Feb 112018
 
 February 11, 2018  Posted by at 11:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Peach trees in blossom 1888

 

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)
Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)
Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)
Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)
IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)
UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)
Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)
Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)
Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)
Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)
Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)
Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)
Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)
US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

 

 

Bond markets are 10x stock markets?!

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)

On Friday at around 1:40 p.m., during whiplash-inducing market moves, the S&P 500 index was down 1.9%, bringing the total loss for the week to 8.3%, which would have been the biggest weekly loss since November 2008, after the Lehman bankruptcy. But dip-buyers jumped in courageously and saved the day. The S&P 500 ended up 1.5%, bringing to the total loss for the week to 5.2%, the worst week since, well, the selloff in January 2016. Everyone has their own reasons why stocks plunged last week. Some blamed algorithmic trading. Others blamed the short-volatility financial complex that blew up.

More specifically, Jim Cramer blamed “a group of complete morons” who traded in this space. Others blamed the stratospheric valuations of stocks that had been rallying for eight years with only a few dimples in between, and it’s simply time to unwind some of those gains. Whatever the factors might have been, rising bond yields certainly had something to do with it. They tend to hit stocks, eventually. Last week, prices of short-dated Treasuries edged down and prices of long-dated Treasuries edged down, and their yields edged up, but there was some turmoil in the middle, with some interesting consequences.The three-month Treasury yield rose to 1.55% on Friday, the highest since September 11, 2008. Investors are beginning to price in a rate hike in March:

But the two-year yield, after having surged to 2.16% on February 1, got very nervous, dropping and bouncing during the week, and fell sharply on Friday, ending the week at 2.05%:

The 10-year yield closed on Friday at 2.83% and in late trading went on to 2.85%. The interesting thing about this is the difference (the “spread”) between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield. It surged. This spread is one of the indications of the slope of the yield curve and was one of the most watched bond-data points during the scare last year over an “inverted” yield curve. This is a phenomenon where the two-year yield would be higher than the 10-year yield. The last time this happened was before the Financial Crisis. By early January, the spread between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield had dropped as low as 50 basis points (0.5 percentage points), the lowest since October 2007. As the two-year yield kept spiking, the 10-year yield had started rising, but not fast enough. All this has changed, and the 10-year yield has been rising faster than the two-year yield and the spread has widened to 78 basis points on Friday:

The 30-year yield rose to 3.14% on Friday. For the first time, it is now back where it had been on December 14, 2016, when the Fed stopped flip-flopping and started getting serious about raising its target range for the federal funds rate. The market responded to each rate hike with increases in short-term yields but defied the Fed on longer-term yields, which fell until September 2017. So what happened last week was that the two-year yield fell, while the yields of most longer maturities stayed put or rose, steepening the yield curve from the two-year yield on up.

The chart below shows the “yield curves” as they occurred on these four dates: • Yields on Friday, February 9, 2018 (red line) • Yields on December 29, 2017 (black line) • Yields on August 29, 2017 (green line) two weeks before the QE unwind was detailed. • Yields on December 14, 2016 (blue line) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping, raised its rates, and became a clockwork. Note how the spread has widened at the longer-dated ends between the black line (December 29, 2017) and the red line (Friday), and how the slope of the red line has steepened, with the 30-year yield surging 40 basis points over those six weeks. That’s a big move:

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The cheap money has BEEN the entire market.

Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)

Stock markets are heading for a wild ride this year as central bankers strap on their bullet-proof vests and test investors’ willingness to accept higher interest rates. Last week’s share price crashes, which in two days wiped $4 trillion off the value of markets around the world, was just a foretaste of the battle to come. In the days following Monday’s crash, share values have recovered strongly only to dive again as competing theories about the path of interest rates and the likely impact on economic growth fight for attention. Most investors want the era of cheap borrowing to continue and many are willing to sell their shareholdings if it looks like coming to an end. Without low interest rates, they cannot borrow and invest cheaply, especially in the assets that for the past decade have gone up every year by much more than their salary – property and shares.

Countless businesses have also come to rely on low borrowing costs to keep going, and investors fear they might go bust should their bank raise loan rates. Weaning companies and investors off their addiction was never going to be easy, even 10 years after central banks first put their stimulus packages in place, and despite warnings that these measures need to end. For some time, the US Federal Reserve has taken on the role of the advance guard, forging a path towards higher rates for others to follow. But its campaign got off to a faltering start. Back in 2013 it was forced to retreat when it signalled in the mildest terms that it would begin withdrawing its quantitative easing programme. The main effect of QE was to drive down long-term interest rates, allowing investors to borrow cheaply not just over one or five years, but for 30 years.

And so its withdrawal was as much of a blow for some fund managers as an immediate rate rise. Wall Street and markets in Europe and Asia, where heavy selling turned into a rout, forced Fed officials to retreat. The Fed adopted a more incremental approach. It gave markets more warning and spaced out the policy decisions. As it entered 2017, US interest rates had trebled, but only from 0.25% to 0.75%. Yet the economy was booming more than ever. The Fed appeared ready to get tougher, and with justification, according to Karen Ward at JP Morgan Asset Management. After the heavy lifting needed to get the industrialised world back from bankruptcy, she said, “economies are now rested”. Ward, who until recently was an adviser to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said: “Households and businesses are feeling better about the future. They do not need a boost in quite the same way. Central banks can ease off the accelerator without troubling either growth or markets.”

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The problem is not that they’ve never seen a crash, the problem is they’ve never seen a functioning market.

Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)

In his career in finance—all seven years of it—Ben Kumar has seen some tough days. There was 2013, when traders worried about the Federal Reserve, and 2016, with the Brexit vote. But, at 29, Kumar and many millennials like him on Wall Street and the City of London have never endured a full-blown crash. For them, markets have always bounced back—fast—and gone on to heights. Now, with world stocks sinking and central banks withdrawing stimulus that’s supported markets for years, elders worry Kumar’s generation isn’t ready for its trial. Kumar is chill. “Find me someone who worked in the era of 15% inflation and I’ll talk to them about Bitcoin and the Internet,” said the 29-year-old, a fund manager at Seven Investment Management in London .

After $3 trillion was erased from global stocks in a week, he’s weighing whether to buy on the dip now—or wait a bit longer. “I don’t even think that this move is a wake-up call,” he said on Tuesday. Many bankers older than 40 shudder at the thought of what will happen if – or when – some unforeseen trigger sparks a crash that drags down not just stocks, but also bonds and currencies together. Etched in their memories is the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. In its wake, stock market valuations alone were cut in half. By contrast, most millennial investors have only worked in an era where central banks printed trillions of dollars to prop up their economies and markets. Since starting their careers, average interest rates in the developed world have barely nudged above 1%, inflation all but vanished, the S&P 500 Index more than doubled and bonds rallied so high that more than $7 trillion of debt is negative yielding.

“You have to have had that stage where you’re looking at the screen through your fingers to really appreciate risk-reward in this industry,” said Paul McNamara at GAM in London. “Not just seeing things go wrong, but going so much more wrong than you imagined was possible.”

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Why own stocks when bond yields rise? Still, inflation is a ludicrous fear.

Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)

The tug-of-war between stocks and bonds is at the heart of the shakeout roiling financial markets. This week’s U.S. inflation report could hold the key to the next phase. Seemingly every time 10-year Treasury yields approached a four-year high last week, equities investors panicked, fearing the specter of higher inflation and a more aggressive pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Whether you want to say Treasuries are in a bear market or not, the surge in yields to start 2018 has left investors reassessing the value of equities and corporate bonds. Profits were easy when the 10-year yield traded in its narrowest range in a half-century, inflation stayed subdued and volatility across financial markets plumbed record lows. Gains are harder when low rates, a linchpin of the post-crisis recovery, start to disappear.

“What’s happening now is just price discovery between bonds and equities – how far can the bond market push yields up before the equity market cracks?” said Stephen Bartolini, portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, which manages more than $10 billion in inflation-protected strategies. “The big fear in risk markets is that we get a big CPI print and it validates the narrative that inflation is coming back and the Fed is going to have to move faster.” The focus on inflation is nothing new, but it became even more critical after a Feb. 2 report showed average hourly earnings jumped in January at the fastest pace since 2009. That contributed to the dive in stocks. (It also led President Donald Trump to tweet about the “old days” when stocks would go up on good economic news.)

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Should be filed under Famous Last Words, but won’t be.

IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)

Sharp swings in global financial markets in the past few days are not worrying since economic growth is strong but reforms are still needed to avert future crises, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday. Christine Lagarde, speaking at a conference on global business and social trends in Dubai, said economies were also supported by plenty of financing available. “I‘m reasonably optimistic because of the landscape we have at the moment. But we cannot sit back and wait for growth to continue as normal,” she said in her first public comments on market movements since the latest round of turmoil at the end of last week.

“I‘m ringing not the alarm signal, but the strong encouragement and warning signal.” Global stock markets were hit by wild fluctuations, with the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 tumbling 5.2% last week, its biggest weekly percentage drop since January 2016. The volatility was fuelled by investor worries about rising interest rates and potential inflation. Lagarde repeated an IMF forecast, originally issued last month, that the global economy would growth 3.9% this year and at the same pace in 2019, which she said was a good backdrop for needed reforms.

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No society should ever relinquish control over its essentials.

UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)

Labour launched a full-frontal attack on the privatised water industry last night, accusing companies of paying out the “scandalous” sum of £13.5bn in dividends to shareholders since 2010, while claiming huge tax breaks and forcing up prices for millions of customers. The assault by shadow chancellor John McDonnell came as he pledged total, “permanent” and cost-free renationalisation of water, energy and rail if Labour won power at the next election. The three privatisations in the 1980s and 1990s became hallmarks of the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The dramatic intervention – which stunned the companies involved – was the strongest denunciation yet by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour of the privatisation programme that has become part of the British political landscape of the last 40 years.

The Conservative party and the Confederation of British Industry both condemned McDonnell’s comments. The CBI said Labour’s renationalisation agenda would “wind the clock back on our economy” while chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned that placing politicians in charge of public utilities “didn’t work last time and won’t work this time”. McDonnell told the Observer that water companies could not even claim to offer choice to customers but instead operated regional monopolies, and were therefore able to increase prices without the risk of losing out to competitors, as well as “load up debt” while paying out huge dividends to shareholders. “It is a national scandal that since 2010 these companies have paid billions to their shareholders, almost all their profits, whilst receiving more in tax credits than they paid in tax,” he said.

“These companies operate regional monopolies which have profited at the expense of consumers who have no choice in who supplies their water. “The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and call time on the water companies, who have a stranglehold over working households. Instead, Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly owned water companies.” Citing figures from the National Audit Office, the shadow chancellor said water bills had risen by 40% in real terms since privatisation of the industry in 1989. In 2016-17, the forecast average for water bills was £389 per household. McDonnell claimed that in 2017, privatised water companies paid out a total £1.6bn to their shareholders. Since 2010, the total was £13.5bn.

[..] Corbyn said that Labour would back a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities. “We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities,” he said. “From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services,” he added.

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Banks and governments are accomplices in blowing this bubble.

Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)

Australia’s big banks are responding to a revenue crunch by cutting jobs and other costs, prompting fears on the eve of an inquiry into their businesses that the industry’s tarnished reputation is about to take another hit. Regulators’ demands that banks hold more capital and their scrutiny into internal operations have made cost-cuts the in-vogue metric at the so-called Big Four banks, Australia and New Zealand Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac, to boost profits. But the strategic change will come at a cost for the banks. “If you can be the most successful at bringing your staff numbers down the quickest, that’s going to give you the quickest cost advantage,” said one senior bank insider with direct knowledge of the cost-cutting strategy.

But, added the insider, as jobs cuts mount, “society and the community will push back, won’t accept it.” Cost cuts are not limited to jobs, with banks preparing to make use of improved technology to reengineer back office functions, and reduce the number and physical size of their branches. But the insider said he expected the Big Four to shed up to 40,000 jobs over five years as part of that overhaul, making a reduced wages bill the primary saving. The focus on costs coincides with the start of a royal commission looking into misconduct in the financial sector starting Monday. Scandals that have shaken public confidence include allegations of interest rate rigging, claims of a toxic trading room culture within some banks, and accusations that some institutions withheld legitimate health insurance payouts and gave misleading financial advice.

The inquiry, expected to last a year and which can recommend criminal charges and legislative changes, could potentially result in restrictions that affect bank profits, similar to a government-imposed bank tax levied last year. According to the government, Australia’s big four are still among the most profitable banks in the world, earning net profit margins of 36.4% in the June quarter of 2017. Years of economic growth and a booming property market had encouraged executives to focus on lifting sales rather than trimming operations. “Top line revenue growth is going to be a struggle, so they need to look closely at their cost lines really seriously,” said Brad Potter, head of Australian equities at Nikko Asset Management, which owns shares in the major banks.

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It’s the economy that causes much of the illness. Putting dollar numbers on it is not the way to go.

Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)

Reducing mental illness is one of the key ways to increase happiness worldwide, according to a study by the Global Happiness Council (GHC). The report, published Saturday, said that while mental illness was one of the main causes of unhappiness in the world, the net cost of treating it was actually negative. “This is because people who are mentally ill become seriously unproductive. So when they are successfully treated, there are substantial gains in output. And these gains exceed the cost of therapy and medication,” GHC researchers said. The most common conditions associated with mental illness are depression and anxiety disorders, the study said. And at least a quarter of the global population were thought to experience these conditions over the course of their lifetime.

Researchers at the GHC also said that mental illness was a “major block” on the global economy as it was found to be the main illness among people of a working age. Therefore, treating the conditions, it said, would save national income per head by 5% — that equates to billions worldwide. The study estimated that for every $1 spent on treating depression, production would be restored by the equivalent of $2.5. And while physical healthcare costs were thought to balance out, the GHC claimed net savings when treating anxiety disorders was greatest of all — with production restored by the equivalent of $3 for every $1 spent. In the U.K., the National Health Service (NHS) estimates that around 10 to 15% of people are considered to have had a mental illness at some stage of their lives. There are many types of mental illness but most conditions fit into either a neurotic or psychotic category, according to the NHS.

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Any individuals will escape persecution.

Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)

Pain-pill giant Purdue Pharma will stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, a retreat after years of criticism that the company’s aggressive sales efforts helped lay the foundation of the U.S. addiction crisis. The company told employees this week that it would cut its sales force by more than half, to 200 workers. It plans to send a letter Monday to doctors saying that its salespeople will no longer come to their clinics to talk about the company’s pain products. “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a statement. Instead, any questions doctors have will be directed to the company’s medical affairs department. OxyContin, approved in 1995, is the closely held company’s biggest-selling drug, though sales of the pain pill have declined in recent years amid competition from generics.

It generated $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion five years earlier, according to data compiled by Symphony Health Solutions. It also sells the painkiller Hysingla. Purdue is credited with helping develop many modern tactics of aggressive pharmaceutical promotion. Its efforts to push OxyContin included OxyContin music, fishing hats and stuffed plush toys. More recently, it has positioned itself as an advocate for fighting the opioid addiction crisis, as overdoses from prescription drugs claim thousands of American lives each year. Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors face dozens of lawsuits in which they’re accused of creating a public-health crisis through their marketing of the painkillers. Purdue officials confirmed in November that they are in settlement talks with a group of state attorneys general and trying to come up with a global resolution of the government opioid claims.

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At least there are still some truly pan-European values left.

Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)

Asylum seekers are being placed in appalling housing conditions where they are at risk from abuse and violence, according to a survey published on Sunday documenting the lives of new arrivals. A year after the home affairs select committee found asylum seekers were being held in “disgraceful” conditions and called for a major overhaul of the system, new research suggests the situation remains poor. In-depth interviews with 33 individuals inside a north London Home Office asylum accommodation centre found that 82% had found mice in their rooms. The survey, by the human rights charity Refugee Rights Europe, also found that two-thirds of asylum seekers interviewed felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe”.

Others, some of whom have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after fleeing violence and persecution from war zones, described how non-residents would enter the building and threaten residents, or simply use the kitchens and hallways to sleep. Of those interviewed, 30% alleged they had experienced verbal abuse in the accommodation from fellow residents or from staff, with 21% claiming they had experienced physical violence. “A number of respondents were under the impression that the cleaning staff may hold racist views. Sometimes this was expressed through abusive or hostile language in English, and, at other times, the respondents were shouted at in a foreign European language which they couldn’t understand,” said the study.

Marta Welander, head of Refugee Rights Europe, said: “An entire year has passed since the home affairs select committee released its alarming report on asylum accommodation in the UK, yet it seems as though little to nothing has changed. Our research revealed terrible hygiene standards and widespread problems with vermin. “Many of the [interviewees] said they felt unsafe in their accommodation, in particular the younger ones or those diagnosed with PTSD. Others explained they’re experiencing health problems, which they attributed to the unsanitary conditions in their bedrooms and communal areas.”

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C’mon, it’s funny.

Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)

The head of Russia’s strategic defense industry corporation Rostec says Moscow is ready to sell S-400 air defense systems to any nation that feels insecure and wants to seal its airspace, including the US if it wants to. Just before the end of the year, Moscow agreed to supply S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to Ankara, making Turkey the first NATO member state that will integrate Russian technology into the North Atlantic defense structure once the $2.5 billion order is delivered. On Wednesday, Sergey Chemezov, head of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, extended the offer to purchase S-400 Triumf, or the SA-21 Growler as it is known by NATO, to the Pentagon. “The S-400 is not an offensive system; it is a defensive system. We can sell it to Americans if they want to,” Chemizov told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) when asked about the strategic reasoning behind the S-400 sale to Turkey.

The S-400, developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau, has been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 2007. The mobile surface-to-air missile system which uses four projectiles can strike down targets 40-400 km away. The deployment of S-400 batteries to Syria served as one of the pillars to the successful Russian anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) campaign. While the Almaz Bureau is currently developing S-500 systems, foreign orders to purchase the S-400 have skyrocketed. Besides China and Turkey, who are awaiting order deliveries, India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are currently negotiating to purchase the Russian military hardware. The growing demand can be attributed to the high reliability and long history of the S missile defense system family. The S-200, designed by Almaz in the 1960s, still serves many nations today. On Saturday, a Syrian S-200 Vega medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile was allegedly used to intercept an Israeli F-16.

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The humanitarian industrial complex in all its glory.

Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)

Oxfam was hit with new allegations of staff involvement with prostitution on Saturday, after claims that employees at a second country mission had used sex workers while living at the organisation’s premises. Former staff who worked for the charity in Chad alleged that women believed to be prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team house there, with one adding that a senior member of staff had been fired for his behaviour in 2006. Roland van Hauwermeiren, who has since been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti, was head of Oxfam in Chad at the time. Van Hauwermeiren resigned from Oxfam in 2011, after admitting that prostitutes had visited his villa in Haiti. One former Chad aid worker said on Saturday: “They would invite the women for parties. We knew they weren’t just friends but something else. “I have so much respect for Oxfam. They do great work, but this is a sector-wide problem,” the former staffer told the Observer.

[..] Oxfam said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006. Its staff in Chad at the time lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns: employees could not walk around freely and were confined to the guest house from early evening. Some employees had raised the issue of prostitutes with Van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam’s beleaguered chief executive, Mark Goldring, denied suggestions the charity had covered up revelations that staff had hired prostitutes in Haiti during a 2011 relief effort on the earthquake-hit island. His defence of Oxfam’s handling of the scandal came as Britain’s charity regulator said Oxfam had failed to mention allegations of abuse of aid beneficiaries in Haiti and potential sexual crimes involving minors in a report to it in 2011. It took no further action at the time.

[..] The scandal broke on Friday when the Times revealed that senior Oxfam staff had paid earthquake survivors for sex and that a confidential Oxfam report had referred to a “culture of impunity” among aid workers in Haiti. The Times on Saturday said Oxfam did not tell other aid agencies about the behaviour of staff involved after they had left to work elsewhere. Goldring told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct, but I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”

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And what about next week?

Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)

This month, Maclean’s has created two covers with two different prices—one at $8.81, the other at our regular price of $6.99—to reflect the 26% gap between full-time wages paid to men and women in Canada.It’s a cheeky way to draw attention to a gap that has barely budged in decades, but we’re not the first to do this. In 2016, a group of students at the University of Queensland in Australia put on a bake sale. They called it the Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, and they priced their cupcakes higher for men than women to illustrate Australia’s pay equity gap. The fierce social media backlash (“Kill all women” and “Females are f–king scum, they should be put down as babies” and “I want to rape these feminist c–ts with their f–king baked goods”) was so horrific it made international headlines.

When we discussed the story during our Maclean’s news meeting at the time, we wondered what would happen if we tried it here in Canada. So let’s see, shall we? After years of stasis, pay equity is having its moment as the next beat in the cadence of the #MeToo movement. Our hope is that these dual covers stir the kind of urgent conversation here that is already happening elsewhere around the world. In England, Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, resigned earlier this year when her pay was revealed to be at least 50 per cent less than her two male counterparts, saying, “My managers had yet again judged that women’s work was worth much less than men’s.” #istandwithcarrie trended on Twitter. In Iceland, after women walked out of work at precisely 2:38 p.m.—a full workday minus 30%, to illustrate the pay gap there—the country enacted a new law that makes it mandatory for companies with 25 or more employees to show they provide equal pay.

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Surprised? Me neither.

US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

Southern New Hampshire University has fired a lecturer who insisted that Australia was a continent – but not a country – and took some time to conduct “independent research” into the issue before reviewing a student’s paper. Ashley Arnold, 27, who is studying toward an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), was “shocked” to learn she had failed an assignment, part of which required students to compare social norms between the United States and any other country – in her case Australia. Arnold was downgraded because her professor believed “Australia is a continent; not a country.” At first I thought it was a joke; this can’t be real. Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real,” she told BuzzFeed News. “With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country? If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just Google that herself?”

To address the professor’s apparent ignorance, Arnold sent a series of emails containing references from the school’s library which clearly stated Australia is both a continent and a country. Arnold even referred her to a section of the Australian government’s webpage called “About Australia” that said “Australia is an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country (7,682,300 sq km).” The female professor with PhD in philosophy, whose name is being kept private, was still not convinced, however, and said she needed to conduct “some independent research on the continent/country issue.” After reviewing Arnold’s paper the professor gave her a new grade of a B+, but never apologized, merely acknowledging that she had a “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent.”

