Nov 152017
 
 November 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Arkady Shaikhet Express 1939

 

Richest 1% Own 50% Of Global Wealth, Poorest 50% Own 1% (BI)
US Auto-Loan Subprime Blows Up Lehman-Moment-Like (WS)
Household Debt Rises By $116 Billion As Credit-Card Delinquencies Pile Up (MW)
Sweden’s Housing Market Shock is Hitting Its Currency (BBG)
ECB Seeks Power To Freeze Bank Deposits (BBG)
What History Teaches About Interest Rates (DR)
Deus ex Mueller isn’t Coming (CJ)
Raqqa’s Dirty Secret (BBC)
How Western Imperial Power Set Out To Destroy Syria (Ren.)
US Directly Supports ISIS Terrorists In Syria – Russia (Tass)
Zimbabwe’s Military Seizes Power (BBG)
Airbnb Puts Automatic Rental Cap On Central Paris Offers (R.)
Airbnb Refuses To Disclose Financial Data To Greece’s Finance Ministry (KTG)

 

 

How do we do it? What an achievement!

Richest 1% Own 50% Of Global Wealth, Poorest 50% Own 1% (BI)

The world’s richest 1% of families and individuals hold over half of global wealth, according to a new report from Credit Suisse. The report suggests inequality is still worsening some eight years after the worst global recession in decades. The release of the Paradise Papers, a trove of leaked documents uncovered by investigative journalists detailing the offshore tax holdings of the world’s super wealthy, has reinforced just how rampant the problem of wealth inequality has become. “The bottom half of adults collectively own less than 1% of total wealth, the richest decile (top 10% of adults) owns 88% of global assets, and the top percentile alone accounts for half of total household wealth,” the Credit Suisse report said.

Put another way: “The top 1% own 50.1% of all household wealth in the world.” This handy pyramid chart, which shows the relative number of people at different wealth levels and how much of the world’s assets each bracket controls, speaks volumes about the level of income concentration, which by some measures has not been seen since the early 20th century:

In most countries, including the United States, a large wealth gap translates into those at the top accruing political power, which in turn can lead to policies that reinforce benefits for the wealthy. President Donald Trump’s tax cut plan, for instance, has been widely criticized for favoring corporations and the wealthy over working families. Measured overall, Credit Suisse found total global wealth rose 6.4% in the year between mid-2016 and mid-2017 to $280.3 trillion. Stock market gains helped add $8.5 trillion to US household wealth during that period, a 10.1% rise. US inequality is considerably worse than in its more developed-country peers.

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You really have to check the dates, to make sure this is not 10 year old news. The key word here is ‘surge’.

US Auto-Loan Subprime Blows Up Lehman-Moment-Like (WS)

Given Americans’ ceaseless urge to borrow and spend, household debt in the third quarter surged by $610 billion, or 5%, from the third quarter last year, to a new record of $13 trillion, according to the New York Fed. If the word “surged” appears a lot, it’s because that’s the kind of debt environment we now have: Mortgage debt surged 4.2% year-over-year, to $9.19 trillion, still shy of the all-time record of $10 trillion in 2008 before it all collapsed. Student loans surged by 6.25% year-over-year to a record of $1.36 trillion. Credit card debt surged 8% to $810 billion. “Other” surged 5.4% to $390 billion. And auto loans surged 6.1% to a record $1.21 trillion. And given how the US economy depends on consumer borrowing for life support, that’s all good.

However, there are some big ugly flies in that ointment: Delinquencies – not everywhere, but in credit cards, and particularly in subprime auto loans, where serious delinquencies have reached Lehman Moment proportions. Of the $1.2 trillion in auto loans outstanding, $282 billion (24%) were granted to borrowers with a subprime credit score (below 620). Of all auto loans outstanding, 2.4% were 90+ days (“seriously”) delinquent, up from 2.3% in the prior quarter. But delinquencies are concentrated in the subprime segment – that $282 billion – and all hell is breaking lose there. Subprime auto lending has attracted specialty lenders, such as Santander Consumer USA. They feel they can handle the risks, and they off-loaded some of the risks to investors via subprime auto-loan-backed securities. They want to cash in on the fat profits often obtained in subprime lending via extraordinarily high interest rates.

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Oh well.

Household Debt Rises By $116 Billion As Credit-Card Delinquencies Pile Up (MW)

The numbers: Household debt rose by $116 billion, or 0.9%, to $12.96 trillion in the third quarter, the New York Fed said Tuesday. Credit-card debt rose by 3.1% while home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, balances fell by 0.9%. There were small gains in mortgage, student and auto debt. Flows into credit-card and auto loans delinquencies rose, with 4.6% of credit card debt 90 days or more delinquent, up from 4.4% in the second quarter, and 2.4% of auto loan debt seriously delinquent, up from 2.3%. That’s still nowhere near the 9.6% of student loan debt that is delinquent, which itself is understated because about half of those loans are currently in deferment, grace periods or in forbearance.

What happened: U.S. households aren’t aggressively leveraging up, and the ones that are did so had better credit. The higher level of auto loan originations was mainly to prime borrowers, and the median credit score to individuals originating new mortgages ticked up to 760 from 754. [..] Auto loans have grown for 26 straight quarters. But there are some worries as subprime auto loan performance continues to deteriorate — the delinquency rate for auto finance companies have grown by more than 2 percentage points since 2014, the New York Fed said.

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World’s biggest housing bubble?

Sweden’s Housing Market Shock is Hitting Its Currency (BBG)

Can a central bank steer the housing market? Not so long ago, Sweden’s Riksbank decided: no. Now, there’s a risk that decision may backfire as the biggest property market in Scandinavia risks sinking into a correction. The evidence of price declines was so worrying on Tuesday that it contributed to a 1.5 percent slump in the krona against the euro. A weak currency puts the Riksbank’s inflation target at risk. So should it be looking at the housing market more closely? Developments in Sweden’s housing market “could spark some doubts at the Riksbank as it may affect the overall economic outlook and inflation,” Nordea analyst Andreas Wallstrom said in a note. Sweden’s Riksbank has thrown all its energy into fighting deflation and, earlier this year, finally regained credibility on its inflation mandate.

Policy makers now say they may be ready to start raising rates in the middle of next year. At the same time, the Riksbank may extend a bond purchase program due to end this year. But in the minutes of the Riksbank’s latest rate meeting, Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley suggested that monetary policy, “under certain circumstances, can be used to combat the effects of major household debt.” She also said the housing market “must be carefully monitored,” given the latest developments. Nordea’s Wallstrom says the central bank will probably need to see a “sharp drop” in house prices with a direct impact on the real economy before it will look into adding significant stimulus. But the bank might decided to signal rates will stay where they are for even longer.

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Which would cause panic and bank runs.

ECB Seeks Power To Freeze Bank Deposits (BBG)

The European Central Bank intensified its push for a tool that would hand authorities the power to stop deposit withdrawals when a bank is on the verge of failing. ECB executive board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger said that bank resolution cases this year showed that a so-called moratorium tool, which would temporarily freeze a bank’s liabilities to buy time for crucial decisions, is needed. Her comment comes as policy makers in Brussels debate how such measures should be designed, and just days after the ECB officially called for the moratorium to extend to deposits as well. “If we have a long list of exemptions and we have a moratorium that doesn’t work, I do not want to have a moratorium tool,” Lautenschlaeger told a conference in Frankfurt on Tuesday. “Then you will never use it.”

EU member states appear ready to heed the request, according to a Nov. 6 paper that develops their stance on a bank-failure bill proposed by the European Commission. They suggest giving authorities the power to cap deposit withdrawals as part of a stay on payments only after an institution has been declared “failing or likely to fail.” The power to install a moratorium “can in principle apply to eligible deposits,” the paper reads. “However, resolution authority should carefully assess the opportunity to extend the suspension also to covered deposits, especially covered deposits held by natural persons and micro, small and medium sized enterprises, in case application of suspension on such deposits would severely disrupt the functioning of financial markets.”

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Low interst rates = low growth economies. The chicken and the egg.

What History Teaches About Interest Rates (DR)

“At no point in the history of the world has the interest on money been so low as it is now.” Who can dispute the good Sen. Henry M. Teller of Colorado? For lo eight years, the Federal Reserve has waged a ceaseless warfare upon interest rates. Economic law, history, logic itself, stagger under the onslaughts. We suspect that economic reality will one day prevail. This fear haunts our days… and poisons our nights. But let us check the date on the senator’s declaration… Kind heaven, can it be? We are reliably informed that Sen. Teller’s comment entered the congressional minutes on Jan. 12… 1895. 1895 — some 19 years before the Federal Reserve drew its first ghastly breath! Were interest rates 122 years ago the lowest in world history? And are low interest rates the historical norm… rather than the exception?

Today we rise above the daily churn… canvass the broad sweep of history… and pursue the grail of truth. The chart below — giving 5,000 years of interest rate history — shows the justice in Teller’s argument. Please direct your attention to anno Domini 1895: Rates had never been lower in all of history. They would only sink lower on two subsequent occasions — the dark, depressed days of the early 1930s — and the present day, dark and depressed in its own right. A closer inspection of the chart reveals another capital fact… Absent one instance at the beginning of the 20th century and a roaring exception during the mid-to-late 20th century, long-term interest rates have trended lower for the better part of 500 years.

Paul Schmelzing professes economics at Harvard. He’s also a visiting scholar at the Bank of England, for whom he conducted a study of interest rates throughout history. Could the sharply steepening interest rates that began in the late 1940s be a historical one-off… an Everest set among the plains? Analyst Lance Roberts argues that periods of sharply rising interest rates like this are history’s exceptions — lovely exceptions. Why lovely? Roberts: Interest rates are a function of strong, organic, economic growth that leads to a rising demand for capital over time. In this view, rates rose steeply at the dawn of the 20th century because rapid industrialization and dizzying technological advances had entered the scenery.

Likewise, Roberts argues the massive post-World War II economic expansion resulted in the second great spike in interest rates: There have been two previous periods in history that have had the necessary ingredients to support rising interest rates. The first was during the turn of the previous century as the country became more accessible via railroads and automobiles, production ramped up for World War I and America began the shift from an agricultural to industrial economy. The second period occurred post-World War II as America became the “last man standing”… It was here that America found its strongest run of economic growth in its history as the “boys of war” returned home to start rebuilding the countries that they had just destroyed.

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“If you attribute all your problems to Trump, you’re guaranteeing more Trumps after him..”

Deus ex Mueller isn’t Coming (CJ)

We know from the Snowden leaks on the NSA, the CIA files released by WikiLeaks, and the ongoing controversies regarding FBI surveillance that the US intelligence community has the most expansive, most sophisticated and most intrusive surveillance network in the history of human civilisation. Following the presidential election last year, anonymous sources from within the intelligence community were haemorrhaging leaks to the press on a regular basis that were damaging to the incoming administration. If there was any evidence to be found that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election using hackers and propaganda, the US intelligence community would have found it and leaked it to the New York Times or the Washington Post last year.

Mueller isn’t going to find anything in 2017 that these vast, sprawling networks wouldn’t have found in 2016. He’s not going to find anything by “following the money” that couldn’t be found infinitely more efficaciously via Orwellian espionage. The factions within the intelligence community that were working to sabotage the incoming administration last year would have leaked proof of collusion if they’d had it. They did not have it then, and they do not have it now. Mueller will continue finding evidence of corruption throughout his investigation, since corruption is to DC insiders as water is to fish, but he will not find evidence of collusion to win the 2016 election that will lead to Trump’s impeachment. It will not happen. This sits on top of all the many, many, many reasons to be extremely suspicious of the Russiagate narrative in the first place.

[..] If you attribute all your problems to Trump, you’re guaranteeing more Trumps after him, because you’re not addressing the disease which created him, you’re just addressing the symptom. The problem is not Trump. The problem is that America is ruled by an unelected power establishment which maintains its rule by sabotaging democracy, exacerbating economic injustice and expanding the US war machine. Stop listening to the lies that they pipe into your echo chambers and turn to face your real demons.

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“IS may have been homicidal psychopaths, but they’re always correct with the money.” Says Abu Fawzi with a smile.

Raqqa’s Dirty Secret (BBC)

Lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job. He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery. But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north. The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told. But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to. Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Abu Fawzi and dozens of other drivers were promised thousands of dollars for the task but it had to remain secret. The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared. But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part. Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

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Narratives are starting to move.

How Western Imperial Power Set Out To Destroy Syria (Ren.)

Virtually unknown among large swaths the general public both in Britain and the U.S is the fact that Bashar-al Assad’s secular government won the first contested presidential election in Ba’athist Syria’s history on July 16, 2014, which was reported as having been open, fair and transparent. American Peace Council delegate, Joe Jamison, who was allowed unhindered travel throughout Syria, stated: “By contrast to the medieval Wahhabist ideology, Syria promotes a socially inclusive and pluralistic form of Islam. We [the USPC] met these people. They are humane and democratically minded…. The [Syrian] government is popular and recognised as being legitimate by the UN. It contests and wins elections which are monitored. There’s a parliament which contains opposition parties – we met them. There is a significant non-violent opposition which is trying to work constructively for its own social vision.”

Jamison added: “Our delegation came to Syria with political views and assumptions, but we were determined to be sceptics and to follow the facts wherever they led us”, he said. “I concluded that the motive of the US war is to destroy an independent, Arab, secular state. It’s the last of this kind of state standing.” The notion that the United States government and its allies and proxies, want to see the destruction of Syria’s pluralistic state under Assad destroyed, is hardly a secret. Indeed, one of Washington’s key allies in the region, Israel, has conceded as much. The claim by Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that Assad’s removal is the empires “ultimate goal”, would appear to be consistent with the notion that the aim of the U.S government is to stymie the non-violent opposition inside Syria. Washington has been engaged in this strategy since early 2012 after having deliberately helped scupper Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan.

Members of the Syrian opposition within a newly reformed constitution who wanted to participate in democratic politics have instead been encouraged by the Western axis – as a result of bribing government forces to defect and through funding the Free Syrian Army – to overthrow the Assad government by violent means. As commentator Dan Glazebrook put it: “Within days of Annan’s peace plan gaining a positive response from both sides in late March, the imperial powers openly pledged, for the first time, millions of dollars for the Free Syrian Army; for military equipment, to provide salaries to its soldiers and to bribe government forces to defect. In other words, terrified that the civil war is starting to die down, they are setting about institutionalising it.”

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Now proven by the BBC. What’s next?

US Directly Supports ISIS Terrorists In Syria – Russia (Tass)

The Russian Defense Ministry has said it has obtained evidence the US-led coalition provides support for the terrorist group Islamic State (outlawed in Russia). “The Abu Kamal liberation operation conducted by the Syrian government army with air cover by the Russian Aerospace Force at the end of the last week revealed facts of direct cooperation and support for ISIS terrorists by the US-led ‘international coalition,’” the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry showed photo shoots made by Russian unmanned aircraft on November 9 which show kilometers-long convoys of IS armed groups leaving Abu Kamal towards the Wadi es-Sabha passage on the Syrian-Iraqi border to avoid strikes by the Russian aviation and the government army.

The US refused to conduct airstrikes over the leaving IS convoy. “Americans peremptorily rejected to conduct airstrikes over the ISIS terrorists on the pretext of the fact that, according to their information, militants are yielding themselves prisoners to them and now are subject to the provisions of the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. The Defense Ministry specified that “the Russian force grouping command twice addressed the command of the US-led ‘international coalition’ with a proposal to carry out joint actions to destroy the retreating ISIS convoys on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.” The Americans failed to answer the Russian side’s question on why IS militants leaving in combat vehicles heavily equipped are regrouping in the area controlled by the international coalition to conduct new strikes over the Syrian army near Abu Kamal, the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.

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Mugabe under house arrest and according to South African media ‘planning to step down’. Rumors that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president Mugabe fired recently, will be interim president. Which in turn would confirm that the army acted because it doesn’t want Grace Mugabe in power.

Zimbabwe’s Military Seizes Power (BBG)

The armed forces seized power in Zimbabwe after a week of confrontation with President Robert Mugabe’s government and said the action was needed to stave off violent conflict in the southern African nation that he’s ruled since 1980. The Zimbabwe Defense Forces will guarantee the safety of Mugabe, 93, and his family and is only “targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” Major-General Sibusiso Moyo said in a televised address in Harare, the capital. All military leave has been canceled, he said. Denying that the action was a military coup, Moyo said “as soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect the situation to return to normalcy.” He urged the other security services to cooperate and warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”

The action came a day after armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga announced that the military would stop “those bent on hijacking the revolution.” As several armored vehicles appeared in the capital on Tuesday, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front described Chiwenga’s statements as “treasonable” and intended to incite insurrection. Later in the day, several explosions were heard in the city. The military intervention followed a week-long political crisis sparked by Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president in a move that paved the way for his wife Grace, 52, and her supporters to gain effective control over the ruling party. Nicknamed “Gucci Grace” in Zimbabwe for her extravagant lifestyle, she said on Nov. 5 that she would be prepared to succeed her husband.

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65,000 homes in Paris alone.

Airbnb Puts Automatic Rental Cap On Central Paris Offers (R.)

Short-term rental website Airbnb, which has been challenging traditional hotel operators such as Accor and Marriott, said it would automatically cap the number of days its hosts can rent their property each year in central Paris. The decision, which goes into effect in January and mirrors initiatives already in place in London and Amsterdam, will force hosts to effectively comply with France’s official limit on short-term rentals of 120 days a year for a main residence. It comes as Airbnb, similar to its taxi-hailing peer Uber, is facing a growing crackdown from legislators worldwide – triggered in part by lobbying from the hotel industry, which sees the rental service as providing unfair competition. Airbnb and other rental platforms have also been criticized for driving up property prices and contributing to a housing shortage in some cities such as Paris or Berlin.

Airbnb, which has denied having a significant impact on housing shortages, has been trying to placate local authorities. “Paris is Airbnb number one city worldwide and we want to insure our community of hosts expands in a responsible and sustainable manner,” said Emmanuel Marill, Airbnb general manager for France. In Paris, the automatic rental cap will apply only to the city’s first four districts (“arrondissements”) unless the property owner has proper authorization. These districts include tourist hotspots such as the Marais, and landmarks such as the Louvre and the place de la Concorde square. Airbnb is implementing the cap as the Paris city council has made it mandatory from December for people renting their apartments on short-term rental websites to register their property with the town hall.

Ian Brossat, the housing advisor to the Paris Mayor, told Reuters that the cap should extend to the whole of Paris. “Under the law, websites must withdraw listings that do not comply with the law throughout Paris. One cannot accept that a website complies with the law only in the first four arrondissements of Paris,” said Brossat. With over 400,000 listings, France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris, which is the most visited city in the world, is Airbnb’s biggest single market, with 65,000 homes.

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Fine them until they do?! Half the city of Athens will turn into Airbnb if they don’t.

Airbnb Refuses To Disclose Financial Data To Greece’s Finance Ministry (KTG)

Airbnb refused to provide the Greek Finance Ministry with information on property rentals thus delaying the launch of an online platform where owners should register the rental transactions and pay the necessary taxes. According to information obtained by economic news website economy365.gr, the Finance Ministry has tried for five months to get in touch with executives of the company in California as well as of other companies (Novasol etc). However, the companies showed no intention to cooperate with Greek authorities who have requested that the tax number of property owner is being registered to every property at the Airbnb platform. Owner’s tax number would facilitate the imposition of taxes on rentals via Airbnb. The tax legislation on short-term leases through digital platform like Airbnb was voted last year. The law foresees taxes of 15%-45% and a limited number of rentals per year.

