Sep 032017
 
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Edward Hopper Sunday 1926

 

America’s Superstar Companies Are a Drag on Growth (BBG)
Forget Wall Street – Silicon Valley Is The New Political Power In DC (G.)
Google To Be Hit With Record EU Fine Over Claims Of Phone Software Abuse (T.)
North Korea Quake Seems Related To Nuclear Test (BBG)
Bitcoin Tumbles To Pre Korea-Missile-Launch Level After Topping $5000 (ZH)
China Sees New World Order With Oil Benchmark Backed By Gold (ANR)
Why Houston Doesn’t Need Federal Flood Relief (Mises)
Harvey Could Bankrupt The Federal Flood-Insurance Program (ZH)
Harvey Makes Landfall in Saudi Arabia (BBG)
Pesticides Linked To Birth Abnormalities In Major New Study (Ind.)
France Votes Against The Use Of Pesticide Glyphosate (FarmingUK)

 

 

The perfect recipe for strangling an economy: “..as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.”

America’s Superstar Companies Are a Drag on Growth (BBG)

Here’s a story about the U.S. economy that more people are telling these days. Since the 1980s, antitrust enforcement has gotten weaker. As a result, a few big companies have managed to capture a much bigger share of the market in various industries. Technology may have helped too, by letting big companies spread their geographic reach, and by creating network effects that keep customers locked in to platforms like Facebook. Anyway, as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.

Like all big, sweeping theses about the economy, this story can’t be proven or disproven with a single research paper, or even a dozen papers. But like detectives, economists can probe various pieces and see how each one checks out. In the past few years, researchers have found that industrial concentration – measured by the market share of the four biggest companies in an industry – has indeed been increasing in most parts of the U.S. economy. They’ve documented a correlation between industrial concentration and a decline in labor’s share of national income. They’ve confirmed that profits have risen substantially. They’ve documented a slackening in the enforcement of antitrust law. And they’ve found some evidence that after mergers, prices go up while productivity doesn’t improve.

Now, a series of new papers provides even more support for key aspects of the story. The first, a paper by economists Jan de Loecker and Jan Eeckhout, has caused quite a stir in the economics press and on the blogs. De Loecker and Eeckhout find that markups – the amount that companies charge over and above their costs – have been on the rise since about 1980. Back then, according to the authors’ estimates, the average company charged a price that was about 18% above costs – now, the number is 67%.

The authors then use some very simple econ models to link a rise in markups to declines in labor’s share of national income, low-skilled workers’ wages, reduced labor force participation and a slowdown in the broader economy. It all fits with basic economic theory – less competition leads to increased market power, leading in turn to all sorts of bad economic outcomes. The second paper, by German Gutierrez and Thomas Philippon, looks at declining levels of business investment. Basic theory suggests that when top companies get more market power, they invest less in their businesses as they restrict output and raise prices. Market power could therefore be one big reason for the decline in U.S. business investment:

Read more …

But these ‘superstar’ companies can do what they want; they have the power, both politically and economically.

Forget Wall Street – Silicon Valley Is The New Political Power In DC (G.)

Funding thinktanks is just one of the ways that America’s most powerful industries exert their influence over policymakers. Much of the work takes place a quarter of a mile from the White House, in a lesser-known political power base: Washington’s K Street corridor, the epicenter of the lobbying industry. In addition to thinktanks, K Street is packed with slick corporate representatives, hired guns, and advocacy groups. The lobbyists spend their days swarming over members of Congress to ensure their private interests are reflected in legislation and regulation. While the big banks and pharma giants have flexed their economic muscle in the country’s capital for decades, there’s one relative newcomer that has leapfrogged them all: Silicon Valley. Over the last 10 years, America’s five largest tech firms have flooded Washington with lobbying money to the point where they now outspend Wall Street two to one.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon spent $49m on Washington lobbying last year, and there is a well-oiled revolving door of Silicon Valley executives to and from senior government positions. Tech companies weren’t always so cozy with Capitol Hill. During its 1990s heyday, Microsoft accumulated enormous wealth and market share. Despite being one of the world’s largest companies, the PC software pioneer mostly kept away from Washington, spending just $2m on lobbying in 1997. However, the company’s size and anticompetitive business practices attracted the scrutiny of regulators in Clinton’s administration, whipped up by the lobbying of disgruntled competitors including Sun Microsystems, IBM and a company called Novell. The following year, the Department of Justice sued Microsoft, accusing it of using a Windows operating system monopoly to push its Internet Explorer browser to the disadvantage of rivals.

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US ‘superstar’ companies’ power has not yet fully pervaded Europe. A matter of time?!.

Google To Be Hit With Record EU Fine Over Claims Of Phone Software Abuse (T.)

Google faces a multibillion-euro fine by the European Commission for using its Android smartphone software to stifle competition. The record-breaking penalty could be imposed as soon as this month, according to industry and legal sources in Brussels. Other insiders said the commission may wait until later in the year before sanctioning Google. Brussels has accused the world’s second-biggest company of breaking anti-trust laws by forcing mobile phone manufacturers to pre-load Google apps on their devices. The fine will escalate the company’s regulatory woes in Europe, where the commission has waged a long-running campaign to try to ensure competition flourishes in the digital economy. In June, the competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager fined Google €2.4bn (£2.2bn) for doctoring search results to favour its price-comparison shopping service.

Vestager also ordered the company to change how it presents search results. It has until the end of the month to comply with the demand, or face daily fines of 5% of its global turnover. Sources expect the Android fine to be substantially higher than the shopping penalty. The software is a central pillar of the $650bn (£502bn) empire of Alphabet, Google’s owner. It powers an estimated 80% of smartphones. About half of all internet traffic is through phones. Last year Vestager, 49, accused Google of using Android as a tool to “protect and expand its dominant position in internet search”. The company allows handset makers to use the software without paying a fee, but they must pre-install Google’s Chrome browser, search bar and other apps. This stipulation “harms consumers” and prevents digital rivals “from competing on their own merits”, according to Vestager.

In addition to fining Google, she is expected to demand a fundamental overhaul of its relationship with smartphone makers, such as Samsung. That could undermine the big profits Google earns through Android. It monetises the software platform by analysing the mountains of data generated by its apps and selling targeted adverts to clients. [..] the company has strenuously denied breaking competition laws. Last year it said giving away Android “keeps manufacturers’ costs low, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices”.

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The pressure on Xi will rise a lot. And US should sit down with Putin. Urgently.

North Korea Quake Seems Related To Nuclear Test (BBG)

North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb with “unprecedentedly big power” on Sunday that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile, in its first nuclear test under U.S. President Donald Trump’s watch. The test, ordered by Kim Jong Un, was a “perfect success” and confirmed the precision and technology of the hydrogen bomb, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Kim’s regime has defied Trump’s warnings as it seeks the capability to strike America with an atomic weapon. “The creditability of the operation of the nuclear warhead is fully guaranteed,” KCNA said. South Korea’s weather agency said it detected a magnitude 5.7 earthquake around 12:29 p.m. local time near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeast North Korea. Energy from Sunday’s explosion was about six times stronger in force than the nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang last September, the weather agency said.

“All options are on the table,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on public broadcaster NHK. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a North Korea nuclear test would be “absolutely unacceptable and we must protest it strongly.” Pyongyang’s actions are set to further increase tensions in Northeast Asia, where concerns have grown this year that a war of words between Trump and Kim could set off a military conflict. It was the sixth nuclear test by Pyongyang since 2006 and the first since the U.S. and South Korea elected new leaders. Trump had no immediate response to the nuclear test, though he sent a tweet thanking relief workers after Hurricane Harvey devastated states in the southern U.S. He has repeatedly lashed out at North Korea since taking office, warning last month of “fire and fury” if Kim’s regime continues to threaten the U.S.

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“Chinese market regulators have begun cracking down on ICOs as “illegal fundraising vehicles” in disguise..“

Bitcoin Tumbles To Pre Korea-Missile-Launch Level After Topping $5000 (ZH)

Shortly after topping $5,000 (according to several exchanges), Bitcoin began to tumble dramatically – now down almost $500 – erasing all the post-North-Korea missile anxiety gains.

Ethereum has crashed even more.

Meanwhile, one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Shanghai-based BTC China, announced it had suspended ICOCoin deposits as well as trading and withdrawals, starting 6pm on Sunday, while Caixin reports that authorities shut down a blockchain conference over the weekend on concerns unregulated Initial Coin Offerings were being used to raise funds illegally, adding that Chinese market regulators have begun cracking down on ICOs as “illegal fundraising vehicles” in disguise, and in taking a page out of the SEC playbook, will soon issue official rules on ICOs. As CoinTelegraph adds, the self-regulatory group National Internet Finance Association of China warned its members about the dangers in participating in initial coin offerings (ICO).

The group claimed that ICOs could be using misleading information as part of fundraising campaigns. In a statement in late August 2017, the online finance organization further warned its member companies to exercise extreme caution when dealing with the new fundraising mechanism. Part of the statement reads: “China Internet Finance Association members should take the initiative to strengthen self-discipline, to resist illegal financial behavior.” [..] an official for Russia’s national legislature said that new laws regulating the exchange of cryptocurrencies will be complete by the end of the fall. Anatoly Aksakov, who leads the State Duma’s financial markets committee, told Russian media this week that next steps involve the formation of a dedicated working group to address the issue.

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Sounds overcooked. But yes, US sanctions are not helping. Still, physical delivery in gold is not what anyone wants, far too clumsy for real trade. And who trusts paper gold? Even better: no-one trusts the yuan.

China Sees New World Order With Oil Benchmark Backed By Gold (ANR)

China is expected shortly to launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold in what analysts say could be a game-changer for the industry. The contract could become the most important Asia-based crude oil benchmark, given that China is the world’s biggest oil importer. Crude oil is usually priced in relation to Brent or West Texas Intermediate futures, both denominated in U.S. dollars. China’s move will allow exporters such as Russia and Iran to circumvent U.S. sanctions by trading in yuan. To further entice trade, China says the yuan will be fully convertible into gold on exchanges in Shanghai and Hong Kong. “The rules of the global oil game may begin to change enormously,” said Luke Gromen, founder of U.S.-based macroeconomic research company FFTT.

The Shanghai International Energy Exchange has started to train potential users and is carrying out systems tests following substantial preparations in June and July. This will be China’s first commodities futures contract open to foreign companies such as investment funds, trading houses and petroleum companies. Most of China’s crude imports, which averaged around 7.6 million barrels a day in 2016, are bought on long-term contracts between China’s major oil companies and foreign national oil companies. Deals also take place between Chinese majors and independent Chinese refiners, and between foreign oil majors and global trading companies. Alan Bannister, Asia director of S&P Global Platts, an energy information provider, said that the active involvement of Chinese independent refiners over the last few years “has created a more diverse marketplace of participants domestically in China, creating an environment in which a crude futures contract is more likely to succeed.”

China has long wanted to reduce the dominance of the U.S. dollar in the commodities markets. Yuan-denominated gold futures have been traded on the Shanghai Gold Exchange since April 2016, and the exchange is planning to launch the product in Budapest later this year. Yuan-denominated gold contracts were also launched in Hong Kong in July – after two unsuccessful earlier attempts – as China seeks to internationalize its currency. The contracts have been moderately successful. The existence of yuan-backed oil and gold futures means that users will have the option of being paid in physical gold, said Alasdair Macleod, head of research at Goldmoney, a gold-based financial services company based in Toronto. “It is a mechanism which is likely to appeal to oil producers that prefer to avoid using dollars, and are not ready to accept that being paid in yuan for oil sales to China is a good idea either,” Macleod said.

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The size of both Texas and Houston Metro GDP is quite something.

Why Houston Doesn’t Need Federal Flood Relief (Mises)

In his article today, Christopher Westley noted that Texas’s economy — when measured by GDP — is larger than Canada’s. In other words: If Texas were an independent country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy (totaling $1.6 trillion), and its citizens would be more than capable of addressing natural disasters of the magnitude of a major flood. Texas’s economy is also larger than those of Russia and Australia. By why stop our analysis at the state of Texas? Indeed, if we look at the GDP of the Houston metropolitan area, we find it comes in at $503 billion. This total is similar to the GDPs of Poland, Belgium, and Austria. It’s significantly larger than the GDPs of Norway and Denmark. Nor is Texas’s GDP largely driven by federal spending — so we can’t say that Texas’s economy depends on federal spending to stay afloat.

When we look at federal spending in Texas compared to the federal taxes paid by Texans, we find it’s nearly a one-for-one relationship. So, if the Federal government stopped spending in Texas — but allowed Texans to keep their money, Texas would be fine. [..] Of course, we’ll be told that federal disaster relief programs are all about “sharing” and “cooperation” and “kindness.” In reality, it’s all just about forcing one group of people to hand over money to another group of people. There is no doubt that Texas and Houston now face significant challenges in rebuilding after the flood. But, when we demand that other regions and states pay for the rebuilding of Texas, we’re acting as if those other states and communities don’t have problems of their own. Needs related to poverty, infrastructure, and education in, say, Michigan did not magically disappear because Texas experienced a flood.

The only reason it now seems right to take money from people in Michigan, and hand it over to Houstonians, is because Houston’s problems are in the headlines, and Michigans mundane daily problems are not. The central planners have decided that Houstonians deserve Michigan’s money. But the rationale for this decision is purely political, and thus arbitrary. This isn’t to say real sharing and kindness are a bad thing. It’s excellent that private charities have already been hard at work helping with the cleanup in Houston. If one wants to insist that governments be involved, there’s nothing stopping other states from handing over funds to Texas directly. The federal government need not be involved at all.

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Which is why the possibility of a second hurricane hitting the US this year is intriguing.

Harvey Could Bankrupt The Federal Flood-Insurance Program (ZH)

Hurricane Harvey may solve the auto industry’s inventory problem. But right now, it’s about to create a giant headache for the federal government. Based on the latest estimates from Irvine, California-based CoreLogic, insured flood losses for homes in the affected areas of Texas and Louisiana could total between $6.5 billion to $9.5 billion. Since private insurers typically don’t provide personal flood insurance, all but $500 million of that will fall to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. According to the Street, if insured damages reach the high end of this range, it would totally deplete the $7.5 billion of cash and available credit available to the 49-year-old government program, which provides about 98% of residential flood insurance. The program is already about $25 billion in debt to the US Treasury Department and would need Congressional authorization for additional funding.

To be sure, final totals could be much, much higher given the severity of the the “1-in-1000-year” flood. The potential funding shortfall could create problems if Congress doesn’t act quickly this month to shore up the financially-troubled flood-insurance program. As we’ve reported, Congress already has a full agenda in September – a month where lawmakers must pass a funding bill to keep the government open, and another to raise the debt limit and stave off a technical default on US debt. Initially, President Trump said he would force a government shutdown if Congress didn’t approve funding for his border wall in its next budget. However, it appears that he has backed away from this, as the Washington Post reported today that the administration has quietly notified Congress that the $1.6 billion in wall funding would not need to be included in the September continuing resolution.

Furthermore, Congress must explicitly pass legislation to keep the NFIP intact. Without it, the entire program will lapse. To be sure, there are some signs that Republicans are taking steps to ensure that emergency disaster-relief funding is approved as quickly as possible. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, some Republican lawmakers are raising the possibility that funding for the cleanup effort could be attached to the debt-ceiling bill, giving both measures a strong chance of passing. But it didn’t say if funding for the flood-insurance program would be included. Thanks, in part, to the hurricane, and the perceived political consequences of failing to aid the disaster victims (though Texas has proven to be a reliably red state), Goldman has cut its odds of a government shutdown to 15%.

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“..even as Saudi Arabia sees prices of the end products of its industry spiking, by and large it is not capturing that windfall for itself..”

Harvey Makes Landfall in Saudi Arabia (BBG)

Hurricane Harvey has devastated the Gulf Coast, and its impact is now spreading out to the rest of the U.S., chiefly at gas pumps. But America’s resurgent role in the global energy trade means the ripples extend far beyond its own shores. One place they are lapping onto is Saudi Arabia.In theory, the de-facto leader of efforts by OPEC, Russia and other members of the so-called Vienna Group stands to gain from disruption at the nerve center of the shale boom that has helped to suppress oil prices. In practice, things are a bit more complicated.

The shale boom has moved a lot of U.S. oil production inland and contributed to a glut of barrels building up in storage. So Harvey’s biggest impact on the region’s energy industry has been the closure of ports, refineries and pipelines – and keeping many drivers off highways that have turned into lakes and streams.The net result is depressed demand for crude oil due to absent refiners and panic buying of refined products such as gasoline for the same reason. So even as Saudi Arabia sees prices of the end products of its industry spiking, by and large it is not capturing that windfall for itself:

The disruption should cause U.S. inventories of refined products to fall as they are used to cover shortages and stocks of crude oil and products to drop elsewhere as, for example, European refiners run flat-out to send fuel to the U.S. to capture higher prices. This ultimately helps Saudi Arabia.Again, though, there’s a complicating factor.Saudi Arabia has explicitly targeted the U.S. in its strategy to drain the glut; shipments of its oil to America have dropped noticeably this summer:

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Will we ever stop poisoning ourselves? No high hopes here.

Pesticides Linked To Birth Abnormalities In Major New Study (Ind.)

High exposure to pesticides as a result of living near farmers’ fields appears to increase the risk of giving birth to a baby with “abnormalities” by about 9%, according to new research. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, compared 500,000 birth records for people born in the San Joaquin Valley between 1997 and 2011 and levels of pesticides used in the area. The average use of pesticides over that period was about 975kg for each 2.6sq km area per year. But, for pregnant women in areas where 4,000kg of pesticides was used, the chance of giving birth prematurely rose by about 8% and the chance of having a birth abnormality by about 9%. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers compared this to the 5 to 10% increase adverse birth outcomes that can result from air pollution or extreme heat events.

“Concerns about the effects of harmful environmental exposure on birth outcomes have existed for decades,” they wrote. “Great advances have been made in understanding the effects of smoking and air pollution, among others, yet research on the effects of pesticides has remained inconclusive. “While environmental contaminants generally share the ethical and legal problems of evaluating the health consequences of exposure in a controlled setting and the difficulties associated with rare outcomes, pesticides present an additional challenge. “Unlike smoking, which is observable, or even air pollution, for which there exists a robust network of monitors, publicly available pesticide use data are lacking for most of the world.”

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Addicted farmers: “More than half of British farmers say they are concerned that a ban could cost them more than £10,000 every year.”

France Votes Against The Use Of Pesticide Glyphosate (FarmingUK)

The French government has voted against the renewal of an EU Commission license for the pesticide glyphosate. The decision by the French government comes as evidence emerges of the risk of birth defects caused by exposure to pesticides. Monsanto is the major supplier of products containing glyphosate, with ‘Roundup’ being the best-known product. The product is widely used by farmers, gardeners and local authorities to control weeds. In 2015 the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. But in March, the EU’s chemicals agency said glyphosate should not be classed as a carcinogen. And a survey has shown that a ban on glyphosate in the UK could force one in five wheat farms into ‘serious financial difficulty’. More than half of British farmers say they are concerned that a ban could cost them more than £10,000 every year.

Speaking at Cereals 2017, NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “This year looks like being a watershed year for classical chemistry for arable farms with these three decisions on the horizon from Europe. “A poor decision on endocrine disruptor definition could see an end to the availability of around 26 active ingredients; the European Commission is proposing a ban on the use of neonicotinoids on all outdoor crops; and a decision on the reauthorisation of glyphosate is due by the end of the year. “The NFU will continue to make the case for evidence-based decisions to be made in all three of these areas, and we will continue to work with our members to help them make the case to politicians and other decision makers about the importance of these products and to demonstrate the damage that bad decisions will have on farming and our food supply.”

Read more …

Aug 232017
 
 August 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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William Merritt Chase Back Of A Nude 1888

 

Banks Earn Record Profits in Q2, Savers Sacrificed: FDIC (WS)
The Silent Crisis in US Housing Finance (Whalen)
The New Economic Science Of Capitalism’s Slow-Burn Energy Collapse (Ahmed)
Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy (BBG)
No U.S.-Russia Cyber Unit Without Trump Notifying Congress (R.)
The Imperial Collapse Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight (Krieger)
The Confederate General Who Was Erased (Dailey)
EU Opens Probe Into Bayer Takeover Of Monsanto (AFP)
Schaeuble Wants To Allow Eurozone Countries To Tap ESM For Investments (R.)
Fears Of Tensions As Refugee Arrivals in Greece Rise Again (K.)

 

 

And who are you going to turn to to protest this? Not your politicians, they’re in on it.

Banks Earn Record Profits in Q2, Savers Sacrificed: FDIC (WS)

Savers have been shanghaied into doing an enormous job, in small increments, day after day, for nine years: Recapitalizing the collapsed US banking system and making it immensely profitable again, leading to high core-capital ratios, record bonuses, big-fat dividends, and massive share-buybacks. And the FDIC, in its Quarterly Banking Profile released today, shows how. The total number of FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions fell by 271 to 5,787 by the end of the second quarter. Of them, 5,338 were community banks. Most of this shrinkage was due to consolidation. But there were a handful of bank failures: in 2016, five banks failed. So far this year, six banks failed. The remaining banks get a bigger slice of the pie.

Here’s the good news: Almost everything in the report is good news! That is, unless you’re a saver whose income stream has been confiscated in order to make this good news possible. FDIC-insured banks and savings institutions booked a combined net income of $48.3 billion in the second quarter 2017, a post-crisis high. That’s up by $4.7 billion, or 10.7%, from a year ago (chart via FDIC):

This $4.7-billion increase in earnings was caused by a jump in net interest income of $10.3 billion (9.1%). Net interest income is the difference between a bank’s revenues generated by interest-bearing assets, such as loans, and the costs of its liabilities, mainly deposits but also bonds and the like. Currently banks borrow money from depositors at near zero cost. And it’s a lot of money. At the end of Q2, all commercial banks held $11.2 trillion in domestic deposits. Of that, $9.1 trillion were savings deposits. This is money that banks owe savers. A lot of nearly free money. [..] One of the most important performance metrics for banks is Return On Assets. In Q2, for all FDIC-insured banks combined, the Average ROA reached 1.14%, the highest since Q2 2007. Yes, thank you hallelujah dear savers (chart via FDIC):

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Nothing to do with inflation (we know because money velocity is way down), but with trapping people into debt: “Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars”.

The Silent Crisis in US Housing Finance (Whalen)

The big picture on housing reflected in the mainstream media is one of caution, as illustrated in The Wall Street Journal. Borodovsky & Ramkumar ask the obvious question: Are US homes overvalued? Short answer: Yes. Send your cards and letters to Janet Yellen c/o the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington. As we’ve discussed in several forums over the past few years, home valuations are one of the clearest indicators of inflation in the US economy. While members of the tenured world of economics somehow rationalize understating or ignoring the fact of double digit increases in home prices along the country’s affluent periphery, sure looks like asset price inflation to us. In fact, since WWII home prices in the US have gone up four times the official inflation rate.

“Houses weren’t always this expensive,” notes CNBC. “In 1940, the median home value in the U.S. was just $2,938. In 1980, it was $47,200, and by 2000, it had risen to $119,600. Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars, according to data from the U.S. Census.” Inflation, just to review, is defined as too many dollars chasing too few goods, in this case bona fide investment opportunities. A combination of slow household formation and low levels of new home construction are seen as the proximate cause of the housing price squeeze, but higher prices also limit the level of existing home sales. Many long-time residents of high priced markets like CA and NY cannot move without leaving the community entirely. So they get a home equity line or reverse mortgage, and shelter in place, thereby reducing the stock of available homes.

Two key indicators that especially worry us in the world of credit is the falling cost of defaults and the widening gap between asset pricing and cash flow. Credit metrics for bank-owned single-family and multifamily loans are showing very low default rates. More, loss-given default (LGD) remains in negative territory for the latter, suggesting a steady supply of greater fools ready to buy busted multifamily property developments above par value. We can’t wait for the FDIC quarterly data for Q2 2017 to be released next week as we expect these credit metrics to skew even further. Single-family exposures are likewise showing very low default rates and LGDs at 30-year lows, again suggesting a significant asset price bubble in 1-4 family homes. The fact that many of these properties are well under water in terms of what the property could fetch as a rental also seasons our view that we are in the midst of a Fed-induced investment mania.

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Nice and interesting, but don’t present it as something new. At best all the scientists et al quoted have only recently found out. And as the Automatic Earth has said forever, don’t say the 2007/8 crisis was caused by energy issues. The financial world didn’t need any help causing it.

The New Economic Science Of Capitalism’s Slow-Burn Energy Collapse (Ahmed)

Recent studies suggest that the EROI of fossil fuels has steadily declined since the early 20th century, meaning that as we’re depleting our higher quality resources, we’re using more and more energy just to get new energy out. This means that the costs of energy production are increasing while the quality of the energy we’re producing is declining. But unlike previous studies, the authors of the new paper [..] have removed any uncertainty that might have remained about the matter. Court and Fizaine find that the EROI values of global oil and gas production reached their maximum peaks in the 1930s and 40s. Global oil production hit peak EROI at 50:1; while global gas production hit peak EROI at 150:1. Since then, the EROI values of oil and gas-the overall energy we’re able to extract from these resources for every unit of energy we put in- is inexorably declining.

Even coal, the only fossil fuel resource whose EROI has not yet maxed out, is forecast to undergo an EROI peak sometime between 2020 and 2045. This means that while coal might still have signficant production potential in some parts of the world, rising costs of production are making it increasingly uneconomical. Axiom: Aggregating this data together reveals that the world’s fossil fuels overall experienced their maximum cumulative EROI of approximately 44:1 in the early 1960s.

Since then, the total value of energy we’re able to extract from the world’s fossil fuel resource base has undergone a protracted, continuous and irreversible decline. At this rate of decline, by 2100, we are projected to extract the same value of EROI from fossil fuels as we were in the 1800s. Several other studies suggest that this ongoing decline in the overall value of the energy extracted from global fossil fuels has played a fundamental role in the slowdown of global economic growth in recent years. In this sense, the 2008 financial crash did not represent a singular event, but rather one key event in an unfolding process. [..] Going back to the new EROI analysis by French economists, Victor Court and Florian Fizaine, the EROI of oil is forecast to reduce to 15:1 by 2018. It will continue to decline to around 10:1 by 2035. They broadly forecast the same pattern for gas and coal: Overall, their data suggests that the EROI of all fossil fuels will hit 15:1 by 2060, and decline further to 10:1 by 2080.

Read more …

Whole new resources wars lie ahead.

Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy (BBG)

Yes, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about a shift toward renewables. Unfortunately, an escape from energy geopolitics is not likely to be among them. [..] Among the most interesting of possible trends we highlight is the idea that a more renewable-heavy future will likely bring with it new forms of the “resource curse” – the phenomenon that political and economic development in many resource-wealthy countries seems stymied when compared to resource-poor ones. In many resource-rich nations, economic growth is actually slower and political institutions are more likely to be repressive and nondemocratic. In the world of fossil fuels, this curse has generally applied to big producers of oil and gas.

