Nov 302017
 


Amedeo Modigliani Elvira Resting at a Table 1919

 

Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with Naomi Klein’s 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, in which she describes how neoliberalism, as developed by Milton Friedman and his Chicago School, wreaks often very brutal and bloody havoc upon societies under the guise of ‘crisis as an opportunity for change’, first in Latin America and later also in Eastern Europe.

One of the most prominent actors in the book, the man behind the term ‘shock therapy’ for economies, is Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard prodigy. In an interview at the time, Klein had this to say:

 

Q: You mention the shift from shock therapy to shock-and-awe, but there are also attempts to soften the image of neoliberalism. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who pioneered shock therapy, wrote his latest book on The End of Poverty. Is there any more to this than a rebranding exercise?

A: A lot of people are under the impression that Jeffrey Sachs has renounced his past as a shock therapist and is doing penance now. But if you read The End of Poverty more closely he continues to defend these policies, but simply says there should be a greater cushion for the people at the bottom. The real legacy of neoliberalism is the story of the income gap. It destroyed the tools that narrowed the gap between rich and poor.

The very people who opened up this violent divide might now be saying that we have to do something for the people at the very bottom, but they still have nothing to say for the people in the middle who’ve lost everything. This is really just a charity model. Jeffrey Sachs says he defines poverty as those whose lives are at risk, the people living on a dollar a day, the same people discussed in the Millennium Development Goals. Of course that needs to be addressed, but let us be clear that we’re talking here about noblesse oblige, that’s all.

[..] Leszek Balcerowicz, the former finance minister who worked with Jeffrey Sachs to impose shock therapy in Poland in 1989, said that the ideology advances in moments of extraordinary politics. He listed these moments of extraordinary politics as ends of war and moments of extreme political transition.

Around the same time, Alexander Cockburn said in a review of the book:

 

“Shock therapy” neoliberalism really isn’t most closely associated with Milton Friedman, but rather with Jeffrey Sachs, to whom Klein does certainly give many useful pages, even though Friedman remains the dark star of her story. Sachs first introduced shock therapy in Bolivia in the early 1990s. Then he went into Poland, Russia, etc, with the same shock therapy model. Sachs’ catchy phrase then was that “you can’t leap over an abyss step-by-step,” or words to that effect. This is really where contemporary neoliberalism took shape.

I’ve thought for all these years that Jeffrey Sachs, when out there campaigning for the end of poverty and other ostensibly grandiose goals with the likes of Angeline Jolie, should have at least provided a very public and detailed apology for his past endeavors. I’ve never seen one.

Which meant I was very surprised to see his name pop up as a prominent adviser to Yanis Varoufakis during the latter’s time as Greek finance minister, as Yanis describes it in his 2017 book Adults in the Room. Even more surprising than to see Larry Summers in a similar role in the same book.

The mother of all surprises in this regard, however, was to see Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement announce Naomi Klein as a member of its Advisory Panel yesterday, a panel which also includes the likes of Julian Assange. Because while he’s not on that panel, Jeffrey Sachs has done public presentations for DiEM25. Bien étonné de se trouver ensemble, as the French put it. Strange bedfellows. Maybe Naomi should explain.

I have said multiple times that I am a fan of Yanis, and his departure as finance minister has been a huge loss to Greece, because he was their best, and perhaps their only, chance at salvation from economic disaster, but I’m still not at all convinced about DiEM25 and its intentions (and I don’t mean to say they don’t mean well).

For one, because I think the EU is so throughly rotten to the core it cannot be reformed; its fatal flaws have been continually baked into the cake for decades. Whereas DiEM25 think they can get people elected in various countries across Europe and get Brussels to change direction and become democratic. It was never built to be democratic.

 

But all this before was merely a build-up to an article Sachs penned for Project Syndicate this week in which he claims to know precisely what Germany and Europe need. He doesn’t.

 

A New Grand Coalition for Germany – and Europe

With America AWOL and China ascendant, this is a critical time for Germany and the European Union to provide the world with vision, stability, and global leadership. And that imperative extends to Germany’s Christian Democrats.

Friends of Germany and Europe around the world have been breathing a sigh of relief at the newfound willingness of Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (SPD) to discuss reprising their grand coalition government. The world needs a strong and forward-looking Germany in a dynamic European Union. A new grand coalition working alongside French President Emmanuel Macron’s government would make that possible.

We have all seen, in Greece, in Italy, in Libya, what leadership Germany has provided. In economics and with regards to the refugee crisis. It has been an unmitigated economic disaster everywhere but in Germany itself (and Holland). And that is no coincidence. It illustrates exactly what is so wrong with the EU. Germany has the power to squeeze the poorer and smaller countries into submission with impunity, and it does just that.

The last thing the EU needs is more such German ‘leadership’. In fact, it needs a whole lot less of that. It needs to find a way to diminish German influence. But to get there, it would require for Berlin to voluntarily step back, and that is not going to happen. Merkel can veto anything she likes, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

 

[..] The world and Europe need an outward-looking Germany that offers more institutional and financial innovation, so that Europe can be a true counterpart to the US and China on global affairs. I say this as someone who believes firmly in Europe’s commitment and pioneering statecraft when it comes to sustainable development, the core requirement of our time.

Not only does Sachs not understand that making Germany some superior power in Europe is the exact wrong way to go, he doesn’t understand sustainable development either. It’s as exasperating as it is predictable.

 

Economic growth that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable is a very European idea, one that has now been embraced globally in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Europe’s experience with social democracy and Christian democracy made this global vision possible. But now that its agenda has been adopted worldwide, Europe’s leadership in fulfilling it has become essential.

A grand coalition government in Germany must help put Europe in a position to lead. French President Emmanuel Macron has offered some important ideas: a European finance minister; Eurobonds to finance a new European investment program; more emphasis on innovation; a financial transactions tax to fund increased aid to Africa, where Europe has a strategic interest in long-term development; and tax harmonization more generally, before the US triggers a global race to the bottom on taxing corporations and the rich.

There is so much wrong in those few lines we could write a book about it. First of all, and let’s bold this once again, there is no such thing as sustainable growth. It’s a lie.

If we want to do something that can actually save our planet, we have to decouple economic growth from environmental sustainability. We can and will not grow our way out of the disaster we have created with -our blind focus on- growth. This is the most dangerous nonsense story there is out there. We have to pick one of the two, we can’t have both. It’s EITHER growth OR a livable planet. Here’s what I wrote on December 16 2016:

 

Heal the Planet for Profit

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Jeffrey Sachs can now be added to the list of deluded ‘experts’ on the topic. The COP21 Paris agreement, which I re-dubbed CON21, is full of, and directed by, such people. I always think Trump was very right to withdraw from it, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

CON21 is a CON. The recent CON23 in Bonn is too. It’s a scheme meant to get to your money under the guise of going green. If they can convince you that you can prosper of off saving the planet, you’ll give them anything, because it’ll make you feel good about yourself.

This is me from December 12 2015:

 

CON21

Protesters and other well-intended folk, from what I can see, are falling into the trap set for them: they are the frame to the picture in a political photo-op. They allow the ‘leaders’ to emanate the image that yes, there are protests and disagreements as everyone would expect, but that’s just a sign that people’s interests are properly presented, so all’s well. COP21 is not a major event, that’s only what politicians and media make of it. In reality, it’s a mere showcase in which the protesters have been co-opted.

They’re not in the director’s chair, they’re not even actors, they’re just extras. I fully agree, and more than fully sympathize, with the notion of saving this planet before it’s too late. But I wouldn’t want to rely on a bunch of sociopaths to make it happen. There are children drowning every single day in the sea between Turkey and Greece, and the very same world leaders who are gathered in Paris are letting that happen. They have for a long time, without lifting a finger. And they’ve done worse -if that is possible-.

[..] you guys are targeting a conference in Paris on climate change that features the exact same leaders that let babies drown with impunity. Drowned babies, climate change and warfare, these things all come from the same source. And you’re appealing to that very same source to stop climate change.

What on earth makes you think the leaders you appeal to would care about the climate when they can’t be bothered for a minute with people, and the conditions they live in, if they’re lucky enough to live at all? Why are you not instead protesting the preventable drownings of innocent children? Or is it that you think the climate is more important than human life? That perhaps one is a bigger issue than the other?

[..] The current economic model depends on our profligate use of energy. A new economic model, then, you say? Good luck with that. The current one has left all political power with those who profit most from it. And besides, that’s a whole other problem, and a whole other issue to protest.

If you’re serious about wanting to save the planet, and I have no doubt you are, then I think you need to refocus. COP21 is not your thing, it’s not your stage. It’s your leaders’ stage, and your leaders are not your friends. They don’t even represent you either. The decisions that you want made will not be made there.

But let’s return to Sachs and his -other- lofty goals: “..a European finance minister; Eurobonds to finance a new European investment program; more emphasis on innovation; a financial transactions tax to fund increased aid to Africa, where Europe has a strategic interest in long-term development; and tax harmonization more generally..”

We all know Europeans don’t want things that infringe even further on their country’s sovereignty. If they were offered the opportunity to vote on them they would defeat them in massive numbers. Which is precisely why they are not offered that opportunity. The only way to push through such measures is by stealth and against the will of the people.

Which already has, and will much further and worse, divide the EU. It’s not even the plans themselves, it’s the notion of the ever increasing erosion of what people have to say about their own lives. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are flaring off bright red warning signs about sovereignty, and they are completely ignored.

If the EU insists on continuing that way, it will be the cause of chaos and violence and right wing resurgence, not the solution to all that. Europe needs to take a step back and reflect upon itself before taking even one single step forward towards more centralization. But centralization is what Brussels is all about, it’s what it was built on.

The EU will never be viable if Germany in the end calls all the important shots. So a new Grand Coalition in Berlin, and its sympathetic stance towards Macron’s grandiosity, is not ‘needed’, it’s Europe’s biggest danger. But yeah, you’re right, it fits right in with Jeffrey Sachs’ neoliberalist dreams.

And there’s more centralization, globalism, neoliberalism and ‘green growth’ where that came from:

 

Contrary to the Germans who oppose such ideas, a European finance minister and Eurobonds would not and should not lead to fiscal profligacy, but rather to a revival of investment-led green growth in Europe. China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative to build green infrastructure linking Southeast Asia and Central Asia with Europe.

This is the time for Europe to offer the same bold vision, creating a partnership with China to renovate Eurasia’s infrastructure for a low-carbon future. If Europe plays its cards right, Europe’s (and China’s) scientific and technical excellence would flourish under such a vision. If not, we will all be driving Chinese electric vehicles charged by Chinese photovoltaic cells in the future, while Germany’s automotive industry will become a historical footnote.

We don’t need more vehicles, whatever they run on, we need less, because we need to use less energy. Of any kind. We must not drive differently, in different cars using a different energy source, we must drive less. Much less. This shouldn’t be that hard, because our cities and societies are designed to be as wasteful as possible.