Registration is mandatory. Authorities will provide the property owner with a certification number that has to be declared on any website and social media advert, including, of course, the Airbnb platform. Fines can reach up to 5,000 euros, if a property owner does not register on the Greek authorities registration platform and tries to evade taxes from short-term rentals. The state has estimated that revenues from Airbnb rentals could reach 48 million euros per year. According to the Finance Ministry property owners try to bypass the 3% commission to Airbnb and upcoming taxes by direct contact to customers via messenger or telephone. The payments are done cash at the arrival and not through the platform. In this way, property owners can bypass not only the commission but also registration of the rentals and future taxes. Just in case and even if one day, the Airbnb decides to hand over its Greek data to the tax authorities. For the time being it looks as the Greek goal to tax Airbnb properties has to be postponed.

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Oct 312017
 
 October 31, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí The persistence of memory 1931

 

A Monstrous Bubble – The Destroyer Called Amazon (Stockman)
How The Actual Magic Money Tree Works (G.)
UK Debt Averages £8,000 Per Person – Not Including Mortgages (G.)
Surge In UK Consumer Borrowing Fuels Likely Interest Rate Rise (G.)
Theresa May Faces Snap Election If Defeated By Parliament On Brexit Deal (ES)
Russia Could Hold Congress Of Syrian Peoples In Mid-November (DS)
Europhile Left Deluded On EU Reform Process (Bilbo)
Four Trajectories for Europe’s Future (Turchin)
How Europe Exported Its Refugee Crisis To North Africa (G.)
Libyan Path To Europe Turns Into Dead End For Desperate Migrants (G.)

 

 

Will Washington be swallowed whole by the swamp? Might be a good outcome. Endless articles about Trump and Russia and Mueller. But very hard to find anything neutral. Journalism has become opinionism.

Is Papadopoulos a plant? Where did he come from? Did Fusion GPS set up the Trump Tower meeting after consulting with the DNC? Isn’t there a country to run? I’m getting tired, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

 

 

Stockman doesn’t buy it.

A Monstrous Bubble – The Destroyer Called Amazon (Stockman)

when it comes to wanton destruction we can think of no better evidence than the $63 billion market cap eruption visited upon Amazon owing to its purported “blow-out” earnings report on Friday. Except it wasn’t all that. In the year ago quarter AMZN’s pre-tax earnings came in at $491 million, which was actually alot more than the $316 million figure posted for Q3 2017. In fact, the company’s niggardly current quarter profit represented 36% plunge from prior year, but thanks to the company’s tax cut “selfie” the headline reading robo-machines didn’t even notice this rather dramatic setback. To wit, AMZN effective tax rate plunged from an aberrantly high 46.6% last year to a quite low 18.4% this year. As a result, its reported net income remained flat relative to prior year.

Stated differently, the blow-out earnings figure of $0.53 per share reported Friday was exactly the same the same $0.53 per share reported last year, but the “blow-out” part was due to the “beat” from the $0.02 street consensus. Then again, the street consensus had been for $1.91 per share only 90 days ago! As per usual, it had been “guided “down by 99% in the interim. If nothing else, this proves that the whole SEC “Fair Disclosure” (FD) is an absolute farce and that the SEC itself is an utter waste of taxpayer money. It also proves, of course, that a bevy of high priced advisors are far more efficacious at cutting tax rates than a House (of Representatives) full of Republicans foaming at the mouth about the topic. But how in the world does this kind of hyper-fiddling with accounting statement tax rates justify a market cap gain in one day ($63 billion) that exceeds the entire market cap of GM($61 billion) or Aetna ($57 billion)?

As it happened, Amazon’s LTM net income of $1.926 billion for the quarter might be a slightly better indicator of its profitability because the company’s four-quarter tax rate averaged out close to the US statutory rate, meaning that the company is being valued at 280X under normal tax rates. Moreover, even if you pro forma the results with the GOP’s vaunted 20% tax rate you would get LTM net income of $2.48 billion and a PE multiple of 217X; and for that matter, just go ahead and abolish the corporate tax entirely and AMZN’s PE at the zero bracket would still compute to 174X. We dwell on the absurdity of Amazon’s PE multiple in the first instance because there is absolutely nothing in its financial performance that warrants these massive market cap gains. Thus, way back in Q3 2014, AMZN’s operating income was $510 million. As shown below, it has been staggering around like a drunken sailor ever since – lapsing to just $347 million in the purportedly red hot quarter just ended.

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“..house prices rise to meet the amount the lender is prepared to lend, rather than being moored to wages..”

How The Actual Magic Money Tree Works (G.)

Shock data shows that most MPs do not know how money is created. Responding to a survey commissioned by Positive Money just before the June election, 85% were unaware that new money was created every time a commercial bank extended a loan, while 70% thought that only the government had the power to create new money. The results are only a shock if you didn’t see the last poll of MPs on exactly this topic, in 2014, revealing broadly the same level of ignorance. Indeed, the real shock is that MPs still, without embarrassment, answer surveys. Yet almost all our hot-button political issues, from social security to housing, relate back to the meaning and creation of money; so if the people making those choices don’t have a clue, that isn’t without consequence. How is money created? Some is created by the state, but usually in a financial emergency.

For instance, the crash gave rise to quantitative easing – money pumped directly into the economy by the government. The vast majority of money (97%) comes into being when a commercial bank extends a loan. Meanwhile, 27% of bank lending goes to other financial corporations; 50% to mortgages (mainly on existing residential property); 8% to high-cost credit (including overdrafts and credit cards); and just 15% to non-financial corporates, that is, the productive economy. What’s wrong with that? On the corporate financial side, bank-lending inflates asset prices, which concentrates wealth in the hands of the wealthy. On the mortgage side, house prices rise to meet the amount the lender is prepared to lend, rather than being moored to wages. The lender benefits enormously from larger mortgages and longer periods of indebtedness; the homeowner benefits slightly from a bigger asset, but obviously spends longer in debt servitude; the renter loses out completely.

Is there a magic money tree? All money comes from a magic tree, in the sense that money is spirited from thin air. There is no gold standard. Banks do not work to a money-multiplier model, where they extend loans as a multiple of the deposits they already hold. Money is created on faith alone, whether that is faith in ever-increasing housing prices or any other given investment. This does not mean that creation is risk-free: any government could create too much and spawn hyper-inflation. Any commercial bank could create too much and generate over-indebtedness in the private economy, which is what has happened. But it does mean that money has no innate value, it is simply a marker of trust between a lender and a borrower. So it is the ultimate democratic resource. The argument marshalled against social investment such as education, welfare and public services, that it is unaffordable because there is no magic money tree, is nonsensical. It all comes from the tree; the real question is, who is in charge of the tree?

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Why do they borrow? Is it for essentials?

UK Debt Averages £8,000 Per Person – Not Including Mortgages (G.)

More than 6 million Britons don’t believe they will ever be debt free, according to new research which has also found the average person in the UK owes £8,000 – on top of any mortgage debt. Almost a quarter of all Britons said they are struggling to make ends meet, while 62% said they were often worried about their levels of personal debt, according to research for Comparethemarket.com. Earlier this month, the price comparison website asked 2,000 adults detailed questions about their personal finances. They found that 10% of respondents had “maxed out” on a credit card, while a similar number said they had been overdrawn within the past 12 months. A third of those interviewed told researchers that they were already planning on taking on additional debt – in the form of credit cards, loans car finance and mortgages – in the next year.

Over a third said they could not see themselves ever being in a financial position to help younger family members, breaking the tradition of the “bank of mum and dad”. The results chime with a recent study by the Financial Conduct Authority which found that that 4.1 million people are already in serious financial difficulty. The survey, the biggest ever by the city regulator, concluded that half of the UK population are financially vulnerable, with 25- to 34-year-olds the most over-indebted. Shakila Hashmi, head of money at Comparethemarket.com, said: “Right now millions of Brits could be in danger of suffering from one of the longest financial hangovers in history. While it may be hard to see an end in sight, the worst thing people in debt can do right now is stick their head in the sand. As well as reining in spending, there are other ways you can reduce debt, like switching to credit cards that help you get on top of debt with interest-free periods.”

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If you borrow too much, we’ll make it costlier.

Surge In UK Consumer Borrowing Fuels Likely Interest Rate Rise (G.)

A near-double-digit increase in lending to households in the year to September has left the Bank of England on track to raise interest rates on Thursday, amid concerns that consumers are creating an unmanageable mountain of unsecured debt. The pace of annual consumer credit growth was 9.9% last month, according to figures from the central bank, as borrowing on credit cards, overdrafts and unsecured loans jumped. The consistent appetite for borrowing is likely to put further pressure on the Bank to raise interest rates this week, with other indicators such as inflation and unemployment already supporting the case for a rise. Last month the Bank said British lenders needed to hold an extra £11bn of capital to guard against consumer loans going sour, due to concerns that banks had overestimated the creditworthiness of their borrowers.

Consumer credit has rocketed since 2014 when it was running at an annual rate of 4%. Last year the annual growth rate hit 12%, with the latest September numbers creating a a consumer debt of more than £204bn. Analysts were unsure whether the increase was a sign of growing confidence among consumers or desperation as wages growth stagnated and inflation rises. Only a steep fall in car loans in recent months has stopped the overall level of consumer credit creeping back to last year’s levels. Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said regulators should monitor the effects of an interest rate rise, which will increase pressure on many household finances.

“With household debt a growing concern and an interest rate rise likely as early as this week, we encourage households to exercise caution before taking on additional borrowing – and consider how they would be able to cope with repayments in the event of a shock to their income. “Millions of people will have never experienced an interest rate rise. We are concerned that a small rise, combined with high levels of borrowing, rising living costs and slow wage growth could be enough to push many households into financial difficulty,” she said.

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How Britain goes to the dogs.

Theresa May Faces Snap Election If Defeated By Parliament On Brexit Deal (ES)

Theresa May was threatened with a snap general election today if she is defeated by Parliament on her Brexit deal. Tory right wingers raised the “nuclear threat” of a forced election in what was seen as an attempt to see off calls to empower the Commons to amend the deal or call for fresh negotiations. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader and leading Brexit-backer, said it would be on “a confidence issue” and defeat would make the Government “head towards” a general election. “It will be the most important vote of the entire Parliament and if the Government loses it you head towards that conclusion,” he told the Evening Standard. Mrs May is aiming to hammer out a leaving deal with the EU by October or November next year.

The decision on whether Parliament gets a “take it or leave it” vote or the right to amend the deal is shaping up to be the key battle of Brexit. John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary, claimed the vote itself would be “a vote of confidence in government” that would trigger an election if defeated. “I think for the Government to come to Parliament and say we have a deal … and for Parliament then to turn around and say, ‘well, actually, we don’t agree it’s a good deal and we’re going to throw it out’, that is a vote of confidence in government,” he told The Westminster Hour. “I can’t see how the government could say ‘oh alright then, we’ll go and have another go’. I think there would have to be a general election.”

But MPs backing a softer pro-business Brexit said Mrs May must keep Parliament involved. Nicky Morgan, the chair of the Treasury Select Committee, said: “Ministers have promised Parliament a meaningful vote. They need to keep Parliament informed and involved to avoid problems at the end. “They resisted a Parliamentary vote on Article 50 until compelled to give way. They should do all they can to avoid a repetition.” Former minister Bob Neill said the eurosceptic threat smacked of “desperation”.

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Where will the US be?

Russia Could Hold Congress Of Syrian Peoples In Mid-November (DS)

A Moscow-backed congress of all Syria’s ethnic groups could take place in Russia as soon as next month and launch work on drawing up a new constitution, the RIA news agency reported Monday, citing a source familiar with the situation. RIA said the Congress of Syrian peoples, the idea of which President Vladimir Putin first mentioned at a forum with foreign scholars earlier this month, could take place in mid-November in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. According to the source, 1,000-1,300 participants from the Assad regime and pro-regime forces as well as various opposition groups will participate. The source added that representatives of various ethnic groups, including Kurds and Turkmens, and religious clergy are also expected. Special U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura agreed to participate in the congress but set out a list of terms and conditions that have to be met before the event. Putin says the congress could be an important step toward a political settlement and could also help draft a new constitution for the country.

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Permanent austerity. Strong by Bill Mitchell.

Europhile Left Deluded On EU Reform Process (Bilbo)

The Europhiles maintain a blind faith in what they claim to be a reform process, which when carried through will reduce some of the acknowledged shortcomings (I would say disastrously terminal design flaws). They don’t put any time dimension on this ‘process’ but claim it is an on-going dialogue and we should sit tight and wait for it to deliver. Apparently waiting for ‘pigs to fly’ is a better strategy than dealing with the basic problems that this failed system has created. I think otherwise. The human disaster that the Eurozone has created impacts daily on peoples’ lives. It is entrenching long-term costs where a whole generation of Europeans has been denied the chance to work.

That will reverberate for the rest of their lives and create dysfunctional outcomes no matter what ‘reforms’ are introduced. The damage is already done and remedies are desperately needed now. The so-called ‘reforms’ to date have been pathetic (think: banking union) and do not redress the flawed design. And to put a finer point on it: Germany will never allow sufficient changes to be made to render the EMU a functioning and effective federation. The Europhile Left is deluded if it thinks otherwise.

[..] here is the OECD Economic Outlook data (from 1960 to 2016) for the Greek unemployment rate, which confirms the veracity of the tweet statement (at least as far as Greek unemployment goes). The fact that the Greek unemployment averaged just 6.6% prior to the crisis (from 1960 to 2008) and has averaged 20.9% since then (2009-2016) and has been above 20% since 2012 tells me that the policy structures in place have failed badly since the GFC. That means – the austerity imposed under the Stability and Growth Pact, the lack of a federal fiscal capacity and the lack of a ‘federal sentiment’ which would have eased the way for generous funds transfers to Greece to allow it to restore domestic demand relatively quickly.

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Halting fragmentation seems futile.

Four Trajectories for Europe’s Future (Turchin)

Scenario 1. The disintegrative trends that I and others have written about are just a “blip”, a temporary set-back that will be soon overcome. The grand project of European integration will soon recover and by 2027 everybody will look back and have fun at the expense of “doomsayers”. I think that this trajectory is extremely unlikely. First, because of the shift in the social mood of the Germans, to which I referred above. Second, because all across Europe the well-being of large segments of the population is declining. To give just two examples, think of the extraordinary high unemployment rates for the young workers in countries like Spain, and of declining real wages of UK workers over the past decade.

Scenario 2. The EU continues to muddle through. Neither integrative, nor disintegrative trend dominates over the next decade, and in 2027 we are pretty much where we are now. In my opinion, this inertial scenario is more likely than the optimistic Scenario 1, but still not too likely. An equilibrium is a dynamic process, it can maintain itself only when two opposite forces cancel each other out. I don’t see any compelling signs of an integrative force that would cancel the disintegrative forces. Empirically, history doesn’t stand still. So things will either improve, or get worse. [..] my money is on the disintegrative trend prevailing (although personally I wish it was otherwise). Incidentally, the governing elites of the EU behave as though they all believe in Scenario 1 (or, at worst, Scenario 2).

Scenario 3. The next 10 years will see an increasingly fragmented European landscape. The EU will not be formally abolished, but it will increasingly lose its capacity to influence constituent countries. Led by Hungary and Poland, other small and medium-sized countries will increasingly set their national policies without much regard for Brussels. This fragmentation will be accomplished largely in a nonviolent way. Perhaps not in ten years, as it may take longer, but eventually the EU will look much like the Holy Roman Empire. This “HRE” scenario is probably the most likely, at least in my opinion.

Scenario 4. Like in the previous scenarios, the disintegrative trend will dominate, but dissolution of the EU will not be peaceful. I think (I hope) that the violent disintegration scenario is much less likely than the Scenario 3. And I know that almost nobody believes that a violent break-up is possible. Very few people remain who fought in World War II. And this is the danger. The government of Mariano Rajoy apparently can’t imagine that one result of their push to suppress the Catalonian independence movement could be a bloody civil war.


The Holy Roman Empire in 1618

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“We are creating chaos in our own backyard and there will be a high price to pay if we don’t fix it..”

How Europe Exported Its Refugee Crisis To North Africa (G.)

Something happened to the deadly migrant trail into Europe in 2017. It dried up. Not completely, but palpably. In the high summer, peak time for traffic across the Mediterranean, numbers fell by as much as 70%. This was no random occurrence. Even before the mass arrival of more than a million migrants and refugees into Europe in 2015, European policymakers had been desperately seeking solutions that would not just deal with those already here, but prevent more from coming. From Berlin to Brussels it is clear: there cannot be an open-ended invitation to the miserable millions of Europe’s southern and eastern periphery. Instead, European leaders have sought to export the problem whence it came: principally north Africa.

The means have been various: disrupting humanitarian rescue missions in the Mediterranean, offering aid to north African countries that commit to stemming the flow of people themselves, funding the UN to repatriate migrants stuck in Libya and beefing up the Libyan coastguard. The upshot has been to bottleneck the migration crisis in a part of the world least able to cope with it. Critics have said Europe is merely trying to export the problem and contain it for reasons of political expediency, but that this approach will not work. “We are creating chaos in our own backyard and there will be a high price to pay if we don’t fix it,” said one senior European aid official, who did not wish to be named.

The new hard-headed approach crystallised with the EU-Africa trust fund in November 2015, when European leaders offered an initial €2bn to help deport unwanted migrants and prevent people from leaving in the first place. Spread between 26 countries, the fund pays for skills training in Ethiopia and antenatal care in South Sudan, as well as helping migrants stranded in north Africa return home on a voluntary basis. Separately the European commission has signed migration deals with five African countries, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia. These migration “compacts” tie development aid, trade and other EU policies to the EU’s agenda on returning unwanted migrants from Europe. For instance, in the first year of the compact, Mali took back 404 voluntary returnees and accepted EU funds to beef up its internal security forces and border control and crack down on smugglers.

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Europe is feeding gangs.

Libyan Path To Europe Turns Into Dead End For Desperate Migrants (G.)

UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, estimates that there are about 30 government-run detention centres in Libya, but that doesn’t include clandestine facilities run by traffickers and militias. Several hundred thousand migrants are thought to be in the country. “In general, conditions are really bad in these detention centers,” says UNHCR Libya chief Roberto Mignone. “At best, they are more or less functional, but serious human rights violations and sexual assaults are committed there.” UNHCR is trying to help migrants move out of the illicit detention centres and into facilities that it manages. But the agency’s freedom to operate is limited by a parlous security situation: Mignone and his staff operate out of neighbouring Tunisia, with the help of a few dozen Libyan associates.

“The security situation is very complicated and it is frustrating not to have free access to all in need. We have no overview of the militias’ or traffickers’ detention centres or prisons,” says Mignone. Since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011, Libya has served as both a magnet and a funnel for migrants desperate to start new lives in Europe. After record-breaking numbers of arrivals in Italy in 2016 and unprecedented numbers dying in the Mediterranean over the past two years, the EU signalled a new determination to head of the migration problem closer to the source with a series of deals with Libya earlier this year. One part of the strategy involved the south of the country – where more than 2,500km (1,550 miles) of desert borders with Algeria, Chad, Niger and Sudan provide multiple channels north.