In a world heavier on renewables, the curse will probably not be so relevant for producers of power; solar, wind and geothermal energy are more likely to be generated and consumed within the borders of a country than to become profitable exports and generators of huge windfall cash flows. Rather, we may see this curse surface in countries rich in the materials required to produce the components that make renewable energy possible. Many of these resources are rare-earth metals and other commodities deep underground. For example, indium and cobalt – neither is technically a rare-earth metal, but they are still relatively hard to come by – are essential for making solar panels and batteries.

China provides approximately half of the indium consumed globally today, whereas the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the source of more than half the world’s cobalt. The big producers of lithium, another material essential for the production of batteries, are Argentina, Australia, Chile and China. Yet Bolivia’s large untapped reserves of lithium could catapult it into this league in the future. Tellurium is not a rare-earth mineral, but it is another key component of solar panels. The U.S. has imported most of this material from Canada, but relies to some extent on Belgium, China and the Philippines. By some estimates, China supplies as much as 95% of all the rare-earth elements in the global market. Given Beijing’s dominant position, the world should expect repeats of the 2010 episode when China halted the sale of rare earths to Japan – where they are vital for the production of solar panels and batteries – in the wake of a maritime dispute.

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Whatever anyone thinks of this, do note that one political freely body voting itself the powers of another is scary.

No U.S.-Russia Cyber Unit Without Trump Notifying Congress (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump would be required to notify U.S. lawmakers before creating a joint U.S.-Russia cyber security unit – an idea that has drawn criticism across the political spectrum – under legislation advancing in Congress. The proposal, if it became law, would be the latest in a series of maneuvers by Congress that either limit the president’s authority on Russia matters or rebuke his desire to warm relations with Moscow. A provision contained within the annual Intelligence Authorization Act and passed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee 14-1 would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report describing what intelligence would be shared with Russia, any counterintelligence concerns and how those concerns would be addressed.

The bill, which grants congressional approval for clandestine operations carried out by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, passed the Senate Intelligence Committee in July, but its text was only recently made public because it involves sensitive intelligence operations. Trump last month said on Twitter that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed establishing “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to address issues like the risk of cyber meddling in elections. Trump quickly backpedaled on the idea, which was criticized by Democrats, senior Republicans and the National Security Agency director. [..] Trump wants to improve relations with Russia, a desire that has been hamstrung by the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Republican Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating the interference and possible collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign. Moscow has denied any meddling and Trump has denied any collusion. Previously, Congress tied the president’s hands on Russia by passing a bill that Trump cannot ease the sanctions against Russia unless he seeks congressional approval. In August, the Senate blocked Trump from being able to make recess appointments while lawmakers were on break, fearing the president would fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his handling of the Russian probe. Lawmakers have also introduced legislation to stop Trump from having the ability to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to determine whether there was collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow.

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Amen.

The Imperial Collapse Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight (Krieger)

If you haven’t watched Trump’s Afghanistan speech by now you really should. It’s not good enough to read anyone else’s summary, you need to hear it for yourselves. It’s only 25 minutes long. As I started listening, I sensed myself getting angry. It was the same empty, bullshit propaganda I’ve been hearing from U.S. Presidents my entire life. This broken record of disingenuousness has become simply unbearable, and even worse, I know it’s going to work on millions upon millions of Americans. We refuse to think for ourselves, and we refuse to admit the obvious. There will be hell to pay for this ignorance and denial. [..] towards the end of the speech, Trump says the following:

“In every generation we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed. We prevailed because we know who we are and what we are fighting for.”

Unfortunately, here’s the cold hard truth: We have no idea who we are, and we have no idea what we are fighting for. We’ve become the very evil he claims to be fighting against as the nation morphed into a pernicious, destructive, and immoral empire. This is the heart of the problem — we are constantly lying to ourselves. Of course, we’ll never set things on the right track if we can’t diagnose the disease in the first place. We’ve torched our national treasure and goodwill by running around the world trying to push everybody around, and simultaneously institutionalized a corrupt and predatory neo-feudal society at home. We’ve ignored our own people in a foolish and self-destructive quest to maintain and grow empire and the results will not be pretty.

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Good story. The world is not black and white, there are simply people who don’t want to see color.

The Confederate General Who Was Erased (Dailey)

A native Virginian, a railroad magnate, a slaveholder, and an ardent secessionist, Mahone served in the Confederate army throughout the war. He was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s most able commanders, distinguishing himself particularly in the summer of 1864 at the Battle of the Crater outside Petersburg. After the war, Robert E. Lee recalled that, when contemplating a successor, he thought that Mahone “had developed the highest qualities for organization and command.” General William Mahone has not been forgotten entirely. Rather, he has been selectively remembered. There is a Mahone Monument, for example, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, at the Crater Battlefield in Petersburg, and Civil War scholars have treated Mahone’s military career with respect.

There is an able biography. The problems posed by William Mahone for many Virginians in the past — and what makes it worthwhile for us to think about him in the present — lie in his postwar career. Senator William Mahone was one of the most maligned political leaders in post-Civil War America. He was also one of the most capable. Compared to the Roman traitor Cataline (by Virginia Democrats), to Moses (by African American congressman John Mercer Langston), and to Napoleon (by himself), Mahone organized and led the most successful interracial political alliance in the post-emancipation South. Mahone’s Readjuster Party, an independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats that was named for its policy of downwardly “readjusting” Virginia’s state debt, governed the state from 1879 to 1883.

During this period, a Readjuster governor occupied the statehouse, two Readjusters represented Virginia in the United States Senate, and Readjusters represented six of Virginia’s ten congressional districts. Under Mahone’s leadership, his coalition controlled the state legislature and the courts, and held and distributed the state’s many coveted federal offices. A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, office-holding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia, and unmatched anywhere else in the nineteenth-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests.

At the state level, the Readjusters separated payment of the school tax from the suffrage, thereby enfranchising thousands of Virginia’s poorest voters. They restored and reinvigorated public education in the state, and they lowered real estate and personal property taxes. They banned the chain gang and the whipping post. At the municipal level, Readjuster governments paved streets, added sidewalks, and modernized water systems.

The Readjusters lost power in 1883 through a Democratic campaign of violence, electoral fraud, and appeals to white solidarity. While Democrats suppressed progressive politics in the state, other groups of elite white Virginians worked fast to eradicate the memory of Virginia’s experiment in interracial democracy. These were mutually reinforcing projects. Convinced that black enfranchisement was “the greatest curse that ever befell this country,” members of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), founded in 1889, equated the Readjuster’ rule with “mobocracy” and called for radical pruning of the electorate. After 1900, William Mahone was characterized by whites in Virginia as a demagogic race traitor with autocratic tendencies. This representation was so powerful that as late as the 1940s the worst charge that could be brought against an anti-Democratic opposition candidate was that he had been associated with Mahone and the Readjusters.

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Monopolizing food should be fought for reasons much more profound than legal or economic ones.

EU Opens Probe Into Bayer Takeover Of Monsanto (AFP)

The European Commission said Tuesday that it was opening an in-depth investigation into the proposed $66 billion (56-billion-euro) takeover of US seed and pesticide supplier Monsanto by Germany’s Bayer, citing concerns it could reduce competition in key products for farmers. “Seeds and pesticide products are essential for farmers and ultimately consumers,” said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices.” In its own statement, Leverkusen-based Bayer said it “believes that the proposed combination will be highly beneficial for farmers and consumers.” The firm “will continue to work closely and constructively with the European Commission” and still aims to receive approval for the deal by the end of the year, it added.

After a months-long pursuit in which it raised its offer price several times, Bayer won over Monsanto’s management in September for the deal, which would create the world’s largest integrated pesticides and seeds company. If the tie-up goes ahead, the new company would have some 140,000 employees around the world with combined annual revenues from agriculture alone of about €23 billion. But the deal has drawn criticism from environmental groups because of Monsanto’s long history of promoting genetically modified crops. “There’s not much to investigate. One monster corporation controlling our food is a bad idea for farmers and citizens everywhere,” said Nick Flynn of the Avaaz advocacy group. “Over a million people are hoping Commissioner Vestager comes back with a long-term rejection of Monsanto and Bayer’s marriage from hell.”

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Trojan.

Schaeuble Wants To Allow Eurozone Countries To Tap ESM For Investments (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is working on a proposal that would allow southern eurozone countries to tap into the single currency bloc’s bailout fund to boost investments during recessions, a newspaper said on Wednesday. If the unsourced report in the mass-selling German daily Bild is confirmed, the plan would mark a major change of policy for Schaeuble who had until recently always opposed transfers from richer eurozone countries to poorer members like Greece. Germany is the biggest contributer to the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s bailout fund. Bild said Schaeuble intended to make the proposal after Germany’s Sept.24 election, which his conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to win. In exchange for more flexible access to the ESM, Schaeuble wants the fund to have more say over national debt and budgets.

Bild added that the proposal was a goodwill gesture toward French President Emmanuel Macron who has vowed to work with Merkel on a roadmap for closer eurozone integration. Schaeuble said earlier this year that he shared Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the eurozone. A joint eurozone budget and a common finance minister are among ideas for deeper European Union integration around the single currency after Britain leaves the EU in 2019. Completing a banking union has also been proposed. Schaeuble is loathed in many southern eurozone countries and especially in Greece, for insisting on tough austerity measures in exchange for bailout funds during the bloc’s debt crisis that started seven years ago.

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Time for Greece to get scared again.

Fears Of Tensions As Refugee Arrivals in Greece Rise Again (K.)

Authorities on the islands of the eastern Aegean were unnerved on Tuesday by the arrival of 397 undocumented migrants in just one day, though it remained unclear whether a recent spike in newcomers is the beginning of a new, stronger influx from neighboring Turkey. The 397 new arrivals – 225 on Chios, 61 on Samos, 93 on Leros and 18 on Kos – came on the heels of 643 who landed on the islands over the weekend. August has seen the people smugglers intensify their operations, with more than 2,400 migrants landing on Greek shores following journeys aboard smuggling vessels from Turkey. The renewed influx is putting further pressure on already overcrowded migrant reception facilities on the islands, with authorities acknowledging that a key problem is the slow rate at which hundreds of asylum applications are being processed.

“There has been a noticeable increase in refugee and migrant arrivals over the past few days, which underlines the need for asylum services to be boosted immediately so that the the process is completed more quickly and the islands can be decongested,” the regional governor for the northern Aegean, Christina Kalogirou, told Kathimerini. Most migrants who see their inital asylum claims rejected lodge appeals, which drags out the process even longer, Kalogirou said, adding that the presence of hundreds of migrants in crowded venues for months on end leads to “aggravated situations, tension and even outbreaks of violence.”

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Aug 222017
 
 August 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Pierre Bonnard Nude in an Interior c1935

 

Periods Of Re-Pricing Are Usually Quick And Brutal (Roberts)
US House Price Bubbles 2.0 (Hanson)
QE Is Like Heroin, Says Former UK Treasury Official (G.)
UK Credit Card Lending Booms As Real Wages Fall (Ind.)
Cash is Not The Curse (Mark GB)
US Gross National Debt to Spike by $800 Billion in October? (WS)
Why Peter Costello Is Not Even Half Right On Housing (ND)
Diminishing Returns (Jim Kunstler)
What Would A US Civil War Look Like? (Copley)
Hate is the New Sex (Greer)
Greece Concerns Peak Amid Sudden Spike In Refugee Arrivals (K.)
US Farmers Confused By Monsanto Weed Killer’s Complex Instructions (R.)
UK Blasted Over ‘Shocking’ Export Of Deadly Weedkiller To Poorer Countries (G.)
The Blue Dogs of Mumbai (G.)

 

 

And the longer re-pricing is postponed, through QE etc., the steeper the fall will be.

Periods Of Re-Pricing Are Usually Quick And Brutal (Roberts)

1. Stock prices run in cycles. Periods of re-pricing are usually quick and powerful.

7. Your first loss will often be your best loss. No one is right all the time and you don’t have to be. There are market participants that are immensely profitable by being right only 30% of the time. It is good to have conviction in your investment thesis, but discipline should always trump conviction.

8. Optimism and pessimism in the stock market are contagious. Investor psychology often loses its logic and become emotional. The news media and the most recent price action play a particularly important role in developing moods of mass optimism or pessimism.

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Debt slaves.

US House Price Bubbles 2.0 (Hanson)

A big problem with house prices experiencing even a “moderate” correction of 10% to 20% — already underway in many of the most over-priced regions — is with between 40% and 50% of all house purchases for years being of the “less than 10% down” variety — and because it takes 8% to 10% equity to sell plus the 3% to 10% down payment on the new house — it doesn’t take much downside to swamp the nation in “NEGATIVE EQUITY” once again. And we know for certain that many homeowners rather pay their credit cards and car payments before their mortgage when they are underwater.

ITEM 1) Household income INCREASE needed to Buy the Median Priced House in Key Cities. Bottom Line: On a “national” basis the divergence isn’t too bad…6%. But, in the key cities that drive the US economy, Bubble 2.0 has blown large. This represents significant downside, especially in the sand states, just like in Bubble 1.0.

ITEM 2) DIVERGENCE between Actual Household Income & Income Needed to Buy the Median Priced House. Bottom Line: Here too, on a “national” basis the divergence isn’t too bad…-6%. But, in the key cities that drive the US economy, Bubble 2.0 has blown large.

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It’s worse, actually. Heroin cold turkey is doable though hard. QE cold turkey is definitely not.

QE Is Like Heroin, Says Former UK Treasury Official (G.)

A former senior Treasury mandarin has compared quantitative easing to heroin and called for an end to almost a decade of electronic money printing by central banks. Nick Macpherson was permanent secretary to the Treasury when Bank of England officials started buying UK government bonds to stimulate the economy following the financial crisis. On Monday, he said it was “time to move on” from QE, which is credited with helping Britain into recovery but remains in use nine years later amid concerns over Brexit. Threadneedle Street initially began pumping £200bn into the gilt market in 2009 to boost the economy, before expanding the programme to £435bn, including an extra £60bn following the EU referendum. The bond buying scheme is similar to massive stimulus packages used by other countries, such as the Fed’s $4.5tn of asset purchases (£3.5tn) and the ECB ’s €2.3tn (£2.1tn) plan.

Lord Macpherson’s call comes as pressure mounts on the world’s central bankers to give more clues about how they intend to exit QE in a process known as “normalisation” almost a decade on from the crash. Some indications could be given at a meeting of senior officials at Jackson Hole in the US later this week. Mario Draghi, the ECB governor, is expected to be the star turn at the event watched by global investors, although he is not thought to be preparing to announce the end of QE just yet. While QE is credited with lowering borrowing costs and helping banks to lend more to consumers and businesses, critics say such schemes inflate assets owned by the richest in society, while punishing savers without large amounts of wealth. Macpherson did not single out the specific bond-buying programme of a particular central bank. “QE like heroin: need ever increasing fixes to create a high. Meanwhile, negative side effects increase. Time to move on,” he wrote on Twitter.

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And after all the QE, people are poorer than before.

UK Credit Card Lending Booms As Real Wages Fall (Ind.)

UK consumers are increasingly purchasing goods on plastic with the number of transactions on credit and debit cards jumping 12% in the last year. The increase was the fastest annual rise in the number of card transactions since 2008 and comes after warnings from the Bank of England about the growth of personal debt. Shoppers spent 7.2% more on all types of cards in the year to the end of June, despite real wages falling over the period, data from industry body UK Finance showed. The total value of credit and charge card purchases increased 6.9% over the 12 months with credit card lending accelerating in April, May and June to an annual growth rate of 9%. During those three months, the number of people defaulting on their credit card bills and personal loans “increased significantly”, the Bank of England said in a recent report.

The rise comes as official figures show real earnings have declined. Average pay rose at an annual rate of 2.1% in the three months to June – well below the inflation rate of 2.6% in the year to the end of June. Overall consumer spending was up 1.3% in the year to July, the Office for National Statistics said in a separate release this month. Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange debt charity, expressed concern at the findings. “With our research estimating 3.2 million people are using credit cards to pay for everyday household expenses, the growing stock of credit card debt should focus attention on households in financial difficulties,” he said. Mr Tutton said the growth in credit card cash advances was particularly worrying. This type of borrowing is expensive and can be a warning sign that borrowers are facing financial difficulty.

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More on Ken Rogoff and Larry Summers’ crazy ideas of power over people’s money.

Cash is Not The Curse (Mark GB)

There’s a pub in the Welsh hills, not far from where I live, called ‘The Tylers Arms’ – pronounced ‘tillers’. The name originated, I believe, in the 18th century. The local villagers, who all worked on the land, would go there to pick up their wages in the form of ‘tyles’ – some of which would be immediately exchanged for beer, and thus returned to the landowner…who also owned the pub…and the local store. Thus, the ‘tyles’ circulated regularly, providing employment & cheap produce for the villagers, a steady and almost ‘captive’ profit for the landowner, and stability for the community. As the industrial revolution progressed some of the larger UK manufacturers adopted a similar system, but using fiat currency – e.g. there is a ‘village’ in Birmingham known as Bourneville, which was built by the Cadbury family.

Now before anyone thinks I’ve got unresolved baggage on feudalism, a ‘downer’ on capitalism, or a yearning for socialism…hold your horses please…this is about something far more serious than the ‘isms’. This is about who controls the money. The folks who do that…can, and do, call the tune for the rest of us. And that’s what I want to talk about here.

These days our monetary masters are much more sophisticated – our ‘tyles’ are pieces of paper backed by government fiat. You can work for pretty much whomever you like, and you can buy from whomever you like, but one way or another the government will take a cut of everything you earn and everything you spend. You can do the odd ‘swapsie’ with your pals but you can’t pay taxes with home grown tomatoes – the IRS don’t do vegetables – they can’t digitise them or create them with a keystroke so veggies would confuse the poor dears.

What happens next is technical and varies between territories, so let’s just deal with the ‘myth’: The taxman’s ‘cut’ is used to boost the economy on your behalf by spending it on useful things like building roads and bridges. It also includes an ever-growing list of things that you didn’t even realise you need, like cruise missiles & other stuff that goes ‘BANG’, along with other seemingly ‘essential’ services like bribing foreign governments and funding ‘moderate rebels’ to remove the foreign governments that can’t be bribed. Clearly we’ve come a long way from tyles, especially in the case of the dollar, which can used to bribe governments on seven continents. The chap who owned the Tillers never dreamt of such power – this is considered to be progress…

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Now that Goldman rules the White House, default risk is definitely down.

US Gross National Debt to Spike by $800 Billion in October? (WS)

“There is zero chance, no chance we won’t raise the debt ceiling,” swore Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) at an event in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday. He who couldn’t get his Republican ducks all lined up in a row to get any major legislation passed this year was confident that the Senate would pass a bill that would raise the debt ceiling so that the government could continue to pay for things that Congress told the Government to pay for, and so that the government could service its debts, rather than default on them. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was there with him, pleading once again for a “clean” debt-ceiling increase, according to the Wall Street Journal. His “magic super Treasury powers” that allow the government to conserve cash to avoid having to issue more debt will expire at the end of September, he said.

“This is not about spending money,” he said. “This is about paying for what we’ve spent, and we cannot put the credit of the United States on the line.” The debt ceiling is just under $20 trillion. While the government can issue bonds to redeem maturing bonds – and it does this all the time – it cannot allow the gross national debt to go beyond the debt ceiling. But because it has to continue to pay for things that Congress mandated in its various spending bills over the years, the Treasury scrounges up the money from other government accounts, robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. For example it temporarily short-changes the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. These “extraordinary measures,” as they’re called, or the “magic super Treasury powers,” as Mnuchin called it, run out after a while.

Mnuchin said in his last letter to Congress that the out-of-money-date is September 29. But as in the past, the real out-of-money date can probably be stretched into October. These shenanigans make the entire world shake its collective head and pray that Congress, after going through its charade, will for the umpteenth time raise the debt limit. The other option is a US default. Its global consequences are too ugly to even imagine. But this charade has some peculiar effects, beyond its entertainment value: for months on end, it covers up the true extent of US government debt, and the current surge of this debt. This chart shows the gross national debt going back to 2011, including the last two debt-ceiling fights. Note the long flat lines leading into October or November, followed each time by an enormous spike:

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A good example of exatly how stuck governments and central banks are after blowing housing bubbles. There was an Australian tycoon this week who said the Oz bubble won’t pop because people are too heavily invested in property…

Why Peter Costello Is Not Even Half Right On Housing (ND)

When former treasurer Peter Costello called on Monday for interest rates to be ‘normalised’ upwards to stop Australia’s credit bubble getting any larger, he was very nearly half right. As long as the Reserve Bank keeps the official cash rate at the record low of 1.5%, the economy will become increasingly “unbalanced”, as he put it. And although struggling families will protest that they can’t afford higher mortgage repayments, the other side of that coin is that each successive wave of first home owners is taking on even higher debts. The longer that super-low rates persist, the more debt the banks will be able to balance on the shoulders of new home buyers. That has already created huge property-based inequality. But Mr Costello’s comments weren’t focused on that imbalance – he’s worried about the impact that unstable house prices or teetering banks could have on economic growth more generally.

He told The Australian that “once [the price of] money returns to more normal levels” Australia could face a “big problem” with asset prices and the housing market. Quite right, but what could prevent that? A gradual increase in rates will not, in itself, ‘fix’ the housing market. To do that, two other abnormalities need to be addressed. The one mentioned most by Mr Costello’s side of politics is the availability of suitable dwellings – the ‘supply problem’. That is a wildly misunderstood problem, so I will look at it separately in coming days. But bigger than either low rates or the supposed ‘supply problem’ is the abnormality that Mr Costello himself created – tax laws that reward investors for making annual losses in the housing market, so as to reap lightly-taxed capital gains years down the track.

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“..an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering.”

Diminishing Returns (Jim Kunstler)

These two words are the hinge that is swinging American life — and the advanced techno-industrial world, for that matter — toward darkness. They represent an infection in the critical operations of daily life, like a metabolic disease, driving us into disorder and failure. And they are so omnipresent that we’ve failed to even notice the growing failure all around us. Mostly, these diminishing returns are the results of our over-investments in making complex systems more complex, for instance the replacement of the 37-page Glass-Steagall Act that regulated American banking, with the 848 page Dodd-Frank Act, which was only an outline for over 22,000 pages of subsequent regulatory content — all of it cooked up by banking lobbyists, and none of which replaced the single most important rule in Glass-Steagall, which required the separation of commercial banking from trafficking in securities.

Dodd-Frank was a colossal act of misdirection of the public’s attention, an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering. For Wall Street, Dodd-Frank aggravated the conditions that allow stock indexes to only move in one direction, up, for nine years. During the same period, the American economy of real people and real stuff only went steadily down, including the number of people out of the work force, the incomes of those who still had jobs, the number of people with full-time jobs, the number of people who were able to buy food without government help, or pay for a place to live, or send a kid to college. When that morbid tension finally snaps, as it must, it won’t only be the Hedge Funders of the Hamptons who get hurt. It will be the entire global financial system, especially currencies (dollars, Euros, Yen, Pounds, Renminbi) that undergo a swift and dire re-pricing, and all the other things of this world priced in them.

And when that happens, the world will awake to a new reality of steeply reduced possibilities for supporting 7-plus billion people. The same over-investments in complexity have produced the racketeering colossus of so-called health care (formerly “medicine”), in case you’re wondering why the waiting room of your doctor’s office now looks exactly like the motor vehicle bureau. Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that the citizens of this land have never been so uniformly unhealthy, even as they’re being swindled and blackmailed by their “providers.” The eventual result will be a chaotic process of simplification, as giant hospital corporations, insurance companies, and overgrown doctors’ practices collapse, and the braver practitioners coalesce into something resembling Third World clinics.

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“..such a conflict – physical or political – could, equally, lead to a victory for nationalism over globalism, and to the protection of currencies and values.”

What Would A US Civil War Look Like? (Copley)

There is little doubt that the US, despite the evidence that economic recovery is at hand, could spiral into a self-destructive descent of dysfunction, dystopia, and anomie. The path toward a “second civil war” has significant parallels with the causes of the first US Civil War (1861-65). Both events — the 19th Century event and a possible 21st Century one — saw the polarization of a fundamentally urban, abstract society against a fundamentally regional, traditional society. In some respects, it is a conflict between people with long memories (even if those memories are flawed and selective) and people to whom memories and history are irrelevant. Equally, it is a conflict between identity and materialism, with the abstract social groups (the urban populations) the most preoccupied with short-term material gain.

I have covered the US for 50 years, and my earliest view of it was, a half century ago, that its populations would inevitably polarize into protective islands of self-interest, surrounded by seas of unthinking locusts. What is ironic is that the present islands of wealth and power — the cities — have come to represent short-term materialism, as cities have throughout history. But what is interesting is that, despite the global attention on the political/geographic polarizations occurring in the US and other parts of the Western world, there has been a reversion in other parts of the world to a sense of Westphalian or pre-Westphalian nationalism. The fact that “the West” may have ring-fenced Iran, Russia, and so on, with sanctions and other forms of isolation may well be what ensures their enduring status.

They have avoided the contagion of globalism. Russia, indeed, recovered from the Soviet form of globalism in 1991. An urban globalist “victory” over Trump and Brexit would trigger that meltdown toward a form of civil societal collapse – civil war in some form or other – as the regions disavow the diktats of the cities. That would, in turn, bring about the global economic uncertainty which could impact the PRC and then the en-tire world. But such a conflict – physical or political – could, equally, lead to a victory for nationalism over globalism, and to the protection of currencies and values. We have seen this cycle repeated for millennia. It is the eternal battle.

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The Archdruid from a few weeks ago.

Hate is the New Sex (Greer)

It occurred to me the other day that there’s a curious disconnect between one of the most common assumptions most of us make about how to make the world better, on the one hand, and the results that this assumption has had when put into practice, on the other. It’s reminiscent of the realization that led James Hillman and Michael Ventura to title a once-notorious book of theirs We’ve Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse. In this case as in that one, something that’s supposed to make things better doesn’t seem to be doing the trick—in fact, quite the opposite—and it’s time that we talked about that. You know the assumption I have in mind, dear reader. It’s the conviction that certain common human emotions are evil and harmful and wrong, and the way to make a better world is to get rid of them in one way or another.

That belief is taken for granted throughout the industrial societies of the modern West, and it’s been welded in place for a very long time, though—as we’ll see in a moment—the particular emotions so labeled have varied from time to time. Just now, of course, the emotion at the center of this particular rogue’s gallery is hate. These days hate has roughly the same role in popular culture that original sin has in traditional Christian theology. If you want to slap the worst imaginable label on an organization, you call it a hate group. If you want to push a category of discourse straight into the realm of the utterly unacceptable, you call it hate speech. If you’re speaking in public and you want to be sure that everyone in the crowd will beam approval at you, all you have to do is denounce hate.

