Apr 282018
 
 April 28, 2018  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas At the Milliner’s 1905-10

 

Happy New Universe Day (Caitlin Johnstone)
Counter-#Resistance? (Jim Kunstler)
North Korea Says Historic Summit Opens ‘New Era For Peace’ (AFP)
Jumping The Great White Shark Of Bubble Finance (David Stockman)
Structural Racism At Heart Of British Society, UN Human Rights Panel Says (G.)
Brexit Failure Looks More Likely Every Day (Ritholtz)
Mayday on May Day? Trump Steel Tariff Deadline Looms (R.)
Donald Trump and the Next Crash (Nomi Prins)
US Issues New Warning To China On Its Handling Of Intellectual Property (BBG)
China Is Bolstering Lenders Before A New Assault On Shadow Banking (BBG)
World’s Central Banks Just Can’t Quit on Currency Intervention (BBG)
Hawaii Takes Historic First Step Toward Creating ‘Utility of the Future’ (RE)
Fukushima is Now Officially Worse Than Chernobyl (CP)
EU Votes To Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides (AFP)
The Hills Are Alive With The Signs Of Plastic (G.)

 

 

Kanye brings hope.

Happy New Universe Day (Caitlin Johnstone)

I’m not sure what this is, but it’s definitely different. A bunch of tweets and videos by Mike Cernovich, Scott Adams and Kanye West have been dancing in an unexpected way that has conservatives now talking about a shift in consciousness transforming the way humanity functions in the near future. Liberals and leftists are scoffing at it of course, but it’s definitely a thing, and in my opinion it’s downright fascinating. The MAGA crowd has always impressed me with its ability to energetically and spontaneously unify behind a single theme as a group, like a flock of birds or school of fish changing direction together on a dime. There are certainly worse things they could pour their collaboration into than manifesting a spiritual revolution.

And who the hell am I to say they’re wrong about that? It’s not like we’ve got a choice anyway; either our species will change the way it functions or we’ll wipe ourselves out via nuclear holocaust or climate catastrophe within a few decades, no matter how loudly and smugly we scoff at the guys in MAGA hats. If humanity is going to take a last-ditch, evolve-or-die leap into the unknown and unprecedented, now would surely be the time to do it. If a bunch of right-wingers get it into their heads that humanity is undergoing a spiritual transformation, that certainty could be all it takes to tip us into the shift we all know we need to make anyway.

Could something big be in the works? Something which transcends all our little echo chamber walls and ideological boundaries, which comes not from the repetitive thought loops in our minds but from our deep evolutionary drive to survive? I hope so. And call me naive and deluded if you like, but right now I’m seeing plenty of reasons to hope.

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“Candace seems to have drive, guts, and stamina and there’s no sign that she’s going to shut up. Won’t some Ivy League university please invite her to speak, just to see what happens?”

Counter-#Resistance? (Jim Kunstler)

Who hit Kanye with that white privilege stick? The rapper / fashion maven / theologian / Kardashian arm candyman sent chills through the Twitterverse when he declared himself, somewhat elliptically, off-the-bus of the Progressive #Resistance movement and an admirer of the Golden One in the Oval Office. This came in his endorsement of YouTube blogger Candace Owen, who happens to not be down with the cause of the national victim lottery. Both Kanye and Candace have apparently crossed some boundary into a Twilight Zone of independent thought. Many probably wonder how they are able to get out of bed in the morning without instructions from Don Lemon.

Speaking as a white cis-hetero mammal, I’m not quite as dazzled by the president, but it’s a relief to see, at last, some small rebellion against the American Stasi who have turned the public arena into a giant holding pen for identity offenders — though it is but one corner of the triad-of-hysteria that also includes the Hate Russia campaign and the crusade against men. This nonsense has been going on long enough, while the country hurtles heedlessly into a long emergency of economic disarray. Next in line after Kanye and Candace, a popular Twitter critter name of Chance the Rapper endorsed Kanye endorsing Candace, more or less, by tweeting “black people don’t have to be Democrats.”

The horror this thought aroused! Slavery, these days, it turns out, has a lot of appeal — maybe not so much for laboring in the canefields under the noonday sun as for serving juleps in the DNC plantation house. It happened that Kanye’s mom was a college professor, Chance’s dad was an aide to Chicago Mayor Daley (Jr.), and later worked in Mr. Obama’s Department of Labor. Candace describes her childhood home in Stamford, CT, as “very poor,” but she rose far-and-fast out of college to become an executive on Wall Street in her twenties. What they seem to have in common is being tainted with bourgeois values, horror again!

[..] I dunno about the perpetually scowling Kanye, with his periodic mood problems and spotlight-stealing antics on stage, or Chance the Rapper’s artificial hood raptures, but Candace makes the argument for the value of a common culture that might bind us together as a nation of individuals, not hostile tribes, starting with a language that everybody can understand. Of course, the whole Kanye / Candace dust-up may be forgotten by the middle of next week, and the country can go back to gaslighting itself into either a new civil war or world war three. Candace seems to have drive, guts, and stamina and there’s no sign that she’s going to shut up. Won’t some Ivy League university please invite her to speak, just to see what happens?

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Yeah, we’ll have to wait and see. But Kim does what his people want, and more importantly what his father wanted.

North Korea Says Historic Summit Opens ‘New Era For Peace’ (AFP)

North Korea on Saturday hailed its summit with the South as a “historic meeting” that paved the way for the start of a new era, after the two leaders pledged to pursue denuclearisation and a permanent peace. The official KCNA news agency carried the text of the leaders’ Panmunjom Declaration in full and said the encounter opened the way “for national reconciliation and unity, peace and prosperity”. In the document, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in “confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula”. But the phrase is a diplomatic euphemism open to interpretation on both sides.

Pyongyang has long wanted to see an end to the US military presence and nuclear umbrella over the South, but it invaded its neighbour in 1950 and is the only one of the two Koreas to possess nuclear weapons. Analysts warn that previous displays of inter-Korean affection and pledges by the North ultimately came to naught. For years, Pyongyang insisted it would never give up the “treasured sword” of its nuclear arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against a possible US invasion. But it has offered to put it up for negotiation in exchange for security guarantees, according to Seoul – although Kim made no public reference to doing so at Friday’s spectacular summit. In a separate report, KCNA said the two leaders had a “candid and open-hearted exchange of views” on issues including “ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula and the denuclearisation of the peninsula”.

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“..Fully 96% of Amazon’s $5.0 billion of LTM operating income was accounted for by its cloud services business..”

Jumping The Great White Shark Of Bubble Finance (David Stockman)

Wall Street has now truly jumped the shark – the one jockeyed by Jeff Bezos. Last night Amazon reported a whopping 41% plunge in free cash flow for the March 2018 LTM period compared to prior year. Yet it was promptly rewarded by a $50 billion surge in market cap – with $10 billion of that going to the guy riding topside on the Great White Shark of Bubble Finance. That’s right. Amazon’s relatively meager operating free cash flow for the March 2017 LTM period had printed at $9.0 billion, but in the most recent 12 months the number has slithered all the way down to just $5.3 billion. And that’s where the real insanity begins. A year ago Amazon’s market cap towered at $425 billion – meaning that it was being valued at a downright frisky 47X free cash flow.

But fast forward a year and we get $780 billion in the market cap column this morning and 146X for the free cash flow multiple. Folks, a company selling distilled water from the Fountain of Youth can’t be worth 146X free cash flow, but don’t tell the giddy lunatics on Wall Street because they are apparently just getting started. Already at the crack of dawn SunTrust was out with a $1900 price target – meaning an implied market cap of $970 billion and 180X on the free cash flow multiple. At this point, of course, you could say who’s counting and be done with it. But actually it’s worse – and for both Amazon and the US economy.

That’s because Amazon is both the leading edge of the most fantastic ever bubble on Wall Street and also a poster boy for the manner in which Bubble Finance is hammering growth, jobs, incomes and economic vitality on main street. Moreover, soon enough a collapsing Wall Street bubble will bring the already deeply impaired main street economy to its knees. So Amazon is a double-destroyer. [..] Fully 96% of Amazon’s $5.0 billion of LTM operating income was accounted for by its cloud services business (AWS). The e-Commerce juggernaut, by contrast, posted just $188 million of LTM operating income, which amounts to, well, 0.1% of sales on a computational basis. But we’d round that to zero – especially because Amazon’s e-Commerce business was already almost there in the year ago period when its margin on sales came in a tad higher at 0.6%!

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No kidding.

Structural Racism At Heart Of British Society, UN Human Rights Panel Says (G.)