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Aug 112016
 
 August 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain The new Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge over the East River, NYC 1909

‘Deutsche Bank Must Be Nationalized’ (Express)
Deutsche Bank Capital Gap Larger Than Its Entire Market Cap (ZH)
Beware The EU Dog That Doesn’t Bark (IE)
It’s Not Going To Be Pretty: German GDP Set To Stall (CNBC)
The Worst Place In The World To Bank (Simon Black)
BLS Just “Revised” Away Obama’s “Fastest” Wage Growth Since The Crisis (ZH)
Erdogan Warns Bank Resistance to Interest Cuts Could Be Treason (BBG)
Gravity Always Wins -ZZZZZZ- (Jim Kunstler)
Greek PM Calls on Europe to Ease Greek Debt as it Did for Germany in 1953 (GR)
Greek Public Health Services On Brink Of Collapse (Kath.)
Julian Assange To Be Questioned Inside Ecuador Embassy (G.)

 

 

Merkel must find a way to do what she forbids others to do.

‘Deutsche Bank Must Be Nationalized’ (Express)

A top economist has warned that Germany’s biggest bank is teetering on the edge of crisis and they only way to protect it against future shocks is to nationalise it. Martin Hellwig said stress tests carried out by the European Central Bank revealed the Deutsche Bank would be left in a precarious position in the event of another financial crisis. While it would probably not go bust in a fresh downturn – he predicted the bank which is crucial to the German economy would face serious equity problems. He said: “Putting it short: for a long and serious crisis there simply wouldn’t be enough money.” The Berlin government has previously only bailed out the banks under extreme circumstances but Mr Hellwig, director of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, backed the idea of using taxpayers’ money to fund public sector investment.

He said: “Turning banks into community property through public funds is not only possible but also necessary. “If a bank is no longer able to help itself, the federal government should take on shares and exercise the related control functions.” He continued: “In Sweden the state stepped in in 1992, filleted out unprofitable divisions and left stable companies. “It was a successful, temporary nationalisation. The goal had always been to enable a clean-up and to then get out again.” He said nationalisation may not have been part of Germany’s plan since the last financial crisis but unusual scenarios sometimes require desperate measures and would be appropriate for banks as such a large part of the economy is entirely dependent on them.

Mr Hellwig said: “I assume that this tool will be used when it comes to an institution where there are fear that a settlement procedure would bring significant system damage.” Banks that are “too big to fail” could be saved with tax-euros and the investment might even pay a return for the state. Another possible effect of state intervention would be the inevitable modernisation that would improve the bank which has seen its retail divisions become barely profitable. Mr Helwigg said: “From the outside, one gets the impression that in the last 20 years the investment bankers controlled the bank and sucked it dry. Nationalisation in an emergency could be a step towards more rationality in the banking world.”

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Creative accounting saves the day.

Deutsche Bank Capital Gap Larger Than Its Entire Market Cap (ZH)

After the ECB concluded its latest annual stress test, which as expected found no problems with Europe’s largest banks instead scapegoating Italy’s well-known troubled banks in results that were widely discredited by the market, yesterday in an unexpected outcome, German economic research institute ZEW found that Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, had the highest potential capital shortfall, as much as €19 billion in a study of 51 European banks using U.S. Federal Reserve stress test methods. The capital gap is greater than DB’s entire market cap. Using the Fed’s approach, and thus a far more credible approach than that proposed by the ECB, the 51 European banks showed a total capital shortfall of €123 billion, with the largest gaps at Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale (€13 billion) and BNP Paribas (€10 billion).

“European banks lack sufficient capital to offset the losses expected in the case of another financial crisis,” the ZEW said in a statement on Tuesday, cited by Reuters. ZEW Finance Professor Sascha Steffen worked with New York University Stern School of Business and the University of Lausanne researchers to run stress tests used by the Fed in 2016 and the European Banking Authority (EBA) in 2014 to compare capital needs and leverage. While Societe Generale and BNP have market capitalisations of 26 billion euros and 55 billion euros, respectively, well above the study’s theoretical capital gap, Deutsche Bank would find itself in trouble if the ZEW calculation is correct as it has a market capitalisation of less than €17 billion.

Which is why it promptly disagreed with ZEW’s calculation. “There is an official EBA stress test that checked the capital backing against very tough and adverse conditions and this showed there was no acute capital need at Deutsche Bank,” the bank said in a statement in response to the study. [..]

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Guess why Schäuble didn’t want Spain, Portugal fined.

Beware The EU Dog That Doesn’t Bark (IE)

Sometimes the most important thing that happens is what doesn’t happen — or, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, it’s the dog that doesn’t bark in the night. The lack of response to the European Commission’s non-enforcement in Spain and Portugal of the terms of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) is one of those times. According to SGP rules, the Commission should have proposed a fine to be levied on Spain and Portugal for overshooting their fiscal deficit targets by a wide margin. The fine would have been largely symbolic, but the Commission seems to have decided that the symbolism wasn’t worth it. And it was not only the Commission that chose not to bark; the rest of Europe remained silent as well. Not even Germany, the European Union’s leading austerity watchdog, perked up.

In fact, there have been reports that German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble lobbied several commissioners not to impose fines on Spain or Portugal. The German financial press, which often criticises the European Commission for being too lax, barely registered the decision. What explains the silence? There is precedent for fiscal leniency in the EU. In 2003, all three large eurozone countries (France, Germany, and Italy) were running deficits in excess of 3% of GDP, the upper limit established by the SGP. Toward the end of that year, it was clear that France and Germany (then with record-high unemployment) were not fulfilling their deficit-reduction commitments. But, unlike today, the Commission did bark (even if it could not really bite). It proposed ratcheting up the SGP’s so-called excessive deficit procedure.

The proposal did not entail any fines; rather, it focused on the stage before fines would be considered. Nonetheless, EU finance ministers strenuously opposed it, largely for political reasons. The clash occupied the front pages of newspapers all over Europe, especially in Germany, where the press, like the political opposition, was eager to chastise Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government for its failure to uphold fiscal rectitude. There were heated debates on the fiscal rules, and the Commission’s role in enforcing them. In short, everyone was howling.

Despite the resistance, the Commission decided to plough ahead and censure Germany and France. With that decision, it sent a clear message that it took seriously its responsibility to administer the EU treaties — so seriously, in fact, that it would enforce rules with which it did not necessarily agree. Indeed, the Commission’s then-president, Romano Prodi, had already harshly criticised the SGP’s rigidity. Ultimately, however, political interests won the day, and the EU finance ministers voted down the proposal.

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There goes the eurozone.

It’s Not Going To Be Pretty: German GDP Set To Stall (CNBC)

Europe’s powerhouse could be stalling. German economic growth looks set to show a dip in the second quarter, raising questions about the health of the euro zone’s largest economy in the wake of the Brexit vote. Economists polled by Reuters expect Germany’s GDP figures, due Friday morning, to increase by a mere 0.2 percent in the months from April to June, compared with 0.7 percent growth in the previous three months. Experts said the export-driven economy is struggling to sustain momentum in an uncertain global environment that encompasses the unsteady emerging economies and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. This has sparked fears among Europe-watchers as the country is by far the 28-country European Union’s biggest economy and when Germany catches a cold, it affects the rest of the region.

“No matter how you look at it, the economy is slowing,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics. “The economic trend is clear. It is not pretty.” Weinberg pointed to retail sales, industrial production, and export data stalling Germany’s growth engine. The country’s economic expansion, fueled by robust consumption and international trade, has been a bright spot in the euro zone in recent years. But global developments, including a slowdown in emerging economies from lower commodity prices as well as the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union, could weigh on the outlook. “All of the risks are to the downside,” Weinberg said.

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Europe.

The Worst Place In The World To Bank (Simon Black)

Here’s the reality: Europe’s banking system is toast. Wholesale interest rates on the continent are already negative. Negative interest rates essentially penalize any bank that tries to be responsible and hold extra reserves. What an unbelievably stupid policy. Rather than encourage banks to be conservative with their customers’ deposits, the ECB is practically forcing them to make as many loans as possible. So it’s not exactly much of a shocker to find out that, in their haste to loan out almost 100% of their customers’ money, many of the loans went belly-up. EU data showed that by the end of September 2015, 17% of Italian loans were non-performing. The non-performing loan rate is a shocking 43.5% in Greece, and 50% in Cyprus. (That data is nearly a year old, so the numbers are worse now.)

This is a huge problem. Banks have lost a big chunk of their depositors’ savings. There’s a lot of talk now about government bail-outs. And some of that has already taken place. In Italy, the government already had to step in with a €150 billion guarantee just to forestall a potential bank run. But the Italian government is one of the most bankrupt in the world, with a debt level that exceeds 130% of GDP; they’re in no position to bail anyone out. That’s why, as of January 2016, European “bail in” legislation has taken effect. The rules are already in place whereby depositors can be held liable for the idiotic financial decisions of their banks. If the bank goes under, they can take your money down with it.

It’s already happened. In 2013, the government of Cyprus froze EVERY bank account in the country, locking every single depositor out of his/her savings. These risks are very real. Banks are illiquid and overleveraged. They’ve made far too many bad loans with their customer’s savings. The governments are in no financial position to bail them out. And the bail-in legislation already exists to steal from depositors. What’s the point of holding money in this kind of system, especially when the biggest benefit you could hope for is about a 0.1% yield on your savings account? When you step back think about the big picture, the conclusion is pretty obvious: don’t hold money in such a precarious banking system. And yet, it’s very seldom that anyone really thinks about his/her bank.

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More creative accounting.

BLS Just “Revised” Away Obama’s “Fastest” Wage Growth Since The Crisis (ZH)

Back in February 2016, Obama took to the stage at a press conference to boast about job growth and “most importantly” how the stronger job market was “finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks.” He also took the opportunity to jab at Republicans saying the strong jobs data was “inconvenient for Republican stump speeches” as they continued their “doom and despair tour.” Obama’s specific comments were: “Most importantly, this progress is finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks. Over the past six months, wages have grown at their fastest rate since the crisis. And the policies that I’ll push this year are designed to give workers even more leverage to earn raises and promotions. So, as I said at my State of the Union address, the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. I know that’s still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches as their doom and despair tour plays in New Hampshire. I guess you cannot please everybody.”

Turns out that revisions to historical real wage growth figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday are actually fairly “inconvenient” for Obama. Time to get the band back together for a reunion of that “doom and despair” tour. In yet another stunning tribute to the “accuracy” and “consistency” of economic propagandadata being reported by our government agencies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday reported a massive downward revision of the 1Q 2016 YoY real wage growth from +4.2% to -0.4% (a 4.6% swing).

But we wouldn’t worry much about it because the revisions resulted in only “small” changes in the underlying data according to the BLS: “Indexes of all hours-related measures in the business, nonfarm business, and nonfinancial corporate sectors show historical revisions because hours in the base year of 2009 were revised; resulting revisions to percent changes are small.” We guess “small” would be one way to describe a 4.6% swing in YoY real wage growth…we would probably choose something more like “abysmal” or “disastrous” but we’re not ones to split hairs.

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He feels invincible.