At the far end of this sort of rhetoric, you get the meretricious slogan used by Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign last year: LOVE TRUMPS HATE. I hope that none of my readers are under the illusion that Clinton’s partisans were primarily motivated by love, except in the sense of Clinton’s love for power and the Democrats’ love for the privileges and payouts they could expect from four more years of control of the White House; and of course Trump and the Republicans were head over heels in love with the same things. The fact that Clinton’s marketing flacks and focus groups thought that the slogan just quoted would have an impact on the election, though, shows just how pervasive the assumption I’m discussing has become in our culture.

Now of course most people these days, when confronted with the sort of things I’ve just written, are likely to respond, “Wait, are you saying that hate is good?”—as though the only alternatives available are condemning something as absolutely bad or praising it as absolutely good. Let’s set that simplistic reaction to one side for the moment, and ask a different question: what happens when people decide that some common human emotion is evil and harmful and wrong, and decide that the way to make a better world is to get rid of it?

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Watch Erdogan. German elections coming up.

Greece Concerns Peak Amid Sudden Spike In Refugee Arrivals (K.)

A sudden spike in the number of undocumented migrants arriving from neighboring Turkey has led to concern on the part of Greek authorities, who expect the next few days to reveal whether the rapid increase is a random occurence or the beginning of a new trend. A total of 643 migrants who had set out from the Turkish coast landed on the islands of the eastern Aegean between Friday and Monday morning, according to government figures. Another 114 people arrived in two separate smuggling boats later on Monday, putting authorities on alert.

Early on Monday, a vessel belonging to the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex spotted a smuggling boat off the coast of Chios and intercepted the 53 migrants who had been aboard. Later in the day another 61 migrants were found in a boat that had reached Samos and were also detained. Tensions are already high in reception centers on several Aegean islands. Most of the facilities are at around twice their capacity as hundreds of migrants and refugees await the outcome of asylum applications or deportation orders. Tolerance has been tested in several island communities as dozens of migrants continue to arrive daily from nearby Turkish shores. There are currently more than 14,400 migrants living on camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

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Confused? The instructions are impossible to follow, not confusing.

US Farmers Confused By Monsanto Weed Killer’s Complex Instructions (R.)

With Monsanto’s latest flagship weed killer, dicamba, banned in Arkansas and under review by U.S. regulators over concerns it can drift in the wind, farmers and weed scientists are also complaining that confusing directions on the label make the product hard to use safely. Dicamba, sold under different brand names by BASF and DuPont, can vaporize under certain conditions and the wind can blow it into nearby crops and other plants. The herbicide can damage or even kill crops that have not been genetically engineered to resist it. To prevent that from happening, Monsanto created a 4,550-word label with detailed instructions. Its complexity is now being cited by farmers and critics of the product. It was even singled out in a lawsuit as evidence that Monsanto’s product may be virtually impossible to use properly.

At stake for Monsanto is the fate of Xtend soybeans, it largest ever biotech seed launch. Monsanto’s label, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed and approved, instructs farmers to apply the company’s XtendiMax with VaporGrip on its latest genetically engineered soybeans only when winds are blowing at least 3 miles per hour, but not more than 15 mph. Growers must also spray it from no higher than 24 inches above the crops. They must adjust spraying equipment to produce larger droplets of the herbicide when temperatures creep above 91 degrees Fahrenheit. After using the product, they must rinse out spraying equipment. Three times. “The restriction on these labels is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before,” said Bob Hartzler, an agronomy professor and weed specialist at Iowa State University. The label instructions are also of interest to lawyers for farmers suing Monsanto, BASF and DuPont over damage they attribute to the potent weed killer moving off-target to nearby plants.

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It’s not ‘shocking’, it’s criminal.

UK Blasted Over ‘Shocking’ Export Of Deadly Weedkiller To Poorer Countries (G.)

Paraquat, a pesticide so lethal that a single sip can be fatal, has caused thousands of accidental deaths and suicides globally, and was outlawed by EU states in 2007. But Swiss pesticide manufacturer Syngenta is exporting thousands of tonnes of the substance to other parts of the world from an industrial plant in Huddersfield. Campaigners have condemned the practice as an “astonishing double standard”, while a UN expert said it was deeply disquieting that the human rights implications of producing a substance for export that is not authorised in the EU were being ignored. “The fact that the EU has decided to ban the pesticide for health and environmental reasons, but they still export it to countries with far weaker regulation and far weaker controls, is shocking to me,” said Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on toxic wastes.

Syngenta is responsible for 95% of Europe’s exports of paraquat, which it sells under the brand name Gramoxone. The substance can be absorbed through the skin and has been linked with Parkinson’s disease. Syngenta has exported 122,831 tonnes of paraquat from the UK since 2015, an average of 41,000 tonnes a year, according to export licensing data analysed by the Swiss NGO Public Eye and shared with the Guardian. Since 2015, when a facility in Belgium stopped exporting paraquat, all EU exports of the pesticide have come from Syngenta’s UK base, according to Public Eye. Almost two-thirds of these exports by volume – 62% – go to poor countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Guatemala, Venezuela and India. A further 35% is exported to the US, where paraquat can only be applied by licensed users.

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We are a brilliant species.

The Blue Dogs of Mumbai (G.)

Authorities in Mumbai have shut down a manufacturing company after it was accused of dumping untreated industrial waste and dyes into a local river that resulted in 11 dogs turning blue. The group of strangely coloured canines was first spotted on 11 August, according to the Hindustan Times, prompting locals to complain to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board about dyes being dumped in the Kasadi river, where the animals often swim. Footage shows the animals roaming the streets with bright blue fur. “It was shocking to see how the dog’s white fur had turned completely blue,” said Arati Chauhan, head of the Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell, told the Times. “We have spotted almost five such dogs here and have asked the pollution control board to act against such industries.”

Chauhan had posted images of the blue dogs on the group’s Facebook page, saying the “pollutants from Taloja Industrial area not only ruining the water bodies affecting humans there but also affecting animals, birds, reptiles”. The board investigated, shutting down the company on Wednesday after confirming that canines were turning blue due to air and water pollution linked to the plant. An animal welfare agency managed to capture one of the dogs and wash some of the blue dye off. The group concluded that animal seemed unharmed in all other ways. The Kasadi River flows through an area with hundreds of factories.

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Aug 022017
 
 August 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Stanley Kubrick Men’s fashion show, New York 1948

 

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)
US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)
US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)
US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)
Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)
For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)
Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)
Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)
Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)
Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)
8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)
EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

 

 

Desperately mining for a new generation of greater fools. Courtesy of government-owned Fannie Mae. What a world.

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)

For millions of Americans drowning in student loan debt, the prospect of getting a mortgage might seem out of reach. Last week, Fannie Mae changed underwriting rules that could make it much easier for people with student loan debt to qualify for a mortgage. The new rule impacts people with federal student loan debt who are currently on an income-driven repayment program. An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based upon your income and family size. Depending upon the plan, your monthly payment could be capped as low as 10% of your discretionary income. And if your discretionary income is low enough, your monthly payment could be as low as $0.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, a borrower needs to meet certain debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. That seems simple enough. However, there was confusion regarding federal student loan debt on an income-driven repayment program. When calculating a debt burden, should the underwriter include the standard student loan payment, the reduced payment, or something in between? The new statement from Fannie Mae makes it clear: the reduced payment can be used, even when the payment is $0. According to Fannie Mae, “if the lender obtains documentation to evidence the actual monthly payment is $0, the lender may qualify the borrower with the $0 payment as long as the $0 payment is associated with an income-driven repayment plan.”

This is important, because the payment calculation for a student loan (10% of the discretionary income) is different from the DTI requirement of a mortgage. Many Americans could find it easier to qualify for a mortgage while in student loan debt. Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers told MagnifyMoney that the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

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“You can’t jawbone the economy..”

US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)

Here’s a bad sign for the U.S. economy: Auto sales just fell the most since August 2010, a year after the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program to stimulate demand came to an end. Sales at General Motors plunged 15% in its home market in July, the biggest drop in more than a year. Its Detroit rivals didn’t fare much better: Ford reported its biggest sales decline since October and Fiat Chrysler had its second worst tumble this year. The disappointing showing underscores how Detroit has been struggling to live up to President Donald Trump’s prediction that it would become “the car capital of the world again.” The hometown automakers are instead laying off U.S. workers, particularly those who build passenger cars that have fallen out of favor with American consumers.

A demand slump has rendered spending on vehicles and parts a drag on U.S. economic growth, after years of contributing to expansion. “You can’t jawbone the economy,” said Diane Swonk, CEO and founder of DS Economics. “The auto industry was stronger than the rest of the economy for a while because they were giving credit to people who couldn’t pay loans. Sales crested sooner and now they are paying the price.” The traditional U.S. automakers each missed projections for declines that analysts gave in a Bloomberg News survey. While Nissan and Honda both beat projections, only Toyota posted a gain. Industrywide deliveries fell 7%, the steepest drop since the anniversary of “Cash for Clunkers,” a program that inflated U.S. sales in August 2009 as buyers traded in for more fuel-efficient wheels. The annualized pace of light-vehicle sales, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.7 million in July, according to Autodata Corp., from 17.8 million a year earlier.

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China is not liking this.

US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)

The Trump administration is planning trade measures to force Beijing to crack down on intellectual-property theft and ease requirements that American companies share advanced technologies to gain entry to the Chinese market. The administration is considering invoking a little-used provision of U.S. trade law to investigate whether China’s intellectual-property policies constitute “unfair trade practices,” according to people familiar with the matter. That would pave the way for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Chinese exporters or to further restrict the transfer of advanced technology to Chinese firms or to U.S.-China joint ventures. American business frustration with Chinese trade and market-access practices has mounted in recent years, with U.S. business groups urging the government to take a tougher trade line with China.

Many organizations have complained that the Trump administration hasn’t pushed hard enough in areas like intellectual property, as it has focused more on Chinese manufacturing and China’s $347 billion trade surplus with the U.S. last year. That discontent has intensified as China’s economy continued to expand and its computer and software sectors became bigger competitors internationally. Western firms fear China will use the regulations to bar foreign investments in areas that Beijing targets for investment, including semiconductors, advanced-machine tools and artificial intelligence. One big question hanging over the White House review is whether the administration pursues any complaint through the World Trade Organization, or whether it chooses to impose penalties on its own without first seeking permission from the international body, which some Trump advisers have argued is incapable of dealing with China’s trade practices.

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Has Trump even signed the new sanctions yet?

US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)

The United States began removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow on Tuesday in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash its presence in Russia as retaliation for new U.S. sanctions. President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut around 60% of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1, and said Moscow will seize two U.S. diplomatic properties in response to sanctions approved by Congress last week. The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump will sign the sanctions bill, meant as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to further punish Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, removal men began dismantling play equipment and barbecues at a U.S.-owned dacha (country villa) on the outskirts of Moscow, after being refused access the day before, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene. The dacha, which is being confiscated along with a U.S. warehouse in the south of the Russian capital, was used by U.S. diplomatic staff at the weekends and to host parties for students, journalists and other diplomats. [..] The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington – but is also carefully calibrated to avoid directly affecting the U.S. investment he needs, or burning his bridges with Trump. One person at the embassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media, said staff there were feeling depressed and despondent as they came to terms with the Kremlin’s order. “The mood in the office is very pessimistic,” the person said. “Everyone is just loitering, or sitting on job websites looking for a new job.”

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Strange things were taking place.

Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)

Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa.

Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans.

A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

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Testament to insanity and waste.

For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)

Looking to buy two half-finished nuclear reactors? It may be your lucky day. U.S. utility owner Scana Corp. dropped a plan to build two reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant in South Carolina on Monday after the projected total costs exceeded $20 billion. The cancelation of the project is another blow to the much-hyped (and thus far non-existent) nuclear renaissance in the U.S. As cheap natural gas squeezes the margins of nuclear generators, there’s only one company currently building reactors in the country — Southern Co., at its Vogtle plant in Georgia. So what’s a utility to do with two unfinished nukes laying around in South Carolina? Scana CEO Kevin Marsh said in a call with analysts that he wants to keep the equipment in operating condition in case someone in China, India or the U.K. wants to buy it.

A sale like that is easier said than done. “The Chinese are developing a competitive product, the Brits are in trouble with their nuclear projects and the Indians want to develop their own supply chain,” said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It’s more likely the South Carolina project is “mothballed,” he said. Reactors have found new buyers and new life in the past. In 2016, the Tennessee Valley Authority turned on its Watts Bar 2 reactor after work had been suspended in 1985. Franklin L. Haney bought an unfinished, decades-old nuclear plant in northern Alabama at an auction last November for $111 million. The Bellefonte plant came with two partially built nuclear reactors, one that’s about 55% complete and another about 35% finished.

Haney still has to get the mothballed station into working order, find customers for its power and qualify for a federal nuclear production tax credit. Perhaps a similar fate awaits the V.C. Summer plant. “It makes more sense to let them sit in place, maintain them, and see if they can be revisited,” Gadomski said.

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What, there are still unions?

Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)

Days before a potentially historic union vote at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, the car company has been accused of running one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labour movement”. The vote, a fiercely contested effort by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to represent a foreign automaker’s US plant, is planned for Thursday and Friday this week. It comes as US unions are hopeful they can overturn a series of defeats as they seek to build membership in southern states, where manufacturers have moved to take advantage of lower wages and non-union workforces. In the closing days of the campaign, which has attracted support from the former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, UAW officials and their allies have become increasingly confident of victory even as managers have pressured workers to vote no.

“People are rallying,” says Frank Figgers, co-chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. The UAW is undertaking an extensive door-to-door campaign to visit workers in their homes to discuss the union. The UAW has shipped in staff from all over the country to help in the effort. Other unions from around the south have shipped in organizers from across the country to assist in the outreach to the plant’s nearly 4,000 workers. Nissan has responded with fierce opposition. The company has blitzed local TV with anti-union ads and stands accused of both threatening and bribing workers to vote no. It requires workers to regularly attend anti-union roundtable group meetings as well as one-on-one meetings with their direct supervisors, some of whom have worn “vote no” T-shirts to work. The Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has also come out hard for Nissan. “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Bryant said last week.

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Evil incorporated.

Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)

Documents released Tuesday in a lawsuit against Monsanto raised new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the most common weed killer in the world and is used by farmers on row crops and by home gardeners. While Roundup’s relative safety has been upheld by most regulators, a case in federal court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company’s practices and the product itself. The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015.

A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.” A Monsanto official said the comments were the result of “a complete misunderstanding” that had been “worked out,” while Mr. Acquavella said in an email on Tuesday that “there was no ghostwriting” and that his comments had been related to an early draft and a question over authorship that was resolved. The documents also show internal talk about Roundup’s safety.

“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern,” one Monsanto scientist wrote in an internal email in 2001. Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation. “There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto. He said that while “you can’t unring a bell,” Monsanto would seek penalties on the firm. “What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad,” Mr. Partridge said. “But the substance and the science are not affected by this.”

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How does a farmer protect himself from Monsanto, DuPont and BASF?

Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)

Larry Martin in Illinois says he’s never seen anything like it in his 35 years of farming. Arkansas soybean grower Joe McLemore says he faces the loss of his life savings. They’re among farmers across the U.S. suffering from a pesticide “drifting” across from neighboring fields onto their crops, leaving behind a trail of damage. Although not a new problem, it’s re-emerged with a vengeance this year. At least 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) have been damaged in this growing season through mid-July, according to estimates from Kevin Bradley, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri. Dicamba, the offending herbicide, is produced by seed and crop-chemical giants Monsanto, DuPont and BASF.

It’s been around for decades, but in recent years it gained a new lease of life after the companies developed new dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds, allowing farmers to spray crops later in the growing process. Dicamba is fine if you’re growing those genetically modified varieties, but not if you’re cultivating others and the chemical wafts over from another farm. The situation is so bad that states including Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee have placed restrictions on dicamba use at various times during the summer. Martin, a third-generation farmer, says an 80-acre soybean field of his has been damaged by dicamba. McLemore, who started out on his own eight years ago, after two decades working on someone else’s farm, says 800 of his 1,026 acres of soybeans have suffered damage.

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3%? That’s hardly ‘bouncing back’.

Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)

The number of U.S. honeybees, a critical component in the agriculture industry, rose in 2017 from a year earlier, and deaths of the insects attributed to a mysterious malady that’s affected hives in North America and Europe declined, according a U.S. Department of Agriculture honeybee health survey released Tuesday. The number of commercial U.S. honeybee colonies rose 3% to 2.89 million as of April 1, 2017 compared with a year earlier, the Agriculture Department reported. The number of hives lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon of disappearing bees that has raised concerns among farmers and scientists for a decade, was 84,430 in this year’s first quarter, down 27% from a year earlier. Year-over-year losses declined by the same%age in April through June, the most recent data in the survey.

Still, more than two-fifths of beekeepers said mites were harming their hives, and with pesticides and other factors still stressing bees, the overall increase is largely the result of constant replenishment of losses, the study showed. “You create new hives by breaking up your stronger hives, which just makes them weaker,” said Tim May, a beekeeper in Harvard, Illinois and the vice-president of the American Beekeeping Federation based in Atlanta. “We check for mites, we keep our bees well-fed, we communicate with farmers so they don’t spray pesticides when our hives are vulnerable. I don’t know what else we can do.” Environmental groups have expressed alarm over the 90% decline during the past two decades in the population of pollinators, from wild bees to Monarch butterflies. Some point to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids as a possible cause, a link rejected by Bayer AG and other manufacturers.

In the USDA study, beekeepers who owned at least five colonies, or hives, reported the most losses from the varroa mite, a parasite that lives only in beehives and survives by sucking insect blood. The scourge, present in the U.S. since 1987, was reported in 42% of commercial hives between April and June this year, according to the USDA. That’s down from 53% in the same period one year earlier. Among other factors, beekeepers said 13% of colonies in the second quarter of this year were stressed by pesticides, 12% by mites and pests other than varroa and 4.3 by diseases. Bad weather, starvation, insufficient forage and other reasons were listed as problems with 6.6% of hives.

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What does it mean to be human?

8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)

The bodies of eight migrants have been found at sea off the coast of Libya by rescuers coming to the aid of four rubber dinghies, the Italian coast guard said Tuesday. Some 500 survivors were pulled to safety, the coast guard told AFP, illustrating the huge challenge that continues to bedevil authorities as people try to reach Europe. The latest deaths came as the Italian government presented plans for a naval mission in Libyan territorial waters that aims to reduce the flow of migrants from the coast. Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, which was taking part in the rescues, said the corpses were recovered by the Santa Lucia merchant ship.

“We are here to stop more people drowning, today eight dead and four drifting boats” in distress, Proactiva’s founder, Oscar Champs, said on Twitter. The charity said there were 79 women and 39 minors — including four young children — among those rescued. Nearly 95,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy this year, a rise of 1% on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry. The government intends to send a logistics ship that could support Libyan units and will also offer a patrol boat, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told lawmakers on Tuesday. However, Italy has no intention to create a naval blockade, which would be a “hostile act,” she said, insisting that support for the Libyan mission was the aim and cooperation was necessary.

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If you read between the whining, what a lovely story. Night curfew because turtles are important. Perhaps that’s what it means to be human.

EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

Scores of easyJet passengers were stranded on the Greek island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) after their plane developed technical difficulties and a replacement aircraft was prevented from flying in because of mating turtles. [..] The airline said the night curfew – apparently in place because of vulnerable loggerhead turtles breeding nearby – had prevented an alternative aircraft being sent out. The sea turtle breeding season is well under way in Zakynthos. According to Archelon, a group dedicated in protecting sea turtles in Greece, late June to early July see the highest levels of spawning. The group has recorded 500 nests on the island so far, but that is fewer than in previous years.

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Jul 212017
 
 July 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Francis Bacon Three Studies of Lucian Freud 1969

 

European Central Bank Sticks To Low Rate Monetary Policy (R.)
Bill Gross Is Worried Central Banks Will Lead The World Into Recession (CNBC)
EU Threatens Poland With ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Supreme Court Control (Ind.)
Germany Steps Up Economic Pressure On Turkey In Rights Row (R.)
Britain Hasn’t Been This Risky in 40 Years (BBG)
Concorde Was The Flying Brexit (G.)
Why The Moaning? If Anything Can Halt Capitalism’s Fat Cats, It’s Brexit (G.)
Australia Prime Minister Quietly Issues Warning On House Prices (NCA)
Bitcoin Bubble Dwarfs Tulip Mania From 400 Years Ago – Prechter Jr (CNBC)
Elon Musk: I Got ‘Approval’ For New York-DC Hyperloop. Officials Deny (G.)
To Save Rural Iowa, We Must Oppose Monsanto-Bayer Merger (Dmr)
Son of Cecil The Lion Killed By Trophy Hunter (G.)

 

 

Same old song: he misses all targets and then vows to do more of the same. Tries to convey a message of recovery but talks about even more QE.

European Central Bank Sticks To Low Rate Monetary Policy (R.)

The European Central Bank left its ultra-easy monetary policy stance unchanged as expected on Thursday, keeping rates at record lows and even leaving the door open to more asset buys if the outlook worsens. After ECB chief Mario Draghi raised the prospect of policy tightening last month, he signalled that any policy tweaks would come only gradually, setting the scene for a possible discussion in September about a long-awaited tapering of its asset buys. “We need to be persistent and patient because we aren’t there yet, and prudent,” Draghi told his regular news conference after a meeting of ECB policy-makers in Frankfurt. He stressed that the bank’s governing council were unanimous both on the decision to keep its guidance unchanged and to avoid setting a precise date for a discussion of future policy, noting only that it would occur in the autumn.

The prospect of reduced monetary stimulus has kept financial markets edgy, with investors sifting through clues to gauge how big central banks around the globe will unwind unconventional policy that have kept borrowing costs at rock bottom. Euro and government bond yields across the bloc initially slipped after the statement. But as Draghi spoke, eurozone bond yields gained ostensibly on his confirmation of expectations that the taper would be discussed in autumn. The euro firmed more than 3% and German 10-year yields doubled since Draghi’s policy hint. Indeed, the euro’s 11% rise this year will weigh on inflation, compounding the impact of a more than 10% drop in crude oil prices. “As core inflation remains subdued, the ECB will likely prefer to err on the side of caution, that is moving more slowly rather than faster than many observers project,” Holger Schmieding at Berenberg noted.

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It’s the only thing they’re good at.

Bill Gross Is Worried Central Banks Will Lead The World Into Recession (CNBC)

Bond guru Bill Gross is warning about looming interest rate increases and the damage they can do to a debt-laden global economy. In his monthly investor outlook, the Janus Henderson Advisors fund manager said the course of global central banks toward tightening policy could be perilous for the economic recovery. Raising interest rates will increase the cost of short-term debt that corporations and individuals hold. In the U.S. alone, households have $14.9 trillion in debt while businesses owe $13.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. “While governments and the U.S. Treasury can afford the additional expense, levered corporations and individuals in many cases cannot,” Gross said. The Fed is on a course of gradual rate increases, with financial markets expecting it to approve one more rate hike this year.

In addition, other central banks are pulling the reins on bond-buying and other liquidity programs aimed at injecting cash into their respective economies. Gross charged that the adherence of central bankers to hard-and-fast rules that govern when they should tighten policy has “distorted capitalism as we once knew it, with unknown consequences lurking in the shadows of future years.” For instance, he cast doubt on the belief it takes short-term interest rates exceeding longer-term rates — a condition known in economist as an inverted yield curve — to produce a recession. “The reliance on historical models in an era of extraordinary monetary policy should suggest caution,” Gross wrote. “Logically (a concept seemingly foreign to central banks staffs) in a domestic and global economy that is increasingly higher and higher levered, the cost of short-term finance should not have to rise to the level of a 10-year Treasury note to produce recession.”

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The EU kicking members out? i’d call that a bluff. But the Union is shaking on its foundations.

EU Threatens Poland With ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Supreme Court Control (Ind.)

The President of Poland has been urged to veto a bill passed by lawmakers in the country that would give parliament the power to appoint Supreme Court judges. Guy Verhofstadt, the President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, has called on President Andrzej Duda to take action and said the European Commission should trigger the EU’s Article 7 if the issue is not resolved. The Article has been often described as a “nuclear option” and can lead to the suspension of a member country’s voting rights. “The European Parliament made it clear earlier this week that these new laws are incompatible with EU Membership and would irredeemably weaken Poland’s future place in the West,” Mr Verhofstadt said. European Council President Donald Tusk, who is also a former Polish prime minister, called for an urgent meeting with President Duda to discuss the “political crisis” in the country.

Mr Tusk described the move as backwards backward and said it went “against European standards and values”. “The European Union is not only money and procedures. It is first and foremost values and high standards of public life. That is why a wave of criticism of the government is rising in Europe and in the whole West,” Mr Tusk said. The bill was passed despite objections from lawyers and opposition politicians after critcisms it undermines democracy and the rule of law. The move would put courts under direct government control and Poland’s human rights ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, told parliament that the legislation, would “deprive citizens of the right to an independent court”. “We are planting an explosive under our judiciary,” he said.

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And then Erdogan can send more refugees. Merkel screwed this up years ago.

Germany Steps Up Economic Pressure On Turkey In Rights Row (R.)

Germany told its citizens on Thursday to exercise caution if travelling to Turkey and threatened measures that could hinder German investment there, in a sign of growing impatience with a NATO ally after the detention of rights activists. The mass-selling daily Bild newspaper, citing government sources, also reported that Berlin was putting arms projects with Ankara on hold. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel highlighted alarm at what Berlin sees as the growing unpredictability of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. “Everyone can be affected. The most absurd things are possible,” he said in advice to travellers. Gabriel broke off his holiday to deal with the crisis after Turkey arrested six human rights activists including German national Peter Steudtner on accusations of terrorism, the latest in a series of diplomatic rows.

Germany, Turkey’s chief export partner, called the allegations absurd. “We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction…we can’t continue as we have done,” Gabriel told reporters in unusually direct language touching on sensitive commercial matters including corporate investment guarantees. The Turkish foreign ministry said it would make the “necessary response” to comments it described as one-sided. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later accused Germany of harbouring members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984, and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that Ankara blames for a failed coup last July. “As a country providing shelter to PKK and FETO terrorists in its own territory, statements by Germany are just double standards and unacceptable,” Cavusoglu said on Twitter.

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But that’s true for most of the world.

Britain Hasn’t Been This Risky in 40 Years (BBG)

Britain is having a flashback to the 1970s, and it’s not flared trousers making a comeback. As Parliament breaks for the summer, Prime Minister Theresa May needs to come up with answers to the political drama unfolding at home and threatening her Brexit strategy as investors predict more trouble on the horizon for a country once seen as the stable counterpoint to European turmoil. You would have to go back 40 years to find a time when the country was deemed this politically risky, according to Mark Dowding at London-based BlueBay Asset Management. The ambivalence toward Europe, the political fragility of the government and a population grown weary of making sacrifices are all reminiscent of a time when Britain was tormented over whether to join a forerunner of the European Union and an economic crisis forced it to seek a humiliating bailout.