A series of consultations was established between the Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti, and south Libyan mayors, who represent local groups and tribes. The deal pinpointed seven “elements” to pacify the different factions, from the Tebu to the Beni Suleiman, in the name of a common commitment to halt migrant trafficking. This project was heavily supported by Ahmed Maetig, vice-president of the Libyan presidential council, and greeted warmly in southern Libya, by the mayor of Sebha, Hamed Al-Khayali. “The project we are carrying forward now with Italy involves the development and growth of southern Libya within the framework of the fight against illegal immigration,” Khayali said.

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Oct 292017
 
 October 29, 2017  Posted by at 2:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus 1959

 

Let’s get one thing straight: Donald Trump is as American as apple pie (even if both are imports). He’s brash and loud and abrasive and entirely focused on money, he’s given to exaggeration, he stretches the truth, he constantly seeks to appear bigger and richer than he really is; he ticks all the boxes of what it is to be American.

Trump’s role in US society is that he’s a mirror for America, he’s not just holding up a mirror, he is the mirror. But many Americans don’t like what they see reflected in him. They’re really just looking at themselves, and their society, but they don’t want to acknowledge that. They just want to get away from the mirror, or preferably, break it. But when someone holds up a mirror to you, the idea is for you to learn something, not break it.

Of course not every individual American fits the picture, but he’s very much the almost perfect reflection of what the country, the society, has become. And one point in which Trump is different from other ‘leaders’ is that he doesn’t try to look different from what he is, he doesn’t play a role like just about every other politician does.

He has that in common with Bernie Sanders, which is ironic given how different the two men are. Neither tries to, or even has the ability to, concoct a cool and calculated attempt at pleasing their viewers and listeners and voters at every twist and turn. With both Bernie and the Donald what you see is what you get.

That they appeal to different groups of people is obvious. As is the fact that Sanders is much less of an (arche)typical American than Trump is. Which means he has to work harder to get his points across. Sanders appeals to a part of America that people have largely forgotten.

Another thing that is true for both is that they are candidates for parties that are deeply broken, and inside a system that has no tolerance for other parties. Which makes you wonder whether it’s not the system itself that is broken. Where Hillary Clinton’s people managed to shove aside Sanders in the Democratic primaries, Trump’s Republican party had no such ‘luck’. Trump’s too all-American.

Of course the next issue must be that neither truly represent either party. They’re both ‘outsiders’ who’ve taken over existing -but failing- structures. Where this leads is unclear. Trump is busy ‘sanitizing’ the GOP, aka draining the swamp’, a process that may or may not cost him his job, and the Democrats would do well to undertake a similar spring cleaning. But the incumbent squids have their tentacles everywhere. Then again, that didn’t stop Trump. So far.

 

Then we get to the litany in investigations that are being conducted. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has apparently laid the first charges in the Russia collusion investigation. Of course, like every single move in the case, this one too has to be as confusing and murky as possible. The indictment was sealed by a judge, and subsequently leaked to the press. Which is probably highly illegal.

We have no idea who’s going to be indicted, it will all be revealed on Monday. Or not. If Mueller’s team has confined itself to investigating whether the Trump campaign has colluded with the Russians, there wouldn’t seem to be too much at hand. But Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein authorized Mueller to pursue “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”, so the net is cast so broadly it sounds like anything goes.

They may go after Paul Manafort, known for his involvement with people in Russia and the Ukraine. Whether that included anything illegal is unclear. That it would have amounted to outright collusion by the Trump campaign is highly unlikely. Manafort has been gone from the Trump entourage since August 2016.

But there are so many people involved in the campaign, who knows? If you have a former FBI head hiring lawyers and researchers left and right for six months without any constraints, budgetary or otherwise, it would be baffling if they found nothing at all. Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner?

 

What’s more interesting to come out of this circus is the picture of Washington -all of it- as an absolute cesspool and shithole. That these are the people, on either side of the aisle, that get to make the decisions is so worrisome it should make people think of leaving the country.

You have a conservative group led by the Free Beacon, funded by hedge-funder Paul Singer, that starts an ‘opposition research’ project to dig up dirt on Trump during the primaries. When that fails to halt Trump, the DNC and Clinton campaign take over the funding and expand it to include Washington dirt digger firm Fusion GPS, who in turn hire Christopher Steele to produce a very dubious dossier. Fusion GPS execs all took the fifth when asked.

Somewhere along the way the FBI got involved too. That means James Comey and Robert Mueller. Who has such a ‘great reputation’ for being impartial. What a swamp it is. The echo chambers on both sides know exactly, and in advance, who’s to blame. But anyone who finds those chambers too deafening must be awfully confused and conflicted by now. Who to believe?

The Russia collusion thing has been going on for a long time, first in the press, then on Capitol Hill, in the FBI and then the Special Counsel. During the process, both the same FBI and the Hillary camp, including the DNC have been exposed as having ties to Russian elements.

No proof has been presented of Putin supporting Trump through illegal channels. Will Mueller’s indictment(s) be the turning point? If Mueller doesn’t deliver clear and strong, if he doesn’t have something and someone too obvious to dispute, the whole scene may get a lot more hostile.

 

Over the past week, we’ve witnessed the exits stage left of Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, in sometimes dramatic fashion decrying anything Trump. Who simply reacts by saying neither would have been re-elected anyway (about Corker: “he couldn’t get elected dog-catcher in Tennessee”).

Essentially, what these guys do is try and play Trump’s game. But he’s much better at it than they are. The game has changed profoundly, and they missed out on that. Which is the number one reason why Trump got elected president, and none of the ‘old guard’ did. Well, that and all GOP candidates in the primary debates looked completely lost.

A description from the Guardian:

Battle Hymns of the Republicans: Trump Civil War is Just Getting Started

“It is time for our complicity and our accommodation for the unacceptable to end,” Flake said, in explosive remarks that were instantly labeled as a historic act of defiance. “There are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time.” The senator delivered a 17-minute speech, framing the moment as an existential crisis for the party, taking direct aim at Trump’s conduct and what his presidency symbolized in a lacerating critique. It was an extraordinary event that would have otherwise been regarded as a major breach of decorum. But this is Washington in 2017. The norms have already been broken.

A handful of Flake’s colleagues sat stony-faced in the chamber as he implored Republicans not to acquiesce on core principles in the pursuit of appeasing Trump’s angry nationalist base. “We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” he said. Flake went on, thrusting the knife even further into Trump, though avoiding naming him: “Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”

Among those who bore witness to Flake’s remarks was John McCain, the senior senator from Arizona who just a week previously blasted “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in a coded attack on so-called “Trumpism”. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, looked on stoically. As the speech reached its conclusion, one senator applauded: Ben Sasse, a young Republican from Nebraska who, like Flake, declined to endorse Trump in the 2016 election. Many of the Senate’s 52 Republicans were nowhere to be found.

They had just left a closed-door lunch with the president, dining over chicken marsala, green beans and Trump’s favorite, meatloaf, before a major push to overhaul the tax code. Much of the meeting featured Trump – characteristically – singing his own praises, according to some attendees. There was general discussion of taxes, but few specifics from a president who takes little interest in the policy details. It was nonetheless a cordial meeting, by Trump’s standards, embodied by the takeaway quote of John Kennedy, of Louisiana: “Nobody called anyone an ignorant slut.”

Many anti-Trump voices now speculate that he will try to fire Robert Mueller. Given how close the longtime FBI chief is to many of the parties involved, that might not be that crazy, but it would be explosive. He could also recuse himself on exactly those grounds. He won’t.

Then again, if he stays on, he will have to broaden his investigation to include the Clintons, the DNC and possibly the FBI itself. From the New York Post, and yes, I know what they are, but if I quote one article each from both sides of the echo chamber, maybe I find some balance:

Robert Mueller Should Resign

Their claim that nobody in the campaign or the DNC knew anything about the deal doesn’t pass the smell test. When as much as $12 million goes out the window for a document that aimed to win the election — and failed — everybody knows something. While the link to Clinton answers some questions, it raises others. For example, while it is certain her campaign spread the dossier among the media last summer, it remains uncertain whether the dossier was used by the White House and the FBI to justify snooping on the Trump campaign. One hint that it was is that Comey, while still in office, called the document “salacious and unverified,” but briefed Obama and President-elect Trump on its contents last January.

[..] the FBI never denied reports that it almost hired Steele, the former British spy, to continue his work after the campaign. The mystery might soon be solved because the FBI, after months of stonewalling, agreed last week to tell Congress how it used the dossier and detail its contacts with Steele. If the bureau did use the dossier to seek FISA warrants to intercept communications involving the Trump campaign, it would mean the FBI used a dirty trick from the candidate of the party in power as an excuse to investigate the candidate from the opposition party. Somewhere, Richard Nixon is wondering why he didn’t think of that.

There is also the issue of the “unmasking” of Trump associates caught up in the snooping, with the names leaked to anti-Trump media. It is essential to investigate that angle, but it would lead right to the Obama White House, which is why Mueller is not the man for the job. As for Clinton, the dossier revelation was not her only new problem. In fact, the second blow might be the most serious yet. At the urging of Congress and Trump, the Justice Department lifted its gag order on an informant who can now testify to Congress about bribery and other wrongdoing surrounding Moscow’s gaining control of 20% of US uranium production.

The 2010 transaction was approved by Obama officials, including Clinton, then secretary of state. About the same time, Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 for a speech to a Russian bank involved in the transaction. Later, tens of millions of dollars — $145 million by one estimate — were said to be donated to the Clinton Foundation by individuals having a stake in the deal. The informant’s lawyer, Victoria Toensing, told Fox News the speech fee and the donations amount to a “quid pro quo” for Hillary Clinton’s help. “My client can put some meat on those bones and tell you what the Russians were saying during that time,” Toensing said.

Is it a disgrace that Trump is president? Perhaps it is. Ideally, the country should do much better. But he didn’t get America into the troubled situation it’s in. He is not the rot in the system, he just lays it bare. He simply came along at the appropriate moment to expose what the country has become, and to what extent its political system has devolved into a veritable swamp of special interests and incumbent squids.

And Trump hasn’t won a thing yet. Don’t be surprised if the whole sordid Harvey Weinstein tale is used, if not set up from the start, to go after the Donald. In a cynical link to that, George H.W. Bush has been accused of groping women, at the same time his role in the JFK assassination was questioned. He was the only American who didn’t remember where he was when the murder took place. Turns out, the CIA operative happened to be in Dallas.

Interestingly, Trump will fly to Asia on November 3. By then we should know who Mueller has indicted. Will Trump even be allowed to return? It would be better for America if he is, because there are a lot of lessons left to be learned.

 

 

Oct 282017
 
 October 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Stonehenge 1897

 

Spanish PM Dissolves Catalan Parliament And Calls Fresh Elections (G.)
Finland Prepares Parliamentary Vote To Recognize Catalonia (Exp.)
Catalonia Looks To Estonia’s E-Residency, Considers Cryptocurrency (IBT)
EU Economic Failures Are To Blame For Catalonia Mess – Steve Keen (Sp.)
Robert Mueller’s First Charges (Atlantic)
Large U.S. Cities Struggle With High Fixed Costs (BBG)
What You See Is Not What You Get in GDP (WS)
IRS Apologizes For Aggressive Scrutiny Of Conservative Groups (NPR)
J is for Junk Economics – Michael Hudson (Ren.)
New Zealand May Tighten Law That Allows Mega Wealthy To Buy Citizenship (G.)
Hopes Dashed For Giant New Antarctic Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

 

 

Vote for independence, get the opposite. A feature not a flaw in the EU.

Spanish PM Dissolves Catalan Parliament And Calls Fresh Elections (G.)

The Spanish government has taken control of Catalonia, dissolved its parliament and announced new elections after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to establish an independent republic, pushing the country’s worst political crisis in 40 years to new and dangerous heights. Speaking on Friday evening, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said his cabinet had fired the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and ordered regional elections to be held on 21 December. Rajoy said the Catalan government had been removed along with the head of the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. The Catalan government’s international “embassies” are also to be shut down. “I have decided to call free, clean and legal elections as soon as possible to restore democracy,” he told a press conference, adding that the aim of the measures was to “restore the self-government that has been eliminated by the decisions of the Catalan government.

“We never, ever wanted to get to this situation. Nor do we think that it would be good to prolong this exceptional [state of affairs]. But as we have always said, this is not about suspending autonomy but about restoring it.” The actions came hours after Spain’s national unity suffered a decisive blow when Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. Dozens of opposition MPs boycotted the secret ballot, marching out of the chamber in Barcelona before it took place and leaving Spanish and Catalan flags on their empty seats in protest. Minutes later in Madrid, the Spanish senate granted Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the constitution. The article, which has never been used, allows Rajoy to sack Puigdemont and assume control of Catalonia’s civil service, police, finances and public media.

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Finland, Argentina, perhaps Scotland, who’s next?

Finland Prepares Parliamentary Vote To Recognize Catalonia (Exp.)

Finland could be the first country to officially recognise Catalonia as a republic state, in a move that would put the Scandinavian country in direct opposition to the EU. The country’s MP for Lapland Mikko Karna has said that he intends to submit a motion to the Finnish parliament recognising the new fledgling country. Mr Karna, who is part of the ruling Centre Party, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipila, also sent his congratulations to Catalonia after the regional parliament voted earlier today on breaking away from the rest of Spain. Should Finland officially recognise the new state of Catalonia this will be yet another body blow to the the EU which has firmly backed the continuation of a unified Spain under the control of Madrid. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned today that “cracks” were appearing in the bloc due to the seismic events in Catalonia that were causing ruptures through the bloc.

Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said earlier today that for the EU nothing changes despite the Catalan parliament voting to breakaway from Spain. He said that the EU would continue to only speak with Spain. If Finland recognised Catalonia then this would make a mockery of the EU’s refusal to acknowledge the region’s new status. A statement from the European Union on October 2 read: “Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal. [..] Argentina could also formally recognise the Republic of Catalonia and reject the intervention of the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who has moved to implement Article 155 which will permit Madrid to take over control of the semi-autonomous region. Socialist Left Argentine MP Juan Carlos Giordano, who represents Buenos Aires Province said that he would present a bill in parliament for the South American country to recognise Catalonia.

The Scottish Government has also sent a message of support, saying that Catalonia “must have” the ability to determine their own future. [..] “The European Union has a political and moral responsibility to support dialogue to identify how the situation can be resolved peacefully and democratically.”

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“Eva Kaili MEP, an advocate of fintech innovation who was a politician in Greece at the time of the crisis, recounts that the plan was taken seriously. “We talked about leaving the eurozone, finding another currency,” said Kaili. “There was even a ‘Plan B’, which involved essentially hacking into everyone’s accounts and replacing all their money with Bitcoin.”

Catalonia Looks To Estonia’s E-Residency, Considers Cryptocurrency (IBT)

As Spain is poised to seize control of the Catalan government and stop the region’s bid for independence, an initiative is underway to emulate Estonia’s innovative e-residency programme. Technology advocates in Catalonia, which is reputed to be ahead of the rest of Spain in areas like fintech, are also reportedly touting the possibility of a national cryptocurrency or digital token, something Estonia has also been considering. An article in Spain’s main daily newspaper El Pais reports that digital transformation experts working for the Government of Catalonia, the Generalitat de Catalunya, have visited Estonia several times to gather tips on how to implement an e-residency programme. Dani Marco, director of SmartCatalonia, who appears to be heading up the initiative, pointed out that the Estonians “started from scratch, with all the possibilities they were offered to build a model of economic development.”

The article goes on to namecheck Vitalik Buterin, inventor of the next generation public blockchain Ethereum, who was attending a technology conference in Barcelona. The takeaway was that Catalonia could follow Estonia’s proposal to issue some flavour of national blockchain tokens – a decentralised store of value in other words. Most of the time you hear about banks stating that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are only good for criminals, or that they are too slow, or volatile to be of any real use. However, issuing digital currency without the need for a central bank is undoubtedly a bona fide use case. Moreover, the mere mention of Estonia in this context is somewhat incendiary: the digitally advanced Baltic nation recently proposed issuing a national cryptocurrency – the so-called “Estcoin”.

This would make it the first nation to carry out an initial coin offering (ICO), a new way of funding technology projects by issuing tokens on a blockchain. A blogpost on the subject garnered so much interest and media attention that in the end ECB chief Mario Draghi publicly slapped down the proposal. “No member state can introduce its own currency; the currency of the eurozone is the euro,” he said. The other thing that Estonia has perfected across its 1.3 million e-residents is a secure and tamper-resistant e-voting system. [..] It was not widely reported, but during the years of punishing austerity that followed the banking bailouts, Greece considered a desperate measure called “Plan B”, which essentially involved switching from the euro to Bitcoin.

Eva Kaili MEP, an advocate of fintech innovation who was a politician in Greece at the time of the crisis, recounts that the plan was taken seriously. “We talked about leaving the eurozone, finding another currency,” said Kaili. “There was even a ‘Plan B’, which involved essentially hacking into everyone’s accounts and replacing all their money with Bitcoin. “Plan B was quite well drafted. Move all accounts into to Bitcoin, establish Bitcoin ATMs – it’s scary, and of course it goes against the ethos of Bitcoin and being in control of your own assets. But look what happened in Cyprus; sometimes you are not safe from your own government.”

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“..the European Union is about unifying Europe — this is a great example of it actually causing Europe to fragment.”

EU Economic Failures Are To Blame For Catalonia Mess – Steve Keen (Sp.)

Sputnik: Quite extraordinary scenes this afternoon in Catalonia. Are you surprised it’s come to this? Steve Keen: No, I am not. One thing that we tend to forget is that the last fascist dictator to die in his sleep was the last fascist ruler of Spain. So there’s a deep tendency for authoritarian reactions in that country. But in the meantime, the real story I think is the impact of the euro causing effectively depressions through southern Europe. And areas that were rich before the euro came are the ones that are leading revolts against it right now. Catalonia, of course, is the prime example!

Sputnik: People see this as a problem for Spain, but isn’t it a bit of a problem for the EU too? Steve Keen: Absolutely! The EU has completely sided with Spain, the only thing it did was acknowledge that the actual referendum was illegal. It didn’t make any mention of the heavy-handed treatment by the Spanish police and of the enforcing of that judgment. They should have been far more sensible simply ignoring it. The EU has aligned itself here with basically suppressing democratic tendencies inside its own member countries. Sputnik: Do you think that’s actually recognized by the European public? Or has it gone unnoticed?

Steve Keen: I think it’s gone unnoticed because the real reason to form the European Union was to bring about European unity. And that was, of course, a noble aim after the Second World War. But the mistake was the economic system into which it was imposed. And if you’re trying to bring about economic democracy of a continental level, when you don’t have a treasury at the same time and you don’t have a way of equalising the impact of trade imbalances, which is what removing the flexible exchange rates prior to the euro ended up causing, then you have a system which will end up causing crisis after crisis. Which is, of course, what happened with the global financial crisis leading to great-depression-levels of unemployment in Spain. And they’re still at 17% of the population. For everyone who thinks that the European Union is about unifying Europe — this is a great example of it actually causing Europe to fragment.

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It’s getting ugly. And murky.

Robert Mueller’s First Charges (Atlantic)

The special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation reportedly obtained a sealed indictment on Friday. It’s the end of the beginning for the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has reportedly filed the first criminal charges as part of the sprawling inquiry into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, CNN reported Friday night. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., approved the charges, which have been sealed by a federal judge. CNN did not indicate who had been charged, how many people had been charged, or what charges had been filed by Mueller’s team. An arrest could come by Monday. Reuters subsequently confirmed CNN’s reporting.

