Oct 112018
 
 October 11, 2018  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Bather 1908

 

Dow Tumbles 830 Points In One Day, Trump Says The Fed Has ‘Gone Crazy’ (MW)
World Stock Markets Dive As Trump Attacks ‘Crazy’ US Rate Hikes (G.)
Tech Stocks Have Their Worst Day Since August 2011 (CNBC)
“Rising Inequality” Could Impact America’s AAA Credit Rating (SH)
How Will 6% Mortgage Rates Deal with Housing Bubble 2? (WS)
Brexit Deal Within Reach If May Agrees On Customs Union, Says Barnier (G.)
Hysteria Over the Italian Budget Is Wrong-Headed (Costantini)
Trump Campaign Claims Wikileaks Not Liable For Releasing Hacked Emails (G.)
Acropolis To Close In One-Day Strike Over Privatisation Fears (G.)
Trump Will Be The Last ‘Pure Human’ Leader – Scott Adams (Y!)
Judge Moves To Allow Monsanto New Trial After $289m Cancer Verdict (G.)
HSBC Issues Dire Warning On Antibiotics Resistance (BI)
Historic Climate Litigation Result Stands After Dutch Court Victory (CE)

 

 

Low volatility anyone?

Dow Tumbles 830 Points In One Day, Trump Says The Fed Has ‘Gone Crazy’ (MW)

‘I think the Fed is making a mistake. It’s so tight, I think the Fed has gone crazy’. That is the view that President Donald Trump shared of the Federal Reserve on Wednesday in the wake of a virtual bloodbath on Wall Street that resulted in the worst daily decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 since both U.S. equity benchmarks tumbled into correction territory back in early February. The Nasdaq, meanwhile, suffered its ugliest day since U.K. voters coalesced around a market-disrupting plan to exit from the European Union’s trade bloc back in June 2016.

In all, it was a withering session for an administration that has closely watched stock-market performance and views it, at least partly, as a gauge of the success of its economic policies, including corporate tax cuts and deregulation. However, those efforts, Trump says, are imperiled by the policies of the Fed, which has raised interest rates three times this year and has signaled its intention to do so a fourth time before year-end. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde dismissed Trump’s comments Thursday. “I would not associate Jay Powell with craziness,” she told CNBC at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

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Everything’s going down. ‘Investors’ are jittery.

World Stock Markets Dive As Trump Attacks ‘Crazy’ US Rate Hikes (G.)

A jittery, volatile week on global financial markets has burst into a frenzy of selling, triggered by heavy losses on Wall Street and comments by Donald Trump describing US interest rate hikes as “crazy”. The Nikkei index in Tokyo was down by 4.25% on Thursday afternoon, while in Hong Kong the index was down 3.9% and Shanghai was at its lowest mark for four years after a plunge of 4.15%. In Sydney the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed down 2.74%, slipping below the 6,000-point mark for the first time since early June. European markets were braced for more losses with the FTSE100 in London poised to fall almost 2% and close to dropping down below 7,000 points for the first time since March.

The rout was triggered by a fall of more than 800 points in the Dow Jones industrial average on Wall Street on Wednesday. It was the worst drop in eight months and was led by sharp declines in technology stocks. Despite a booming US economy, low inflation and low unemployment, investors are concerned about rising bond yields that have been drawing money out of the stock market, and rising US interest rates. “It’s a bit of a bloodbath,” said Ed Campbell, senior portfolio manager at QMA, the asset management branch of Prudential Financial in New York. “It’s primarily the cumulative effect of interest rate moves over the past five days and news reports about trade impacting companies.”

[..] The Chinese yuan slipped against the dollar again on Thursday as Beijing tries to mitigate the impact of US tariffs. But it was the only currency across the region that was feeling the pressure from higher bond yields as the Australian dollar slipped under US71c. “The yuan has already weakened significantly, to offset the tariffs announced so far,” said Alan Ruskin, Deutsche’s global head of G10 FX strategy in Sydney. “Further weakness could exacerbate concerns of a self-fulfilling flight of capital, and a loss of control.”

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Most overvalued sinks fastest.

Tech Stocks Have Their Worst Day Since August 2011 (CNBC)

Technology stocks got clobbered on Wednesday, suffering their worst day in more than seven years, as concerns over rising interest rates punished the overall market, particularly shares of companies that have been the best performers. The S&P 500 Information Technology Index closed at $1,220.62, down 4.8 percent, marking the biggest decline since August 18, 2011, when the index dropped 5.3 percent. All 65 members of the index fell. The broader S&P 500 dropped by 3.3 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 3.2 percent. The tech sector includes the largest companies by market cap in the U.S. and those that have been the biggest contributors to the extended rally. Shares of Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are up sharply for the year as investors bet they will continue to deliver strong earnings growth and take market share.

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“The wider the income gap becomes, the more the government will have to spend in order to support lower-income households.”

“Rising Inequality” Could Impact America’s AAA Credit Rating (SH)

“Since 1995, the top 10% of US income earners have experienced an overall median net worth increase of close to 200%, while the bottom 40% of income earners have seen a decline. There has been a particularly sharp increase in wealth and income inequality ratios since the global financial crisis,” Moody’s noted in a report released on Monday. “The global financial crisis exacerbated the effects of these trends by disproportionately affecting poorer overleveraged households and by reducing the mobility of households with negative home equity and, oftentimes, negative net wealth as a result,” says Moody’s Vice President William Foster. “Wealthier households with a higher concentration of equity market holdings in retirement savings plans and personal portfolio investments have disproportionately benefited from the significant gains in the US and global stock markets since the global financial crisis.”

In turn, that rising inequality “will exacerbate already material fiscal challenges on the horizon,” Moody’s continued. “Should inequality go unaddressed, social tensions will continue to rise, leading to a more fractious political landscape that increases political risk, and with it a less predictable policy environment.” But it’s not just about taxes, either. Everything from globalization, automation, technological advancements requiring advanced job skills, elevated premium on education and the increasing costs associated with education have played a role in widening inequality. So what does it mean for the U.S.’ AAA rating? According to Moody’s Vice President William Foster, the widening gap between rich and poor is a threat, but the U.S. government, of course, has other aspects supporting the rating—at least in the medium term (2-5 years). Chief among them is the debt denominated in dollars.

Still, Moody’s cites rising inequality as the U.S.’ weakest rating factor. Why? It’s simple math: The wider the income gap becomes, the more the government will have to spend in order to support lower-income households. These costs, Moody’s notes, “are unlikely to be offset by revenue raising measures following recent tax cuts”. At the end of the day, even though the economy is chugging along nicely—nicely enough, in fact, for everyone to ignore rising inequality that will contribute to widening fiscal deficits and a growing debt burden.

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Timebomb.

How Will 6% Mortgage Rates Deal with Housing Bubble 2? (WS)

What many in 2016 thought would never happen again is now reality. It finally happened – a line in the sand has been breached. The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment did what people had thought in 2016 we’d never see again: It breached 5%. It hit 5.05%, to be precise, for the week ending October 5, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) this morning. This is the highest average rate since January 5, 2010 (chart via Investing.com):

This is likely not the pain-threshold for the housing market, though it is already putting pressure on it at the margin, with some potential buyers being scared off and other potential buyers finding the inflated home prices of today with the current mortgage rates outside their range of affordability. As interest rates have risen, some potential buyers have fallen by the wayside – though not a huge number just yet. But 6% will likely be the pain threshold, in my estimates. It will block a considerable number of potential buyers from buying at current prices. Home prices would have to fall first.

If the maximum a household can afford is a mortgage payment of $1,720 a month, they can finance $320,000 over 30 years with a 5% fixed rate mortgage. But if the mortgage rate rises to 6%, they’re maxed out at $287,000. In other words, the price they can afford would drop by about 10% if the rate rises by 1 percentage point. This principle goes for all budget-constrained buyers. And 6% has moved into view. This is still historically low. It would take rates back to December 2008, when the Fed was kicking off its first round of QE to repress long-term rates and inflate asset prices. Beyond that are the now unimaginably high rates of 7% and 8%:

Mortgage rates move more or less in tandem with the 10-year Treasury yield, but are higher. The spread between the MBA’s average 30-year fixed mortgage rate and the 10-year yield runs around 1.5 to 2.0 percentage points over time. With today’s 10-year yield at 3.22%, the spread is 1.83 percentage points.

