Sep 202019
 
 September 20, 2019  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Marc Chagall The Feast of the Tabernacles 1916

 

Interest Rate Derivatives Trading Explodes to $6.5 Trillion/Day
OECD Slashes Global Growth Outlook, Warns Germany Already In Recession (ZH)
Lagarde Urges Policymakers To Resolve Manmade Economic Threats (AFP)
How the Houthis Overturned The Chessboard (Escobar)
The Crisis Over The Attack On Saudi Oil Infrastructure Is Over (MoA)
Gantz Refuses To Meet With Netanyahu, Wants Unity Govt Without Him (RT)
Ryanair Awards $111 Million Bonus To CEO, Lays Off Up To 700 Pilots (R.)
Biodiversity Touches Every Aspect Of Our Lives (G.)
US and Canada Lose 3 Billion Birds Since 1970 (BBC)
Operation Amazon Redux (Dias)
What If This is as Good as It Gets? (Tritschler)

 

 

Famous last words: “If managed properly, they shouldn’t pose undue risks to the financial system.”

Interest Rate Derivatives Trading Explodes to $6.5 Trillion/Day

The volume of over-the-counter (OTC) interest rate derivatives traded globally soared by 141% in three years to $6.5 trillion per day in April 2019, according to the Bank for International Settlements’ new Triennial Survey of Global Derivatives Markets. In the prior survey period, April 2016, $2.7 trillion per day in trades were executed. Since 2001, the magnitude of trading volume has multiplied by a factor of 13, from $490 billion per day to $6.5 trillion per day, with a gigantic spike over the past three years: OTC derivatives are securities that are generally traded through a dealer network rather than on a centralized exchange such as the London Stock Exchange or the New York Stock Exchange.

Some derivatives can be explosive, such as the credit default swaps (CDS) that brought Lehman Brothers and AIG to their knees in the last crisis, and which still remain a threat today, especially with the U.S. government this week bowing to Wall Street pressure to dilute regulation that had been designed after the crisis to reduce the risks of these instruments. Interest rate derivatives, whose value rises and falls depending on the movement of interest rates, or sets of interest rates, tend to be more straightforward. They are often used as hedges by institutional and retail investors, banks and companies to protect themselves against changes in market interest rates. If managed properly, they shouldn’t pose undue risks to the financial system. The BIS attributed much of this 141% three-year surge in trading of these instruments to increased hedging and positioning “amid shifting prospects for growth and monetary policy.”

Read more …

The “growth is good” idea won’t die unless it’s murdered.

OECD Slashes Global Growth Outlook, Warns Germany Already In Recession (ZH)

In one of the most downbeat forecasts on the global economy that we’ve seen so far this year, the Paris-based organization of wealthy nations known as the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – warned that the global economy is heading toward a recession, and that governments aren’t doing enough in terms of fiscal stimulus to try and boost the economy. “Escalating trade policy tensions are taking an increasing toll on confidence and investment, adding to policy uncertainty, weighing on risk sentiment in financial markets, and endangering future growth prospects,” the OECD said. The advocacy for fiscal stimulus follows reports that Germany is considering a “shadow budget” to bolster public investment as Europe’s economy slides.


“Our fear is that we are entering an era where growth is stuck at a very low level,” said OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone said. “Governments should absolutely take advantage of low rates to invest in the future now so that this sluggish growth doesn’t become the new normal.” After cutting all of its forecasts from four months ago, the OECD now sees global growth slipping below 3% to 2.9%.

Of course, this pattern of cutting GDP forecasts is nothing new. The OECD became the latest to warn about the global economy, after the Fed, the ECB and the PBOC have all eased policy to try and bolster growth in recent weeks. But the OECD is convinced that without government stimulus, the global economy is headed for a protracted downturn.

Read more …

“In perfect English and always engaging and crisply professional..”

Lagarde Urges Policymakers To Resolve Manmade Economic Threats (AFP)

Accustomed to being the first woman in influential leadership positions and speaking frankly to men in power, Christine Lagarde says manmade threats to the global economy can be “man-fixed.” Lagarde only last week left her post as head of the International Monetary Fund after eight years, the first woman to serve in that role, and she is expected to put another “first” on her resume by the end of the year: first woman to serve as president of the European Central Bank.She sees a world economy where growth is “fragile” and “under threat” from trade frictions and Brexit, and perhaps an over-reliance on the efforts of central banks like the ECB.


But while she tried to urge action during her time at the IMF — she took over in 2011 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis — she said a central bank should “stick to its mandate,” which perhaps is a clue to how she will run the ECB. Or perhaps not. She carefully avoided a commitment about how she would use her influence in the new post. In perfect English and always engaging and crisply professional, Lagarde sat down with AFP on Thursday to review her legacy at the Washington-based crisis lender, where she arrived after being the first woman finance minister of France. In bare numbers, her record is impressive: the IMF helped to avoid a global depression, 90 countries – nearly half of its members – benefitted from some form of lending or credit line during the crisis, and the lending capacity was doubled to $1 trillion.

Read more …

They showed how vulnerable the Kingdom is. That’s all it took.

How the Houthis Overturned The Chessboard (Escobar)

[..] it’s always important to consider that Arab Shiites in the Eastern province – working in Saudi oil installations – have got to be natural allies of the Houthis fighting against Riyadh. Houthi striking capability – from drone swarms to ballistic missile attacks – has been improving remarkably for the past year or so. It’s not by accident that the UAE saw which way the geopolitical and geoeconomic winds were blowing: Abu Dhabi withdrew from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s vicious war against Yemen and now is engaged in what it describes as a “peace-first” strategy. Even before Abqaiq, the Houthis had already engineered quite a few attacks against Saudi oil installations as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports.

In early July, Yemen’s Operations Command Center staged an exhibition in full regalia in Sana’a featuring their whole range of ballistic and winged missiles and drones. The situation has now reached a point where there’s plenty of chatter across the Persian Gulf about a spectacular scenario: the Houthis investing in a mad dash across the Arabian desert to capture Mecca and Medina in conjunction with a mass Shiite uprising in the Eastern oil belt. That’s not far-fetched anymore. Stranger things have happened in the Middle East. After all, the Saudis can’t even win a bar brawl – that’s why they rely on mercenaries.

The US intel refrain that the Houthis are incapable of such a sophisticated attack betrays the worst strands of orientalism and white man’s burden/superiority complex. The only missile parts shown by the Saudis so far come from a Yemeni Quds 1 cruise missile. According to Brigadier General Yahya Saree, spokesman for the Sana’a-based Yemeni Armed Forces, “the Quds system proved its great ability to hit its targets and to bypass enemy interceptor systems.”

Read more …

We Now Wait For the Next One.

The Crisis Over The Attack On Saudi Oil Infrastructure Is Over (MoA)

The crisis about the Yemeni drone and cruise missile attack on two Saudi oil installations is for now over. The Saudis and the U.S. accuse Iran of being behind the “act of war” as Secretary of State Pompeo called it. The Saudis have bombed Yemen with U.S. made bombs since 2015. One wonders how Pompeo is calling that. The Yemeni forces aligned with the Houthi Ansarallah do not deny that their drones and cruise missiles are copies of Iranian designs. But they insist that they are built in Yemen and fired from there. President Trump will not launch a military attack against Iran. Neither will the Saudis or anyone else. Iran has deterred them by explaining that any attack on Iran will be responded to by waging all out war against the U.S. and its ‘allies’ around the Persian Gulf.

Trump sent Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to hold hands with the Saudi gangster family who call themselves royals. Pompeo of course tried to sell them more weapons. On his flight back he had an uncharacteristically dovish Q & A with reporters. Pompeo said: “I was here in an act of diplomacy. While the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight to the last American, we’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this. That’s my mission set, what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve, and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way. There’s no evidence of that from his statement, but I hope that that’s the case.”

