is going to be an industry wide phenomenon,” Goldman Sachs said in a research note yesterday.

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The shale mirage makes its first victims. Many will follow.

Transocean Takes $2.76 Billion Charge Amid Rig Glut (Bloomberg)

Transocean, owner of the biggest fleet of deep-water drilling rigs, is feeling the effect of an industrywide glut in the expensive vessels just as crude-oil prices tumble. The company will delay posting third-quarter results after saying earnings would be hit by $2.76 billion in charges from a decline in the value of its contracts-drilling business and a drop in rig-use fees. Shares in the Vernier, Switzerland-based company, which pushed back the release of its earnings report to Monday instead of today, fell 0.7% to $29.71 at the close in New York. Oil’s decline to a four-year low in recent months has caused companies to consider spending cuts, which would further reduce demand for rigs and the rates Transocean can charge to lease them to explorers. The drop in prices comes after rig contractors responded to rising demand during the past few years with the biggest batch of construction orders for rigs since the advent of deep-water drilling in the 1970s.

“Ouch,” analysts from Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. wrote in a note to investors today. The announcement “reflects the reality of this oversupplied floater rig market globally.” Other rig owners may also face writedowns, Waqar Syed, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote today in a note to investors. Among those that may be affected are Diamond Offshore Drilling, Noble, Ensco, Rowan and Atwood Oceanics, he wrote. “This is going to be an industrywide phenomenon for the next few years,” Syed wrote. “Companies that have spent substantial amounts in the past 10-15 years in upgrading their 1970-1980 vintage rigs may face some writedowns.” Noble regularly does impairment tests on its assets, said John Breed, a company spokesman. “With the current figuration of the Noble fleet, it seems like a major writedown wouldn’t be something we would be looking at.”

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More debt. Which is a good thing, right?

Consumer Credit in US Climbs on Demand for Car, Student Loans (Bloomberg)

Consumer borrowing increased at a faster rate in September as American households took out loans for cars and education. The $15.9 billion increase in credit followed a revised $14 billion advance in August, the Federal Reserve reported today in Washington. Non-revolving loans, including borrowing for motor vehicles and college tuition, rose $14.5 billion in September. Gains in the labor market and stock portfolios, the lowest gasoline prices in four years, and cheap borrowing costs are giving Americans the confidence to borrow. Faster wage growth would provide a bigger boost for households wary of taking on more debt. The September gain in consumer borrowing was in line with the $16 billion median forecast of 34 economists in a Bloomberg survey. Estimates ranged from increases of $12 billion to $22 billion.

The report doesn’t track mortgages, home-equity lines of credit and other debt secured by real estate. Revolving credit, which includes credit-card balances, climbed $1.4 billion after a $201 million decline in August, today’s Fed figures showed. The September gain in non-revolving credit followed a $14.2 billion increase in the prior month. Today’s report showed that student loans in the third quarter increased to $1.3 trillion from $1.27 trillion in the prior three months. Borrowing for the purchase of motor vehicles climbed to $940.9 billion last quarter from $918.7 billion from April through June. Auto sales cooled in September to a 16.3 million annualized rate, capping the best quarter for the industry in more than eight years, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group.

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The guys brought in to dissolve the GSEs now want to keep them running. The neverending nightmare, courtesy of lenders who want to offload shaky loans to the government.

Fannie-Freddie CEOs Tout Do-It-Yourself Housing Finance Overhaul (Bloomberg)

The top executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, brought in to be stewards until the government figures out how to shut them down, are increasingly sounding like they think the two companies should continue to exist. Timothy J. Mayopoulos of Fannie Mae and Donald Layton of Freddie Mac today both pointed to steps they’re taking to boost stability and competition in the mortgage market, while stopping short of urging lawmakers to drop plans for an overhaul that would put them out of business. “People should recognize that there’s a lot of reform that’s already underway at Fannie Mae,” Mayopoulos said in a telephone interview. “There have been a lot of proposals for substantial changes to housing finance. People need to make sure whatever is put in place is practical and it can work.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were taken into U.S. conservatorship in 2008 amid soaring losses on subprime loans, reported third-quarter financial results today that will see them send a combined $6.8 billion to the Treasury before the end of the year. The payments stem from terms of their $187.5 billion bailout requiring them to turn over all profits. With the latest installments, Fannie Mae, which had a third-quarter profit of $3.9 billion, and Freddie Mac, which reported $2.8 billion, will have sent taxpayers $38 billion more than they took in the aid. The payments are considered to be a return on the U.S. investment and not a repayment, which means there’s no legal avenue for them to exit conservatorship. Changing the bailout terms is one area where lawmakers could help, Mayopoulos said. “That’s something that Congress will ultimately need to address if this company’s going to continue to operate,” he said. “It’s very difficult without capital.”