What we need is not green growth, but green shrinkage. We cannot grow our way into a sustainable planet or economic system. It is a fallacy. And it is time people like Jeffrey Sachs and Mike Bloomberg and Mark Carney (and Merkel and Macron etc. etc.) stop spreading such nonsense. If even Lloyd Blankfein supports the Paris Agreement, we should be suspicious, not feel grateful or validated in our warped views.

 

A European finance minister would, moreover, finally end Europe’s self-inflicted agony in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. As difficult as it is to believe, Greece’s crisis continues to this day, at Great Depression scale, ten years after the onset of the crisis. This is because Europe has been unable, and Germany unwilling, to clean up the financial mess (including Greece’s unpayable debts) in a fair and forward-looking manner (akin to the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, as Germany’s friends have repeatedly reminded it).

If Germany won’t help to lead on this issue, Europe as a whole will face a prolonged crisis with severe social, economic, and political repercussions. In three weeks, Macron will convene world leaders in Paris on the second anniversary of the climate accord. France should certainly take a bow here, but so should Germany. During Germany’s G20 Presidency, Merkel kept 19 of the 20 members of the G20 firmly committed to the Paris agreement, despite US President Donald Trump’s disgraceful attempt to wreck it.

Yes, the corruption of US politics (especially campaign funding by the oil and gas industry) threatened the global consensus on climate change. But Germany stood firm. The new coalition should also ensure that the country’s Energiewende (“energy transition”) delivers on the 2020 targets set by previous governments. These achievable and important commitments should not be a bargaining chip in coalition talks.

Oh, c’mon, Jeffrey. You really want anyone to believe that European politics is less corrupt than American? What do you think handed Monsanto its 5-year glyphosate extension this week? Why do you think the entire Volkswagen board is still at liberty? Thing is, all this is about money.

It’s just that Merkel thinks there’s more of it to be made supporting CON21, while Trump, who’s 180º wrong on on the entire topic, thinks otherwise. But they’re both equally focused on money, not polar bears or penguins or elephants. Trump is right for believing green growth is a load of humbug, he’s just right for all the wrong reasons. While Merkel is trying to sell you a CON. Take your pick.

 

A CDU/CSU-SPD alliance, working with France and the rest of Europe, could and should do much more on climate change. Most important, Europe needs a comprehensive energy plan to decarbonize fully by 2050. This will require a zero-carbon smart power grid that extends across the continent and taps into the wind and solar power not only of southern Europe but also of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Once again, Eurobonds, a green partnership with China, and unity within Europe could make all the difference. Such an alliance would also enable a new foreign policy for Europe, one that promotes peace and sustainable development, underpinned by new security arrangements that do not depend so heavily on the US.

“Decarbonize fully by 2050”. Our entire societies have been built on carbon. Every single bit of it. Sachs simply doesn’t understand the world he lives in. He envisions bigger where only smaller could possibly help. We can decarbonize, but it will mean the end of our way of life. No amount of solar panels or wind turbines can change that. That are made with and from carbon.

It’s all just snake oil. We want to save the planet, and the life upon it, but we’re not willing to pay the price and bear the consequences. So we make up a narrative that feels good and run with it.

I have a tonic here that will cure all your ills, ladies and gentlemen. Only ten dollars. I know it sounds expensive, and it’s a full month’s wages, but just you think of the benefits. Think of your children!

 

Europe, a magnet for hundreds of millions of would-be economic migrants, could, should, and I believe would regain control of its borders, allowing it to strengthen and enforce necessary limits on migration. The political terms of a new grand coalition government, it would seem, are clear. The SPD should hold out for ministerial leadership on economic and financial policy, while the CDU/CSU holds the chancellorship.

That would be a true coalition, not one that could bury the SPD politically or deny it the means to push for a truly green, inclusive, EU-wide, sustainable development agenda. With Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz in the lead, the German government would be in excellent, responsible, and experienced hands. Germany’s friends and admirers, and all supporters of global sustainable development, are hoping for this breakthrough.

Long story short, Jeffrey Sachs still promotes disaster.

 

 

Feb 262015
 
 February 26, 2015  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Meyer School victory garden on First Avenue New York 1944

Oil Headed For $20-$30 As US Runs Out Of Storage Capacity (CNBC)
Yellen Fights Back as Lawmakers Intensify Push to Rein in Fed (Bloomberg)
Greece vs. Europe: Who Won? (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Funding Problem Lies Ahead (Kathimerini)
Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March (Bloomberg)
European Banks vs. Greek Labour: Michael Hudson (TRNN)
Former Greek Finance Minister In Court For Tampering With Lagarde List (Guardian)
Greek Revenue Shortfall Came To €1 Billion In January (Kathimerini)
Noonan Says Greece Should Seek Irish-Style Solution to Debt Woe (Bloomberg)
Greek Energy Minister Opposes Privatization (NY Times)
Tsipras In Marathon Talks With SYRIZA MPs (Kathimerini)
Kiev Decision to Cut Gas to Donetsk ‘Bears Hallmarks of Genocide’ (Sputnik)
Ukraine Risks Losing IMF Support for Aid If War Escalates (Bloomberg)
China Drops Cisco, Apple And Others For State Purchases (Reuters)
China Central Bank Newspaper Warns Of Rising Deflation Risk (Reuters)
Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Global Warming’ (Spiegel)
Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Spiegel)
Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water (Tyee)
Stock-Market Crash Of 2016: The Countdown Begins (Paul B. Farrell)
Together We Can Stop The Big Tax Evaders (Hervé Falciani via Beppe Grillo.it)
Keynes And The Puzzle Of Falling Prices (Skidelsky)
We’re Living Longer, Yes, But Why Not Healthier? (MarketWatch)
New Theory Could Prove How Life Began – And Has God ‘On The Ropes’ (Ind.)

“If you run out of space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that’s what we expect over the next few weeks..”

Oil Headed For $20-$30 As US Runs Out Of Storage Capacity (CNBC)

Oil supply running ahead of demand hasn’t just pressured prices, it’s also filling up storage space, potentially pushing crude toward another leg down. “We’re going to see pretty fast inventory builds over the next few weeks,” Francisco Blanch, head of commodity research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, told CNBC Wednesday, noting that global supply is running around 1.4 million barrels a day above demand. “If you run out of space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that’s what we expect over the next few weeks,” he said, forecasting both WTI and Brent will fall toward $30 a barrel. Prices settled at $50.99 and $61.97, respectively, on Wednesday.

He cited fresh American Petroleum Institute (API) data which showed U.S. crude inventories climbed by a larger-than-expected 8.9 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 20, for a total of around 437 million barrels squirreled away. Around 50 million to 100 million barrels of crude oil may be gathering dust in floating storage by the end of the second quarter, compared with around 110 million barrels in April 2009, during the global financial crisis, he estimated. The supply build isn’t helped by an oil market that’s in contango, or when the “spot” price is lower than the price of the future contract. That makes it more profitable for traders to stick their oil in storage to sell at a higher price later. As much as 80% of the commercially available storage in the U.S. may already be utilized, Premasish Das, downstream analyst at IHS Energy Insight, told CNBC last week.

“As the oversupply increases again in the second quarter, the contango structure will widen. This will further incentivize crude storage,” Das said. Others are also concerned about how quickly space could run out. “Within around two months, [onshore storage will] be completely exhausted,” Ivan Szapakowski, a commodity strategist at Citigroup, told CNBC last week. “The only remaining storage globally will then be floating storage, tankers.” Citigroup is forecasting oil prices to fall toward $20 a barrel before recovering.

Read more …

The real problem is not the Fed’s independence from political parties, but its independence from Wall Street institutions.

Yellen Fights Back as Lawmakers Intensify Push to Rein in Fed (Bloomberg)

Janet Yellen sparred with Republican lawmakers in the most heated exchange in her yearlong tenure as Federal Reserve chair, highlighting the central bank’s exposure to growing demands for greater oversight from Congress. In testimony on Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee, Yellen forcefully rejected accusations from Republicans that she’s unaccountable to Capitol Hill and too closely aligned with the White House and Democrats. “The Fed already has been completely immersed and guided by partisan politics,” said Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican who has introduced one of the bills this year to give Congress more control over the Fed and curb its powers. Yellen called that a “complete mis-characterization.”

Republicans want to rein in the Fed’s expanded oversight of the financial industry while limiting its aggressive monetary policy. Yellen’s challenge is to push back against proposals that include Senator Rand Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill, while trying to avoid damaging political fights. The confrontational hearing “is not business as usual,” said Allen Sinai, CEO of Decision Economics Inc. in New York. Yellen’s propensity “is to answer questions directly and clearly and not to mince words. That can get the chairperson in trouble in a hot political world.” Tension between the Fed and Congress is not new. Yellen’s predecessor, Ben S. Bernanke, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, endured bruising encounters with lawmakers during the financial crisis when the Fed became a lightning rod for public anger over Wall Street bailouts.

Yet Wednesday’s hearing was particularly combative. In Garrett’s exchange with Yellen, he accused the Fed of partisanship because she met with President Barack Obama at the White House a day before last November’s midterm congressional election and held a separate meeting later that month with labor and community organizers. “The more pressure there is to legislate, even if they don’t do so, the more the Fed has to open its ears and figure out how to be more responsive to these pressures,” said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “This was a real partisan broadside.”

Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who has proposed requiring the Fed to follow a rule in setting interest rates, questioned Yellen’s regular meetings with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “The Federal Reserve is independent,” Yellen countered, saying she doesn’t discuss future monetary policy actions with the secretary or with the White House. Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who last year led a series of hearings scrutinizing the Fed, set the tone for the three-hour hearing by telling Yellen he plans to “listen very carefully” to suggestions to overhaul the Fed. “Fed reforms are needed, and I, for one, believe Fed reforms are coming,” Hensarling said.

Read more …

Good comment by Clive Crook: “There was no need to let it happen. Greece could and should have been calmly granted a financial breathing space to negotiate a successor program weeks ago. It’s mismanagement on a remarkable scale. I admit I was wrong. I just hadn’t understood what Europe’s leaders were capable of.”

Greece vs. Europe: Who Won? (Bloomberg)

Some readers have reminded me about my recent post, “Why Europe Will Cave to Greece.” Europe didn’t cave, they smile – Greece caved to Europe. Well, it’s true, things haven’t gone as I expected when I wrote that post at the end of January. You can count on dysfunction in the European Union, but rarely to this degree. Still, it’s too early to say who caved to whom. The most one can say at the moment is that this is no way to run a monetary union. The outcome of the negotiations was prefigured at the end of last week by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who said he was asking Europe to meet him “not half-way but one-fifth of the way.” That’s about what happened – though in judging who gave way and how far, a lot depends on what was really at stake.