John Q. Barrett, a St. John’s University law professor and former associate special counsel in the Iran-Contra affair, said that a sealed indictment itself is rare, as is its disclosure to the press. “It’s possible that this could come from sources in the Department of Justice or defense counsel, each of which would have been likely to know that charges were going to be sought and that a sealing order was going to be sought,” he explained. “It’s unusual and would be a serious violation,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman under the Obama administration, said Friday night. “No one outside of the Justice Department or the court—including grand jurors, court reporters and such—should know, with the possible exception of the defendant’s attorney, who might have been briefed to arrange surrender.”

No matter who is indicted, the move will send shockwaves throughout the Trump administration and the nation’s capital. Until now, the Russia investigation has followed President Trump’s first year in office like a shadow, darkening his political fortunes without substantially altering them. A federal indictment of anyone connected to the Trump campaign or the White House would turn that theoretical danger into hard reality.

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The problems that crawl up on you in the dark of night.

Large U.S. Cities Struggle With High Fixed Costs (BBG)

Cities across the U.S. often feel the same pinch—trying to manage the typical costs of running a city, such as picking up trash and filling potholes, on top of ballooning retirement obligations and outstanding debts. Several major cities are struggling to keep up. The culprit: As employees age and retire, cities are on the hook for funding more pensions and health-care benefits. In 2016, local governments faced a pension investment gap of $3.7 trillion, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Their predicament only worsens when cities fall behind in making those payments or their investments lag. When you measure those fixed costs against a city’s operating budget, no major city is as embattled as Jacksonville, Florida. In the city of 881,000 people, fixed costs are 31.4 percent of expenses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

That’s driven by pensions, which made up almost 18 percent of expenses in fiscal 2016. Twenty-six other U.S. cities with populations of more than 250,000 have fixed cost ratios above 23 percent. They include Los Angeles and Houston, which could also be on the hook to pay Hurricane Harvey recovery costs that federal funds don’t cover. Smaller cities aren’t necessarily immune. City leaders in Hartford, Connecticut, where fixed costs are 27 percent of expenses, warned last month that the city wouldn’t be able to meet its financial obligations without additional help from the state. State lawmakers passed a budget with additional aid to the capital city on Thursday. Relief may not be around the corner for other areas. City revenues are expected to stagnate in 2017, on average, while expenditures are forecast to rise 2.1 percent, according to a Sept. 12 survey of 261 U.S. city finance officers by the National League of Cities.

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Awaiting revisions.

What You See Is Not What You Get in GDP (WS)

The US economy, as measured by “real” GDP (adjusted for a version of inflation) grew 0.74% in the third quarter, compared to the prior quarter. That was a tad slower than the 0.76% growth in Q2, but up from the 0.31% growth in Q1. GDP was up 2.3% from a year ago. To confuse things further, in the US, we cling to the somewhat perplexing habit of expressing GDP as an “annualized” rate, which takes the quarterly growth rate (0.74%) and projects it over four quarters. This produced the annualized rate of 2.99%, or as we read this morning all over the media, “3.0%.” This was the “advance estimate” by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The BEA emphasizes that the advance estimate is based on source data that are “incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency.”

These revisions can be big, up or down, as we’ll see in a moment. The BEA will release the “second estimate” for Q3 on November 28 and the “third estimate” on December 21. More revisions are scheduled over the next few years. So 2.99% GDP growth annualized, or 0.74% GDP growth not annualized, or 2.3% growth from a year ago… is pretty good for our slow-growth, post-Financial-Crisis, experimental-monetary-policy era, but well within the range of that era, that goes from 5.2% annualized growth in Q3 2014 to a decline of 1.5% in Q1 2011. So nothing special here:

[..] In other words, we won’t really know how the economy did in the last quarter until we have a lot more hindsight. Point one: It’s devilishly hard to estimate what’s going on in the vast and complex US economy. The BEA comes up with an “advance estimate” to give economy watchers a feel, but it concedes that there will be many and substantial revisions as more data become available, and that initial “feel” may be wrong. Point two: Equally complex economies, such as China’s, are equally hard to estimate. Yet China’s National Bureau of Statistics comes up with one big-fat figure that is always very near the number the central government had mandated earlier. It publishes its GDP number less than three weeks after the end of the quarter, and a week or more before the BEA’s advance estimate.

For example, on October 18, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that GDP in Q3 grew 6.8% year-over-year. And this figure – however hastily concocted, inflated, or just plain fabricated – becomes etched in stone. No one believes it. At least in the US, after many revisions and years down the road, GDP becomes a credible number. In China, you’ll never get there. And point three: GDP is a terrible measure of the economy. It measures what money gets spent on and invested in. It’s a measurement of flow. Among other shortcomings, it doesn’t include the source of money – whether it’s earned money or borrowed money. This leads to the distortion that piling on debt is somehow good for the economy, when in reality it’s only good for GDP but will act as a drag on the economy down the road.

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WTF?

IRS Apologizes For Aggressive Scrutiny Of Conservative Groups (NPR)

In a legal settlement that still awaits a federal judge’s approval, the IRS “expresses its sincere apology” for mistreating a conservative organization called Linchpins of Liberty — along with 40 other conservative groups — in their applications for tax-exempt status. And in a second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots and 427 other groups suing the IRS also reached a “substantial financial settlement” with the government. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the two settlements Thursday. The Justice Department quoted him as saying of the IRS activity: “There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today’s settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

It’s “a historic victory,” said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative nonprofit legal group representing the Linchpins plaintiffs. Sekulow, who is also on President Trump’s personal legal-defense team, said the IRS agreed to stop “the abhorrent practices utilized against our clients.” The Linchpins case, in federal circuit court in Washington, D.C., has no monetary settlement. The two sides agreed to bear their own legal fees. The consent order says the IRS admits it wrongly used “heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays” and demanded unnecessary information as it reviewed applications for tax-exempt status. The order says, “For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.” [..] The controversy began in 2013 when an IRS official admitted the agency had been aggressively scrutinizing groups with names such as “Tea Party” and “Patriots.”

It later emerged that liberal groups had been targeted, too, although in smaller numbers. The IRS stepped up its scrutiny around 2010, as applications for tax-exempt status surged. Tea Party groups were organizing, and court decisions had eased the rules for tax-exempt groups to participate in politics. Groups sought tax-exempt status as 501(c)(3) charities, where the organization and its donors get tax write-offs, and 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations, where donors’ contributions are not tax deductible. After the IRS confession in 2013, its top echelons were quickly cleaned out. Conservative groups sued. Congressional Republicans launched what became years of hearings, amid allegations the Obama White House had ordered the targeting.

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Economics is designed to distort our view of the economy.

J is for Junk Economics – Michael Hudson (Ren.)

The main goal of neoliberalism is to create an economic model for a parallel universe that seems plausible, says economist, Michael Hudson, Professor of economics at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. “It seems that it would work very nicely, if the world where that day,” he tells host and co-founder, Ross Ashcroft. “But economics does not have a relationship to the real world. “The function of neoliberal economics is to distract attention away from how the economy really works: Why it’s polarising, why people are having to work harder despite the fact that productivity is increasing, and why the economy is polarising between the 1% and the rest of the economy.” It’s classic cognitive dissonance.

And though there have been many economists who have accurately explained the world, the economist says very little empirical research has been factored into classical economic modelling. “Everyone from Adam Smith, through even Malthus and Ricardo – had the basic concepts of value and price theory correct, for instance” said Professor Hudson. “John Stuart Mill gets even better marks, though he was a little optimistic about where capitalism was going. Then Thorstein Veblen caps-it-off. These are people Americans haven’t heard very much of: The institutionalist, Simon Patton for instance, was the first Professor of Economics at America’s first business school – the Wharton School – who became the intellectual mentor of economics turning into sociology early in the 20th century.

“There is an enormous amount of analysis, all of it based on history, on empirical analysis, on statistical analysis – and all of that is excluded from the curriculum – so there’s no way to fit economic reality into the academic curriculum of neoclassical economics.” [..] “What happens is that people who criticise financialisation – for instance, modern monetary theorists – find that they can’t get published in the major refereed journals. And without that, they can’t get promoted within academia. Universities are systematically detouring students away from economic reality.” [..] When Professor Hudson was teaching at the New School 50 years ago, he said his graduate students were dropping out of economics because they couldn’t fit reality into the curriculum.

The economist, famed for sacking Alan Greenspan back before the days he was appointed to the Chair of the US Federal Reserve, criticised him for claiming he was “shocked” by the self-interest lending of institutions to protect shareholders equity. “He knew who paid him,” said Hudson. “When I was on Wall Street in the 1960s, banks were afraid to hire him because he was known for saying whatever the client wanted to be said. He’s a public relations person. “The fact is universities are teaching the economics of public relations for the corporate sector. That’s why, underlying this theory, is a theory of how an economy would work without government, or any governmental regulation, where taxation is seen as a burden.”

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It’ll be hard to keep the rich away.

New Zealand May Tighten Law That Allows Mega Wealthy To Buy Citizenship (G.)

New Zealand’s new Labour government will reconsider legislation that allows wealthy foreigners to effectively buy citizenship, the housing minister has said. In an interview with the Guardian about the housing shortage in New Zealand, Phil Twyford said the law that allowed Trump donor and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel to become a citizen and buy a bolt hole in the South Island would come under scrutiny. Since coming into power last week, Labour has said it will ban foreigners from buying existing homes, along with a slew of policies aimed at addressing the housing crisis, which has seen homelessness grow to more than 40,000 people. However, the ban will not apply to foreigners who gain citizenship in New Zealand – a loophole that billionaire Thiel used, after spending a total of 12 days in the country.

Thiel’s fast-tracked citizenship allowed him to buy multiple properties in New Zealand, even though he told the government he had no intention of living in the country, but would be an “ambassador” for New Zealand overseas instead, and provide contacts for New Zealand entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley. “That was a discretionary decision that was made at the time [Thiel’s citizenship], and we were very critical. Our policy, banning people would apply to everybody, regardless of how much money they have or what country they come from,” Twyford said. “We haven’t announced policy on that [tightening the investment immigration criteria] but I think it is probably something that we are likely to look at.” Twyford said New Zealand’s ban on foreign buyers was modelled on similar legislation in Australia, and was designed to ensure New Zealanders can once again achieve the Kiwi dream of owning their own home.

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We are the tragedy.

Hopes Dashed For Giant New Antarctic Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

Hopes for a vast new marine sanctuary in pristine East Antarctica were dashed Saturday after a key conservation summit failed to reach agreement, with advocates urging “greater vision and ambition”. Expectations were high ahead of the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – a treaty tasked with overseeing protection and sustainable exploitation of the Southern Ocean. Last year’s summit in Hobart saw the establishment of a massive US and New Zealand-backed marine protected area (MPA) around the Ross Sea covering an area roughly the size of Britain, Germany and France combined. But an Australia and France-led push this year to create a second protected area in East Antarctica spanning another one million square kilometre zone failed.

Officials told AFP that Russia and China were key stumbling blocks, worried about compliance issues and fishing rights. Consensus is needed from all 24 CCAMLR member countries and the European Union. Greenpeace called for “greater vision and ambition” in the coming year while WWF’s Antarctic program chief Chris Johnson said it was another missed opportunity. “We let differences get in the way of responding to the needs of fragile wildlife,” he said. Australia’s chief delegate Gillian Slocum described the failure as “sad”. She also bemoaned little progress on addressing the impacts of climate change which was having a “tangible effect” on the frozen continent. “While CCAMLR was not able to adopt a Climate Change Response Work Program this year, members will continue to work together ahead of the next meeting to better incorporate climate change impacts into the commission’s decision-making process,” she said.

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Jun 192017
 
 June 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Kandinsky Capricious Line 1924

 

Britain’s Brexit jam is Brussels’ Too (Pol.eu)
EU Leaders Fear Fragile State Of Tories Will Lead To Brutal Brexit (G.)
Pain Without Gain: The Truth About British Austerity (G.)
France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)
German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)
Central Bank Liquidity Is The ‘IV Drip’ Of The Rally (CNBC)
Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)
Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe (BBG)
Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)
Australia Has The World’s Most Costly Energy Bills (MB)
Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)
Greece Blocks EU Statement On China Human Rights At UN (R.)
Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)
Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

 

 

The Brexit talks start today. They should not. Theresa May can start, but she won’t be there to finish them.

Britain’s Brexit jam is Brussels’ Too (Pol.eu)

As Brexit talks start Monday, Britain’s back is hard against a wall. And nobody, not even in Brussels, wanted it that way. Elections in the U.K. were supposed to give Prime Minister Theresa May a stronger hand against the EU and naysayers back home. Instead, her negotiating team will hobble into the talks with May in peril, still working to finalize a power-sharing agreement to allow her to form a minority government. The EU’s stance on major Brexit issues has been ironclad for months, backed by the 27 nations in a disciplined display of unity. Second-guessing about May’s approach has intensified since her election setback, so much so that there have been calls for the EU to avert potential disaster by laying out clear paths for the U.K.’s exit.

The view in Brussels, however, is there is no way to help May short of making clear that Britain is welcome to change its mind — a point reiterated by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, among others. While no one realistically expects such a total reversal, there is unease over the lack of clarity on the U.K.’s goals. “Clearly the Brits are not ready yet and it’s a pity,” a senior Commission official said. “Everybody has sympathy for [May] now because she put herself in an impossible situation,” the official said. “How we can help her? Where she is now, nobody can help her. What she said to the backbenchers, in a way made sense, ‘I put you in this mess. I will take you out of this mess.’ But who else can do anything for her? It’s just hell.”

“And all the questions,” the official added, “Withdrawal? No withdrawal? Now? Later? It’s for them to consider. What can Brussels say?” The EU has published and transmitted to the U.K. its position papers on the two issues Brussels insists take precedence: citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. May’s aides said she wanted to make a “big, generous” offer on citizens’ rights, but so far the U.K. has not published any similar documents laying out its positions.

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Brussels wants an orderly destruction of Britain, not a messy one.

EU Leaders Fear Fragile State Of Tories Will Lead To Brutal Brexit (G.)

European leaders fear that Theresa May’s government is too fragile to negotiate viable terms on which to leave the union, meaning the discussions that officially begin on Monday could end in a “brutal Brexit” – under which talks collapse without any deal. As officials began gathering in Brussels on Sunday night, the long-awaited start of negotiations was overshadowed by political chaos back in Westminster, where chancellor Philip Hammond warned that failing to strike a deal would be “a very, very bad outcome”. The EU side fears that, in reality, the British government will struggle to maintain any position without falling apart in the coming months, because, without support from the Democratic Unionist party, May’s negotiating hand is limited. There are also concerns that any DUP backing to give May a majority in the House of Commons would come with strings attached.

Hammond has been urged to publish the cost of any deals made with the DUP to prop up the government. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has raised concerns over reports that the DUP wants to end airport tax on visitors to Northern Ireland, which generated about £90m in 2015/16, according to HMRC estimates. The abolition of air passenger duty is one of the DUP’s key demands, as it pits Northern Ireland unfavourably against the Republic of Ireland, where the duty has been abolished. As well as concern over any terms agreed with the DUP, May will have to assuage fears from Ireland’s new taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when she meets him in Downing Street on Monday, that Brexit will not infringe on the rights of people in Ireland. The taoiseach will also raise the impact of any Tory-DUP deal on power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister has said she is confident of getting the Queen’s speech through the Commons, regardless of whether a deal is reached with the DUP by the time of the state opening of parliament on Wednesday. British Brexit negotiators are hoping to shore up confidence in their hardline approach to the start of talks by making early progress on the vexed question of citizens’ rights. [..] Pierre Vimont, a veteran French diplomat, now at the Carnegie Europe thinktank, said lack of clarity did not matter for the opening, which was more about “a first glimpse into their overall attitude and position” and setting the tone. “It will be atmospherics and the way both sides show a genuine commitment to work ahead. I think that will be the most important. “But the British delegation will need to rather quickly put its house in order and to have a clear idea of where it wants to go.”

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We’ve seen that truth in Grenfell Tower.

Pain Without Gain: The Truth About British Austerity (G.)

There are few people in the developed world who still cling to the maxim that “home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt”. hese days we can’t afford to take the same view as Helmer, the husband in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of literature’s most cautious budgeters. It’s a nice idea to be free of debt and just spend what you earn. But when a home costs many times the average annual income and life’s running costs often exceed the monthly income, borrowing is not something that can be avoided. The government knows this only too well. This week sees publication of the public borrowing total for May and it is not expected to make pleasant reading.

Together with April’s shocker, when government borrowing was higher than the same month last year, the first two months of this financial year are forecast to show the borrowing requirement for the year is on track to be higher, not lower than last year. When David Cameron and George Osborne were in Downing Street, bringing down the deficit was the main aim of domestic policy. Until just last year, the plan was to cut the deficit to zero by 2020 and start bringing down the debt-to-GDP ratio from this year. The EU referendum vote and Theresa May’s arrival at No 10 changed all that. Once she adopted a hard-Brexit stance, the economy began to turn. Her chancellor, Philip Hammond, was forced to loosen the purse strings. It meant that both of the main political parties went into the election with plans for the deficit to remain at about 2.5%.

Independent forecasts for GDP growth over the next five years are below this figure, meaning that far from cutting the overall debt-to-GDP ratio, both parties were content to push it towards 90% – higher than any government has experienced in 50 years. That’s why so many headlines after the election have declared austerity dead and why the deficit was the dog that didn’t bark when the electorate went to the polls. The pressure on the deficit has only worsened since then. It has become clear to many of May’s advisers and close colleagues that the Tory party might not survive a second election this year without stealing some of Labour’s clothes. There is the possibility she will sanction scrapping, or dramatically reducing tuition fees, to nullify one of Labour’s most popular pledges.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hinted that the cap on nurses’ pay might be relaxed, while local authority spending may need to increase after the Grenfell Tower fire. Meanwhile, household debts are on the increase. Credit card, car loan and student debt, and borrowing using that most pernicious of loans, the second mortgage, have all risen sharply in the last couple of years. Making matters worse, the proportion of savings in the economy is at rock-bottom levels. It all adds up to an economy running on empty, with everyone, including ministers, borrowing extra each year just to keep the wheels turning.

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Macron won, but his majority is nowhere near as big as predicted. He was expected to get well over 400 seats, and ended up with 308. See the graphs. Next, he’ll be up against the unions. He’s promised to fire 120,000 public workers. Good luck.

France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)

French president Emmanuel Macron won a three-fifth majority in the lower house in the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday (18 June), but less than half of voters cast a ballot. Macron’s political movement, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move) won 308 seats in the National Assembly, out of 577, after obtaining 43.06% of the vote. Its centrist ally, the Modem party, got 40 seats (6%). While not as big as expected after the first round, LRM’s majority left other parties behind and completed Macron’s destruction of the old political landscape. The conservative Republicans party will be the main opposition faction, with 113 seats (22.2%), down from 192 in the outgoing assembly.

The party leader, Francois Baroin, said he was happy that the Republicans will be “big enough” to “make its differences with LRM heard”. The Socialist Party (PS), which had been the main party with 270 MPs, was left with 29 seats (5.68%). Several ministers who served under former socialist president Francois Hollande lost out to newcomers. The PS leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who was himself eliminated in the first round, resigned from his position. Some 431 new MPs will enter the assembly and a record 224 of the MPs will be women.

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The ECB has $4.73 trillion in assets. It buys anythng but Greece.