Erdogan Warns Bank Resistance to Interest Cuts Could Be Treason (BBG)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ratcheted up pressure on the nation’s banks, saying he would consider resistance to his calls to cut mortgage rates as an act of treason. Banks will be held “accountable” should they “act negatively in the matter of loans and interest rates,” Erdogan told members of Turkey’s Exporters Association at his palace in Ankara on Wednesday. “I would consider it as treason if the banks don’t open the way for investors.” Erdogan has demanded that lenders cut mortgage rates to an annual rate of about 9% from the market average of around 13.7% as he seeks to shore up the economy following the failed coup last month.

Lenders TC Ziraat Bankasi, Sekerbank, BNP Paribas unit Turk Ekonomi Bankasi as well as Denizbank, owned by Russia’s Sberbank, have all recently lowered interest charges to levels closer to what the president is demanding. Erdogan said he would “push the banking sector” to cut rates amid “disagreement between me and bankers.” He will convene with executives of Turkey’s banks soon in a meeting to be attended by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, he said. The reduced rates also follow a decision by the central bank to cut the amount of cash commercial banks must keep locked up with the regulator – the so-called lira reserve requirement ratio – by half a %age point on Tuesday. It also allowed lenders to use a small amount of foreign currency and gold as reserves for lira liabilities. “You won’t lose money” if you cut rates, Erdogan told business groups in Ankara on Aug. 4. “Now is the time to do this and you can earn from the masses.”

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“..that’s what happens when debts can’t be repaid: money vanishes.”

Gravity Always Wins -ZZZZZZ- (Jim Kunstler)

What we face is discontinuity, the end of old spent dynamics and the beginning of new dynamics. Monetary deflation has been underway for years because that’s what happens when debts can’t be repaid: money vanishes. Now we will encounter the other dimensions of deflation: the contraction of manufacturing, trade, wages, and all the familiar markers of expansion in the waning techno-industrial era.

The many dodges and stratagems tried by the supreme central bankers to work around contraction only produce ever greater distortions in markets, currencies, and the distribution of dwindling capital, leading to a grand battle over the table-scraps of history, i.e. the rise of radical politics world-wide, including Islamic Jihadism, and the western response in Trump, LePen, and the nascent Germanic right-wing. These current manifestations may be mild versions of what’s coming. Nobody in power can come to grips with the reality of our situation. We have to salvage what we can and get smaller, becoming a more modest presence here, or the planet itself is going to hit the delete button on us.

It rubs against the current religion of progress, which has replaced the other old cultic practices. The choice now is between time-out or game over, and the debate over these things is absent from the arena. The aforesaid distortions in markets, currencies, and capital are spinning out in an ever broader, centrifugal gyre, coinciding, as chance would have it, with the most peculiar election in modern times. The incoherence and deceit on both sides is far beyond even the extravagant American norms of dauntless political bullshit. We literally have no idea what we’re doing in this country, or what we’re actually wishing for. The financial structures of everyday life look more fragile than ever. Gravity always wins.

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Broken record.

Greek PM Calls on Europe to Ease Greek Debt as it Did for Germany in 1953 (GR)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on Europe to offer debt relief to Greece, on the 63rd anniversary of the generous debt write-off to Germany (August 8, 1953). In a message he posted on Facebook, the Greek prime minister reminds Europe that the 1953 London Debt Agreement secured the write-off of 50% of Germany’s External Debts. Tsipras argues that Europe should do the same and grant Athens substantial debt relief, in order for the country to come out of the economic crisis. The 1953 agreement in favor of Germany covered money owed before and after WWII and reduced West German debt by 50% and stretched the repayment period to 30 years. This helped Germany recover after the defeat and later become a world economic power.

“On this day, on August 8, 1953, a nearly six-month negotiation between Germany and its creditors was concluded, with the signing of the London Debt Agreement. The debt-ridden and war-torn Germany enjoys the ultimate move of solidarity in modern European history by having 60% of its foreign debt cancelled, its internal debts restructured and a trade surplus clause,” Tsipras wrote, stressing that Greece was one of the countries that signed the deal. The Greek PM also wrote that Greece’s debt relief has been a goal of SYRIZA from the start, even when in opposition. He also wrote that after the May 24 agreement between Greece’s and euro zone finance ministers, debt easing will be discussed again in 2018, after the successful completion of the country’s bailout program.

“Europe must rise to the occasion and turn its gaze to the future by signing a new social contract that will guarantee the prosperity of its people,” Tsipras added.

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Everything falls apart. This is why I ask for your help

Greek Public Health Services On Brink Of Collapse (Kath.)

The National Health Service (ESY) is on the brink of collapse after six years of underfunding and a freeze on hirings as a result of Greece’s protracted financial crisis, according to a damning report issued on Tuesday by the Panhellenic Federation of Employees at Public Hospitals (POEDIN) which blames the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “Hospitals, medical centers, EKAV [ambulance services] are in a state of dissolution,” POEDIN said in a statement, adding that the premier and Health Ministry officials will “soon have to answer for the destruction of ESY.” Painting a dire picture, the report notes a fundamental lack of medical equipment (even ambulance stretchers), the shutdown of intensive care units and operating theaters, as well as shortages in doctors and staff at medical units across the country.

The situation at the Geniko Kratiko Athinon Gennimatas Hospital is particularly acute as 40% of positions across all its medical departments are vacant, while different departments have been merged to allow overworked staff to take a five-day summer vacation. According to POEDIN, one of the two CT scanners at the hospital is often out of order for long periods of time, while its two x-ray machines don’t work, forcing patients and doctors to pay to use others at private clinics and hospitals. The report also warns that the Erythros Stavros Hospital in Athens will be forced to shut down if orthopedic doctors are not hired soon, as most are now about to retire, while 70% of administrative positions are vacant.

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Let’s see it happen first. Sweden delayed it for 4 years.

Julian Assange To Be Questioned Inside Ecuador Embassy (G.)

Julian Assange will be questioned by Swedish prosecutors inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, in a possible breakthrough to the impasse over his case. The Ecuadorian attorney general delivered a document agreeing to a request by the Swedish prosecutor to question the founder of WikiLeaks. He is wanted for questioning over a rape allegation, which he denies. If he goes to Sweden he believes he will be taken to the US because of the activities of WikiLeaks. Assange has been living inside the embassy for more than four years and has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. He has offered to be questioned inside the embassy but Swedish prosecutors have only recently agreed.

A statement issued in Ecuador said: “In the coming weeks a date will be established for the proceedings to be held at the embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom. “For more than four years, the government of Ecuador has offered to cooperate in facilitating the questioning of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, as well as proposing other political and legal measures, in order to reach a satisfactory solution for all parties involved in the legal case against Julian Assange, to end the unnecessary delays in the process and to ensure full and effective legal protection. “In line with this position, Ecuador proposed to Sweden the negotiation of an agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, which was signed last December and which provides the legal framework for the questioning.”

The statement said the proceedings did not affect the recent opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of the United Nations, which found that Assange was being arbitrarily detained. The working group called for Assange to be released and given compensation for violation of his rights. The Ecuador statement added: “Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry reiterates its commitment to the asylum granted to Julian Assange in August 2012, and reaffirms that the protection afforded by the Ecuadorian state shall continue while the circumstances persist that led to the granting of asylum, namely fears of political persecution.”

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Jul 242015
 
 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing WSS poster, Washington DC 1917

Why The Casino Is In For A Rude Awakening, Part I (David Stockman)
Gold Is In Its Worst Slump Since 1996 (CNN)
Cheap Money Is Here to Stay (Pesek)
A 50% Stock Market Plunge Would Not Be A Surprise (Blodget)
Forced Austerity Will Take Greece Back 65 Years (Jim Fouras)
Greece Braces For Troika’s Return To Athens (Guardian)
Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro (Beppe Grillo)
Beppe Grillo Wants Nationalisation Of Italian Banks, Exit From Euro (Guardian)
Grillo Calls For Italy To Throw Off Euro ‘Straitjacket’ (FT)
Italy Leans While Greece Tumbles (Bloomberg)
Interview: Yanis Varoufakis (ABCLateline)
“Why I Voted ‘YES’ Tonight” (Yanis Varoufakis)
Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit (Daniel Munevar)
The Eurozone’s German Problem (Philippe Legrain)
The Return of the Ugly German (Joschka Fischer)
Schäuble – The Man Behind the Throne (Martin Armstrong)
German FinMin Schäuble’s Tough Tone Heightens Uncertainty Over Bailout (WSJ)
Greece: Out of the Mouth of “Foreign Affairs” Comes the Truth (Bruno Adrie)
Greek Store Closures Spike As Recession, Austerity Return (AP)
A Few Thoughts On Greek Shipping And Taxes (Papaeconomou)
Greek Financial Crisis Makes Its Migration Crisis Worse. EU Must Help. (WaPo)
Abenomics Needs To Be ‘Reloaded’, Warns IMF (CNBC)
Australia Weighs Steps to Rein In Sydney Property (WSJ)

“..to understand the potentially devastating extent of the coming asset deflation cycle, it is important to reprise the extent of the just completed and historically unprecedented global capital investment boom.”

Why The Casino Is In For A Rude Awakening, Part I (David Stockman)

The reason that the Bloomberg index will now knife through the 100 index level tagged on both the right- and left-hand side of the chart is the law of supply and demand – along with its first cousin called variable cost pricing and a destructive interloper best described as zombie finance. The latter is what becomes of central bank driven bubble finance when the cycle turns, as it is now doing, from asset accumulation and inflation to asset liquidation and deflation. But to understand the potentially devastating extent of the coming asset deflation cycle, it is important to reprise the extent of the just completed and historically unprecedented global capital investment boom.

Thus, in the case of the global mining industries, CapEx by the top 40 miners amounted to $18 billion in 2001. During the original boom cycle it soared to $42 billion by 2008, and then after a temporary pause during the financial crisis, reaccelerated once again, reaching a peak of $130 billion in 2013. Owing to the collapse of commodity prices as shown above, new projects and greenfield investments have pretty much ground to a halt in iron ore, met coal, copper and the other principal industrial materials, but there is a catch. Namely, that big projects which were in the pipeline when commodity prices and profit margins began to roll-over in 2012, are being carried to completion owing to the sunk cost syndrome. This means that available, on-line capacity continues to soar.

The poster child for that is the world’s largest iron ore port at Hedlund, Australia. The latter set another shipment record in June owing to still rising output in mines it services – a record notwithstanding the plunge of iron ore prices from a peak of $190 per ton in 2011 to $47 per ton a present. The ramp-up in E&P investment for oil and gas was similar. Global spending was $100 billion in the year 2000, but had risen to $400 billion by 2008 and peaked at $700 billion in 2014. In the case of hydrocarbon E&P investment, however,the law of variable cost pricing works with a vengeance because “lifting costs” even for shale and tar sands are modest compared to the front-end capital investment. Accordingly, the response of production to plunging prices has been initially limited and will be substantially prolonged.

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“All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.”

Gold Is In Its Worst Slump Since 1996 (CNN)

So much for predictions that gold would spike to $2,000 an ounce. The yellow metal is in a deep slump. It’s down more than 40% from its 2011 peak and crashing back toward $1,000. The slide just keeps getting worse. Gold has declined for 10 straight days. That’s the longest losing streak for gold since September 1996. To put that into perspective, back then oil prices were fetching just $19 a barrel, New York Yankees rookie shortstop Derek Jeter was nearing his first World Series title and rap fans were mourning the death of Tupac Shakur. So why is gold getting creamed? It comes down to three key factors: a strong U.S. dollar, China slowing down its gold purchases and little worry about inflation anymore.