The disproportionate number of deaths of black and brown people in incidents with the police shows that structural racism remains rooted in the fabric of British society, a panel of UN human rights experts has said. The panel cited data from the Metropolitan police showing a disproportionate number of minority ethnic people – particularly those of African or Caribbean descent – dying due to excessive use of force by the state. Noting that there had never been a successful prosecution of a police officer for a death in police custody, the panel said: “This points to the lack of accountability and the impunity with which law enforcement and state agencies operate.”

The warning from members of the UN human rights council comes before a 12-day visit to the UK by E Tendayi Achiume, the special rapporteur on racism, beginning on Monday. “The deaths reinforce the experiences of structural racism, over-policing and criminalisation of people of African descent and other minorities in the UK,” they said. “Failure to properly investigate and prosecute such deaths results in a lack of accountability for those individuals and state agencies responsible, as well as in the denial of adequate remedies and reparation for the families of the victims.” The panel pointed particularly to the disproportionate use of stun guns. People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were three times more likely to be subjected to the use of such weapons by police, they said.

The members added: “People of African descent with psychosocial disabilities and those experiencing severe mental or emotional distress reportedly face multiple forms of discrimination and are particularly affected by excessive use of force.” A report last year by David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, found racial disparities across the criminal justice system. He has consistently said that young black men feel as though they are living in a police state and that a different standard of policing is applied to black youths, compared with whites.

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Me, I predict a giant mess.

Brexit Failure Looks More Likely Every Day (Ritholtz)

Today, I will violate one of my favorite principles, and hereby make this prediction: No Brexit! In other words, the U.K. will not exit the European Union. By 2023, we will look back at the entire ridiculous affair as if it were a rediscovered lost episode of “Fawlty Towers.” Soon after the referendum in which Brits unwisely voted to leave the EU, I suggested there was a 33% chance that Brexit wouldn’t occur. Now, I raise that to 75%, and with each passing day of incompetence shown by Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration, the probabilities move higher.

With that disclosure out of the way, I’d like to explain the thinking behind this not-so-bold forecast. From the very beginning, I have been a skeptic that a full Brexit would occur. The concept was simply so foolish and self-destructive that the reasonable expectation was cooler heads would prevail. But that was a modest assumption and didn’t anticipate the feckless May government making a bad situation even worse. There seem to be several ways this can, and probably will, fall apart. In order of likelihood (recognizing a combination of any and all of these is possible):

1) Doing nothing
2) Snap parliamentary election leading to a May loss
3) New referendum
4) Ireland/Scotland make it too complicated
5) Europe makes it impossible

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The EU is ready for a fight.

Mayday on May Day? Trump Steel Tariff Deadline Looms (R.)

While more than 100 countries take a day off for May Day, U.S. President Donald Trump will spend next Tuesday deciding whether to extend a largely U.S.-China trade standoff into a more global dispute. In a week featuring a Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting, U.S. monthly jobs data and first estimates on euro zone inflation and economic growth, Trump’s decision on metal tariffs may prove to the be biggest market mover. The United States set import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum a month ago, but granted temporary exemptions to the European Union, NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico, as well as Argentina, Brazil, Australia and South Korea. Those exemptions expire on May 1.

Korea secured a permanent exemption for steel within days of agreeing to a revision of its trade pact with the United States. Canada and Mexico may rely on advances in talks on North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for an extension. Continued exemptions for the other countries, and notably the European Union, remain in doubt. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were meeting Trump in Washington as part of EU lobbying effort in the past week, but German officials played down the chances of a breakthrough before Merkel’s Friday visit. “From today’s point of view, we must reckon that the tariffs will come on May 1,” one official said.

The European Commission, which oversees trade policy for the 28-member bloc, has insisted the United States grant it a permanent exemption without conditions. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday that Trump wanted concessions on automobiles, for which import duties are higher into Europe than into the United States.

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The Fed as a cult.

Donald Trump and the Next Crash (Nomi Prins)

We have entered a landmark moment: no president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policy-making for years to come — even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence. The president’s latest two nominees to that institution’s Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida, a former Treasury Department official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco, to the Fed’s second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on that same board.

Like many other entities in Washington, the Fed’s Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams — the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street — as part of the most powerful trio at that institution. Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest U.S. bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking its customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump’s new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort. Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Chairman Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he’d raise them too quickly, but he’s proved to be anything but. As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while by letting money stay cheap for Wall Street speculation and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will.

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And Canada?!

US Issues New Warning To China On Its Handling Of Intellectual Property (BBG)

The U.S. issued a new warning to China on its handling of intellectual property as President Donald Trump prepares to dispatch senior advisers to the Asian nation to head off a trade dispute. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office kept China on its “priority watch list” of countries whose IP practices require monitoring. China has an “urgent need” to fix a range of IP-related concerns, including trade-secret theft, online piracy, and forced technology transfer, USTR said in its annual report on IP protection and enforcement. Escalating trade tensions between the world’s two-biggest economies have rattled markets and sparked fears of a trade war. Trump has proposed tariffs on as much as $150 billion of Chinese imports on the grounds of alleged IP theft, while Beijing has vowed to retaliate on everything from American soybeans to airplanes.

The annual list, which carries no immediate penalties, is supposed draw attention to the need for nations to address everything from copyright infringement to online piracy. Trump said this week Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other senior officials will visit China within days, adding that there’s a “very good chance” the two countries can reach a deal. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow will also be part of the delegation. Kudlow said he expects serious negotiations on a range of trade irritants, including technology-related issues, and the U.S. will be looking for specific actions from China. Officials in Beijing in recent weeks have been announcing steps to further open up the economy, such as gradually scrapping foreign ownership caps on local vehicle companies.

The administration added Canada and Colombia to the highest priority watch list for IP challenges, and it dropped Thailand from the regular watch list. Canada is the only Group of Seven country on the monitoring list. The USTR said the country has failed to resolve “key longstanding deficiencies,” including poor border and law enforcement with respect to counterfeit and pirated goods, weak patent protection and pricing for pharmaceuticals, and inadequate copyright protection.

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It’s the shadow banks that have financed that 6.8% growth they miraculously achieve every single month and year.

China Is Bolstering Lenders Before A New Assault On Shadow Banking (BBG)

Investors who pushed up Chinese bank shares last week on news of lower reserve requirements may have been celebrating too soon. The subtext to Tuesday’s move is an effort to prepare the banks for a painful new phase in China’s campaign to reduce financial-sector risks, as regulators free up deposit rates and accelerate their crackdown on the nation’s $16 trillion shadow banking sector. “China is gearing up to crack a hard nut with deleveraging and financial reforms, and the central bank is offering some coordinated policies to ensure it will be a smooth transition,” said Xia Le, chief Asia economist at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong.

The People’s Bank of China’s decision to free up more liquidity for banks by slashing reserve ratio requirements, at a time when funding conditions are plentiful, shows the central bank is trying to insulate lenders for the next phase of reform, said Ming Ming, head of fixed-income research at Citic Securities. A key element of that reform process is a plan to give banks greater freedom to set interest rates, flagged by PBOC Governor Yi Gang at the Boao forum earlier this month. That will help banks better compete for deposits from Chinese savers and hasten the shift away from shadow instruments such as wealth management products.

Already, China Construction Bank, Bank of China and other large lenders have started trying to attract funding by rolling out certificates of deposit with sharply higher interest rates. But the move away from off balance sheet WMPs to on-balance sheet deposit funding is likely to be painful. Guosen Securities analyst Wang Jian described interest rate liberalization as like “throwing a bomb at banks” in an April 11 note, saying the need to offer higher deposit rates to attract funds could push them into riskier lending, to real estate for example, in order to protect profits.

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What are the little ones going to do?

World’s Central Banks Just Can’t Quit on Currency Intervention (BBG)

History shows that central banks rarely stem a currency’s long-term decline simply by spending foreign-exchange reserves. Yet not stepping in at all can prove far worse. That’s the argument used by authorities in Brazil, Indonesia and most recently Argentina to explain why it makes sense to shower billions of dollars on what looks like a losing bet. This week alone, Argentina spent about $3 billion, or 5% of its reserves, to bolster the peso after it plunged to a record low. Then, wielding another monetary cudgel, it unexpectedly goosed interest rates. In Buenos Aires, the combination worked – at least for today. The peso ended just a blip or two in the green after sliding 1.8% earlier. It’s still this year’s worst-performing major currency, nosing out Russia’s ruble and the Turkish lira.

“It was a success in the sense that it gave two signals to the market,” said Daniel Chodos, a strategist at Credit Suisse based in the Argentine capital. “One is that it can and will use all available instruments to conduct monetary policy, that is, interest-rate and FX interventions. The second signal is that because of the tool kit it has, it can intervene and cause some pain to markets.” Indonesia is a more cautionary tale. The southeast Asian nation’s central bank drained $6 billion of foreign reserves in February and March partly to stabilize the rupiah, and may have further eroded the $126 billion pile as it stepped up intervention this month. But the moves, coupled with a threat to hike rates, didn’t calm volatility. That led the central bank to say it’s preparing a second line of defense to ensure liquidity.

