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

 

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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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