German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)

These days it’s easy to tell when general elections are approaching in Germany: members of the ruling government begin bewailing, in perfect unison, the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy. Leading the charge this time was Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who on Tuesday urged the ECB to change its policy “in a timely manner”, warning that very low interest rates had caused problems in “some parts of the world.” Werner Bahlsen, the head of the economic council of Merkel’s CDU conservatives, was next to take the baton. “The ongoing purchase of government bonds has already cost the European project a great deal of credibility and has damaged it,” he said. “The ECB can only regain trust with the return to a sound monetary policy.” As Schaeuble and Balhsen well know, that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Indeed, like all other Eurozone finance ministers, Schaeuble is benefiting handsomely from the record-low borrowing costs made possible by the ECB’s negative interest rate policy. But by attacking ECB policy he and his peers can make it seem that they take voters’ concerns about low interest rates seriously, while knowing perfectly well that the things they say have very little effect on what the ECB actually does. In short, they are telling their voters what they want to hear. A survey by the CDU’s economic council showed that less than a quarter of its roughly 12,000 members had confidence in the ECB’s current course. 76% said they backed Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann’s monetary policy stance. Herr Weidmann said on Thursday that the ECB is at risk of coming under political pressure because any hint of policy tightening could push yields higher and blow a hole in national budgets.

It’s a probably a bit late in proceedings for such worries, what with the ECB now boasting the largest balance sheet of any central bank on Planet Earth. At last count, it had €4.22 trillion ($4.73 trillion) in assets, which equates to 39% of Eurozone GDP. Many of those assets are sovereign bonds of Eurozone economies like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe. In the case of Italy, the sheer scale of the government’s dependence on the ECB for cheap funding is staggering: since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019.

It’s not just governments that are dependent on the ECB’s largesse: so, too, are the banks. In total, European banks have approximately €760 billion of funding from long-term lending schemes, the bulk of which comes from the four rounds of the most recent program launched in March 2016. As of the end of April 2017, Italian banks were holding just over €250 billion of the total long-term loans — almost a third of the total. Spain had €173 billion, while French banks had €115 billion and German lenders €95 billion. As the FT reports, the funding appears to play much less of a role in stimulating economic activity through lending, and a much larger role in mitigating the pain that low interest rates — and poor asset quality — can inflict on banks.

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Propping up zombies.

Central Bank Liquidity Is The ‘IV Drip’ Of The Rally (CNBC)

If it weren’t for liquidity right now, the stock market rally could be ripping apart, according to BMO Private Bank’s chief investment officer. “Any sense that this IV drip of liquidity coming into the market is slowing down at all is going to cause some issues,” Jack Ablin said on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” He emphasized that investors have been encouraged to take on risk due to the trillions of dollars being pumped into the financial system by central banks. Ablin’s comments came a day after the Federal Reserve decided to lift short-term interest rate by a quarter%age point. Even though the rate hike was expected, Ablin admits there was some concern tied to the Fed’s statement.

The Fed put in some new wording, saying that it “expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.” That part left Ablin “a little bit taken aback with the timing,” he said. However, “I think the good news here is, ‘Look, this is a potentially contrived crisis.’ This could be the taper tantrum all over again where [The Fed says] ‘OK, look, we don’t want to cause major upset here. We will continue to pump if equity risk taking takes a hit.'” Ablin said he’s “somewhat optimistic” that the rally will continue. He prefers developed and emerging markets over U.S. stocks, arguing that places like Europe could see bigger gains than in the United States because the economy has been surprising experts to the upside.

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This story gets insaner by the day.

Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)

In the biggest political story of the past week, one which was timed to coincide with Donald Trump’s Birthday, the WaPo reported citing anonymous sources, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice. Just a few hours later on Thursday night, the DOJ’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia probe due to Jeff Sessions recusal, released a stunning announcement which urged Americans to be “skeptical about anonymous allegations” in the media, which many interpreted as being issued in response to the WaPo report. “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”

Then on Sunday, the plot thickened further when according to ABC, special counsel Robert Mueller has not yet decided whether to investigate President Trump as part of the Russia probe, suggesting the WaPo report that a probe had already started was inaccurate. “Now, my sources are telling me he’s begun some preliminary planning,” Pierre Thomas, the ABC News senior justice correspondent, said of Mueller on ABC’s “This Week” although he too, like the WaPo, was referring to anonymous sources, so who knows who is telling the truth. “Plans to talk to some people in the administration. But he’s not yet made that momentous decision to go for a full-scale investigation.”On Friday, Trump responded to the Washington Post story by tweeting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” But also on Sunday Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow insisted the president was not literally confirming the investigation but was just referring to the story.

“Let me be clear: the president is not under investigation as James Comey stated in his testimony, that the president was not the target of investigation on three different occasions,” Sekulow said Sunday. “The president is not a subject or target of an investigation.” “Now Mueller faces a huge decision,” Thomas told “This Week” host Martha Raddatz. “Does he believe the president, who says there’s no wrongdoing here, or does he go after the president in the way James Comey wants him to do?” And so, yet another blockbuster media report has been cast into doubt as a result of more “he said, he said” innuendo, which will be resolved only if Mueller steps up and discloses on the record whether he is indeed investiating Trump for obstruction, or any other reason. That however is unlikely to happen, and so the daily ping-ponging media innuendos will continue indefinitely.

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“These two countries are in a very deep hole,” he said. Congress needs to “stop digging.”

Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe (BBG)

Russia on Sunday accused the U.S. of returning to “almost forgotten Cold War rhetoric,” after President Donald Trump’s decision to reinstate some sanctions on Cuba. It could have dropped “forgotten.” There’s been a lively debate among historians and diplomats for years over whether the souring of relations between the U.S. and Russia amounts to a new Cold War, and lately the case has been getting stronger by the day. Trump’s restoration on Friday of some of the Cold War restrictions on Cuba his predecessor, Barack Obama, eased just months ago was only one example. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate approved a bill to entrench and toughen sanctions on Russia that includes several vivid flashbacks to before the fall of the Berlin wall.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice on Friday to rising European condemnation of a proposal in the Senate draft that would penalize companies investing in new Russian energy pipelines. Nord Stream 2, a project to double the supply of Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea, would be especially vulnerable. President Ronald Reagan used similar sanctions in an attempt to thwart the joint German-Soviet construction of a natural gas pipeline in the early 1980s, only to drop them amid intense opposition from Europe. Again, Germany led the pushback. The Senate bill would also codify a raft of existing sanctions against Russia, so that Trump would need Congressional approval to lift them. That happened in 1974, too, and the measures proved hard to kill.

The legislation wasn’t repealed until a decade after their target, the U.S.S.R., had ceased to exist. The sense of Cold-War deja vu has been building for some time, according to Robert Legvold, a professor at Columbia University and author of “Return of the Cold War.” There’s a renewed arms race, nuclear saber rattling, the buzzing of ships and planes, proxy wars and disputes over whether missile defense systems count as offense or defense. If the trend continues, said Legvold, it will prevent the strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Russia that’s needed to prevent approaching security challenges from spinning out of control: The rise of China, the race to exploit resources in the Arctic, international terrorism and, above all, a world with nine nuclear powers that’s more complex and unstable than in the 20th century. “These two countries are in a very deep hole,” he said. Congress needs to “stop digging.”

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It’s hard to agree on gold. Always has been.

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)

It’s no work at all to make modern money. Since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, the world’s central bankers have materialized the equivalent of $12.25 trillion. Just tap, tap, tap on a computer keypad. “One Nation Under Gold” is a brief against the kind of money you have to dig out of the ground. And you do have to dig. The value of all the gold that’s ever been mined (and which mostly still exists in the form of baubles, coins and ingots), according to the World Gold Council, is a mere $7.4 trillion. Gold anchored the various metallic monetary systems that existed from the 18th century to 1971. They were imperfect, all right, just as James Ledbetter bends over backward to demonstrate. The question is whether the gold standard was any more imperfect than the system in place today.

[..] As if to clinch the case against gold—and, necessarily, the case for the modern-day status quo—Mr. Ledbetter writes: “Of forty economists teaching at America’s most prestigious universities—including many who’ve advised or worked in Republican administrations—exactly zero responded favorably to a gold-standard question asked in 2012.” Perhaps so, but “zero” or thereabouts likewise describes the number of established economists who in 2005, ’06 and ’07 anticipated the coming of the biggest financial event of their professional lives. The economists mean no harm. But if, in unison, they arrive at the conclusion that tomorrow is Monday, a prudent person would check the calendar.

Mr. Ledbetter makes a great deal of today’s gold-standard advocates, more, I think, than those lonely idealists would claim for themselves (or ourselves, as I am one of them). The price of gold peaked as long ago as 2011 (at $1,900, versus $1,250 today), while so-called crypto-currencies like bitcoin have emerged as the favorite alternative to government-issued money. It’s not so obvious that, as Mr. Ledbetter puts it, “we cannot get enough of the metal.” On the contrary, to judge by ultra-low interest rates and sky-high stock prices, we cannot—for now—get enough of our celebrity central bankers.

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Pretty far out.

Australia Has The World’s Most Costly Energy Bills (MB)

In reality, there are three main components of household bills. Whether households actual ultimately pocket these savings will depend on what happens with all three. The first, is the wholesale cost. That’s the cost of actually generating the electricity, be it burning lumps of coal, a gas-fired electricity plant, solar panels, wind turbines or whatever clever ways we may come up with in the future to produce electricity. Today, 77 per cent of Australian electricity comes from mostly brown and black coal, 10 per cent from gas, and 13 per cent from renewable sources. For a long time, this part of the system, of producing the electricity and getting it into the grid, has been going pretty well. Australians have enjoyed a reliable and low-cost supply of wholesale energy.

Basically, we burned ship loads of cheap coal, and to hell with the environment. This is the part of the system that is now utterly falling apart and is in most need of repair – which we’ll get to. The second major component of household electricity bills is the cost of transmission and distribution. The costs involved in building poles and wires and actually getting electricity to your wall sockets makes up about 40 per cent of your total bill. This part of the electricity price equation has been broken for decades, and is the main reason power bills have nearly doubled over the last decade. Power lines are natural monopolies. Traditionally they were all government owned. Jeff Kennett privatised Victorian networks, but until very recently, distribution networks in other states, such as NSW and Queensland, have remained government owned, with regulated pricing.

And basically, they stuffed that up for consumers by deciding to let the networks earn a guaranteed rate of return, based on their costs. That is, the more they spent, the more they earned. …The third and final component of a household’s bill is the margin added by electricity retailers. In theory, anyone can set up a business retailing electricity and there are many suppliers. In reality, pricing structures are so complex consumers do not exercise their power to switch providers, and retail margins remain higher than otherwise.

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Moving towards a very deep black hole.

Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)

Forget all the headlines about the undimmed pace of house price inflation – up 19% in Sydney during March, pushing the median house price in the city to A$1.15 million ($875,000) according to Domain, a property-listings website. House prices, after all, aren’t so much a guide to the state of the housing market as to the 1% or so of homes that bought or sold in a typical year. Even there, they’re less an indicator of supply and demand for housing than of how supply and demand for mortgage credit interact with real estate fundamentals. Splurge on mortgage credit, and even an overbuilt housing market can enjoy price appreciation; cut back on home loans, and the opposite may be the case. That’s why it’s worth looking at the state of rents. Right now, they’re growing at the slowest pace in more than two decades, according to calculations based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

This hasn’t completely escaped notice. Philip Lowe, who took over as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia in September, has included the same boilerplate reference (with minor cosmetic modifications) in each of the eight monetary policy decision statements he’s put out so far: In the eastern capital cities, a considerable additional supply of apartments is scheduled to come on stream over the next couple of years. Rent increases are the slowest for two decades. As Lowe indicates, the reason for the slowdown in rents isn’t hard to discern. For most of Australia’s recent history, building has struggled to keep pace with household formation. Supply of new homes has kept close to demand, and as a result rents have tended to grow more or less in line with incomes.

Compare the Housing Institute of Australia’s forecasts of housing starts and the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ forecasts of household formation, and the glut really comes into focus: The surplus of homes that Australian cities have built over the past five years, based on those numbers, is equivalent to a whole year’s worth of excess supply. That’s a worrying development for those hoping that Australia’s house price boom is sustainable, especially given the way that the country’s regulators look to be finally attempting to raise credit standards after years of laxity. Still, if Australia manages to deflate the housing bubble without seriously damaging its economy, the heroes and villains will be quite different from the popular perception. While governments and regulators spent years adding to the problem with tax breaks and hostility to macroprudential regulation, it may well be property investors and foreigners who helped ease the crisis.

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The EU should look at its own human rights record.

Greece Blocks EU Statement On China Human Rights At UN (R.)

Greece has blocked a EU statement at the UNs criticizing China’s human rights record, a decision EU diplomats said undermined efforts to confront Beijing’s crackdown on activists and dissidents. The EU, which seeks to promote free speech and end capital punishment around the world, was due to make its statement last week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, but failed to win the necessary agreement from all 28 EU states. It marked the first time the EU had failed to make its statement at the U.N.’s top rights body, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. A Greek foreign ministry official said Athens blocked the statement, calling it “unconstructive criticism of China” and said separate EU talks with China outside the U.N. were a better avenue for discussions. An EU official confirmed the statement had been blocked.

“Greece’s position is that unproductive and in many cases, selective criticism against specific countries does not facilitate the promotion of human rights in these states, nor the development of their relation with the EU,” a Greek foreign ministry spokesperson said on Sunday. Presented three times a year, the statement gives the EU a way to highlight abuses by states around the world on issues that other countries are unwilling to raise. The impasse is the latest blow to the EU’s credentials as a defender of human rights, three diplomats said, and raises questions about the economically powerful EU’s “soft power” that relies on inspiring countries to follow its example by outlawing the death penalty and upholding press freedoms. It also underscores the EU’s awkward ties with China, its second-largest trade partner, diplomats said.

[..] Hungary, another large recipient of Chinese investment, has repeatedly blocked EU statements criticizing China’s rights record under communist President Xi Jinping, diplomats said. One EU diplomat expressed frustration that Greece’s decision to block the statement came at the same time the IMF and EU governments agreed to release funds under Greece’s emergency financial bailout last week in Luxembourg. “It was dishonorable, to say the least,” the diplomat said. The Greek foreign ministry spokesperson said that “during the formulation of the common statement there were also other countries that expressed similar reservations” and that Greece participates on an equal footing in setting up the EU’s common foreign policy.

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Many will claim this is employers seeking illicit profits. But for many it’s the only way not to be forced to fire people, to keep them fed.

Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)

The growing trend of distributing vouchers to employees to avoid taxes has raised eyebrows in the Greek government, which has moved to crack down on unprecedented levels of tax evasion in the cash-strapped country. The government says vouchers are allowed only as an extra benefit and not as part of a taxable salary. But according to Greek media reports, more than 200,000 workers, mostly newcomers, receive up to 25% in their salary via vouchers, which they use in supermarkets to buy food. The total amount, according to the reports, reaches €300 million annually. Up to a specific amount, the vouchers are tax-free for businesses, which are also exempt from employer security contributions. A source at the Greek labour ministry told EURACTIV.com that replacing any part of the legal wage of employees with vouchers is illegal.

“Vouchers are only allowed as an extra benefit and in no case can they be a substitution for legally defined earnings,” the source noted, adding that all complaints filed with the Labour Inspectorate are being investigated. As of June, companies are required to pay salaries only to bank accounts in order to put a stop to the practice of avoiding paying salaries altogether or paying only a fragment. “The Labor Inspectorate (SEPE) is in constant collaboration with Greece’s Financial and Crime Unit (SDOE), the financial police and the Independent Public Revenue Authority to address all forms of labour market violations and the coordination of their audit work,” the source said. Vouchers are coupons companies distribute to their employees to improve work, health and safety by supporting proper nutrition.

The rationale behind vouchers is that they process will enhance satisfaction and boost productivity levels while improving the employee living standards. For the government, the proper use of vouchers should also result in more tax revenues. The labour market in Greece has been in turmoil after 7 years of austerity-driven bailout programmes. There are cases of employers who have taken advantage of the “flexible” labour relations to impose unusual working conditions. For many, the use of vouchers is seen as a means to improve the atmosphere at work. Sotiris Zarianopoulos, a non-attached MEP from the Greek Communist Party (KKE), has recently asked the European Commission about these practices. The Greek lawmaker noted that this is only a part of a “jungle labour market” created by EU policies and implemented by the leftist Syriza government.

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On the verge of heading back to Greece, I’m wary of what comes after the calm.

Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

Even though Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed last week’s Eurogroup deal as step in the right direction, Greece still has many rivers to cross as the agreement secured in Luxembourg fell far short of the goals set by the government. First and foremost, Tsipras will have to deal with dissent emanating from SYRIZA MPs that had agreed to vote through a batch of tough legislation last month with the understanding that, in exchange, Greece will be granted debt relief and access to the ECB’s quantitative easing program. However, contrary to the government’s aims at the Eurogroup, debt relief talks were deferred to 2018, while Greece’s inclusion in the QE seems highly unlikely before that.

Although analysts believe that dissenters may not raise the ante during the summer – due to the tourist season and relief provided by the release of a bailout tranche – the government is expected to come under new pressure in the fall when Tsipras drafts the 2018 budget, which must stipulate a primary surplus of 3.5%. Given the huge difficulties to achieve this target, Athens will find it hard to convince representatives of the country’s creditors that it will able to achieve this target without the need for yet more measures. The Greek PM will also struggle in the fall to clear the hurdles leading to the completion of the country’s third bailout review, which will also involve the IMF. The review’s focus will be on streamlining the Greek public sector, from which SYRIZA has drawn a large chunk of votes in the past and would not like to rock the boat.

Another sticking point could be Tsipras’s promise to bring back growth, when forecasts for 2017 see an anemic rate of 1.5 to 1.8%. According to reports, the left-led coalition is banking on elections taking place in June 2018 at the earliest so that it avoids having to implement pension cuts in 2019, as it had agreed with creditors and passed into law. On the other had, some reports suggest that Tsipras may seek to spring an election surprise this fall or by the end of the year. This, however, will hinge on whether Greece will be given specifics by creditors about what sort of debt relief it can expect after the German elections in September, and on the degree of difficulty it will have to draft the 2018 budget.

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Jun 172017
 
 June 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Broadway and Kearny Street, North Beach, San Francisco 1952

 

All Hell Is Going To Break Loose In The Bond Market (SBA)
The Fog of Markets (720G)
10 Years After Global Financial Crisis, World Still Suffers Debt Overhang (SMH)
Amazon, the Death of Brick & Mortar, Buys into Brick & Mortar (WS)
Special Prosecutor Mueller Is a Political Hack (Washington)
Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis (DQ)
China’s Smaller Banks Endure Record Borrowing Costs amid Squeeze (BBG)
Most Of Central London Hospital To Be Sold Off, Plans Reveal (G.)
Five Talks on Power, Populism, Politics & Europe (Varoufakis)
Spain Says Eurogroup May Block Greek Loan If Officials Not Granted Immunity (R.)
Swedish Commuters Can Use Hand Implant Chip Instead Of Train Tickets (Ind.)

 

 

“..the Federal Reserve has not allowed the market to do its one and only job, and that is to determine fair value.”

All Hell Is Going To Break Loose In The Bond Market (SBA)

This past Wednesday we heard from the Federal Reserve with regard to monetary policy, and as I predicted they did raise the federal funds rate 25 basis points however, instead of yields rising, they are dropping. More than a year and a half ago I had said publicly that the Federal Reserve’s attempt at trying to normalize bond yields would backfire-and this is exactly what is happening. It is clear to me that the Federal Reserve has absolutely lost control of what is occurring in the bond market. Remember, this is uncharted territory, we have never been here before in the history of the financial world-so the Federal Reserve actually has no idea of how the market will react in the current environment with regard to their attempt at normalizing interest rates. The yield curve as seen in the picture above continues to flatten out, and this trend will continue until the curve inverts.