Brazil’s interventions in the foreign-exchange market, using currency swaps, became so regular between 2013 and 2015 that traders started likening them to “ração diária,” the moment each day set aside to feed your pets.

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“..for the first time they are going to charge based on factors including affordability, reliability, transparency, renewable energy integration, efficiency..”

Hawaii Takes Historic First Step Toward Creating ‘Utility of the Future’ (RE)

In what could be the beginning of the new way forward to utilities, on Tuesday, Hawaiian Gov. David Ige signed the Ratepayer Protection Act, a new law that directs utilities in Hawaii to change their business models and fully decouple revenue and capital expenditures. “This is the first jurisdiction that is doing this. It’s a concept that’s been discussed at some length among scholars and experts in the field but no one has actually implemented this so this was definitely a moonshot bill,” said State Sen. Stanley Chang in an interview. “Instead of charging what the market can bear or letting utilities charge on a cost-plus basis to recoup their costs, for the first time they are going to charge based on factors including affordability, reliability, transparency, renewable energy integration, efficiency,” he added.

“That’s a total change to the business model of these utilities.” Today, one of the only ways that utilities all across the world can generate revenue is by rate-basing capital expenditures. What that means in plain English is that the more utilities spend on infrastructure, such as upgrading transmission and distribution equipment (and building new generation plants in some territories), the more money they make because they are allowed to add those capital expenditures to their electric rates plus a healthy margin and recover their costs through ratepayer dollars.

As of July 1, 2020, this model will cease to exist in Hawaii. Under the new law Hawaiian utilities and the public utility commission (PUC) will need to come up with “performance incentives and penalty mechanisms that directly tie an electric utility revenues to that utility’s achievement on performance metrics and break the direct link between allowed revenues and investment levels,” according to the new law.

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“Contamination of soil, vegetation and water is so widespread in Japan that evacuating all the at-risk populations could collapse the economy..”

Fukushima is Now Officially Worse Than Chernobyl (CP)

The radiation dispersed into the environment by the three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan has exceeded that of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, so we may stop calling it the “second worst” nuclear power disaster in history. Total atmospheric releases from Fukushima are estimated to be between 5.6 and 8.1 times that of Chernobyl, according to the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Professor Komei Hosokawa, who wrote the report’s Fukushima section, told London’s Channel 4 News then, “Almost every day new things happen, and there is no sign that they will control the situation in the next few months or years.”

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has estimated that about 900 peta-becquerels have spewed from Fukushima, and the updated 2016 TORCH Report estimates that Chernobyl dispersed 110 peta-becquerels.[1](A Becquerel is one atomic disintegration per second. The “peta-becquerel” is a quadrillion, or a thousand trillion Becquerels.) Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 in Ukraine suffered several explosions, blew apart and burned for 40 days, sending clouds of radioactive materials high into the atmosphere, and spreading fallout across the whole of the Northern Hemisphere — depositing cesium-137 in Minnesota’s milk.[2]

The likelihood of similar or worse reactor disasters was estimated by James Asselstine of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), who testified to Congress in 1986: “We can expect to see a core meltdown accident within the next 20 years, and it … could result in off-site releases of radiation … as large as or larger than the releases … at Chernobyl.[3] Fukushima-Daiichi came 25 years later. Contamination of soil, vegetation and water is so widespread in Japan that evacuating all the at-risk populations could collapse the economy, much as Chernobyl did to the former Soviet Union. For this reason, the Japanese government standard for decontaminating soil there is far less stringent than the standard used in Ukraine after Chernobyl.

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75% of insects are gone in France and Germany and they make this only about the bees?

EU Votes To Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides (AFP)

European Union countries voted on Friday in favour of a near-total ban on neonicotinoid insecticides which are blamed for an alarming collapse in bee populations. The move comes after the European food safety agency said in February that most uses of the chemicals posed a risk to bees, prompting environmentalists to push the 28-nation EU to immediately outlaw them. Bees help pollinate 90% of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed on mites, pesticides, virus, fungus, or a combination of these factors.

Campaigners dressed in black and yellow bee suits rallied outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels ahead of the vote for a ban on three key pesticide chemicals. EU Environment Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said he was “happy that member states voted in favour of our proposal” to restrict the chemicals and tweeted a picture of the activists.

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Time for a very large and thorough study into plastics in humans.

The Hills Are Alive With The Signs Of Plastic (G.)

Microplastic pollution contaminates soil across Switzerland, even in remote mountains, new research reveals. The scientists said the problem could be worse in other nations with poorer waste management and that research was urgently needed to see if microplastics get into food. In the first major study of microplastics in soil, the researchers analysed soil samples from 29 river flood plains in nature reserves across Switzerland. They found microplastics, fragments under 5mm in size, in 90% of the soils. The scientists believe the particles are carried across the country by the wind. Research on microplastic pollution to date has largely concentrated on the oceans, in which it is found across the globe, including the Arctic. The particles have been shown to harm marine life and can absorb toxins from the water.

Record levels of microplastics were revealed in rivers by research released in March and last year tap water around the world was found to contain plastic fibres. Other studies have found microplastics in bottled water, which prompted the World Health Organization to launch a review, as well as in beer, honey and salt. However, almost no research has yet been done on whether the particles end up being widely consumed by people and whether they are harmful. Michael Scheurer and Moritz Bigalke at the Geographical Institute of the University of Bern, conducted the new research, which is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. “These findings are alarming,” Scheurer said. “For example, new studies indicate that microplastics in the soil can be harmful to and even kill earthworms in the soil.”

Microplastics were found even in remote mountain regions that can only be reached by foot. “We were really surprised,” said Bigalke. “All the areas were in national parks. We thought we might find one or two plastic particles, but we found a lot.” [..] One of the very few studies into microplastics in food examined backyard chickens in Mexico. The researchers found 57 particles per gramme in the gizzards of the chickens. “Chicken gizzard is a specialty in the Mexican kitchen and the intake of the present plastics form a strong risk for human health,” the scientists said.

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


Edward Curtis Red Hawk 1905

 

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

 

 

Kim needs money.

Moon and Kim’s Unprompted DMZ Dance (AFP)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Win win.

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

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

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

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Abenomics was all about inflation targeting. Silently forgotten.

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

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

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

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Pick your favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The cloud is not a safe environment.

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

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

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

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How much of that comes from selling data?

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

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

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

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But the CIty still has lots of political power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greek recovery narrative is an insult.

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

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

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

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

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

Greece: Economic Health In Grim State (EN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feb 012018
 
 February 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frederic Edwin Church The Parthenon 1871

 

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)
Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)
Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)
Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)
Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)
More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)
Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields Could Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)
‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)
Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

 

 

Bad theater. But not releasing the memo is no longer an option.

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)

Update 1240ET: In what CNN described as a “rate public warning,” the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying it has “grave concerns” over the accuracy of the House Intel Committee’s memo describing purportedly egregious FISA abuses. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in a statement.
* * *
Update 1130ET: Bloomberg reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of course, given the allegedly terrible picture the memo paints of The FBI, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Wary would oppose its release, however, if this sourced reporting proves correct, it plays very badly for Republicans as it would seem to confirm Rep. Schiff’s accusations.
* * *
As we detailed earlier, just before President Trump headed to the Capitol for last night’s “State of the Union”, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea on Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing the memo. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. But those pleas from Rosenstein – who isn’t exactly the West Wing’s favorite lawman, and whose name apparently appears in the memo – have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Last night, President Trump promised a lawmaker that the memo would “100%” be released now that the House Intel Committee has voted to approve its release. And during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Chief of Staff John Kelly added that the memo would be publicly released “pretty quick.” “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds,” he said.

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He should know, he created them both.

Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)

The man who made the term “irrational exuberance” famous says investors are at it again. “There are two bubbles: We have a stock market bubble, and we have a bond market bubble,” Alan Greenspan, 91, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu. Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve from 1987 until 2006, memorably used the phrase to describe asset values during the 1990’s dot-com bubble. Greenspan’s comments come as stock indexes remain near record highs, despite selling off in recent days, and as the yields on government notes and bonds hover not far from historic lows. Interest rates are expected to move up in coming years as the Fed continues with a campaign to gradually tighten monetary policy.

“At the end of the day, the bond market bubble will eventually be the critical issue, but for the short term it’s not too bad,” Greenspan said. “But we’re working, obviously, toward a major increase in long-term interest rates, and that has a very important impact, as you know, on the whole structure of the economy.” The Fed on Wednesday opted to leave rates unchanged and markets are pricing in an increase at the central bank’s March meeting. Greenspan sounded an alarm on forecasts that the U.S. government deficit will continue to climb as a share of GDP. He said he was “surprised” that President Donald Trump didn’t specify how he would fund new government initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president last month signed into law about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that critics say will further balloon the budget gap.