The crisis is over and we are back to waiting for the next round. A few days or weeks from now we will see another round of attacks on oil assets on the western side of the Persian Gulf. Iran, with the help of its friends, can play this game again and again and it will do so until the U.S. gives up and lifts the sanctions against that country. The Houthi will continue to attack the Saudis until they end their war on Yemen and pay reparations.

Read more …

That was his election pledge.

Gantz Refuses To Meet With Netanyahu, Wants Unity Govt Without Him (RT)

Benny Gantz, whose centrist bloc narrowly defeated Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in a snap election, says he is forming a government that will exclude the current prime minister – signaling the end of Bibi’s era may be near. The ex-IDF chief said on Thursday that he would not accept Netanyahu’s offer to discuss a unity government, keeping good on his campaign pledge to create a ruling coalition that does not include Bibi. “I am interested and intend to form a broad and liberal unity government led by me,” he wrote in a tweet.


Speaking with reports, Gantz stressed that his Blue and White alliance “will listen to everyone, but we will not accept mandates imposed on us” – an apparent swipe at Netanyahu’s insistence that the pair should meet. Blue and White won 33 seats in the Knesset in Tuesday’s snap election, while Likud only secured 31. Gantz said that the results pave the way for him to become prime minister, assuming that a coalition, minus Bibi, can be formed. If Gantz fails to secure 61 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s political deadlock could continue, forcing the third election this year.

Read more …

Blind. Completely blind.

Ryanair Awards $111 Million Bonus To CEO, Lays Off Up To 700 Pilots (R.)

Ryanair’s Chief Executive Michael O’Leary narrowly secured approval from shareholders on Thursday for a bonus scheme that could earn him 100 million euros over five years as he revealed up to 700 pilots could lose their jobs. The Irish low-cost carrier, Europe’s largest, has been battered by industrial disputes and the grounding of Boeing’s flagship 737 MAX. Having suffered from a shortage of pilots just a couple of years ago, O’Leary told investors there are now too many. He forecast the company would cut between 500 and 700 pilots as a sharp decrease in demand has seen the natural attrition rate collapse. To earn his 100 million euro bonus, O’Leary would need to reverse a near-50% fall in the company’s share price since 2017.


The share price hit a peak of 19.39 euros in August 2017 but was down 1.8 percent at 9.76 euros at 1330 GMT on Thursday. O’Leary secured the backing of 50.5% of shareholders for the scheme which will grant him 10 million share options if he doubles Ryanair’s profitability to 2 billion euros per annum and/or increase the share price to 21 euros per share. The size of the award “raises a red flag in terms of quantum and for our members,” said Jocelyn Brown of the UK Railway pension scheme, which voted against the deal. O’Leary said he was disappointed by the level of support and said he would take on investor concerns.

Read more …

Got to say I’m skeptical about the Climate Strikes today. What have all these people given up? What have they pledged to no longer do?

Biodiversity Touches Every Aspect Of Our Lives (G.)

In addition to playing a critical role in providing food, fibre, water, energy, medicines and other genetic materials, biodiversity is equally important in regulating climate, water quality, pollution, pollination, flooding and storm surges. It has vital social value, providing wellbeing when walking through forests or by rivers, or green spaces in cities. Since 1970, human activities have destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems and significantly altered 75% of the ice-free land surface. Most oceans are polluted with plastics, and over 85% of wetland area has been lost. This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, although many are preventable if we improve our management of biodiversity.

The largest driver of biodiversity loss on land in recent decades has been land use change, primarily the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems to feed the world, while oceans are over-fished . This has been driven in large part by a doubling of the world’s population, a fourfold increase in the global economy, and a tenfold increase in trade. The challenge is to transform our agricultural and fishing practices, many of which are unsustainable today, into ones that produce the food we need while conserving biodiversity. For agriculture, this means using sustainable agroecological practices; less chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides; and protecting soils and pollinators.

The climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity are issues that affect each other. Global heating adversely affects genetic variability, species richness and ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity can adversely affect climate – deforestation increases the atmospheric abundance of carbon dioxide for example, a greenhouse gas. So it is essential that the issues of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are addressed together.

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The biggest threat to birds in Java is people who love them. In the west it’s Monsanto.

US and Canada Lose 3 Billion Birds Since 1970 (BBC)

Bird populations in Asia and the US are “in crisis”, according to two major studies. The first concludes there are three billion fewer birds in the US and Canada today compared to 1970 – a loss of 29% of North America’s birds. The second outlines a tipping point in “the Asian songbird crisis”: on the island of Java, Indonesia, more birds may now live in cages than in the wild. Scientists hope the findings will serve as a wake-up call. The two studies are published in the journals Science and Biological Conservation. The North America study revealed how many birds were being lost across every type of habitat – from grasslands to coasts to deserts.

While it did not directly assess what was driving this, the scientists concluded that, among multiple causes, the major factor was habitat loss driven by human activity. This study, explained lead researcher Dr Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy, was the first to “run the numbers” on bird populations. “We knew some species were declining,” he told BBC News, “but we thought that, while rare birds were disappearing, the more generalist birds – and those better adapted to human landscapes – would be filling in the gaps.” [..] the situation in Asia, as the other study has shown, is a particularly striking case of a human-driven extinction crisis.

The buying and selling of songbirds – many of which are caught from the wild – is huge business in parts of Asia, particularly on the island of Java in Indonesia. Around 75 million birds are kept as pets on Java. Many are sought after for bird singing competitions – often referred to as “Kicau-mania”. At these events, caged birds’ songs are judged on melody, duration and volume. Top prizes for the best singers can earn owners as much as £40,000 in the biggest contests. This culture, however, drives the capture of birds from the wild to satisfy demand. And that, researchers say, threatens the survival of numerous species. “The trade is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars to the Indonesian economy, so it is no surprise that it is a key regional source of both supply and demand for songbirds..

Read more …

Murder she wrote.

Operation Amazon Redux (Dias)

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT JAIR Bolsonaro is planning to push industrialization and development in the interior of the country’s Amazon basin. It is far from a new project. For more than a century, a series of Brazilian governments have sought to move into the country’s interior, developing — or, to be more precise, colonizing — the Amazon. From the populist president-turned-dictator who made one of the early industrial pushes into the forest in the 1930s to the military dictatorship that ruled the country for two decades from 1964 until 1985, the justifications have largely been the same — economic gain and geopolitical paranoia — as were the often poor results.

Take the dictatorship’s push. Known as Operation Amazon, the colonization plan hatched during the military government envisioned integrating the territory into Brazil through building roads and developing agricultural and corporate enterprises — all accomplished by settling people from the south, southeast, and northeast of the country and the coasts in the forest. As for the aim, the dictatorship’s motto for the project spoke volumes: “Occupy to avoid surrender.” The military government argued that a thinly populated Amazon might create avenues for foreign powers to invade Brazilian territory. “One aspect of the doctrine said that Brazil could not leave any empty space, because it could threaten national security,” said João Roberto Martins Filho, a professor at the Federal University of São Carlos who has spent decades researching the dictatorship.

“The idea was that it was necessary to channel activity into regions with smaller population density, and this became a state policy.” Like all the other so-called development pushes into the Amazon, the results were catastrophic — for the forest itself, but especially for the communities who already lived amid it. One highway, for instance, was designed to travel from the city of Manaus, on the Amazon River, to nearly the northern edge of the basin. “The highway is irreversible, for the integration of the Amazon into the country,” the army’s Col. João Tarcísio Cartaxo Arruda, who led the construction battalion, said in 1975, according to a document made available by the National Truth Commission.