“Back in the 1970s the U.K. went to the IMF eventually and that’s likely where we will be once more,” warned Dowding. “We seem to have created some self-inflicted wounds here and it looks like we’ll be struggling for some time.” Like Edward Heath in 1974, May took a gamble in calling a snap election only for the Conservatives to lose their majority. Unlike him, she stayed on but with her future the subject of constant speculation and her rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, waiting in the wings with a promise to loosen the fiscal reins. The latest poll shows that no prime minister since 1977 has been as unpopular as she is a mere month after prevailing in elections. The next big test of her authority will be the Conservative conference in October, where challengers for the leadership might emerge.

Eurasia Group Managing Director Mujtaba Rahman said that “even though May will survive through to the party conference it’s unclear whether she survives on the other side of that.” The fallout from the Brexit vote, May’s tenuous position and a heightened security alert have created a level of turmoil rarely seen since the so-called lost decade when widespread labor unrest and political instability played out against a backdrop of terrorist attacks by Irish republicans.

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Don’t know how far the analogy really goes, but a great headline.

Concorde Was The Flying Brexit (G.)

The idea that we now live in an age of ‘post-truth’ implies that once-upon-a-time politics was guided by objective reality. Clearly, this is nonsense. We shouldn’t mistake a period in which the media and political establishment offered more coherent stories for a time when politics was truthful. In the recent past, politics could be astonishingly dishonest, especially when it came to supporting national machines. Concorde, the fastest lame duck ever built, was a flying Brexit. The political establishment privately despaired about its costs, whilst knowingly pretending that the project would improve Britain’s place in the world. Few politicians actually believed in the Concorde project. It was accepted inside Whitehall that the scheme would be an economic disaster.

After Harold Wilson came to power in 1964, the Anglo-French supersonic airliner only survived because the government was concerned that unilaterally cancelling the project would lead the French to sue them for more than it would cost to continue to develop the machine. Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister, also wanted to cancel Concorde. Heath even personally stopped Prince Phillip flying it on the grounds that it would be quite embarrassing for the government to scrap the aeroplane soon after it had been treated to a royal pilot. Concorde only continued because Heath wanted to enter the European Economic Community. Annoying the French was to be avoided. Once Britain was in the Community, the unions kept Concorde afloat.

The second Wilson administration, a minority government, could not risk killing off Concorde for fear that the resulting the outcry in the labour movement would endanger their fragile political position. What, then, did politicians say about Concorde? Well, Concorde was not only going to bring supersonic speed to civil air travel, but also ensure that Britain could capture a crucial new export market and create a world-beating aviation industry in the coming supersonic revolution. In this bright future, Britain’s technology would be bought across the world. Most of the politicians who made these arguments knew better.

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Brexit under Labour. How much worse could it be?

Why The Moaning? If Anything Can Halt Capitalism’s Fat Cats, It’s Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn is not the first leader of the Labour party to have form as a Eurosceptic. Hugh Gaitskell was so fearful of the drive for European political union that he warned about Britain ending a thousand years of history as an independent state. Clement Attlee was no big fan of what was then called the common market either. But this was all a long time ago. Under a succession of leaders starting with Neil Kinnock, Labour warmed to Europe. In the 1980s, with Thatcherism rampant at home, the party saw Brussels as providing protection from free-market zealotry. In the 1990s, under Tony Blair, the feeling was that globalisation had made the nation state redundant. Even so, a small number of Labour MPs remained unreconciled. They pointed out that Labour’s love affair with Europe began just as Europe’s economic performance started to deteriorate.

They opposed the Maastricht treaty that paved the way for the single currency on the grounds that it would create an undemocratic central bank with deflationary tendencies. Corbyn was one member of this band. John McDonnell, now the shadow chancellor, was another. Unlike the majority of their parliamentary colleagues and most trade union leaders, they never bought the idea that being a progressive meant being positive about Europe. They saw nothing especially progressive about mass unemployment, the impact of the common agricultural policy on the developing world, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the bias towards austerity ingrained in the stability and growth pact. Rather, they saw neoliberalism being hardwired into the European project. As indeed it was.

None of this really mattered until Corbyn became Labour leader two years ago. But since 2015 the maverick outsiders have become the maverick insiders. What’s more, the shambolic state of the Conservatives means that Corbyn and McDonnell could soon be neighbours in Downing Street and responsible for Brexit. Parliamentary arithmetic and the determination of the Tories to avoid another election at all costs makes this unlikely, but these are strange and unpredictable times. What Corbyn and McDonnell think about Europe now counts in a way that it didn’t before.

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“Clearly you need to remember that asset price movements go in two directions..”

Australia Prime Minister Quietly Issues Warning On House Prices (NCA)

The Prime Minister has issued a quiet warning to Australians investing in housing that they cannot continue to assume house prices will only go up. “Clearly you need to remember that asset price movements go in two directions,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after a speech to an economics conference this week. In particular, this is relevant to housing. “It has been a pretty good one-way bet for a long time — but it is going to be important for people to be prudent.” Mr Turnbull made the comments alongside an observation that interest rates have risen for many borrowers. Interest rates are a big factor in the housing market. The lower the interest rate, the more you can borrow from the bank and the more you can pay for a house. Australians have borrowed a lot, and for now the risks of borrowing have been well managed, Mr Turnbull said.

But that could change. “High levels of indebtedness that are incurred with low levels of interest rates always pose a risk when you have the prospect of an increase in rates. Particularly if it has all been built on an assumption of rising asset prices.” Interest rates have been at record lows until banks recently tweaked up rates on certain investor loans. Higher interest rates across the whole housing market could be next. Financial market pricing hints that official interest rates are more likely to go up than down when the RBA next makes a move, perhaps in 2018. Mr Turnbull made his comments at the Economic and Social Outlook Conference, presented by the Melbourne Institute and The Australian. At the conference, which was thronging with people who watch the Australian economy with laser focus, Mr Turnbull was far from the only speaker worried about Australian house prices and debt.

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“Crypto tech is like the internet in 1999: It was poised to take over the world, but the NASDAQ still fell almost 90% during the dot-com bust of 2000-2002.”

Bitcoin Bubble Dwarfs Tulip Mania From 400 Years Ago – Prechter Jr (CNBC)

Just as many on Wall Street are warming up to bitcoin, one of the lone financial analysts who forecast a surge when the digital currency was just six cents now has an extremely negative view. “A bearish trifecta — the Elliott wave pattern, optimistic psychology and even fundamentals in the form of blockchain bottlenecks — will lead to the collapse of today’s crypto-mania,” analyst Elliott Prechter wrote in the July 13 edition of The Elliott Wave Theorist newsletter. “The price activity and manic sentiment that led to present prices have dwarfed even the Tulip mania of nearly 400 years ago,” he said. “The success of Bitcoin has spawned 800-plus clones (alt-coins) and counting, most of which are high-tech, pump-and-dump schemes.” “Nevertheless, investors have eagerly bid them up,” Prechter added.

He’s the son of the famed technical analyst Robert Prechter, who popularized the Elliott Wave by using it to forecast the stock market crash of 1987 and has published a newsletter since 1979. However, debate over the accuracy of the Elliott Wave has grown after Robert Prechter called the end of the 1990s bull market five years before it actually ended. The principle is a sophisticated form of technical analysis widely followed by traders that analyzes cycles of sentiment in an attempt to predict market performance — five waves typically signals a coming downturn. Regarding bitcoin, “under the Elliott Wave model, what we’re seeing, we’re making a final fifth wave from six cents,” the younger Prechter told CNBC in a phone interview Thursday.

“It does not imply it will go to zero. It does not imply it will go to six cents. I do think it will happen to the clones [newly formed digital currencies].” In September 2010, Elliott Prechter wrote in The Elliott Wave Theorist about bitcoin when it traded at 6 cents. Very few in the financial world seriously considered the digital currency at the time. “It proved to be the buying opportunity not just of a lifetime, but so far of all time,” Prechter said. Bitcoin hit a record of $3,025 in June, 50,000 times its price in 2010. The digital currency traded near $2,652 Thursday, more than twice where it started the year. [..] To be sure, Prechter told CNBC that a mania “can be both a mania and a revolution at the same time.”

Like many digital currency enthusiasts, he sees significant potential in the cryptocurrencies for automating the banking and legal industries. “The distant future of crypto is bright,” Prechter said in the report. “Crypto tech is like the internet in 1999: It was poised to take over the world, but the NASDAQ still fell almost 90% during the dot-com bust of 2000-2002.” But bitcoin may not be part of that future. “It’s too soon to know if Bitcoin is Facebook or MySpace,” Prechter said.

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The Tesla Tulip.

Elon Musk: I Got ‘Approval’ For New York-DC Hyperloop. Officials Deny (G.)

Elon Musk does not have government approval to build a Hyperloop tunnel from New York City to Washington DC. The Tesla executive took to Twitter this morning to tantalize his legion of fans and the tech press with the “news” that he had “just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins … City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city.” Lest any billionaires need to brush up on civics 101: the US system of government does not operate on “verbal government approvals”. Musk walked back his claim about 90 minutes later, tweeting: “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly”. A lot of work is needed to receive formal approval, indeed.

Musk was received with typical credulity by the tech press, and considerable consternation by various government agencies. Several spokespeople who answered the phones at relevant city, state and federal government bodies laughed upon hearing of the claim that an interstate transit project with a significant street-level footprint in four of the east coast’s largest cities could be approved verbally. “Who gave him permission to do that?” asked a spokesman with the Maryland department of transportation. “Elon Musk has had no contact with Philadelphia officials on this matter,” said Mike Dunn, the city spokesman. “We do not know what he means when he says he received ‘verbal government approval’. There are numerous hurdles for this unproven ‘hyperloop’ technology before it can become reality.”

A spokesperson for the state of Pennsylvania confirmed that neither the governor nor the state’s department of transportation had been contacted by Musk or his company. Ben Sarle, a spokesman for the New York City mayor’s office, said in an email: “Nobody in City Hall, or any of our city agencies, has heard from Mr Musk or any representatives of his company.”

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Makes you ponder what voice people have left in their own societies.

To Save Rural Iowa, We Must Oppose Monsanto-Bayer Merger (Dmr)

Iowa farmers face a crisis. Crop prices have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2013, with no end in sight. At the same time, farmers hold more debt and possess fewer capital reserves to fall back on. In fact, farmers’ debt levels are almost as high as they were prior to the farm crisis of the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, a wave of mergers among the world’s agricultural giants is upending the markets for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. If approved, the proposed merger would result in just two companies — Monsanto-Bayer and Dow-DuPont — controlling about three-quarters of the U.S. corn seed market. The power that these corporations would hold in the seed market is unprecedented.

Farmers are already being squeezed. The price of corn seed has more than doubled in the past 10 years — from $51 per acre in 2006 to $102 in 2015 — as a result of similar consolidation, including Monsanto’s purchases of DeKalb and Cargill’s international seed business. If the Monsanto-Bayer merger is permitted, this problem will only intensify, further limiting farmers’ choices and making the products they need even more expensive. The merger does not just strengthen Monsanto’s control over the corn seed industry. It also helps the company grow its dominance in other areas, like fertilizers, pesticides, and precision farming technology. Monsanto’s goal is to bundle all of these products together, sort of like how a cable company bundles internet, phone and television.

And just like with most cable companies, the service will be overpriced and shoddy because it will leave farmers with no other option. Yet this mega-merger is moving forward with barely a murmur of concern from our elected officials in Washington. Not a single senator raised this matter at confirmation hearings for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Even worse, the nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is a former lobbyist who asserted in a recent interview that “a monopoly is perfectly legal.” It is not surprising that Monsanto and Bayer alone spent $120 million in the last decade on lobbying elected officials at the federal level.

And while stopping the Monsanto-Bayer merger would be a good first step, we need to go even further to prevent these giants from bullying Iowa farmers. Monsanto and other agricultural giants like it are just too big. A century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts and monopolies of his time because he understood that the deck was stacked against consumers, farmers and small businesses. We need to take a cue from Roosevelt and break up Monsanto and other Big Ag corporations like it.

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Easy solution, and high time: put a bounty on the heads of these idiots. Organize it halfway decently and you’ll get a lot of donations.

Son of Cecil The Lion Killed By Trophy Hunter (G.)

A son of Cecil the lion has been killed by trophy hunters in Zimbabwe, meeting the same fate as his father whose death in 2015 caused a global outcry. Xanda was six years old and had fathered a number of cubs himself. He was shot on 7 July just outside the Hwange National Park, not far from where Cecil died, but news of the death only became public on Thursday. The trophy hunt was organised by Zimbabwean private hunter Richard Cooke but his clients, who may have paid tens of thousands of dollars, have not been revealed. Xanda was wearing a GPS tracking collar, fitted by scientists led by Andrew Loveridge at Oxford University, who have studied the Hwange lions for many years.

“Xanda was one of these gorgeous Kalahari lions, with a big mane, big body, beautiful condition – a very, very lovely animal,” Loveridge told the Guardian. “Personally, I think it is sad that anyone wants to shoot a lion, but there are people who will pay money to do that.” “I put the collar on Xanda last October and spent a bit of time following him around,” he said. “You have handled them so you feel a personal engagement with the animal.” But Loveridge does not condemn trophy hunting outright: “Trophy hunting protects an area about the size of France and Spain combined in Africa. So if you throw trophy hunting out, what happens to all that habitat?” Xanda was the pride male in a group with two adult lionesses and cubs which roamed near the boundary of the national park.

“He was shot 2km from the park boundary, which is a hop and a skip for a lion,” Loveridge said. The scientists want a 5km no-hunting zone around the park. “It is something we have suggested for years,” he said. “But there is a lot of resistance because a lot of the hunting happens right on the boundary, because that is where the animals are. The photo-tourism operators in Hwange are very keen to have that discussion. They are annoyed that this has happened.” Xanda’s death poses no immediate danger to the 550-strong lion population in Hwange national park, which spreads over 15,000 square kilometres, Loveridge said: “The lion population is pretty healthy, but it would probably be better if it didn’t happen,” said Loveridge.

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Jun 272017
 
 June 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Egon Schiele Port of Trieste 1907

 

Trump Eager For Big Meeting With Putin; Some Advisers Wary (AP)
Three Journalists Quit CNN In Fallout From Retracted Russia Story (Fox)
US Congress To Stop Arms Sales To Gulf Until Qatar Crisis Is Solved (G.)
Democrats Help Corporate Donors Block California Single-Payer (IBT)
Bernanke: Economists Missed Populism, Inequality, But Are Here To Help (CNBC)
Europe’s Inequality Highly Destabilizing – Draghi (R.)
Change the Way Money Is Created, Or More Inequality, Disorder Inevitable (CHS)
ECB Chief Draghi Rules Out Greece Joining QE Soon (K.)
Europe’s Gradualist Fallacy (Varoufakis)
Italy Bank Deal Makes Germans Wary of Macron’s Euro Agenda
Italy’s Latest Bank Bailout Has Created A Two-Speed Eurozone (Coppola)
Brazil Top Prosecutor Charges President With Bribery (AFP)
The Technicolor Swan (Jim Kunstler)
California To List Glyphosate As Cancer-Causing; Monsanto Vows Fight (R.)

 

 

What a great idea to try and prevent the US President from talking to other world leaders (i.e. doing his job).

Trump Eager For Big Meeting With Putin; Some Advisers Wary (AP)

President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time – and interact only with great caution. But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He’s calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.

Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which typically don’t involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions. The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump’s eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations. Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that “the protocol side of it is secondary.” The two leaders will be attending the same event in the same place at the same time, Peskov said, so “in any case there will be a chance to meet.”

Peskov added, however, that no progress in hammering out the details of the meeting has been made yet. There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in impersonal, telephone communication. Trump — the ultimate dealmaker — has repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the ongoing Syria conflict. There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House defended the disclosures as “wholly appropriate.”

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Here’s why people don’t want Trump to talk to Putin.

Three Journalists Quit CNN In Fallout From Retracted Russia Story (Fox)

Three CNN journalists who worked on a now-retracted story about Russia and a top Trump adviser are leaving the network. CNN is casting their departure as resignations in the wake of the fiasco, but the network has come under substantial criticism since apologizing for the story. The move would also help CNN’s legal position in case of a lawsuit. Anthony Scaramucci, the Trump adviser who is the target of the story, told me that he has no plans to sue. He said he has accepted CNN’s apology and wants to move on. But Scaramucci also told me in an earlier interview, “I was disappointed the story was published. It was a lie.” Lex Harris, executive editor of CNN’s investigative unit, was the highest-ranking official to resign. Thomas Frank, who wrote the story, and Eric Lichtblau, who edited it, also turned in their resignations.

Lichtblau is a highly regarded reporter who spent nearly a decade and a half at the New York Times. The story tried to draw a link between Scaramucci and the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Scaramucci was a Trump transition team member who has been nominated to an ambassadorial-level post based in Paris. The CNN.com article said that Scaramucci, back in January, held a secret meeting with an official from the Russian fund. According to an unnamed source, Scaramucci discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions at the meeting. But Scaramucci told me there was no secret meeting. He said he had given a speech on Trump’s behalf at Davos, and fund official Kirill Dmitriev approached him in a restaurant to say hello and they had a brief conversation, with no discussion of sanctions. In the retraction, the network said the story “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards.” The network is now requiring approval from two top editors before any Russia-related story can be published.

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Amazing how easy it can be. Now make it permanent.

US Congress To Stop Arms Sales To Gulf Until Qatar Crisis Is Solved (G.)

The Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee has said the US Congress will hold up approval of arms sales to the Gulf as a result of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. Senator Bob Corker said the nations of Gulf Cooperation Council had failed to take advantage of a summit with President Trump in May to overcome their differences and had “instead chosen to devolve into conflict”. Corker continued: “For these reasons, before we provide any further clearances during the informal review period on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC states, we need a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the GCC.”

Earlier this month, the Senate narrowly fended off a bid to block a Trump administration plan to sell Saudi Arabia $500m in precision-guided munitions, part of a proposed $110bn arms sales package announced during the president’s visit to Riyadh last month. Congress has the power to block individual sales during a 30-day review period from when the state department gives notification of an impending sale. A Saudi-led coalition that includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on 5 June, but only provided a justification 18 days later with the presentation of a list of 13 demands. They want Doha to close the al-Jazeera TV channel, restrict diplomatic ties with Iran, halt the construction of a Turkish military base in the country, and sever contacts with extremist organisations.

Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, but the Saudi-led group has not said what action it would take if the deadline is not met. The US has sent mixed signals on the standoff. In the immediate aftermath of the embargo, Trump gave Riyadh and its allies fulsome support, echoing Saudi claims about Qatari funding for terrorism. However, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, last week called on the coalition present its complaints and negotiate a solution. Since the list of 13 demands was presented, Tillerson has been non-committal, observing that some of them would be “very difficult for Qatar to meet”, but arguing there were “significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution.”

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David Sirota: “Jerry Brown campaigned for president supporting single-payer, then he got big cash from insurers/drugmakers, now he refused to back the bill.”

Single payer is the only thing that can save US health care. But all sides are in debt to the very interests who will block it.

Democrats Help Corporate Donors Block California Single-Payer (IBT)

As Republican lawmakers grapple with their unpopular bill to repeal Obamacare, Democrats have tried to present a united front on health care. But for all their populist rhetoric against insurance and drug companies, Democratic powerbrokers and their allies remain deeply divided on the issue — to the point where a political civil war has spilled into the open in America’s largest state. In California last week, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon helped his and his party’s corporate donors block a Democrat-sponsored bill to create a universal health care program in which the government would be the single payer. Rendon’s decision shows how progressives’ ideal of universal health care remains elusive — even in a liberal state where government already foots 70% of the total health care bill.

Until Rendon’s move, things seemed to be looking up for Democratic single-payer proponents in deep blue California, which has been hammered by insurance premium increases. There, the Democratic Party — which originally created Medicare — just added a legislative supermajority to a Democratic-controlled state government that oversees the world’s sixth largest economy. That 2016 election victory came as a poll showed nearly two-thirds of Californians support the creation of a taxpayer-funded universal health care system in a state whose population is roughly the size of Canada — which already has such a system. California’s highest-profile federal Democratic lawmaker recently endorsed state efforts to create single-payer systems, and 25 members of its congressional delegation had signed on to sponsor a federal single-payer bill.

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They missed everything so far, but now we need them.

Bernanke: Economists Missed Populism, Inequality, But Are Here To Help (CNBC)

Former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said Monday that economists have a “responsibility” to help address populist frustrations. “The credibility of economists has been damaged by our insufficient attention, over the years, to the problems of economic adjustment and by our proclivity toward top-down, rather than bottom-up, policies,” Bernanke, now distinguished fellow in residence, Brookings Institution, said in prepared remarks for a dinner speech called “When growth is not enough.” “Nevertheless, as a profession we have expertise that can help make the policy response more effective, and I think we have a responsibility to contribute wherever we can,” the former Fed chair said.

In the last 18 months, growing populist sentiment contributed to the UK’s surprise vote to leave the European Union last June, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump last November. Trump promised to bring jobs back from China and Mexico to the U.S., winning him support. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report on household income showed the Gini index of income inequality for the U.S. in 2015 of 0.482 was significantly higher than the prior year’s 0.480. “This increase suggests that income inequality increased across the country,” the report said. “Policymakers in recent decades have been slow to address or even to recognize those trends, an error of omission that has helped fuel the voters’ backlash,” Bernanke said. He was speaking at the European Central Bank’s Forum on Central Banking in Sintra, Portugal.

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Bernanke and Draghi greatly increased inequality with their ZIRP and NIRP policies. And today both all of a sudden come out as being worried about it?

Europe’s Inequality Highly Destabilizing – Draghi (R.)

Europe’s growing inequality is highly destabilizing and needs to be tackled with education, innovation and investment in human capital, particularly jobs for young people, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday. Income inequality has grown among euro zone countries since the global financial crisis and some measures also show divergence between the bloc’s richer and poorer members, a source of tension for the 19-member currency bloc. “Is this a seriously destabilizing factor that we should cope with?” Draghi said in a rare town-hall style meeting with university students in Lisbon. “Yes it is.” “We have to fight against inequality,” Draghi in response to a student question. Draghi, leading one of Europe’s most respected institutions, has for years called on governments to enact fundamental reforms, arguing that the ECB is able to prop up growth, but only temporarily, giving governments a window of opportunity.

Eurostat data has shown that only a handful of countries have managed to shrink income inequality since the crisis while it has grown sharply in places like France or Spain. Figures also show the highest level of income inequality in the bloc’s periphery, like Greece, Spain and Portugal, hit hardest by the crisis. Calling convergence among euro zone members “fundamental,” Draghi said the best way to fight inequality is by creating jobs, which comes from an increased investment in education, skills development and innovation. He also called on governments to consider better income and wealth redistribution policies. Defending the ECB’s ultra easy monetary policy, Draghi said that super low rates create jobs, foster growth and benefit borrowers, ultimately easing inequality. He also rejected calls to exit super easy monetary policy quickly, arguing that premature tightening would lead to a fresh recession and more inequality.

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Here’s how ZIRP creates more inequality.

Change the Way Money Is Created, Or More Inequality, Disorder Inevitable (CHS)

Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit. Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest. There’s a tradeoff to earn this higher rate of interest: the saver has to accept the risk that the borrower might default on the loan, and that the home will not be worth the $100,000 the borrower owes. The bank, on the other hand, can perform magic with the $100,000 they obtain from the central bank. The bank can issue 19 times this amount in new loans—in effect, creating $1,900,000 in new money out of thin air.

This is the magic of fractional reserve lending. The bank is only required to hold a small%age of outstanding loans as reserves against losses. If the reserve requirement is 5%, the bank can issue $1,900,000 in new loans based on the $100,000 in cash: the bank holds assets of $2,000,000, of which 5% ($100,000) is held in cash reserves. This is a simplified version of how money is created and issued, but it helps us understand why centrally issued and distributed money concentrates wealth in the hands of those with access to the centrally issued credit and those who have the privilege of leveraging every $1 of cash into $19 newly created dollars that earn interest. Imagine if we each had a relatively modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from a central bank that we could use to issue loans of $19 million.

Let’s say we issued $19 million in home loans at an annual interest rate of 4%. The gross revenue (before expenses) of our leveraged $1 million would be $760,000 annually –let’s assume we net $600,000 per year after annual expenses of $160,000. (Recall that the interest due on the $1 million line of credit is a paltry $2,500 annually). Median income for workers in the U.S. is around $30,000 annually. Thus a modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from the central bank would enable us to net 20 years of a typical worker’s earnings every single year. This is just a modest example of pyramiding wealth.

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So Draghi whines about inequality and at the same time makes sure Greece gets hammered even more economically. Does his ass know where his mouth is located?

ECB Chief Draghi Rules Out Greece Joining QE Soon (K.)

The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, said on Monday that Greece will not join its quantitative easing program (QE) until international creditors specify what sort of debt relief measures the country can expect. “Until sufficient details are given on debt-related measures, serious concerns remain about the sustainability of Greek government debt,” he said in response to a question from Popular Unity (LAE) MEP Nikos Hountis over whether the ECB had completed its own debt sustainability analysis (DSA), and if it had come to any conclusions on the issue. Draghi said that ECB experts “are not currently in a position to complete a fully fledged DSA analysis of Greece’s public debt.” Up until very recently, Greece was banking on its inclusion in QE as a way to return to bond markets, which would put an end to its dependence on bailout programs.

If the ECB were to buy Greek debt it would boost the confidence of investors about the prospects of the Greek economy. But given Draghi’s comment on Monday and the failure of the government to secure more concrete language on debt relief at the Eurogroup on June 15, Athens now believes it can achieve the goal to enter bond markets without having to join QE. And it believes that it has three windows of opportunity to issue a bond in the period stretching from July until early next year. These three opportunities are, reportedly, in July, given the improved climate in international markets. The second chance will be at the end of September and beginning of October after German elections, while the third will be at the end of the year or early 2018, as predicted by the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling.

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Macron is Merkel’s messenger boy. France has nothing to say in the EU. That’s the essence of Europe’s problem.

Europe’s Gradualist Fallacy (Varoufakis)

Europe is at the mercy of a common currency that not only was unnecessary for European integration, but that is actually undermining the European Union itself. So what should be done about a currency without a state to back it – or about the 19 European states without a currency that they control? The logical answer is either to dismantle the euro or to provide it with the federal state it needs. The problem is that the first solution would be hugely costly, while the second is not feasible in a political climate favoring the re-nationalization of sovereignty. Those who agree that the cost of dismantling the euro is too high to contemplate are being forced into a species of wishful thinking that is now very much in vogue, especially after the election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency.