[..] This new mortgage rate environment is meeting home prices across the US that have surged over the past years. Affordability issues, already tough to deal with at 4% and 4.5% and even tougher to deal with at 5%, are going to be much tougher at 6%.

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Barnier knows that the DUP and hardliners won’t accept.

Brexit Deal Within Reach If May Agrees On Customs Union, Says Barnier (G.)

Michel Barnier has claimed a Brexit deal could be within reach by next Wednesday but warned the prime minister that only by abandoning a key red line and agreeing to a customs union can impediments on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK be avoided. The British government would have to give up on its plans for free-trade deals with China and the US under such an agreement, the EU’s chief negotiator insisted, but otherwise a customs and regulatory border within the territory of the UK will have to be erected.

The EU’s contentious proposal for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit is for Northern Ireland to, in effect, stay in the customs union and remain under single market regulations, while the rest of the UK withdraws. In a speech in Brussels, Barnier reiterated his rejection of the counter-proposals hammered out by the cabinet at Chequers, which Theresa May insists is the only deal that respects both the referendum result and the constitutional integrity of the UK by ensuring “frictionless” trade and no hard border.

The prime minister’s plan for a common rulebook on goods and a customs arrangement that meant the UK could avoid border checks, while allowing the country to sign its own bespoke trade deals, would give British companies “a huge competitive edge” and be “counter to our very foundations”, Barnier said. He instead encouraged Britain to make a final push in the talks, offering to launch “around 10 negotiations running in parallel” from April 2019 on an EU-UK trade deal, if agreement can be found now on the Irish border issue and the principles of a Canada-style free trade deal.

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Why the EU-Italy feud will be fierce.

Hysteria Over the Italian Budget Is Wrong-Headed (Costantini)

Even the moderate face of the coalition, the Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, stepped up to question the priorities of the European Commission, the Bank of Italy, and the IMF: He assured that his government remains committed to containing the public debt and maintaining fiscal stability, but claimed that goal is impossible to achieve without economic development. The minister for European affairs, economist Paolo Savona, said that, in fact, a higher deficit-to-GDP ratio than 2.4% would be helpful. The heated reactions to the new fiscal plan are unjustified. In fact, the estimated targets that the new fiscal plan would (minimally) breach are unreliable and based on wrong macroeconomic principles.

Moreover, despite accusations of profligacy, Italy has in fact been running large primary surpluses (the budget balance minus interest payments), and will keep doing so even if the government confirms its plans. If anything should be of “serious concern,” it is the fact that the country continues down the road of austerity, which has proven to be contractionary; it has locked the country into stagnation and exposed its banking system to still more stress. With public investments at historically low levels, unemployment still above the 2008 rate in all regions, and a youth unemployment rate above 30%, it is hard not to see a strong case for fiscal stimulus.

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It’s all about Russiagate and Mueller’s indictment of ‘Russian hackers’. All nonsense. Free Assange and let him provide the evidence.

Trump Campaign Claims Wikileaks Not Liable For Releasing Hacked Emails (G.)

The Trump campaign argued in a legal filing that Wikileaks could not be held liable for publishing emails that were stolen by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 US election because the website was simply serving as a passive publishing platform on behalf of a third party, in the same way as Google or Facebook. Questions about Wikileaks’ publication of thousands of hacked emails, which it allegedly obtained following a plot by Russian military intelligence to steal the emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic party, are at the heart of Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The campaign also said in a legal filing that any alleged agreement between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to publish the emails could not have been a “conspiracy” because Wikileaks’ decision to release the stolen emails was not an illegal act. The court filing was written in response to a civil lawsuit brought against the Trump campaign by two of Hillary Clinton’s donors and a former employee of the Democratic party. The Trump campaign’s surprising defence of Wikileaks marks a stark departure from official US policy, which has condemned the website for frequently targeting the US government and for publishing thousands of classified documents about covert policies.

[..] Analysts say the legal filing is also significant because it hints at how officials in the Trump White House or individuals who served on the campaign may eventually seek to defend themselves against any criminal charges alleging that they conspired with Wikileaks to release the emails. The legal arguments suggest the Trump White House would argue Wikileaks was not criminally liable for the release of the emails and that it therefore would not be a criminal conspiracy to work with the website on their release. The filing also makes the case that, under the campaign’s first amendment right to free speech, it had the right to publish information – even if it was stolen – as long as it did not participate in the theft of the emails. The hacked materials were a matter of “significant public concern”, the filing said.

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They need to move well beyond one day to get attention. And whoever signed those secret deals (Tsipras, Troika!) needs their day in court.

Acropolis To Close In One-Day Strike Over Privatisation Fears (G.)

Striking trade unionists in Greece are forcing the shutdown of the country’s prime ancient sites, including the Acropolis, in a one-day protest over privatisation fears. The 24-hour walkout on Thursday is expected to close the majority of Greece’s 275 archaeological sites, monuments and museums, which generate about €100m in revenue, mostly from ticket sales, every year. “We are doing this to protest the prospect of any of these sites being exploited by foreign funds,” said Grigoris Vafiadis, the head of the association of culture ministry employees. “Every day we are discovering that monuments have been transferred to the privatisation fund set up at the request of [bailout] lenders. No country in the world, for whatever reason, has mortgaged its cultural heritage.”

The sites, which protestors say include Knossos on Crete, are believed to have been placed on a list of properties overseen by a superfund established in 2016 with the express purpose of managing state assets for the next 99 years. The body, which also handles state asset sales, was part of the price the debt-burdened country had to pay to keep default at bay and remain in the eurozone. Vafiadis, whose union represents more than 3,000 cultural ministry officials, mostly in the Greater Attica region surrounding Athens and central Greece, said sites were listed in the superfund by code. “It’s a long process to work out what the codes refer to on the land registry. For all we know, they might even include the Acropolis which is not just Greek but a world heritage site and should never be put in the hands of any foreign fund,” he said.

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Interesting assessment.

Trump Will Be The Last ‘Pure Human’ Leader – Scott Adams (Y!)

Scott Adams, the creator of the office-themed comic strip “Dilbert,” isn’t laughing about the future of American democracy. Having expressed his admiration for Donald Trump over the past few years, Adams believes the tech industry poses a threat to the president as well as to the country as a whole. “I think President Trump will be the last pure human leader,” Adams told Grant Burningham, host of the Yahoo News podcast “Bots & Ballots.” “Everything after this will be a human and he will be elected, he or she, but the decisions will really come from the algorithm after that.”

The algorithm, Adams said, was the one unleashed on the world by Silicon Valley tech companies that has the power to shape popular opinion that, in turn, will determine how politicians express themselves. “There are people making decisions at the tech companies — the Googles and Twitters and Facebooks. Those decisions get turned into algorithms, and once they’re turned into algorithms, the humans no longer really understand them,” Adams said. Adams has likened Trump’s off-the-cuff communications approach in the 2016 presidential election to a form of hypnosis that helped insulate him from the powers of the algorithm.

“President Trump is unique in that his persuasion skills are greater than the tech companies’. It’s probably the only reason he got elected,” Adams said. “I can imagine no one else who would have beat Hillary Clinton. So, after him, I think if you get in an ordinary politician, and it doesn’t matter which party they’re in, the algorithm will push the voters and the voters will push the politicians and everybody will think they have free will, they will think they made up their own minds. They will think they did their own research, they came up with independent decisions, but we’re no longer in that world.”

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Monsanto will appeal until the next century.

Judge Moves To Allow Monsanto New Trial After $289m Cancer Verdict (G.)

A California judge has moved to grant the agrochemical company Monsanto a new trial after a landmark jury verdict found its herbicide had caused a man’s terminal cancer. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a $289m award in August in a trial alleging that the popular Roundup weedkiller had made him sick and that Monsanto had failed to warn him of the risks. Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, immediately appealed the verdict, which included punitive damages and economic losses and also found that Monsanto had “acted with malice or oppression”.