“This road is important and must be constructed, whatever the cost. We will not change its layout, and the only burden for our battalions will be to pacify the Indians.” That pacification came through so-called demonstrations of force — using machine guns, grenades, and dynamite — against the Waimiri-Atroari tribe. In these moves and others like it, thousands of Indigenous people were massacred. In 1972, the Waimiri-Atroari had a population of 3,000; by 1983, their number was reduced to 350. The National Truth Commission estimates that at least 8,350 Indigenous people were killed by the military government.

Read more …

The beauty of aging and death. Perhaps that only exists for those who leave behind a better world then they were born in.

Paraphrased: a society is doing well when old men plant trees whose shadow they know they will never sit in.

What If This is as Good as It Gets? (Tritschler)

Whilst humans developed a limited life span and an acute awareness of that fact, the Turritopsis dohrnii, though it is in no way self-aware, developed the ability to reverse its ontogeny, to turn back its life cycle in times of threat – be it environmental or simply the threat of old age. Many might begrudge the fact this ability had been bestowed on a bobbing blob of mindless jelly. Indeed, a variety of life forms are envied for their selective advantages – speed, strength, flight, longevity, regeneration, and perhaps also that living-in-the-moment quality associated with blissful ignorance: lacking awareness of their mortality, animal kingdom dwellers are unperturbed by advancing years, and live their lives to the last breath in simple pursuit of food, play and romance.

Consciousness of selfhood, of our place in the universe, and of our relationship with all living things, comes at a cost: the certainty of our demise and, what is often worse, the demise of others. This uniquely human grasp of the inevitability of death, and of the fact it can occur without warning, embodies the potential for immense psychological distress – we share with all animals, after all, the drive for self-preservation – but it also carries the potential for a richly meaningful and purposeful life, and research appears to support this.

A growing body of experimental evidence derived from Terror Management Theory, an approach that emerged from within existential social psychology, suggests increased awareness of mortality leads, correspondingly, to increased investment in those resources that provide meaning – social and cultural structures such as family, community and social identities – and that this in turn reduces the fear of death. But if pondering death can bring a sense of purpose, of meaning, and perhaps a degree of happiness to one’s life, might pondering the issues of age do the same?

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 152019
 
 September 15, 2019  Posted by at 2:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Pavel Filonov The Kolkhoznik (Member of a Collective Farm) 1931

 

Those winds just keep on shifting, no matter that the western press either doesn’t see them shift, doesn’t recognize them for what they are, or chooses to ignore them. But these winds bring tidings of a tectonic plate-shaking shift in the global political climate.

The fires in Saudi oil installations, whether they were caused by drones or missiles, and whoever fired those, are a major story, and rightly so, because they could shake up economies in drastic ways. But they may still, not be the biggest story after all.

Last Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley (already occupied territory, 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live there). He did that to steal votes from the far right in next Tuesday’s (Sep. 17) Knesset election. “Bibi” also called Donald Trump his “friend” every second word for that same purpose. Trump responded in kind. He may come to regret that. Choose your friends wisely. Bit of background from RT:

 

US, Israel Talk About Mutual Defense Treaty – Trump

The US and Israel are discussing a mutual defense treaty that would further cement the already “tremendous” alliance between the two countries, President Donald Trump has revealed. “I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries,” Trump tweeted.

Trump voiced not-that-veiled support for Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Israel. “I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!” Trump wrote. The support surely comes in handy, as Netanyahu’s backing appears to be quite shaky. The September 17 polls are the second snap legislative elections this year after Netanyahu failed to form the government back in April.

The outcome of the upcoming vote is hard to predict, as Netanyahu’s party, Likud, has almost equal support as their main opponent the Blue and White led by Benny Gantz, opinion polls show. Netanyahu was quick to respond to Trump’s announcement, lauding the prospects of the alliance and managing to call the US president a “friend” twice in a single tweet.

[..] Israel was one of the first major non-Nato ally (MNNA), a designation that goes with a whole set of benefits, such as generous loans, a priority in delivery of various military surplus, possession of war reserve stocks of Pentagon-owned hardware outside US military bases (Israel is said to have at least six sites) and others.

Yet in 2014 the US enshrined Israel into a new class of ally – a major strategic partner. The new designation, which is a step above MNNA, was basically established specifically for Israel. It greatly expanded the US wartime stockpiles in Israel from $200 million in value to a whopping $1.8 billion. Under the Trump administration, the trend has continued, and in 2017, the US established its first permanent military base – an air defense facility – in Israel.

A second thing Bibi is trying to do to win Tuesday’s elections is intimidating the prosecutors who are on his tail for three different cases or fraud. He has a grand plan to become immune from this prosecution (basically, become King Bibi), but he must win the election to execute it. Haaretz is Israel’s oldest newspaper, but it’s not Bibi’s biggest fan(club):

 

Netanyahu’s Plan to Escape Trial, in His Own Words: ‘Time for Them to Be Frightened’

Immediately after the last election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined to members of his inner circle a plan to extract him from facing trial. The plan was based on obtaining immunity from the Knesset and passing legislation to prevent the High Court of Justice from removing that immunity. If his bloc wins 61 Knesset seats next week, Netanyahu will presumably resort to this rescue plan. For him it will be the Day of Judgment.

“Stop being frightened. It’s time for them to be frightened,” Netanyahu told his confidants, referring to justice officials, headed by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who have decided to indict him in three cases, subject to a hearing. Netanyahu told his confidants why he insisted on his destructive plan, telling them he had lost all confidence in the legal system on all levels – the attorney general’s office, the state prosecutor and the court system.

“They want me in prison,” he told one of his cronies, noting that if he were indicted that would indeed be the result – not because he had crossed a red line, but merely due to the jurists’ collective hostility toward him and his ideology. Netanyahu appears to wholeheartedly believe himself to be a victim, framed by prosecutors and that Mendelblit, who is weak, doesn’t believe in them at all, but couldn’t withstand the pressure.

In his interviews with the police Netanyahu acted like a hunted man. “It’s a wacky conception,” he told national fraud squad chief Koresh Bar-Nur in January 2017. Bar-Nur came to Netanyahu’s residence with a team of investigators to question him under caution on Case 2000, involving a bribery deal Netanyahu allegedly negotiated with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes.

 

And that wasn’t all. To court the right wing vote, Bibi also planned to bomb locations in Syria controlled by “Iran-backed” Assad troops, right about right now. And he needed permission from Vladimir Putin to do that. So he flew to Moscow, did a bunch of photo-ops with Putin to show Israeli voters he’s an important statesman, but all he got was a big load of coal in his stocking. Putin said: we’l shoot you out of the skies if you dare. And do note: this is not the first time.

In other words, Bibi was deeply humiliated one week before the election he so deperately needs to him to stay out of jail. Now tell me, which western paper or TV channel did you read or watch the news about this in/on? Remember, this happened before Trump announced his Mutual Defense Treaty with Bibi. By the way, what does that “Mutual” mean anyway, that Israel will save America? This is from Zero Hedge:

 

Israeli Attacks On Syria Halted After Russian Threat To Shoot Down Jets

According to reports in both Israeli and Arabic regional media, Israel this past week was preparing to expand major airstrikes against “Iran-backed” targets in Syria, but Moscow imposed its red line. The Independent has published a story describing that Russia’s military in Syria threatened to shoot down any invading Israeli warplanes using fighter jets or their S-400 system.

The Jerusalem Post, citing sources in the UK Independent (Arabia), writes just after the latest meeting in Sochi between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin: “According to the report, Moscow has prevented three Israeli airstrikes on three Syrian outposts recently, and even threatened that any jets attempting such a thing would be shot down, either by Russian jets or by the S400 Anti-aircraft missiles.

The source cited in the report claims a similar situation has happened twice, and that during August, Moscow stopped an airstrike on a Syrian outpost in Qasioun, where a S300 missile battery is placed.” Netanyahu’s hasty trip to meet with Putin on Thursday – even in the final days before Tuesday’s key election – was reportedly with a goal to press the Russian president on essentially ignoring Israel’s attacks in Syria.

