When Boston Fed governor Eric Rosengren, a voting member of the Federal Open Markets Committee, where monetary policy is decided, shared some aspects of his worries on Friday morning, markets tanked instantly. This came just after the ECB’s refusal to please the markets with promises of additional bond purchases. Instead, it stuck to the promises it had made previously. What a disappointment for markets running on nothing but central-bank mouth-wagging and money-printing! [..] In his speech, Rosengren discussed how the US economy has been “fairly resilient” and is near “reaching the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate from Congress (stable prices and maximum sustainable employment),” despite all the global headwinds, some of which he enumerated.
And so, he said, “a reasonable case can be made for continuing to pursue a gradual normalization of monetary policy.” Hence, rate increases, even though there were some “conflicting signals” in the economic data – “Clearly, the first two quarters did not live up to the forecasts,” he said. But “waiting too long to tighten” would expose the economy to two risks: First, the economy overheats – the belated tightening might “require more rapid increases in interest rates later in the cycle,” which will likely “result” in a recession, as it did “frequently” in the past. And second, asset bubbles – “that some asset markets become too ebullient.” He pointed at commercial real estate prices that “have risen quite rapidly over the past five years, particularly for multifamily properties.”
He added: Because commercial real estate is widely held in the portfolios of leveraged institutions, commercial real estate cycles can amplify the impact of economic downturns as financial institutions need to write down the value of loans and cut back on lending to maintain their capital ratios. And what a bubble it is. Over the past 12 months, prices have jumped only 6%, according to the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index, compared to the double-digit gains in prior years. “Equilibrium,” the report called it. The index has soared 107% from May 2009, and 26.5% from the peak of the totally crazy prior bubble that ended with such spectacular fireworks:
If there is a curse between the covers of this thin, self-satisfied volume, it doesn’t have to do with cash, the title to the contrary notwithstanding. Freedom is rather the subject of the author’s malediction. He’s not against it in principle, only in practice. Ken Rogoff is a chaired Harvard economics professor, a one-time chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and (to boot) a chess grandmaster. He laid out his case against cash in a Saturday essay in this newspaper two weeks ago. By abolishing large-denomination bills, he said there, the government could strike a blow against sin and perfect the Federal Reserve’s control of interest rates. “The Curse of Cash,” the Rogoffian case in full, comes in two parts.
The first is a helping of monetary small bites: a little history (in which the gold standard gets the back of the author’s hand), a little central-banking practice, a little underground economy. It’s all in the service of showing where money came from and where it should be going. Terrorists traffic in cash, Mr. Rogoff observes. So do drug dealers and tax cheats. Good, compliant citizens rarely touch the $100 bills that constitute a sizable portion of the suspiciously immense volume of greenbacks outstanding—$4,200 per capita. Get rid of them is the author’s message. Then, again, one could legalize certain narcotics to discommode the drug dealers and adopt Steve Forbes’s flat tax to fill up the Treasury. Mr. Rogoff considers neither policy option. Government control is not only his preferred position.
It is the only position that seems to cross his mind. Which brings us to the business end of this production. Come the next recession, the book’s second part contends, the Fed should have the latitude to drive interest rates below zero. Mr. Rogoff lays the blame for America’s lamentable post-financial-crisis economic record not on the Obama administration’s suffocating tax and regulatory policies. The problem is rather the Fed’s inability to put its main interest rate, the federal funds rate, where it has never been before. In a deep recession, Mr. Rogoff proposes, the Fed ought not to stop cutting rates when it comes to zero. It should plunge right ahead, to minus 1%, minus 2%, minus 3% and so forth.
At one negative rate or another, the theory goes, despoiled bank depositors will stop saving and start spending. According to the worldview of the people who constitute what Mr. Rogoff fraternally calls the “policy community” (who elected them?), the spending will buttress “aggregate demand,” thus restore prosperity. You may doubt this. Mr. Rogoff himself sees difficulties. For him, the problem is cash. The ungrateful objects of the policy community’s statecraft will stockpile it. What would you do if your bank docked you, say, 3% a year for the privilege of holding your money? Why, you might convert your deposit into $100 bills, rent a safe deposit box and count yourself a shrewd investor. Hence the shooting war against currency.
Here’s a gut check for bond investors: corporate America is now more leveraged than ever. As this year’s corporate bond sales raced past $1 trillion on Wednesday – marking the fifth consecutive year of trillion-plus issuance – Morgan Stanley published a report Friday highlighting the growing strains on company balance sheets. The report, which estimated US companies’ collective debt at a record 2.4 times their collective earnings as of June, comes at a time of growing angst in global bond markets “The investment-grade ‘safe’ part of the market is becoming the most dangerous,” said Ashish Shah, CIO at AllianceBernstein. “There are so little returns out there. People are crowding into whatever they can.”
The debt metric, which doesn’t include banks and other financial companies, has climbed for five straight quarters as corporate profits decline at the same time companies load up on the increasingly cheap borrowings, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Adam Richmond wrote in a note to clients. In 2010, when the U.S. economy started recovering from the longest recession since the Great Depression, the ratio fell to 1.7 times. But what has the analysts uneasy isn’t just the speed at which leverage is climbing, but that it’s happening while the economy continues to grow. “Leverage tends to rise most in a recession – so the fact that it is this high in a ‘healthy economy’ is even more concerning,” the analysts wrote. In other words, they said, “mistakes are both more likely and more costly.”
The analysts’ assessment wasn’t totally worrisome. Years of near-zero interest rates have made it a lot easier to service those debt loads. The typical company’s annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, known as Ebitda, is still almost 10 times its interest payments, Morgan Stanley’s data shows. Even that number has been declining, though, as earnings slump.