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The nonsense is deafening. Great solid economy, but no rate hikes.

Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials, meeting for the last time under Chair Janet Yellen, left borrowing costs unchanged while adding emphasis to their plan for more hikes, setting the stage for an increase in March under her successor Jerome Powell. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday in Washington, adding the word “further” twice to previous language. The changes to the statement, collectively acknowledging stronger growth and more confidence that inflation will rise to their 2% target, may spur speculation that the Fed will pick up the pace of interest-rate increases.

Officials also said inflation “is expected to move up this year and to stabilize” around the goal, in phrasing that marked an upgrade from their statement in December. At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.” “It opens the door to four hikes for them, but I don’t think they have walked through it,” said Michael Gapen at Barclays in New York. “It closes the door to two hikes.” Fed officials penciled in three rate moves this year in quarterly forecasts they updated last month, according to their median projection.

With her term ending later this week after President Donald Trump chose to replace her, Yellen is handing the reins to Powell, who has backed her gradual approach and is widely expected to raise interest rates at the FOMC’s next meeting for the sixth time since late 2015. Fed officials are hoping to keep a tight labor market from overheating without raising borrowing costs so fast that it would stifle the economy. “Gains in employment, household spending and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low,” the Fed said, removing previous references to disruptions from hurricanes. “Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low.”

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People won’t understand their pensions are Ponzis until there are no payments.

Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)

Two out of three pension funds are in the red – to the tune of a combined £210 billion, it has been revealed. Some 3,710 schemes are in deficit according to the Pension Protection Fund watchdog, putting a serious question mark over the retirement plans of millions of workers. The PFF has been called into action on two high profile occasions of late – working with Toys R Us to secure a near £10m injection into its ailing fund to protect the company’s short-term future and also sorting through the debris of the Carillion collapse. The giant contractor folded earlier this month with debts of above £1.3bn, including an estimated £800m hole in its pension fund. The PFF monitors the health of 5,588 pension pots, with some of the biggest names on the FTSE 100 running schemes with major shortfalls.

The biggest include £9.1billion at BT, as well as deficits of £6.9billion at Royal Dutch Shell, £6.7billion at BP and £6.6billion at both Tesco and BAE Systems. Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister under the recent coalition government, said Carillion would not be the last big company to fold leaving its pension scheme in jeopardy. “The question isn’t if there will be another Carillion – it’s when,” said Webb, who is now director of policy at pensions group Royal London. “With two-thirds of schemes in deficit it is inevitable there will be more insolvencies and more schemes ending up in the PPF.”

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They had more than 60 active working groups.. And thought it’d remain secret? Anyone going to jail?

Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)

The Federal Cartel Office suspects that major carmakers and a few of their suppliers have been fixing prices for years, and possibly even decades. It’s not the prices at which the companies sell their cars or car parts that is at issue, but rather a significant component of the prices they pay for steel. “The aim of the suspected collusion,” the court ruling that granted the search warrants read, was to “unify the purchasing price for steel in the automobile industry and, by doing so, create a commonality of costs.” The Federal Cartel Office believes that the alleged collusion existed back in the 1990s and that “it existed again from March 2007 until February 2013.” Investigators have also found indications there may have been collusion in 2016.

Collusion of that nature is the antithesis of competition. It means that VW, Daimler and BMW were no longer competing to buy steel cheaper than their rivals and passing their savings down to customers – as is normally the case in a functioning market economy. And steel is one of the most important supplies purchased by carmakers. The nationwide searches didn’t remain secret, with the media quickly reporting on them. But until now, the background and details of the raids have remained largely unknown, the case having been overshadowed by a European Commission investigation into another case that also involves the automobile industry – a case that DER SPIEGEL exposed last summer.

That case was triggered when Daimler and Volkswagen essentially admitted wrongdoing, and since then the Brussels authority has been looking into suspicions that the companies engaged in collusion for several years with BMW, Porsche and Audi, in the form of more than 60 working groups covering areas such as technological development, suppliers and how to deal with environmental protection authorities. The companies had created working groups for almost every part of a vehicle. They existed for “gasoline engines,” “diesel engines,” “car body,” “chassis,” “total vehicle” and many more areas. With five brands involved – Daimler, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW – the groups were referred to internally as “groups of five.” All together, they met more than 1,000 times in past years.

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Say no more: “Desired ambiguities..”

Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron will be disappointed if he expects Germany’s next government to drum up more goodwill for his European reform plans in this week’s talks, according to four people familiar with the current coalition negotiations. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and its prospective Social Democratic Party partner are not planning any fundamental changes to their proposals on Europe’s future as set out in a preliminary agreement reached Jan. 12, according to the people, who represent all three parties involved in the talks. All asked not to be named as the negotiations are private and ongoing. Representatives of Merkel’s CDU, its Christian Social Union sister party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats met in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss Europe policy.

While Schulz hailed the outcome as a “fresh start” for Europe, details were in short supply. The negotiators didn’t go much beyond those measures already agreed, one of the people attending the meeting said. These include higher German contributions to the EU budget; expanding the European Stability Fund (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund; and a European framework for minimum wages. The SPD proposed giving the EU its own means to raise revenue, whether by taxes or tolls, prompting Merkel’s bloc to warn against a debate over tax increases. On a visit to Macron in Paris on Jan. 19, Merkel said the coalition’s common Europe plans contained “desired ambiguities,” since any attempt to agree on the final details now would reduce the room to negotiate.

In reality, her CDU/CSU and the SPD, as the Social Democrats are known in German, have different interpretations of the proposals, and these divergent positions are likely to bubble up in the coming months in the debate over euro-area reform.

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Hungary won’t be easy to strong-arm. But Brussels will try. The only people who want more Europe are politicians.

Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to bring to heel renegade European Union nations as part of a drive to reform the bloc smacks of arrogance and will fail, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said. Unanimity is required both to change the EU constitution and approve a multi-year, post-2020 EU budget. That means proposed sanctions on countries like Hungary and Poland for alleged rule-of-law violations won’t gain traction, according to Gergely Gulyas, parliamentary leader of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. Governments are drawing battle lines as the EU mulls plans to re-invent itself, with some members saying the euro crisis, Brexit, the biggest refugee influx since World War II and ex-communist members ditching the bloc’s liberal values have necessitated a revamp.

Macron has presented the most ambitious proposals, with a plan to deepen integration in everything from defense to the economy. He has also called for sanctions against member states seen as backsliding on democracy. “If we’re going to play the game that western European countries want to launch rule-of-law procedures against eastern European countries because of differences over values, then that’s not going to work,” said Gulyas, 36. “That would destroy the Union.” Hungary received 3.6 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in net EU funding in 2016. That made it the fourth-biggest beneficiary in the 28-member bloc after Poland, Romania and Greece and underscores the risk to its economy if Macron can make good on his pledge. Gulyas dismissed proposals aimed at punishing Hungary and Poland, arguing that France has for years failed to meet EU spending limits yet has escaped penalties for fiscal offenders.

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Under an alleged left-wing government.

More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)

More than 1 million Greeks are now trapped in programs to pay off their tax and social security dues in installments, a situation likely to continue for years to come. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry announced taxpayers can apply for a 12- or 24-installment payment scheme, which under certain circumstances can include non-expired dues, on the website of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Citizens are resorting to various payment programs offered by the ministries of Finance and Labor because they would otherwise be unable to meet their obligations. In many cases taxpayers are forced to pay additional installments in order not to default on their plans.

The million-plus taxpayers and businesses that are trapped in the various schemes they have entered to pay off the tax authorities and the social security funds have no other choice but to keep paying, otherwise they will have their assets confiscated. The payment schemes are the outcome of the growth in taxation and of social security contributions in recent years. Worse, as of this year, if anyone delays the payment of an installment by more than 24 hours, the debt will be classified as overdue and the process of the monitoring mechanism will be triggered for the state to safeguard its interests. Particularly in the case of the 100-payment program for dues to the tax authorities, missing a deadline means the entire amount due is classified as expired and becomes immediately payable along with fines and penalties.

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You mean, monoculture is not the greatest thing ever?!

Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields To Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)

Long strips of bright wildflowers are being planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Concern over the environmental damage caused by pesticides has grown rapidly in recent years. Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields. But until now wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

“If you imagine the size of a [ground beetle], it’s a bloody long walk to the middle of a field,” said Prof Richard Pywell, at CEH. GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, meaning strips of wildflowers planted through crop fields can be avoided and left as refuges all year round. Pywell’s initial tests show that planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

“It’s a real acid test – we scientists are having to come up with real practical solutions,” said Pywell, who led a landmark study published in 2017 showing that neonicotinoids insecticides damage bee populations, not just individual insects. In the new trials, the researchers will be looking out for any sign that drawing the wild insects into the centre of fields, and therefore closer to where pesticides are sprayed, does more harm than good.