Citing further sources in the British-Arabic Independent Arabia, The Jerusalem Post continues: According to the Russian source, Putin let Netanyahu know that his country will not allow any damage to be done to the Syrian regime’s army, or any of the weapons being given to it… Israel sources cited by the Arabic newspaper described Netanyahu’s attempts to persuade Putin as “a failure”. This in spite of Netanyahu telling reporters after the meeting that his relations with Moscow were stronger than ever.

[..] The Russian source said: “Putin has expressed his dissatisfaction from Israel’s latest actions in Lebanon” and even emphasized to Netanyahu that he “Rejects the aggression towards Lebanon’s sovereignty”, something which has never been heard from him.

Putin further stated that someone is cheating him in regards to Syria and Lebanon and that he will not let it go without a response. According to him, Netanyahu was warned not to strike such targets in the future.

 

 

This is where and how the winds -and with them the tectonic plates- have shifted. And don’t underestimate it. Bibi can presumably count on Trump more than any other US President in his time, and the US is supposedly this almighty force, also in the Middle East, but today Putin just tells him “don’t you dare!” Putin refuses to let him touch Assad’s territory and -Russian- weapons.

The clincher is those weapons have become so sophisticated that Bibi, Trump support or not, puts his tail between his legs and flies back, hoping nobody notices what shape he’s in. And in that humiliation, Lebanon is the cherry that Putin puts on top of the pie. “Now that you’re here, I want you to stop harassing Lebanon too. Yes, now you may go.” Lebanon must have stunned Bibi.

What these shifting winds tell us is that the shots in that part of the world, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, (I wouldn’t go as far as including Iran and Saudi Arabia just yet) are no longer called by Bibi or the US. The main reason, as we’ve mentioned often before, is that Russian weapons have become so powerful.

Because as also previously discussed, Russian arms may well be -far- superior to American ones, which in turn in due to the US arms industry developing weapons for profit, vs Russia producing them to defend itself. Putin outright humiliating Bibi Netanyahu may be the first real obvious consequence of that.

This is something that will play out over a long time, but it may change the global political climate dramatically very rapidly. Mike Pompeo can try to blame Iran for whatever it is that happened to Saudi oil facilities, but for the US to attack Iran, which may be the reason for that blame game, it would need to ask Putin for permission, just like Netanyahu did.

And why would Putin give that permission? That’s a real good question. Mind you, Netanyahu may on Tuesday get the Knesset seats he needs to stifle the investigations against him, and to annex the Jordan Valley, but he will still have to ask permission if he has big dreams. And neither Trump nor Jared Kushner nor anyone else can help him there.

The US neocons have been talking about a New World Order for decades. Well, now they got one.

 

 

 

 

Jun 242019
 

Unknown Anne Frank 1941
Merwedeplein, Amsterdam

 

As I watch the – if you ask me pretty vapid- discussion develop that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) started by using the term “concentration camps” to describe the places on the US-Mexico border where “migrants” are being held, and where some of them die, I think back. Now, I actually like AOC, because she’s young (29) and that means she’s the future, simple as that.

And if there’s anything America needs today it’s young people, not even more Joe Biden or Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi. America’s young people need someone to speak up for them, and the old guard is not going to do that, if only because they have no idea what their grandchildren are thinking or doing.

Being just 29 also means AOC will say silly things and make mistakes, but more importantly it means she’s allowed to make mistakes. So when she calls the border facilities “concentration camps”, I don’t have a huge problem with that, certainly now that kids are actually dying in them. As I read has happened.

 

As bad as the Holocaust was, there’s no need to give anyone the exclusive right to use the “concentration camp” term. History has been rewritten enough to exclude the gays, the Roma, the gypsies victims etc etc who were “exterminated” in WWII, from our past. Could AOC have done better by using “internment camps” or some such term? Yeah, maybe, but she was going for the shock effect, and she wasn’t around in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

Was she perhaps wrong in going for the shock effect? Not that I can see. She just doesn’t understand it the same way older generations than hers do. Where she did slip is in blaming it all on Trump. Because what comes out now is how Obama was the master “extraditor”. Under his 8-year administration, countless -100s of 1000s, millions even?- migrants were extradited that the media didn’t pay attention to.

None of that excuses what is happening under Trump, but it does provide perspective. As does America’s long-term support for the very people whose ancestors were the victims of the actual WWII camps, in suppressing another people, the Palestinians, in much the same way their parents were suppressed and murdered . That is something I have a hard time comprehending. And that inevitably makes me wonder what Anne Frank would have made of it all. Who, far more than Benjamin Netanyahu, and far more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would be considered an authority on the topic.

I published the article below on January 11 2010, almost 9 1/2 years ago. Time doesn’t just fly, time has gone hypersonic. AOC’s focus is different from what that of older generations is. But you can’t hold that against her. She’s not trying to insult WWII victims, or their legacies. She should probably still be careful though, about swinging big terms like “concentration camps” around, and about blaming everything wrong on Trump. But, as I said, she’s allowed to make mistakes.

Here’s my take on the death of Miep Gies at the age of 100, whereas Anne Frank never made it beyond 15. Originally from Monday, January 11, 2010:

 

 

Ilargi: Miep Gies died today. She was 100 years old. Born Hermine Santrouschitz in 1909, Miep worked for Otto Frank in Amsterdam when WW2 started. She helped hide the Frank family in the “achterhuis” on the Prinsengracht, the secret room (annex) in the shadow of the Westerkerk church the family lived in for a long time, until they were betrayed.

After Anne was put on a train to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1944 and died there from typhus in March 1945, Miep managed to retrieve her diary, which she handed to Anne’s father, Otto, the sole survivor from the household, in 1945, after the war had ended. In 1947 Otto had his daughter’s diary published, and everything else, including now Miep Gies, is history.

Now I’m not Jewish, nor was I born and bred in Amsterdam proper, but I am an Amsterdammer nonetheless, and have for as long as I can remember been aware of what happened to the Jordaan neighborhood in the city that borders on the part of the Prinsengracht where the Westerkerk and the Anne Frank House are. To this day, there are a ton of words in Amsterdam that are unique to the city, and there are a ton more in the Dutch language at large, that are all joods, jiddish, yiddish.

Every Dutch person knows that Mokum means Amsterdam. A yiddish term. Like mazzel! (good luck), bajes (prison), gabber (mate, friend), gein (fun), geteisem (‘bad’ people), goochem (smart), jatten (to steal), kapsones (“hot air” behavior), penose (criminals), pleite (outtahere), schlemiel (dumbass), smeris (cop), smoes (excuse), sores (trouble), stiekem (stealthily), tof (nice!).

The Dutch language would be a hell of a lot poorer if not for the centuries of Jewish culture that enriched the country, and most of all Amsterdam. Rembrandt and Vermeer, and all of their 17th century peers, would not have created what they did without the Jews. The tulip bubble, well, perhaps, but the spice trade that made the city the center of the universe would never have happened without Amsterdam’s Jordaan people. And no, rich they were not. In fact, for most of them most of the time, they were the poorest of the poor.

And it’s all still there, the culture, the songs, the humor, the words. It’s just that the people are not. They were renditioned away.

Through the ages, Holland was a refuge for Jewish people from all over Europe. In the 1940’s, they were put on transport trains to camps, and 90% never came back, including Anne. The city center, and the Jordaan, may now be populated with well-to-do 21st century citizens, but if you take the time to stand still on one of the many bridges in the hood and you listen well, you can still feel the emptiness left behind by those who were forced to die like so much cattle.

And that, my friends, is my personal hinterland. That is me.