The last time the yield curve inverted, the 2008 economic meltdown occurred, and the time before that we suffered the.com bubble meltdown. The fact is we are existing in a multiple bubble economy at this time, worse, and unlike anything which has ever been seen before. The reason why these bubbles exist is simple: the Federal Reserve has not allowed the market to do its one and only job, and that is to determine fair value. The Federal Reserve’s interest rate suppression cycle has not only allowed, but has been the driving force behind mass malinvestments across the entire spectrum of asset classes and as such, bubbles have been created. The Federal Reserve has created distortions across the spectrum of asset classes which is frankly beyond belief, worse than has ever been witnessed in the history of finance. What this means is when the yield curve inverts this time, we will experience a meltdown magnitudes greater then the 2008 crash.

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“..till injuries were wrought to the structure of human society which a century will not efface, and which may conceivably prove fatal to the present civilization.”

The Fog of Markets (720G)

“The year 1915 was fated to be disastrous to the cause of the Allies and to the whole world. By the mistakes of this year the opportunity was lost of confining the conflagration within limits which though enormous were not uncontrolled. Thereafter the fire roared on till it burnt itself out. Thereafter events passed very largely outside the scope of conscious choice. Governments and individuals conformed to the rhythm of the tragedy, and swayed and staggered forward in helpless violence, slaughtering and squandering on ever-increasing scales, till injuries were wrought to the structure of human society which a century will not efface, and which may conceivably prove fatal to the present civilization.” – Winston S. Churchill – The World Crisis: 1915

After reading that quote several times, it remains shocking that the politicians and individuals of that era unconsciously “conformed to the rhythm of the tragedy.” The paragraph above from Winston Churchill, describes the mass mindset of World War I when it was still in its infancy. War-time narratives, nationalism, destruction and the tremendous loss of life led most people to quickly accept and acclimate to an event that was beyond atrocious. Amazingly, less than a year before the period Churchill discusses, the same people likely would have thought that acceptance of such a calamity would be beyond comprehension. Wars and markets are obviously on two different planes, and we want to make it clear the purpose of this article is not to compare the evils of war to financial markets. That said, we must recognize that quick acceptance of abnormal circumstances, as Churchill describes, is a trait that we all possess.

The seemingly unabated march upwards in stock prices occurring over the last eight years has had a mind-numbing effect on investors. The relentless grind higher is backed by weak fundamentals providing little to no justification for elevated prices. Indeed, if there was no justification for such valuations during the economically superior timeframe of the late 1990’s, how does coherent logic rationalize current circumstances? For example, feeble economic growth, stagnating corporate earnings, unstable levels of debt, income and wage inequality and a host of other economic ills typically do not command a steep premium and so little regard for risk. This time, however, is different, and investors have turned a blind eye to such inconvenient facts and instead bank on a rosy future. Thus far, they have been rewarded. But as is so often the case with superficial gratification, the rewards are very likely to prove fleeting and what’s left behind will be deep regret.

Despite our education and experience which teach the many aspects of the discipline of prudent investing, investors are still prone to become victims of the philosophy and psychology of the world around them. These lapses, where popular opinion-based investment decisions crowd out the sound logic and rationale for prudence and discipline, eventually carry a destructively high price. Investors, actually the entire population, have become mesmerized by the system as altered and put forth by the central bankers. We have somehow become accustomed to believe that debt-enabling low interest rates make even more debt acceptable. Ever higher valuations of assets are justifiable on the false premise of a manufactured and artificial economic construct.

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Long from Australia, with lots of sources. Bit confusing even.

10 Years After Global Financial Crisis, World Still Suffers Debt Overhang (SMH)

Let’s start with the question of debt. Lord Adair Turner, who chaired the UK Financial Services Authority between 2008 and 2013 and helped redesign global banking, says the world since has not addressed this root cause of the crisis and that means it’s at risk of another one. Lord Turner, now chairman of New York-based Institute for New Economic Thinking, says the world is suffering from “irrational exuberance” and “debt overhang”. The latter term refers to countries trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, and when nations ultimately default on that debt – he predicts that the next crisis will come courtesy of China and that’s just a number of years away – it ends in their economic destruction.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) says global levels of debt held by households, governments, and non-financial corporates jumped by over $US70 trillion in the past decade to a record high of $US215 trillion, equating to 325 per cent of global GDP. “There’s been no deleveraging,” Lord Turner says. “Once you’ve got too much debt in the economy … it’s incredibly difficult to get rid of it. “If you say, ‘I’m going to write it off’, your banks go bankrupt … if you try get rid of it by people paying down that debt … the attempt to pay it back is what drives the economy into recession.” To avoid that, interest rates then fall, and that simply encourages more borrowing, he says.

[..] Steve Keen, Professor of Economics at Kingston University in London, a long-time doomsayer on Australia’s mortgage binge, says simply: “It’s dangerous”. He says the Reserve Bank and Australian politicians ignore the dangers of private household debt today just as former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke did before the GFC. Keen says the risk of recession is even higher now that APRA has slightly tightened lending standards. “It’s inevitable,” he says, sticking to his bold prediction that it will happen before year’s end.

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Grow your own food.

Amazon, the Death of Brick & Mortar, Buys into Brick & Mortar (WS)

Amazon, which is getting blamed profusely for the meltdown of brick-and-mortar stores and malls across the US, and which has been dabbling with its own initiatives into brick-and-mortar operations – including bookstores, after nearly wiping bookstores off the face of the US – said it would buy brick-and-mortar Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion. Amazon will get Whole Foods’s $15.7 billion in annual sales and more importantly, its brand, semi-loyal customers, and about 450 brick-and-mortar stores across 42 states. Whole Food shares jumped 27%. But in early trading, the shares of the largest brick-and-mortar grocery sellers in the US are getting crushed: Wal-Mart Stores -6.5%; Kroger, largest supermarket chain in the US, -14%; Costco -7%; Target -10%.

Amazon already sells groceries online via AmazonFresh, and a few months ago announced it would create a grocery store pickup service, another foray into brick-and-mortar. Selling groceries online has been tough in the US, though everyone has been trying, from innumerable startups to Safeway and Google Express (in cooperation with Costco et al.). Consumers are used to buying at the store by running through the aisles with their carts and choosing what they see or what’s on their list, or both, and they want to touch and check their produce before buying it, and they don’t want the dented apples or squished grapes or wilted lettuce. And they need it now on the way home from work so they can fix dinner.

With this acquisition, Amazon’s efforts to muscle its way into the grocery business and even more into the every-day lives of Americans have thus taken a quantum leap forward. But what industry is Amazon muscling into? Over the past six years, sales at grocery stores are up a total of 14%, not adjusted for inflation, according to the retail trade report by the Commerce Department. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index for food rose 14%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hence, on an inflation-adjusted basis, “real” sales have been flat for six years.

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Did anyone doubt this? Safe to predict the investigation will be dragged out forever.

Special Prosecutor Mueller Is a Political Hack (Washington)

Torture FBI special agent Colleen Rowley points out: Mueller was even okay with the CIA conducting torture programs after his own agents warned against participation. Agents were simply instructed not to document such torture, and any “war crimes files” were made to disappear. Not only did “collect it all” surveillance and torture programs continue, but Mueller’s (and then Comey’s) FBI later worked to prosecute NSA and CIA whistleblowers who revealed these illegalities.

Iraq War Rowley notes: When you had the lead-up to the Iraq War … Mueller and, of course, the CIA and all the other directors, saluted smartly and went along with what Bush wanted, which was to gin up the intelligence to make a pretext for the Iraq War. For instance, in the case of the FBI, they actually had a receipt, and other documentary proof, that one of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had not been in Prague, as Dick Cheney was alleging. And yet those directors more or less kept quiet. That included … CIA, FBI, Mueller, and it included also the deputy attorney general at the time, James Comey.

Post 9/11 Round-Up FBI special agent Rowley also notes: Beyond ignoring politicized intelligence, Mueller bent to other political pressures. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mueller directed the “post 9/11 round-up” of about 1,000 immigrants who mostly happened to be in the wrong place (the New York City area) at the wrong time. FBI Headquarters encouraged more and more detentions for what seemed to be essentially P.R. purposes. Field offices were required to report daily the number of detentions in order to supply grist for FBI press releases about FBI “progress” in fighting terrorism. Consequently, some of the detainees were brutalized and jailed for up to a year despite the fact that none turned out to be terrorists.

9/11 Cover Up Rowley points out: The FBI and all the other officials claimed that there were no clues, that they had no warning [about 9/11] etc., and that was not the case. There had been all kinds of memos and intelligence coming in. I actually had a chance to meet Director Mueller personally the night before I testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee … [he was] trying to get us on his side, on the FBI side, so that we wouldn’t say anything terribly embarrassing. …

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EU’s post-Cyprus resolutions are being dumped whenever that’s easier.

Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis (DQ)

Spain’s Banco Popular had the dubious honor of being the first financial institution to be resolved under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, passed in January 2016. As a result, shareholders and subordinate bondholders were “bailed in” before the bank was sold to Santander for the princely sum of one euro. At first the operation was proclaimed a roaring success. As European banking crises go, this was an orderly one, reported The Economist. Taxpayers were not left on the hook, as long as you ignore the €5 billion of deferred tax credits Santander obtained from the operation. Depositors and senior bondholders were spared any of the fallout. But it may not last for long, for the chances of a similar approach being adopted to Italy’s banking crisis appear to be razor slim.

The ECB has already awarded Italy’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) a last-minute reprieve, on the grounds that while it did not pass certain parts of the ECB’s last stress test, the bank is perfectly solvent, albeit with serious liquidity problems. By contrast, Popular was also liquidity challenged but, unlike MPS, it passed all parts of the ECB’s 2016 stress test, which shows you how ineffectual these tests are — and how subjective the resolution process of a European bank can be. In a speech to the Italian Banking Association on Thursday, the Vice President of the ECB, Vítor Constâncio, suggested that under certain circumstances, it might be wiser to save a bank than to resolve it. What’s more, taxpayers should be called upon not only to save banks like MPS but also to make whole all holders of the bank’s subordinate debt, under the pretext that they were misled into purchasing them (as indeed some retail customers, but certainly not all, were).

A taxpayer-funded bailout of bondholders is also on the cards for the two mid-sized Veneto-based banks, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which have already received billions of euros in taxpayer assistance. Italy’s Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan continues to insist the two banks will not be wound down. This is the same man who insisted last year that a) there would be no need of any future bail outs; and b) Italy did not even have a banking problem on its hands. Padoan has no choice but to deny all rumors of a bail-in; otherwise there would be a massive rush for the exits. In the weeks and even days leading up to Popular’s collapse, Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos repeatedly reassured investors that the bank was perfectly safe and solvent.

All the while government agencies, including Spain’s social security fund, and regional government authorities were emptying the deposits they held with the bank as fast as they could. The total is unknown but it certain ran into billions of euros. To avoid a similar fate, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca were instructed by the European Commission last week to find an additional €1.25 billion in private capital. That money still hasn’t arrived, and now Italy’s government is trying to persuade the European Commission and the ECB to water down the requirement to €600-800 million, while also urging Italian banks to chip in to the bank rescue fund. If they don’t and the two Veneto-based banks end up being wound down, they will have to cough up as much as €11 billion to refund the banks’ depositors.

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Deleveraging my donkey.

China’s Smaller Banks Endure Record Borrowing Costs amid Squeeze (BBG)

China’s smaller banks, caught between a seasonal cash squeeze and an official deleveraging drive, are stomaching record high borrowing costs to raise funds. Issuance of negotiable certificates of deposit jumped to 758 billion yuan ($111.5 billion) this week, the most since the securities were introduced in 2013 as a lifeline for smaller banks. The yield on one-month AAA rated NCDs has surged nearly one percentage point this month to an all-time high of 5.05%, while that on AA+ contracts reached 5.30%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The increase in NCD costs comes at a tough time for Chinese lenders, which face an unprecedented 4.5 trillion yuan of maturities this quarter. The pressure has been aggravated by the deleveraging drive, with the one-month Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate climbing for 22 days in a row to a two-year high.

The certificates are used mainly by smaller lenders – banks outside of China’s top 10 by market value accounted for 76% of total sales this year. “The smaller banks have no choice but to take the blow,” said Shan Kun, Shanghai-based head of China markets strategy at BNP Paribas. “They need to sell NCDs to get financing as they cut leverage gradually and as they have to cope with tighter liquidity this month. The rates will likely continue to climb, or at least stay elevated in the near term.” When cash supply tightens, small- and medium-sized lenders are usually among the hardest-hit because they lack the retail deposit arsenal of larger banks, said Yulia Wan, a Shanghai-based banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. They also may not have enough bonds to use as collateral to borrow money in the repo market. The banks need the money to finance longer-term and less liquid assets, such as debt and investment in loans and receivables, she added.

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Grand plans going back to Osborne and Cameron.

Most Of Central London Hospital To Be Sold Off, Plans Reveal (G.)

Almost all of a central London hospital is to be sold and its services diverted to already stretched facilities around the capital under plans for NHS modernisation seen by the Guardian. Charing Cross hospital, a flagship NHS facility in the heart of London, is to be cut to just 13% of its current size under proposals contained in sustainability and transformation plans published last year in 44 areas across England. Many of the officially published plans lacked precise detail about how local services would change, but internal supporting documents seen by the Guardian reveal the scale of the closures at the London site. The proposals claim much of the care currently offered at Charing Cross can be transferred to “community settings” such as local GP services, but health campaigners and clinicians say the transformation could endanger patients.

The documents include a map detailing how 13% of the current hospital site will remain, with the rest of its prime real estate in central London sold off. The plan is to introduce the changes after 2021. NHS chiefs have stated as recently as March that “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross hospital”, and in March 2015 the then prime minister, David Cameron, said it was “scaremongering” to suggest that the Charing Cross A&E departmentwas earmarked for closure. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, echoed the claims. However, in the internal NHS documents the apparent downgrading of Charing Cross is outlined in great detail. The plan is to axe 10 major services at Charing Cross – 24/7 A&E, emergency surgery, intensive care and a range of complex emergency and non-emergency medical and surgical treatments. The remaining services would be a series of outpatient and GP clinics, X-ray and CT scans, a pharmacy and an urgent care centre for “minor injuries and illnesses”. Around 300 acute beds will be lost.

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Yanis.

Five Talks on Power, Populism, Politics & Europe (Varoufakis)

1 Yanis Varoufakis on power, populism and the future of the EU
2 Can Europe Make It? – Yanis Varoufakis speaks to openDemocracy
3 Yanis Varoufakis blows the lid on Europe’s hidden agenda
4 Yanis Varoufakis and his plan to take on Europe – again
5 Greece, Austerity, Brexit and Europe’s other darlings at GFMF2016

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In the EU, there’s immunity for officials committing crimes.

Spain Says Eurogroup May Block Greek Loan If Officials Not Granted Immunity (R.)

The Eurogroup of finance ministers may block an 8.5-billion-euro (7.44 billion pounds) loan to Greece if it does not grant immunity to privatisation agency officials from Spain, Italy and Slovakia, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Friday. In 2015, a Greek prosecutor charged three officials at the country’s privatisation agency with embezzlement for withholding interest payments and breach of duty in relation to a sale and lease-back deal of 28 state-owned buildings. The case is still pending. “If there’s not a definitive solution for the situation of these three experts, the Eurogroup will block the payment,” de Guindos said in Luxemburg.

Greece would do “whatever necessary” to immediately settle the legal case, a Greek government official said. European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said he was confident the problem would be resolved and that he would continue to discuss the issue with Spain during his visit to Madrid next week. “The problem has to be solved. We should not over dramatise it. The disbursement will happen and at the same time will find a solution to this problem,” Moscovici said on his arrival at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxemburg on Friday.

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Next up: a chip that makes your kids smarter. Try and resist that.

Swedish Commuters Can Use Hand Implant Chip Instead Of Train Tickets (Ind.)

Gone are the days when an e-ticket was seen as cutting edge – one Swedish rail company is offering passengers the option of using a biometric chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket. SJ is the first travel company in the world to let people use this innovative method that seems straight out of a sci-fi film. The tiny chip has the same technology as Oyster cards and contactless bank cards – NFC (Near Field Communication) – to enable conductors to scan passengers’ hands. Before you pack your bags for Sweden, the scheme is only applicable to those who already have the biometric implant – SJ is not offering to chip people. Around 2,000 Swedes have had the surgical implant to date, most of them employed in the tech industry.

State-owned operator SJ has said it expects about 200 people to take up the microchip method, but users must be signed up as a loyalty programme member to access the service. Customers buy tickets in the normal way by logging onto the website or mobile app, and their membership number, which is the reference code for the ticket, is linked to their chip. There are still kinks to be ironed out with the scheme, which began in earnest last week. Some passengers’ LinkedIn profiles were appearing instead of their train tickets when conductors scanned their biometric chip, while a number of train crew haven’t got the new SJ app which facilitates the scanning of biometric chips yet. “It’s just a matter of days before everyone has it,” says a spokesperson for SJ.

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Jun 152017
 
 June 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Francisco de Goya Saturn Devouring His Son 1819–1823

 

Fed Raises Rates, Unveils Balance Sheet Cuts In Sign Of Confidence (R.)
The Fed Is Flying Blind (BBG)
Peak Economic Delusion Signals Coming Crisis (Smith)
When the Fed Tightens, It Leads to Financial “Events (Phoenix)
Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To “Punish” Russia (ZH)
What If The Russia Russia Russia Story Was Nothing? (HotAir)
Pentagon Agrees To Sell $12 Billion In F-15s To Qatar (ZH)
The Old Are Eating the Young (Satyajit Das)
Greek Economy Minister Calls Wolfgang Schäuble ‘Dishonest’ (R.)
Greece Is Germany’s ‘De Facto Colony’ (Pol.)
EU Officials Warn Athens Not To Take Debt Issue To Leaders’ Summit (K.)

 

 

It’s getting increasingly frustrating to try and find objective views of anything to do with Trump or Putin. And I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. So I left out Mueller’s Trump investigation.

Yellen is stuck. Next.

Fed Raises Rates, Unveils Balance Sheet Cuts In Sign Of Confidence (R.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday for the second time in three months and said it would begin cutting its holdings of bonds and other securities this year, signaling its confidence in a growing U.S. economy and strengthening job market. In lifting its benchmark lending rate by a quarter%age point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25% and forecasting one more hike this year, the Fed seemed to largely brush off a recent run of mixed economic data. The U.S. central bank’s rate-setting committee said the economy had continued to strengthen, job gains remained solid and indicated it viewed a recent softness in inflation as largely transitory. The Fed also gave a first clear outline on its plan to reduce its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, most of which were purchased in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.

It expects to begin the normalization of its balance sheet this year, gradually ramping up the pace. The plan, which would feature halting reinvestments of ever-larger amounts of maturing securities, did not specify the overall size of the reduction. “What I can tell you is that we anticipate reducing reserve balances and our overall balance sheet to levels appreciably below those seen in recent years but larger than before the financial crisis,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a press conference following the release of the Fed’s policy statement. She added that the balance sheet normalization could be put into effect “relatively soon.” The initial cap for the reduction of the Fed’s Treasuries holdings would be set at $6 billion per month, increasing by $6 billion increments every three months over a 12-month period until it reached $30 billion per month.