1. Strong dollar: A strong greenback hurts commodities that are measured in dollars because it makes them more expensive for overseas buyers. It’s a double negative for gold because the precious metal is supposed to be a hedge against inflation and the devaluing of currency. “Gold has taken it on the chin with the strength in the dollar. Over the past week or so, it was almost like a perfect storm,” said Bob Alderman, head of wealth management at Gold Bullion International, a provider of precious metals. The U.S. dollar lost ground against most currencies on Thursday, giving gold a short reprieve. Gold prices ticked up 0.2% to $1,093 an ounce. But over the coming months, the dollar is expected to keep climbing.

2. China, Iran & Greece: Gold plummeted by as much as $40 an ounce in mere minutes after China’s central bank gave a rare update on how much gold it’s hoarding. The numbers showed the world’s largest gold producer has been stockpiling gold reserves at a slower pace than previously thought, spooking gold investors. Gold has also been hurt by easing tensions in Europe and the Middle East. Iran’s landmark nuclear agreement with the West has lessened some fears about a conflict in that volatile region. Those fears had allowed gold, and more so oil, to trade at a premium. Likewise, Greece landed a last-minute deal with its creditors that allows the crisis-ravaged country to stay in the euro. Investors are no longer speculating about a Greek exit or the long-term implications for the currency union. “The new bailout softened the fear of contagion. That was not a good thing for gold,” said Alderman.

3. What inflation? Inflation worries also remain muted. When gold topped $1,900 in September 2011, some investors bought gold because they feared the Federal Reserve’s money printing would cause runaway inflation. But inflation continues to undershoot the Fed’s goals despite extremely low interest rates and years of massive bond purchases. “Over the last 5,000 years gold has been a store of value that will be there for a time when there is inflation. There is no inflation now,” said George Gero at RBC Capital Markets. In fact, the recent collapse in the commodities complex is only lowering inflation and inflation expectations. Everything from coffee, sugar, beans to crude oil is heading south. Industrial metals like copper and aluminum have renewed their tumble in recent days as soft global economic growth hurts demand and supply gluts deepen. All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.

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Does China have a choice?

Cheap Money Is Here to Stay (Pesek)

For decades, central banks lorded over markets. Traders quivered at the omnipotence of monetary authorities – their every move, utterance and wink a reason to scurry for safe havens or an opportunity to score huge profits. Now, though, markets are the ones doing the bullying. Take New Zealand and Australia. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand slashed borrowing costs for the second time in six weeks even as housing prices continue to skyrocket. A day earlier, its counterpart across the Tasman Sea (already wrestling with an even bigger property bubble of its own) said a third cut this year is “on the table.” Just one year ago, it seemed unthinkable that officials in Wellington and Sydney, more typically known for their hawkishness and stubborn independence, would join the global race toward zero.

But with commodity prices sliding, China slowing and governments reluctant to adopt bold reforms, jittery markets are demanding ever-bigger gestures from central banks. Even those presiding over stable growth feel the need to placate hedge funds, lest asset markets falter. When this dynamic overtakes countries such as New Zealand (growing 2.6%) and Australia (2.3%), it’s hard not to conclude that ultralow rates will be the global norm for a long, long time. Indeed, the major monetary powers that are easing – Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – have all suggested rates may stay low almost indefinitely. Those angling to return to normalcy, meanwhile – the Fed and Bank of England – are pledging to move very slowly. Even nations with rising inflation problems, like India, are hinting at more stimulus.

“As interest rates continue to fall across most of the globe, central banks are also united in their main message: Once rates have come down, they’re likely to stay down,” says Simon Grose-Hodge of LGT Bank. “And when they finally do tighten, the ‘normal’ rate is going to be a lot lower than it used to be.” Could the People’s Bank of China be next? “With underlying GDP growth still looking weak, more monetary policy moves are likely,” says Adam Slater of Oxford Economics. “And China may even face the prospect of short-term rates dropping towards the zero lower bound.”

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But Henry expects a resurge. On what basis, though?

A 50% Stock Market Plunge Would Not Be A Surprise (Blodget)

As regular readers know, for the past ~21 months I have been worrying out loud about US stock prices. Specifically, I have suggested that a decline of 30% to 50% would not be a surprise. I haven’t predicted a crash. But I have said clearly that I think stocks will deliver returns that are way below average for the next seven to 10 years. And I certainly won’t be surprised to see stocks crash. So don’t say no one warned you! So far, these concerns have just made me sound like Chicken Little. The S&P 500 is up strongly from where I first sounded the alarm. That’s actually good for me, because I own stocks. But my concerns haven’t changed. Earlier this year, for the first time, I even put (some) money where my mouth is!

In February, I changed the “dividend reinvestment” policy on my S&P 500 fund. (I’m an indexer — I think stock-picking is generally a lousy strategy for individuals.) Specifically, I stopped reinvesting dividends. I’m a long-term investor, so I don’t really care what stocks do next. This dividend change was a bet that, at some point in the future, I will be able to reinvest the cash from these dividends in stocks at lower prices than today. If stock prices never fall below today’s level, this will cost me money. It will also make me feel dumb for (sort of) trying to time the market. But at some point you’ve got to put some money behind what your analysis is telling you. What my analysis is telling me is:

1) stocks are extremely expensive and will eventually revert toward historical means, probably via a sharp correction of 30% to 50%

2) long-term stock returns from today’s level will be about 2% per year — nothing to write home about

So if I think there’s risk of a crash, why don’t I just sell everything? For the reasons outlined below. Again, I don’t care if the stocks I own tank, as long as they don’t tank permanently. A crash will just give me a chance to buy more at lower prices.

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Jim Fouras is a former speaker of the Queensland Parliament.

Forced Austerity Will Take Greece Back 65 Years (Jim Fouras)

It’s hard to believe that in the last five years, Greece’s financial situation is comparable to those dark days when Germany invaded Greece. For example: a 25% decline in GDP; 25% unemployment (50% among youth); 40% of children living below the poverty line; soaring suicides rates; people cannot afford basic medicines and health care. Austerity measures are suffocating Greece and causing a brain drain that will damage it for generations. German leader Angela Merkel, in unison with the Troika, has forced austerity programs on the Greeks. For five years, Merkel has dominated the crisis management of the Greek economy through her insistence on fiscal rigour and cuts despite a huge economic slump and impoverishment of Greek society.

The IMF has argued internally for at least three years that the organisation was breaching its own rules by taking part in any bailout that held little prospect of achieving the debt sustainability that the IMF rescues prescribed. IMF boss Christine Lagarde ignored this advice. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stigliz argues that “when the IMF arrives in a country, they are only interested in one thing. How do we make sure that banks and the financial institutions are paid … they are not interested in development or what helps a country get out of poverty”. The Troika has assumed their bailout programs would reduce Greece’s debt to well below 110% (of GDP) by 2022. The Guardian has published IMF documents showing that under the best-case scenario, which includes a growth projection of 4% per year for the next five years (a ridiculous assumption), the country’s debt level will drop to 124% Greece’s debt level is now 175% and the nation slid back into recession.

The Greek economy will continue to slide unless there is a significant reduction of its debt and policies that allow Greece to grow at a rate to service those debts. Two days before the recent referendum, the IMF conceded that the crisis-ridden country needs up to 60 billion euros of extra funds over the next three years and large-scale debt relief. Germany will not accept debt relief, consequently it is not the Troika’s agenda. Greece is being forced to sell assets worth €50 billion with the proceeds earmarked for a trust fund supervised by its creditors — foreign leaders demanding almost total surrender of its national fiscal sovereignty. It would be difficult to imagine any sensible seller taking part in such a fire sale. The Greek Parliament will now vote for their country to be poorer.

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“How Greeks will react remains unclear, with much depending on media coverage.”

Greece Braces For Troika’s Return To Athens (Guardian)

Greece is bracing for the return to Athens of officials representing the reviled “troika” of creditors as the debt-stricken country prepares to start negotiations for a third bailout. Mission chiefs with the EU, ECB and IMF fly into the Greek capital on Friday for talks on a proposed €86bn (£60bn) bailout, the third emergency funding programme for Athens since 2010. The return of the triumvirate, a day after internationally mandated reforms were pushed through the parliament by MPs, marks a personal defeat for the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who had pledged never to allow the auditors to step foot in Greece again. How Greeks will react remains unclear, with much depending on media coverage.

“The press will almost certainly make a big deal out of this and the government will try to play it down,” said Aristides Hatzis, a leading political commentator. “But given what people have gone through recently it might seem rather trivial and that is to Tsipras’ advantage. Their presence will definitely reinforce the realisation that another bailout is here.” Much has changed for Tsipras, the young firebrand catapulted into office on promises to eradicate the biting austerity policies that over five years have created record levels of unemployment and poverty. In the six months since his election, the radical leftist has been brought face-to-face with the brute force of fiscal rectitude and a German-dominated Europe.

Addressing parliament ahead of the crucial vote, Tsipras, who succumbed to the demands of foreign lenders earlier this month – accepting an ultimatum to find €12bn of savings, by far the heaviest austerity package to date – conceded that his government had been defeated. But he insisted the alternative – bankruptcy and exit from the euro – would have been catastrophic. He told MPs: “We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe.” [..] “We are turning our back on our common battles when in essence we say … austerity and giving into blackmail is a one-way street,” said Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads the Left Platform, the far-left faction around which mutinous MPs rally around. “Greece does not have a future as a blackmailed eurozone colony under memorandum [bailout],” added the former minister who now advocates a return to the drachma.

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” The drama of the Euro will keep going as long as the Americans want it to, that is until the definitive approval of the TTIP by which the USA will place Europe in subjugation..”

Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro (Beppe Grillo)

Tspiras couldn’t have done a worse job of defending the Greek people. Only profound economic short-sightedness together with an opaque political strategy could transform the enormous electoral consensus that brought him into government in January into the victory for his adversories, the creditor countries, only six months later, in spite of winning the referendum in the mean time. An a priori rejection of a Euroexit has been his death sentence. Like the PD, he was convinced that it’s possible to break the link between the Euro and Austerity. Tsipras has handed over his country into the hands of the Germans, to be used like a vassal. Thinking that it’s possible to oppose the Euro only from within and presenting oneself without an explicit Plan B for an exit, he has in fact ended up by depriving Greece of any negotiating power in relation to the Euro.

So it was clear from the beginning that Tsipras would have crashed even though Varoufakis did try to react a few times. Only Vendola, the PD and the media inspired by the Scalfari-style lies (among many) of the United States of Europe and of those who are nostalgic about the Ventotene Manifesto could have believed in a Euro without Austerity. And they are obliged to go on believing in this so as not to have to admit that there is an exit opportunity after seven years of economic disasters. The consequence of this political disaster is before everyone’s eyes:
– Explicit Nazi-ism on the part of those that have reduced the periphery of Europe to a protectorate by using the debt, with alarming echoes of historical parallels.
– Mutism or explicit support for Germany by the oher European countries perhaps because of opportunism (north) or because of subordination (periphery).
– Financial markets that are celebrating the end of democracy with new highs.
– Expropriation of the national wealth by mortgaging €50 billlion of Greek property that ended up in the fund created by Adolf Schauble so as to get to rake in the cash from the war debts.