Before arriving at the recent impasse, Greece had already abandoned its demands for outright debt write-downs, deliverance from the “troika”], and a clean exit from its bailout program. That was capitulation of a sort, but not so consequential, because it was more about abandoning political postures than making real concessions. Substantively, less ground was yielded than you might think. Outright debt forgiveness? It would be better if the creditors granted this and, in the end, they probably will. But in the meantime there are other ways to provide relief (extended maturities, lower interest rates, yields linked to growth in gross domestic product, and so forth). These alternatives are still on the table. No more troika? Monday night’s proposals were indeed submitted to “the institutions,” but even here, notice that Monday’s letter from Varoufakis talks about doing things in agreement with the institutions, not about accepting their instructions. [..]

Here’s the main thing: This was a crisis, still unresolved, that was willed in the first place by the euro zone’s leaders. There was no need to let it happen. Greece could and should have been calmly granted a financial breathing space to negotiate a successor program weeks ago. It’s mismanagement on a remarkable scale. I admit I was wrong. I just hadn’t understood what Europe’s leaders were capable of.

Read more …

“Varoufakis suggested that the ECB could return profits of €1.9 billion it made from purchasing Greek bonds on the secondary market..” “The ECB recognizes that this is money we are owed. This is not borrowed money, it’s an overpayment to the ECB.”

Varoufakis Says Funding Problem Lies Ahead (Kathimerini)

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis admitted on Wednesday that Greece may face difficulties in finding the money to pay its obligations to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank over the next few months. Greece has to repay €1.6 billion to the IMF next month and €6.7 billion to the ECB in the summer and Varoufakis said in an interview with Alpha Radio that making these payments would be a problem. “We are starting to negotiate this issue with our partners from today,” added the Greek finance minister. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Varoufakis suggested that the ECB could return profits of €1.9 billion it made from purchasing Greek bonds on the secondary market to help Athens pay its IMF loan next month.

“The ECB could simply hand over this money to the IMF as partial repayment,” he said. “The ECB recognizes that this is money we are owed. This is not borrowed money, it’s an overpayment to the ECB.” In another interview with CNBC, Varoufakis assured markets that Greece would overcome its short-term funding challenges. “They understand that when there is a cash flow problem, which is effectively a spike for a short space of time, but the long term seems quite good,” he said. “They can be confident that Europe is going to find a way of dealing with the cash flow problem. Can you imagine allowing the eurozone to fragment over a few billion euros?”

Read more …

“I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem.” “In the elections of Jan. 25, he got more votes than any other candidate for the Greek parliament in any Greek district..”

Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he’s counting on the ECB to help the country avert default when it runs out of money next month, while bank deposits are also starting to flow back. The ECB owes Greece almost €2 billion euros from the return of profits from its program of buying euro-region bonds to support the market, Varoufakis said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Athens. The government must make a payment to the IMF in March. “So it could hand over this money to the IMF as partial repayment,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m giving you examples, nothing has been decided. This is money we are owed. This is our money, an overpayment to the ECB.”

Euro-region finance ministers approved a package of Greek reforms, which include improved tax collection and tackling corruption, on Tuesday following a recommendation from creditor institutions. On the same day, about 700 million euros returned to Greek bank accounts, Varoufakis said. There were more than €20 billion of withdrawals since early December, according to estimates. “Yesterday, there was a deposit flight back into the Greek banking sector,” said Varoufakis, 53. “It’s a question of direction. Once you turn the tide, you hope.” ECB President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament earlier on Wednesday it was a popular misconception that it was up to the central bank to return any profit from buying bonds through the Securities and Markets Program.

“The profits are ready to be distributed if Greece obliges with the program,” Draghi said. “It’s a commitment by the member states, not by the ECB.” Creditor institutions – the European Commission, ECB and IMF – warned that the package of reforms were just the start of Greece needs to stick with its commitments. The measures, which also include maintaining state-asset sales, are a condition for extending the availability of bailout funds for another four months based on an initial agreement on Feb. 20. The current program, which has been keeping Europe’s most indebted state afloat since 2010, was scheduled to expire at the end of this month.

The next hurdle will come in April when the institutions and finance ministers review progress. That will come after the government has to service about €2.2 billion of debt, including repaying loans to the IMF. The figure doesn’t include rolling over Treasury bills. “I’m pretty confident we won’t have a cash-flow problem, because we all struggled very hard through long hours of discussions with our partners with institutions to come to this stage,” Varoufakis said. “I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem. Varoufakis, an economics professor at the University of Athens, spoke from his office on the sixth floor in the finance ministry, which lies opposite the Greek Parliament in Syntagma square, scene of demonstrations during the economic crisis. In the elections of Jan. 25, he got more votes than any other candidate for the Greek parliament in any Greek district.

Read more …

“It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor.”

European Banks vs. Greek Labour: Michael Hudson (TRNN)

Now joining us to discuss the tabled plan is Michael Hudson. He is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. So, Michael, these international banks represented by the finance ministers now in Brussels, when they were in crisis and we the public treasury bailed them out, they had no problem with that. Why are they now refusing to assist Greece at a time of need when in fact some politicians and even the troika is being more receptive to what Greece is saying?

HUDSON: Because what’s at issue really is a class war. It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor. And it’s a continuation of Thatcherism and neoliberalism. The problem isn’t simply that the troika wants Greece to balance the budget; it wanted Greece to balance the budget by lowering wages and by imposing austerity on the labor force. But instead, the terms in which Varoufakis has suggested balancing the budget are to impose austerity on the financial class, on the tycoons, on the tax dodgers. And he said, okay, instead of lowering pensions to the workers, instead of shrinking the domestic market, instead of pursuing a self-defeating austerity, we’re going to raise two and a half billion from the powerful Greek tycoons. We’re going to collect the back taxes that they have. We’re going to crack down on illegal smuggling of oil and the other networks and on the real estate owners that have been avoiding taxes, because the Greek upper classes have become notorious for tax dodging.

Well, this has infuriated the banks, because it turns out the finance ministers of Europe are not all in favor of balancing the budget if it has to be balanced by taxing the rich, because the banks know that whatever taxes the rich are able to avoid ends up being paid to the banks. So now the gloves are off and the class war is sort of back. Originally, Varoufakis thought he was negotiating with the troika, that is, with the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the Euro Council. But instead they said, no, no, you’re negotiating with the finance ministers. And the finance ministers in Europe are very much like Tim Geithner in the United States. They’re lobbyists for the big banks. And the finance minister said, how can we screw up this and make sure that we treat Greece as an object lesson, pretty much like America treated Cuba in 1960?

PERIES: Hold on, hold on for one second, Michael. Let’s explain that, because Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister of Greece, is very well-briefed and very well-positioned to negotiate all of this. Now, why did he think he was negotiating with the troika when in fact he was negotiating with [crosstalk]

HUDSON: Because officially that’s who he’s negotiating with. He went and he took them at their word. And then he found out–and yesterday, Jamie Galbraith, who went with him to Europe, published in Fortune a description saying, wait a minute, the finance ministers are fighting with the troika. The troika don’t have their story straight. The troika and the finance ministers are all fighting among themselves over what exactly is to be done. And to really throw a monkey wrench in, the German finance minister, Schäuble, said, wait a minute, we’ve got to bring in the Spanish government and the Portuguese government and the Finnish government, and they’ve got to agree.

Well, all of a sudden the position of Spain, for instance, is, wait a minute, we’re in power, we’re a Thatcherite neoliberal party. If Greece ends up not going along with austerity and saving its workers, then Podemos Party in Spain, is going to win the next election and we’ll be out of power. We have to make sure that Varoufakis and the SYRIZA Party is a failure, so that we ourselves can tell the working class, you see what happened to Greece? It got smashed, and we’re going to smash you if you try to do what they do; if you try to tax the rich, if you try to take over the banks and prevent the kleptocracy, there’s going to be a disaster.

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Let them eat brioche?

Former Greek Finance Minister In Court For Tampering With Lagarde List (Guardian)

A new front in Greece’s unfolding economic drama has opened in Athens as the former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, was brought before a special tribunal accused of tampering with a public list of tax evaders and attempted breach of faith. Facing a panel of judges convened for the hearing, the man most associated with Greece’s first international bailout cut a lonely figure as he pleaded not guilty. “I am innocent, your honour,” he said addressing the presiding court judge seated on the uppermost bench of an antechamber of court officials. “I deny all the charges.” Greece had been waiting for this moment. Papaconstantinou, 53, stands accused of removing the names of three of his relatives from a catalogue of some 2,062 suspected tax evaders handed to him by Christine Lagarde, his French counterpart at the time.

Lagarde, now head of the IMF, had passed on the list of names – all account holders at the Geneva branch of HSBC – with the express purpose that the prospective offenders be pursued. At more than €20bn a year, tax avoidance is by far the biggest single drain on the country’s debt-stricken economy with Athens’ new leftist-led government vowing to crack down on it as never before. Papaconstantinou, who was finance minister between October 2009 and June 2011 under the socialist premier, George Papandreou, faces a life sentence if convicted. The alleged offences include the aggravating factor of being seen as crimes against the state. Dressed in a dark suit and flanked by lawyers on either side, the former politician – once regarded as the face of hope and reform in Greece – sat motionless as the court proceedings got under way.

He is the first politician to be tried before a special criminal court in over two decades. It was in the same wood-pannelled room in March 1991 that the then socialist premier Andreas Papandreou was also put on trial. Papaconstantinou, an urbane economist who spent more than half of his life abroad before returning to Greece to become involved in politics, claims he has been “framed” by an establishment desperate to be seen meting out punishment to politicians perceived to have brought the nation to the brink of economic collapse. During his 20 months in office, he says, he introduced some of the country’s most draconian tax legislation. But Athens also stands alone in failing to act on the so–called Lagarde list – initially stolen by a renegade bank clerk at HSBC before being seized by French police.

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The bottom?

Greek Revenue Shortfall Came To €1 Billion In January (Kathimerini)

The Finance Ministry is attempting to resuscitate state revenues after their major shortfall in January and the estimate by a top government official that the fiscal gap of the 2015-16 period will amount to between €5 and €7 billion. According to the definitive data on the execution of the state budget published on Wednesday, revenues both from income tax and value-added tax posted a major decline due to the political uncertainty and the inactivity of monitoring mechanisms. The revenue shortfall of more than €1 billion has taken the primary surplus to €443 million euros, against a target for €1.366 billion – i.e. €923 million below target.

Net revenues reached 3.49 billion, missing their target by 23.1% or €1.05 billion. Income tax revenues were off 49% while indirect tax revenues missed their target by 13.8%. VAT takings produced a 20.4% shortfall. Expenditure was €16 million within target, at €3.3 billion. The slump in public revenues is the reason why Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani wants to see the new payment schemes for expired debts to the state implemented. The bill containing this provision will be presented to the country’s creditors next week so that it can be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible.

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But Greece doesn’t have the same situation?! No domestic banks that went nuts… So to what extent does the comparison hold?