The San Francisco superior court judge Suzanne Bolanos cited the “insufficiency of the evidence to justify the award for punitive damages” in a tentative written ruling issued before a hearing on Wednesday. She is expected to make a final decision after attorneys submit additional arguments. Monsanto sought to overturn the verdict and has continued to argue that it is safe to use glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate-based products, including the Roundup and Ranger Pro brands, are now worth billions of dollars in revenues, approved for use on more than 100 crops, and registered in 130 countries. Timothy Litzenburg, one of the attorneys who represented Johnson in the trial, told the Guardian that regardless of the outcome, the original ruling would still have a long-term impact: “There’s been a loud and clear message.”

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Precautionary principle? Not for Monsanto, not for Big Pharma.

HSBC Issues Dire Warning On Antibiotics Resistance (BI)

According to the global research team at HSBC, the use of antibiotics in meat production could have “devastating” consequences for humanity. When farmers feed antibiotics to their animals, they create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in humans. Over time, this could make it difficult to treat even common infections like strep throat. The report’s authors liken the impact of antibiotic resistance to climate change: The causation may not be immediately clear, but the evidence suggests a catastrophic future. Scientific experts now predict that antibiotic resistance could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, exceeding cancer as one of the most common forms of death worldwide.

While some of this is related to the overprescribing of antibiotics by doctors, it also has to do with the antibiotics that are fed to key sources of produce, such as chickens, cows, and pigs. According to the report, more than half of global antibiotics are used in agriculture rather than medicine. Although China accounts for 60% of the world’s agricultural antibiotics, the US also uses antibiotics in around 70% of its agricultural products. Most of these antibiotics are used in meat production, which has risen by 90% per capita globally since the 1960s. In June, an analysis of more than 47,000 US government lab tests found an increase in the number of pork chops and ground beef that were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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Court decides because of “a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights”. If that is true in Holland, it will also be in 26 other countries. Moreover, as Elliot Sherber said in his article in yesterday’s Debt Rattle:

“According to the legal maxim that “the health of the people should be the supreme law” (another type of emergency brake – one cited by jurists, and those contesting coercive power, since antiquity), there is a legal duty to pursue this as well (for, among other things, human health is contingent on the health of its general environment – and freedom from oppression). Indeed, if we are to take this maxim seriously, we must recognize that it implies that conditions that are inimical to health (harmful to the health of the people) must be corrected in order to comply with the “supreme law.”

Historic Climate Litigation Result Stands After Dutch Court Victory (CE)

Climate litigators are celebrating after a second landmark court victory that will hold the Netherlands government to account for greater action on climate change. The Hague Court of Appeal has upheld a historic win for the Urgenda Foundation on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens in their climate case, rejecting the Dutch government’s arguments. A day after the UN IPCC report outlined the urgent climate action needed to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees, the Dutch court today affirmed that any less than a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by the Netherlands government before 2020 would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Dutch emissions are currently only 13% lower compared to 1990 levels and have stagnated during the last six years.

The original legal victory by Urgenda inspired a wave of climate lawsuits worldwide, brought by people determined to hold their governments accountable for a lack of climate action. ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “Today’s news shows just what a powerful tool climate litigation has become in holding decision-makers to account for their climate inaction. “For a second time now, a Dutch court has ruled that the country’s government has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from the impacts of climate change and that anything less is a violation of their human rights. “This second victory shows that Dutch judges have been clear about what the government must do now: accept both decisions and refocus its efforts on reducing its carbon emissions by 25% by 2020.

“This is the climate case that started it all, inspiring similar lawsuits worldwide. It has completely changed the debate on climate policy and will inspire people everywhere to use the power of the courts to hold their leaders to account for greater action on climate change.”

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May 162018
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)
US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)
Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)
Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)
Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)
Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)
Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)
New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)
US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)
Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)
Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)
UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)
Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

 

 

Deflation.

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)

What if the entire world of money is preparing for the wrong disaster — which would be a disaster in and of itself? Since the financial crisis, Wall Street, central-bank heads, economists, and policymakers have been waiting for the return of inflation. At the beginning of this year, they thought they had found it. It came, so they thought, in the form of a weak dollar, wage growth, economic stability in China, and steadily rising interest rates. So here in the US, the Fed started talking about the importance of preparing to fight runaway inflation. In fact, it’s obsessed with the idea. According to Deutsche Bank analyst Torsten Slok, the Fed is talking more about inflation now (in its minutes and in its reports) than it did in 2006 when the economy was actually overheating, right before the crash.

This, even though personal-consumption expenditures haven’t grown by the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since the financial crisis. There’s a lot of noise, from data revisions and Trump tweets, trade-war threats and hopes of growth from tax policy, a wobbling stock market, and rising interest rates. But when it comes down to it, the things that everyone is saying will be sources of inflation may not be sources at all. Meanwhile, the weak dollar, wage growth, and a stable China elixir that got markets high in January have since faded. That should be a warning. If we play our cards wrong and pay attention to all the wrong signs, we may still be in a world tilting dangerously closer to our old enemy, deflation.

[..] As Slok said, aging can’t fully explain why wage growth has been suppressed, but he has other ideas too. “One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed (see chart below). A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households,” he wrote in a note to clients back in March.

The deflationary impacts of economic inequality and an aging population are not going away with the flick of a wrist or the push of a button. They are long-term challenges that require imaginative, difficult policy solutions. It’s hard to see that coming from the Trump administration or an increasingly polarized, uncooperative world. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we waiting for the wrong disaster?

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That’s the end?!

US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)

A sharp sell-off in the bond market is sending mortgage rates to the highest level in seven years. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed will likely end the day as high as 4.875% for the highest creditworthy borrowers and 5% for the average borrower, according to Mortgage News Daily. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, started the year right around 4% but began rising almost immediately. They then leveled off in March and early April, only to begin rising yet again. Tuesday’s move follows positive economic data in retail sales, suggesting that newly imposed tariffs would not hit sales as hard as expected.

Rates have been widely expected to rise, as the Federal Reserve increases its lending rate and pulls back its investments in mortgage-backed bonds. But mortgage rates have reacted only in fits and starts. “The bottom line is that the writing on the wall has been telling rates to go higher since at least last September,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Rates keep looking back to see if the writing has changed, and although there have been opportunities for hope (trade wars, stock selling-sprees, spotty data at times), it hasn’t. Today is just the latest reiteration of that writing.”

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10% unemployment.

Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%. The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s. The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks. If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%. Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4percentage points. If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

[..] Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as apercentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale). From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense. But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

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Too late to get a new government?

Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)

In financial markets, memories can be short. Last year, Argentina sold 100-year bonds, joining a select club of countries with the confidence to borrow for such an extended period. Yes, the same Argentina that has defaulted on its debt eight times in the past 200 years, including the largest sovereign default in history in 2001. Not long before investors decided it was a good idea to lend to the South American nation for 100 years, it was largely shut out of international capital markets. In June 2017, Argentina sold $2.75 billion of US dollar-denominated 100-year bonds at an effective yield of 8%. The history of defaults seemed to be forgotten—nearly $10 billion in bids were placed for the bonds.

The sale came at a time when investors were hungry for high-yielding debt, but it also showed confidence in president Mauricio Macri and his program of pro-market reforms. Less than a year later, Macri has asked the IMF for a $30 billion loan to help it combat a currency crisis and limit further damage to the Argentinian economy from a dangerous outbreak of market turmoil. What went wrong?

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Not sure it’ll be all that slow. Turekey has borrowed in dollars up the wazoo.

Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)

Turkey’s economy is overheating and if the government doesn’t act then the country is in trouble, according to several analysts. “The government has no intention of tackling imbalances or overheating,” Marcus Chevenix, global political research analyst at TS Lombard, said in a research note this week. “It is this unwillingness to act that leads us to believe that we can now say that Turkey is entering a slow burning crisis.” The Turkish lira is at a record low against the dollar, and is ranked among the worst-performing currencies this year. After comments this week by Turkish President Recep Erdogan promising to lower interest rates after the country’s June election, the currency tanked to its lowest point yet against the greenback, hitting 4.4527 on Tuesday mid-afternoon.