And don’t worry, I know about the Dutch part in the slave trade, and a 100,000 other despicable trades. My people are about as guilty as they come. And that is me too. But my people were also welcoming the Jews for centuries when they were cast out everywhere else.

History is a multi-pronged tool, a bird of many feathers and a beast of many moods. Nothing changed there, and nothing ever will. We are a blood-thirsty species, more, much more, than we are willing to allow. It will decide our way forward as it has our ways in the past. And we will not make it a pretty picture. We simply can’t. We’ll be cruel as can be. As we are.

But we will also have always another Anne Frank and another Miep Gies. One lived to be 15 years old, the other 100. Both saw, first-hand, more gratuitous violence than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. There is some layer of comfort in there, and I hope you will forgive me for not being able to identify it off the bat. I’m just sure it’s there.

Here’s Miep Gies in her own words:

I am not a hero

‘More than twenty thousand Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years. I willingly did what I could to help. My husband did as well. It was not enough.

There is nothing special about me. I have never wanted special attention. I was only willing to do what was asked of me and what seemed necessary at the time.”

 

 

 

 

Jun 212019
 
 June 21, 2019  Posted by at 8:24 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Femme aux bras leves- Tête de Dora Maar- 1936

 

As a nation, you’re certifiedly (is that a word?!) in deep trouble if and when Donald Trump is your most peaceloving man. But nevertheless, that is America today. It all harks back to the days when Trump was first -grudgingly and painstakingly- recognized as an actual presidential candidate.

He campaigned as a man who would end the costly and neverending decades-old and counting US wars far away from American shores and territory. He hasn’t lived up to those campaign goals at all, far from it, and he hired doofuses like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to show everyone that he didn’t, but in the early hours of June 21 2019 he apparently decided at the last minute that it just didn’t add up.

You don’t kill 150 people because someone destroyed a piece of machinery, he got that right. I vividly remember writing a hundred times that a country of 320 million people that can’t come up with a better president than Trump has a behemoth problem. I also remember saying that Trump himself is not that problem, it’s the system that gave rise to him and his popularity. A war-hungry-system, that is, which has pervaded Washington DC.

And there is absolutely nothing that tells me anything has changed in that system. There are hearings and investigations all over the place, right now from Hope Hicks to Jerry Nadler, but none of them are geared towards trying to make peace with Iran or Russia or China, or anyone else. None.

 

Trump’s domestic opponents don’t appear to want peace, not those in the Democratic party, and not those in the MSM, or at least not anyone I’ve seen, other than Tulsi Gabbard. I haven’t seen a word from Nadler or Pelosi trying to coax Trump away from bomb bombing Iran, and diddly squat from the NYT or WashPo either. But sure, tell me what you’ve seen that contradicts that.

Which means he’s on his own, fighting off not only Bolton and Pompeo, but the entire opposition as well. So far he’s done just that. But how much longer can he, when both sides of the aisle continue to call for blood? I find that a hard call to make. I don’t think Trump wants his presidency to be about starting WWIII, but there are so many others calling on him to make it just that.

I said a while ago to a friend that the US invading Iran would be the end of the US, not in 2 days or week, or even 2 years, but in 20 years surely. Because doing so would change the entire power structure in the Middle East so much it would become unrecognizable.

The terribly odd couple of Benjamin Netanyahu and MBS may think they can conquer the region if only Trump sends Americans kids to die there, but they’re as wrong as they are about anything else. Iran is where it is, and it won’t move or budge. It’s just 40 years ago the country rid itself from the US-installed Shah and his SS-like Savak secret services.

Iranians, Persians, have a very deep-seated aversion and -to put it exceedingly mildly- hatred of the US, and they have good reason to. The Shah unleashed pure terror upon “his” entire people, at the benefit of US Big Oil.

 

The only constructive thing the US can do at this point in time is to go talk to Iran, in open and honest discussions. The US will want to do that because Iran is the heart of the Middle East. Just ask Russia and China, they understand that point. Very well even.

Bombing Iran won’t lead to anything at all, other than the demise of the US, down the road. These people will not succumb, and Russia and China will make sure they won’t have to. And Trump’s declaration of US military capabilities being “superior” is just words (or as they say stateside “hogwash”).

The US military ceased being “superior” a long time ago, simply because Raytheon and Boeing et al develop weapons for profit, whereas Russia and China develop them for defense purposes, and at 10% of the price. That single “little” difference will do the US in. Promise.

America needs to start talking. About trade, about weapons, about everything. Maybe Trump can do that. Maybe not. But he won’t be able to do anything by threatening countries like iran who already have nothing left but their backs to a wall.

Trump appears to have some good points vis-a-vis China and trade talks. He has some very bad points vs Russia and the sanctions. He MUST retreat when it comes to Iran, because it would become a much deeper swamp than Washington could ever be.

And it would end any idea of a positive legacy of his presidency. And his grand kids would be far worse off. And and and. But if he would do it regardless, it would only be an extension of US presidential politics as it has has been going on for many decades. So what’s to win, and what’s to lose? You trust a 73-year old burger flipper with that assessment?

 

 

 

 

May 022018
 


Brassaï The Sun King 1930

 

There’s a New Curve in Town and It’s Flashing Red (BBG)
Trump Says Kim Summit Details To Be Unveiled Within Days (AFP)
Apple Delivers Best-Ever Second Quarter Despite Sales Worries (G.)
More Evidence Emerges That Apple Is Killing iPhone X – Analyst (CNBC)
Nissan Shocks With 28% Sales Plunge (BBG)
The Biggest Player in the History of the World (Alistair Crooke)
Debt Is The Great Threat To China’s Development (Michael Hudson)
China’s Petro-Yuan Isn’t Dislodging the Dollar Yet (Barron’s)
China Weakens Its Currency Before US Trade Talks Begin (BBG)
Europeans Cast Doubt On Israel’s Claims About Iran Nuclear Breaches (G.)
Inside Theresa May’s Brexit War Cabinet, Tory Battles Rage (BBG)
UK Home Office ‘Mistakenly Deported 7,000 Foreign Students’ (Ind.)
Theresa May Vetoed Cabinet Pleas Over Visas For NHS Doctors (St.)
OECD Calls For Even Tighter Greek Fiscal Policy To Bolster Growth (K.)
Greece’s Debt Deal To Show How Europe Treats Its Less Fortunate Nations (CNBC)
Facebook’s Dating App Finally Makes Privacy Invasion Sexy (G.)
More Than 90% Of Air Pollution Deaths Occur In Poorer Countries (Ind.)

 

 

The trouble is in corporate bonds.

There’s a New Curve in Town and It’s Flashing Red (BBG)

The private sector may hold the real clues to recession risk. While the flattening U.S. yield curve – the difference between short- and longer-dated Treasuries – has been closely-watched as a potential indicator of a looming contraction, investors might do better to watch a measure of the cost of private credit, according to Charles Gave of Gavekal Capital. An inverted yield curve is thought to signal the “market rate of interest,” (shorter-term rates) exceeding the “natural rate of interest” (longer government rates), but may not be a good proxy for economic activity given that the government can always borrow, Gave said.

Instead, he suggests looking at the corporate credit market. Here, the U.S. economy’s natural rate could be represented by the yield of a longer-dated, seasoned industrial bond rated Baa by Moody’s, and the market rate by the prime lending rate charged by U.S. banks. “The private sector yield curve reading stands at zero, or right on the threshold where trouble can be expected to begin,” Gave wrote in a note published on Tuesday. “Should this spread move into negative territory, I would expect a financial accident to occur outside of the U.S., a U.S. recession, or possibly both.” Either a U.S. recession has taken place within a year of the private sector yield curve inverting, or a “financial accident” has occurred in other economies with currency links to the greenback, according to Gave’s data.

Prime rates below the natural rate of corporate credit have allowed banks to generate “artificial” money, kept “zombie” companies alive, and enabled other corporates to engage in “financial engineering” predicated on cheap borrowing costs that risk toppling over if the curve inverts, Gave said.