Noonan Says Greece Should Seek Irish-Style Solution to Debt Woe (Bloomberg)

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Greece should seek to reduce interest rates on its debts and push for later repayment dates rather than the “nuclear” options of leaving the euro area and writing off loans. “There’s a middle road and it’s along the lines of what we did in Ireland,” Noonan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “You negotiate to make your debt more sustainable, even without getting debt write-offs.” Noonan and other euro-region finance ministers agreed on Tuesday to extend Greece’s bailout program for another four months after signing off on a reform plan proposed by the government in Athens. The Syriza party was elected to power last month on a platform that included writing off some debts and ending austerity.

Ireland, which sought a €67.5 billion international rescue in 2010 amid the worst property crash in western Europe, has emerged from an era of austerity, Noonan wrote in a column for the Irish Independent newspaper published Wednesday. The country has cut interest repayments by more than 10 billion euros through negotiations and reduced the amount it will have to borrow over the next decade by €20 billion by extending the maturities on some loans, he wrote. “There’s a number of moving parts,” Noonan said in the interview. “It’s a question of agreeing on the parts that move to make the debt more sustainable and it’s in that space the negotiations can take place.”

Based on the provisional agreement between Greece and its official creditors on Feb. 20, the approval of the list was a condition for extending the availability of bailout funds for another four months. The current program, which has been keeping Europe’s most indebted state afloat since 2010, was scheduled to expire at the end of this month. Approval of the Greek plans offered a short reprieve for the country, which risked defaulting on some of its liabilities as early as next month without further financing from the creditor institutions. Greece has until April to refine the details. Negotiations on Tuesday weren’t “heated,” Noonan said. Ireland and other nations that took international assistance in the wake of the financial crisis, including Portugal and Spain, would prefer Greece to solve its problems using similar measures, Noonan said.

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Good for him. No country should sell off their assets to anonymous dickheads.

Greek Energy Minister Opposes Privatization (NY Times)

Greece’s new plan to revamp its economy to satisfy eurozone creditors hit its first political snag on Wednesday, when the country’s energy minister publicly opposed efforts to sell off state assets as part of that program. “There will be no privatization in energy,” the minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads a radical-left bloc in Syriza, the party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said in comments to the center-left Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea. Although Mr. Lafazanis would presumably not have the final say, his opposition could disrupt plans to sell stakes in the public gas corporation, the state-controlled electric company and Greece’s largest oil refiner. Bids were solicited for the gas company, DEPA, under the previous government, which had also promised to partly sell off the other two.

Mr. Lafazanis also opposed plans to privatize the power grid operator, in comments to another newspaper, Ethnos, claiming that the bids made to date “are not binding.” The Greek economic plan approved by eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday promised not to roll back any privatization projects already in the works. Moreover, Greece needs the few billion euros that those sales might raise. By late Wednesday, there had been no public response to Mr. Lafazanis from the government, but Mr. Tsipras might be hesitant to confront the energy minister because of his influence in the party. In a speech to Syriza lawmakers on Wednesday, Mr. Tsipras called for support of the government’s economic program but skirted the issue of privatizations. The government must move quickly to “detail” its overhauls and “build credibility” with its creditors, he said.

In comments to reporters afterward, the economy and infrastructure minister, Giorgos Stathakis, who is closer to the prime minister than Mr. Lafazanis is, said that no completed sell-offs would be reversed but that the terms of all privatization projects currently underway would be “reviewed.” Talks between Greece and its lenders have shifted to covering Greece’s financing needs as its cash reserves dwindle. But the release of a pending loan disbursement of €7.2 billion, will depend on Greece’s keeping its promises. In an interview with Greek radio on Wednesday, the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said Greece had no immediate threat to government liquidity but “will definitely have a problem” meeting its obligation to make a debt payment of about €1.5 billion next month to the IMF and around €7 billion in July and August to the ECB. Greece has proposed issuing Treasury bills to raise some of the money but would need the approval of the ECB to do so.

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Democrats.

Tsipras In Marathon Talks With SYRIZA MPs (Kathimerini)

SYRIZA MPs spent more than 10 hours behind closed doors Wednesday discussing the government’s agreement with its creditors after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras assured them that it was the best deal Greece could get at the moment. Tsipras briefed the party’s parliamentary group on the course of negotiations over the last few weeks as well as the implications of the agreement, which was clinched on Tuesday after Greece sent a list of reform proposals that was provisionally accepted by its creditors. Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis also spoke to the leftist MPs. “We secured a bridging agreement that managed to help us spoil the plan to choke the government in fiscal, funding and financial terms,” Tsipras told SYRIZA lawmakers, according to sources.

The prime minister indicated that the previous government had been hoping that the challenges facing its successor would be so great that they would lead to it not being able to last for long, the so-called “left parenthesis.” Tsipras urged his MPs to raise any questions they had but to also make it clear if they are going to vote for the four-month extension when it is submitted to Parliament. “I want to know whether you agree or disagree with the deal,” he said, according to sources. “If there is someone who will vote against it, I want them to say so now.” Production Reconstruction, Energy and Environment Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis was one of the most critical of the agreement with Greece’s lenders.

“There are parts of the letter [with reform proposals] that are reminiscent of the lenders’ language, not ours,” the leader of SYRIZA’s left-wing faction, the Left Platform, is reported to have said. In a newspaper interview earlier, Lafazanis said the government would not proceed with energy privatizations even though Greece has committed to seeing existing sell-off projects through. He said that since binding offers had not been received for the Public Power Corporation and other assets, the government could cancel the projects. However, Lafazanis also indicated that he will stick to his position to cancel the privatization of the former airport site at Elliniko, even though the deal went through last year. In contrast, Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis said that the government would stick with the Elliniko agreement and the recent concession deal for 14 regional airports but would seek changes to the agreements.

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It does.

Kiev Decision to Cut Gas to Donetsk ‘Bears Hallmarks of Genocide’ (Sputnik)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to halt gas supplies to Donetsk amid the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe “bear hallmarks of genocide”. “As if hunger [in Donetsk and Luhansk] was not enough – the OSCE has already stated that the region is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe – they had their gas supplies cut off. What would you call it? I would say this bears the hallmarks of genocide,” he said during a meeting with President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. “Apparently, some responsible leaders of the modern-day Ukraine are unable to understand the importance of humanitarian issues. It seems that the very notion of humanism has been forgotten,” he added.

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Ukrainian officials will have to explain to the IMF why the central bank tightened capital controls, as well as how the government plans to revive the economy in general..

Ukraine Risks Losing IMF Support for Aid If War Escalates (Bloomberg)

Ukraine risks losing support from IMF member countries for a proposed $17.5 billion bailout if the conflict in the former Soviet republic continues to escalate, according to two people familiar with the matter. The new four-year loan program is awaiting approval by the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, which represents the lender’s 188 member nations. Getting the panel’s consent will become more challenging if pro-Russia rebels continue their advance and seize territory such as the strategic port city of Mariupol, one of the people said. A second person said that while a worsening conflict would complicate approval, IMF country representatives are likely to maintain their support unless an open conflict with Russia breaks out affecting the majority of Ukraine. Both people asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Any doubts over the IMF funds would increase pressure on Ukrainian allies including the U.S. and European Union to step up their own funding to prevent the country from becoming more vulnerable to Russian economic pressure and wider incursion by pro-Russia rebels. A worsening conflict would make it tougher for Ukraine to maintain economic commitments to the IMF and repay the money while deepening the fund’s involvement in the worst standoff in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Plugging Ukraine’s financing needs and stabilizing its economy amid an armed conflict will be an “enormous challenge,” said William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 who is now acting executive vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “If they’re going to exist as a nation, they’re going to have to be able to defend themselves.”

Last year’s $17 billion, two-year bailout for Ukraine by the IMF had broad support from the fund’s board, overcoming concerns at the time about the security risks in the country, one of the people said. There have been many violations of the cease-fire agreed on in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Feb. 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. Ukraine and its allies in the EU and the U.S. accuse Russia of backing the militants in the conflict that has killed more than 5,600 people, according to United Nations estimates. Russia denies military involvement. Ukraine’s decision this week to tighten capital controls may also complicate the IMF plans. IMF staff members are revising their economic projections in light of the restrictions, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.

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Most expensive trade miss ever?

China Drops Cisco, Apple And Others For State Purchases (Reuters)

China has dropped some of the world’s leading technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more locally made products, in what some say is a response to revelations of widespread Western cybersurveillance. Others put the shift down to a protectionist impulse to shield China’s domestic technology industry from competition. Chief casualty is U.S. network equipment maker Cisco , which in 2012 counted 60 products on the Central Government Procurement Center’s (CGPC) list, but by late 2014 had none, a Reuters analysis of official data shows. Smartphone and PC maker Apple as also been dropped over the period, along with Intel’s security software firm McAfee and network and server software firm Citrix.

The number of products on the list, which covers regular spending by central ministries, jumped by more than 2,000 in two years to just under 5,000, but the increase is almost entirely due to local makers. The number of approved foreign tech brands fell by a third, while less than half of those with security-related products survived the cull. An official at the procurement agency said there were many reasons why local makers might be preferred, including sheer weight of numbers and the fact that domestic security technology firms offered more product guarantees than overseas rivals.

China’s change of tack coincided with leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in mid-2013 that exposed several global surveillance program, many of them run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecom companies and European governments. “The Snowden incident, it’s become a real concern, especially for top leaders,” said Tu Xinquan, Associate Director of the China Institute of WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. “In some sense the American government has some responsibility for that; (China’s) concerns have some legitimacy.”

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But they still pretend they have it under control..

China Central Bank Newspaper Warns Of Rising Deflation Risk (Reuters)

China is dangerously close to slipping into deflation, the central bank’s newspaper warned on Wednesday, highlighting increasing nervousness in policymaking circles as a sputtering economy struggles to pick up speed despite a raft of stimulus steps. The article, published in Finance News, quoted the secretary general of the China Urban Finance Society Chan Xiangyang as saying that risk of deflation is greater than many appreciate. The Society is a national academic group not directly affiliated with the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), but in many cases the publication of such pieces in the central bank’s newspaper indicates tacit approval of the message. As a slowdown in China’s economy over the past year was accompanied by a chill in global demand, Beijing has stepped up measures to prevent the Asian economic powerhouse from stumbling.

In November last year, the PBOC startled markets with an unexpected interest rate cut – the first since 2012 – and then followed up with a cut to banks’ required reserve ratio in early February. Analysts have speculated that the central bank will be forced to take more aggressive easing measures in the coming months if price and credit data continues to drift lower. Chan said the deteriorating macroeconomic environment, combined with enduring industrial overcapacity, widespread speculative and inefficient investment, and slowing foreign capital inflows are all weighing heavily on prices. That risks setting off a debilitating deflationary cycle in the world’s second-largest economy, similar to the “lost decades” experienced by Japan under similar – but not identical – circumstances that began in the 1990s, in which inexorable price declines discouraged investment.

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“We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment.”

Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Global Warming’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren’t people able to stop climate change?
Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?
Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History,” the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?
Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You’re an activist, and you’ve blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you’re blaming it for climate change too?
Klein: That’s no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to our first question: Why have people been unable to stop this development?
Klein: We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment. Now we’re out of time. Where we are right now is a do-or-die moment. If we don’t act as a species, our future is in peril. We need to cut emissions radically.

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In what way is that a question? How is it possible it is still asked?

Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Spiegel)

Humans are full of contradictions, including the urge to destroy things they love. Like our planet. Take Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Like everyone living Down Under, he’s extremely proud of his country’s wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. At the same time, though, Abbott believes that burning coal is “good for humanity,” even though it produces greenhouse gases that ultimately make our world’s oceans warmer, stormier and more acidic. In recent years, Australia has exported more coal than any other country in the world. And the reef, the largest living organism on the planet, is dying. Half of the corals that make up the reef are, in fact, already dead.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wants the best for his country and is loathe to see it damaged by droughts, cyclones and storm surges. Nevertheless, he is planning on doubling India’s coal production by 2019 in addition to importing more coal from Australia. It is necessary to do so, he says, to help his country’s poor. India is already the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. But climate change is altering the monsoon season, with both flooding and drought becoming more common.
And who would accuse the majority of US Senators of being insensitive to the extreme shortage of water afflicting California? Yet the law-making body recently brushed aside everything science has learned about global warming and voted down two measures that attributed the phenomenon to human activity.

For Americans and foreign tourists alike, California is a magical place, famous for Yosemite National Park, its Pacific coastline, its golden light. The state also grows around a third of all US produce. For now. An historic drought that has been ongoing for over three years has forced farmers to abandon their fields and to slaughter their animals. Since 1880, when global temperatures began to be systematically collected, no year has been warmer than 2014. The 15 warmest years, with one single exception, have come during the first 15 years of the new millennium. Indeed, it has become an open question as to whether global warming can be stopped anymore – or at least limited as policymakers have called for. Is capitalism ultimately responsible for the problem, or could it actually help to solve it?

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Crazy tale.

Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water (Tyee)

Have you ever paid $2.25 for a bottle of water? Of course, and you can pay a lot more than that if you go to a Vancouver Canucks game, a concert, movie theatre or restaurant. So what if you could pay $2.25 not for a 500-millilitre bottle, not for a big office cooler full, but for 1 million litres of water? Sounds ridiculous given the retail price, but that’s the unbelievably low rate the BC Liberal government has given to giant multinational firm Nestle and others to extract fresh, clean groundwater to bottle and sell for exorbitant profits. The price is so outrageous I have to repeat it. Nestle Waters Canada pays the province just $2.25 for every million litres of water. The total estimated price of all the water Nestle will bottle in B.C. over an entire year is – wait for it – $562 a year!

That’s an improvement, if you can believe it, because until recently they got it all for free. It must be nice to have an endless supply of potable water, where you can take as much as you like, sell it for an enormous profit, and pay a pittance for its use. Unfortunately, I must confess a terrible sin: I drink bottled water regularly, and mostly Nestle products. I pay about 50 cents a bottle. I know I should be drinking tap water in the metal refillable container that is currently gathering dust on a shelf in my house, but it’s so darn convenient to throw multiple bottles of Nestle water in my office and home fridges and pop them in my car when I head out.

Don’t bother lecturing me – at least I’m drinking healthy water and hydrating myself – but this farce makes me rethink my willingness to line their pockets. I feel apologetic, but Nestle doesn’t. “We’re investing millions of dollars in that plant. We employ 75 people [and] we pay millions of dollars in taxes,” said Nestle spokesman John Challinor in 2013. Cry me a river. And at $2.25 per million litres, they can bloody well afford it.

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Farrell’s in a league of his own. I’m pretty sure he’s also the guy in UP.

Stock-Market Crash Of 2016: The Countdown Begins (Paul B. Farrell)

It’s time to start the countdown to the crash of 2016. No, this is not a prediction of a minor correction. Plan on a 50% crash. Most investors don’t want to hear the countdown, will tune out. Basic psychology. They’ll keep charging ahead with a bullish battle cry, about how the Nasdaq will keep climbing relentlessly to a new record above 5,048 … smiling as they remember reading that a whopping 73 companies are now in the Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Start-up Club, with Uber ($41 billion), SpaceX ($12 billion) and Snapchat ($10 billion). Hearts race even faster reading in Bloomberg BusinessWeek that “China’s IPO Boom Mints Billionaires” and Jack Ma’s Alibaba fortune is now valued at $35.1 billion. Yes, technology IPOs are in the lead, and with all that good news, it’s easy to understand why investors tune out, don’t want to hear the warnings, no countdown to the 2016 crash.

But the crash of 2016 really is coming. Dead ahead. Maybe not till we get a bit closer to the presidential election cycle of 2016. But a crash is a sure bet, it’s guaranteed certain: Complete with echoes of the 2008 crash, which impacted on the GOP election results, triggering a $10 trillion loss of market cap … like the 1999 dot-com collapse, it’s post-millennium loss of $8 trillion market cap, plus a 30-month recession … moreover a lot like the 1929 crash and the long depression that followed. Plus cycles theorists warn that we dodged a crash in 2012-2013, thanks to the Fed’s stimulus and cheap-money polities. Or rather delayed it, which adds more power to the next one. Why not sooner, you ask? Why not in 2015? Yes, Mark Hulbert’s already warned that the “stock market risk is higher today than it was in the dot-com era.” Yes, a dip is possible. MarketWatch’s Sue Chang writes of a 10%-20% stock-market correction by July.

But we also know markets are typically up the third year of a presidency. So if no crash is in the cards this year, then why bother with warnings and a countdown? Why bother building up the 2016 elections with lots of dark early warning signs, and doom-and-gloom warnings for the next 18 months? Why? Simple, behavioral economists have long been telling us that investors will either choose to stay in denial till it’s too late, never having learned the lessons of history when the market collapsed in 2008, 2000 or 1929, when they collectively lost trillions. Or we know some investors really do want to heed the warnings, so they can plan ahead, avoid big losses, and take advantage of opportunities later, at the bottom.

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Falciani deserves far more attention than he gets. Far more.

Together We Can Stop The Big Tax Evaders (Hervè Falciani via Beppe Grillo.it)

Blog: What are the Falciani lists?”
Hervè Falciani: Above all they are clues gathered over many years that enable us to check up on the HSBC Bank: a prime example of an International offshore bank, one of the largest in the world, and that explains the workings of this network of banks that currently operate in the shadows and are hiding half of the world’s debt. That’s a fact. Half of the interest we are paying goes into the coffers of these banks.

Blog: After the scandal you have raised, what’s next?
Hervè Falciani: There are many little things to be done that will have a huge effect. For example, how the banks are controlled. The current controls are ineffective because the very people who are paid to do the controlling are controlling those that pay them. To avoid this we have to add something more to the control systems of the firms that do the controlling, namely members of the public. This will change everything! We will be able to put the fear of God into those that organise these tax evasion schemes within the banks and furthermore we will also be able to get our hands on information that is hidden.

The biggest problem we have is with politics that are unhelpful and often there are major conflicts of interest. The Directors are the very same businessmen that don’t pay their taxes. We have seen many examples of this. These days, when we talk about an archive dedicated to politicians, journalists, magistrates and even members of the public, it means that this archive will store traces of who does something and who doesn’t. That’s exactly what we are doing with this HSBC case and all the other cases too. The history of these traces will enable the public to use it whenever in order to change things since it is based on fact in a scientific manner.

Blog: Is there someone who has helped you in the past and is still helping you at the moment?
Hervè Falciani: There are various fields. For a number of years we have been working with the 5-Star Movement to explain things and point out where action must be taken. The 5-Star Movement’s programme is going in the very direction that is needed, in other words, how to implement these basic principles. That’s why I have always insisted, and continue to insist on the little things that will have a major effect. For example, the banks’ hearings on the control of citizens is something that is already included in the 5SM’s programme. As a matter of fact, we have already had the pleasure of starting to work with a number of 5-Star Movement’s deputies to do just that! To ensure implementation with little effort and thereby achieve huge results.

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The confusion inherent in both use of terminology and in pre-conceived notions is deafening. You reach the point where nothing means anything anymore.

Keynes And The Puzzle Of Falling Prices (Skidelsky)

In 1923, John Maynard Keynes addressed a fundamental economic question that remains valid today. “[I]nflation is unjust and deflation is inexpedient,” he wrote. “Of the two perhaps deflation is … the worse; because it is worse…to provoke unemployment than to disappoint the rentier. But it is not necessary that we should weigh one evil against the other.” The logic of the argument seems irrefutable. Because many contracts are “sticky” (that is, not easily revised) in monetary terms, inflation and deflation would both inflict damage on the economy. Rising prices reduce the value of savings and pensions, while falling prices reduce profit expectations, encourage hoarding, and increase the real burden of debt.

Keynes’s dictum has become the ruling wisdom of monetary policy (one of his few to survive). Governments, according to the conventional wisdom, should aim for stable prices, with a slight bias toward inflation to stimulate the “animal spirits” of businessmen and shoppers. In the 10 years prior to the 2008 financial crisis, independent central banks set an inflation target of about 2%, in order to provide economies with a price-stability “anchor”. There should be no expectation that prices would be allowed to deviate, except temporarily, from the target. Uncertainty relating to the future course of prices would be eliminated from business calculations.

Since 2008, the Federal Reserve Board and the European Central Bank have failed to meet the 2% inflation target in any year; the Bank of England (BoE) has been on target in only one year out of seven. Moreover, in 2015, prices in the United States, the eurozone, and the United Kingdom are set to fall. So what is left of the inflation anchor? And what do falling prices mean for economic recovery? The first thing to bear in mind is that the “anchor” was always as flimsy as the monetary theory on which it was based. The price level at any time is the result of many factors, of which monetary policy is perhaps the least important. Today, the collapse in the price of crude oil is probably the most significant factor driving inflation below target, just as in 2011 it was the rise in oil prices that drove it above target.

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Beacuse our societies have long preferred quantity over quality in a trillion ways (pun intended).

We’re Living Longer, Yes, But Why Not Healthier? (MarketWatch)

I often say that Americans are getting healthier and living longer. The living-longer part I am sure about. Life expectancy for men at 65 increased from 15.9 years to 18.3 years between the 2000 and 2014 reports issued by the Social Security Trustees. It’s true that virtually all the gains in life expectancy accrued to the better-educated, better-paid portion of the population, but the bottom line is that—on average—we are living longer. All the demographers agree this trend will continue; the only question is how fast life expectancy will continue to increase.