The dollar has appreciated by around 18% against the lira so far this year. The reason? Erdogan has been sitting on interest rates, opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its double-digit inflation. Turkey’s growth rate reached an impressive 7.4% for 2017 and leads the G-20, but at the expense of inflation, which has shot up to 10.9%. Market sentiment has driven much of the lira’s sell-off, as investors worry about government intervention in monetary policy and central bank independence. Investors have been hoping for a rate rise by the bank, but that now appears unlikely.

Erdogan plays an unusually heavy-handed role in deciding his country’s monetary policy, and many observers say he keeps the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (TCMB) hands tied. The bank finally raised its rates for the first time in several sessions in late April, moving its late liquidity window rate (which it uses to set policy) up by 75 basis points to 13.5%. The lira temporarily jumped on the news. But Erdogan aims to bring the rate back down, saying it must be done to ease pressure on Turkish households and drive the growth needed to create jobs for Turkey’s youth. “I’m seriously concerned about the Turkish lira,” Piotr Matys at Rabobank told CNBC via email. “Is Turkey the domino the market expects to fall next? It’s got all those problems — high current account deficit, government borrowing in other currencies.”

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He went to the City for this?!

Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)

“Shock and disbelief” – that’s how global money managers reacted to an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to re-assure foreign investors about his economic management as the lira went into tailspin. Fund managers who met Erdogan and his delegation in London on Monday, part of a three-day visit to Britain, were baffled about how he plans to tame rising inflation and a currency in freefall – while simultaneously seeking lower interest rates. Some said that while Erdogan has crushed his domestic enemies, he would find taking on international financial markets with policies that defy economic orthodoxy much tougher.

A resurgent dollar, rising oil prices and a jump in borrowing costs have caused havoc across emerging markets in recent weeks. However, Turkey has been among the worst affected due to its a gaping current account deficit and growing puzzlement over who exactly holds the reins of monetary policy. Erdogan’s comments that he planned to take greater control of the economy after snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month deepened investors’ worries about the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, helping to send the lira to a record low on Tuesday.

Rampant inflation dogged Turkey for decades before 2000 and has been back in double digits since the start of 2017. But Erdogan has styled himself as an enemy of high interest rates, defying orthodox monetary policy that prescribes tighter credit to keep a lid on prices. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the meetings, investors told Reuters they were flabbergasted by his stance and willingness to go into battle with world markets at such a fragile time.

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A suggestive and tendentious piece by the Guardian, which seems to prepare us for a justification of Ecuador throwing Julian out. Other articles in today’s paper have titles like “How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy” and “Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy?”

Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)

Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

[..] Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources. [..] Worried that British authorities could use force to enter the embassy and seize Assange, Ecuadorian officials came up with plans to help him escape.

They included smuggling Assange out in a diplomatic vehicle or appointing him as Ecuador’s United Nations representative so he could have diplomatic immunity in order to attend UN meetings, according to documents seen by the Guardian dated August 2012. In addition to giving Assange asylum, Correa’s government was apparently prepared to spend money on improving his image. A lawyer was asked to devise a “media strategy” to mark the “second anniversary of his diplomatic asylum”, in a leaked 2014 email exchange seen by the Guardian.

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Force them to open the books.

New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)

New York’s City Council is plotting a crackdown on Airbnb, the largest home-sharing platform in the world, as the hotel industry and its unionized workers push lawmakers in some of the nation’s biggest cities to blunt the $30 billion company’s growth. New York City’s push resembles a legislative effort underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts of short-term rental platforms register their homes with the city, leading to a decline in listings. The coastal cities are among Airbnb’s largest markets in the United States.

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York’s state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company. The New York push comes amid a well-funded advertising and lobbying campaign by the hotel industry, which has run ads supporting a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that was critical of Airbnb, and is accusing the company of reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities.

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What’s taking so long?

US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)

Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales. U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.

Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. [..] Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers. Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.

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And on and on and on…

Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)

The tug of war between the IMF and Berlin over the Greek debt issue is threatening Greece’s successful bailout program exit in August. Germany insists on granting Greece gradual debt relief under the condition that it will be approved every year by the Bundestag. For its part, the IMF disagrees with Berlin’s insistence on reviewing the measures every year and is threatening to leave the Greek program. If the IMF were to leave the program because it thinks that debt relief measures are inadequate to secure the sustainability of Greece’s debt, the country’s access to international market funding will be cast in doubt. This means that, inevitably, the government will have to resort to precautionary credit to shield itself from complications.

The chasm between Berlin and the IMF was clear during Monday’s session of the so-called Washington Group – representatives of Greece’s creditors as well as the governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the biggest eurozone economies. Poul Thomsen, the head of the IMF’s European Department, who attended Monday’s meeting, countered that Berlin’s conditions were not acceptable. Thomsen said Tuesday that the Fund wants to activate the program for Greece but warned that time is running out and asked for final decisions on the matter by the next Eurogroup on May 24.

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Speed up deportations and appeals, restrict freedom of movement. Lovely

Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)

Greece’s parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey. Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland. Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned.

More than 16,000 people are stuck there. A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights. The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece’s land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy. Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

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Have we lost the ability to frame everything in anything else than monetary terms?

UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear. This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the market, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations. Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”.

The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge”. Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth. The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract. This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns.

Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives. A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter, have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

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Make a fresh bed every day.

Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

Chimpanzees have much cleaner beds – with fewer bodily bacteria – than humans do, scientists have found. A study comparing swabs taken from chimp nests with those from human beds found that people’s sheets and mattresses harboured far more bacteria from their bodies than the animals’ beds did from theirs. The researchers say their findings suggest that our attempts to create clean environments for ourselves may actually make our surroundings “less ideal”. More than a third – 35 per cent – of the bacteria in human beds comes from our own saliva, skin and faecal particles. By contrast, chimps – humans’ closest evolutionary relatives – appear to sleep with few such bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Megan Thoemmes, lead author of the paper. The researchers collected samples from 41 chimpanzee beds – or nests – in Tanzania and tested them for microbial biodiversity. At 15 primates’ nests, researchers also used vacuums to find out whether there were arthropods, such as insects, spiders, mites and ticks. “We also expected to see a significant number of arthropod parasites, but we didn’t,” said Ms Thoemmes. In addition, the team were shocked to find very few fleas, lice and bed bugs – ectoparasites – in the chimp nests.

“There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species,” said Ms Thoemmes, a PhD student at North Carolina State University. She believes chimps’ beds are cleaner because they make them freshly in treetops each day.

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Jan 302018
 
 January 30, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Obelisco, Buenos Aires 1936

 

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)
Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)
Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)
Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)
US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)
Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)
Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)
Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)
On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)
Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

 

 

I like the suggestion that Trump can read the memo out loiud tonoght in SOTU. Though it’s been discussed so much already, it can only disappoint probably.

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)

In a highly anticipated decision, on Monday evening the House Intelligence Committee voted to make public the memo alleging what some Republicans say are “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice regarding the Trump presidential campaign. In immediate response to the vote, the Committee’s top democrat Adam Schiff said that “we’ve crossed a deeply regrettable line”, adding that the “committee voted to put the president’s interest above the interest of the country.” The decision [ends] weeks of speculation over whether the memo, which was drafted by staff for committee chairman Devin Nunes (R- Calif) would be made public. At the same time, it intensifies the dispute over what Democrats say is an all-out assault by Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Now the fate of the 4-page FISA memo is in the hands of Donald Trump: as we discussed earlier, the document will not be immediately released as under the House rule Republicans used to override the classification of the four-page memo, President Trump now has five days to review and reject its publication. But, as per Bloomberg’s reporting earlier, the White House has signaled support for the document’s release and is widely expected to defy the DOJ in allowing the publication to go forward. The DOJ has opposed the release of the document, reportedly infuriating President Trump. While Nunes has described the memo as “facts,” Democrats have slammed it as a collection of misleading talking points they are unable to correct without exposing the highly classified information underpinning the document.

As Bloomberg disclosed earlier on Monday, releasing the memo without allowing them to review it on those grounds, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nunes, would be “extraordinarily reckless.” Of course, the reason for the DOJ – and the Democrats’ fury – is well-known: Republicans who have read the memo have hinted heavily that it contains information that could unravel the entire Mueller investigation, long described by the president as a “witch hunt.” In an amusing twist, now that transparency appears to be the watchword, the Republican controlled House Intel Committee also plans to release the transcript of the business meeting dealing with releasing the FISA memo.