Their idea is that, somehow, by some unspecified means, Europe will find a way to move toward federation. “Just hang in there,” seems to be their motto. Macron’s idea is to move beyond idle optimism by gaining German consent to turn the eurozone into a state-like entity – a federation-lite. In exchange for making French labor markets more Germanic, as well as reining in France’s budget deficit, Germany is being asked to agree in principle to a common budget, a common finance ministry, and a eurozone parliament to provide democratic legitimacy. Macron knows that such a federation would be macroeconomically insignificant, given the depth of the debt, banking, investment, and poverty crisis unfolding across the eurozone. But, in the spirit of the EU’s traditional gradualism, he thinks that such a move would be politically momentous and a decisive step toward a meaningful federation.

“Once the Germans accept the principle, the economics will force them to accept the necessary magnitudes,” is how a French official put it to me recently. Such optimism may seem justified in light of proposals along those lines made in the past by none other than Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister. But there are two powerful reasons to be skeptical. First, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Schäuble were not born yesterday. If Macron’s people imagine a federation-lite as an entering wedge for full-blown political integration, so will Merkel, Schäuble, and the reinvigorated Free Democrats (who will most likely join a coalition government with Merkel’s Christian Democrats after the September federal election). And they will politely but firmly reject the French overtures.

Second, in the unlikely event that Germany gives federation-lite the go-ahead, any change to the functioning of the eurozone would, undoubtedly, devour large portions of the reformers’ political capital. If it does not produce economic and social results that improve, rather than annul, the chances of a proper federation, as I suspect it will not, a political backlash could ensue, ending any prospect of a more substantial federation in the future. In that case, the euro’s dismantling will become inevitable, will cost more, and will leave Europe in even greater shambles.

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Germany doesn’t care one bit about Macron’s agenda; they may pay lip service, but that’s it. In this particular case, do you think Germany wants an Italian bank collapse a few months before Merkel’s election?

Italy Bank Deal Makes Germans Wary of Macron’s Euro Agenda

Germany sounded the alarm over Italy’s latest bank bailout, saying the apparent bending of EU rules casts doubt on efforts to further integrate the euro zone. The government in Rome announced the country’s biggest bank rescue to date on Sunday evening as it committed as much as €17 billion ($19 billion) to clean up two failed banks. While the European Commission approved the plan, German officials pointed to the involvement of state aid to shield senior creditors from losses as working around EU law established to deal with bank failures. That exemption drew criticism from members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, who cited the need to uphold European law without setting unhealthy precedents.

“We’re in a phase where we are faced with the question of whether we can succeed at applying European law, irrespective of all the understandable domestic policy discussions,” Alexander Radwan, a lawmaker from Merkel’s CSU Bavarian sister party who sits on the Bundestag’s finance committee, said in an interview on Monday. “Cases like these make it more difficult to think about deepening the economic and monetary union.” The growing drumbeat for closer euro-area integration following Emmanuel Macron’s election in France is making some German lawmakers increasingly uneasy. Citing election results in France and the Netherlands this year that open “an opportunity for moving Europe forward,” Merkel has spoken of joint projects with France and left the door open to creating a euro-area budget and a joint finance minister.

“This decision discredits the further completion of the banking union and moves the common deposit-guarantee scheme into the distant future,” said Carsten Schneider, a deputy head of the Social Democrat caucus in Germany’s lower house. “It’s not acceptable that bank wind-downs under national rules offer better conditions for creditors than under the European regime.” Italy’s decision is “a grave mistake,” Schneider said in emailed comments to Bloomberg.

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Brussels hubris in its full splendor. (BRRD= Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive)

Italy’s Latest Bank Bailout Has Created A Two-Speed Eurozone (Coppola)

The bailout is dressed up as a rescue by a larger bank along the same lines as Santander’s recent acquisition for a nominal 1 euro of the insolvent Banco Popular. Like Santander, Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s second-biggest lender, will buy the two banks 1 euro. But there the similarity ends. Santander took on full responsibility for recapitalizing Banco Popular, for which it announced a 7bn euro rights issue. But Intesa isn’t taking financial responsibility for anything. The Italian government is paying Intesa about 5bn euros in cash to take over the two banks, and is additionally providing guarantees worth 12bn euros for the two banks’ bad assets. The total bailout amount is thus around 17bn euros, though according to the European Commission, the net cost will be much lower: Both guarantees and cash injections are backed up by the Italian State’s senior claims on the assets in the liquidation mass. Correspondingly, the net costs to the Italian State will be much lower than the nominal amounts of the measures provided.

The bailout imposes losses on the two banks’ shareholders and subordinated debtholders. But the all-important seniors have been spared, and small subordinated debtholders will be compensated by Intesa from the funds provided by the Italian government. The BRRD has effectively been sidestepped. Did the EU oppose this sleight of hand? Not a bit of it. In this statement, the European Commission approved the use of taxpayers’ funds to bail out these banks: “The Commission found these measures to be in line with EU State aid rules, in particular the 2013 Banking Communication. Existing shareholders and subordinated debt holders have fully contributed to the costs, reducing the cost of the intervention for the Italian State. Both aid recipients, BPVI and Banca Veneto, will be wound up in an orderly fashion and exit the market, while the transferred activities will be restructured and significantly downsized by Intesa, which in combination will limit distortions of competition arising from the aid.”

Remarkable. Winding up two banks in the Venetian area would cause massive economic disruption. So the solution is to create an effective banking monopoly in that area. And this doesn’t distort competition, apparently. I detect a distinct odor of Eurofudge. Italy’s decision, supported by the European Commission, tramples the BRRD to death. Senior creditors need never again fear losses due to a failing bank. If it is systemically important, it will be given a precautionary recapitalization at taxpayers’ expense. If it is not, an excuse will be found to bail it out at taxpayers’ expense. Either way, seniors and unsecured depositors are safe. That is, they are as safe as politicians want them to be. Italy is able to bail out these banks – and will no doubt in due course bail out others too – because it is a big country which can easily borrow the funds needed.

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“..”abundant” proof that the president received bribe money..”

Brazil Top Prosecutor Charges President With Bribery (AFP)

Brazil’s top prosecutor charged President Michel Temer with bribery on Monday, plunging Latin America’s biggest country into what could be prolonged new political turmoil. The bribery charge filed by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot swept Temer into the forefront of a giant graft scandal that has engulfed Latin America’s biggest country over the last three years. Although several past Brazilian presidents and scores of other politicians are currently being investigated for corruption in the “Car Wash” probe, Temer is the first leader in the country’s history to face criminal charges while still in office. Temer acted “in violation of his duties to the state and to society,” Janot wrote, citing “abundant” proof that the president received bribe money.

For Temer to go on trial, the lower house of Congress must first approve Janot’s charge by a two-thirds majority. Temer would then be suspended for six months for the trial. Janot is also probing Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and membership of a criminal group. He could file those charges at a later date, guaranteeing a sustained legal assault. However, Temer’s aides say they are confident he has sufficient support in Congress to get the charges thrown out. In his first comments since returning from a trip to Russia and Norway, the president was defiant. “There is no plan B,” he said at a ceremony to sign a new bill in the capital Brasilia. “Nothing will destroy us – not me and not our ministers.”

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Nothing black about it.

The Technicolor Swan (Jim Kunstler)

I registered as a Democrat in 1972 — largely because good ole Nixon was at the height of his power (just before his fall, of course), and because he was preceded as party leader by Barry Goldwater, who, at the time, was avatar for the John Birch Society and all its poisonous nonsense. The Democratic Party was still deeply imbued with the personality of Franklin Roosevelt, with a frosting of the recent memory of John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby, tragic, heroic, and glamorous. I was old enough to remember the magic of JFK’s press conferences — a type of performance art that neither Bill Clinton or Barack Obama could match for wit and intelligence — and the charisma of authenticity that Bobby projected in the months before that little creep shot him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Even the lugubrious Lyndon Johnson had the heroic quality of a Southerner stepping up to abolish the reign of Jim Crow.

Lately, people refer to this bygone era of the 1960s as “the American High” — and by that they are not talking about smoking dope (though it did go mainstream then), but rather the post World War Two economic high, when American business might truly ruled the planet. Perhaps the seeming strength of American political leaders back then was merely a reflection of the country’s economic power, which since has been squandered and purloined into a matrix of rackets loosely called financialization — a criminal magic act whereby wealth is generated without producing anything of value. Leaders in such a system are bound to be not just lesser men and women but something less than human. Hillary Clinton, for instance, lost the 2016 election because she came off as demonic, and I mean that pretty literally.

To many Americans, especially the ones swindled by the magic of financialization, she was the reincarnation of the little girl in The Exorcist. Donald Trump, unlikely as it seems — given his oafish and vulgar guise — was assigned the role of exorcist. Unlike poor father Merrin, he sort of succeeded, even to his very own astonishment. I say sort of succeeded because the Democratic Party is still there, infested with all its gibbering demons, but it has been reduced politically to impotence and appears likely to soon roll over and die. None of this is to say that the other party, the Republicans, have anything but the feeblest grip on credibility or even an assured continued existence. First of all there is Trump’s obvious plight as a rogue only nominally regarded as party leader (or even member).

Then there is the gathering fiasco of neither Trump nor his party being able to deliver remedies for any of the ills of our time that he was elected to fix. The reason for that is simple: the USA has entered Hell, or at least a condition that looks a lot like it. This is not just a matter of a few persons or a party being possessed by demons. We’ve entered a realm that is populated by nothing but demons — of our own design, by the way. Our politics have become so thoroughly demonic, that the sort of exorcism America needs now can only come from outside politics. It’s coming, too. It’s on its way. It will turn our economic situation upside down and inside out. It’s a Technicolor swan, and you can see it coming from a thousand miles out. Wait for it. Wait for it.

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It’s crazy that we’re still talking about this.

California To List Glyphosate As Cancer-Causing; Monsanto Vows Fight (R.)

Glyphosate, an herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto Co’s popular Roundup weed killer, will be added to California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer effective July 7, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said on Monday. Monsanto vowed to continue its legal fight against the designation, required under a state law known as Proposition 65, and called the decision “unwarranted on the basis of science and the law.” The listing is the latest legal setback for the seeds and chemicals company, which has faced increasing litigation over glyphosate since the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said that it is “probably carcinogenic” in a controversial ruling in 2015.

Dicamba, a weed killer designed for use with Monsanto’s next generation of biotech crops, is under scrutiny in Arkansas after the state’s plant board voted last week to ban the chemical. OEHHA said the designation of glyphosate under Proposition 65 will proceed following an unsuccessful attempt by Monsanto to block the listing in trial court and after requests for stay were denied by a state appellate court and the California’s Supreme Court. Monsanto’s appeal of the trial court’s ruling is pending. “This is not the final step in the process, and it has no bearing on the merits of the case. We will continue to aggressively challenge this improper decision,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said.

Listing glyphosate as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 would require companies selling the chemical in the state to add warning labels to packaging. Warnings would also be required if glyphosate is being sprayed at levels deemed unsafe by regulators. Users of the chemical include landscapers, golf courses, orchards, vineyards and farms. Monsanto and other glyphosate producers would have roughly a year from the listing date to re-label products or remove them from store shelves if further legal challenges are lost.

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Jun 252017
 
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Marc Riboud Paris 1953

 

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)
UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)
The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)
Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)
Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)
Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)
Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)
Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)
Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)
Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

 

 

Endlessly ironic that publications like the Hill write on this. They are more responsible for all the nonsense than any politicians are.

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)

Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia. Democratic leaders have been beating the drum this year over the ongoing probes into the Trump administration’s potential ties to Moscow, taking every opportunity to highlight the saga and forcing floor votes designed to uncover any business dealings the president might have with Russian figures. But rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.

In the wake of a string of special-election defeats, an increasing number of Democrats are calling for an adjustment in party messaging, one that swings the focus from Russia to the economy. The outcome of the 2018 elections, they say, hinges on how well the Democrats manage that shift. “We can’t just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren’t really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told MSNBC Thursday. “They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make the mortgage payment, how they’re going to pay for their kids to go to college, what their energy bill looks like. “And if we don’t talk more about their interest than we do about how we’re so angry with Donald Trump and everything that’s going on,” he added, “then we’re never going to be able to win elections.”

Ryan is among the small group of Democrats who are sounding calls for a changing of the guard atop the party’s leadership hierarchy following Tuesday’s special election defeat in Georgia — the Democrats’ fourth loss since Trump took office. But Ryan is hardly alone in urging party leaders to hone their 2018 message. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has been paying particularly close attention to voters’ concerns because he’s running for governor in 2018. The Russia-Trump investigation, he said, isn’t on their radar. “I did a 22-county tour. … Nobody’s focusing on that,” Walz said. “That’s not to say that they don’t think Russia and those things are important, [but] it’s certainly not top on their minds.”

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Elections it is then. A rudderless society.

UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)

More than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing, according to a devastating new report into the UK’s escalating housing crisis. The study by the homelessness charity Shelter shows that rising numbers of families on low incomes are not only unable to afford to buy their own home but are also struggling to pay even the lowest available rents in the private sector, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness. The findings will place greater pressure on the government over housing policy following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in west London, which exposed the neglect and disregard for people living in council-owned properties in one of the wealthiest areas of the capital.

The Shelter report highlights how a crisis of affordability and provision is gripping millions with no option but to look for homes in the private rented sector due to a shortage of social housing. Shelter says that in 83% of areas of England, people in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and the cheapest rents, and that this will rise as austerity bites and the lack of properties tilts the balance more in favour of landlords. Across the UK the charity has calculated that, if the housing benefit freeze remains in place as planned until 2020, more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes. It estimates that 211,000 households in which no one works because of disability could be forced to go.

Graeme Brown, the interim chief executive at Shelter, said: “The current freeze on housing benefit is pushing hundreds of thousands of private renters dangerously close to breaking point at a time when homelessness is rising.” A total of 14,420 households were accepted by local authorities as homeless between October and December 2016, up by more than half since 2009 – with 78% of the increase since 2011 being the result of people losing their previous private tenancy. Local authorities are under a legal obligation to find emergency accommodation, such as in bed and breakfasts.

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A kernel of truth does not a good reasoning make.,

The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)

As in any other religion, faith lies behind capitalism. Faith that capital is a panacea always and in any situation: to push economic growth or to help less developed countries to catch up. Yet the fact is that the EU countries that were the main receivers of cohesion funds, before the extension to the East, later became rescued countries – and we have never before had as much capital on tap along with current low growth.

Both these facts should be enough to break the faith in capital or, at least, to recognise its limits. Let’s see those limits in the above-mentioned causes. The virtue of capital transfers to help low developed countries is based in old Marshall Plan history, which attributes the successful German recovery after WW2 to USA loans. Sure, those loans helped, but the necessary knowledge was already there and the capital transfers allowed the Germans to rebuild their supply capacity. Conversely, in the EU rescued countries, entering the EU came with a local supply capacity destruction, in Schumpeterian terms, for which cohesion funds were unable to compensate. As a result, their domestic demand outstripped internal supply and trade deficits became recurrent until the financial crash.

The key element was not capital but knowledge and its absence or availability in both situations; something very obvious but all too often forgotten. If capital has any virtue it comes from its origin: the capacity to produce output sufficient to recover the inputs used, to satisfy consumption needs and to save a part to be invested as new inputs for raising future output. It means that the virtue is not in the savings/capital itself but in the capacity to generate it. That’s why capital transfers that simply increased the receivers’ inputs provision, without increasing the output/input ratio –or system efficiency–, were in the end wasted money. To avoid this, it would have been necessary to increase the receivers’ efficiency, which is much more correlated with parameters like educational levels than with capitalization! Again, knowledge is the key question.

Furthermore, capital on its own is not only unable to help less developed countries catch up on their wealthier peers but it’s also unable to propel economic growth on its own, as we are now seeing. After years of letting profits grow at the cost of wages, hoping that greater capital would bring greater growth, now we hear companies claiming that they do not invest because they do not have sufficient demand to justify the investment. The clear solution would be to increase wages, but no single company will do it out of fear that the others won’t follow suit. In fact, what any company hopes is that the others increase wages and salaries but not itself. That’s why a global agent is needed: trade unions and the public administration! The latter to increase its spending to guarantee full employment and the former profiting from full employment to bargain higher salaries.

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Bloomberg’s valiant attempt to make you see it doesn’t understand energy. Well done!

Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest New Energy Outlook points the way to a sunny, windy future for the global electric power industry. That doesn’t mean that fossil fuels (or nuclear power) will vanish. It also doesn’t mean that all fossil fuels are the same. The future of natural gas and coal is a tale of two resources — one a story of rising fortunes, the other of slow decline. The latest outlook on natural gas is brighter than ever: BNEF’s forecast for gas shows a higher estimate for consumption in 2040 than in previous years, with a short decline at the end of this decade.

Coal is a different matter. Coal demand is expected to peak late next decade, then decline almost every year to reach a low of 3.1 billion metric tons in 2040, about 25% lower than at its peak.

This long-term outlook is nuanced, as it should be. The aggregated demand for each fuel from 2020 to 2040 has not changed much in three successive New Energy Outlook reports. Total gas consumption has only increased 6% since the 2015 report, while coal consumption from 2020 to 2040 – despite the plunge that is now expected, as noted above – has only changed 3.5%, and was exactly the same in 2016. However, the shape of that coal curve is still important, even if the volume hasn’t changed much. A coal mine that opens today could have a 60-year life, but it is likely to be one fraught with oversupply and competition from other coal producers, as well as other technologies. So how does the 2017 New Energy Outlook for gas and coal compare to how major oil companies and the International Energy Agency see it? For gas, everyone agrees: Consumption grows. Shell expects gas consumption to more than double and, perhaps not surprisingly, Exxon Mobil and BP also expect consumption to increase at least 50%. BNEF’s expectations are a bit more muted.

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Looks a tad hippyish, but as I’ve said a million times, no society should ever sell its basics to anyone. It’s lethal.

Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)

Reclaiming Public Services is vital reading for anyone interested in the future of local, democratic services like energy, water and health care. This is an in-depth world tour of new initiatives in public ownership and the variety of approaches to deprivatisation. From New Delhi to Barcelona, from Argentina to Germany, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers, unions and social movements are reclaiming or creating public services to address people’s basic needs and respond to environmental challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows that there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide since 2000, involving more than 1,600 municipalities in 45 countries.

Why are people around the world reclaiming essential services from private operators and bringing their delivery back into the public sphere? There are many motivations behind (re)municipalisation initiatives: a goal to end private sector abuse or labour violations; a desire to regain control over the local economy and resources; a wish to provide people with affordable services; or an intention to implement ambitious climate strategies. Remunicipalisation is taking place in small towns and in capital cities, following different models of public ownership and with various levels of involvement by citizens and workers. Out of this diversity a coherent picture is nevertheless emerging: it is possible to build efficient, democratic and affordable public services. Ever declining service quality and ever increasing prices are not inevitable. More and more people and cities are closing the chapter on privatisation, and putting essential services back into public hands.

Ulli Sima, Vienna City Councilor for the Environment and Wiener Stadtwerke: “As early as 2001, Vienna protected drinking water with a constitutional decision. Municipal services must remain public and should not be sacrificed to private profit. We want to ally with other cities for strong municipal servicest.” Eloi Badia, the Barcelona Councilor for presidency, water and energy: “It is important to demystify the process of privatisation that has been launched in recent years by several governments, because it’s a model that has not proved its efficiency, failing to offer a better service or a better price.”

Célia Blauel, President of Eau de Paris and Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of the environment, sustainable development, water and the energy-climate plan: “Bringing local public services under public control is a major democratic issue, especially for such essential services as energy or water. It means greater transparency and better citizen supervision. In the context of climate change, it can contribute to leading our cities toward energy efficiency, the development of renewables, the conservation of our natural resources, and the right to water. ”

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Yesterday I wrote: “To paraphrase Juncker: “When things get serious in Europe, no rules or laws are immune to lies.”

Today, Don Quijones says: “..when things get serious in the EU, laws get bent.”

That ends to the Cyprus model before it was even truly inaugurated.

Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)

When things get serious in the EU, laws get bent and loopholes get exploited. That is what is happening right now in Italy, where the banking crisis has reached tipping point. The ECB, together with the Italian government, have just this weekend to resolve Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, two zombie banks that the ECB, on Friday night, ordered to be liquidated. Unlike Monte dei Pachi di Siena, they will not be bailed out primarily with public funds. Senior bondholders and depositors will be protected while shareholders and subordinate bondholders will lose their shirts. However, as the German daily Welt points out, subordinate bondholders at Monte dei Pachi di Siena had billions of euros at stake, much of it owned by its own retail customers who’d been sold these bonds instead of savings products such as CDs. So for political reasons, they were bailed out.

Junior bonds play a smaller role at the two Veneto-based banks. According to the Welt, the two banks combined have €1.33 billion (at face value) in junior bonds outstanding. They last traded between 1 cent and 3 cents on the euro. So worthless. Only about €100 million were sold to their own customers, not enough to cause a political ruckus in Italy. So they will be crushed. The good assets and the liabilities, such as the deposits, will be transferred to a competing bank. According to a rescue plan apparently drawn up by investment bank Rothschild that surfaced a few days ago, Intesa Sao Paolo, Italy’s second largest bank, would get these good assets and the deposits (liabilities), for the token sum of €1, while all the toxic assets (non-performing loans) would be shuffled off to a state-owned “bad bank” – and thus, the taxpayer.

According to the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the bad bank would be left holding over €20 billion of festering assets. “Intesa gets a free gift, the state takes on all the bad stuff and the taxpayer pays,” said at the time Renato Brunetta, parliamentary leader for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. It is testament to just how desperate the situation has become in Italy’s banking crisis. The country’s largest lender, Unicredit, is in no position to help out: it had to raise €13 billion of new capital earlier this year just to keep itself afloat. Whether the deal with Intesa is still possible after the ECB’s decision to liquidate the banks, and what form this deal, if any, will take, and how much the taxpayer will have to fork over, and how to sugarcoat this in the most palatable terms is what the Italian government is currently trying to hammer out in its emergency meeting.

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How anyone can label this anything but ‘criminal’ is beyond me.

Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)

Health spending in Greece plunged 40% in the 2009-2015 period, Deloitte said in a survey released on Thursday. According to the survey, health spending fell to €14.1 billion in 2014, hit by a significant shrinking in medical/pharmaceutical coverage by the state and the social insurance system. It also stressed that this sharp decline mostly hit pharmacies and other professionals in the health sector and less the country’s hospitals. Hospital spending fell to €6.2 billion in 2015, from €9.0 billion in 2009, for an average annual decline of 6.0%, while average annual decline in the retail sector reached 7.0% and 9.0%, respectively. Deloitte said the state social insurance system covers 59.1% of total health spending in Greece, with patients covering 35.5% -a %age significantly higher compared with other European countries (UK 9.5%, France 6.7%, Italy 21.7%).

3.7% of total health spending is covered by private insurance contracts. Private hospitals were also hit during the 2009-2015 period, leading to more consolidation as the number of private hospitals fell by 6.0% and their size grew by around 1.0%. The total number of private and state hospitals in Greece was 283, mostly in Attica, offering 45,900 beds. The survey said that the number of beds surpassed demand by at least 18%. The survey noted that health spending recovered slightly to €14.7 billion in 2015 and stressed that international investors were showing strong interest for business deals in Greece.

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Want Moody’s to be nice to you? Slash your health system by 40%.

Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)

Credit ratings agency Moody’s late Friday raised Greece’s long-term issuer rating to “Caa2” from “Caa3” after eurozone governments extended a credit lifeline to the country. Moody’s also changed its outlook to “positive”, up from “stable” previously, saying it saw signs that the heavily indebted country’s economy was stabilising. It pointed to a mid-June agreement reached by Greece’s creditors to relaunch an aid plan to the country, which had been blocked for months due to disagreements between eurozone countries – especially Germany – and the IMF. The move reduces the spectre of a short-term crisis, after eurozone governments agreed to give Greece a new credit lifeline of some €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion). Moody’s said it expected Greece’s debt ratio to stabilise this year at 179% of GDP, adding that growth should return to the economy this year and next.

Greece returned to growth in the first quarter of 2017, with a 0.4% increase in GDP, according to figures revised upwards in early June. “It is too early to conclude that economic growth will be durable,” Moody’s said. The IMF, which links financial aid to debt relief, has also signed an “agreement in principle” to allow immediate assistance that avoids a payment crisis in Athens this summer. It said Thursday that negotiations with creditors for debt reduction had “made progress”. “If we did not think there was a good chance of reaching a debt deal, we would not have chosen that route,” an IMF spokesman said. Moody’s also raised the long-term country ceilings for foreign-currency and local-currency bonds to B3 from Caa2.

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Another kernel of truth that proves writing articles is not that easy.

Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)

The IMF, which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing.

The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.” These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25%, unemployment levels exceeding 28%, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people—largely young and university-educated—migrating out of Greece.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10% of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold. Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card.

usinesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over €500 have been outlawed. In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over €840 every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

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Inevitable. Chemists go where they smell money.

Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

You may remember hearing back in September that Bayer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, made a deal to buy out Monsanto for $66 billion. Although Monsanto was voted the most evil company in the world in 2013 and its reputation has continued to fall since, Bayer still went ahead with the buyout. A merger between these two companies is unsurprising, as though they both have long histories of involvement with Nazism and chemical weapons like agent orange which have devastated Vietnam since the war. In fact, Bayer began as a break-off company of the infamous IG Farben, which produced the chemical weapons used on the Jews during the Nazi reign. After the war, Farben was forced to break up into several companies, including BASF, Hoeschst, and Bayer.

Soon after at the Nuremberg trials, 24 Farben executives were sent to prison for crimes against humanity. However, in a matter of just 7 years each of them was released and began filling high positions in each of the former Farben companies, and many of them began working for the Russian, British, and American governments through a joint intelligence venture called “Operation Paperclip”: (“IG (Interessengemeinschaft) stands for “Association of Common Interests”: The IG Farben cartel included BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other German chemical and pharmaceutical companies. As documents show, IG Farben was intimately involved with the human experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz. A German watchdog organization, the GBG Network, maintains copious documents and tracks Bayer Pharmaceutical activities.” – Alliance for Human Research Protection)

After all these years, Bayer is now richer and more powerful than their predecessor company I.G. Farben ever was. According to Big Buds Magazine, Monsanto and Scotts Miracle-Gro have a “deep business partnership” and plan on taking over the cannabis industry. Hawthorne, a front group for Scotts, has already purchased three of the major cannabis growing companies: General Hydroponics, Botanicare, and Gavita. Many other hydroponics companies have also reported attempted buyouts by Hawthorne. (“They want to bypass hydroponics retail stores…When we said we won’t get in bed with them they said, ‘Well, we could just buy your whole company like we did with Gavita and do whatever we want.’” – Hydroponics Lighting Representative) Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, has even said that he plans to “invest, like, half a billion in [taking over] the pot business… It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden.”