Given the improvement in life expectancy, I thought that people would report that they felt healthier. That does not appear to be the case. Since the early 1970s, the National Health Interview Survey has asked the question: “Would you say your health in general is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?” A response of fair or poor is an indication of serious problems and is correlated with subsequent mortality. Pooling data for four time periods (1974-76, 1994-96, 2004-06, and 2011-13) shows a big decline in the percentage of respondents with fair or poor health between 1974-76 and 1994-96, then very little improvement thereafter (as the graph at the top of the column shows). Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which includes an identical question, shows a clustering of responses from the mid-1990s through today.

Moreover, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the gold standard for anyone examining the behavior of older Americans, presents a similar picture. The HRS follows people 50 and older, interviewing them every two years. The first group was interviewed in 1992, and additional cohorts have been added over time. Participants in the HRS are also asked to classify their health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. As the graph below indicates, the percentage of men between the ages of 55 and 65 classifying their health as fair or poor has remained virtually unchanged between 1994-1996 and 2010-12. Several other indicators, such as incidence of various diseases, also suggest little improvement in health. Interestingly, in contrast to the NHIS and the CPS, the percentage of HRS respondents reporting fair or poor health does not increase with age.

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Wow: “..when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy.”

New Theory Could Prove How Life Began – And Has God ‘On The Ropes’ (Ind.)

A new theory could answer the question of how life began – and throw out the need for God. A writer on the website of Richard Dawkins’ foundation says that the theory has put God “on the ropes” and has “terrified” Christians. It proposes that life did not emerge by accident or luck from a primordial soup and a bolt of lightning. Instead, life itself came about by necessity – it follows from the laws of nature and is as inevitable as rocks rolling downhill. The problem for scientists attempting to understand how life began is understanding how living beings – which tend to be far better at taking energy from the environment and dissipating it as heat – could come about from non-living ones. But a new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT and first reported in Quanta Magazine, proposes that when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy.

The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. Paul Rosenberg, writing this week on Richard Dawkins’ site, said that the theory could make things “a whole lot worse for creationists”. As Rosenberg notes, the idea that life could have evolved from non-living things is one that has been held for some time, and was described by the pre-Socratic philosophers. But England’s theory marks the first time that has been convincingly proposed since Darwin, and is backed by mathematical research and a proposal that can be put to the test.

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Sep 262014
 
 September 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


Harris & Ewing Staircase in the Capitol, Albany, New York 1905

So PIMCO was going to fire Bill Gross over the weekend, and he chose to leave on his own accord and work for Janus. So what? Gross is 70 years old and still joins another firm geared towards making money, and nothing else at all. As if making money, and nothing else, is a valid goal in a human life.

As if someone who’s done nothing else his entire life, and who’s richer than Croesus, should have nothing else to do with the times that remains him, and is somehow right and justified about not being able to find anything more worthwhile.

As if that singular focus does not make his life a useless one, or the man an empty shell. And yeah, I’m sure he gives away some cash from time to time to make himself feel even better. Though I doubt he ever feels truly fine. Perhaps the disappointment of being a billionaire and still feel like he’s wasted his life is what drives him on. Or maybe his wife beats him. And he enjoys it.

And it’s not just Bill Gross, it’s just as much the way the mainstream press covers the ‘event’ of Gross’ departure, the fact that they bother to cover it in the first place, and the details they focus on, that shine a chillingly clear cold and revealing light on what we have become, as individuals and as societies.

The hollow single-minded worshipping of money, which Gross can be said to embody, is the single biggest scourge on each and every one of us, on all the bonds we form between each other, on the communities and nations we live in, and the planet they’re located on. The bible is full of allusions to this, and the world is full of people who call themselves Christians, but the twain are like ships passing in the night.

if you would want to prevent a war, or you want to stop the destruction of rivers and seas through pollution, or for the earth’s climate from entering a cycle that neither we nor the climate itself can control, would you think first of people like Bill Gross when you’re looking for support? If you do, that would not be wise. Nevertheless, at every single climate conference it’s people just like him, such as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, who made sure they’re in the spotlight.

People who’ve never done anything in their lives that was not directed at self-gratification. People who cause, not prevent, the mayhem. Even the big demonstrations last week were shrouded in a veil of corporatism, not unlike the one Greenpeace has been enveloped in for many years.

And of course you can argue that it serves a purpose, because it’s the only way to get people pout on to the street. But still, if millions of dollars have to be spent to make a few hundred thousand people in New York leave their homes, what exactly are we doing?

Where does that money come from? Does anyone want to deny that in general the richer people in the world are the ones responsible for the destruction? That we ourselves cause more damage than the average Bangla Deshi or Senegalese, and that the richest and most powerful people in our own societies do more harm than the poorset?

If you don’t want to deny that, why do you walk in a heavily sponsored protest march? Or does anyone think those marches are spontaneous eruptions of people’s true feelings anymore? Why then do they feel scripted, in a way the anti-globalization ones (Seattle) absolutely did not?

There is no doubt that there are well-meaning people involved, and a lot of grass-roots identity, but isn’t there something wrong the very moment money becomes a factor, if and when we can agree that the pursuit of money is the 8 million ton culprit in the room in the first place? Do we really feel like we can’t achieve anything without money anymore? And moreover, shouldn’t we, as soon as we feel that way, start doing something about it?

There’s a nice interview in Slate with Naomi Klein, who says capitalism is the bogey man. I find that a little easy; in the end man him/herself is the bogey man. Klein sits on the board of Bill McKibben’s 350.org, which I have no doubt is full of people full of best intentions, but which also sees money as way to achieve things:

Naomi Klein Says We Must Slay Capitalism to Fight Climate Change

Everybody that’s trying to get anything progressive done in this country knows that the biggest barrier is getting money out of politics. Climate can be a shot of adrenaline in the pre-existing movement to get money out of politics. So, it’s not a brand-new movement. [..] All these new reports say that the transition to that next economy will be cheap. So why isn’t it happening? Elites like to think of everything as a win-win, but it’s not true.* It’s the wealthiest corporations on the planet that will win; everyone else will lose. No number of reports is going to change that. You actually need a counter-power.

[..] we need to finance this transition somehow. I think it needs to be a polluter-pays principle. It’s not that we’re broke, it’s just that the money is in the wrong place. The divestment movement is a start at challenging the excesses of capitalism. It’s working to delegitimize fossil fuels, and showing that they’re just as unethical as profits from the tobacco industry. Even the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune are now recognizing this. The next step is, how do we harness these profits and use them to help us get off fossil fuels?

Exxon needs to pay—it’s the most profitable company on the planet. It’s also the descendent of Standard Oil. In the book, I talk a lot about Richard Branson’s pledge to donate all the profits from his airline to fight climate change. When he made that announcement, it was extraordinary. The problem is, no one held him accountable—well, besides me and my underpaid researcher. But at least Branson’s heart was in the right place. These profits are not legitimate in an era of climate change. We can’t leave this problem to benevolent billionaires.

‘Getting money out of politics’, but ‘we need to finance this transition somehow’. There’s a grand contradiction in there somewhere. Now, I’m a big admirer of Naomi, her Shock Doctrine is one of the greatest books in the past 25 years or so. But I have my questions here.

I don’t think you can argue that capitalism itself is the issue. This is about the erosion of checks and balances, laws and regulations, the erosion of a society’s ability to hold people responsible for what they do, whether they operate in the political field or in private business.

And those same issues are just as relevant in any communist or socialist society. Unless you’re very careful day after 24/7 day, all political systems tend towards ceding control to ever more psychopatic individuals. In the exact same way that bad money drives out good. In short, it’s not about ‘them’, it’s about us. It’s the psychos who want that power and that money more than anyone else, but it’s us who let them have it. While we’re watching some screen or another.

It’s about how we can keep the most money- and power hungry individuals amongst us from ruling over us. An obviously daunting task if you look at most countries, corporations and organizations today. I mentioned the three Bills already, Bill Gross, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, and they epitomize as fittingly as any threesome where and how we go wrong, and how hard it is to keep ourselves from doing that.

If you want a better world, A) stop listening to the crazy clowns, and B) stop telling yourself you care and then just keep doing what you always did. Get real. Pursue truth, not money.

Bonds Worldwide Pull Out of Tailspin This Week on Growth Concern (Bloomberg)

Bonds worldwide pulled out of a tailspin this week as a surging dollar sparked warnings from Federal Reserve officials that the stronger currency may hamper the U.S. recovery. The Bloomberg Global Developed Sovereign Bond Index (BGSV) headed for its first weekly gain this month, buoyed by speculation weak economic growth in Europe and Japan will spur policy makers there to maintain stimulative monetary policy. The gauge advanced 0.2%, trimming September’s decline to 2.7%. Yields attracted investors after climbing last week when Fed policy makers increased their estimate for how far they’ll raise borrowing costs next year.

“The speed in the rise of interest rates in response to the Federal Reserve, and also gains in the U.S. dollar, have had an impact on demand for Treasuries,” said Tony Morriss, an interest-rate strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Sydney. While the stronger dollar may damp U.S. growth, unprecedented easing in Japan and Europe have also “served to reverse some of the sharp rise in yields that we saw earlier.” The company’s Merrill Lynch unit is one of the 22 primary dealers that trade directly with the Fed. The U.S. 10-year yield was little changed at 2.50% at 6:56 a.m. in London, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The price of the 2.375% note due August 2024 was 98 29/32. The yield rose to 2.65% on Sept. 19, the highest since July 7. It has dropped eight basis points this week. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, which tracks the U.S. currency against 10 of its major counterparts, rose to a four-year high yesterday.

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Oh, you real man.

Bank of England’s Carney: Rate Rise ‘Getting Close’ (Reuters)

The Bank of England is getting nearer to raising interest rates, but the exact date will depend on economic data, Governor Mark Carney said in a speech on Thursday. Carney stuck close to previous remarks on monetary policy in his address to actuaries, much of which focused on the BoE’s plans for further regulating insurers. Britain’s economic outlook was much improved, and a rate rise was only a matter of time, Carney said. “The point at which interest rates … begin to normalise is getting closer,” he said. “In recent months the judgement about precisely when to raise Bank Rate has become more balanced. While there is always uncertainty about the future, you can expect interest rates to begin to increase.”Most economists expect the Bank of England to raise rates early next year, though a minority see a chance of an increase in November. Two members of the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee voted for a rate rise this month.

Britain’s economy looks set to grow by more than 3% this year – faster than any other big, advanced economy – and unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2008. But inflation of 1.5% is well below the BoE’s 2% target, and wages are growing even more slowly – something the BoE has cited as a reason to keep rates on hold. Carney said that when rate rises did come, he expected them to be gradual, and for rates to peak below pre-crisis levels. “Headwinds facing the economy are likely to take some time to die down,” he said. “Demand in our major export markets remains muted. Public balance sheet repair is ongoing. And a highly indebted private sector is likely to be particularly sensitive to changes in interest rates.”

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This is the reality of Europe (and the US, Japan): you can’t force people to borrow. Therefore, you will have deflation. If people don’t spend, it’s inevitable.