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Russia has pledged to read the list ‘without letting emotion get in the way’.

Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies. “Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.” Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency. Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election. But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions. “From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

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Next recession: Dow plunge by 2/3.

Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)

[..] it’s true that when we examine pre-crash extremes, like 2000 and 2007, we’ll typically find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period were higher than the returns that one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier. No surprise there. The only way to get to breathtaking valuations is to experience a period of surprisingly strong returns. Those breathtaking valuations are then followed by dismal consequences. Likewise, when we examine secular lows like 1974 and 1982, we’ll find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period fell short of the returns one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier.

The chart below offers a reminder of what this looks like, in data since the 1920’s. Look at the “errors” in 1988, 1995, and 2006. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the major valuation peaks of 2000, 2007 and today that were responsible for the overshoot of actual returns. The 2000 and 2007 instances were both followed by losses of 50% or more in the S&P 500. Look at the “errors” in 1937, 1962, 1966, and 1970. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the market lows of 1949, 1974, 1978 and 1982 that were responsible for the undershoot of actual returns. Those market lows turned out to be the best buying opportunities of the post-war era. When market cycles move to extreme overvaluation or undervaluation, they become an exercise in borrowing or lending returns to the future, and then surrendering or receiving them back over the remaining half of the cycle.

Put simply, in my view, stock prices are rising not because Wall Street has thoughtfully quantified the effect of taxes, interest rates, corporate profits, or anything else. Instead, Wall Street is mesmerized by the self-reinforcing outcomes of its own speculation, relying on verbal arguments, optimistic projections lacking grounds in observable data, and enthusiastic assertions about cause-effect relationships that are accepted without the need for any evidence at all (much less decades of it).

Back to Galileo. Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. When we do this, come to understand the current speculative extreme as the tension between two observations that are not actually contradictory – just uncomfortable. One is that stock prices are indeed three times the level at which they are likely to end the current market cycle. The other is that there is no pressure for valuations to normalize over shorter segments of the cycle, as long as risk-seeking speculative psychology remains intact.

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It’s starting to feel as if we passed an inflection point.

Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)

Global government bond markets continued to sell-off Monday, taking U.S. Treasury yields to the highest level in four years amid renewed bets on faster inflation in the world’s biggest economy and hawkish comments on growth and inflation from central bank officials in Europe. The bond market moves have clipped early gains for stocks and raised the spectre of a correction in inflation assumptions as the global economy roars to life and oil and commodity prices continue to climb amid a surge in manufacturing activity. The selling was also accelerated, in part, by a Goldman Sachs research note which suggested that Wednesday’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the last under the leadership of outgoing chairwoman Janet Yellen, could plant the early seeds for a March hike in benchmark borrowing costs.

“We expect the FOMC to issue a generally upbeat post-meeting statement that includes an upgrade to the balance of risks and a slightly hawkish rewording of the inflation assessment,” the note read, adding that public remarks since the December meeting “bolster the case for an upgrade, and by our count, at least half of the Committee has recently referenced upside risks to growth.” Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields were marked at 2.72% in early Monday trading, the highest since early 2014, while 2-year note yields were seen at 2.15%, the highest since 2008. Those gains followed Friday closing levels that showed the widest yield gap between so-called TIPS, or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, and benchmark 10-year notes since Sept. 2014.

In Europe, five-year German bunds yields traded in positive territory for the first time since 2015 amid a solid assessment of the region’s growth prospects last week from ECB President Mario Draghi and comments over the weekend from Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot that he saw “no reason whatsoever” to continue the Bank’s €2.55 trillion ($3.16 trillion) quantitative easing program beyond its September deadline. Both U.S. and European investors are bracing for faster inflation in the months ahead as global commodity prices – particularly crude oil – continue to rise. Brent crude futures for March delivery, the benchmark for prices around the world, were marked at $69.87 Monday, down from their Friday close of $70.52 but still some 28% higher from the same period last year, suggesting a big upside import into headline inflation readings over the first half of this year.

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Yields go up, then so do mortgage rates.

US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)

A huge sell-off in the bond market is about to make buying a home more expensive. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, have been rising for the past few weeks, but are seeing their biggest move higher Monday. “Bottom line, rate sheets are going to be ugly this morning,” wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Some lenders will be at 4.5% on their best-case-scenario 30-year fixed quotes.” That is the highest rate since 2014. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed started the year right around 4% but then began to climb on positive news in the U.S. economy, solid company earnings reports and a shift in foreign central bank policies which appear to now be following the Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy.

The rate was at 4.28% by the end of last week. “Apart from central banks, there’s a ton of bond market supply coming down the pike due to infrastructure and tax bill spending,” Graham said. That new supply will send yields and, consequently, mortgage rates higher. While mortgage rates are still historically low, they were even lower in the years following the financial crisis. That not only helped juice the sharp increase in home prices, but it has also given borrowers a new sense of normal. Both will hurt affordability this spring on several fronts. “Today is one more reason for Realtors and buyers to move up their spring schedule,” said Chris Kopec, a mortgage loan consultant at Chicago-based Lakeside Bank.

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Why investigate Trump, but not Hillary et al?

Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)

It’s hard not to be impressed by the evidence in the public record that the FBI misbehaved pretty badly around the various election year events of 2016. And who, besides Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, can pretend to be impressed by the so far complete lack of evidence of Russian “meddling” to defeat Hillary Clinton? I must repeat: so far. This story has been playing for a year and a half now, and as the days go by, it seems more and more unlikely that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is sitting on any conclusive evidence. During this time, everything and anything has already leaked out of the FBI and its parent agency the Department of Justice, including embarrassing hard evidence of the FBI’s own procedural debauchery, and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Mueller’s office is anymore air-tight than the rest of the joint.

If an attorney from Mars came to Earth and followed the evidence already made public, he would probably suspect that the FBI and DOJ colluded with the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party to derail the Trump campaign train, and then engineer an “insurance policy” train wreck of his position in office. Also, in the process, to nullify any potential legal action against Clinton, including the matter of her email server, her actions with the DNC to subvert the Sanders primary campaign, the Steele dossier being used to activate a FISA warrant for surveillance of the Trump campaign, the arrant, long-running grift machine of the Clinton Foundation (in particular, the $150 million from Russian sources following the 2013 Uranium One deal, when she was Secretary of State), and the shady activities of Barack Obama’s inner circle around the post-election transition. There is obviously more there there than in the Resistance’s Russia folder.

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What Britain can quarrel about this week.

Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)

Brexit would leave the UK worse off under three possible scenarios: a comprehensive free trade deal, single market access and no deal at all, according to a leaked government analysis of the economic impact of leaving the EU. The document was meant to be shown confidentially to cabinet ministers this week but was leaked in an embarrassing development for Theresa May and David Davis, the Brexit secretary. It said national income would be 8% lower under a no deal scenario, around 5% lower with a free trade agreement with the EU and about 2% lower with a soft Brexit option of single market membership over a 15-year period. The government would not comment on leaked documents but sources stressed the analysis did not cover May’s preferred option of a bespoke deal amounting to a “deep and special partnership” with the EU.

The document suggested that chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, and cars and retail would be the hardest hit and every UK region would also be affected negatively in all the modelled scenarios, with the north-east, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland facing the biggest falls in economic performance. It comes after Davis refused to release impact assessments covering 58 sectors of the economy when requested to by parliament, claiming they did not in fact exist. Remain supporters said the report, seen by BuzzFeed News, was concerning but in line with what they had feared.

[..] Eloise Todd, the chief executive of anti-Brexit organisation Best for Britain, added: “According to the government’s secret analysis, even the softest Brexit scenario will mean a 2% hit to growth. “Almost every community, region and sector of the economy included in the analysis would be negatively impacted. The case for or against Brexit should be about more than balance sheets, but it’s painfully clear that the numbers are a gloomy part of the story. And behind these numbers are thousands of jobs, businesses and homes that are at risk. “The government are calling this document embarrassing but it’s more than that. It is a colossal act of economic self harm, written down clearly, in black and white. We are reading about an economy facing the abyss.”

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After Janet, the flood.

Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)

Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, begins her final rate-setting meeting at the helm of the US central bank on Tuesday, before she is replaced by Donald Trump’s chosen successor, Jerome Powell. The first woman to lead the Fed arrived in February 2014 at a time when the money-printing machine of quantitative easing was whirring at full-tilt under her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. QE, which involved the Fed buying bonds from financial institutions, pumped billions of dollars into the US economy to keep it afloat after the financial crisis. Yellen leaves next month with a legacy as the Fed chair who began the long process of turning off the QE machine, and for raising interest rates for the first time in seven years in 2015.

Powell will have a tough act to follow, with the stock market currently sitting at a record high and as economic growth continues to strengthen and unemployment stands at the lowest level since 2000. No increase in interest rates is expected this month, although further hikes are forecast for later this year. James Knightley, senior economist at ING Bank, said: “She has followed up [Bernanke] with strong leadership and solid decision making that led to the robust economic performance we see today. Given all these successes, Jay Powell has been set a very tough bar to match.”

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Emotional by Caitlin Johnstone. We should have a piece that lists his topics through the years. And someone should pick up his legacy.

On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)

The legendary journalistic titan Robert Parry has died, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to live with that. I did not know Parry and never had any kind of interaction with him, but I can’t stop crying. This is an immense loss and it feels deeply personal, just as one of the countless individuals his work has profoundly impacted. I’ve often recommended Parry’s outlet Consortiumnews as the overall best source of anti-war, anti-establishment information in the English-speaking world, and I cite its content constantly in my own work. This just sucks, and I’m a mess, and this might just be me getting sloppy and emotional for a few paragraphs, but this is all I can really be right now.

In a beautiful tribute to his father, Nat Parry describes a man who was driven not by self-interest, nor even ultimately by any ideology or conceptual values system, but by a deeply held commitment to humanity born out of concern for the future of our species. Parry’s journalistic integrity and ferocious dedication to the truth at all costs appear to have been a byproduct of that fundamental desire for humanity to survive and thrive, and an inability to be comfortable with our horrifying flirtation with extinction. “But besides this deeply held commitment to independent journalism, it should also be recalled that, ultimately, Bob was motivated by a concern over the future of life on Earth,” writes the younger Parry. “As someone who grew up at the height of the Cold War, he understood the dangers of allowing tensions and hysteria to spiral out of control, especially in a world such as ours with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on the planet many times over.”

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Brussels, Paris and Berlin only care when it suits their careers.

Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

Germany’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that it will only resettle a small number of migrants from Italy and Greece in the coming weeks, as the EU’s migrant relocation program draws to a close. An Interior Ministry spokesperson told DW that far fewer people had fulfilled the necessary criteria for relocation than first expected. “There are now virtually no more asylum seekers in Greece who could be considered for resettlement,” according to the Ministry. To qualify, applicants had to be from a country where the chances of asylum are at least 75%. Last month, some 500 migrants were still waiting to be relocated from Italy to Germany, while in Greece the number less than 40. “The relocation scheme ended in September 2017, meaning all applicants arriving after that date will no longer be eligible for resettlement,” Annegret Korff, a speaker for the Interior Ministry, said.

“Germany largely completed all outstanding relocations by the end of 2017. In the coming weeks, Germany will only carry out the odd resettlement case that was left outstanding from last year.” The program to relocate migrants landing in Greece and Italy was launched by the European Union in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis. Initially, EU member states agree to relocate some 160,000 refugees between them from the bloc’s two main points of entry by September 2017. The number was revised to just under 100,000 after officials found that fewer people were eligible under the scheme that first expected. Although the temporary progam has since passed its deadline, the final few migrants that qualify for resettlement are still awaiting asylum.

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Jan 202018
 
 January 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Lane near Arles 1888

 

US Government Shutdown Begins As Spending Bill Fails In Senate (R.)
Trump To Tout US Economy, Urge Fair Trade At Elite Davos Forum (R.)
What Will Rising Mortgage Rates Do to Housing Bubble 2? (WS)
Fever Pitch (Jim Kunstler)
NSA Deleted Surveillance Data Court Had Ordered It To Preserve (Pol.)
Russia Accuses US Of “Carving Out Alternative Government” In Syria (ZH)
Europe Must Wake Up To Drastic Consequences Of A Hard Brexit (Joris Luyendijk)
UK Banks Turn Off Lending Taps To Households (G.)
The Carillion Whitewash (Coppola)
Hundreds Of UK MPs Call On Supermarkets To Scrap Plastic Packaging (G.)
The Untreatable: The Centenary of Spanish Flu (LRB)

 

 

Maybe it’s better this way: expose the failing systems. Bring out your dead.

US Government Shutdown Begins As Spending Bill Fails In Senate (R.)

The U.S. government shut down at midnight on Friday after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a last-minute deal to fund its operations, divided in a bitter dispute over immigration and border security. In a dramatic late-night session, senators blocked a bill to extend government funding through Feb. 16. The bill needed 60 votes in the 100-member Senate but fell short, with only 50 supporting it. Most Democrats opposed the bill because their efforts to include protections for hundreds of thousands of mostly young immigrants known as Dreamers failed. Huddled negotiations by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in the last minutes before midnight were unsuccessful, and the U.S. government technically ran out of money at midnight.

The shutdown formally began on Saturday, the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump immediately sought to blame Democrats. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans,” the White House said in a statement. It also said it would not discuss immigration until the government is up and running again. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators.” In return, Schumer pointed the finger directly at Trump. “It’s almost as if you were rooting for a shutdown and now we’ll have one and the blame should crash entirely on President Trump’s shoulders,” he said.

Until a funding deal is worked out, scores of federal agencies across the country will be unable to operate, and hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal workers will be put on temporary unpaid leave. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding measure on Thursday. But Republicans then needed the support of at least 10 Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate. While five Democrats ended up voting for the measure, five Republicans voted against it. Democratic leaders demanded that the measure include protections from deportation for about 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers who arrived in the United States as children.

Despite bipartisan negotiations, Republican leaders refused to include those protections, and neither side was willing to back down. McConnell and Schumer insisted they were still committed to finding an agreement that restores government funding as soon as possible. Trump, who had made strict measures on immigration a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, last week rejected a bipartisan proposal, saying he wanted to include any deal for Dreamers in a bigger legislative package that also boosts funding for a border wall and tighter security at the U.S. border with Mexico.

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A lion’s den indeed.

Trump To Tout US Economy, Urge Fair Trade At Elite Davos Forum (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump will be entering something of a lion’s den when he visits the elitist enclave of Davos next week, rubbing shoulders with the same “globalists” that he campaigned against in winning the 2016 election. Aides said some of Trump’s advisers had argued against him attending the World Economic Forum in order to steer clear of the event, which brings together political leaders, CEOs and top bankers. But in the end, they said, Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the forum since Bill Clinton in 2000, wanted to go to call attention to growth in the U.S. economy and the soaring stock market. A senior administration official said Trump is expected to take a double-edged message to the forum in Switzerland, where he is to deliver a speech and meet some world leaders.

In his speech, Trump is expected to urge the world to invest in the United States to take advantage of his deregulatory and tax cut policies, stress his “America First” agenda and call for fairer, more reciprocal trade, the official said. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump blamed globalization for ravaging American manufacturing jobs as companies sought to reduce labor costs by relocating to Mexico and elsewhere. “Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache,” he said on June 28, 2016, in Pennsylvania. Trump retains the same anti-globalist beliefs but has struggled to rewrite trade deals that he sees as benefiting other countries.

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This is going to hurt.

What Will Rising Mortgage Rates Do to Housing Bubble 2? (WS)

The US government bond market has further soured this week, with Treasuries selling off across the spectrum. When bond prices fall, yields rise. For example, the two-year Treasury yield rose to 2.06% on Friday, the highest since September 2008. In the chart, note the determined spike of 79 basis points since September 8, 2017. That was the month when the Fed announced the highly telegraphed details of its QE Unwind. September as month of the QE-Unwind announcement keeps cropping up. All kinds of things began to happen, at first quietly, without drawing much attention. But then the trajectory just kept going.