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‘Fragility’, spoken like a true spinner.

China Export, Import Growth Slows, Reinforcing Signs Of Fragility (Reuters)

Annual growth in China’s exports and imports slowed in October, data showed on Saturday, reinforcing signs of fragility in the world’s second-largest economy that could prompt policymakers to roll out more stimulus measures. Exports have been the lone bright spot in the last few months, perhaps helping to offset soft domestic demand, but there are doubts about the accuracy of the official numbers amid signs of a resurgence of speculative currency flows through inflated trade receipts. Exports rose 11.6% in October from a year earlier, slowing from a 15.3% jump in September, the General Administration of Customs said. The figure was slightly above market expectations in a Reuters poll of a 10.6% rise.

A decline in China’s leading index on exports in October pointed to weaker export growth in the next two to three months, the administration said. “The economy still faces relatively big downward pressure as exports face uncertainties while weak imports indicate sluggish domestic demand,” said Nie Wen, an economist at Hwabao Trust in Shanghai. “The central bank may continue to ease policy in a targeted way.” Imports rose an annual 4.6% in October, pulling back from a 7% rise in September, and were weaker than expected. That left the country with a trade surplus of $45.4 billion for the month, which was near record highs.

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Really? Recovery?

El-Erian: Strong Dollar Could Derail The Recovery (CNBC)

Mohamed El-Erian, the chief economic adviser to Allianz, has warned that policymakers don’t understand how much of a risk a strong dollar and volatile currency markets could pose to market “soundness” and the economic recovery. The former Pimco chief executive and co-chief investment officer said volatility had returned to currency markets as central banks diverge in their response to lackluster growth and deflation. This could result in “excessive movements” in currencies becoming a risk themselves, he said. “This (the strong dollar) is a key issue and I don’t think this is an issue that the markets or the policy makers have understood enough as yet—we have gone from a world where there was relative harmony in what central banks were doing—to a world where there was diverging direction and for good reasons: the economies are doing different things,” he told CNBC on Friday.

“If the other parts of the policy apparatus do not respond, then the only market that accommodates these divergent trends is the currency markets. I could tell you that, as someone who participates in the markets, this poses a threat to volatility and market soundness as a whole and the sorts of excessive movements that may result in currencies becoming a risk themselves to economic recovery,” he added. El-Erian’s comments come as the the Russian rouble tumbled to new lows on Friday before bouncing back. The rouble hit its weakest-ever level against the U.S. dollar early on Friday, sliding to 48.6, before recovering to trade at 46.2 within a few hours – 1.3% higher on the day.

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There are far more tricks than regulators.

G20 Experts To Act On Corporations’ Internal Loans That Help Cut Tax (Guardian)

Tax experts responsible for the G20-led shakeup of international tax rules are discussing radical measures to bar global corporations from using internal loans, that bear no relation to their borrowing needs, in order to avoid tax. If adopted, the move could wipe out vast swaths of the financial industry at a stroke in countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg, which have for years courted the intra-group financing offices of multinational firms by operating friendly local tax regimes. Raffaele Russo, one of the OECD tax experts leading the reform programme that has come in response to increasingly aggressive tax planning by multinationals, told the Guardian that if the proposals were backed, “this will be the end of [tax] base erosion and profit shifting using intra-group financing”. Measures to tackle multinationals taking large tax deductions for interest payments on loans within the same group are hinted at in a report published in September.

It said: “A formulary type of approach which ties the deductible interest payments to external debt payments may lead to results that better reflect the business reality of multinational … groups.” While other measures are also on the table, pressure to take radical steps to stamp out intra-group loans contrived for tax avoidance has grown this week after revelations about tax agreements rubber-stamped by the Luxembourg tax office. Luxembourg finance minister Pierre Gramegna used a public session during a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels to deliver a statement in reaction to this week’s revelations about tax agreements with multinationals. “My country [has] come under scrutiny in the latest days. The rulings of Luxembourg are being done according to the national laws of Luxembourg and also according to international conventions. What is being done is totally legal.” He acknowledged rulings and weak tax treaties had led to “situations where companies are paying no taxes or very little taxes [which] is obviously not a good result”.

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Sounds dull. But profitable.