He has also invested in companies such as Leaf, which grows cannabis in an electronically regulated indoor terrarium accessible via smartphone. It is logical that Bayer, being the parent company, would work together with Monsanto in order to share secrets which would advance mutual business. Many people in the cannabis industry have been warning about this, including Michael Straumietis, founder and owner of Advanced Nutrients. (“Monsanto and Bayer share information about genetically modifying crops,” Straumietis notes. “Bayer partners with GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows its own proprietary marijuana genetics. It’s logical to conclude that Monsanto and Bayer want to create GMO marijuana.” – Michael Straumietis)

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May 252017
 
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Alfred Buckham Edinburgh c1920

 

Toronto Homeowners Are Suddenly in a Rush to Sell (BBG)
$100 Increase In Mortgage Payments Would Sink 75% Of Canadian Homeowners (CBC)
Average Asking Price for Homes in UK Hits Record High of £317,000 (G.)
The Great London Property Squeeze (Minton)
UK Police ‘Stop Passing Information To US’ Over Leaks Of Key Evidence (G.)
The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)
A Bailout Is Coming In China, One Way Or Another (BBG)
China “National Team” Rescues Stocks As Downgrade Crushes Commodities (ZH)
China Says Credit Downgrade ‘Inappropriate’, ‘Exaggerates Difficulties’ (CNBC)
China’s Downgrade Could Lead To A Mountain Of Debt (BBG)
Chinese Banks Dominate Ranking Of World’s Biggest Public Companies (Ind.)
EU Declared Monsanto Weedkiller Safe After Intervention From EPA Official (G.)
Factory Farming Belongs In A Museum (G.)
Eurogroup Confronts Own Deficit: Governance (Pol.)
Podcast: Steve Keen’s Manifesto (OD)
No Greek Debt Relief Need If Primary Surplus Over 3% of GDP For 20 Years (R.)
Deadliest Month For Syria Civilians In US-Led Strikes (AFP)
30 Migrants, Most of Them Toddlers, Drown in Mediterranean (R.)

 

 

Getting out is getting harder. A crucial phase in any bubble.

Toronto Homeowners Are Suddenly in a Rush to Sell (BBG)

Toronto’s hot housing market has entered a new phase: jittery. After a double whammy of government intervention and the near-collapse of Home Capital Group Inc., sellers are rushing to list their homes to avoid missing out on the recent price gains. The new dynamic has buyers rethinking purchases and sellers asking why they aren’t attracting the bidding wars their neighbors saw just a few weeks ago in Canada’s largest city. “We are seeing people who paid those crazy prices over the last few months walking away from their deposits,” said Carissa Turnbull, a Royal LePage broker in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, who didn’t get a single visitor to an open house on the weekend. “They don’t want to close anymore.”

Home Capital may be achieving what so many policy measures failed to do: cool down a housing market that soared as much as 33% in March from a year earlier. The run on deposits at the Toronto-based mortgage lender has sparked concerns about contagion, and comes on top of a new Ontario tax on foreign buyers and federal government moves last year that make it harder to get a mortgage. “Definitely a perception change occurred from Home Capital,” said Shubha Dasgupta, owner of Toronto-based mortgage brokerage Capital Lending Centre. “It’s had a certain impact, but how to quantify that impact is yet to be determined.”

Early data from the Toronto Real Estate Board confirms the shift in sentiment. Listings soared 47% in the first two weeks of the month from the same period a year earlier, while unit sales dropped 16%. Full-month data will be released in early June. The average selling price was C$890,284 ($658,000) through May 14, up 17% from a year earlier, yet down 3.3% from the full month of April. The annual price gain is down from 25% in April and 33% in March. Toronto has seen yearly price growth every month since May 2009. The last time the city saw gains of less than 10% was in December 2015.

Brokers say some owners are taking their homes off the market because they were seeking the same high offers that were spreading across the region as recently as six weeks ago. “In less than one week we went from having 40 or 50 people coming to an open house to now, when you are lucky to get five people,” said Case Feenstra, an agent at Royal LePage Real Estate Services Loretta Phinney in Mississauga, Ontario. “Everyone went into hibernation.” Toronto real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder said some clients want out of transactions. “I’ve had situations where buyers are trying to try to find another buyer to take over their deal,” he said. “They are nervous whether they bought right at the top and prices may come down.”

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Tyler: “..given that the average house in Canada costs roughly $200,000 and carries a monthly mortgage payment of $1,000, that means that most Canadians couldn’t incur a $100 hike in their monthly mortgage payments “

$100 Increase In Mortgage Payments Would Sink 75% Of Canadian Homeowners (CBC)

Almost three quarters of Canadian homeowners would have difficulty paying their mortgage every month if their payments increased by as little as 10%, a new survey from Manulife Bank suggests. The bank polled 2,098 homeowners — between the ages of 20 to 69 with household incomes of $50,000 or higher — online in the first two weeks of February. Because they aren’t randomized samples, polling experts say online polls don’t have a margin of error, but the survey nonetheless highlights just how tight the budgets are for many Canadians. 14% of respondents to Manulife’s survey said they wouldn’t be able to withstand any increase in their monthly payments, while 38% of those polled said they could withstand a payment hike of between 1 and 5% before having difficulty.

An additional 20% said they could stomach a hike of between six and 10% before feeling the pinch. Add it all up, and that means 72% of homeowners polled couldn’t withstand a hike of just 10% from their current record lows. That’s a dangerous place to be with interest rates set to rise at some point. “What these people don’t realize is that we’re at record low interest rates today,” said Rick Lunny, president and CEO of Manulife Bank. If mortgage rates increase by as little as one percentage point, some borrowers could be facing a hike of 10% on their monthly bills. A bigger mortgage rate hike would bring more pain.

In the survey, 22% said they could handle a payment increase of between 11 to 30%, while the remaining 7% didn’t know or were unsure. Overall, nearly one quarter (24%) of Canadian homeowners polled said they haven’t been able to come up with enough money to pay a bill in the past year. And most are not in good shape to weather any sort of financial storm — just over half of those polled had $5,000 or less set aside to deal with a financial emergency, while one fifth of them have nothing saved for a rainy day. “When you put it into that context, they’re not really prepared for what is inevitable. Sooner or later, interest rates are going to rise,” Lunny said.

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You might have thought Brexit would have led to caution.

Average Asking Price for Homes in UK Hits Record High of £317,000 (G.)

Asking prices for UK homes hit a new record high over the past month as families in search of bigger properties brushed aside uncertainty caused by Brexit and June’s general election. Prices sought by sellers rose 1.2% in the four weeks to 13 May, pushing the average asking price to a fresh peak of £317,281, according to the property website Rightmove. Families with children under the age of 11 were twice as likely as the average person to be moving home, as they looked for bigger properties in school catchment areas. Asking prices for typical family homes – with three or four bedrooms but excluding detached properties – rose by 5.4% year-on-year over the last month, to £270,953.

Miles Shipside, a Rightmove director and housing market analyst, said such families were more willing to ignore any uncertainty caused by Brexit and the general election. “As well as that shrinking house feeling, parents with young children also have the pressures of travelling times to amenities as well as the weekday school commute. These have to be balanced against under-pressure finances, even more so when the sector with the property type that suits them best is seeing the biggest price jump. “What seems to be happening is that moving pressures are understandably taking priority over electioneering and Brexit worries. For many in this group, it seems that moving is definitely on their manifesto.”

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Bubble effects: the servant class the rich need can’t afford to live close enough to them.

An edited extract from Big Capital by Anna Minton, which will be published 1 June by Penguin.

The Great London Property Squeeze (Minton)

There is a direct link between the wealth of those at the top and the capital’s housing crisis – which affects not just those at the bottom but the majority of Londoners who struggle to buy properties, or pay extortionate rents. The 2008 financial crash created a new politics of space, in which people on low incomes are forced out of their homes by rising rent and the wealthy are encouraged to use property for profit. These trends are not limited to London. The same currents of global capital are also transforming San Francisco, New York and Vancouver, European cities from Berlin to Barcelona and towns and cities in the UK from Bristol and Manchester to Margate and Hastings. This isn’t gentrification, it’s another phenomenon entirely. Global capital is being allowed to reconfigure the country.

The major concern for the government and employers in London is that people who do not earn enough to meet extortionate rents will leave, hollowing out the city and threatening its labour market and culture. “We see this with employers saying they’re having a really hard time retaining professional level jobs, let alone cleaners. London is losing teachers – they’re commuting from Luton and they’re giving up – it’s having a massive knock-on effect,” Dilner said. The vacancy rate for nurses at London’s hospitals is 14-18%, according to a report from the King’s Fund thinktank, and the number of entrants to teacher training has fallen 16% since 2010, according to Ofsted. But it’s not just carers, nurses, teachers, artists and university lecturers who can’t afford to live in London. Fifty Thousand Homes is a business-led campaign group – including the RBS, the CBI and scores of London businesses – formed to push the housing crisis up the political agenda.

Its research shows that on current trends, customer services and sales staff at almost every level are being pushed out of the capital. Three-quarters of business owners believe that housing costs are a significant risk to London’s economic growth and 70% of Londoners aged 25 to 39 report that the cost of their rent or mortgage makes it difficult to work in the city. Vicky Spratt is a 28-year-old journalist who worked as a producer of political programmes at the BBC but left because she felt the issues affecting her generation, such as the housing crisis, were not being covered properly. “A lot of issues were dismissed by the older generation – it didn’t affect them. They all owned their own homes,” she told me. Spratt joined the digital lifestyle magazine The Debrief, aimed at twentysomething women, and began an online petition against lettings agents’ fees that gathered more than 250,000 signatures.

Spratt describes herself as a reluctant campaigner, but her circumstances pushed her into it. She currently pays £1,430 per month, not including bills, for a one-bedroom flat which she can afford because she shares with her boyfriend, but she used to live in a room “which was literally the size of a bed”. “The walls were very thin because it had originally been part of one room, which the landlord split into two. I noticed after about six weeks my mental health deteriorated. If I wasn’t in a relationship I would be looking at going back to that,” she said. Spratt earns enough to get a mortgage but, because rents are so high, not enough to save for the 20–30% deposit required. “The common thread for people my age is that we don’t own our own homes and potentially we never will. The housing crisis is older than me and it shocks me that nobody did anything about this, and I want it on the news agenda,” she said. “This is structural neglect. The buy-to-let boom and the unregulated market have a lot to answer for.”

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For some reason nobody blames the New York Times for publishing the info.

UK Police ‘Stop Passing Information To US’ Over Leaks Of Key Evidence (G.)

Police hunting the terror network behind the Manchester Arena bombing have stopped passing information to the US on the investigation as a major transatlantic row erupted over leaks of key evidence in the US, according to a report. Downing Street was not behind any decision by Greater Manchester police to stop sharing information with US intelligence, a Number 10 source said, stressing that it was important police operations were allowed to take independent decisions. “This is an operational matter for police,” a Number 10 spokesman said. The police and the Home Office refused to comment on the BBC report. The Guardian understands there is not a blanket ban on intelligence sharing between the US and the UK.

Relations between the US and UK security services, normally extremely close, have been put under strain by the scale of the leaks from US officials to the American media. Theresa May is expected to confront Donald Trump over the stream of leaks of crucial intelligence when she meets the US president at a Nato summit in Brussels on Thursday. British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Times published forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation into the lethal blast in which six further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya. It was the latest of a series of leaks to US journalists that appeared to come from inside the US intelligence community, passing on data that had been shared between the two countries as part of a long-standing security cooperation.

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“..today’s CAPE ratio is 182% of the median ratio of the past 137 years..”

The Bubble That Could Break the World (Rickards)

Before diving into the best way to play the current bubble dynamics to your advantage, let’s look at the evidence for whether a bubble exists in the first place… My preferred metric is the Shiller Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio or CAPE. This particular PE ratio was invented by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller of Yale University. CAPE has several design features that set it apart from the PE ratios touted on Wall Street. The first is that it uses a rolling ten-year earnings period. This smooths out fluctuations based on temporary psychological, geopolitical, and commodity-linked factors that should not bear on fundamental valuation. The second feature is that it is backward-looking only. This eliminates the rosy scenario forward-looking earnings projections favored by Wall Street.

The third feature is that that relevant data is available back to 1870, which allows for robust historical comparisons. The chart below shows the CAPE from 1870 to 2017. Two conclusions emerge immediately. The CAPE today is at the same level as in 1929 just before the crash that started the Great Depression. The second is that the CAPE is higher today than it was just before the Panic of 2008. Neither data point is definitive proof of a bubble. CAPE was much higher in 2000 when the dot.com bubble burst. Neither data point means that the market will crash tomorrow. But today’s CAPE ratio is 182% of the median ratio of the past 137 years. Given the mean-reverting nature of stock prices, the ratio is sending up storm warnings even if we cannot be sure exactly where and when the hurricane will come ashore.

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It’s starting to look like China cannot afford the bailout. It’s not just SOEs and LGFVs, it’s the entire banking system too, and Chinese banks are behemoths.

A Bailout Is Coming In China, One Way Or Another (BBG)

On Tuesday night, Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time in 28 years. In doing so, the rating agency is acknowledging the dragon in the room: China will have to pay the price for its epic debt binge, whatever policymakers do from here. [..] “The downgrade,” the agency explained, “reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows.” The downgrade was slight, and China remains well within investment grade. Still, Moody’s concerns should wake up those investors who have decided, based on the apparent calm in Chinese stock and currency markets, that the country isn’t experiencing financial strain. What’s happening today may not look like the meltdowns suffered by South Korea or Indonesia in the 1990s.

But that might be only because the state retains so much more control in China. If officials hadn’t stepped in last year to curtail escalating outflows of capital, the picture would likely have looked much grimmer. This “crisis with Chinese characteristics” features all of the seeds of a much more serious downturn: still-rising debt, unrecognized bad loans and a government paying lip service to the severity of the problem. Brandon Emmerich of Granite Peak Advisory noted in a recent study that more and more new debt is being used to pay off old debt, and “a subset of zombie issuers borrowed to avoid default.” As he explains, “even as Chinese corporate bond yields have rebounded (in 2017) and issuance stalled, the proportion of bond volume issued to pay off old debt reached an all-time high – not the behavior of healthy firms taking advantage of a low-yield environment.”

Efforts to curtail credit will thus inflict serious pain on corporate China. And given that the economy remains largely dependent on debt for growth, deleveraging will also make it harder for such firms to expand and service their debt. The one-two punch could push more companies toward default, punishing bank balance sheets. What’s more, if Beijing policymakers respond by ramping up credit again, all they’ll do is delay the inevitable. Larger dollops of debt simply allow zombie companies to stay alive longer and add to the debt burden on the economy. Sooner or later, the government is going to have to bail out local governments and state-owned enterprises, and recapitalize the banks. The only question is how expensive repairing the financial sector will be for taxpayers once Chinese leaders realize the game is up. Looking at past banking crises, the tab could prove huge. South Korea’s cleanup after the 1997 crisis cost more than 30% of gross domestic product. Applying that to China suggests the cost would reach some $3.5 trillion.

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How much of China’s economy stands on its own feet?

China “National Team” Rescues Stocks As Downgrade Crushes Commodities (ZH)

Iron ore led a slump in industrial commodities after Moody’s Investor Service downgraded China’s credit rating and warned that the country’s debt position will worsen as its economic expansion slows. However, one glance at the divergence between industrial metals’ collapse and the sudden buying panic in Chinese stocks confirms what Asher Edelman noted yesterday about the US markets, China’s so-called “National Team” was clearly intervening… As Bloomberg reports, Iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange fell as much as 5.6% to 452 yuan a metric ton, almost by the daily limit, before closing at 455.50 yuan, extending Tuesday’s 3% loss. Nickel led a broad slump among base metals, dropping as much as 2.4% to $9,125 a ton on the London Metal Exchange. Nickel stockpiles rose the most in more than a year.

In context, the overnight reversal in Chinese stocks is even more obvious… Moody’s move, downgrading China’s debt to A1 from Aa3, adds to concerns about the effects of a slowdown in the country’s economic growth, following on from downbeat manufacturing readings and weak commodity imports, Simona Gambarini, an analyst at Capital Economics, said. “We’re not particularly concerned about credit growth getting out of hand, but in regards to industrial metals, we have been negative on the outlook for some time on the basis that Chinese growth will slow.” Will The National Team be back tonight?

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They would, wouldn’t they? Isn’t it perhaps more accurate to say the downgrade is long overdue?

China Says Credit Downgrade ‘Inappropriate’, ‘Exaggerates Difficulties’ (CNBC)

China has rejected a move by Moody’s to lower its credit rating, saying the downgrade exaggerates the difficulties facing the economy and underestimates the government’s reform agenda. The country’s finance ministry claimed the credit rating agency used “inappropriate methodology” in its decision to lower long-term local and foreign currency issuer ratings from “Aa3” to “A1”. “Moody’s views that China’s non-financial debt will rise rapidly and the government would continue to maintain growth via stimulus measures are exaggerating difficulties facing the Chinese economy,” the finance ministry said in a statement Wednesday, translated by Reuters. It added that the moves are “underestimating the Chinese government’s ability to deepen supply-side structural reform and appropriately expand aggregate demand.”

Moody’s said that the downgrade reflects its expectation that China’s financial strength will “erode somewhat” over the coming years. The one-notch downgrade marks the first time Moody’s has lowered China’s credit rating in almost 30 years. It last downgraded the country in 1989. It comes as the government moves ahead with its ambitious reform agenda, which it hopes will move the country away from its traditional dependence on manufacturing and towards a services-led economy. Moody’s argues, however, that these aims will be hampered somewhat by the country’s “economy-wide debt”, which it says is set to rise as economic growth slows. Though the new rating will likely modestly increase the cost of borrowing for the Chinese government, it remains within the investment grade rating range.

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Not could, will. Actually the debt is already there.

China’s Downgrade Could Lead To A Mountain Of Debt (BBG)

China’s first credit rating downgrade by Moody’s since 1989 couldn’t have come at a worse time for the nation’s companies, which have never been more reliant on the overseas bond market for funding. While Chinese companies’ foreign-currency debt is only a fraction of the $9 trillion local bond market, China Inc. is on pace for record dollar bond sales this year after the authorities’ crackdown on financial leverage drove up borrowing costs at home. Overseas borrowing has also been part of the government’s strategy to encourage capital inflows in a bid to ease the depreciation pressure on the yuan. Airlines and shipping companies, which finance the costs of new aircraft and vessels with debt, are particularly vulnerable to higher borrowing costs, according to Corrine Png, CEO of Crucial Perspective in Singapore.

Khoon Goh, head of Asia research for Australia & New Zealand Bank, sees state-owned enterprises among firms feeling the biggest impact. Companies including State Grid and China Petroleum & Chemical raised $23 billion in bond sales in April, an increase of 141% from a year earlier. With additional $8.9 billion issuance so far in May, the sales this year totaled $69 billion, representing 71% of the record $98 billion in 2016. Moody’s lowered China’s rating to A1 from Aa3 on Wednesday, citing a worsening debt outlook. Moody’s also downgraded the ratings of 26 non-financial corporate and infrastructure government-related issuers by one level. China’s Finance Ministry blasted the move as “absolutely groundless,” saying the ratings company has underestimated the capability of the government to deepen reform and boost demand.

“The economy is dependent on policy stimulus and with that comes higher leverage,” Marie Diron, associate managing director, Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, said. “Corporate debt is really the big part.” [..] For major Chinese airlines, every percentage-point increase in average borrowing costs can cut net profit by 5% to 9%, said Crucial Perspective’s Png. For shipping companies, cuts to net profit may reach 15% to 30%. Hainan Airlines, controlled by conglomerate HNA Group Co., plans to buy 19 Boeing aircraft, using the proceeds of a convertible bond sale of up to 15 billion yuan ($2.2 billion), according to a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on May 19. HNA itself has been one of China’s most acquisitive companies, with more than $30 billion worth of announced and completed deals since 2016.

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After all of the above info on debt and bailouts, there’s this. What will save Chinese banks, does anyone think Beijing can afford to bail them out too?

Chinese Banks Dominate Ranking Of World’s Biggest Public Companies (Ind.)

Despite an explosive rise in the power and market capitalisation of technology firms over the last year, China’s banking giants have defended their dominance of Forbes magazine’s annual global ranking of the world’s biggest public companies. The list, released on Wednesday, places Industrial & Commercial Bank of China at the top for a fifth consecutive year, followed by compatriot China Construction Bank. Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China – the other two that make up China’s “Big Four” of finance – slipped down the list but remained in the top 10, qualifying as public companies despite largely being owned by the state. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which is the largest public company in the US, took third spot, followed by JPMorgan Chase in fifth.

Although Forbes in a separate list earlier this week named Apple the most valuable brand of 2017, the tech giant only managed to secure ninth spot in the overall list of the biggest public companies. Companies that made it into this year’s list faced a slew of pressures stemming from an unsteady geopolitical climate and slowing economies. But Forbes said that in aggregate the 2,000 companies analysed managed to come out stronger than last year, with increased sales, profits, assets and market values. “This list illustrates that in spite of headwinds, the world’s dominant companies remain a steady force in an unpredictable and challenging environment,” said Halah Touryalai of Forbes. She said that despite slowing GDP figures, companies in China and the US make up more than 40% of the 2017 and dominate the top ten.

Notable gainers this year included General Electric, at 14th from 68th place in 2016, Amazon, up to 83rd from 237th, Charter Communications, at 107th from 784th and Alibaba, at 140th from 174th in 2016. The US dominated the ranking with 565 companies, followed by China and Hong Kong with 263 companies, Japan with 229. The UK had 91 companies in the top 2,000. But one of the UK’s highest ranked companies last year, banking giant HSBC, fell to 48th spot from 14th in 2016, with Forbes citing “economic malaise, low interest rate, paying fines, ongoing regulatory expenses and your usual dose of political uncertainty”. Elsewhere Forbes said that low oil prices had continued to put pressure on companies in the energy sector, reflected in PetroChina falling 85 spots to 102nd place in this years’ ranking. Exxon Mobil slipped four spots to 13th while Chevron tumbled to just 359th from 28th.

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Think the EU is not corrupt?

EU Declared Monsanto Weedkiller Safe After Intervention From EPA Official (G.)

The European Food Safety Authority dismissed a study linking a Monsanto weedkiller to cancer after counsel from a US Environmental Protection Agency officer allegedly linked to the company. Jess Rowlands, the former head of the EPA’s cancer assessment review committee (CARC), who figures in more than 20 lawsuits and had previously told Monsanto he would try to block a US government inquiry into the issue, according to court documents. The core ingredient of Monsanto’s RoundUp brand is a chemical called glyphosate, for which the European commission last week proposed a new 10-year license. Doubts about its regulatory passage have been stirred by unsealed documents in an ongoing US lawsuit against Monsanto by sufferers of non-hodgkins lymphoma, who claim they contracted the illness from exposure to RoundUp.

“If I can kill this, I should get a medal,” Rowlands allegedly told a Monsanto official, Dan Jenkins, in an email about a US government inquiry into glyphosate in April 2015. In a separate internal email of that time, Jenkins, a regulatory affairs manager, said that Rowlands was about to retire and “could be useful as we move forward with [the] ongoing glyphosate defense”. Documents seen by the Guardian show that Rowlands took part in a teleconference with Efsa as an observer in September 2015. Six weeks later, Efsa adopted an argument Rowlands had used to reject a key 2001 study which found a causal link between exposure to glyphosate and increased tumour incidence in mice. Rowlands’ intervention was revealed in a letter sent by the head of Efsa’s pesticides unit, Jose Tarazona, to Peter Clausing, an industry toxicologist turned green campaigner.

In the missive, Tarazona said that “the observer from the US-EPA [Rowlands] informed participants during the teleconference about potential flaws in the Kumar (2001) study related to viral infections.” Efsa’s subsequent report said that the Kumar study “was reconsidered during the second experts’ teleconference as not acceptable due to viral infections”. Greenpeace said that news of an Efsa-Rowlands connection made a public inquiry vital. “Any meddling by Monsanto in regulatory safety assessments would be wholly unacceptable,” said spokeswoman Franziska Achterberg. “We urgently need a thorough investigation into the Efsa assessment before glyphosate can be considered for re-approval in Europe.”

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But the profits are huge.

Factory Farming Belongs In A Museum (G.)

We can feed an extra 4 billion people a year if we reject the bloated and wasteful factory farming systems that are endangering our planet’s biodiversity and wildlife, said farming campaigner Philip Lymbery on Monday night, launching a global campaign to Stop the Machine. At present, 35% of the world’s cereal harvest and most of its soya meal is fed to industrially reared animals rather than directly to humans. This is a “wasteful and inefficient practice” because the grain-fed animals contribute much less back in the form of milk, eggs and meat than they consume, according to Lymbery, the chief executive of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). “The food industry seems to have been hijacked by the animal feed industry,” he said.

In recent years the developing world in particular has seen significant agricultural expansion. According to independent organisation Land Matrix, 40m hectares have been acquired globally for agricultural purposes in the last decade and a half, with nearly half of those acquisitions taking place in Africa. The impact of that expansion is still unclear, but meanwhile the world’s wildlife has halved in the past 40 years. “Ten thousand years ago humans and our livestock accounted for about 0.1% of the world’s large vertebrates,” said Tony Juniper, the former head of Friends of the Earth. “Now we make up about 96%. This is a timely and necessary debate, and an issue that is being debated more and more.” An exhibition at the Natural History Museum by the campaigners aims to draw explicit links between industrial farming and its impact on wildife.

The Sumatran elephant, for example, has been disastrously affected by the growing palm oil industry, with more than half of its habitat destroyed to create plantations, and elephant numbers falling rapidly. The old argument that we need factory farming if we are to feed the world doesn’t hold true, says Lymbery, who argues that ending the wasteful practice of feeding grain to animals would feed an extra 4 billion people. Putting cattle onto pasture and keeping poultry and pigs outside where they can forage, and supplementing that with waste food is far more efficient and healthy, he says. According to his calculations, based on figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the total crop harvest for 2014 provided enough calories to feed more than 15 billion people (the world’s population is currently 7.5 billion), but waste and the animal feed industry means that much of that is going elsewhere.

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It confronts no such thing.

They actually argue that the Eurogroup can only function without transparency, checks and balances.

Eurogroup Confronts Own Deficit: Governance (Pol.)

For the past seven-plus years, as Greece’s debt crisis plays out in public in painful, blow-by-blow detail, the European body charged with its rescue has conducted its affairs away from prying eyes. Now there are growing calls to change the way the Eurogroup operates. Critics of the gathering of finance ministers from the 19 countries in the euro and officials from the ECB and European Commission accuse it of acting like a private club. They want greater transparency in keeping with the influence it wields over issues of vital importance to many of the eurozone’s 350 million citizens. “The euro crisis changed everything,” said Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, an advocacy coordinator with the NGO Transparency International. “The Eurogroup should be institutionalized, with proper rules of procedure, document handling and a physical address with actual spokespeople. We can no longer be governed by an informal club.”