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Old threat. But a real one.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)

[..] scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters. The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.

Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.

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A lot more timeless than most other pics of this.

‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)

A ‘super blue blood moon’ rises behind the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens on Wednesday evening, when thousands of city residents took to the streets and balconies to witness the rare spectacle. People in many parts of the world caught a glimpse of the moon as a giant reddish globe thanks to a rare lunar phenomenon that combines a total eclipse with a blue moon and super moon. The spectacle – the first in 152 years – has been coined a ‘super blue blood moon’ by NASA. [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

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Just refuse to do any trade with any country that imports the horns. For starters.

Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

Dr Ian Player, the veteran South African game ranger and doyen of global rhino conservation, would be turning in his grave today were he to discover that another 1,000 rhinos had been slaughtered in the last calendar year. The African-wildlife warrior died just over three years ago aged 87, at a point when poaching had just exploded to record levels in South Africa – with nearly three rhinos gunned down daily. Annual government statistics announced last week complete the picture of 7,130 rhino carcasses piled up in South Africa over the last decade. Shortly before his death, I visited Player at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to ask him about his thoughts on the poaching crisis and the future of one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) species he devoted most of his life to protecting.

Frail and dispirited, he had reached a point in life where he should have been taking things easy, after more than six decades of service to nature conservation. Instead, his cellphone rang incessantly as colleagues from all corners of the country reported the discovery of yet another rhino butchered for its horns. Having worked so hard to save rhinos from extinction once before, there was no way Player could hang up his conservation boots amidst this new crisis. He also told me about a dream that haunted him. “My dream was about a young white rhino which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation – the rhinos still need our help more than ever before,” he explained.

Player first came across a rhino in Imfolozi Game Reserve in the early 1950s when he joined the Natal Parks Board as a learner game ranger. A disciple of Carl Jung and Sir Laurens van der Post, Player went on to spearhead a global operation to safeguard the world’s second-largest land animal from extinction. Less than a decade ago, poaching deaths were limited to roughly 20 rhinos per year in South Africa, the country that provides sanctuary to 93% of Africa’s white rhinos and nearly 40% of the continent’s black rhinos. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. But in 2008 that tally rose steeply to 80 deaths; to 333 in 2010 and then to a record level of 1,205 during 2014. Last year the death toll topped the 1,000 mark for the fifth year in a row.

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Dec 122017
 
 December 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Clear connection 1925

 

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)
Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)
Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)
Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)
Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)
Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)
Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)
Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)
Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)
Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)
Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)
EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)
Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)
Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

 

 

“If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures.”

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)

Revolving credit outstanding of $1 trillion, spread over 117.72 million households, would amount to $8,300 per household. But many households do not carry interest-bearing credit card debt; they pay their cards off in full every month. Finance charges are concentrated on households that use this form of debt to finance their spending and that cannot pay off their balances every month. Many of these households are already strung out and are among the least able to afford higher interest payments. Consumer credit bureau TransUnion shed some light on this in its Q3 2017 Industry Insights Report, according to which 195.9 million consumers had a revolving credit balance at the end of Q3, with total account balances of $1.35 trillion. This equals $6,892 per person with revolving credit balances.

If there are two people with balances in a household, this would amount to nearly $14,000 of this high-cost debt. If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures. What is next for these folks? For now, the Fed has penciled in, and economists expect, three hikes next year. But recent developments – particularly the expected tax cuts and what the Fed calls “elevated asset prices” – suggest that the Fed might “surprise” the markets with its hawkishness in 2018. The Fed is currently pegging the “neutral” rate – the rate at which the federal funds rate is neither stimulating nor slowing the economy – at somewhere near 2.5% to 2.75%, so about five or six more rates hikes from today’s target range.

Interest rates on credit cards would follow in lockstep. These rate hikes to “neutral” would extract another $8 billion or so a year, on top of the additional $7.5 billion from the prior rate hikes. But that’s not all. Credit card balances continue to rise as our brave consumers are trying to prop up US consumer spending and thus the global economy by borrowing more and more. Thus, rising credit card balances combined with rising interest rates on those balances conspire to produce sharply higher interest costs. Since consumers with high-interest credit-card balances already don’t have enough money to pay off their costly debt, these additional interest payments will further curtail their efforts at making principal payments and thus inflate their credit card balances further.

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And if/when you manage to pay off your credit cards, there’s the next challenge…

Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)

Ever since it was signed into law in 2010, defenders of Obamacare have dismissed staggering surges in annual premiums by highlighting only the rates paid by those fortunate enough to receive subsidies. In fact, last year we wrote about Marjorie Connolly’s, from Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, response to the Tennessee insurance commissioner’s fear that the exchanges in his state were “very near collapse” after a staggering 59% premium surge: “Consumers in Tennessee will continue to have affordable coverage options in 2017. Last year, the average monthly premium for people with Marketplace coverage getting tax credits increased just $2, from $102 to $104 per month, despite headlines suggesting double digit increases,” said Marjorie Connolly, HHS spokeswoman, in a statement.

We’re unsure whether Connolly’s comment was just propaganda intended to defend a failing piece of legislation or an intentional, blatant admission that the Department of Health and Human Services just doesn’t care about the majority of Americans, the so-called 1%’ers, who are facing debilitating increases in healthcare costs simply because they manage to live above the poverty line. We’ll let you decide on that one. Be that as it may, as the Miami Herald points out this morning, roughly half of all Obamacare participants, nearly 9 million people in aggregate, don’t qualify for the subsidies that Connolly praised and have been forced to absorb debilitating premium increases for the past several years.

[..] As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggle to piece together the family’s health insurance for 2018. The Reiters buy their own coverage, but they earn too much to qualify for financial aid to lower their monthly premiums. For 2017, they bought a plan off the exchange and paid $26,000 in premiums for family coverage, including their two sons, ages 21 and 17. Keeping the same coverage for 2018 would have cost the Reiters $40,000 in premiums, a 54% increase. So they selected a lower-priced plan that covers less but costs $29,000 in premiums. “That’s more than a lot of people’s mortgage payments,” Richard Reiter said. “For me, it’s a crisis situation.”

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The odds of a correction (reversion).

Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)

While valuation risk is certainly concerning, it is the extreme deviations of other measures to which attention should be paid. When long-term indicators have previously been this overbought, further gains in the market have been hard to achieve. However, the problem comes, as identified by the vertical lines, is understanding when these indicators reverse course. The subsequent “reversions” have not been forgiving. The chart below brings this idea of reversion into a bit clearer focus. I have overlaid the real, inflation-adjusted, S&P 500 index over the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio. Historically, we find that when both valuations and prices have extended well beyond their intrinsic long-term trendlines, subsequent reversions beyond those trend lines have ensued. Every. Single. Time.

Importantly, these reversions have wiped out a decade, or more, in investor gains. As noted, if the next correction began in 2018, and ONLY reverts back to the long-term trendline, which historically has never been the case, investors would reset portfolios back to levels not seen since 1997. Two decades of gains lost. With everyone crowded into the “ETF Theater,” the “exit” problem should be of serious concern. “Over the next several weeks, or even months, the markets can certainly extend the current deviations from long-term mean even further. But that is the nature of every bull market peak, and bubble, throughout history as the seeming impervious advance lures the last of the stock market ‘holdouts’ back into the markets.”

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“..the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets..”

Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)

Last week, Venezuela announced it would develop a national cryptocurrency backed by its oil reserves, the Petro. Now there is a report that Russia is considering the same thing. Iran will likely follow suit. As of right now this is just a rumor, but it makes some sense. So, let’s treat this rumor as fact for the sake of argument and see where it leads us. The U.S. continues to sanction and threaten all of these countries for daring to challenge the global status quo. There is no denying this. [..] at the heart of this is the petrodollar. Contrary to what many believe, the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets. It is a secondary effect of the dollar’s dominance in global finance today. But it is not the main driver.

Financial market are simply too big relative to the size any one commodity market for it to be the fulcrum on which everything hinges. It was that way in the past. But it is not now. That said, however, getting out from underneath the petrodollar gives a country independence to begin building financial architecture that can be levered up over time to threaten the institutional control it helped create. U.S. foreign policy defends the petrodollar along with other systems in place – the IMF, the World Bank, SWIFT, LIBOR and the central banks themselves – to maintain its control. The main oil producers, however, can escape this control simply by selling their oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. That’s not enough to dethrone the dollar, but, like I just said, it is where the process has to start. Therefore, any and all means must be employed to defend the dollar empire by keeping everyone inside that system.