Draghi’s Trillion-Euro Pump Finds Blockage in Spain (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi’s plan to channel as much as €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) into the euro region’s economy is running into a blockage: some companies in the countries hardest hit by the debt crisis don’t want the money. “We’re getting calls from lenders every day,” said Miquel Fabre, 34, whose family-run beauty products firm Fama Fabre employs 43 people in Barcelona. “They can see that they’ll benefit from a loan because we’re doing good business and will return the money. Whether it’s in our interest as well is a different question.” Many small and medium-sized businesses are wary of the offers from banks as European Central Bank President Draghi prepares to pump more cash into the financial system to boost prices and spur growth. The reticence in Spain suggests demand for credit may be as much of a problem as the supply. The monthly flow of new loans of as much as €1 million for as much as a year – a type of credit typically used by small and medium-sized companies – is still down by two-thirds in Spain from a 2007 peak, according to Bank of Spain data.

The total stock of loans is almost 470 billion euros below the 2008 record of €1.87 trillion, the figures show. Spanish bonds rose for a third day yesterday, with 10-year yields dropping to 2.11%, after further evidence that Draghi may have to resort to buying government debt to get cash into the economy. The ECB’s latest attempt to funnel money through the financial system with a targeted-loans offer, known as TLTRO, was shunned by banks on Sept. 18. That’s not to say banks aren’t making an effort to attract borrowers. Banco Popular Espanol SA (POP), a Spanish lender that borrowed €2.85 billion from the TLTRO, started an advertising campaign this month using Spanish NBA basketball star Pau Gasol to target smaller companies. In the first six months, Popular boosted lending to that group by 6% and is aiming for a 10% increase for all of 2014. Across the economy, small business loans at 12.9 billion euros in July were the highest in more than two years, while still just a third of the peak volume.

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Make that ‘will’.

Draghi May Discover Weaker Euro Doesn’t Buy Enough Recovery (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi may find a falling currency can’t buy much of an economic recovery. The euro has dropped toward a two-year low against the dollar since the European Central Bank president boosted stimulus earlier this month. Economics textbooks say that should lift Europe’s struggling growth rate by boosting exports and speed inflation by raising import prices. Such effects will be more welcome if falling commodities deal a disinflationary blow. It’s time for those textbooks to be revised, according to economists at Societe Generale SA led by Michala Marcussen, who reckon a devaluation of the euro will not be as stimulatory as it once was and perhaps as much as the ECB is hoping. For one thing, the single currency may not be that weak yet. While it has fallen 7.5% against the dollar this year, it has slipped just 4% on a trade-weighted basis.

A deep decline may be hard to achieve. While the euro should keep falling against the dollar and sterling as the Federal Reserve and Bank of England shift toward higher interest rates, those currencies account for only about a third of the trade-weighted index. The monetary policies of Japan and China are almost just as important, with the yen and yuan accounting for a quarter of the euro’s value, according to Marcussen. With their central banks also dovish, the euro may have less far to fall against those currencies, meaning a 10% decline on a trade-weighted basis would require the single currency to drop below $1.15 and 70 pence. It was at $1.28 and 0.78 pence today. Another brake on any descent is that the euro’s long-term rate may actually have risen since the global financial crisis to $1.35 from $1.31, Societe Generale calculates. That’s because in aggregate the euro area is running a current-account surplus and its budget deficit and debt are lower than in other major economies.

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But won’t.

Debt Forgiveness Could Ease Eurozone Woes (Guardian)

The eurozone debt crisis never went away. It merely acquired a misleading veneer of resolution, thanks to grand promises, political chest-thumping and frazzled financial markets that were desperate to believe in happily ever after. Today, there is an accentuated sense of deja vu (all over again, as Yogi Berra would concur). Europe faces the spectre of deflation. Some members, such as Italy, have toppled over the edge for the first time in more than half a century; Germany threatens recession; France is a basket case. Wages are in decline across club Med: real hourly wages in Greece, Spain and Ireland recently fell for the fourth year in succession. Meanwhile, bank lending is an aspiration and Banco Espirito Santo is an ugly reminder of the iceberg of bad debts lurking. Good Europeans are in decline while populism, nationalism and jingoism are les belles du jour.

Enter quantitative easing (QE) as the white knight, as envisaged by the European central bank. This is fast becoming a modern-day rain dance. QE is not a cure. It is a shot of morphine that sedates an ailing patient while doctors figure out what to do in the long term. Like most opiates, the patient is elated and euphoric. Leaving aside “niggles” like the Germans and the moral hazard of whose sovereign bonds to buy, there is no reason why financial markets should not rally if QE proceeds. Our limited sample over the past few years proves this. But asset-price inflation and falling bond yields are poor substitutes for long-run economic growth and, arguably, even antithetical, thanks to the punishing bubbles they risk creating.

Europe has a singular problem – it has far too much debt. And in a globalised world, much of this debt is bound in a complex web, particularly among the weaker economies – namely Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – and their main creditors: France, Germany, the UK and the US. For example, more than half of Portugal’s foreign debt claims are held by Spain, while Italy owes French banks about $373bn – almost a seventh of France’s GDP. And, lest we forget, Italy also has the third-largest sovereign bond market in the world. This is a game of dominoes. Any solution that does not involve large-scale debt forgiveness is doomed to failure. In the 1920s, an ambitious scheme of credit easing – the Dawes plan – to tackle the intractable debts left by the first world war fuelled an enormous bubble that ended in the great depression, as the underlying reality of sovereign insolvency became clear. It also created a fertile political climate for the nationalism that ended so disastrously more than a decade later. Money is divisive when things turn sour.

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Hmmm.

“The Fed Gig Is Up” (Scotiabank)

In a switch from what are typically only one-sidedly dovish comments, NY Fed President Dudley was balanced this week, even citing reasons for why the Fed would want to hike rates. Dudley stated that “being at the zero-lower-bound is not a very comfortable place to be”, because it “limits” flexibility and has “consequences for the economy”. He said it “hurts savers”, and while acknowledging “what is happening” to financial markets, he avoided directly citing risks to financial stability. Anxiety-riddled conversations about financial instability are probably implicitly restricted to a ‘behind-closed-doors-only’ rule. FOMC members are slowly and carefully trying to change the conversation. Yellen completely diluted away any meaning behind “considerable period” to make it all but meaningless. Bullard said to that he still “sees the first tightening at the end of the first quarter”.

A March 18th hike seems reasonable to me, since US economic improvement appears to remain on track (at least for the moment) and since the FOMC seems more anxious to begin the normalization process. Actually though, by waiting even until March, it is possible that the FOMC risks missing its window of opportunity in terms of using US economic momentum as its cover (what irony). Financial markets are becoming agitated and disturbed by shifting government and central bank policies, mounting geo-political tensions, and rising nationalist fervor. QE has not yet ended and the Fed is likely still months away from hiking for the first time, but markets are using these factors to adjust portfolio exposures. These are hints that a larger market reaction is likely to unfold as the Fed’s policy transition approaches.

Macro signs are currently evident with steep commodity price declines, rising FX volatility, rallying global bond markets (long end), and sagging prices for low quality credits. Some investors are clearly getting out of the Fed-generated “herd” trades of recent years and saying that they are doing so because “the Fed’s balance sheet is set to stop expanding next month”. The strengthening dollar is one consequence and it has already had an impact on commodities and Emerging Markets. In turn, weakening currencies in EM countries are starting to trigger capital outflows. It may lead toward domestic central bank hikes (again) which weaken those economies and cause second-order effects.

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5 US Banks Each Have More Than $40 Trillion Exposure To Derivatives (Snyder)

When is the U.S. banking system going to crash? I can sum it up in three words. Watch the derivatives. It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than $40 trillion in exposure to derivatives. Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about $17.7 trillion, so when we are talking about $40 trillion we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable. And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything. They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future. The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games.

Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet. When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe. If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it? The answer to that question comes down to just one thing. Greed. The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading. According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…

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Problem, not solution.

Federal Reserve Policies Cause Booms and Busts (Mises.org)

Since the economic crisis of 2008-2009, the Federal Reserve — America’s central bank — has expanded the money supply in the banking system by over $4 trillion, and has manipulated key interest rates to keep them so artificially low that when adjusted for price inflation, several of them have been actually negative. We should not be surprised if this is setting the stage for another serious economic crisis down the road. Back on December 16, 2009, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced that it was planning to maintain the Federal Funds rate — the rate of interest at which banks lend to each other for short periods of time — between zero and a quarter of a%age point.

The Committee said that it would keep interest rates “exceptionally low” for an “extended period of time,” which has continued up to the present. Beginning in late 2012, the then-Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, announced that the Federal Reserve would continue buying US government securities and mortgage-backed securities, but at the rate of an enlarged $85 billion per month, a policy that continued until early 2014. Since then, under the new Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve has been “tapering” off its securities purchases until in July of 2014, it was reduced to a “mere” $35 billion a month.

In her recent statements, Yellen has insisted that she and the other members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who serve as America’s monetary central planners, are watching carefully macro-economic indicators to know how to manage the money supply and interest rates to keep the slowing general economic recovery continuing without fear of price inflation. Some of the significant economic gyrations on the stock markets over the past couple of months have reflected concerns and uncertainties about whether the Fed’s flood of paper money and near zero or negative real interest rates might be coming to an end. In other words, borrowing money to undertake investment projects or to fund stock purchases might actually cost something, rather than seeming to be free.

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Pimco ETF Probe Spotlights $270 Billion Market Vexing Regulators (Bloomberg)

The U.S. regulatory probe into Bill Gross’s Pimco Total Return ETF is highlighting an industry that supervisors say may pose an increasing risk to the stability of the bond market. The assets held by bond exchange-traded funds have ballooned to more than $270 billion from about $57 billion at the end of 2008 as hedge funds to retirees sought quick and easy access to debt markets, according to data compiled by the Investment Company Institute. While the amount is still a pittance compared to the $38 trillion U.S. bond market, trading in ETFs is fueling price swings that may become more severe in a downturn — particularly for the most illiquid markets, like speculative-grade debt. Regulators are examining the danger it will be more difficult than investors expect to get out of the funds in a falling market.

“The ETF market will be the tail that wags the dog,” said Mark Pibl, head of research and fixed-income strategy at Canaccord Genuity in New York. As assets managed by ETFs of all types more than tripled since 2008 to $1.8 trillion, the fastest-growing product in the money-management industry is drawing scrutiny from regulators. While ETFs have shares that trade like stocks on exchanges, bonds often trade in transactions that are negotiated by telephone and through e-mails.

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How is this a question?

Is Big Business Too Influential? (CNBC)

People from emerging economies are much more comfortable in strong corporations having influence over government than in developed nations, a CNBC/Bursen-Marsteller poll survey has found. Most emerging markets’ respondents –whether from the public or executives – surveyed in the CNBC/Bursen-Marsteller poll on the Global Corporate Compass viewed strong and influential corporations as engines for innovation and economic growth. However, in the developed world, opinion was split. Indeed, in seven out of the 13 developed nations included in the survey, the public believe that strong and influential corporations “rig the system so that they do not have to act responsibly,” the survey reported. These include economic powerhouses such as the U.S., U.K., Germany and Hong Kong. Surprisingly, people in France and Italy sided with emerging markets in their belief that strong and influential businesses can boost the economy.