Although it can impose tough conditions for bailing out struggling member countries or rescuing banks, it publishes no official minutes, has no headquarters, and the people who function as its secretariat have other day jobs. Its public face is a eurozone finance minister, who works for no salary: The current president is Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a Dutch Socialist with conservative views on fiscal matters. Legally, it is governed by a single sentence in Article 137 of the EU treaty which says “arrangements for meetings between ministers of those Member States whose currency is the euro are laid down by the Protocol on the Euro Group.” Emily O’Reilly, the EU’s ombudsman, is among those calling for reform. While she credits Dijsselbloem for his efforts to peel back the curtain on Eurogroup proceedings, she said: “It is obviously difficult for Europeans to understand that the Eurogroup, whose decisions can have a significant impact on their lives, [isn’t] subject to the usual democratic checks and balances.”

Indeed, when a group of citizens from Cyprus who disagreed with the terms of the 2013 Cypriot bank bailout took their case to the European Court of Justice, the court’s response was that the Eurogroup is not “capable of producing legal effects with respect to third parties” because it is just a discussion forum. Last year, Dijsselbloem used the ECJ ruling to justify the Eurogroup avoiding standard EU transparency rules, though he did commit to individual transparency requests on an informal basis. But some of those who participate in Eurogroup meetings argue that its informality is precisely what makes it useful. The last thing they want is another bureaucratic EU institution, and if the Eurogroup were reformed out of existence, they say, a new version would pop up in its place, without the minimal accountability it currently offers in the form of meeting agendas and press conferences.

“It’s the informal nature of the Eurogroup that makes it possible to have an open exchange that you will not find in more formal bodies,” said Taneli Lahti, a former head of cabinet for European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. “This is crucial for policymaking, negotiating, finding agreements and understanding each other.”

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Why government surpluses are the worst thing for an economy.

Podcast: Steve Keen’s Manifesto (OD)

The only times the US government ran a surplus, it was followed by the 1929 and 2008 crashes.

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First you make growth impossible be demanding surpluses till the cows come home, and then you demand growth.

No Greek Debt Relief Need If Primary Surplus Above 3% of GDP For 20 Years (R.)

Greece will not need any debt relief from euro zone governments if it keeps its primary surplus above 3% of GDP for 20 years, a confidential paper prepared by the euro zone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), showed. The paper, obtained by Reuters, was prepared for euro zone finance ministers and IMF talks last Monday, which ended without an agreement due to diverging IMF and euro zone assumptions on future Greek growth and surpluses. A group of euro zone finance ministers led by Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble insists that the issue of whether Greece needs debt relief can only be decided when the latest bailout expires in mid-2018. The IMF says the need for a bailout is already clear now.

Under scenario A, the paper assumes no debt relief would be needed if Athens kept the primary surplus – the budget balance before debt servicing – at or above 3.5% of GDP until 2032 and above 3% until 2038. The ECB says such long periods of high surplus are not unprecedented: Finland, for example, had a primary surplus of 5.7% over 11 years in 1998-2008 and Denmark 5.3% over 26 years in 1983-2008. A second option under scenario A assumes Greece secures the maximum possible debt relief under a May 2016 agreement. Greece would then have to keep its primary surplus at 3.5% until 2022 but could then lower it to around 2% until mid-2030s and to 1.5% by 2048, giving an average of 2.2% in 2023-2060.

The paper says the maximum possible debt relief under consideration is an extension of average weighted loan maturities by 17.5 years from the current 32.5 years, with the last loans maturing in 2080. The ESM would also limit Greek loan repayments to 0.4% of Greek GDP until 2050 and cap the interest rate charged on the loans at 1% until 2050. Any interest payable in excess of that 1% would be deferred until 2050 and the deferred amount capitalized at the bailout fund’s cost of funding. The ESM would also buy back in 2019 the €13 billion that Greece owes the IMF as those loans are much more expensive than the euro zone’s. All this would keep Greece’s gross financing needs at 13% of GDP until 2060 and bring its debt-to-GDP ratio to 65.4% in 2060, from around 180% now.

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44 children.

Deadliest Month For Syria Civilians In US-Led Strikes (AFP)

US-led air strikes on Syria killed a total of 225 civilians over the past month, a monitor said on Tuesday, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the civilian dead between April 23 and May 23 included 44 children and 36 women. The US-led air campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria began on September 23, 2014. “The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “There has been a very big escalation.” The previous deadliest 30-day period was between February 23 and March 23 this year, when 220 civilians were killed, Abdel Rahman said. The past month’s deaths brought the overall civilian toll from the coalition campaign to 1,481, among them 319 children, the Britain-based monitoring group said. Coalition bombing raids between April 23 and May 23 also killed 122 IS jihadists and eight fighters loyal to the Syrian government, the Observatory said.

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Well over 100 children.

30 Migrants, Most of Them Toddlers, Drown in Mediterranean (R.)

More than 30 migrants, mostly toddlers, drowned on Wednesday when about 200 people without life jackets fell from a boat into the sea off the Libyan coast before they could be hauled into waiting rescue boats. The boat was near a rescue vessel when it suddenly listed and many migrants tumbled into the Mediterranean, Italian Coast Guard commander Cosimo Nicastro told Reuters. “At least 20 dead bodies were spotted in the water,” he said. The rescue group MOAS, which also had a ship nearby, said it had already recovered more than 30 bodies. “Most are toddlers,” the group’s co-founder Chris Catrambone said on Twitter. The coast guard called in more ships to help with the rescue, saying about 1,700 people were packed into about 15 vessels in the area.

The transfer from these overloaded boats is risky because desperate migrants in them sometimes surge to the side nearest a rescue vessel and destabilise their flimsy craft, which then list dangerously or capsize. More than 1,300 people have died this year on the world’s most dangerous crossing for migrants fleeing poverty and war across Africa and the Middle East. Last Friday, more than 150 disappeared at sea, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday, citing migrant testimony collected after they disembarked in Italy. In the past week, more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from unsafe boats in international waters off the western coast of Libya, where people smugglers operate with impunity.

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Mar 152017
 
 March 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle Ides of March 2017
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Russell Lee Proprietor of small store in market square, Waco, Texas 1939

 

MSNBC’s Non-Story: Trump Made $150 Million, Paid 25% Tax Rate (ZH)
The Most Important Chart To See Before The Dutch Election (Ed Harrison)
Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)
Economists Are Political Actors (Sapir)
One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing (BBG)
Fed Expected To Raise Rates As US Economy Flexes Muscle (R.)
Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)
Turkish Paradoxes (K.)
World’s Spiders Eat More “Meat” Than All Of Mankind (G.)
Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk (BBG)
Monsanto Colluded With EPA, Could Not Prove Roundup Doesn’t Cause Cancer (ZH)
Greece: A Year of Suffering for Asylum Seekers (HRW)
As Greek Crisis Grinds On, Children Pay Price (K.)

 

 

Boomerang.

MSNBC’s Non-Story: Trump Made $150 Million, Paid 25% Tax Rate (ZH)

While Rachel Maddow drones on with the coherence of Janet Yellen, losing thousands of viewers by the minute, the MSNBC anchor was promptly scooped not only by the White House which revealed her “secret” one hour in advance, but also by the Daily Beast which reported that its contributor David Cay Johnston had obtained the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, allegedly receiving them in the mail, and posted his “analysts” on his website, DCReport.org. According to the documents, Trump and his wife Melania paid $38 million in total income tax, consisting of $5.3 million in regular federal income tax, and an additional $31 million of “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT.

The White House statement confirmed the finding: “Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the White House said in a statement. “That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.” As the Beast notes, 2005 was the year that Trump, then a newly minted reality star, made his last big score as a real-life real estate developer, when he sold two properties, one on Manhattan’s west side and one in San Francisco, to Hong Kong investors, accounting for the lion’s share of his income that year.

“It is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns,” the White House statement concluded. “The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.” But the real story here is that there is no story: what MSNBC confirmed is that Trump made more money than some of his critics said he made in the period in question, and more importantly, that he paid a generous effective income tax rate, well above the 14.1% rate paid by Mitt Romney, and even higher than the 13.5% federal tax rate paid by Bernie Sanders in 2014.

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Three articles in a row that deal with decentralization, each from their own angle. Most important chart I don’t know, but a good indicator of the entire west moving away from traditional parties. The majority of votes may go to new parties, not established ones.

The Most Important Chart To See Before The Dutch Election (Ed Harrison)

The present Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, is the first Prime Minister from a party other than the two traditional centrist parties, the PvdA and the CDA, and their predecessor parties since the Dutch constitution and voting system was fundamentally changed in 1917. Clearly, we are seeing a change in voting patterns. But what is even more remarkable is that right now poling for parties that have always been in opposition is almost half of the vote for this election. Why it matters: We are in the midst of an economic upswing in Europe and globally as well. By all macro accounts, the Dutch economy is performing well. Yet, between them, previous ruling coalition parties —the VVD, PvdA, CDA, D66 and CU — are projected to only get 52% of the vote.


Source: Legatum Institute

They could even get fewer votes than the parties that have never been in government during the 100 years of the modern Dutch electoral system. People talk about voters turning to populists. But what happens to electoral patterns in a recession — or another sovereign debt crisis? And how would more populist platforms or parties in Europe deal with the existing economic orthodoxy, dominated by the stability and growth pact’s 3 and 60% deficit-debt hurdles? The next coalition in the Netherlands could be unstable, as it is likely to be cobbled together to exclude the PVV. Overall, the political risks in Europe may be high right now, but depending on how the economy does, the risks can rise further still.

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As I’ve addressed many times. Centralization is in the past.

Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)

The fragmentation of political consensus (i.e. the consent of the citizenry) is presented by the Powers That Be and their media servants as being a disaster. The implicit fear is real enough: how can we rule the entire nation-empire if it fragments?\ As I noted the other day, fragmentation terrifies the Establishment of racketeers and insiders, for when the centrally-enforced rentier skims and scams collapse, those who own and control the rentier skims, scams and rackets will lose the source of their wealth and power. To understand why fragmentation is the solution rather than the problem, we have to look at how power is leveraged in centralized government. Let’s take the recent increase in a common pinworm treatment from $3 to $600: Pinworm prescription jumps from $3 to up to $600 a pill (via J.F.).

In a top-down, centralized hierarchy of political power (i.e. the central state), the pharmaceutical company only needs to lobby a few authorities in the central state to impose its rentier skim/scam on the entire nation. Lobbying/bribing a relative handful of federal officials and elected representatives is remarkably inexpensive: a financier or corporation only needs to focus on these few key players, and smoothing the PR pathway via a highly concentrated corporate media. A mere $5 million spent in the right places guarantees $100 million in future profits– profits earned not from open competition in a transparent market, but profits plundered as rentier skims: the product didn’t get any better or effective when the price leaped from $3 to $600, and competition was squelched by regulatory capture and high barriers to entry.

Now imagine if the pharmaceutical company had to lobby/bribe officials in each of America’s 3,142 counties to impose its rapacious rentier skim on the populace of each county. The lobbying/bribing effort will be orders of magnitude more costly and complex, and the national corporate media is less effective at the local level, where community groups and local media have some influence. If we look at the source of the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, we find that the centralization of capital and power were the primary enablers of the meltdown. If the financial system were composed of 1,200 local banks, each of which had to comply with local and state regulations instead of five behemoth banks that had the capital and klout to buy Washington D.C.’s approval of their leverage and shady dealings, some hundreds of the smaller banks might have failed–but the system would have survived.

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Sapir is interesting. But economics is still not a science. Also addresses decentralization.

Economists Are Political Actors – Sapir (AHT)

[..] economists have appropriated a power that is not theirs. They have indeed penetrated the inner workings of the ruling apparatus. This is true at the State level, as to that of major international organizations, whether it is in the European Union, the OECD or the WTO. They are thus increasingly inclined to intervene on all social and political problems. But when they occur, it is by mixing an experts position and a position of political actors. This poses an immediate problem. For, if the expert is legitimate to speak on behalf of an acquaintance, the political actor must comply with the rule of democratic debate. By having it both ways, economists are exonerated from the problem of verification. The problem, therefore, is to know in which space one speaks, in that of pure competence or in that of political choices. If it is in the latter, it is no longer possible to accept that the “expertise” alone can decide the debate, expertise which can no longer be verified because any judgment would combine elements of competence and political values.

If one is in the political space, then the question of legitimacy arises. Now, this question immediately refers to the higher-level issue of sovereignty. In the space of politics, one asks first who is legitimate, and who is sovereign. But there is a problem that is deeper. The scientific credibility they claim to be is far from being indisputable, or undisputed. There are very serious reasons for this, which I explained in a book dating back to the early 2000s [1]. The very way in which the majority of the profession, the economists of the mainstream, understands the object of its work, is today debated and strongly criticized [2]. The methods used by these economists, the models on which they are based, are openly contested. [..] In fact, economists do politics, what nobody ever thinks to reproach them for, but they do politics by pretending not to do so, and by delegitimizing in advance any critical discourse. This is, of course, a serious attack on democracy.

[..] It is wrong here to speak of “Europe” as if it were an institution or a federation. The only reality of Europe is a historical reality, diverse, and above all a cultural reality. If you go to Vladivostok in Russia, you are in a European city. What is now a problem for democracy is the existence of the European Union, which is an institution and of which we can follow the evolution from the origin, that is to say the Maastricht Treaty. Indeed, the evolution of the European Union since 2007-2009 is a real problem. There, yes, unquestionably, we are in the presence of a structure that tends to develop itself without control or responsibility. The statements of Jean-Claude Juncker in the Greek election of January 2015 testify it [37].

The behavior of the EU and the institutions of the Euro zone call for an overall reaction because these institutions contest this freedom that is sovereignty [38]. Let us remind here the quotation from Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the successor of the ineffable Barroso at the head of the European Commission: “There can be no democratic choice against European treaties”. This revealing statement dates from the Greek election of January 25, 2015, which precisely saw the victory of SYRIZA. In a few words, everything is said. It is the quiet and satisfied affirmation of the superiority of non-elected institutions over the voting of voters, of the superiority of the technocratic principle over the democratic principle.

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The mother of all asset bubbles.

One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing

Not all price increases are created equal. Goldman Sachs raises questions about the success of the efforts by the Federal Reserve and its peers to spark inflation in the wider economy with a chart showing what’s happened with prices in the largest developed economies since the start of 2009. A replication of their analysis shows a big spread in gains. While wages would never show swings on par with the likes of high-yield bonds, the chart does illustrate how well financial markets recovered from the 2007 to 2009 meltdowns. By contrast, consumer price inflation, incomes and other such gauges of the “real” economy have put in muted performances. For politicians, the chart sums up the frustrations that have helped propel the populism that Brexiteers and Donald Trump rode to victory.

Few would question that the real economy would have been in much worse shape without the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan’s determination to avert a financial-industry meltdown last decade, an effort that saw their balance sheets balloon by trillions of dollars. [..] Economic growth and wage increases have disappointed in recent years, depressed by poor productivity gains and historically low labor-force participation – dynamics that lie outside the purview of central banks. Now that monetary policy makers are leaving the onus on governments to address growth, and contemplating the easing off of stimulus, the big question for investors is how resilient markets will be. For now, optimism prevails – everything from corporate-bond premiums to emerging-market bonds are flashing confidence. It’s perhaps no wonder: though the Fed has ended its QE, continuing programs at the ECB and BOJ are driving almost $200 billion of purchases a month, according to Deutsche Bank estimates.

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Yawn…

Fed Expected To Raise Rates As US Economy Flexes Muscle (R.)

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates for the second time in three months on Wednesday, encouraged by strong monthly job gains and confidence that inflation is finally rising to its target. A rate hike at the conclusion of the Fed’s latest two-day policy meeting is already baked into bond yields and financial markets overall, with investors putting the likelihood of such a move at 95%, according to CME Group’s FedWatch program. Attention is turning instead to whether the U.S. central bank will signal an even faster pace of monetary tightening this year than the current three rate hikes that it projected at the December policy meeting.

“Expectations have some catching up to do regarding the Fed’s need to ‘lean into the wind’ of rising inflation, strong growth, robust sentiment, easy financial conditions, and the likelihood of fiscal stimulus in 2018,” analysts from Goldman Sachs wrote ahead of the meeting. They said they regarded a fourth rate increase this year as a “close call.” A rate increase on Wednesday would push the Fed’s target overnight lending rate to a range of between 0.75% and 1.00%, still low but approaching the range that the central bank has typically operated within. The Fed is scheduled to release its latest policy statement along with updated economic forecasts at 2 p.m. EDT. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference half an hour later.

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“Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone? Will we really be more safe and secure?”

Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)

Here is the question the people of Scotland will face in the next independence referendum: when England falls out of the boat like a block of concrete, do you want your foot tied to it? It would be foolish to deny that there are risks in leaving the United Kingdom. Scotland’s economy is weak, not least because it has failed to wean itself off North Sea oil. There are major questions, not yet resolved, about the currency it would use; its trading relationship with the rump of the UK; and its association with the European Union, which it’s likely to try to rejoin. But the risks of staying are as great or greater. Ministers are already trying to reconcile us to the possibility of falling out of the EU without a deal.

If this happens, Britain would be the only one of the G20 nations without special access to EU trade – “a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”, according to the Commons foreign affairs committee. As the government has a weak hand, an obsession with past glories and an apparent yearning for a heroic gesture of self-destruction, this is not an unlikely result. On the eve of the first independence referendum, in September 2014, David Cameron exhorted the people of Scotland to ask themselves: “Will my family and I truly be better off by going it alone? Will we really be more safe and secure?” Thanks to his machinations, the probable answer is now: yes.

In admonishing Scotland for seeking to protect itself from this chaos, the government applies a simple rule: whatever you say about Britain’s relationship with Europe, say the opposite about Scotland’s relationship with Britain. In her speech to the Scottish Conservatives’ spring conference, Theresa May observed that “one of the driving forces behind the union’s creation was the remorseless logic that greater economic strength and security come from being united”. She was talking about the UK, but the same remorseless logic applies to the EU. In this case, however, she believes that our strength and security will be enhanced by leaving. “Politics is not a game, and government is not a platform from which to pursue constitutional obsessions,” she stormed – to which you can only assent.

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“And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad..”

Turkish Paradoxes (K.)

What Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to accomplish is perfectly clear: He wants to win the April 16 referendum on constitutional reform and thus gain the enhanced powers his ambitious nature so covets, some of which he already enjoys after turning last summer’s failed coup into an opportunity. His strategy is also clear: criminalizing any opposition, be it in actions or mere words, mainly at the expense of journalists and the Kurds, as well as condemning in summary fashion anyone perceived as being pro-Gulen. The second part of his strategy involves exporting his edginess and bullying rhetoric, first and foremost to the Aegean at the expense of Greece, and then to the European Union in a bid to win favor among Gray Wolves voters.

The Turkish president is also trying to strong-arm Western Europe into recognizing his prerogative (and that of his subordinates, though only those who vote his way next month) to a right that he himself openly scorns and denies his opponents. History is full of such paradoxes. Another is that while Erdogan accuses the West of Islamophobia, he is doing everything in his power to strengthen this sentiment because it will benefit him at the polls, as for years he has been cultivating the myth that he is the leader of all of Islam, both in the East and the West. In contrast to Erdogan, what the EU is trying to achieve vis-a-vis Ankara is not so clear, neither in terms of strategy nor even in tactics. Overall, it’s hard to know what it’s thinking about Turkey’s “European prospects” and, more specifically right now, about the pre-election speeches of Turkish pro-Erdogan officials in EU member-states.

Pre-election anxiety strengthened by the rising popularity of anti-systemic, anti-migrant, far-right forces, has been instrumental in Europe as well, especially in the Netherlands and Germany. It has resulted in bans against Turkish officials that demonstrate fear rather than faith in the strength of democracy, even when it is exposed to the test of regimes which are hardly democratic, such as Turkey. Meanwhile, fears that the European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey may collapse have prevented the German and Dutch leaderships from openly condemning the human rights violations in Turkey, resulting in them basically swallowing profound insults from Erdogan and some of his ministers referring to fascists and Nazis. Here’s another paradox: Turkey, which didn’t exactly shine in the war against Nazism, condemning the Netherlands, a victim of Nazism.

And the last of the paradoxes is that Turkish electoral law prohibits pre-election rallies abroad.

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I’d be interested to see a study like this done for bats. They eat a lot of insects. And there are lots of them: 1/3 of all mammals is a bat I recall reading.

World’s Spiders Eat More “Meat” Than All Of Mankind (G.)

The world’s spiders eat 400-800m tonnes of insects every year – as much meat and fish as humans consume over the same period, a study said Tuesday. In the first analysis of its kind, researchers used data from 65 previous studies to estimate that a total of 25m metric tonnes of spiders exist on Earth. Taking into account how much food spiders need to survive, the team then calculated the eight-legged creatures’ annual haul of insects and other invertebrates. “Our estimates … suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800m metric tons,” they wrote in the journal The Science of Nature. This showed just how big a role spiders play in keeping pests and disease-carriers at bay – especially in forests and grasslands where most of them live.

“We hope that these estimates and their significant magnitude raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the important global role of spiders,” the study authors wrote. For context, the study points out that humans consume about 400m tonnes of meat and fish every year, while whales feed on 280-500 tonnes and seabirds about 70m tonnes of seafood. There are about 45,000 known spider species, all of them meat-eating. And the critters can travel far to feed, swinging from place to place on silken threads that allow them to cover up to 30km (19 miles) in a day. Spiders are found everywhere from the Arctic to the most arid of deserts, in caves, on ocean shores, sand dunes and flood plains, the study authors said.

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Unbelievable.

Monsanto Accused of Ghostwriting Papers on Roundup Cancer Risk (BBG)

Monsanto was accused in court documents of ghostwriting scientific literature that led a U.S. regulator to conclude a key chemical in its Roundup weed killer shouldn’t be classified as carcinogenic. Lawyers suing the company on behalf of farmers and others, who claim exposure to glyphosate caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, alleged in a court filing which was partially blacked out until Tuesday that the Environmental Protection Agency “may be unaware of Monsanto’s deceptive authorship practice.” The filing was made public by a federal judge in San Francisco handling the litigation. The judge said last month he’s inclined to require a retired EPA official to submit to questioning by plaintiffs’ lawyers who contend he had a “highly suspicious” relationship with Monsanto.

The former official oversaw a committee that found insufficient evidence to conclude glyphosate causes cancer and left his job last year after his report was leaked to the press. The plaintiff lawyers said in the filing that Monsanto’s toxicology manager and his boss were ghost writers for two of the reports, including one from 2000, that the EPA committee relied on to reach its conclusion. Among the documents unsealed Tuesday was a February 2015 internal e-mail exchange at the company about how to contain costs for a research paper. The plaintiff lawyers cited it to support their claim that the EPA report is unreliable, unlike a report by an international agency that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

“A less expensive/more palatable approach” is to rely on experts only for some areas of contention, while “we ghost-write the Exposure Tox & Genetox sections,” one Monsanto employee wrote to another. The names of outside scientists could be listed on the publication, “but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak,” according to the e-mail, which goes to on say that’s how Monsanto handled the 2000 study.

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And this is even more unbelievable. After 25 years of Roundup being on the market, not one cancer study has been done.

Monsanto Colluded With EPA, Could Not Prove Roundup Doesn’t Cause Cancer (ZH)

newly unsealed court documents released earlier today seemingly reveal a startling effort on the part of both Monsanto and the EPA to work in concert to kill and/or discredit independent, albeit inconvenient, cancer research conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)….more on this later. But, before we get into the competing studies, here is a brief look at the ‘extensive’ work that Monsanto and the EPA did prior to originally declaring Roundup safe for use (hint: not much). As the excerpt below reveals, the EPA effectively declared Roundup safe for use without even conducting tests on the actual formulation, but instead relying on industry research on just one of the product’s active ingredients.

“EPA’s minimal standards do not require human health data submissions related to the formulated product – here, Roundup. Instead, EPA regulations require only studies and data that relate to the active ingredient, which in the case of Roundup is glyphosate. As a result, the body of scientific literature EPA has reviewed is not only primarily provided by the industry, but it also only considers one part of the chemical ingredients that make up Roundup.” Meanwhile, if that’s not enough for you, Donna Farmer, Monsanto’s lead toxicologist, even admitted in her deposition that she “cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer” because “[w]e [Monsanto] have not done the carcinogenicity studies with Roundup.”

[..] In early 2015, once it became clear that the World Health Organization’s IARC was working on their own independent study of Roundup, Monsanto immediately launched their own efforts to preemptively discredit any results that might be deemed ‘inconvenient’. That said, Monsanto, the $60 billion behemoth, couldn’t possibly afford the $250,000 bill that would come with conducting a legitimate scientific study led by accredited scientists. Instead, they decided to “ghost-write” key sections of their report themselves and plotted to then have the independent scientists just “sign their names so to speak.”

Finally, when all else fails, you call in those “special favors” in Washington D.C. that you’ve paid handsomely for over the years. And that’s where Jess Rowland, the EPA’s Deputy Division Director for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and chair of the Agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee, comes in to assure you that he’s fully exploiting his role as the “chair of the CARC” to kill any potentially damaging research…”if I can kill this I should get a medal.”

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Even HRW has moved to using the politically correct ‘asylum seekers’. for refugees.

Greece: A Year of Suffering for Asylum Seekers (HRW)

The EU-Turkey deal has trapped thousands of people in abysmal conditions on the Greek islands for the past year, while denying most access to asylum procedures and refugee protection, Human Rights Watch said today. This assessment of conditions is released ahead of the first anniversary of the agreement, signed on March 18, 2016. To carry out the deal, the Greek government has adopted a containment policy, keeping asylum seekers confined to the islands, including in the so-called refugee hotspots and other reception facilities, to facilitate speedy processing and return to Turkey. But continued arrivals, the mismanagement of aid funding, and the slow pace of decision-making, as well as the positive decisions of Greek appeals committees rejecting summary returns to Turkey as unsafe, have led to overcrowded and abysmal conditions on the Greek islands.

These factors, combined with the Greek authorities’ failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland, have resulted in deteriorating security conditions, unnecessary suffering, and despair. “The EU-Turkey deal has been an unmitigated disaster for the very people it is supposed to protect – the asylum seekers trapped in appalling conditions on Greek islands,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greek authorities should ensure that people landing on Greece’s shores have meaningful access to asylum and put an end to the containment policy for asylum seekers. The deal’s flawed assumption that Turkey is a safe country for asylum seekers would allow Greece to transfer them back to Turkey without considering the merits of their asylum claims.