Read more …

Trump wants to meet in the DMZ. Reportedly, White House officials want Singapore or Mongolia.

Trump Says Kim Summit Details To Be Unveiled Within Days (AFP)

US President Donald Trump seemed pleased Tuesday by a suggestion he should get the Nobel Peace Prize for his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, promising that a time and place for the historic meeting will soon be announced. “Nobel Peace Prize? I think President Moon was very nice when he suggested it,” Trump said, referring to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “The main thing, I want to get peace. It was a big problem and I think it’s going to work out well,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. Trump has proposed holding the summit at the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, adding that two or three locations were under consideration.

“We’re setting up meetings right now and I think it’s probably going to be announced over the next couple of days, location and date,” Trump said. The summit, which has come together rapidly after months of tense saber-rattling over the North’s nuclear and missile programs, would be the first ever between a US president and a leader of North Korea. On Monday, Moon had demurred when asked about the prospect of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, suggesting Trump should get it instead. “President Trump can take the Nobel prize. All we need to take is peace,” he said. Trump said it was “very generous of President Moon of South Korea to make that statement and I appreciate it but the main thing is to get it done.” “I want to get it done,” he added.

Read more …

Apple has become a capital allocation venture.

Apple Delivers Best-Ever Second Quarter Despite Sales Worries (G.)

Apple on Tuesday shook off worries that its $1,000 iPhone had failed to live up to the hype – but sales of the world’s most valuable company’s most valuable product are slowing, and Apple has announced a plan to buy its way out of trouble. Releasing its latest quarterly report, Apple announced it had sold 52.2m iPhones in the quarter ending 31 March, at an average price of $728.54. Sales were up 3% compared to last year and slightly lower than analysts had expected, but numbers beat the gloomiest forecasts and were enough to deliver Apple its best second quarter ever, with revenues of over $61bn. That beat the record of $58bn set in 2015.

“We’re thrilled to report our best March quarter ever, with strong revenue growth in iPhone, services and wearables,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer. “We are very bullish on Apple’s future,” Cook told analysts after the news broke. Apple sold 9.11m iPads and 4.08m Macs over the quarter. Analysts had worried that the high-priced iPhone X would dent sales. The results came after Apple suppliers including AMS and Taiwan Semiconductors have reported slowing revenues in a sign seen by analysts as proof of shaky demand for iPhone X.

The company announced it would be adding $100bn to its stock buyback programme, plus a 16% increase in its quarterly dividend. Taking advantage of the Trump administration’s new tax laws, Apple is in the process of repatriating the majority of the $252bn in profits it currently holds overseas. The buyback helped Apple’s shares rise over 5% in after-hours trading. The company’s stock has risen by about 80% in the past two years, setting it on course to battle Amazon to become the first company to be valued at $1tn. But Apple’s share price has stumbled recently as fears about slowing iPhone sales took their toll.

Read more …

These reports about the ‘second tier’ just won’t stop.

More Evidence Emerges That Apple Is Killing iPhone X – Analyst (CNBC)

More earnings reports from companies linked to Apple have resulted in further evidence that the technology giant could be winding down or stopping production of the iPhone X. Nasdaq-listed Cognex is the latest company to provide clues that Apple may be going down this path. It reported first quarter earnings on Monday that were up 22% year-on-year, a slowdown from the 40% growth seen in the first quarter of 2017. On top of that, guidance for second quarter revenue of between $200 million and $210 million was below Wall Street expectations, according to Neil Campling, co-head of the global thematic group at Mirabaud Securities.

Cognex sells technology that assists factories that assemble the iPhone. Apple’s supply chain relies on this technology to get the OLED screen on the iPhone X fitted perfectly. Campling told CNBC on Tuesday that Apple accounts for about 20% of Cognex revenues, so the slowdown can be attributed to Apple killing off the iPhone X. “Cognex results provide further evidence that the smartphone cycle has turned south, the OLED overcapacity bites and Apple’s iPhone X is over,” Campling wrote in a note Tuesday. “If Apple is stepping back from the iPhone X production cycle, then Cognex is lead indicator of when that is taking place,” the analyst said in a follow-up phone call with CNBC.

Read more …

Remember Japanese cars?

Nissan Shocks With 28% Sales Plunge (BBG)

Nissan’s U.S. sales plunged last month, shocking some analysts and dragging on what was otherwise a strong April for auto demand. The Japanese automaker’s deliveries declined 28% in April, with almost every model in the Nissan and Infiniti lineups falling. Nissan shares fell as much as 1.8% in Tokyo trading Wednesday. While Ford and Fiat Chrysler beat analysts’ estimates, their shares reversed gains after Nissan’s report. “Our eyes are bugging out here,” Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for researcher Autotrader, said of the Nissan’s numbers. “They’ve been very heavy with rental-car sales and rich incentives. It looks like they’re pulling back.”

Automakers were going to have a difficult time reporting sales gains in April due to a quirk of the calendar. There were two fewer selling days – which excludes Sundays and holidays – last month than a year ago. So while almost all major carmakers posted declining deliveries, as analysts expected, the annualized sales rate accelerated to 17.1 million, according to researcher Autodata. Calculating the annualized sales pace, which topped last April’s 17 million, is becoming more difficult. General Motors announced last month that it would report U.S. sales only on a quarterly basis, complicating efforts to gauge the health of the world’s most lucrative auto market.

Sales of the Altima sedan, usually Nissan’s top car, dropped by almost half compared with a year ago. And the company’s leading sport utility vehicle, the Rogue, dropped 15%. While deliveries to both retail and fleet customers declined, the automaker expects that its results will improve when the new Kicks crossover and redesigned Altima reach dealers, spokesman Chris Keeffe said.

Read more …

Perhaps.

The Biggest Player in the History of the World (Alistair Crooke)

Xi Jinping lies at the apex of the Chinese political system. His influence now permeates at every level. He is the most powerful leader since Chairman Mao. Kevin Rudd (former PM of Australia and longtime student of China) notes, “none of this is for the faint-hearted … Xi has grown up in Chinese party politics as conducted at the highest levels. Through his father, Xi Zhongxun … he has been through a “masterclass” of not only how to survive it, but also on how to prevail within it. For these reasons, he has proven himself to be the most formidable politician of his age. He has succeeded in pre-empting, outflanking, outmanoeuvring, and then removing each of his political adversaries. The polite term for this is power consolidation. In that, he has certainly succeeded”.

And here is the rub: the world which Xi envisions is wholly incompatible with Washington’s priorities. Xi is not only more powerful than any predecessor other than Mao, he knows it, and intends to make his mark on world history. One that equates, or even surpasses, that of Mao. Lee Kuan Yew, who before his death in 2015, was the world’s premier China-watcher, had a pointed answer about China’s stunning trajectory over the past 40 years: “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”

[..] Made in China 2025 is a broad industrial policy that is receiving massive state R & D funding ($232 billion in 2016), including an explicit potential dual-use integration into military innovation. Its main aim, besides improving productivity, is to make China the world’s ‘tech leader’, and for China to become 70% self-sufficient in key materials and components. This may be well-known in theory, but perhaps the move towards self-sufficiency by both China and Russia suggests something more stark. These states are moving away from the classic liberal trade model to an economic model based on autonomy, and a state-led economy (such as advocated by economists like Friedrich List, before becoming eclipsed by the prevalence of Adam Smith-ian thinking).

Read more …

Very long essay from Hudson. Always good.