For Tamsin Cave, director of Spinwatch and author of “A quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain”, there’s now a “growing disquiet among the public (in the developed world) about this relationship between government and big business”. The public in the U.K., she added, feels that there is a disconnect between politicians and the public. “The public voice isn’t heard because of the enormity of what is a corporate lobbying industry – worth something like £2 billion ($3.2 billion) in the country,” she said. Even executives across the developed world were of two minds with C-suite respondents in Germany, Italy, Singapore and Australia describing strong and influential corporations as bad. “I have a saying”, said Gary Greenberg, head of emerging markets at Hermes. “The way you can tell the difference between emerging markets and developed markets is that in emerging markets the government controls the banks whereas in developed markets it is the opposite!”

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Chiecken and the egg.

Australia Kills Civil Liberties with Draconian New Anti-Terror Law (Krieger)

Understanding how the power structure thinks, and how it intentionally manipulates the emotions of the masses, is key to overcoming and rolling back totalitarian ambitions. I have spent the last few posts talking about how instilling fear throughout the general populace is one of their primary tactics. Indeed, to borrow a term from Glenn Greenwald, “fear-manufacturing” has been in overdrive across the Five Eyes nations over the past several weeks. In the UK, we saw it used to convince elderly Scots to overwhelming vote against independence, thus swaying the result decisively to the NO side. In the USA, we have seen it used to drum up support for another pointless war in the Middle East, which will benefit nobody except for the military/intelligence-industrial complex. While these examples are bad enough, nowhere is fear being used in a more clownish and absurd manner to strip the local citizenry of its civil liberties than in Australia. This should come as no surprise, considering that nation’s Prime Minister is a certified raging lunatic.

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“National home prices rose an annualized 16.8% in the three months to August”. Not a bubble, right? That doubles ± every 4.5 years.

Is Australian Housing Facing A Repeat Of 2003? (CNBC)

Australia’s property market is approaching the bubble extremes seen a decade ago, an analyst told CNBC, after the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) warned this week that the market looks ‘unbalanced’. “There was an intense bubble in the property market a decade ago. There were property ‘spruikers’ out there encouraging people to buy five properties at a time – everyone was buying property magazines and all the top rated shows on TV were property related,” Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, told CNBC. “We haven’t quite returned to the extremes we had back then but we’re getting close and that’s why the RBA is getting concerned,” he said. “Danger signs are emerging.”

A low interest rate environment and strong price competition among lenders have led to a surge in investment property, raising the risk of a repricing, the RBA said in its Financial Stability Review on Wednesday. National home prices rose an annualized 16.8% in the three months to August after a cooler period in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, prices in Sydney and Melbourne rose 16 and 11%, respectively, over the past 12 months according to RP data. As a result, the RBA said it is considering measures to cool property investment that could include macro-prudential controls or credit restrictions designed to reinforce sound lending practices.

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Provocation.

Ukraine Pushes for NATO Membership as Gas Talks Commence (Bloomberg)

Ukraine kick-started the process to strengthen its ties with NATO and will strive to join the alliance in the “short term,” its government said, a day after its president declared the worst of its separatist war was over. The country of more than 40 million people is scheduled to hold talks today in Berlin to resolve a dispute over natural gas supply before the onset of winter. Russia stopped selling the fuel to Ukraine in June without pre-payment after raising the price 81%, which has prompted officials in Kiev to urge companies and households to cut consumption. Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom (GAZP) says Ukraine owes it $5.3 billion.

Ukraine’s push to end its neutral status and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will probably exacerbate the worst standoff between Russia and its former Cold War foes since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Sporadic fighting between pro-Russian rebels and government troops in the eastern Donetsk region of the former Soviet Republic is threatening a shaky cease-fire reached three weeks ago. “The cabinet has submitted a draft law to parliament that envisages the cancellation of our non-aligned status and ensuring a European integration course to create grounds for Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic security space,” the administration in Kiev said in an e-mailed statement today. “Ukraine’s government underlines that Ukraine’s aim is to receive special partner status with NATO now and membership in the short term.”

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Because it would force him to drive Kiev, which can’t survive without Moscow, into the ground, by cutting trade even more..

Putin Demands Reopening Of EU Trade Pact With Ukraine (FT)

)Vladimir Putin has demanded a reopening of the EU’s recently-ratified trade pact with Ukraine and has threatened “immediate and appropriate retaliatory measures” if Kiev moves to implement any parts of the deal. The demand, made in a letter to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, reflects Russia’s determination to put a brake on Ukraine’s integration into Europe and other Euro-Atlantic organisations such as Nato, even after annexing Crimea and creating a pro-Russian separatist entity in the east of the country. It also comes amid a fresh crackdown on Russia’s oligarchs, exemplified by the recent house arrest of billionaire businessman Vladimir Yevtushenkov, which was extended by a court on Thursday.

The integration treaty was the spark that set off the 10-month Ukraine crisis after the country’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovich, backed out of the deal. Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian president, has made integration with the EU a key objective of his presidency. But this is strongly opposed by Moscow, which is determined to keep Ukraine within its own economic sphere of influence. Mr Putin’s letter argues that a 15-month delay in implementing part of the deal – which Kiev and the EU agreed to earlier this month – should be used to “establish negotiating teams” to make wholesale changes to the deal.

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1+1=2.

Russia Mulls Draft Law To Allow Seizure Of Foreign Assets (Reuters)

Russian courts could get the green light to seize foreign assets on Russian territory under a draft law intended as a response to Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. The draft, which was submitted to parliament on Wednesday by a pro-Kremlin deputy, would also allow state compensation for an individual whose property is seized in foreign jurisdictions. Italian authorities this week seized property worth about 30 million euros ($40 million) belonging to companies controlled by Arkady Rotenberg, an ally of President Vladimir Putin targeted by the U.S. and European Union sanctions. The draft law, published on a parliamentary database, would allow for compensation for Russian citizens who suffer because of an “unlawful court act” in a foreign jurisdiction and clear the way to foreign state assets in Russia being seized, even if they are subject to international immunity.

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Don’t think he’s far off.

Iran’s Rouhani Blames Intelligence Agencies For Rise In Extremism (RT)

The rise of violent extremism around the world is the fault of “certain states” and “intelligence agencies” that have helped to create it and are failing to withstand it, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in an address to the UN General Assembly. Speaking at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Rouhani stressed that extremism is not a regional but a global issue, and called on states worldwide to unite against the extremists. “Certain states have helped to create it, and are now failing to withstand it. Currently our peoples are paying the price,” he said. “Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hand of the madmen, who now spare no one.” Rouhani also said the current anti-Western sentiment in certain parts of the world was “the offspring of yesterday’s colonialism. Today’s anti-Westernism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism.”

The Iranian president urged “all those who have played a role in founding and supporting these terror groups” to acknowledge their mistake. Rouhani also blamed “strategic blunders of the West in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus” for inciting violence in these regions and creating a “haven for terrorists and extremists.” “Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East.” Warning that “if the right approach is not undertaken in dealing with the issue at hand” the Middle East risks turning into “a turbulent and tumultuous region with repercussions for the whole world.” “The right solution to this quandary comes from within the region and regionally provided solution with international support and not from the outside the region,” he said.

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Chasing money.

How Australia Became The Dirtiest Polluter In The Developed World (Slate)

Australians like to think of themselves as green. Their island country boasts some 3 million square miles of breathtaking landscape. They were an early global leader in solar power. They’ve had environmental regulations on the books since colonial times. And in 2007 they elected a party and a prime minister running on a “pro-climate” platform, with promises to sign the Kyoto Protocol and pass sweeping environmental reforms. All of which makes sense for a country that is already suffering the early effects of global warming. And yet, seven years later, Australia has thrown its environmentalism out the window—and into the landfill. The climate-conscious Labor Party is out, felled by infighting and a bloodthirsty, Rupert Murdoch–dominated press that sows conspiracy theories about climate science.

In its place, Australians elected the conservative Liberal Party, led by a prime minister who once declared that “the climate argument is absolute crap.” In the year since they took office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Liberal-led coalition have already dismantled the country’s key environmental policies. Now they’ve begun systematically ransacking its natural resources. In the process, they’ve transformed Australia from an international innovator on environmental issues into quite possibly the dirtiest country in the developed world. And in a masterful whirl of the spin machine, they’ve managed to upend public debate by painting climate science as superstition and superstition as climate science. (We should note here that one of us grew up in Australia.)

The country’s landmark carbon tax has been repealed. The position of science minister has been eliminated. A man who warns of “global cooling” is now the country’s top business adviser. In November, Australia will host the G-20 economic summit; it plans to use its power as host to keep climate change off the official agenda. If the environment has become Australia’s enemy, fossil fuels are its best friend once again. Two months after it struck down the carbon tax, the government forged a deal with a fringe party led by a mining tycoon to repeal a tax on mining profits. It appointed a noted climate-change skeptic—yes, another one—to review its renewable energy targets.

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I wrote many years ago that is the only way. Not that communism or socialism is any better. Any system aimed at growth will do it.

Naomi Klein Says We Must Slay Capitalism to Fight Climate Change (Slate)

Q: On Sunday, more than 300,000 people were in the streets in New York. In stark contrast, Tuesday’s U.N. Climate Summit didn’t accomplish much. How do you feel about “progress” toward a climate treaty through official U.N. channels?

A: It’s been quite an amazing week. [Sunday’s march] was, I think, a real turning point. A lot of debates have sharpened up a bit. I’m excited. After the march, it was kind of jarring to go to the U.N. I definitely did not get the feeling that they were even managing to convince themselves. Some shit-disturber decided it would be a good idea to invite me into the private-sector portion of the U.N. summit Tuesday, which had unprecedented participation from CEOs. It was definitely the highest net-worth room I’ve ever been in. They were conducting what amounted to a telethon for the Earth. It was pretty unimpressive.

Q: I think U.N. countries officially pledged a little more than $1 billion to the fund designed to help low-income nations adapt.

A: Yes, and I think almost all of it was from France. At one point in that room, there was a debate over whether France’s pledge was in euros or dollars. Yeah. It was in dollars.

Q: So what’s the next step in terms of climate action? How do we get from 300,000 in the streets to 30 million?

A: Everybody that’s trying to get anything progressive done in this country knows that the biggest barrier is getting money out of politics. Climate can be a shot of adrenaline in the pre-existing movement to get money out of politics. So, it’s not a brand-new movement. What excited me about Sunday is the huge participation from labor. People in that movement clearly see that a climate-justice agenda would be a serious benefit to their members. The post-carbon economy we can build will have to be better designed.

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