[..] The problem with backing any currency with physical reserves is the fluctuations in value of those reserves. It’s not like oil is a low-beta commodity or anything. But, like everything else in the commodity space, price movements are supposed to be smoothed out by the futures markets helping to coordinate price with time. But the bigger problem is the estimation of those reserves the coin’s value is based on. First, how do you accurately quantify them? Can holders of Petro or Neft-coin trust the Russian or Venezuelan governments to provide accurate assessments of their reserves? Second, there is the ability of the country to pull it out of the ground and sell it into the market at anything close to a fair price. This isn’t a concern for Russia, the world’s 2nd largest supplier of oil and very stable government but Venezuela is the opposite. And, its “Petro” would probably trade at quite a discount early on to the dollar price of oil.

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I doubt it. If only because as Taleb said, you can’t actually short BTC, and they should have introduced options along with futures. They didn’t. This story is far from over.

Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)

Bitcoin mania is now everywhere. It’s hard to have a conversation with regular people without sooner or later getting into bitcoin. Some of this is just for fun. Manias breed amazement. Miracles are wonderful to behold. But some of it is pretty serious. “We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin,” said Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association and director of the Alabama Securities Commission, on CNBC’s Power Lunch today. “People do credit cards, equity lines,” he said. Bitcoin futures trading started Sunday night on the Cboe futures exchange. Next week, the CME will offer trading in bitcoin futures.

This way, speculators can bet with unlimited derivatives on an unregulated digital entity that is backed by nothing and whose cash trading takes place in unregulated opaque and easily hacked exchanges around the world. But Borg doesn’t think that futures contracts legitimize bitcoin. Innovation and technology always outrun regulation, he said. “You’re on this mania curve. At some point in time there’s got to be a leveling off,” he said. “Cryptocurrency is here to stay. Blockchain is here to stay. Whether it is bitcoin or not, I don’t know.” And so the media mania over bitcoin has become deafening.

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But there’s definitely a media bubble, even if there’s no BTC one yet.

Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)

If you cannot value an asset you cannot be rational. With Bitcoin at $11,000 today, it is crystal clear to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that I should have bought Bitcoin at 28 cents. But you only get hindsight in hindsight. Let’s mentally (only mentally) buy Bitcoin today at $11,000. If it goes up 5% a day like a clock and gets to $110,000 – you don’t need rationality. Just buy and gloat. But what do you do if the price goes down to $8,000? You’ll probably say, “No big deal, I believe in cryptocurrencies.” What if it then goes to $5,500? Half of your hard-earned money is gone. Do you buy more? Trust me, at that point in time the celebratory articles you are reading today will have vanished. The awesome stories of a plumber becoming an overnight millionaire with the help of Bitcoin will not be gracing the social media.

The moral support – which is really peer pressure – that drives you to own Bitcoin will be gone, too. Then you’ll be reading stories about other suckers like you who bought it at what – in hindsight – turned out to be the all-time high and who got sucked into the potential for future riches. And then Bitcoin will tumble to $2,000 and then to $100. Since you have no idea what this crypto thing is worth, there is no center of gravity to guide you or anyone else to make rational decisions. With Coke or another real business that generates actual cash flows, we can at least have an intelligent conversation about what the company is worth. We can’t have one with Bitcoin. The X times Y = Z math will be reapplied by Wall Street as it moves on to something else.

People who are buying Bitcoin today are doing it for one simple reason: FOMO – fear of missing out. Yes, this behavior is so predominant in our society that we even have an acronym for it. Bitcoin is priced today at $11,000 because the fool who bought it for $11,000 is hoping that there is another, greater fool who will pay $12,000 for it tomorrow. This game of greater fools is not new. The Dutch played it with tulips in the 1600s– it did not end well. Americans took the game to a new level with dotcoms in the late 1990s – that round ended in tears, too. And now millennials and millennial-wannabes are playing it with Bitcoin and few hundred other competing cryptocurrencies.

The counterargument to everything I have said so far is that those dollar bills you have in your wallet or that digitally reside in your bank account are as fictional as Bitcoin. True. Currencies, like most things in our lives, are stories that we all have (mostly) unconsciously bought into. Of course, society and, even more importantly, governments have agreed that these fiat currencies are going to be the means of exchange. Also, taxation by the government turns the dollar bill “story” into a very physical reality: If you don’t pay taxes in dollars, you go to jail. (The US government will not accept Bitcoins, gold, chunks of granite, or even British pounds).

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Compared to Japan, all other central banks are wimps and pussies.

Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)

The next governor of the Bank of Japan faces a “job from hell.” That’s according to Takeshi Fujimaki, a banker-turned-lawmaker who sees any attempt by Japan’s central bank to exit its program of unprecedented easing as triggering a Greek-like debt crisis. “This is the calm before the battle,” Fujimaki, an opposition Japan Innovation Party politician who once served briefly as an adviser to George Soros, said in an interview at his Tokyo office on Monday. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s five-year term runs out in April, with recent praise from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strengthening expectations that the 73-year-old will stay on for a second stint. His massive easing program has weakened the yen, bolstered exports and helped stock prices to more than double. But inflation is still short of the government’s 2% target, and critics say the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet is unsustainable.

Fujimaki, 67, said he agreed with the view expressed by Kuroda’s predecessor Masaaki Shirakawa in his 2013 resignation press conference, when he said no judgment could be made on non-traditional monetary easing in Japan and in other developed economies until exits had been completed. Last week, Kuroda said the BOJ can take the appropriate steps to exit when the time comes, but talking specifics of an exit now would end up confusing markets. Even so, Fujimaki said Kuroda should stay on to oversee an exit from the policies he introduced. “Because Mr. Kuroda has taken it this far, he should carry on until the end,” Fujimaki said. “Just taking the good part and running away would be unfair.”

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“(SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)

We like to highlight that although Sweden’s property bubble is not the longest running (that accolade goes to Australia at 55 years), it is probably the world’s biggest, even though it gets relatively little coverage in the mainstream financial media. A month ago, we noted that SEB’s housing price indicator suffered its second biggest ever drop, falling by 39 points, only lagging a steeper fall from ten years earlier. This month the indicator, which shows the balance between households forecasting rising or falling prices, fell into negative territory, dropping to -5 from +11 in November. Households expecting prices to rise has almost halved from 66% In October, to 43% in November and 36% this month. The percentage of households expecting prices to fall has risen from 16% in October, to 32% in November and 41% this month.

After the housing price indicator was published, the Swedish krona fell as much as 0.7% versus the Euro to 10.0118, its lowest level since 5 December 2017. Not surprisingly, the focal point of Sweden’s property boom has been Stockholm, where the decline in the housing price indicator in December 2017 was precipitous. According to Bloomberg. “SEB says sharp drop in home-price expectations in Stockholm was main culprit behind the decline in its Swedish home-price indicator, with the indicator falling to -42 in the Swedish capital in Dec. from -6 in Nov. That means the Stockholm indicator is now close to the record low of -47 that was reached in Dec. 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis. (SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Given the disproportionate rate of decline in December in Stockholm, SEB was minded to ask whether special factors are at work “rather than general drivers such as fears over rising interest rates or a weak business cycle”. Indeed, aside from south-eastern Sweden, the outlook in all other regions remains positive. With regard to Stockholm, the bank notes that a large increase in new supply of expensive residential property and what it terms “very negative media reporting” have had an impact. Whether that’s a fair assessment, or whether it’s realist reporting of a monumental asset bubble is a moot point. What is indisputable is that the number of Swedish homes for sale has surged in November 2017 compared with the same month last year.

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After talking to Musk and Bezos. Who target billions in profits from the bridges to nowhere on steroids.

Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)

US President Donald Trump directed NASA on Monday to send Americans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, in order to prepare for future trips to Mars. “This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint,” Trump said at a White House ceremony as he signed the new space policy directive. “We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.” The directive calls on NASA to ramp up its efforts to send people to deep space, a policy that unites politicians on both sides of the aisle in the United States. However, it steered clear of the most divisive and thorny issues in space exploration: budgets and timelines.

Space policy experts agree that any attempt to send people to Mars, which lies an average of 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) from Earth, would require immense technical prowess and a massive wallet. The last time US astronauts visited the Moon was during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Trump, who signed the directive in the presence of Harrison Schmitt, one of the last Americans to walk on the Moon 45 years ago, said “today, we pledge that he will not be the last.” The better known Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon after Armstrong and a fervent advocate of future space missions, was also present at the ceremony but not mentioned by Trump during his speech.

[..] Trump vowed his new directive “will refocus the space program on human exploration and discovery,” and “marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972.” The goal of the new Moon missions would include “long-term exploration and use” of its surface. “We’re dreaming big,” Trump said. His administration has previously held several meetings with SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns Blue Origin.

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The article has two authors, and at least one editor (Reuters), and still it says this: “world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century..

Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)

Exxon Mobil on Monday said it would publish new details about how climate change could affect its business in a move aimed at appeasing critics and forestalling another proxy fight next year. The largest U.S. oil and gas producer said in a filing to U.S. securities regulators that its board agreed to provide shareholders with information on “energy demand sensitivities, implications of two degree Celsius scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future.” Scientists have warned that world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century, surpassing a “tipping point” that a global climate deal aims to avert. Exxon’s statement, which came three days before the deadline for its 2018 annual meeting resolution submissions, said additional information would be released in the near future, but did not provide details.

The company’s board originally opposed providing shareholders with a report outlining the potential impact of global warming on Exxon’s long-term outlook. Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York state’s comptroller, heads one the two lead sponsors of a shareholder resolution calling for Exxon to issue a climate-impact report. He called Monday’s decision “a win for shareholders and for the company’s ability to manage risk.” However, another sponsor noted the lack of specificity in the company’s statement. “This is giving no detail,” said Tim Smith, who leads shareholder engagement efforts at Walden Asset Management, a co-filer of last spring’s resolution. He said Exxon’s statement “needs to be expanded to assure shareowners that they’re responsive to last year’s request.”

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Apple, Exxon, everybody seeks to escape their own shareholders.

Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)

Apple is pushing back on shareholder proposals on climate issue and human rights concerns, an effort activists worry could sharply restrict investor rights. In letters to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month, an attorney for the California computer maker argued at least four shareholder proposals relate to “ordinary business” and therefore can be left off the proxy Apple is expected to publish early next year, ahead of its annual meeting. The attorney, Gene Levoff, cited guidance issued by the SEC on Nov. 1 saying that company boards are generally best positioned to decide if a resolution raises significant policy issues worth putting to a vote.

While companies routinely seek permission to skip shareholder proposals, Apple’s application of the new SEC guidance shows how it could be used to ignore many investor proposals by claiming boards routinely review those areas, said Sanford Lewis, a Massachusetts attorney representing Apple shareholders who had filed two of the resolutions. Were the SEC to side with Apple, “this would be an incredibly dangerous precedent that would essentially say a great many proposals could be omitted,” Lewis said. [..] Often seen as distractions in the past, shareholder measures have taken on new significance as big asset managers increasingly back those on areas like climate change or board diversity.

Apple cited the SEC’s new guidance among other things in seeking to omit the shareholder measures from its proxy, according to letters Apple sent to the SEC. These include calls for Apple to take steps such as establishing a “human rights committee” to address concerns on topics like censorship, and for Apple to report on its ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Tusk against the rest. Couldn’t be because he’s Polish, could it? And looking at big jobs back home?!

EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)

The EU could scrap a divisive scheme that compels member states to accept quotas of refugees, one of the bloc’s most senior leaders will say this week. The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, will tell EU leaders at a summit on Thursday that mandatory quotas have been divisive and ineffective, in a clear sign that he is ready to abandon the policy that has created bitter splits across the continent. Tusk will set a six-month deadline for EU leaders to reach unanimous agreement on reforms to the European asylum system, but will propose alternatives if there is no consensus. “If there is no solution … including on the issue of mandatory quotas, the president of the European council will present a way forward,” states a draft letter from Tusk to national capitals, seen by the Guardian.

In effect this means scrapping mandatory quotas, because Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic are fiercely opposed to the idea of dispersing refugees around the bloc based on a formula drawn up in Brussels. Tusk is likely to face opposition, however, from other EU bodies, including the European commission. EU leaders introduced compulsory quotas in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, as thousands of people arrived daily on Europe’s shores, many of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic voted against the move, but the policy was forced through by a majority vote. Hungary and Poland have defied the rest of the EU by not taking a single refugee under the scheme, which aimed to relocate about 120,000 refugees, mainly Syrians. The Czech republic has taken in only 12. All three countries were referred to the European court of justice last week for failing to implement the policy, the usual procedure for flouting EU rules.

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All refugees living on Lesbos should be evacuated.

Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)

Authorities on the Greek island of Lesvos say they have blocked a ship carrying container homes for refugees and other migrants in protest at the refusal of the government and the European Union to move more people to Greece’s mainland. A government-chartered ship carrying the containers remained anchored at Mytilene, the island’s main town, on Monday after municipal vehicles were used to block port facilities. The island’s municipal board was due to meet later on Monday to decide on whether to lift the blockade following talks with the government, state-run TV ERT said. The mayors of five Greek islands facing the coast of Turkey are demanding that the government and EU end a policy of containment for migrants – introduced last year as a deterrent against illegal migration – because living facilities are severely overcrowded.

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Merkel, the story of a great and bitter failure.

Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

The German Foreign Ministry has made it clear that it will not provide additional winter assistance to refugees on the Aegean islands. In a related question from German newspapers, the foreign ministry replied that “responsibility for accommodating and feeding refugees falls under the jurisdiction of each country.” According to dpa, the Foreign Ministry recalled that Berlin recently funded the installation of 135 heated containers for a total of 800 people in two camps in the Thessaloniki region and that the EU has allocated up to now 1.4 billion euros to tackle the refugee crisis in Greece.

Meanwhile, there is media report that Greece has persuaded Turkey to accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to reduce critical overcrowding in its refugee camps. The Kathimerini daily said the agreement came during a strained two-day state visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week, during which he angered his hosts with talk of revising borders and complaints about Greece’s treatment of its Muslim minority. The deal is in addition to Turkey’s existing agreement to take back migrants from Aegean island camps, under the terms of an EU-Turkey pact.

Read more …

Feb 232017
 
 February 23, 2017  Posted by at 2:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Times Square New York City, 1958

 

A few days ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, in which I posited, among many other things, that “..the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s” along with the question “..was America at its richest right before or right after Nixon took the country off the gold standard in 1971?”

That same day, I received an email from (very) long time Automatic Earth reader and afficionado Ken Latta, who implied he thought the peak of American wealth was even earlier. That turned into a nice conversation. I really like the way his head works to frame his words. And Ken knows what he’s talking about by grace of the fact that he was a witness to it all.

I like that he defines wealth as “best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”, and the early 1960’s in America as “a golden age, overshadowed, of course, by excess hubris.”. And I wonder many of you would agree that America was at the summit of its wealth perhaps as much as 55-60 years ago?

Here’s his first mail:

Ken Latta: Ilargi, A darned good editorial, but I would like to suggest a different baseline for America’s peak wealth. As experienced by the common man, now pronounced “deplorable”.

In my humble estimation based on having been there at the time. Peak wealth occurred somewhere in the neighborhood of 1963. It was a time when the Beach Boys and their music biz competitors were making money with songs about hi-powered cars and a life of surfing waves. Working Joes bought those cars and drove them on the street. Those on the coasts spent inordinate amounts of time surfing. A lot of ordinary car buyers were committed to trading in every three years. Some of the better off even thought every two years was the way to go. We wuz feelin invincible and we enjoyed such a comfortable way of life without forcing the majority of our wimmin into wage slavery. It was a golden age, overshadowed, of course, by excess hubris.

The national perception of wealthiness was such that the Pedernales Poltroon (LBJ) felt emboldened to declare simultaneous war on Poverty and Viet-Nam. When both had finished kicking our ass, wealth was something only to be found in the future. The best and the brightest immediately set about creating ways to steal that wealth. Most of the female population faced a choice between wage slavery or more privation than they were prepared to tolerate.

So, here we are in that future with the wealth thoroughly plundered and nothing much more comforting to anticipate than a new version of iPhone. Wealth is best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful and today for a large segment a new phone seems to be close to the limit. As for a big segment of new car buyers, instead of trying to calculate the optimal trade-in period, many focus on hiding it from the repo man.

To which I replied:

Yeah, there’s a good argument to be made for 1963 as well. But then, the whole Woodstock thing seems similar to that, in the terms you use. The carefree and wasteful. Where did the hippies get the time to be hippies? Then again, you could argue that Woodstock was already a first protest against that very attitude. On the finance front, Nixon couldn’t pay back everyone in gold anymore, so that’s a bad sign right there. His 1971 move was born of necessity.

And Ken said:

Ken Latta: I just picked 1963 because it happened to be a significant year for me personally. I don’t think it really useful to think of peaks as being so much like a curve with zero radius. I’d really put the period of peak actual American wealth as approximately 1958 to about 1967. Being a hippy didn’t cost much and in most cases their parents could comfortably provide their essentials. Hippies weren’t opposed to working, when they needed to, and they generally existed within a sharing economy.

Yes, Nixon had no choice on closing the gold window. The rumors of Fort Knox vault being more or less empty might well be true. What we know is that in recent times we always steal the bank gold from our conquests. Somali pirates are second raters in comparison.