Debt Is The Great Threat To China’s Development (Michael Hudson)

Subjecting economies to austerity, economic shrinkage, emigration, shorter life spans and hence depopulation, it is at the root of the 2008 debt legacy and the fate of the Baltic states, Ireland, Greece and the rest of southern Europe, as it was earlier the financial dynamic of Third World countries in the 1960s through 1990s under IMF austerity programs. When public policy is turned over to creditors, they use their power for is asset stripping, insisting that all debts must be paid without regard for how this destroys the economy at large. China has managed to avoid this dynamic. But to the extent that it sends its students to study in U.S. and European business schools, they are taught the tactics of asset stripping instead of capital formation – how to be extractive, not productive.

They are taught that privatization is more desirable than public ownership, and that financialization creates wealth faster than it creates a debt burden. The product of such education therefore is not knowledge but ignorance and a distortion of good policy analysis. Baltic austerity is applauded as the “Baltic Miracle,” not as demographic collapse and economic shrinkage. The experience of post-Soviet economies when neoliberals were given a free hand after 1991 provides an object lesson. Much the same fate has befallen Greece, along with the rising indebtedness of other economies to foreign bondholders and to their own rentierclass operating out of capital-flight centers. Economies are obliged to suspend democratic government policy in favor of emergency creditor control.

The slow economic crash and debt deflation of these economies is depicted as a result of “market choice.” It turns out to be a “choice” for economic stagnation. All this is rationalized by the economic theory taught in Western economics departments and business schools. Such education is an indoctrination in stupidity – the kind of tunnel vision that Thorstein Veblen called the “trained incapacity” to understand how economies really work.

Read more …

“The trade in renminbi is still a minuscule part of the world currency market..”

China’s Petro-Yuan Isn’t Dislodging the Dollar Yet (Barron’s)

The timing seemed perfect. On March 26, four days after the Trump administration called for new tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, Beijing launched an oil-futures contract denominated in yuan. The move seemed logical enough. China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top oil importer last year, so why not start paying in its own currency? But against the backdrop of a brewing trade war, the newly born “petro-yuan” took on the aspect of a nuclear option, at least to Washington’s many ill-wishers around the globe. China’s initiative would put an end to dollar dominance of the $2 trillion annual oil trade, and thus its hegemony as a global reserve currency, so the argument ran. “Petro-Yuan to Kneecap Petro-Dollar,” crowed a headline from Russian state news service RT.

In fact, the petro-yuan is off to a slow start, and the greenback looks destined to remain almighty for a while yet. The reason is contradictions within China, which wants to play a new global role that is co-equal with the U.S. but maintain the old economic controls that got it there. Chinese exchanges have already co-opted much of the global trade in copper and other basic metals. But China is itself a leading copper producer, and volumes in the metal are one-twentieth the size of oil markets. To grab serious real estate from the petrodollar, the yuan would have to be freely convertible on the order of the greenback, euro, or yen—which it assuredly is not. “The trade in renminbi is still a minuscule part of the world currency market,” says Prakash Sharma, China research director for commodities consultant Wood Mackenzie, using an alternative name for the national coin.

“Paying for oil in Chinese currency looks nearly impossible at this stage.” Beijing authorities seemed bent on convertibility until 2015, when a stock market panic in China spurred some $700 billion in capital flight—from families pouring into Western real estate to corporations snapping up overseas acquisitions. The nation’s reserves shrank to a mere $3.3 trillion, and the yuan fell 10% against the dollar over 18 months. President Xi Jinping’s bureaucrats reacted decisively, limiting individuals to $50,000 a year in currency exchange and informally reeling in corporate globalization. “The events of 2015-16 were quite a surprise to the authorities,” says Jens Nordvig, CEO of FX consultant Exante Data. “They nearly lost control of the currency.”

Read more …

Because the US will demand it strengthen it.

China Weakens Its Currency Before US Trade Talks Begin (BBG)

China weakened its daily currency fixing by more than traders and analysts had expected before high-ranking U.S. officials arrive in the country to discuss trade issues. The People’s Bank of China cut the reference level to 6.3670 per dollar, weaker than the average estimate of 6.3610 in Bloomberg survey of 21 traders and analysts. The deviation is the biggest since Feb. 7 and continues a pattern set in April when the fixing was weaker than expected on all but one day, according to Bloomberg calculations. “The move in the fixing today is aggressive,” said Ken Cheung at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong. “China may want to weaken the yuan pre-emptively before the trade talks with the U.S., so that they have room to strengthen the currency” if needed, Cheung said, adding that policy makers may also be keen to arrest the yuan’s advance against a basket of peers.

Read more …

Netanyahu plays games with his credibility.

Europeans Cast Doubt On Israel’s Claims About Iran Nuclear Breaches (G.)

European leaders have pushed back against Israel’s claims that it has new evidence showing that Iran is breaching the nuclear deal with the west which was signed in 2015. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, hailed the Israeli claims as significant, as the 12 May deadline approached for the US president, Donald Trump, to decide whether to pull out of the deal. But Pompeo declined to say whether they represented proof that Iran was violating the deal. The overall initial view in European capitals was that the documents did reveal new material about the scale of Iran’s programme prior to 2015 but that there was nothing showing a subsequent breach of the deal.

The French foreign ministry said that the details needed to be “studied and evaluated” but that the Israeli claims reinforced the need for continuation of the deal – which entails Iran accepting nuclear inspections in return for a loosening of economic sanctions. “The pertinence of the deal is reinforced by the details presented by Israel,” a statement said. “All activity linked to the development of a nuclear weapon is permanently forbidden by the deal.” [..] In a bid to push back against Israel, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, said Netanyahu’s allegations had “not put into question” Tehran’s compliance with the deal and that the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) had produced 10 reports saying Iran had met its commitments.

“The International Atomic Energy Authority is the only impartial international organisation in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear commitments,” Mogherini said. “If any country has information of non compliance of any kind it should address this information to the proper legitimate and recognised mechanism.” The IAEA said a report by its director in 2015 “stated that the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009”, and that the IAEA’s board of governors “declared that its consideration of this issue was closed”. A German government spokesman said it would analyse the Israeli documents, but added that the JCPOA had unprecedentedly strong monitoring mechanisms. The spokesman said: “It is clear that the international community had doubts that Iran was pursuing an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme. That is why the nuclear agreement was reached in 2015.”

Read more …

Britain better get rid of all these people.

Inside Theresa May’s Brexit War Cabinet, Tory Battles Rage (BBG)

The prime minister and her inner circle refer to it simply as “The SN.” To everyone else it is Theresa May’s “Brexit war cabinet,” the group of senior ministers who set the U.K.’s course out of the European Union. These eleven Cabinet members meet regularly in closely-guarded privacy to decide the detail of Brexit policies. On Wednesday afternoon, they convene once again to address an explosive question that could blow up May’s government. What to do about the Irish border and the future customs arrangements between the U.K. and the EU? Unless a satisfactory answer can be found soon, it could be enough to derail the negotiations entirely, forcing Britain out of the bloc with no meaningful deal at all.

The key to understanding the dynamic in the room had been that half of them campaigned to stay in the EU during the 2016 referendum, while the other five voted to leave — with the premier herself having the deciding vote. All that changed this week. Until she resigned as Home Secretary on Sunday, Amber Rudd was among the loudest voices in favor of keeping close ties to the EU. She’s been replaced by Sajid Javid, who is far closer to the pro-Brexit lobby, although he did – reluctantly – campaign for Remain two years ago.

Also on the pro-EU side are Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark — both have been keeping low profiles of late. Pro-Brexit ministers are led by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, both figureheads of the Leave campaign.

Read more …

They deported tens of thousands of students. On the basis of a questionable test.

UK Home Office ‘Mistakenly Deported 7,000 Foreign Students’ (Ind.)

The government may have mistakenly deported more than 7,000 foreign students after falsely accusing them of cheating in English language tests. Most of the students were not allowed to appeal the Home Office decision; nor were theyt able to obtain evidence against them, or given the opportunity to prove the proficiency in English Some were detained by immigration officials, lost their jobs, and were left homeless as a result, despite being in the UK legally, the Financial Times reported. The students’ treatment has been blamed on the “hostile environment” policy introduced by Theresa May during her time as home secretary.