It was all thought out, foreseen, and planned down to the last detail. The drama of the Euro will keep going as long as the Americans want it to, that is until the definitive approval of the TTIP by which the USA will place Europe in subjugation in a way that is not dissimilar to how Germany is subjugating the periphery. By now the Euro is an explicit battle between the creditors and the debtors. It’s not useful for our government to try to appear to be on the virtuous side of the winners – those supporting the Euro – and supporting reform. It’s not possible to reform the Euro from within but the fight must be fought on the outside and we must abandon this anti-democratic straitjacket. Our debt and lack of growth together with deflation, place us neatly in the category of those who are beaten by debt. Thus we’d do well to prepare ourselves with a government that is explicitly anti-Euro to defend ourselves from the final assault on the wealth of the Italian people who are ever more at risk, unless we reclaim our monetary sovereignty.

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“[This] is how not to lose the first battle we will face when the time comes to break away from the union and the ECB..”

Beppe Grillo Wants Nationalisation Of Italian Banks, Exit From Euro (Guardian)

The populist leader of Italy’s second largest political party has called for the nationalisation of Italian banks and exit from the euro, and said the country should prepare to use its “enormous debt” as a weapon against Germany. Former comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who transformed Italian politics when he launched his anti-establishment Five Star Movement in 2009, has long been a bombastic critic of the euro. But his stance hardened significantly in a blogpost on Thursday in which he compared the Greek bailout negotiations to “explicit nazism”. Grillo constructed what he called a “Plan B” for Italy, which he said needed to heed the lessons of Greece so that it was ready “when the debtors come round”.

His plan called for Italy to adopt a clear anti-euro stance and to shake off its belief that – if forced to accept tough austerity – other “peripheral” countries would come to its aid. Grillo said Italy had to use its enormous €2tn (£1.4bn) debt as leverage against Germany, implying that the potential global damage of an Italian default would stop Germany from “interfering” with Italy’s “legitimate right” to convert its debt into another currency. He said Greece’s hand had been forced by the threat of bankruptcy to its banks, and that Italy therefore needed to nationalise its banks and shift to another currency. “[This] is how not to lose the first battle we will face when the time comes to break away from the union and the ECB,” Grillo wrote.

Setting aside Grillo’s colourful language and analogies, analyst Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe said there was some merit to his arguments. “That blogpost does have some elements of truth,” Scarpetta said. “The lesson from Greece was that if you want to be in the eurozone you have to agree to rules of austerity.” The strength of anti-euro sentiment in Italy is easy to overlook since Matteo Renzi, the centre-left prime minister and head of the Democratic party, is a strong defender of Italy’s role in the eurozone. But Scarpetta pointed out that supporters of the Five Star Movement, coupled with supporters of the rightwing Northern League, which is also anti-euro, means that about 40% of Italians are at least sympathetic to anti-euro sentiments.

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No, really, M5S was the biggest single party in the latest elections. Renzi got in because of a ‘vote link’ between his party and another one.

Grillo Calls For Italy To Throw Off Euro ‘Straitjacket’ (FT)

Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement, has launched a full-throated attack on the euro, saying Rome should abandon what he called an “anti-democratic straitjacket”. Mr Grillo, whose party is the second most popular in Italy, demanded the government formulate a “plan B” to exit the single currency and “take back our monetary sovereignty”. The comedian has become an increasingly trenchant critic of the euro at a time of rising euroscepticism across the Italian political landscape, spurred in part by the agonies of Greece and its prolonged bailout talks. But his attack on the single currency in an extensive blog post was nonetheless remarkable for its ferocity.

It suggests Mr Grillo sees a political opportunity in doubling down on his anti-euro message in the wake of Greece’s last-minute acceptance of exacting terms for a third bailout. It is also a sign of political contagion, or concerns that populist forces might gain traction from the Greek crisis. The Five Star Movement has been rising steadily in the polls since March. It is now garnering the support of nearly 25% of Italian voters and has narrowed the gap with the ruling centre-left Democratic party led by Matteo Renzi, the prime minister. Mr Grillo was particularly scathing about Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, whom he had professed to admire before the deal was reached. “It would be difficult to defend the interests of the Greek people worse than Tsipras did,” Mr Grillo wrote.

“His refusal to exit the euro was his death sentence. He was convinced that he could break the marriage between the euro and austerity, but ended up delivering his country into Germany’s hands, like a vassal.” To avoid that fate, Mr Grillo said Italy should use its heavy debt load — worth more than €2tn, or 130% of GDP — as a threat. “[The debt] is an advantage that allows us to be on the offensive in any future negotiation, it is not a bogeyman that should make us bite at any request from our creditors,” he said.

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“Its €2.3 trillion debt, more than 132% of GDP, is second only to Greece in the euro area. Italy has lost a quarter of its industrial output, and GDP has contracted by 9% since 2007.“

Italy Leans While Greece Tumbles (Bloomberg)

Viewed from Berlin or London, the financial woes of Italy and Greece can look dangerously similar. Both sit on mountains of public debt and suffer from double-digit unemployment. So why hasn’t Italy had to shutter banks, submit to austerity measures in return for emergency loans, and contemplate an exit from the euro? For now Italy is chugging along, paying its debts and selling bonds. Its benchmark stock index is up 25% this year. It’s emerging from a record recession even as Greece enters a new slump after a brief rebound in 2014. Rome-based Eni, Europe’s No. 4 oil company, is pumping 1.7 million barrels per day globally and says output will keep rising. Finmeccanica sells helicopters to corporations and armed forces from the U.K. to China. Carnival cruise liners are made in Fincantieri’s Trieste shipyard.

Italian luxury goods, from Fendi to Ferrari, are at the top of consumer shopping lists. Among European manufacturers, Italy trails only Germany in production. The Greeks? They’ve got tourism and shipping and little else, says Marc Ostwald, a fixed income strategist at ADM Investor Service in London. Greek exports fell 7.5% in the first quarter, while Italy’s rose more than 3%. Tourism in Italy generated about €34 billion last year, almost triple what it did in Greece. With 60 million residents, Italy is more than five times as populous as Greece. History makes a difference, too. Rebuilding from World War II, Italy set off on the Dolce Vita boom years, popularizing the Vespa scooter and making a mark in international design.

Nutella, a nut-based chocolate spread introduced after the war, had annual sales of €8.4 billion last year, making the Ferrero family one of Italy’s richest. Greece, by contrast, went from government by junta in the 1960s and 1970s to a republic run by a political elite and a bloated government in the 1980s. Cutting its civil service and pension costs down to an appropriate size lies at the heart of the struggle between Greece and Europe on economic reform. Italy’s strength as an industrial exporter has provided stability, helping the country build up gold reserves of $90 billion—the world’s third-biggest stash after the U.S. and Germany and more than 20 times what Greece holds. Just a single Italian bank needed a public bailout after the 2008 crisis, even as dozens of lenders in northern Europe had to dip into state coffers to stay open.

[..] Italy may yet become another Greece. Aside from the recent uptick in growth, its numbers are grim. The global financial crisis of 2008-09, followed by the euro debt crisis, triggered the deepest and longest recessions in Italy’s postwar history. Its €2.3 trillion debt, more than 132% of GDP, is second only to Greece in the euro area. Italy has lost a quarter of its industrial output, and GDP has contracted by 9% since 2007. As a member of the euro zone, Italy can’t counter falling foreign demand by devaluing its currency, as it often did when the lira was in use. Unemployment is 12.5%, and 45% among youth—many of whom flee abroad. “Some of my best pupils, who speak English and other languages, have had to move to the U.K. or Germany to find jobs and a better future,” says Ivo Pezzuto at Università Cattolica in Milan

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“..we don’t believe in it and we should not be trying to implement a program whose logic we contest.”

Interview: Yanis Varoufakis (ABCLateline)

EMMA ALBERICI: What was the point of the referendum then? The Greek people told you they didn’t want you to cave in to the demands from your eurozone partners and the IMF, but then that’s exactly what you’ve ended up doing.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: That’s an excellent question, isn’t it? Let me remind you that on that night, the night of the referendum when I discovered that my prime minister and my government were going to move in the direction that you’ve mentioned, I resigned my post. That was the reason why I resigned, not because anybody else demanded it.

EMMA ALBERICI: So would it surprise you if you were forced back to the polls and indeed if you lost the next election?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Nothing would surprise me these days in Europe. We seem to be doing the wrong thing consistently. It’s a comedy of errors, from 2010 onwards. It’s my considered opinion that the responsible thing to do for our party will be to hand over the keys of government to those who believe in this program, in this fiscal consolidation reform program and the new loan, ’cause we don’t believe in it and we should not be trying to implement a program whose logic we contest.

EMMA ALBERICI: And it’s curious because at a time when Australia is debating a rise in the GST from 10 to 15%, the Greek people have seen their GST go up from 13 to 23% on public transport and processed foods. I mean, you didn’t get voted in to government – you actually got voted into government promising the opposite: no more austerity.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Precisely. It’s the reason why I resigned. To increase VAT in a broken economy like Greece to 23%, in an economy where the problem is not that the tax rates were too low, but the tax take was too low because of tax evasion. I spent five months in the Ministry of Finance trying to devise ways of having a new social contract between the state and the Greek people, the basis of which would be: we will reduce the rates for you, but you will pay it and you will not evade. And then you have the troika of lenders, the creditors, ruthlessly, effectively implementing the policies of a coup d’etat and putting our Prime Minister in a position where he had to choose between measures like the ones you mentioned, pushing VAT up to exorbitant heights, and therefore condemning our tax take to be reduced significantly or having our banks remain shut forever. This is a major assault both on rationality and on European democracy.

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“with the hope that my comrades will gain some time, and that we, all of us, united, will plan a new resistance to autocracy, misanthropy, and the (facilitated) acceleration and deepening of the crisis.”

“Why I Voted ‘YES’ Tonight” (Yanis Varoufakis)

[..] .. in the document that I had sent to the institutions, I was merely accepting the responsibility of a “new Civil Code” and certainly not the one they would dictate. Nor would I have ever imagined that our government (under the supervision of the Troika) would accept to submit all those changes to the Parliament under the label “urgent”, thus negating all the adjustments and annulling the Parliament. Last Wednesday I had no other choice but to vote with a thunderous NO. Mine came to stand beside the NO that 61.5% of our compatriots answered to a capitulation under the infamous TINA (there is no alternative). I

have denied this for the past 35 years in all 4 continents where I have lived. Today, tonight, those two measures, which I had myself proposed on February, are introduced to the Greek Parliament in a manner that I had never imagined; a manner which adds no credit to the government of SYRIZA. My disagreement with the way we handled the negotiations after the referendum is essential. And yet, my main goal is to protect the unity of SYRIZA, to support A.Tsipras, and to stand behind E.Takalotos. I have already explained all that in my article with the title Why I voted NO published in EfSyn .