The three-year yield, which had gone nowhere for the first eight months of 2017, rose to 2.20% on Friday, the highest since October 1, 2008. It has spiked 82 basis points since September 8:

The ten-year yield – the benchmark for financial markets that most influences US mortgage rates – jumped to 2.66% late Friday. This is particularly interesting because the 10-year yield had declined from March 2017 into August despite the Fed’s three rate hikes last year, and rising short-term yields. At 2.66%, the 10-year yield has reached its highest level since April 2014, when the “Taper Tantrum” was winding down. That Taper Tantrum was the bond market’s way of saying “we’re shocked and appalled,” when Chairman Bernanke dropped hints the Fed might eventually begin tapering what the market had called “QE Infinity.” The 10-year yield has now doubled since the historic intraday low on July 7, 2016 of 1.32% (it closed that day at 1.37%, a historic closing low):

Friday capped four weeks of pain in the Treasury market. But it has not impacted yet the corporate bond market, and the spread in yields between Treasuries and corporate bonds, and particularly junk bonds, has further narrowed. And it has not yet impacted the stock market, and there has been no adjustment in the market’s risk pricing yet. But it has impacted the mortgage market. On Friday, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) for top-tier borrowers, according to Mortgage News Daily, ended at 4.23%, the highest in nine months. But historically, 4.25% is still very low. And likely just the beginning of a long, uneven climb higher. And the impact on mortgage payments can be sizable. When rates rise for example from 3.5% to 4.5%, the payment for a $250,000 mortgage jumps by $144 to $1,267 a month. This can move the payment out of reach for households that have trouble making ends meet.

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Rising markets and fever as flu symptoms.

Fever Pitch (Jim Kunstler)

In case you’re worked up about the looming federal government shut-down, this is exactly how we’re supposed to roll in the long emergency: everything organized at the gigantic scale is going to wobble and fail. It’s nature’s way of saying, “get smaller, get realer, scale down, and get local.” The catch is, we probably won’t listen to nature. Instead, we’ll just behave like bystanders and do nothing until the full force of failure is upon us, just as we’re doing with climate change — the tragedy of the commons at planetary scale. The failure of national party politics is deep and systemic, as you would expect from activities nurtured in a shit-hole called Washington, corruption being the manifestation of sepsis. The lethal vector of this illness is money.

There’s the money flowing into the “campaign funds” (so-called) of congressmen and senators, of course, but there’s also the “money” that is flowing in and out of the leviathan government — a whole lot of it is not really there. It’s a figment of promises to pay back loans on top of a monumental heap of past promises that will never be kept. The threatened government shutdown is just a symptom of the illness: a society doing things out of scale, trying to run its excessive activities by check-kiting and accounting fraud. What could go wrong? Not the stock and bond markets, I’m sure. Though… wait a minute… that hockey-stick surge in equities looks a little bit like the action of a thermometer measuring the rising body temperature of a very sick patient.

From 25,000 to 26,000 on the Dow — in what? seven days? — is kind of like the flu victim going from 98.6 to 105 after onset. And we know what happens to humans up around the 105 Fahrenheit body temperature level: the brain starts to sputter and smoke. Soon, it’s lights out and don’t let your karma smack you on the butt going through the exit.

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State within the state. F*ck the courts.

NSA Deleted Surveillance Data Court Had Ordered It To Preserve (Pol.)

The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed, according to recent court filings. Word of the NSA’s foul-up is emerging just as Congress has extended for six years the legal authority the agency uses for much of its surveillance work conducted through U.S. internet providers and tech firms. President Donald Trump signed that measure into law Friday. Since 2007, the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties. However, the NSA told U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in a filing on Thursday night and another little-noticed submission last year that the agency did not preserve the content of internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the program Bush ordered. To make matters worse, backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, the NSA said. “The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” NSA’s deputy director of capabilities, identified publicly as “Elizabeth B.,” wrote in a declaration filed in October. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”

In the update Thursday, another NSA official said the data were deleted during a broad, housecleaning effort aimed at making space for incoming information. “The NSA’s review to date reveals that this [Presidential Surveillance Program] Internet content data was not specifically targeted for deletion,” wrote the official, identified as “Dr. Mark O,” “but rather the PSP Internet content data matched criteria that were broadly used to delete data of a certain type … in response to mission requirements to free-up space and improve performance of the [redacted] back-up system. The NSA is still investigating how these deletions came about given the preservation obligations extant at the time. The NSA, however, has no reason to believe at this time that PSP Internet content data was specifically targeted for deletion.”

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With Turkey starting an extensive bombing campaign, Syria could explode once again.

Russia Accuses US Of “Carving Out Alternative Government” In Syria (ZH)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the United States of working to carve out “an alternative government” on Syrian soil in statements made at a UN press briefing related to the recent Turkish military build-up poised to assault Syrian Kurdish areas of Northern Syria. Lavrov’s words come after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged in a speech on Wednesday that US military forces would remain in Syria indefinitely until various objectives are met, which include Syrian government transition and the curtailing of Iran’s influence. Lavrov said “It’s a fact that US forces are seriously involved in creating alternative government bodies on vast part of the Syrian territory. And this, of course, absolutely contradicts their own obligations, which they committed to on numerous occasions, including at the UN Security Council, on maintaining the sovereignty and the territorial integrity on Syria.”

The Russian FM further accused the US of contradicting its previous claim that US troops – which number at least 2,000 according to recent Pentagon statements – were only in Syria to fight the Islamic State and not wage a proxy war against the Syrian government and its allies. The prior US policy of regime change in Syria, which began under the Obama administration and intensified under a CIA program, was something many analysts perceived that President Trump had abandoned – consistent with earlier campaign promises. In the summer of last year Trump shut down the CIA program – widely reported to be the agency’s largest covert program – even while boosting support for the Pentagon program to arm and train the predominately Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“Rex Tillerson told me many times that the only reason for their presence there [in Syria] is defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISL). Now they have some much more long-standing plans,” Lavrov said further of the inconsistency in US policy. “We will have to take this into account and look for solutions that won’t allow the destruction of Syrian sovereignty.”

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Bit late, perhaps?

Europe Must Wake Up To Drastic Consequences Of A Hard Brexit (Joris Luyendijk)

Because it is such a riveting clown show with new crazy episodes almost every day, Europeans can be forgiven for ignoring the fact that Brexit is going to hurt them too. But as the date of Britain’s departure comes closer and Theresa May’s government continues its kamikaze policy of demanding the politically unthinkable from the EU, it is time for Europeans to wake and begin preparing for the worst. On Thursday the Dutch government published a report drawn up by the consultancy firm KPMG analysing the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit in which the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 29 March 2019.

Here are the practical implications and cold numbers behind the hot-headed rhetoric about no deal with the EU being “better than a bad deal” for Britain: should the UK “crash” out of the EU by late March 2019 the Dutch companies trading with the UK will have to secure a total of no less than 4.2m exporting and 750,000 importing licences. If by this time both states have a functioning customs system in place – a big if for this consistently incompetent UK government – costs for companies are between €80 and €130. That is per licence. The price tag for all this new red tape is €600m for the Dutch side alone. This excludes the costs of new export and import tariffs, VAT and other new “sector-specific” barriers for trading with the UK.

The 35,000 small and medium-sized businesses unused to trading with non-EU countries also face an estimated cost of €20,000-€50,000 to adapt their IT systems. Added to this, warns the report, must be the likely effects of the inevitable economic slowdown, or worse, in Britain. When the country leaves without a deal it must “fall back” on the minimal WTO rules for trade. But financial services and aviation fall outside the WTO regime, meaning that after a British no-deal departure both sectors must stop trading with the EU overnight. Between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and London alone there are currently 60 flights a day – one every 15 minutes.

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“The richest 10% spent more on wine per week (£9.40) than the poorest 10% spent on water..”

UK Banks Turn Off Lending Taps To Households (G.)

There is little for the average household to cheer these days as inflation crushes paltry earnings increases. Inflation is running at 3% while wage rises can manage no more than 2.5%. Worse for the average household, the banks are beginning to turn off the lending taps that have allowed them to boost their incomes with cheap debt. Things were better in the year to April 2017, according to the number crunchers at the Office for National Statistics, who have lifted the lid on Britain’s spending habits in their annual family spending report. It shows that average weekly household spending clawed its way back from the depths of the 2009 recession to exceed the pre-crisis level for the first time.