Luxembourg, The Country Where Accountants Outnumber Police 4:1 (Guardian)

Welcome to Luxembourg, where accountants outnumber the police by four to one – and people enjoy some of the highest living standards in the world. “Conquer the world from your Luxembourg headquarters,” is the title of one government-sponsored marketing brochure promoting the Grand Duchy and its “business-friendly legal and fiscal framework”. “Political decision-makers are very accessible to companies,” it promises. The big four accountancy firms tend to agree, if a 2009 presentation by PricewaterhouseCoopers is anything to go by: the authorities are “flexible and welcoming”, “easily contactable” and offer “a readiness for dialogue and quick decision-making” it said in the document, part of a trove of documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with the Guardian. The big four are huge global enterprises that employ 750,000 people in total and have combined earnings of $117bn (£74bn), according to the latest figures – making them bigger than the economy of Angola.

Their footprint is especially large in Luxembourg, where they employ 6,200 people – among a population of 550,000. The Grand Duchy’s economy has come to be dominated by high finance since the decline of its steel factories. Today, financial services are Luxembourg’s biggest earner, accounting for more than a third of the national income. Almost half the workforce are foreigners, with 44% of employees commuting in daily from France, Germany and Belgium. Despite the financial crisis, accountancy has been booming. Deloitte has increased its Luxembourg staff by 142% in less than a decade to 1,700. PwC is comfortably ahead of Deloitte, its nearest rival. The biggest of the big four, which once described itself as “an ambassador of Luxembourg abroad”, it employs more people in Luxembourg than the country’s police force: it has 2,300 staff, while the gendarmerie has 1,600 officers. That makes it the country’s ninth largest employer, behind steelmaker ArcelorMittal and French bank BNP Paribas.

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Good to see Taibbi back at Rolling Stone, and back to what he does best.

The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare (Matt Taibbi)

She tried to stay quiet, she really did. But after eight years of keeping a heavy secret, the day came when Alayne Fleischmann couldn’t take it anymore. “It was like watching an old lady get mugged on the street,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t sit by any longer.'” Fleischmann is a tall, thin, quick-witted securities lawyer in her late thirties, with long blond hair, pale-blue eyes and an infectious sense of humor that has survived some very tough times. She’s had to struggle to find work despite some striking skills and qualifications, a common symptom of a not-so-common condition called being a whistle-blower. Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations. Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.” Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says. This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called “statements of facts,” which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.

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Going strong. What sanctions?

Russia, China Close To Reaching 2nd Mega Gas Deal (RT)

Moscow and Beijing have agreed many of the aspects of a second gas pipeline to China, the so-called western route. It’s in additional to the eastern route which has already broken ground after a $400 billion deal was clinched in May. “We have reached an understanding in principle concerning the opening of the western route,” the Russian President told media ahead of his visit on November 9-11 to the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC). “We have already agreed on many technical and commercial aspects of this project laying a good basis for reaching final arrangements,” the Russian President added.

In May, China and Russia signed a $400 billion deal to construct the Power of Siberia pipeline, which will annually deliver 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas to China. The Power of Siberia, the eastern route, will connect Russia’s Kovykta and Chaynda fields with China, where recoverable resources are estimated at about 3 trillion cubic meters. The opening of the western route, the Altai, would link Western China and Russia and supply an additional 30 bcm of gas, nearly doubling the gas deal reached in May. When the Altai route is complete China will become Russia’s biggest gas customer. The ability to supply China with 68 bcm of gas annually surpasses the 40 bcm it supplies Germany each year.

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The victor writes the history.

Catalans Recast Spanish History in Drive for Independence (Bloomberg)

In a former market hall in Barcelona, Catalans are busy championing a historic defeat. A museum and cultural center built around the 300-year-old ruins of the city aims to educate visitors about the 1714 siege during the War of Spanish Succession. The battle lasted more than a year and destroyed the old neighborhood amid “epic and heroic resistance,” according to the center’s pamphlet. For Catalan nationalists, the defeat marks the end of their region’s freedom and the beginning of their domination by Madrid. For others, there’s a catch: the version of events on display at the museum, funded by the regional government that’s been pushing for an independence referendum, is unrecognizable to most historians outside Catalonia. “It’s science fiction,” said Alejandro Quiroga, a lecturer in Spanish history at Newcastle University in England who comes from Madrid. “The distortions are tremendous. That’s part of the process of nation building.”

As they develop a narrative around national identity, arguments over the interpretation of history have for decades dogged the Catalan nationalists. Barcelona’s leadership gained control of education under the constitutional settlement that followed the death in 1975 of General Francisco Franco, who had banned the use of the Catalan language. The movement has transformed into a full-blown campaign to leave Spain over the past three years. This weekend, activists will hold an unofficial independence vote in defiance of a Spanish court ruling and the Madrid government. “It fits in with my nationalistic feelings,” said Eugenio Suarez, 61, an industrial engineer who visited the museum on Oct. 14, a little over a year after it first opened. “I am a nationalist for other reasons, so I come here to remember what Barcelona and Catalonia was and still is.” In the northeast of the country, Catalonia is the largest economic region, where output per capita is 17% above the European Union average compared with 5% below for Spain as a whole.