I suspect that an important factor behind the gold rush might have been a consequence of an MIC logistical move prior to our little Viet-Nam adventure. A huge stockpile of decommissioned WW-II bomb casings had been sold for scrap to European companies. You know since we weren’t going to fight any more non-nuke wars. The Pentagon desperately bought them back because we had very limited production capacity at the beginning of the project for rapid promotion of military officers. That must have created a pretty big pile of Eurodollars and de Gaulle seems to have preferred gold.

When Tricky closed the window we were already poor and Detroit’s new cars were almost without exception, junk. They like to credit news anchor Walter Cronkite for ending the war when he told his audience that the war couldn’t be won. I suspect we was put up to it by Washington when they could no longer ignore that it was unaffordable. It has been downhill ever since. The borgified media cooperated in obscuring that by focusing our attention on acts of petty criminals, acts of god, the Kardashian sisters and their ilk. Plus, of course, random examples of techno dazzlement.

That’s when I thought getting an article out of him would be great:

You should write an article about this. It’s the most crucial thing, and I wasn’t there. Why that period was what it was, vs not being what this one is, will be a very big story.

And he complied. So here’s Ken Latta:

 

 

Ken Latta: A recent post on The Automatic Earth contained a question regarding the point of peak wealth in The United States and whether President Nixon’s closing of the gold window initiated the decline. Being now 73 years old and still able to recall many impressions of that era, I pondered the issue to see if I might come up with a somewhat acceptable answer.

Back in the day we commonly joked that statistics lie and we have the numbers to prove it. Us having the numbers was the joke part. When it comes to concepts like wealth, I do not see numbers such as GDP as being reliable indicators. As the French and Russian revolutions revealed, a grossly unequal society is a poor society. Though it might display an image of being rich and powerful, that is only a mirage.

As was once common knowledge to most Earthlings, the 1930’s saw wealth disappear all over the world. That was the common view, but it is wrong. The social wealth was well and truly squandered during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The creeping social impoverishment just burst into public view in the 30’s. As is the custom, when poverty haunts the land barbarians will appear at the gates. And so the first half of the fifth decade was devoted to destroying as much of civilization as was deemed feasible at the time.

The USA government borrowed massive amounts of money to create the means of wreaking such havoc. There are always consequences from such actions. At the beginning of USA mobilization almost all of its industrial capacity was re-engineered and expanded to efficiently produce war materiel. The factories hummed and employed large numbers of women on the production lines. A consequence was the very limited availability of consumer goods, which were subject to rationing. With steady pay envelopes and little available to buy, lots of small denomination war bonds were sold to the populace. We might assume that some of it found its way into mattresses.

 

When peace broke out the populace had surplus cash and claims against the government. They were exuberant over victory and tired of not having anything new to enjoy. Millions of men were being discharged from the armed forces and those young factory girls wanted some babies. Those men would replace many of the women in the factories, but the factories needed to retool again to produce the consumer goods everybody wanted. Part of the new consumer demand was met by selling military surplus goods to the public. A lot of jeeps, trucks, industrial tools, materials such as steel panels for Quonset Huts and even light aircraft and cargo planes ended up in the hands of former GI Joe’s.

The Industrial Concerns gained another respite when President Truman signed an executive order declaring the USA would be forever more a permanent war economy. So outfits like Boeing, Douglas, Lockheed, Martin et al could keep right on producing large numbers of warplanes. Shipyards continued building aircraft carriers, submarines, etc. New versions of battle tanks rolled off the lines every few years. And of course, the nuclear devices kept getting more powerful and numerous.

Those GI Joe’s had experienced in the services a sense of brotherhood and unity in the face of us versus them. They brought those ideas into the factories and cemented the gains made by prewar union organizers. Very lucrative contracts were forced on employers and for once national wealth was being spread fairly evenly across social strata.

 


Ad for Ford Woodie, 1960

 

The working class began to feel sufficiently wealthy that they turned to indulging their fantasies and emulating as best they could the actions of the truly rich. Around the middle of the 1950’s they increasingly opted for more luxuriously appointed and/or higher performance cars and trucks than the economical versions that had been the norm for that class. Many also embraced the published suggestions that these vehicles should be traded for a new one every three years, which at that time was the standard term for auto financing.

In other words, why enjoy the net worth benefits of driving a paid for vehicle when you could enjoy the increased status of once again driving a brand new car. The propaganda was quite effective and the practice quite wasteful. They discovered the joys of power boating and over time the boats kept getting bigger and fancier. It is with much justification that this period is often described as the Golden Age. It wasn’t just that so many people were living well. It was a time when the working class seemed to have been most comfortable with their civilization. I put it down to people having full permission to be as wasteful as they wanted.

 

It could not last. The rulers filled with hubris arrogantly declared simultaneous war on poverty, Viet-Nam and the Moon. While also running a bodacious arms race with the USSR. At first it seemed to bode well for old GI Joe. The already very active military industries had to gear up to supply the weapons, munitions and materiel. Not to mention moon rockets. More good jobs to be had. But, as it turned out only the Moon war went mostly as planned. Though there were casualties. The flamboyant Gus Grissom and two crew mates were burned alive in a sealed Apollo capsule while waiting for launch. The Moon war ended with a unilateral cease fire when it was finally determined there was nothing there worth destroying. Aside from some junk scattered across the Lunar landscape, the Moon was left largely unmolested. Except for a few pounds of stolen rocks.

The other two wars unleashed a whole lot of grief across the land. GI Joe found himself looking out across a land he no longer understood. His kids had become hippies, freedom riders and flag burners. A good many had fled to Canada. The kids that failed to avoid the draft, after too many bad experiences in pursuit of an apparently phantom goal started behaving mutinously. A not entirely rare action was to slip an armed hand grenade into an officers tent. It happened to a young Marine officer who the author had met at my fiancée’s family home prior to his shipping out.

 

The Golden Age was over. Worse yet, petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert’s prediction of a peak of US oil production in the early 70’s was about to come true. Confidence began to wain and habits changed. Auto buyers increasingly focused on finding a model that might last long enough to get it paid for and be economical to operate. The door was opened for Japan and Germany to sell cars here and they soon sold a lot of them. US manufacturers fell victim to a labor force that no longer believed and management hubris.

The nation was hemorrhaging dollars to Europe, Japan and the OPEC cartel. According to the Bretton Woods agreement, those dollars were convertible to gold. Some nations, in particular France under de Gaulle, decided they wanted the gold. As the gold pile diminished, Nixon had no choice and closed the so called gold window thus breaking the Bretton Woods agreement. The subsequent creeping expansion of poverty and financial insecurity has reduced our civilization to a sullen mockery of its glory days.

The period following WW-II was anomalous for the era in that the State was encumbered with enormous debt while private debt was very modest. According to economists like Michael Hudson and Steve Keen, that is a recipe for citizen prosperity. The post war era seems to be a good example. Prior to the war state debt had been very low and private debt had swollen enormously. That ended rather badly. As Keen insists, private debt is a killer. A good reason being for example that it’s hard to repossess a government, but things like cars and houses are fairly trivial exercises.

When people see themselves as at constant risk of losing almost everything they are rarely happy campers. During the 70’s buyers and their lenders began offering ridiculous prices for houses. Car dealers often marked desirable new cars above MSRP. In the years that followed almost everything was bought on credit. To paraphrase Sen. Dirksen, a debt here a debt there after a while it turns into a real nightmare.

 

According to Dr. Hudson, in ancient Babylon credit was widely used. The principle creditors were the palace and the temple. It mostly consisted of running a tab for citizens using their services and buying supplies and typically paid when the crop came in. A practice of our small town grocer back in the 50’s. Though not for such extended periods. The custom of their civilization was, on ascension of a new king or crop failure or a war, to forgive all the palace and temple debts. This was deemed necessary to prevent too many of the population from falling into bondservitude, which would have brought down the kingdom.

In more recent times that was called a debt jubilee. It could work because most debt was owed to entities that had ultimate claims on all wealth in the domain. They could handle writing off debt without suffering bankruptcy. Private creditors, written as banksters, cannot do so unless the Palace (White House) and Temple (Federal Reserve) pay them full price for their worthless paper. In 2008 even the intellectually challenged GW Bush observed that ‘this sucker could go down’. I would never bet that it won’t go down next time, which could be most any time now. The barbarians are already wearing war paint (well actually pussy hats) and brandishing war clubs (signs on sticks). One can guess that unaccredited schools may already be training a cadre of mixologists in the proper preparation of Mr Molotov’s favorite cocktail.

It seems like a cosmic joke that Hammurabi and his ilk had better economic advisors than any of our modern meathead leadership. Of course, in his time civilization and turning wasteful practices into wealth was still a fairly new idea. It’s an old idea now apparently closing in on its pull date. I am drawn to wonder if civilization could ever have worked any other way. I’m calling it not very likely.