For agency debt and mortgage-backed securities, the cap will be $4 billion per month initially, rising by $4 billion at quarterly intervals over a year until it reached $20 billion per month. [..] The Fed has now raised rates four times as part of a normalization of monetary policy that began in December 2015. The central bank had pushed rates to near zero in response to the financial crisis. Fed policymakers also released their latest set of quarterly economic forecasts, which showed only temporary concern about inflation and continued confidence about economic growth in the coming years. They forecast U.S. economic growth of 2.2% in 2017, an increase from the previous projection in March. Inflation was expected to be at 1.7% by the end of this year, down from the 1.9% previously forecast.

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The Fed’s been flying blind for well over 10 years.

The Fed Is Flying Blind (BBG)

The architects of U.S. monetary policy at the Federal Reserve should be happy. They’ve succeeded beyond their own expectations in bringing down the unemployment rate without triggering an outburst of inflation. Stock indexes are near record highs, and interest rates remain low. But those who set interest rates are in the awkward position of not understanding how things got so good—and are therefore confused about what to do next. “The Fed isn’t run by computers, it’s run by people,” says David Rosenberg, chief strategist at Gluskin Sheff. “Like all of us they have their flaws and their blind spots. On June 14, the Federal Open Market Committee voted as expected to raise the federal funds rate a quarter point, to a range of 1% to 1.25%. It said it expects inflation to rise to its 2% target “over the medium term.”

For Fed Chair Janet Yellen and company, the central mystery continues to be why inflation remains below 2% despite unemployment having dropped to just 4.3% in May. Even ex-convicts and high school dropouts are getting job offers one reason why many economists believe it’s inevitable that wages must rise. When you have a shortage of supply of something, its price will go up, says Gad Levanon, chief U.S. economist at the Conference Board, a business-supported research group. A tight job market, however, hasn’t translated into inflation. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose just 1.7% in April from a year earlier. On June 14, as the Fed was meeting, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index excluding food and energy rose just 0.1% in May, the third surprisingly low reading in three months.

Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase., sympathizes with Yellen’s predicament. He said in an interview before the FOMC meeting that Yellen is relying out of necessity on the Phillips curve, which says that lower unemployment leads to higher inflation. “It’s kind of the best we’ve got” as a descriptor of the economy, he says. Still, Feroli couldn’t resist headlining his report on the puzzlingly low CPI number, “Captain Phillips goes overboard.” Some economists worry that the Fed rate increases will abruptly cool the economy by increasing the cost of borrowing via credit cards, auto loans, and student loans, as well as business loans. Rosenberg, who’s more bearish than most economists, points out that recessions occurred 10 of the last 13 times the Fed raised interest rates. He says the U.S. is due for a recession within the next 12 months.

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“The question is not “when” we will enter collapse; we are already in the midst of an economic collapse. ”

Peak Economic Delusion Signals Coming Crisis (Smith)

According to the Atlanta Fed, US GDP in the first quarter of 2017 has declined to 0.7% , going back to lows touched on in 2014 after the Fed reduced QE.

The US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since the year 2000, and this trend has accelerated in recent years. Manufacturing in the US only accounts for 8.48% of all jobs according to May statistics. 102 million working age Americans do not currently have a job. This includes the 95 million Americans not counted by the Bureau of Labor because they assume these people have been unemployed so long they “do not want to work”. Thousands of retail outlet stores, the primary engine of the American economy, are set to close in 2017. Sweeping bankruptcies and downsizing are ravaging the retail sector, and internet retailers are not taking up the slack despite highly publicized growth. In 2016, online retail sales only accounted for 8.1% of all retail sales.

Oil inventories continue to amass as US energy demand declines. Declining energy demand is a sure sign of overall economic decline. OPEC and other entities continue to argue that “too much supply” is the issue; an attempt to distract away from the reality of lower consumption and the falling wealth of consumers. Corporate earnings expectations continue their dismal path, suggesting that stock markets have been supported by central bank stimulus and blind investor faith in central bank intervention. The stimulus is now being cut off. How long before investor faith is finally lost?

It is unfortunate that so many people only track stocks when accounting for economic health. They have crippled themselves and their own observations, and actually condescend when confronted with counter-observations and data. They help globalists and international financiers by perpetuating false narratives; sometimes knowingly but often unconsciously. And, when the system does destabilize to the point that they actually realize it, they will blame all the wrong culprits for their pain and suffering. The question is not “when” we will enter collapse; we are already in the midst of an economic collapse. The real question is, when will the uneducated and the biased finally notice? I suspect the only thing that will shock them out of their stupor will be a swift stock market drop, since this is the only factor they seem to pay attention to. This will happen soon enough.

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That much is obvious.

When the Fed Tightens, It Leads to Financial “Events (Phoenix)

The Fed concludes its June meeting today. The Fed fund futures markets put the odds of the Fed hiking rates again at 99.6%. This would mark the third rate hike by the Fed during this cycle. Why would this matter? Because it indicates the Fed is embarked on a serious tightening cycle. One rate hike can be a fluke. Two rate hikes could even be just policy error. But three rate hikes means the Fed is determined.

As Bank of America noted in a recent research note, when the Fed becomes determined to tighten… it usually ends in an “event.” What would an “event” look like for today’s market? A Crash is coming…

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It’s a craze. It’s doing so much damage.

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To “Punish” Russia (ZH)

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved new sanctions to punish Russia for “meddling” in the 2016 election. The bipartisan legislation, which passed with an overwhelming 97-2 vote, slaps new sanctions on Russia and restricts President Trump from easing them in the future without first receiving congressional approval. The only two senators to vote against the measure were Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), while Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) abstained. Known as the Crapo Amendment, after Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the measure was endorsed by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland). The deal was attached to an Iran sanctions bill that is expected to pass later this week.

While top Republican senators had initially wanted to give the White House space to try improving U.S.-Russia relations, but ultimately decided talks with Russia have been moving too slowly. The sanctions against Russia are “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyber-attacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” according to the deal’s sponsors. The amendment also allows “broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways” and authorizes “robust assistance to strengthen democratic institutions and counter disinformation across Central and Eastern European countries that are vulnerable to Russian aggression and interference.”

New sanctions would be imposed on “corrupt Russian actors” and those “involved in serious human rights abuses,” anyone supplying weapons to the Syrian government or working with Russian defense industry or intelligence, as well as “those conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government” and “those involved in corrupt privatization of state-owned assets.” The biggest neocon in Congress, John McCain, was delighted with the outcome: “We must take our own side in this fight. Not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) before the vote. “It’s time to respond to Russia’s attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action.” As AP adds, lawmakers took action against Russia in the absence of a forceful response from President Donald Trump.

While the president has sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way, non-stop “anonymous sources” have repeatedly leaked “news” to the NYT and WaPo, suggesting Trump colluded with Russia and/or was being probed by the FBI. Following Comey’s testimony, which confirmed there is no “there” there, the media attacks against Trump have shifted, and now accuse the president of obstruction of justice and interference with the FBI’s investigation into Mike Flynn. Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said told reporters the Kremlin will hold out with its reaction until the U.S. decides on new sanctions against Russia. “We wouldn’t like to enter this sanctions spiral again. But that’s not our choice.” Indeed, and with the US having made Russia’s choice for them, we now look for Moscow’s response.

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They’ll just keep digging until they find something, and then blow that up way out of proportion.

What If The Russia Russia Russia Story Was Nothing? (HotAir)

Everyone has been busily trying to parse the Jeff Sessions testimony since the Attorney General took the stand but there doesn’t seem to be a lot to work with. Allahpundit talked about the number of times that Sessions declined to answer certain questions about private conversations he had with the president, but that’s some fairly thin gruel to build a presidency-ending scandal out of. But the one question which seems to still be off limits for most of the MSM is the really ugly one: what if this turns out to be a dry hole? Much of the speculation swirling around this entire saga has been based on anonymous sources supposedly spilling secrets about Oval Office conversations or supposed Russians hiding behind the potted plants. With all of that smoke, there certainly must be a fire, right? But that depends whether the smoke is coming from an actual blaze or some reporting blazing up some prime wacky tobacky.

Having hearings was supposed to clear up many of these questions. Take for example the widely reported and frequently repeated assertion that the Attorney General had a third, unreported meeting with the Russians at the Mayflower. That’s been stated so often that it’s basically become an article of faith on CNN and MSNBC. But yesterday Sessions was asked about it and he simply said… no. There was no third meeting. And? What happens now? Unless the New York Times can produce some video or at least a credible witness who saw Session sneaking off into the cloak room with the Russian ambassador or one of his henchmen that’s pretty much a dead end. And that’s falling into a pattern with so many other aspects of the entire tapestry of accusations against the Trump administration, a group of allegedly nefarious traitors who were colluding with the Russians to cripple the American elections.

David French at National Review tackles what may eventually become the biggest question of all. What if that never happened and it was all a fictional tale assembled by the media? “While we certainly aren’t privy to all the relevant information or all the relevant testimony, nothing that James Comey said last week or that Jeff Sessions said today (much less any of the questions directed his way) contained so much as a meaningful hint that the Committee was on the verge of uncovering the political scandal of the century. Rather, the focus keeps shifting to much narrower questions regarding Trump’s decision to fire James Comey — questions that are important but far less historically consequential than any claim that a president or his attorney general are traitors to their country…

Truth is truth, and it’s important for responsible people to not just understand and respond to actual evidence — no matter where it leads — but also acknowledge its absence. And so far the absence of evidence points to Trump’s innocence of some of the worst allegations ever leveled against an American president or his senior team.”

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Pentagon wouldn’t mind a little war.

Pentagon Agrees To Sell $12 Billion In F-15s To Qatar (ZH)

Remember when Trump called on Qatar to stop funding terrorism, claiming credit for and endorsing the decision of Gulf nations to isolate their small neighbor (where the most important US airbase in the middle east is located),even as US Cabinet officials said their blockade is hurting the campaign against ISIS. You should: it took place just 5 days ago. “We had a decision to make,” Trump said, describing conversations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. “Do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” Also last week, Trump triumphantly announced on twitter that “during my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”

Well, Qatar funding terrorism apparently is not a problem when it comes to Qatar funding the US military industrial complex, because just two weeks after Trump signed a record, $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, moments ago Bloomberg reported that Qatar will also buy up to 36 F-15 jets from the Pentagon for $12 billion …. even as a political crisis in the Gulf leaves the Middle East nation isolated by its neighbors and criticized by President Donald Trump for supporting terrorism, according to three people with knowledge of the accord. According to the Pentagon, the sale will give Qatar a “state of the art” capability, not to mention the illusion that it can defend itself in a war with Saudi Arabia. If nothing else, Uncle Sam sure is an equal-opportunity arms dealer, and best of all, with the new fighter planes,

Qatar will be able to at least put on a token fight when Saudi Arabia invades in hopes of sending the price of oil surging now that every other “strategy” has failed. To be sure, the sale comes at an opportune time: just days after Qatar put its military on the highest state of alert, and scrambled its tanks. All 16 of them. Maybe the world’s wealthiest nation realized it’s time beef up its defensive capabilities? Qatar’s defense minister will meet with Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Wednesday to seal the agreement, Bloomberg reported citing people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale hasn’t been announced. Last year, congress approved the sale of up to 72 F-15s in an agreement valued at as much as $21 billion but that deal took place before the recent political crisis in the region.

It is unclear what the Saudi reaction will be to the news that Trump is arming its latest nemesis. If our thesis that Riyadh is hoping for Qatar to escalate the nest leg of the conflict is correct, then the Saudis should be delighted.

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“..society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.”

The Old Are Eating the Young (Satyajit Das)

Edmund Burke saw society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. A failure to understand this relationship underlies a disturbing global tendency in recent decades, in which the appropriation of future wealth and resources for current consumption is increasingly disadvantaging future generations. Without a commitment to addressing this inequity, social tensions in many societies will rise sharply. entral to the issue is that the rapid rise in living standards and prosperity of the past 50 years has been largely based on rising debt levels, ignoring the costs of environmental damage and misallocation of scarce resources. A significant proportion of recent economic growth has relied on borrowed money – today standing at a dizzying 325% of global GDP.

Debt allows society to accelerate consumption, as borrowings are used to purchase something today against the promise of future repayment. Unfunded entitlements to social services, health care and pensions increase those liabilities. The bill for these commitments will soon become unsustainable, as demographic changes make it more difficult to meet. Degradation of the environment results in future costs, too: either rehabilitation expenses or irreversible changes that affect living standards or quality of life. Profligate use of mispriced non-renewable natural resources denies these commodities to future generations or increases their cost. The prevailing approach to dealing with these problems exacerbates generational tensions. The central strategy is “kicking the can down the road” or “extend and pretend,” avoiding crucial decisions that would reduce current living standards, eschewing necessary sacrifices, and deferring problems with associated costs into the future.

Rather than reducing high borrowing levels, policy makers use financial engineering, such as quantitative easing and ultra-low or negative interest rates, to maintain them, hoping that a return to growth and just the right amount of inflation will lead to a recovery and allow the debt to be reduced. Rather than acknowledging that the planet simply can’t support more than 10 billion people all aspiring to American or European lifestyles, they have made only limited efforts to reduce resource intensity. Even modest attempts to deal with environmental damage are resisted, as evidenced by the recent fracas over the Paris climate agreement. Short-term gains are pursued at the expense of costs which aren’t evident immediately but will emerge later.

This growing burden on future generations can be measured. Rising dependency ratios – or the number of retirees per employed worker – provide one useful metric. In 1970, in the U.S., there were 5.3 workers for every retired person. By 2010 this had fallen to 4.5, and it’s expected to decline to 2.6 by 2050. In Germany, the number of workers per retiree will decrease to 1.6 in 2050, down from 4.1 in 1970. In Japan, the oldest society to have ever existed, the ratio will decrease to 1.2 in 2050, from 8.5 in 1970. Even as spending commitments grow, in other words, there will be fewer and fewer productive adults around to fund them.

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Schäuble couldn’t care less.

Greek Economy Minister Calls Wolfgang Schäuble ‘Dishonest’ (R.)

Greek Economics Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou has accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of being “dishonest” by blocking debt relief for Greece despite his acknowledgement that Athens has implemented significant reforms. Euro zone finance ministers and the IMF are expected to strike a compromise deal on Greece on Thursday, paving the way for new loans for Athens while leaving the contentious debt relief issue for later. Papadimitriou told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview published on Thursday that Schaeuble first had acknowledged that Greece had met the requirements, but then changed his mind. “I haven’t met Schaeuble yet and I don’t want to be impolite, but his behavior seems dishonest to me,” he added.

Papadimitriou said German resistance to debt relief for Greece raised questions about the very idea and structure of the euro zone. The success of right-wing populists in Europe also showed dissatisfaction with such European structures, he said. “Greece is being made a sacrificial lamb,” he said. Papadimitriou also warned Schaeuble against making decisions based purely on domestic politics, noting that Germany had also received debt relief when it was rebuilding after World War Two. Debt relief is needed to help Greece expand its economy, he said, noting that Athens was not asking for a debt cut, but rather lower interest rates or longer repayment schedules. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also called on the euro zone finance ministers to spell out concrete measures to reduce the Greek debt burden.

“Greece has fulfilled its commitments and adopted the required reforms. Now it is time for the Europeans to comply with their commitments on debt relief,” Pavlopoulos said in an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt. German opposition politicians also criticized Schaeuble by honing in on the fact that the IMF is likely to participate in the third bailout, but will only disburse any loans when debt measures have been clearly outlined. Gerhard Schick from the Greens party accused Schaeuble of a “lousy trick” with the IMF participation. Thomas Oppermann, senior member of the co-governing Social Democrats (SPD), told Bild newspaper: “Schaeuble must put his cards on the table ahead of the election and say what German taxpayers will have to expect.”

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“Europe stopped listening to Greece a long time ago.”

Greece Is Germany’s ‘De Facto Colony’ (Pol.)

Poor Alexis Tsipras. For days, the Greek leader has been working the phones, trying to secure the best possible terms for his country as it enters the last mile of its seemingly endless cycle of bailouts. So far, his efforts have won him more mockery than respect — especially in Germany. “He keeps calling the whole time, and the chancellor says again and again, ‘Alexis, this issue is for the finance ministers,’” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told an audience here on Tuesday, referring to the Greek prime minister’s attempts to win over Angela Merkel to his cause. Eurozone finance ministers are set to decide at a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday whether to release a more than €7 billion tranche of aid to Greece. No one doubts Athens will get the money. Schäuble all but committed to it on Tuesday.

But Tsipras wants something even more precious: debt relief. No serious economist believes Greece will ever crawl out from under its more than €300 billion debt without significant forgiveness from its creditors. That means convincing Germany, the country to which Greece owes the most. For much of Greece’s nearly decade-long depression, the country was hostage to its domestic politics. Now, it’s hostage to Germany’s. Berlin, which has long opposed outright debt relief, refuses to budge. With a general election in Germany set for late September, Merkel and Schäuble are unlikely to soften their position anytime soon. The Greek bailouts remain politically toxic in Germany, and any agreement involving debt forgiveness would be seen domestically as an admission the rescue effort had failed — and at the German taxpayers’ expense.

Over the years, Germany has quietly accepted more subtle forms of forgiveness, like extending maturities on Greece’s loans and reducing the interest burden. But a straightforward cut, as demanded by the International Monetary Fund, remains out of the question. At least until after the election. Unfortunately for Tsipras, he has very little say in the matter. One big reason he wants debt relief now is that it would allow the European Central Bank to include Greece in its bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing. That would go a long way toward boosting investor confidence in Greece’s stability. But Greece won’t be eligible for the program as long as its debt burden isn’t deemed sustainable. And with the ECB’s program set to be wound down soon, Greece may never benefit. Tsipras may yet try to resist a deal this week and take the matter to next week’s summit of European leaders in Brussels. That’s unlikely to make much difference. Truth is, Europe stopped listening to Greece a long time ago.

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More blackmail.

EU Officials Warn Athens Not To Take Debt Issue To Leaders’ Summit (K.)

As Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos braces for a Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday which all evidence suggests will not yield a satisfactory debt solution for Greece, European officials on Wednesday warned Athens against trying to broach the issue at an EU leaders’ summit next week. “If the matter is not resolved today, then it will be discussed at the next Eurogroup, where the agreement won’t be any better,” one source in Brussels told Kathimerini. Sources in Berlin, which has taken a hard line in the face of calls by the IMF for Greek debt relief, struck a similar tone, with one official noting that the matter falls squarely within the remit of the Eurogroup, “a message that has been made absolutely clear.”

“I don’t remember any Greek problem being solved at the EU leaders’ summit level,” another source representing Greece’s international creditors told Kathimerini, referring to previous efforts by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to broach issues relating to the country’s international bailouts with Angela Merkel and other EU leaders. A spokesman for Germany’s Finance Ministry, however, struck a positive tone, saying he was looking forward to agreeing on a “viable comprehensive package.” A proposal by French officials, that a solution to Greek debt relief be linked to the country’s growth rate, is expected to be discussed in Luxembourg on Thursday, though it is unlikely to be embraced in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Athens sounded a defiant note on Wednesday, with a high-ranking government official warning that if German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble does not budge from his positions to make way for a final agreement, then “there are others in higher positions than him that can give a solution.” “If there is no positive move, in the next few days or during the Eurogroup, from the German minister, then it looks like Angela Merkel will be forced to hold the hot potato,” a government official told the Athens News Agency on Wednesday.