The risk of political upheaval temporarily halted a rally in Spanish bonds last month. Unionists and some historians say that successive regional governments have contributed to building a Catalan majority by promoting a partial, at times false, version of the region’s history through its schools and cultural institutions. In Spanish history books, Felipe V’s troops overran Barcelona at the end of a 14-month siege, bringing an end to the war. The way the Catalan nationalists tell it, that defeat marks the end of a golden age for Catalonia. The attack “led to the capitulation of Barcelona and the loss of Catalonia’s freedoms,” says the leaflet handed out to visitors at the center in the El Born district. The museum shows “the vibrant and dynamic Barcelona of 1700,” while the defeat “is a symbol of the historic fight of the citizens to defend the constitutions and institutions of the country.”

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” .. a warning for Greek politicians to “stop promising people things that we cannot deliver. Then things are going to go wrong.”

Greek Minister: Markets Are Sending Us A Message (CNBC)

As Greece waits to hear whether it will be allowed to withdraw early from a bailout program that saved the country from insolvency, its minister of public order said a recent rise in Greek interest rates is a warning that the country can’t undo reforms. Minister Vassilis Kikilias, on a visit to New York and Washington, D.C., said investors’ negative reaction toward Greece in recent weeks wasn’t due only to its attempt to leave the bailout ahead of schedule, but also about “global” events in the markets. He did add, however, that it was also a warning for Greek politicians to “stop promising people things that we cannot deliver. Then things are going to go wrong.”

Greek stocks and government bonds sold off when Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced he would try to leave the multibillion-dollar bailout program early. The European Commission took up consideration of the proposal this week. But yields also rose on fears there will be snap elections in the spring and the leader of the radical left, Alexis Tsipras, might win the election. He is currently leading in the polls. Kikilias said he hopes and believes there won’t be an election next year. A goal of the government, he said, is to change the structure of the Greek government in order to have more consistent elections cycles.

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“Go to a tropical island for the rest of the year!”

Danish Women Urged to Drop Work Till 2015 to Protest Pay Gap (Bloomberg)

Women, take today off! In fact, take the rest of the year off! Danish unions representing more than 1.1 million private and public employees, at least half the country’s workforce, are urging women members to do just that – and only half in jest – to protest a 17% pay gap to men. “It’s a way to remove the gender pay gap in a split second,” Lise Johansen, head of the campaign for the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, said in a telephone interview. “Go to a tropical island for the rest of the year!” While “everyone knows it’s a joke,” the protest, now in its fifth year, highlights the challenges Denmark faces even as it ranks among the countries with the smallest pay disparities, Johansen said.

Scandinavian countries have been the most successful in closing the gender gap, the World Economic Forum said in a report last week. Denmark ranked number five in the study of 142 countries, trailing Iceland, Finland, Norway – where the government has recently made military service mandatory for women – and Sweden. Yet in terms of wage equality for similar work, Denmark ranked 38, according to the report.

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This weird story just keeps going. Latest drone was spotted yesterday.

Drones Over French Nuclear Sites Prompt Parliamentary Probe (Bloomberg)

French parliament will hold hearings this month on the threat posed by drones to nuclear installations even as the mystery of who is behind a series of flights over more than a dozen sites remains unsolved. Reactor builder Areva confirmed today a drone had been spotted over one of its sites while two more plants operated by Electricite de France (EDF) were visited by the remote-controlled flying objects this week. Over a little more than a month, drones have been seen at 14 of EDF’s 19 plants, according to a person familiar with the events. The flights are “irresponsible,” deputy Jean-Yves Le Deaut, a member of the Socialist Party, said by telephone. “It’s giving people ideas and suggests parallels with cyber-attacks.”

The lawmaker will head a one-day public hearing Nov. 24 into whether drone flights can be dangerous to atomic installations. Organized by the parliament’s office for evaluation of scientific and technological choices, OPECST, it will include representatives from the country’s nuclear and drone industries as well as security experts, he said. “Nuclear isn’t for staging a video game,” Le Deaut said. “It’s urgent to stop this mess.” The flights haven’t so far inflicted damage nor has anyone publicly claimed responsibility. While Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said an inquiry is underway, the flights have continued for more than a month, the latest at the Areva installation last night. Two men are being investigated for flying an aircraft in a protected zone near EDF’s Belleville-sur-Loire nuclear plant, AFP reported, citing Bourges prosecutor Vincent Bonnefoy. The incident isn’t related to the flights at other nuclear sites, he was quoted as saying.

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