The approach, which aims to push illegal immigrants to leave Britain by making their lives difficult, led to the Windrush scandal that forced Ms May’s successor Amber Rudd to resign. The foreign students were targeted by the Home Office after an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama in 2014 exposed systematic cheating at some colleges where candidates sat the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). The test is one of several that overseas students can sit to prove their English language proficiency, a visa requirement. After the Panorama broadcast, the government asked the US-based company which runs the test to analyse sound files to investigate whether studies had been enlisting proxies to sit the tests for them.

The firm, English Testing Services, identified 33,725 “invalid” tests taken by students it was confident confident had cheated. The students’ visas were revoked and they were told to leave the country. Another 22,694 test results were classed as “questionable”, meaning the students who sat them were invited for an interview before any action was taken against them.

By the end of 2016, the Home Office had revoked the visas of nearly 36,000 students who took the test. However, when ETS’s automated voice analysis was checked against human analysis, its computer programme was found to be wrong in 20% of cases, meaning that more than 7,000 students were likely to have been wrongly accused of cheating. [..] Immigration barrister Patrick Lewis, who represented several students in successfully appealing their deportation, told the Financial Times: “The highly questionable quality of the evidence upon which these accusations have been based and the lack of any effective judicial oversight have given rise to some of the greatest injustices that I have encountered in over 20 years of practice.”

Read more …

NHS is 10,000 doctors short, patients dying on trolleys in hallways.

Theresa May Vetoed Cabinet Pleas Over Visas For NHS Doctors (St.)

Theresa May faces a new immigration crisis after it emerged that she overruled Cabinet ministers pleading for more doctors from overseas to fill empty NHS posts. At least three government departments lobbied for a relaxation of visa rules to let in desperately needed doctors as well as specialist staff sought by businesses, the Evening Standard has learned. The issue erupted on Friday when several NHS trusts went public about fears that patient safety was being put at risk by doctor shortages. The crisis came as then home secretary Amber Rudd was fighting for her political life over the Windrush scandal — but No 10’s hard line meant her hands were tied.

Sources have disclosed that Downing Street was lobbied for several months before the NHS went public to allow a relaxation of the rules. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Ms Rudd are understood to be among those urging No 10 to lift the quota for special cases such as NHS doctors. At the same time Business Secretary Greg Clark was pressing for more exceptions to help firms cope with specialist skills shortages. A Whitehall source said Mrs May “absolutely refused to budge” when asked to lift the cap in recent months. “I think Jeremy and Amber were on the same page on this but No 10 were in a different place entirely,” said a separate source.

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No, really, these people DO understand the effect will be the opposite of what they claim.

OECD Calls For Even Tighter Greek Fiscal Policy To Bolster Growth (K.)

Greece needs to further extend its real age of retirement and to abolish all kinds of tax exemptions, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has recommended in a report published on Monday, so that the growth rate accelerates, fiscal revenues expand and the national debt becomes sustainable. Although the report, presented in Athens on the occasion of OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria’s visit, does speak of a return to growth, it undercuts the official forecast for a 2.3% economic expansion this year, pointing instead to a 2% increase. It adds that a series of reforms could considerably strengthen gross domestic product in the future.

According to the OECD, a four-year rise in the real age of retirement up to 2030 (instead of the already scheduled three-year rise to the age of 65 by the same year) will boost GDP by 10.4 percent points (against 7.5 points with the scheduled extension). The modernization of the public administration and the improvement of the justice system up to OECD standards by 2030 would have an even greater impact, the report says. That would signify a GDP impact of 25.6 percent points, compared to the current plans for a 14.7 percent-point increase.

The organization further recommends new reforms in the commodity markets so that they reach up to Belgium’s level by 2020, and an increase in family benefits to meet the European Union average by 2025. In total, the reforms the OECD has proposed would bolster GDP by 46.1 percent points or almost 100 billion euros per year, against 25.4 percent points projected by the currently planned reforms. Those proposed reforms would also cut the national debt to just 100% of GDP by 2060, the report projects.

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It’s about political control, not finance.

Greece’s Debt Deal To Show How Europe Treats Its Less Fortunate Nations (CNBC)

Speaking in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia last week, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici told me the EU believes its models may be more accurate, but argued that the best way to win an IMF buy-in would be to agree on a debt repayment mechanism first proposed by his countrymen — and one of his successors as French finance minister — Bruno Le Maire. Macron’s finance chief told me separately that he hoped to win over opponents to his plan, a “growth adjustment mechanism” that would automatically link future debt repayments to Greece’s relative economic success: Athens would repay larger installments if its economy expands quickly, and reduce payments if it slows, a process that its proponents claim provides market participants with greater clarity and transparency.

Arrayed against the French plan is the desire on the part of authorities in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria to maintain a degree of political control over Greece’s required repayments. This might mean the size and scope of future repayments could be assessed by national parliaments, rather than automatically calculated based on factors like GDP growth. The publicly espoused view in Berlin is that such an approach would force the Greeks to continue with their structural reforms and austerity measures that have helped transform what was a 15% budget deficit in 2009 into a recent surplus.

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“Who better to entrust with the most intimate parts of our lives than Mark Zuckerberg, the king of privacy?”

Facebook’s Dating App Finally Makes Privacy Invasion Sexy (G.)

Thank God Facebook is finally offering a dating app. Who better to entrust with the most intimate parts of our lives than Mark Zuckerberg, the king of privacy? I assume Zuck will be building it off of one of the early projects that established him as a wunderkind: FaceMash. You may remember it – it’s the one where he hacked into campus websites, collecting pictures that allowed Harvard students to rank each other by hotness. With Facebook dating, the FaceMash dream is at last becoming reality. This should make it easy for Facebook’s hottest people – if there are any left; my understanding is most hot people have migrated to Instagram – to match with equally attractive people, leaving the rest of us trolls and gnomes to mingle with each other.

And after a few months, you can bet the data will leak, offering us all an opportunity to find out, based on rigorous computer analyses, how hot we are. I’m a four at best, you’re a seven. But those numbers won’t be based just on looks. What this app has over Tinder is its existing knowledge of every facet of our lives. Romance is, of course, transactional, and Zuckerberg can finally determine a precise formula based on the value each person brings to a potential match. How much money does it take to compensate for suboptimal physical attractiveness? How often do I have to post about working out to balance out my penchant for Ben and Jerry’s? How often do you have to donate to charities to make up for the fact that you bought an alarming amount of toilet paper on Amazon last month?

Then there’s the possibility that Facebook engagement could come into play. Will active users get more profile views than those of us who have largely abandoned the site? Would that mean we’re more likely to end up on dates with the kind of person who posts constantly on Facebook? Sign me up.

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7 million per year. That’s just a start.

More Than 90% Of Air Pollution Deaths Occur In Poorer Countries (Ind.)

Air pollution is involved in the deaths of around seven million people every year, with the vast majority of fatalities taking place in poorer countries. The latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that nine out of 10 people are breathing air containing dangerous levels of pollutants. These results largely echo those released in another global air pollution report in April, and experts have once again pointed to the particular burden falling on the world’s most vulnerable people. “Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

The new figures come as reports emerge concerning residents of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, drinking “oxygen cocktails” in an effort to ward off the harmful effects of air pollution. Ranked by Unicef as the most polluted capital city in the world, Ulaanbaatar is one of the many Asian and African cities highlighted as particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of air pollution by WHO. According to Dr Maria Neira, who leads public health efforts at WHO, many of the world’s megacities – such as Beijing, Delhi and Jakarta – exceed guideline levels for air quality by more than five times.

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