This slice of good news, albeit five or six years later than many economists thought it would happen, disguises how the better off have thrived compared to those on the bottom rung of the income ladder. For instance the richest 10% spent more on wine per week (£9.40) than the poorest 10% spent on water (£7.30). In the same vein, the richest 10% spent £59.40 on “furniture and furnishings, carpets and other floor coverings” to almost match how much the poorest 10% spent on rent (£62.70). Challenging the idea that the poorest waste their money on booze and cigarettes, the survey found that the richest 10% devote twice as much of the weekly shop (£17.50) to “alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics” as the poorest. But it is the new rich, the 65- to 74-year-olds that really catch the eye.

Their spending might not match that of the top 10%, yet it significantly powers ahead of anything the average 20-something can muster on areas like entertainment and recreation. The figures show that people in the 10 years from their 65th birthday go on a spending binge that means devoting nearly a fifth of their total expenditure on recreation and culture, double the 10% spent by the under-30s. This is the final salary pension bonanza that can only be described as a once in a generation spending boost. The same applies to those of all ages on below average incomes. They increased their spending by a startling 7% on the previous year, far more than the 1% increase across the richest half of households. Unfortunately they managed this largely by running down savings and taking on extra debt.

As banks, under instruction from the financial regulator, rein in their lending, debt-fuelled spending should be considered a one-off boon, just like the final salary payout. However, that seems unlikely. Banks remain dependent for profit on lending.

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Another bunch of lies that will go unpunished.

The Carillion Whitewash (Coppola)

The Carillion whitewash has begun. Carillion’s interim CEO, Keith Cochrane, is spinning the line that had banks not pulled funding, its collapse could have been averted. And the Financial Times has released details of a letter Carillion sent to the Government at the beginning of January, in which it asked for short-term advances to tide it over while it underwent restructuring. Labour MP Pat McFadden has written to the Treasury Secretary asking whether it would have been more cost-effective for the U.K. Government to support Carillion, rather than allowing it to collapse. This looks to me like a campaign to deflect blame from Carillion’s management to its lenders and customers. We are being led to believe that it wasn’t insolvent, it was just illiquid, and depriving it of short-term funds caused a completely unnecessary collapse.

Deliciously, the bank Cochrane principally accuses of precipitating Carillion’s collapse by depriving it of funds is RBS, which was rescued at taxpayer expense in the 2008 financial crisis. Something tells me Cochrane’s fingering of RBS is no accident. For a bailed-out bank to refuse to provide a major Government contractor with short-term funds looks at best ungrateful and at worst insulting. Of course, RBS is itself a past master at playing the “we’re not insolvent, we are just illiquid” game. On the day that RBS failed, in September 2008, RBS’s CEO, Fred Goodwin, insisted that the bank was solvent. “We don’t have a capital problem,” he said. “We have a liquidity problem. All we need is short-term cash”.* But in fact, RBS was deeply insolvent. Rescuing it cost the U.K. Government £45bn, and RBS has lost a further £58bn since. Nearly ten years after the crisis, it is still in majority public ownership.

The similarity to RBS’s collapse is striking. Less than a week after Carillion’s failure, we now know that it is deeply insolvent. A couple of days after it filed for compulsory liquidation, Carillion’s unsecured bonds were trading at only 2.4% of par: This is an extraordinary writedown. It implies that bondholders expect to get back almost none of their investment. And this is senior unsecured debt, not subordinated debt or equity. The holders of anything more junior have already been wiped.

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All of a sudden everyone wakes up at the same time. But why have supermarkets and Coca Cola never done anything about it? And what are the odds they will once the atttention dies down?

Hundreds Of UK MPs Call On Supermarkets To Scrap Plastic Packaging (G.)

Two hundred cross-party MPs are calling on heads of the major supermarkets to eliminate plastic packaging from their products by 2023. The MPs, who are from seven political parties, have written to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Budgens and Marks & Spencer urging them to scrap plastic packaging. They wrote after the Guardian revealed this week the major supermarkets in the UK create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste – well over half the household plastic waste – each year. Six of the major supermarkets refused to reveal the amount of plastic packaging they put on to the market, saying the information was commercially sensitive. Analysis by Eunomia environmental consultants used figures provided by Aldi and the Co-op – the only chains to release public figures on their plastic tonnage – and the market share of each supermarket to estimate how much plastic packaging the chains produce each year.

This week, Iceland announced it would stop plastic packaging on its own brand products by 2023. Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, who is behind the letter, said: “Vast amounts of plastic are ‘used’ for merely a few seconds before being discarded. “We have a moral duty to tackle this disposable culture. As such, I welcome the recent announcement from Iceland supermarkets … and I’m delighted that MPs from all parties are supporting my call for other retailers to follow suit.” Waitrose announced on Friday it would no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, and that all Waitrose products would be free of black plastic by the end of 2019. Black plastic cannot be recycled under current UK systems.

Each year it is estimated that more than 300m tonnes of plastic are produced globally. The Guardian revealed recently that plastic production is set to soar over the next 10 years. On Friday Coca-Cola announced a new goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the packaging it sells globally by 2030. Coca-Cola said: “Given the size and scope of this challenge, we expect to invest in new packaging innovations and local collection and recycling systems, as well as consumer education and awareness programs.”

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Good to know your history. Society would be at least as helpless now as 100 years ago, Better medicine, but also 100 times more mobility. And that’s what kills.

The Untreatable: The Centenary of Spanish Flu (LRB)

This year marks the centenary of Spanish flu, the most deadly pandemic in human history. It is estimated that five hundred million people contracted it – a third of the global population in 1918 – and that between fifty and a hundred million of them died. Asians were thirty times more likely to die than Europeans. The pandemic had some influence on the lives of everyone alive today. Donald Trump’s grandfather Friedrich died from it in New York City. He was 49. His early death meant that his fortune passed to his son Fred, who used it to start a New York property empire. My wife’s great-grandmother died from it in Verona; her grandfather, aged eight, had to leave school and find work to support the family. Emilio died in 2011 aged 101.

When I told a friend, the writer Andrew Greig, that I was writing this piece, he told me that his father, born in 1899, came down with Spanish flu while on leave from the war in France. ‘His convalescence delayed his return to the front, where his battalion was all but wiped out,’ Andrew said. ‘He always insisted Spanish flu saved his life, and without it, I suppose I wouldn’t be alive either.’ Laura Spinney’s book attempts to collate what is known about the pandemic, and takes a stab at examining its legacy: ‘The flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death,’ she writes. ‘It influenced the course of the First World War and, arguably, contributed to the second. It pushed India closer to independence, South Africa closer to apartheid, and Switzerland to the brink of civil war. It ushered in universal healthcare and alternative medicine, our love of fresh air and our passion for sport.’

The majority of deaths came in the three months between September and December 1918. The war probably didn’t spawn it, but certainly helped it spread: the US lost more soldiers to flu than to the war in part because so many of them spent weeks coughing together in barracks and transports on their way to Europe. Britain and Italy suffered between two and three times more deaths from the war than from the flu, while Germany’s war deaths outnumbered flu deaths six to one. Spinney quotes historians who claim that flu struck Germany harder than Britain or France; Erich Ludendorff was convinced it had robbed Germany of victory. The spread of Spanish flu was quickened by the railway and steamer lines that girdled the planet, starkly illuminating global inequalities in security, nutrition and access to medical care.

In India 6% of the population died; in Fiji 5%; in Tonga 10%. In Western Samoa, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, more than 20% of the population died. Even harder hit were the Alaskan Inuit, with a death rate between 25 and 50%: in some small Alaskan communities everybody died. Koreans and Japanese were infected at the same rate, but the Koreans, subject to chronic malnutrition, were twice as likely to die. In the US, Italian immigrants died at twice the background rate (the Italian neighbourhoods of New York had a density of five hundred per acre, ten to a room), while black populations were the least affected. ‘As far as the “Flu” is concerned the whites have the whole big show to themselves,’ J. Franklin Johnson wrote to the Baltimore Afro-American.

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