But in the months after the deal was completed, Greek asylum appeals committees have rightly ruled in many instances that Turkey does not provide effective protection for refugees and that asylum applications should be admitted for regular examination on their merits in Greece. Following EU pressure, however, Athens changed the composition of the appeals committees in June, and the restructured committees have ruled in at least 20 cases that Turkey was a safe country, even though it excludes non-Europeans from its refugee protection. That finding was challenged by two Syrian asylum seekers at Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, which heard their case on March 10. No one has yet been forcibly returned to Turkey on the grounds that their asylum application was inadmissible because they could obtain effective protection in Turkey. But if the Council of State turns down the appeal, it could pave the way for mass returns of asylum seekers to Turkey.

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Boy, the sadness…

As Greek Crisis Grinds On, Children Pay Price (K.)

In Greece’s grinding economic crisis, a home for abused children is now taking in those whose parents are struggling to feed them. It is perhaps the darkest sign of economic devastation in Greece, where traditionally strong family ties are starting to crumble after years of depression. A quarter of Greece’s workforce is unemployed and a quarter of its children live in poverty, according to United Nations figures, forcing parents to depend on grandparents for handouts. But pensions too have been cut a dozen times. In Athens, the Model National Nursery, set up a century ago for orphans of war, can hardly keep up with the number of parents turning to it for help. Unable to cover their basic needs, parents leave their children in the home all week.

Iro Zervaki, its head, says at least 40 children are on the waiting list, four times as many as a couple of years ago. The home sleeps 25 in a bare room with rows of beds draped in blue blankets, and lacks the staff and funds to increase capacity, she said. Most places are for abused children. Dozens of other children, all aged two to five, come in daily, but the days away from their parents are long. “We had incidents where children even attempted to leave, to run away, to go to their mother,” Zervaki said. In the buzzing playground, a little girl tugged the social worker’s blouse and yelled: “Miss! When will I go to my mum?” “They can’t tell the days apart so every day they ask: ‘Is it Friday?’” Anthoula Zarmakoupi, the social worker, said. “They know mum will pick them up at the weekend.”

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Feb 222017
 
 February 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC Launch of battleship Georgia, Bath, Maine, Oct 1904

 

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back (CP)
Will EU and IMF Finally Offer Light At The End Of The Greek Debt Tunnel? (G.)
France Exiting The Euro Would Be Largest Sovereign Default In History (CNBC)
EU Tax Chief Admits Le Pen Win Would Be The End Of The European Project (CNBC)
Marine Le Pen’s Party’s Headquarters Raided Over ‘Fake Jobs’ Scandal (AFP)
Revised Trump Travel Ban Will Face Legal Hurdles, Too (BBG)
The Cognitive Bias President Trump Understands Better Than You (Wired)
US Car Loans, Delinquencies Hit Record Levels (Q.)
‘Trapped Wealth’ Drives Toronto’s Speculative Real Estate Dilemma
China’s Central Bank To Shine Regulatory Light On Shadow Banking (SCMP)
Tech CEOs Back Call For Basic Income (CNBC)
Monsanto and Bayer’s Chemical Romance: Heroin, Nerve Gas and Agent Orange (AN)
Canada Will Not Halt Illegal Border Crossing Despite Opposition – Trudeau (R.)
Canada To Welcome 1,200 Yezidi Refugees From Iraq (AFP)
Europe Wrote The Book On Demonising Refugees, Long Before Trump Read It (G.)
Bodies Of At Least 74 Migrants Wash Ashore In Western Libya (G.)

 

 

Michael Hudson speaking. “..when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites.”

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back (CP)

I take issue with one thing that you said. You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015. It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

Sharmini, for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy. As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink. So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay.

When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities. This is by now a program that has gone on and on, decade after decade. Now, surprisingly enough, America’s ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, has gone on Bloomberg and also on Greek TV telling the Greeks to leave the euro and go it alone. You have Trump’s nominee for the ambassador to the EU saying that the EU zone is dead zone. It’s going to shrink. If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece. So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

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Suggestion: lock them up until they have an agreement. Then let Greeks vote on that.

Will EU and IMF Finally Offer Light At The End Of The Greek Debt Tunnel? (G.)

Simon Tilford, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, a thinktank, said he believed the IMF and eurozone would find a compromise, whereby the fund signed up to the 3.5% target for a limited period of time, as the price of stabilising the eurozone in an election year. “My feeling is they will largely settle for a fig leaf. It will be made to look as if the pace of austerity has been eased, ie that the eurozone will agree that the size of the primary budget surplus will be reassessed at some specified point in the future.” “All we are going to see us another round of extend and pretend.” He added that this would not do anything “significant to alleviate the pressure we see on Greece”. He pointed out that even a primary budget surplus of 1.5% (favoured by the IMF) “would still mean ongoing austerity in Greece”. The IMF’s reforms may also prove politically difficult to sell to a population reeling from nearly eight years in the EU’s bailout regime.

One of the IMF’s key demands is an overhaul of the Greek tax system to ensure more middle-class professionals pay their dues. More than 50% of Greek wage earners do not pay income tax, compared with 8% in the rest of the eurozone. But the low tax take partly reflects the economic collapse that has pushed down wages and squeezed people out of regular work. Reforming pensions, another IMF priority, may also run into trouble. The fund wants to rein in “extremely generous” Greek pensions that absorb 11% of national income. But Greek pensions have already been slashed since 2010, with 43% of pensioners living on €660 a month, compared with an average annual income of €20,000 for over-65s in other eurozone countries, according to government figures. Many Greek pensioners are also supporting unemployed children and grandchildren, as other benefits have been cut. With these politically tough reforms ahead, the light at the end of tunnel looks dim and distant. “Greeks are facing ongoing austerity into the foreseeable future,” Tilford says.

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Sorry, but fearmongering no longer works.

France Exiting The Euro Would Be Largest Sovereign Default In History (CNBC)

A few days ago, David Rachline of the far-right National Front party in France said that “the debt of France is about €2 trillion, about €1.7 trillion are issued under French law, which means that it can be re-denominated.” The economic program of the National Front specifically calls for the exit of the euro and the creation of a new currency, the French franc, which would be “closely” linked to the euro while allowing the government to undertake “competitive devaluations” making the transition in an “orderly way”. There is only one problem. It does not work. There is no “orderly exit” from the euro. It is an oxymoron. This would be the largest credit event in history and would create a massive contagion effect throughout the euro zone. The euro, obviously, would suffer from the break-up risk, so the fallacy of the “closely linked” second currency is simply a joke.

Both would collapse in tandem. The risk is already evident. The French-German yield spread has reached the highest level since 2012 despite the ECB’s massive quantitative easing. The ECB has bought more than €255 billion of French bonds. This mirage of an “orderly exit” ignores that the French financial system, which carries assets more than three times the size of France´s GDP, would be severely damaged from the impact of the credit event. A financial system that already suffers from weak net income margins and more than 160 billion euros in non-performing loans, would collapse as these bad loans escalate and the losses in the banks’ bond portfolios eat away their core capital. This would inevitably lead to Greek-style capital controls and bank runs as the entities would lose liquidity support from the ECB.

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“I think the rise of Le Pen is a result of the disappointment in other candidates..” Eh, no, it’s disappointment in the EU.

EU Tax Chief Admits Le Pen Win Would Be The End Of The European Project (CNBC)

A win for far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen would spell the end of the EU – but the French are not crazy enough to let that happen, insists European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. “I’m confident. I know my citizens and my compatriots well and know they are not going to elect a candidate who is proposing France exiting (Europe). That would be the end of the European project,” Moscovici, who is European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, told CNBC Monday. In a clear nod to the rising populist movements in Europe, the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the U.K.’s EU referendum, Moscovici, said he believes common sense will prevail as France goes to the polls in the two-round election this year. “I cannot imagine 50% of the French are crazy enough to vote for her,” he said.

“I’m quite convinced that she cannot win … she never even ever won a regional election in France – never ever.” Moscovici appealed, however, to the other presidential candidates, who include Independent Emmanuel Macron and Republican Francois Fillon, to prove themselves to the electorate and, ultimately, make a stronger case for remaining in the EU. “The other candidates need to have a stronger campaign and show that they are credible to propose a future that is likeable for the French. “I think the rise of Le Pen is a result of the disappointment in other candidates, so I urge them to make a strong proposal for France, and as well for Europe, and for France in Europe.”

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It’s amazing that they haven’t tried more of these tactics to make her look bad (they will, though). “For the second time, a raid took place at the same offices, over the same allegations, which confirms that the first raid amounted to nothing..”

Marine Le Pen’s Party’s Headquarters Raided Over ‘Fake Jobs’ Scandal (AFP)

French investigators probing an alleged fake jobs scam by the far-right National Front (FN) raided the group’s headquarters outside Paris on Monday, the party said. The raid is the second in a year by investigators trying to determine whether the FN used European Parliament funds to pay for 20 assistants presented as parliamentary aides while continuing to work for the party elsewhere. “For the second time, a raid took place at the same offices, over the same allegations, which confirms that the first raid amounted to nothing,” the party said in a statement. The group accused investigators acting for the Paris prosecutor’s office of a “media operation” designed to disrupt the presidential campaign of FN leader Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, who has led the anti-EU party since 2011, is a member of the European Parliament which accuses her of defrauding it of nearly €340,000.

She is riding high in polls ahead of the two-stage presidential election on April 23 and May 7 election, and has denied the claims, describing the investigation as a vendetta against her. According to a report by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, leaked last week, the parliament paid out 41,554 euros towards a contract for Le Pen’s bodyguard Thierry Legier who was falsely presented as a parliamentary assistant. The allegations against Le Pen have been drowned out by a fake jobs scandal engulfing her conservative rival Francois Fillon. Fillon’s campaign has been adrift since it emerged that his wife netted at least 680,000 euros for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary assistant over a period spanning 15 years. He has denied the allegations. Polls currently show Le Pen winning the first round of the election, but failing to garner the more than 50% of voters needed for victory in the second round.

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I still think it’s a good thing the US is having this conversation. But the upcoming ugliness is terrible. You need to always take care of individual people first.

Revised Trump Travel Ban Will Face Legal Hurdles, Too (BBG)

President Donald Trump is poised to announce a redrafted executive order on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. Will it pass legal muster? Or will the courts once again thwart the president’s will? Early reports suggest that the new order will be drafted to avoid many of the legal problems that were posed by the earlier version, and to make judicial review harder to obtain. But the crucial question is whether the courts will consider the political context in which the order was drafted to conclude that it is still a Muslim ban under another name. Whether the court should do so turns out to be a close legal question. But Supreme Court precedent suggests that it should – in which case the new order could well be blocked like the original. The expected fixes in the new order would improve the administration’s legal position.

For one thing, the new order is expected to exclude legal permanent residents with green cards, who were included in the original order according to the administration’s early guidance, then excluded by a later interpretation. In its decision upholding a temporary restraining order by a federal judge in Seattle against enforcement of the first travel ban, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit treated the executive order as covering green card holders. That mattered because, as the court said, green card holders have a stronger constitutional claim to be covered by the due-process clause of the Constitution than do other visa holders. By excluding green card holders, the new order would force plaintiffs to identify different people who are harmed by the order.

Another smart revision would be to omit the provision that said religious minorities in the seven countries – which is to say, almost certainly Christians – would be given preferential treatment when refugees are once again let into the U.S. That provision was the only part of the text that could be used to suggest that the order unconstitutionally favored one religion, Christianity, over another, Islam. The Trump administration would also be smart to phase in the new order to avoid trapping visa holders who are in transit, which creates sympathetic plaintiffs detained at the airports. But that’s not the end of the game, constitutionally speaking. Even if due process is omitted from the case entirely, plaintiffs could still allege once more that the order discriminates on the basis of religion in violation of the free-exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

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Paint a strong picture of something that’s not the norm.

The Cognitive Bias President Trump Understands Better Than You (Wired)

Americans born in the United States are more murderous than undocumented immigrants. Fighting words, I know. But why? After all, that’s just what the numbers say. Still, be honest: you wouldn’t linger over a story with that headline. It’s “dog bites man.” It’s the norm. And norms aren’t news. Instead, you’ll see two dozen reporters flock to a single burning trash can during an Inauguration protest. The aberrant occurrence is the story you’ll read and the picture you’ll see. It’s news because it’s new. The problem here is not just that this singling out creates a distorted, fish-eye lens version of what’s really happening. It’s that the human psyche is predisposed to take an aberration—what linguist George Lakoff has called the “salient exemplar”—and conflate it with the norm.

This cognitive bias itself isn’t new. But in a media environment driven by clicks, where politicians can bypass journalistic filters entirely to deliver themselves straight to citizens, it’s newly exploitable. You know who else isn’t as likely to commit murders in the US as native-born citizens? Refugees. Or immigrants from the seven countries singled out in President Trump’s shot-down travel ban. Or for that matter, immigrants at all. According to numerous studies, increased immigration correlates with lower violent crime rates in a community. Yet next week, Trump is promising a revised travel ban in the name of safety. In the past, the president has also promised to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. What he hasn’t promised to publish is a list of crimes committed by Americans. That’s not news.

But his list is likely to create the false impression that undocumented immigrants are especially prone to commit violent crimes—an impression in which the human brain is complicit. Lakoff, a University of California, Berkeley linguist and well-known Democratic activist, cites Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” as the signature “salient exemplar.” Reagan’s straw woman—a minority mother who uses her government money on fancy bling rather than on food for her family—became an effective rhetorical bludgeon to curb public assistance programs even though the vast majority of recipients didn’t abuse the system in that way. The image became iconic, even though it was the exception rather than the rule. Psychologists call this bias the “availability heuristic,” an effect Trump has sought to exploit since the launch of his presidential campaign, when he referred to undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists.

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Slaves.

US Car Loans, Delinquencies Hit Record Levels (Q.)

Last year, Americans bought more new cars than ever before. Given that auto sales make up around a fifth of all retail spending, 2016’s banner year is being hailed as a sign of burgeoning consumer confidence across the country. But something else is revving up, too: auto loans. The US closed out 2016 with just shy of $1.2 trillion in outstanding auto loan debt, a rise of 9% from the previous year and 13% above the pre-crisis peak in 2005, in inflation-adjusted terms. The number of cars and trucks on the road, meanwhile, rose by only 1.5% last year, and 9% since 2005, according to US transportation department data.

Total household debt levels are now a hair under their 2008 peak, with some of the fastest growth in recent years down to auto loans. If America’s car-buying bonanza is being fueled by cheap credit, is consumer sentiment really as robust as it might seem? And is it sustainable? There are reasons to wonder. While car purchases and financing have leapt since 2009, wages have picked up only slightly over the same period. Meanwhile, the average loan taken out to buy a new car has risen steadily.

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TO learned nothing from Vancouver.

‘Trapped Wealth’ Drives Toronto’s Speculative Real Estate Dilemma

Toronto’s housing boom is unrelenting. Prices in Canada’s largest city surged more than 20% over the past year, the fastest pace in three decades, data released last week show. Some of the city’s neighboring towns are posting even bigger gains. It’s become a matter of considerable alarm. Stability is one concern: if the market tumbles, so will Canada’s economy. Pricier real estate also drives away less-affluent, younger people and boosts the cost of doing business, eroding competitiveness. “I don’t think anybody is cheering,” said Doug Porter, the Toronto-based chief economist of Bank of Montreal, who used the dreaded “bubble” word last week to describe the market. “I don’t see who benefits other than real estate agents. It’s trapped wealth.”

So, what’s driving the boom? The housing industry – builders and brokers – claim lack of supply is the main culprit. Others, Porter included, see demand as the problem. Lately, evidence is mounting that speculation is behind the jump. Builders say they are being held back by everything from regulations to prohibitive taxes and land restrictions. Ontario’s greenbelt region around Toronto is one example. This is no doubt true for one segment of the market: single-detached homes. Just over one-quarter of the 176,000 homes built in Toronto over the past five years were single-detached. That’s well down from the 1990s, when they accounted for almost half of all construction. Supply constraints don’t explain the price gains for condominiums, which have seen a flood of new completions. The average sale price of a condo is up 15% year-over-year. That’s after builders completed more than 54,000 apartment units over the past two years, easily a record supply for Toronto.

Canada’s recent census results, released this month, also provide some evidence against the shortage argument. Occupied private dwellings have risen by 7.2% in Toronto over the past five years, faster than population growth. The census, however, doesn’t say what type of homes are being built. Plus, there is also the recent puzzle of disappearing listings. New listings in Toronto fell 17% in January from a month earlier, the biggest one-month decline since 2002. Sales as a share of new listings rose above 90%, smashing the record. Is this a sign of a bubble? Are sellers holding off putting their homes on the market to see where prices settle? Has supply become so tight that potential sellers are pulling out of the market altogether since they have nowhere to move to? “The market is thinning out basically, you know what that means,” said David Madani, an economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, said in a telephone interview.

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They keep on announcing this. And the shadow system keeps growing, rapidly.

China’s Central Bank To Shine Regulatory Light On Shadow Banking (SCMP)

China’s financial watchdogs are considering casting a huge new regulatory net over the country’s vast shadow banking sector. The central bank has spearheaded the drafting of new regulations to tame China’s 60 trillion yuan “asset management” industry. According to people who have seen the draft regulations, the rules would bring the various kinds of asset management products and investment schemes offered by all kinds of financial institutions under the one regulatory umbrella. Oversight for the flourishing sector is now split between the securities, banking and insurance regulators. China Minsheng Banking chief analyst Wen Bin said regulatory standards differed between watchdogs and a unified system would help regulators cut systemic risks and financial leverage.

“China’s financial innovation has grown quickly in the past few years and the blending of financial operations through asset management products has challenged the fragmented regulatory system,” Wen said. Mainland financial institutions, including banks, mutual fund firms, brokerages and insurance companies, have rushed to set up asset management schemes, raising funds from clients and then investing in a range of markets and projects. These schemes are usually beyond the watch of regulators and harbour growing risks for the country’s financial stability, something the leadership is determined to eliminate ahead of a big power reshuffle due late this year. If rolled out, the rules would ban financial institutions from promising clients a minimum or fixed return from their products. Institutions would have to contribute 10% of their management fees to a risk reserve fund, and funds in one “asset management product” could not be used in another, except in authorised cases.

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These people really think they will rule the world. But what happens when the economy collapses? When the S&P falls 50%+? Are robots going to grow your food?

Tech CEOs Back Call For Basic Income (CNBC)

It’s 2067 and robots have wiped out millions of jobs, AI is rampant, and unemployment is on the rise. Technology companies and CEOs have become public enemy number one. This portrayal of the future is one tech executives are keen to avoid and has driven a growing chorus to support the idea of a universal basic income (UBI). “There is going to be backlash when it comes to jobs,” Sayantan Ghosal, an economics professor at the University of Glasgow who has written about UBI, told CNBC by phone. U.S. technology firms have been investing heavily in research and development of AI. Tesla with driverless cars, Amazon with workerless shops, and the likes of Google developing smarter-than-human software. Even Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, recently stated that he was “surprised” by the pace of AI developments.

Over the past few months, major technology executives have come out in support of a UBI. In an interview with CNBC in November, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk backed the idea. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said. He reiterated his thoughts last week at the World Government Summit in Dubai, in which he said a UBI would be “necessary”. Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce, warned of AI creating “digital refugees”. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January, Benioff said there was “no clear path forward” on how to deal with the job displacement that will occur. Other tech executives talked up the industry’s responsibility. “We should do our very best to train people for the jobs of the future,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at Davos.

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The dark side of the man.

Monsanto and Bayer’s Chemical Romance: Heroin, Nerve Gas and Agent Orange (AN)

Fifty years ago, the Monsanto and Bayer corporations were forced to separate in order to avoid violating basic antitrust regulations. U.S. courts declared that the two chemical giants, when operating together under the name Mobay, stymied market competition and comprised a monopoly that could not stand. But that was then. Today, under a much different regulatory climate that all but rubberstamps such corporate monopolies, the Germany-based Bayer’s $66 billion offer to purchase Monsanto is being fast-tracked by U.S. regulators. The proposed mega-merger, or re-marriage, will result in nearly 30% of all worldwide pesticide and seed sales being controlled by the new partnership. The merger faces federal antitrust scrutiny before it can be finalized, a process currently underway.

It already passed its first test in January when it got the blessings of President-elect Donald Trump, who held an exclusive meeting with the CEOs of both corporations and emerged—not surprisingly—with his thumbs up. Trump’s exclusive meeting with these corporate titans came well before he had even bothered to name his selection to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a not-so-subtle acknowledgement of where the true power lies when it comes to the politics of food. In addition to market control, Bayer’s proposed purchase is aimed at steadying a reeling Monsanto, which is mired in turmoil from a long list of objectionable activities involving toxic pesticides and its increasingly unpopular genetically-modified organisms.

Ironically, given its own sullied past that includes Nazi sympathizing and marketing heroin-laced cough syrup for children, Bayer is being portrayed as the one riding to the rescue of Monsanto’s poor public image. If anything, it’s a sign of just how low the Monsanto brand and reputation has plummeted, forcing it to try and improve its image by sidling up to Bayer, a participant in some of the cruelest crimes in human history. While these types of mergers are nothing new to the agribusiness sector, where consolidation has been king for decades, last year’s proposed mega-mergers shattered the record for such deals. There were $125 billion worth of proposed agri-chemical mergers in 2016, nearly doubling the previous record of $65 billion in 2010. In addition to the proposed Bayer/Monsanto deal, there are also pending mergers between Dow and DuPont as well as Syngenta and the Chinese National Chemical Corporation.

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Canada continues to set the standard. But protests begin.

Canada Will Not Halt Illegal Border Crossing Despite Opposition – Trudeau (R.)

Canada will continue to accept asylum seekers crossing illegally from the United States but will ensure security measures are taken to keep Canadians safe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday. The number of would-be refugees crossing into Canada at isolated and unguarded border crossings has increased in recent weeks amid fears that U.S. President Donald Trump will crack down on illegal immigrants, and photos of smiling Canadian police greeting the migrants have gone viral. Opposition Conservatives want Trudeau’s center-left Liberal government to stem the flow of asylum seekers from the United States because of security fears and a lack of resources to deal with them.

“One of the reasons why Canada remains an open country is Canadians trust our immigration system and the integrity of our borders and the help we provide people who are looking for safety,” Trudeau told parliament. “We will continue to strike that balance between a rigorous system and accepting people who need help.” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen also said Canada would continue to honor the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires it to turn back refugees if they make asylum claims at Canadian border crossings with the United States. Refugee advocates have argued this drives asylum seekers to cross illegally at isolated locations, risking their lives in frigid weather. Amnesty International and other groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is not safe for refugees.

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Very smart move. They will contribute a lot to the country. Stong, hardened, intelligent and grateful.

Canada To Welcome 1,200 Yezidi Refugees From Iraq (AFP)

Canada will resettle 1,200 Yezidi refugees who faced persecution by the Islamic State group, the immigration minister said Tuesday. Some 400 have already been airlifted to this country. “Our operation is under way and individual survivors of Daesh have been arriving in Canada for resettlement in the last number of months and this began on October 25, 2016,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State. “Our government will resettle approximately 1,200 highly vulnerable survivors of Daesh and their family members in Canada,” he added. The initiative follows Parliament’s resolution last fall to take in Yezidis facing “genocide” in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic extremist IS group.

The original aim was to bring over women and girls at risk, but Hussen told a news conference that Ottawa had learned that “Daesh has also deliberately targeted boys and as such we are helping to resettle all child survivors of Daesh.” Hussen said the migrants are arriving on commercial flights at a “controlled pace” to avoid overwhelming Canada’s refugee system. The operation is expected to cost Can$28 million (US$21 million). Since coming to power in late 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has resettled 40,000 Syrian refugees. The Yezidis taken in have been subjected to comprehensive security checks and medical examinations, Hussen said. Yezidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority with a pre-Islamic religion thought partly to have its origin in the Zoroastrianism of ancient Persia. They are neither Arab nor Muslim and IS considers them polytheistic heretics.

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And don’t you forget it.

Europe Wrote The Book On Demonising Refugees, Long Before Trump Read It (G.)

It has become an article of faith among liberals that Donald Trump is the world’s biggest enemy to refugees and Muslims, while the EU somehow offers them a safe harbour. After all, with the words “We can do it” Angela Merkel invited a million Syrian refugees into Germany, while Trump’s travel ban has slammed shut America’s door to some of the world’s most vulnerable displaced people. In today’s liberal mindset, it is Brexit that has stirred up hostility against migrants, while the EU is a bulwark of civilised values, protecting refugees from the threat of a resurgent far right. If you were a migrant in a leaking boat approaching Lesbos, however, the treatment you would receive from Frontex, the EU’s border patrol, would be no less hostile than anything Trump could inflict.

In Tunis last week a video showed Tunisian border police whipping cowering migrants from elsewhere in north Africa. This brutality was EU-sponsored. Like Libya, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, Tunisia receives funding and training from Brussels through the European neighbourhood policy (ENP). Under a broader framework of “development” and “reforms”, these ENP countries serve as a buffer zone, making sure that refugees are intercepted and turned back – or, in Libya, locked up and tortured in refugees’ prisons – before these desperate people can reach the EU’s shores. The idea that the Europe of Merkel and Theresa May is more welcoming to refugees than Trump’s America simply isn’t borne out by the facts. The EU’s deal with Turkey, condemned by humanitarian agencies, ensures that refugees arriving in Greece – regardless of their point of departure – will be sent to Turkey.

Turkey now has the largest refugee population in the world, at about 3 million people. This month Britain reneged on its promise to admit 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. Concerned that the Balkan route is a weak link into Europe, Austria has mobilised aspiring EU members including Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo into a Balkan frontier defence project to fortify the refugee entry points of the “Balkan corridor”. Last year Macedonian police used tear gas, grenades and stun guns against Iraqis and Syrians attempting to get through a razor-wire fence and into the country.

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“..traffickers came and removed the engine from the boat and left the craft adrift..”

Bodies Of At Least 74 Migrants Wash Ashore In Western Libya (G.)

The bodies of at least 74 people, believed to be migrants, have washed ashore on the Libyan coast in the latest tragedy at sea for people fleeing to Europe to escape war and poverty. The Libyan Red Crescent said on Tuesday the bodies had been found the previous morning on the coast of the city of Zawiya, and aid workers had spent six hours recovering them, with more dead believed to be in the vicinity. A spokesman for the organisation, Mohammed al-Misrati, told the Associated Press that a torn rubber boat was found nearby and it was likely that more migrants had drowned in the incident, as such vessels usually carry about 120 people.

The Zawiya coastguard later posted a video that showed the migrants’ boat with no engine. Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Reuters a local staff member had reported that “traffickers came and removed the engine from the boat and left the craft adrift”. “This is not a only horrible number of deaths in one incident but it strikes us as something that we haven’t really seen much of, which is either deliberate punishment or murder of migrants,” Millman said.

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