Accordingly, today I will vote YES, for two measures that I, myself, had proposed, albeit under radically different conditions and requirements. Unfortunately I am certain that my vote will not be of any help to the government towards our common goals. And that is because the Euro Summit “prior actions’ deal was designed to fail. I will, however offer my vote with the hope that my comrades will gain some time, and that we, all of us, united, will plan a new resistance to autocracy, misanthropy, and the (facilitated) acceleration and deepening of the crisis. (i) This morning, while participating at the Financial Committee of the parliament, I ascertained that no colleague of mine, not even the Minister of Justice, agreed with the new civil code. It was a sad spectacle.

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Daniel Munevar is a 30-year-old post-Keynesian economist from Bogotá, Colombia. From March to July 2015 he worked as a close aide to former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis”

Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit (Daniel Munevar)

What do you make of the latest bailout agreed between Greece and its creditors? Well, first of all it’s still not clear that there will be an actual agreement – there are several parliaments that need to approve their country’s participation in an ESM bailout. And even if they somehow reach an agreement, there is simply no way it can work. The economics of the program are just insane. They haven’t announced the precise fiscal targets yet, but if we look at the Debt Sustainability Analyses (DSAs) published by the IMF and the Commission, they both state that the target should be a 3.5% primary surplus in the medium term.

But if you look at what has happened over the course of the past five years, Greece has managed to ‘improve’ its structural balance by 19 points of GDP. During that same time, GDP has collapsed by about 20% – that’s an almost one-to-one relation. So if you start from -1% – which is the general assumption for this year – to make it to 3.5 means you need an adjustment of over 4% of GDP, which means GDP will collapse by another 4 points between now and 2018. This brings us to another point, which is that the current agreement is just a taste of things to come. The final Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is definitely going to contain much harsher austerity measure than the ones currently on the table, to offset the drop in GDP that we have witnessed in the past months as a result of the standoff with the creditors.

The problem is that these Memorandums are turning Greece into a debt colony: you’re basically creating a set of rules which, as the government misses its fiscal targets – knowing for a fact that it will –, will force the government to keep retrenching even more, which will cause GDP to collapse even further, which will mean even more austerity, etc. It’s a never-ending vicious circle. This underscores one of the core problems of this whole situation: i.e., that the institutions have always disentangled the fiscal targets from the debt sustainability analyses. The logic of having debt relief is that it allows you to basically have lower fiscal targets and distribute over time the impact of fiscal consolidation. But in Greece’s case, even if there is debt relief on the scale that they are suggesting – which is unlikely – Greece will still have to implement massive consolidation, on top of everything that has been already done.

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“.. in exchange for these loans, Merkel obtained much greater control over all eurozone governments’ budgets through a demand-sapping, democracy-constraining fiscal straitjacket..”

The Eurozone’s German Problem (Philippe Legrain)

The eurozone has a German problem. Germany’s beggar-thy-neighbor policies and the broader crisis response that the country has led have proved disastrous. Seven years after the start of the crisis, the eurozone economy is faring worse than Europe did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The German government’s efforts to crush Greece and force it to abandon the single currency have destabilized the monetary union. As long as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration continues to abuse its dominant position as creditor-in-chief to advance its narrow interests, the eurozone cannot thrive – and may not survive. Germany’s immense current-account surplus – the excess savings generated by suppressing wages to subsidize exports – has been both a cause of the eurozone crisis and an obstacle to resolving it.

Before the crisis, it fueled German banks’ bad lending to southern Europe and Ireland. Now that Germany’s annual surplus – which has grown to €233 billion, approaching 8% of GDP – is no longer being recycled in southern Europe, the country’s depressed domestic demand is exporting deflation, deepening the eurozone’s debt woes. Germany’s external surplus clearly falls afoul of eurozone rules on dangerous imbalances. But, by leaning on the European Commission, Merkel’s government has obtained a free pass. This makes a mockery of its claim to champion the eurozone as a rules-based club. In fact, Germany breaks rules with impunity, changes them to suit its needs, or even invents them at will. Indeed, even as it pushes others to reform, Germany has ignored the Commission’s recommendations.

As a condition of the new eurozone loan program, Germany is forcing Greece to raise its pension age – while it lowers its own. It is insisting that Greek shops open on Sundays, even though German ones do not. Corporatism, it seems, is to be stamped out elsewhere, but protected at home. Beyond refusing to adjust its economy, Germany has pushed the costs of the crisis onto others. In order to rescue the country’s banks from their bad lending decisions, Merkel breached the Maastricht Treaty’s “no-bailout” rule, which bans member governments from financing their peers, and forced European taxpayers to lend to an insolvent Greece. Likewise, loans by eurozone governments to Ireland, Portugal, and Spain primarily bailed out insolvent local banks – and thus their German creditors.

To make matters worse, in exchange for these loans, Merkel obtained much greater control over all eurozone governments’ budgets through a demand-sapping, democracy-constraining fiscal straitjacket: tougher eurozone rules and a fiscal compact.
Germany’s clout has resulted in a eurozone banking union that is full of holes and applied asymmetrically. The country’s Sparkassen – savings banks with a collective balance sheet of some €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) – are outside the European Central Bank’s supervisory control, while thinly capitalized mega-banks, such as Deutsche Bank, and the country’s rotten state-owned regional lenders have obtained an implausibly clean bill of health.

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Fischer (German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998-2005) is still a major voice in Germany. But he’s been awkwardly silent.

The Return of the Ugly German (Joschka Fischer)

In terms of foreign policy, Germany rebuilt trust by embracing Western integration and Europeanization. The power at the center of Europe should never again become a threat to the continent or itself. Thus, the Western Allies’ aim after 1945 – unlike after World War I – was not to isolate Germany and weaken it economically, but to protect it militarily and firmly embed it politically in the West. Indeed, Germany’s reconciliation with its arch-enemy, France, remains the foundation of today’s European Union, helping to incorporate Germany into the common European market, with a view to the eventual political unification of Europe. But in today’s Germany, such ideas are considered hopelessly “Euro-romantic”; their time has passed.

Where Europe is concerned, from now on Germany will primarily pursue its national interests, just like everybody else. But such thinking is based on a false premise. The path that Germany will pursue in the twenty-first century – toward a “European Germany” or a “German Europe” – has been the fundamental, historical question at the heart of German foreign policy for two centuries. And it was answered during that long night in Brussels, with German Europe prevailing over European Germany. This was a fateful decision for both Germany and Europe. One wonders whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble knew what they were doing. To dismiss the fierce criticism of Germany and its leading players that erupted after the diktat on Greece, as many Germans do, is to don rose-tinted glasses.

Certainly, there was nonsensical propaganda about a Fourth Reich and asinine references to the Führer. But, at its core, the criticism articulates an astute awareness of Germany’s break with its entire post-WWII European policy. For the first time, Germany didn’t want more Europe; it wanted less. Germany’s stance on the night of July 12-13 announced its desire to transform the eurozone from a European project into a kind of sphere of influence. Merkel was forced to choose between Schäuble and France (and Italy). The issue was fundamental: Her finance minister wanted to compel a eurozone member to leave “voluntarily” by exerting massive pressure.

Greece could either exit (in full knowledge of the disastrous consequences for the country and Europe) or accept a program that effectively makes it a European protectorate, without any hope of economic improvement. Greece is now subject to a cure – further austerity – that has not worked in the past and that was prescribed solely to address Germany’s domestic political needs. But the massive conflict with France and Italy, the eurozone’s second and third largest economies, is not over, because, for Schäuble, Grexit remains an option. By claiming that debt relief is “legally” possible only outside the eurozone, he wants to turn the issue into the lever for bringing about a “voluntary” Grexit.

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“Behind the curtain, the federalization of Europe is the ultimate goal, although politicians always denied that in front of the curtain.”

Schäuble – The Man Behind the Throne (Martin Armstrong)

Many Europeans are starting to see a very hard-line German position championed by Schäuble, which they are characterizing behind the curtain as a more selfish edge by demanding painful measures from Athens and resisting any firm commitment to granting the Greek relief from crippling debt, despite the fact that it was such debt relief that enabled Germany to recover. Yet the position of Schäuble from the outset was his vision that the other nations must coordinate with the core, of which the other nations were not actually regarded. That perception of a selfish Germany has been fueled by Schäuble’s statement suggesting that Greece would get its best shot at a substantial cut in its debt ONLY if it was willing to give up membership in the European common currency. Schäuble is expected to take his tough stance once again with the next crash candidate. For many, that appears to be Italy, which is now considered the greatest risk within Euroland. Yet, his views are spelled out in his 1994 paper.

Schäuble seems to have foresaw the crisis back in 1994, distinguishing between core members and non-core members. Therefore, his thinking is quite different from that of France. Paris has jumped the gun after the Greece disaster and now want a core Europe push, but clearly with Italy as a full-fledged member into a new federalized Europe. Behind the curtain, the federalization of Europe is the ultimate goal, although politicians always denied that in front of the curtain. The curtain is starting to be drawn, but the equal federalization of Europe was never part of the German mindset. There seems to be a conflict emerging between Germany and France because France wiped out its economy with insane taxation. It too will fall in this next downward cycle.

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Schäuble has of course been at least as detrimental as Varoufakis to the conversation, but he’s still in place. Go figure.

German FinMin Schäuble’s Tough Tone Heightens Uncertainty Over Bailout (WSJ)

Germany’s finance chief departed for his annual vacation on a posh North Sea island on Thursday, leaving the capital to mull a summer mystery that could decide Greece’s fate: What’s going on with Wolfgang Schäuble? Over the past two weeks, the 72-year-old Mr. Schäuble has puzzled even German officials who know the finance chief well with remarks questioning the wisdom of a new bailout for Greece. He has also hinted he might resign over differences with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The comments mark a shift to a more hawkish tone for Germany’s longest-serving national politician, whose career has been defined by loyalty to his political allies and to the idea of European integration.

They also underscore the fragility of last week’s agreement among eurozone leaders to work toward a new bailout deal for Greece, which governments will need to sign off on as early as next month. A person who works closely with Mr. Schäuble said the minister remained guided by a commitment to European interests—and that giving in to Greek demands, for instance, by forgiving debt would damage the EU’s credibility. The Finance Ministry is working to lay the groundwork for a new bailout, the person said, even though Mr. Schäuble’s preferred solution would have been for Greece to agree to a temporary “timeout” from the euro.

But Mr. Schäuble’s open skepticism over whether a new bailout would work has heightened uncertainty over what would happen once officials representing international creditors reached a preliminary deal with Athens, which is expected in the middle of next month. Over the weekend, Mr. Schäuble mused in response to a German magazine interviewer’s question about his differences on Greece with Ms. Merkel that he would resign if someone forced him to violate the responsibilities of his office. “I could go to the president and ask for my dismissal,” Mr. Schäuble told Der Spiegel, before adding that he wasn’t, in fact, considering resigning.

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“Greece was only a pipe through which French and German banks, for the most part, saved themselves.”

Greece: Out of the Mouth of “Foreign Affairs” Comes the Truth (Bruno Adrie)

In an article by Mark Blyth titled “A Pain in the Athens: Why Greece Isn’t to Blame for the Crisis” and published on July 7th 2015 in Foreign Affairs, one discovers surprising statements, which are all the more surprising when one knows that this magazine is published by the Council on Foreign Relations that gathers the American élite, the New-Yorker banking élite being there for the most part. According to the author, “Greece has very little to do with the crisis that bears its name”. And, to make us understand this, he invites us to “follow the money—and those who bank it”. According to him, the origins of the crisis are not to be looked for in Greece but “in the architecture of European banking”.