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May 182017
 
 May 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Paul Klee Fire at Full Moon 1933

 

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)
Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)
America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)
Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)
Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)
US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)
Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)
Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)
Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)
Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)
Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)
Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)
Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)
Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

 

 

The echo chamber expands. It’s ironic to see how everyone praises Mueller’s independence, yet many are sure he will be Trump’s undoing. What flack will he get when he doesn’t do what the MSM demand?

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)

Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller, known for his independence in high-profile government investigations, is taking on a new challenge in the midst of a crisis that threatens the presidency of the United States. Mueller, 72, was named on Wednesday by the Justice Department to probe alleged Russian efforts to sway November’s presidential election in favor of Donald Trump and to investigate whether there was any collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Moscow. President Trump said in a statement there was no collusion between his campaign and “any foreign entity.” Mueller is known by some as “Bobby Three Sticks” because of his full name – Robert Mueller III – a moniker that belies the formal bearing and no-nonsense style of the former Marine Corps officer who was decorated during the Vietnam War.

Democrats and Republicans alike praised his appointment and hailed his integrity and reputation. Mueller was named to the post by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His investigation will run in parallel to those being carried out by the FBI and the U.S. Congress. It would be difficult to fire Mueller, and past special counsel appointments have shown that the job comes with independence and autonomy. Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed during the George W. Bush administration in 2003 to a similar role to investigate the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer whose husband had criticized Bush administration policies. Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush granted Libby clemency from a prison sentence before he left office.

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If you want to protest Trump, protest this….

Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)

Donald Trump will use his upcoming Saudi Arabia trip to announce one of the largest arms sales deals in US history – somewhere in the neighbourhood of $98bn to $128bn worth of arms. That could add up to $350bn over ten years. The deal will be what the Washington Post said is a “cornerstone” of the proposal encouraging the Gulf states to form its own alliance like the NATO military alliance, dubbed “Arab Nato.” Nato is comprised of 28 countries including the US. Mr Trump been an outspoken critic of the organisation but after a face-to-face meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stollenberg, he said the alliance was “no longer obsolete.” The White House said the president will propose it as a template for an alliance that will fight terrorism and keep Iran in check.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began negotiations on this deal shortly after the 2016 US election when he sent a delegation to Trump Tower to meet with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is serving as a senior advisor of sorts to Mr Trump. The idea of an Arab Nato is not new. There was talk in 2015 of a “response force” in Egypt, comprised of approximately 40,000 troops from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other Gulf nations. The “response force” would have had a Nato-like command structure, with soldiers paid for by their own countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council made up of wealthy oil economies finance operations and management of the force.

President Barack Obama’s administration brokered more arms sales than any US administration since World War II – estimated at $200bn. They sold Saudi Arabia alone $60bn in arms, which sparked criticism by Democrats concerned with Saudi Arabia’s alleged human rights violations. Mr Trump benefits by bringing about a more “fair” deal; he has claimed several times that Nato is unfair to the US because of the amount of contributions and support provided by the US compared to countries like Germany. If Arab Nato succeeds, the White House official said the US could shift the responsibility for security to those in the region and create jobs at home through the arms sales.

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…because that Saudi arms deal is a further expansion of this long-term insanity. Military industrial complex.

America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)

Who designed the malware worm that is now wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers internationally by hackers demanding a king’s ransom? The US government. Who is the biggest black market buyer and stockpiler of cyberweapons (weaponized malware that can be used to hack into computer systems, spy on citizens, and destabilize vast computer networks)? The US government. What country has one the deadliest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction? The US government. Who is the largest weapons manufacturer and exporter in the world, such that they are literally arming the world? The US government. Which is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in wartime? The United States. How did Saddam Hussein build Iraq’s massive arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, and chemical weapons during the 1980s? With help from the US government.

Who gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida “access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry”? The US government. What country has a pattern and practice of entrapment that involves targeting vulnerable individuals, feeding them with the propaganda, know-how and weapons intended to turn them into terrorists, and then arresting them as part of an elaborately orchestrated counterterrorism sting? The US government. Where did ISIS get many of their deadliest weapons, including assault rifles and tanks to anti-missile defenses? From the US government. Which country has a history of secretly testing out dangerous weapons and technologies on its own citizens? The US government. Are you getting the picture yet? The US government isn’t protecting us from terrorism. The US government is creating the terror. It is, in fact, the source of the terror.

Just think about it for a minute: almost every tyranny being perpetrated against the citizenry—purportedly to keep us safe and the nation secure—has come about as a result of some threat manufactured in one way or another by our own government. Cyberwarfare. Terrorism. Bio-chemical attacks. The nuclear arms race. Surveillance. The drug wars. In almost every instance, the US government has in its typical Machiavellian fashion sown the seeds of terror domestically and internationally in order to expand its own totalitarian powers.

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Let’s celebrate progress.

Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)

Investors who think Amazon.com Inc. is about to destroy the retail industry as we know it have figured out a way to supercharge that bet – by buying the online giant’s stock and pairing it with a short position in the SPDR S&P Retail ETF, symbol XRT, a foundering fund that primarily holds bricks-and-mortar stores. “If you are long Amazon, wouldn’t it make sense to be short the stocks Amazon will look to decimate?” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research for S3 Partners. “It’s going long the ‘best of the breed’ and shorting the ‘worst of the breed.’” Traders are building up short positions in anticipation of XRT dropping to $40 or $41, Dusaniwsky said. The fund, which is down more than 5% this year, closed at $41.74 on Tuesday.

XRT’s top holdings include furniture stores, supermarkets and groceries, electronics chains and media streaming, all areas where Amazon is spending heavily, Dusaniwsky said. “If Amazon succeeds, it will be at the expense of companies like Wayfair, Sprouts Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Best Buy and Netflix,” Dusaniwsky said. These five companies make up around 7% of XRT, which also holds $3.37 million of Amazon stock, making it 1.2% to the portfolio. So far Amazon is holding up its end of the bet. The world’s largest online retailer beat profit and revenue estimates in the first quarter and said sales may top projections in second quarter, according to an April 27 statement. The stock’s up 28% this year, as the company continues to add subscribers to its $99-a-year Prime program, locking in loyalty and building a moat against competitors.

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Is Kashkari denying the existence of bubbles?

Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari on Wednesday warned against using interest-rate hikes to address unwanted asset bubbles, saying that bubbles are hard to identify and such hikes would likely do more harm than good. Kashkari is a voting member this year on the U.S. central bank’s policy committee, and in March was the lone dissenter on a Fed vote to raise rates for the third time since the Great Recession. He has previously said he opposed the rate hike because he felt keeping rates low would result in more jobs for Americans who want to work. Some Fed officials have worried that keeping rates too low for too long could create asset bubbles that could set the U.S. economy up for another recession.

But the main reason Fed chair Janet Yellen and others have given for raising rates is not to tamp down bubbles, but to keep a now nearly fully employed economy from going into overdrive. Kashkari’s latest essay argues that keeping a sharp eye out for potential bubbles and using supervisory powers to protect banks from failures are better options than raising rates. “Given the challenges of identifying bubbles with any confidence and the costs of making a policy mistake, I believe the odds of circumstances ever making sense to use monetary policy to try to slow asset prices down are very low,” he wrote. “I won’t say never but a whole lot of evidence would have to line up just right for it to be the prudent course of action.”

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Horse. Barn.

US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)

Lenders are tightening the spigot on new auto loans, making it harder for U.S. consumers with weak credit to buy a car, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show. New car loans for subprime borrowers fell in the first quarter to $25.9 billion, the lowest in two years, according to the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household debt and credit. Drivers with credit scores below 620 now comprise less than 20% of new loans, down from almost 30% a decade ago. Borrowers with the highest credit scores – 760 or more – made up nearly a third of new auto loan originations in the first quarter as lenders target the safer deals. Banks including Fifth Third Bank have been trimming their loan books and cutting back on riskier credit as delinquent auto loan balances surge.

The share of auto debt more than 90 days overdue rose to 3.82% in the first quarter, the highest in four years. While caution may be good for banks’ balance sheets, it doesn’t offer much relief for automakers, who relied on cheap credit to fuel a seven-year stretch of booming sales. Now they’re boosting discounts and cutting production to address swelling inventory on dealer lots. Ford said Wednesday it’s cutting 1,400 jobs in North America and Asia to improve profits as the U.S. auto industry recorded a fourth straight drop in monthly sales in April, after eking out a record year in 2016. Tighter credit “is a big impediment to future strength in auto sales,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, senior U.S. economist for Bloomberg Intelligence. “A lot of this demand was driven by loose lending standards.”

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Not helping.

Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)

Canadian government officials delivered a vote of confidence in the country’s housing sector and banking system, telling lawmakers that Vancouver and Toronto’s real estate markets are supported by fundamentals that leave risks well-contained. Senior officials from Canada’s Finance Department testified Wednesday evening to the Senate finance committee, fielding questions about the stability of the housing market, risks posed by high household debt levels in Canada and the recent downgrade of banks by Moody’s Investors Service Inc. The hearing came amid questions about the future of Home Capital and any knock-on effect that a potential failure there could have on Canada’s housing sector, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto.

The core message from the officials was Canada’s market was stable and, despite some risks, policy makers’ measures are taking effect. “We don’t think there’s any systemic risk across the country,” said Phil King, a director at the economic and fiscal policy branch at Finance Canada. “There are specific pockets of concern, which seem to have ameliorated somewhat in the very-near term but we’re keeping a very close eye on those.” Vancouver and Toronto have “very, very strong fundamentals” supporting prices including immigration, strong job creation, strong income gains and high wealth, he said. King described a national housing market with distinct regions — surging Toronto and Vancouver, soft markets in energy-producing regions such as Calgary, and other cities like Montreal and Ottawa where policy makers have “no concerns whatsoever.”

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As Goldman Sachs should be for its activities in Greece.

Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, on trial in Milan for allegedly helping Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena conceal losses, must face accusations that it was running an international criminal organization at the time. Prosecutors used internal Deutsche Bank documents and emails to persuade a three-judge panel to consider whether there were additional, aggravating circumstances to the charges the German lender already faces related to derivatives transactions. The material included a London trader’s “well done!” message to a banker who is now on trial, evidence seen by Bloomberg shows. Allowing prosecutors to argue that the alleged market manipulation crimes were committed by an organization operating in several countries could lead to higher penalties if they win a conviction.

Giuseppe Iannaccone, a lawyer for Deutsche Bank and some of the defendants, sought to block the move at Tuesday’s hearing, saying there wasn’t a clear connection between the original charge of market manipulation and the alleged aggravating circumstances. “The trial for Deutsche Bank managers becomes more problematic after the judge’s decision,” said Giampiero Biancolella, an attorney specializing in financial crime who isn’t involved in the case. “If proven, the aggravating circumstance may increase the eventual jail sentence for the market manipulation to a maximum of nine years.” The German bank and Nomura went on trial in Milan in December, accused of colluding with Monte Paschi to cover up losses that almost toppled the Italian lender before its current battle for survival. Thirteen former managers of Deutsche Bank, Nomura and Monte Paschi were charged for alleged false accounting and market manipulation.

Deutsche Bank and Nomura are accused of using complex derivative trades to hide losses at the Italian lender, leading to a misrepresentation of its finances between 2008 and 2012. After the deals came to light in a 2013 Bloomberg News report, Monte Paschi restated its accounts and tapped shareholders twice to replenish capital. Deutsche Bank and six current and former managers were indicted in Milan Oct. 1 for allegedly helping falsify the Siena-based lender’s accounts through a deal known as Santorini. The prosecution’s request to label Deutsche Bank an international criminal association hinged on events that occurred in other parts of the globe, including the possible manipulation of an index, which isn’t the subject of charges in the Milan case.

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History’s biggest ever financial boondoggle. And nobody dares stop it.

Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)

The German Air Force this month sent the U.S. military a written request for classified data on the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet as it gears up to replace its current fleet of fighter jets from 2025 to 2035. The letter, sent by the Air Force’s planning command and seen by Reuters, makes clear that the German government has not yet authorized a procurement program and is not committed to any particular aircraft to replace its current warplanes. It said the defense ministry would carry out “an in-depth evaluation of market available solutions, including the F-35, later this year,” with a formal “letter of request” to be issued in coming months.

Germany’s interest in the F-35 – the Pentagon’s most advanced warplane and its costliest procurement program – may surprise some given that it is part of the four-nation consortium that developed the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, which continues to compete for new orders. The Eurofighter is built by Airbus as well as Britain’s BAE Systems and Leonardo of Italy. Germany will need to replace its current fleet of fourth-generation warplanes – Tornadoes in use since 1981 and Eurofighters – between 2025 and 2035. The F-35 is considered a fifth-generation fighter given stealth capabilities that allow it to evade enemy radars.

Berlin’s letter also comes amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, with NATO officials saying that Russian naval activity now exceeds levels seen even during the Cold War. Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy – key NATO allies of Germany – are already buying the F-35 fighter jet to replace their current aircraft, and other European countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Finland are also looking at purchasing the fifth-generation warplane. Germany’s gesture may be aimed at strengthening its hand in negotiations with its European partners over the scale and timing of development of a next generation of European fighters. Any moves to buy a U.S. built warplane could run into political resistance in Germany, which has strong labor unions.

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Just turn parliament into a prison building. Most effective solution.

Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)

Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazil’s congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper. They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega. Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal.

Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues. In covert recordings made during two conversations in March, Joesley tells Temer he is paying Cunha to keep him quiet, to which the president allegedly replies: “You have to keep it going, OK?” According to Globo, police also have audio and video evidence that Temer’s aide Rocha Loures negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais (US$160,000) a week for 20 years in return for helping JBS overcome a problem with the fair trade office.

No audio or transcripts were released. The supreme court has refused to comment on the validity of the alleged leak – but the news has enraged the public. Shouts and pot-banging (a traditional form of protest in Latin America) could be heard when the allegations were aired on TV. Crowds also gathered outside the presidential palace chanting “Fora Temer” (Temer out). Two congressmen submitted impeachment motions in the lower house.

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Macron falls in line with what Berlin wants as much as Hollande did. Where’s the difference? Merkel and Schäuble like it, because now no-one will dare speak up anymore.

Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)

With none of the previous three presidents Merkel has sat across from in the past 12 years did the cautious chancellor achieve the deep mutual understanding and political serendipity that powered European integration in the eras of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Macron promised to be a “frank, direct and constructive partner” for Berlin. If he can convince Merkel to revive the frequent, unscripted, plain-speaking meetings between French and German leaders of the past, it will be a crucial step toward setting a joint agenda for Europe. July’s joint cabinet session — where both defense and the economy will be on the agenda — will be a first test of the promised Franco-German revival.

Macron has made it clear he intends to use France’s major contribution to European defense and security as a lever to help secure progress in the eurozone. But his influence in Berlin, as he acknowledged, will depend on his ability to break the rigidities in the French labor market and put the country’s young people to work. He will need to overcome deep-seated resistance to eurozone intervention in national budget policies. The last Socialist government was as defiant as its Gaullist predecessors when the European Commission repeatedly criticized France’s excessive deficits, high tax burden on business and employment, and generous welfare and pension systems. But Macron is committed to the right track. Honoring commitments to EU-supervised economic reforms are part of his vision for a more integrated eurozone, he said in Berlin.

[..] When it comes to the eurozone, Germany will have to end its resistance to further risk-sharing to complete the EU’s banking union. And here progress is likely to be difficult. Macron will need Berlin to lift its blockade on common deposit insurance and a joint fiscal backstop for the European bank resolution fund. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble — who has expressed support for some of Macron’s ideas — will hold both steps hostage at least until after the German general election in September. Schäuble is holding out for a very different form of eurozone governance, in which an inter-governmental (i.e. German-controlled) European Monetary Fund, built on the existing European Stability Mechanism, would impose automatic debt restructuring and an austerity program on any eurozone country that needed assistance.

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Can Tsipras impose cuts when they violate his constitution? Can the Troika?

Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)

The Parliamentary Scientific Committee in its new report that accompanies the new omnibus bill expressed concern over the constitutionality of the provisions of Law 4387/2016 that calls for new cuts to pensions and special salaries. According to Professor and former SYRIZA lawmaker Alexis Mitropoulos, the report was posted on the parliament site shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Mitropoulos spoke on Ant1 television on Wednesday saying that, “After the recent Court of Audit decision, and following a long meeting, the committee found that the cuts in special wages, pensions and taxation were found to be unconstitutional.”

The new bill includes deep cuts in pensions and slashes in salaries of army and police personnel, sectors where special salary regulations apply. “The proposed reductions disrupt the balance that must exist between, on the one hand, the pension as a personal asset, which is protected by Article 1 and, on the other, of the public interest,” the report says regarding the pension cuts. As for cuts in special salaries, the report argues that, the cuts “are part of a wider fiscal adjustment program containing a package of measures to revive the Greek economy and consolidate public finances” but their implementation “is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the constitutionality of these cuts.”

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A child can tell that this is nonsense:

Growth predicted at “..2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060(!)..”. While the demanded budget surplus is 3.5% for the next 5 years. Which guarantees the growth predictions won’t be achieved.

Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)

A senior eurozone official put on Wednesday the chances of a complete agreement on Greece being reached at this Monday’s Eurogroup meeting at 50%, while many issues remain open and the negotiation battle at this stage is mainly between Berlin and the IMF. The official also reiterated that there will be no tranche disbursement without the IMF agreeing to participate in the Greek program. There are three scenarios on the negotiating table, according to two eurozone officials who took part in last Monday’s Euro Working Group. All three provide for the primary budget surplus to remain at 3.5% of GDP until 2022, showing that this is not negotiable anymore.

The main obstacle to an agreement among Greece’s creditors is that they disagree on the rate of Greek growth in the coming years, a key parameter for the extent of Greek debt easing. The first scenario provides for growth to match the European Commission’s estimates for 2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060. If there is a primary surplus of 2-2.6% of GDP, then the measures agreed last May will suffice to make the Greek debt sustainable. According to the second scenario, growth will be below even the IMF forecast and will not exceed 1% per year in the long term. That should take the primary surplus down to 1.5% of GDP from 2023, and more measures will be needed to render the debt sustainable. The third scenario is similar to the second, but the growth forecast is slightly higher, at 1.25%.

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Forget about hoping Brussels is looking for a solution NOT located in southern Libya. Just imagine what you would do if this was your child.

Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

A record increase in the number of refugee and migrant children travelling alone has left many exposed to sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers and opportunists. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in 80 countries in 2015-16, a rise of almost 500% on the 66,000 documented in 2010-2011, according to a Unicef report published on Wednesday. The central Mediterranean passage is one of several migration routes identified as particularly dangerous for children. More than 75% of the 1,600 14- to 17-year-olds who arrived in Italy reported being held against their will or forced to work.

“One child moving alone is one too many and yet, today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.” The sheer number of migrant and refugee arrivals has left states struggling to cope, with children often falling through the cracks.

Border closures, aggressive pushback measures, overcrowded shelters, makeshift camps and heavy-handed authorities have only served to exacerbate the risk of child exploitation, encouraging unaccompanied minors to take highly dangerous routes in a desperate bid to reach their destinations. One 17-year-old girl from Nigeria told Unicef that she was trapped in Libya for three months and sexually assaulted by her smuggler-turned-trafficker as she attempted to travel alone to Italy. “Everything [he] said – that we would be treated well and that we would be safe – it was all wrong. It was a lie,” she said of the man who offered to help her. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him, he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”

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