Indeed, during the first decade of the euro, European banks, attracted by easy money, granted massive loans in what the author calls “the European periphery”, and, in 2010, in the middle of the financial crisis, banks had accumulated impaired periphery assets corresponding to €465 billion for French banks and €493 billion for German banks. “Only a small part of those impaired assets were Greek”, but the problem is that, in 2010, Greece published a revised budget equivalent to 15% of the GDP. Nothing to be afraid of actually since it only represented 0.3% of the Eurozone’s GDPs put together. But, because of their periphery assets and above all a leverage rate* twice as high—that is to say twice as risky—as the American banks’, European banks feared that a Greek default would make them collapse.

This is what really happened. The banks’ insatiable voracity led them, as always, to act carelessly, and, as they did not accept their failure, as always, they made sure that others would foot the bill. Nothing new under the golden sky of the Banking Industry, unless, this time, it went a bit further than usual. These banks set up the Troïka program in order to “stop the bond market bank run”. And no matter if it increased unemployment by 25% and destroyed the third of the country’s GDP. It doesn’t make much difference to the bankers. This is what the rescue plans have been used for. Apparently aimed at Greece, they were created by and for the major European banks. Today, given that the Greek can no longer pay French and German banks, even the European taxpayers are solicited.

Greece was only a pipe through which French and German banks, for the most part, saved themselves. On the total amount of €203 billion that represents the two rescue plans (2010-2013 and 2012-2014), 65% went right to the banks’ vaults. Some people even go so far as to say that 90% of the loans did not pass through Greece. This approach, expressed in the columns of Foreign Affairs, cannot be seen as heterodox. It is even confirmed by the ex-director of theBundesbank, Karl Otto Pöhl, who acknowledged that the rescue plan was meant to save the banks, and especially the French banks, from their rotten debts.

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The idea is to get the whole population on its kness.

Greek Store Closures Spike As Recession, Austerity Return (AP)

Running a business in Koukaki is becoming a struggle. Shop-owners in the central Athens neighborhood, one of the capital city’s most financially diverse, are finding it a lot more difficult to get by. They could be cutting hair or selling extra-large shirts – it makes no difference. Their tales of hardship can be repeated up and down the country of nearly 11 million people. Empty storefronts are again a feature of Greeces towns and cities amid a crisis that put Greece’s future in the euro in doubt. The downturn worsened after the late-June decision by the Greek government to impose a series of strict controls on the free flow of money, with a paltry 60-euro a day limit on daily withdrawals from ATMs. Though banks reopened this week for the first time in more than three weeks, the ATM withdrawal limit is unchanged and cash is becoming scarce.

For an economy where cash payments are the norm, that’s a problem. In Koukaki, about 2 kilometers south of downtown Athens, 65-year-old mechanic Giorgos Prasinoudis is angry. His wife and 11-year-old daughter have already moved to Germany – the country that’s ironically blamed for many of the economic and social problems afflicting Greece. On Wednesday, he sat drinking coffee on the sidewalk outside his motorcycle repair shop, with posters of bikes and children’s drawings pinned to the wall. Hes closed the store after 32 years. A “For Sale” sign is taped to the window. “It’s over for Greece. We won’t recover for another 50 years,” he said. “The country borrowed so much money, those who benefited left the country, and ordinary people have been handed the bill …

I hope my daughter learns German and doesn’t come back. Not even for a holiday.” Prasinoudis is one of the countless victims of Greeces economic crisis. Locked out of international bond markets in the spring of 2010, the country has relied on foreign rescue money to pay its debts – on condition that tough austerity measures, such as cuts to spending and increases in taxes were imposed. The cost has been huge. A million jobs, mostly in the private sector, have been lost since then ? around a fifth of the country’s workforce. But after appearing to stabilize last year, the Greek economy has gone into reverse but unemployment remains high. At last count, unemployment was still over 25% and more than 50% for the under-25s.

Alongside the capital controls, the government imposed a new round of austerity, raising sales taxes and levies on businesses, while maintaining emergency taxes on households that have eaten up disposable incomes. Early Thursday, parliament approved a second round of measures demanded by rescue creditors for a new bailout. Retail associations fear a return to the peak levels of unemployment around 2012 when they were hit by a surge of business failures.

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“The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.”

A Few Thoughts On Greek Shipping And Taxes (Papaeconomou)

We have all witnessed a lot of Greek drama during the past few weeks as the impasse between the Greek government and its international creditors reached its climax. It now appears that after months of terse negotiations between the two parties, Greece has finally agreed to pass and implement austerity measures in exchange for financial aid. One of the innocent bystanders in all this has been the Greek shipping community. As part of the broad agreement between Athens and the Eurozone, the Greek government has undertaken to increase the tonnage tax, a flat tax that is assessed each year on all ships that are managed by shipping companies based in Greece.

As expected the shipping community has been up in arms crying foul over the proposed tax and threatening to leave to more tax-friendly locales like Monaco, Dubai, or Singapore. This has made me wonder: what would be the effect of increased tonnage tax on a shipping company’s running costs?

[..] Let’s assume for example that the Greek government unilaterally doubles the tonnage tax in accordance with the agreement provision. Star Bulk Carriers will have to pay an additional $129 per ownership day. Is this amount really the straw that will break the camel’s back and force a mass exodus of Greek shipping companies to greener pastures? I don’t think so. But let’s further assume that Greek shipping companies do decide to move to Monaco, Dubai, Singapore, or even London or New York. Have shipping executives done a cost of living comparison between say Monaco or New York City and Athens? The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.

I believe the lobbying on behalf of Greek ship-owners is not about tonnage taxes, but about keeping their income tax-free status. Greek ship-owners are some of the hardest-nosed traders you can find. I don’t believe a tempest in a teapot will cloud their business acumen. I suspect that they will cut a deal with the taxman sooner or later, and if I may add, for the benefit of both sides.

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EU doesn’t want to help.

Greek Financial Crisis Makes Its Migration Crisis Worse. EU Must Help. (WaPo)

Greece’s problems are many. Thanks to the financial crisis, citizens have endured long ATM lines and shortages in stores. Greece may be the last place in Europe equipped to handle its newest problem: record numbers of migrants, particularly Syrians, arriving daily by boat. Since the beginning of 2015, an astounding 79,338 migrants have arrived by sea, 60% of whom are Syrian. Slightly more migrants have transited to Greece than to Italy, a reversal from 2014, when Italy received 170,100 migrants and Greece only 34,442 total, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration. These migrants pay traffickers exorbitant fees and risk their lives on dangerous journeys. Once arrived, they find the small communities on Greece’s many islands totally overwhelmed and unable to help. Most try to move northwards, to states like Hungary, via the Balkans.

Other migrants remain in hungry squalor throughout Greece. UNHCR recently reported more than 3,000 refugees in makeshift accommodations at a site on the northern Aegean island of Lesbos. Refugees kept in detention centers have limited access to electricity and water. Dozens sleep on makeshift pallets in the Kos police station courtyard. Greece’s financial crisis exacerbates xenophobia and discrimination against migrants. While many Greeks have rallied to help the migrants, the far-right portrays these migrants as taking precious resources and sullying Greek culture. Golden Dawn, a far-right party, said “We will do everything we can to protect the Greek homeland against immigrants.” Even before the 2015 surge, 84% of adults in Greece wanted decreased immigration — the highest proportion in the world — according to 2012 and 2014 Gallup interviews.

And Greece’s No. 1 industry, tourism, could suffer. Migrants crowd the sidewalks of island resort towns beside vacationers, but the contrast could hardly be starker between the wet and hungry arrivals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and the European tourists who dine on fine meals and rest in posh surroundings. Many migrants fleeing conflict-ridden states have walked almost 40 miles across Greece, sick, exhausted and sometimes pregnant, because they were not allowed to take public or private transportation due to a law that equated anyone assisting migrants with human smugglers. The law — overturned this month — kept both private citizens and public buses from driving migrants that landed in Greece without being rescued by coast guards.

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It needs to be abandoned.

Abenomics Needs To Be ‘Reloaded’, Warns IMF (CNBC)

Japan needs to reduce its reliance on a weak yen to reflate its economy, the IMF warned, as it called on authorities to speed up “high impact” structural reforms and prepare for further monetary easing. “The Bank of Japan needs to stand ready to ease further, provide stronger guidance to markets through enhanced communication, and put greater emphasis on achieving the 2% inflation target in a stable manner,” the IMF said in its 2015 Article IV Consultation with Japan published late Wednesday. Under current policies, the central bank won’t meet its 2% inflation target in the medium-term, or over a five-year horizon, according to the international lender. After rising to 1.5% in mid-2014, core inflation – excluding fresh food and the effects of the consumption tax increase – has declined rapidly and has been close to zero since February 2015.

“Abenomics needs to be reloaded so that policy shortcomings do not become a drag on growth and inflation,” the IMF said. Abenomics refers to three-pronged economic revival plan launched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late 2012, consisting of monetary easing, fiscal expansion and structural reforms. Deeper structural reforms must accompany further easing if the government is to achieve its inflation goal, the IMF stressed. “With the exception of corporate governance and some progress on female labor force participation, structural reforms have not yet been in areas that could provide the biggest bang for the buck,” it said.

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Much too late.

Australia Weighs Steps to Rein In Sydney Property (WSJ)

Fast-rising house prices are prompting regulators in New Zealand and Australia to try, or consider, measures to prick nascent bubbles in single cities, an unusual move for any country. In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, property prices have jumped 17% over the past year, compared with a nationwide average of 9.3%, and now are more than 50% higher than eight years ago. Sydney prices have risen about four times as fast as those in almost all other Australian state capitals in the past 12 months. It is rare for countries to focus tough new clamps on a single city or district. But a surge in homegrown speculators, and of buyers from countries such as China, has left too many people chasing too few properties in Sydney and Auckland.

Policy makers are increasingly concerned that a sudden crash could derail their economies. In Australia, Sydney-specific regulation is merely under discussion. But in New Zealand, measures to limit the impact of a price surge in Auckland are in place already: From October, real-estate investors in the city will be required to put down deposits of at least 30% on properties they want to purchase. No such rules will apply to property investment in other cities. Until now, Australian policy makers have sought to temper house-price growth by restricting lending to speculators and making it costlier to provide mortgages to residential buyers generally, anywhere in the country. In the past several weeks, however, the central bank has made clear it sees the issue as essentially a local one, describing soaring prices in the nation’s most populous city as “crazy.”

The narrowing focus on Sydney has triggered speculation that similar moves to New Zealand’s may be in the offing, steered by the banking regulator. “The boom is now quite singularly in Sydney,” said George Tharenou at UBS. “It’s difficult and very micro to target Sydney house prices, but it’s getting to the point where it needs to be considered.” Earlier this month, Citigroup said the risk of a crash had become so real that it was time to stop banks lending so freely to Sydney property investors specifically. “The horse has already bolted,” said Paul Brennan at Citi Research, Australia. “Additional prudential measures directed at the Sydney market may be unavoidable, even if it is late in the cycle.”

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