Recently, the Fed decided not to change interest rates. Various reasons were given, but as we know, there are two “parties” in the US, one which favors monetary easing, and the other, tightening, and each has arguments for their case. Economists are divided on how to proceed. They disagree on precisely this: which economic policies can facilitate growth in our times? A brief look at the last 50 years provides some context. In the 70s, household incomes fell, most of all from 1972-73, and with them, spending. Starting in 1981, (Reaganomics!), spending began to rise, but income, hardly at all. Economic growth was due to increased consumption driven by a rise in household debt, and from 2008 on, in government debt. If we look at real disposable household income, it is the same today as it was in the early 60s.
Today, average household debt is 120% of annual income, whereas up until 1981 it never exceeded 65%. Note too, that in 1981, the discount rate was 19%, whereas today it is practically zero. Today, consumption can only increase if someone hands out money. This money cannot be earned by companies, because consumers are unable to buy additional products. So the only way is to increase debt. But lowering interest rates is impossible because they are already at zero. So there are two options: 1) print money and hand it out to people through the banks, with the understanding that this money will not be returned, or 2) restructure the existing debt, both personal and corporate, in the hopes that then people will start to consume.
In order to do this, interest rates would have to be raised to at least 3-4%, with the banks taking a major hit, because their customers cannot service their loans at those rates… Voila the collision of interests between the people and the banks. Unsurprisingly, the two US candidates disagree on this issue. Clinton is for option 1, i.e. more monetary easing (helping the banks), and Trump is for tightening (helping the people). The choice, of course, lies with the American voter.
[..] Wells Fargo was fined $185 million by various regulators for opening customer accounts without the customers’ permission, and that is bad, but there is also something almost heroic about it. There’s a standard story in most bank scandals, in which small groups of highly paid traders gleefully and ungrammatically conspire to rip-off customers and make a lot of money for themselves and their bank. This isn’t that. This looks more like a vast uprising of low-paid and ill-treated Wells Fargo employees against their bosses. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which fined Wells Fargo $100 million, reports that about 5,300 employees have been fired for signing customers up for fake accounts since 2011. You’d have a tough time organizing 5,300 people into a conspiracy, which makes me think that this was less a conspiracy and more a spontaneous revolt.
“The fine is a rounding error, and I don’t see any unintended consequences.” So said FBR analyst Paul Miller, describing the $185 million in fines and penalties, plus another $5 million for “customer remediation,” that Wells Fargo agreed to pay. Wells Fargo’s punishment comes to only 0.9% of the $22.9 billion that the bank earned last year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found “widespread unlawful practices” at the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, including the opening of “hundreds of thousands” of accounts by employees without customers’ knowledge so employees could hit lofty sales targets. The fine was the largest levied since the CFPB’s founding in 2011.
Shares of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo fell 2.4% at the close of regular trading Friday, in line with the benchmark S&P 500 suggesting a low level of worry among investors. But there could be longer-term consequences for the bank’s reputation, as Federal Reserve Gov. Daniel Tarullo said during a CNBC interview that criminal charges against bank officers should be pursued. In Wells Fargo’s more than 6,000 retail branches, there has long been a culture of cross-selling as many products to customers as possible, which has been a big part of the bank’s success for decades, according to Marty Mosby, director of bank and equity strategies at Memphis, Tenn.-based broker-dealer Vining Sparks.
Should we all celebrate? Or sink into a great depression, or run for the nearest bunker? It’s hard to know how to react to the news Auckland’s average house value rose over $1 million in August. Auckland’s homeowners should in theory be celebrating their good fortune and voting for more of the same. Anyone who invested just over $53,000 of their money in 2011 to buy an average Auckland house with a 90% mortgage would now be sitting on tax-free capital gains of $486,000. Indeed, some are celebrating. New car sales are at record highs and spending in Auckland’s cafes, bars and restaurants is growing at double-digit rates. But it’s not the sort of go-for-broke debt-fuelled spending binge like the one we saw from 2002-07 when mortgage lending grew at an annual rate of 15%.
Mortgage debt grew 9% in the last year and most people think it has peaked, given the Reserve Bank’s latest restrictions on low deposit lending and a limit on debt to income multiples expected next year. Most Aucklanders don’t believe the manna from the great housing gods in the heavens is real enough to go withdrawing from their household ATMs, which is why the lending growth is relatively subdued. They can also feel in their bones that house prices at 10 times incomes are hyper≠ventilated, if not downright over-valued. New Zealand’s house-price-to-income multiple is the second-most-expensive relative to long run averages in the OECD (behind Belgium), and is the most expensive relative to rents in the OECD. That overvaluation has grown more than any other country in the OECD over the past six years.
This is not the sort of world champion tag we want. The $1m milestone is clearly a moment of despair for those young Aucklanders aspiring to own a home and start a family, particularly those whose parents were also renters. The combination of the price rises and the new LVR rules mean they face decades of saving for a deposit, let along being able to borrow the hundreds and hundreds of thousands to buy a home. All they can hope for is to win Lotto or to marry into a rich family. Another response is to hunker down and prepare for an implosion, which means saving madly to repay debt ahead of the housing market end-times and to diversify into other types of assets. This isn’t so much a celebration as a preparing for the party to be shut down.
After the EU-Mediterranean summit in Athens on Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his satisfaction that French President Francois Hollande joined Alexis Tsipras’s initiative to form a front against austerity, Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Saturday. “At last, Hollande is with us, he got over his indecisiveness,” the paper quoted Renzi as saying. “Now we can take action.” On the flight back to Rome from Athens, Renzi appeared more than satisfied with the outcome of the summit, the paper reported. Renzi is said to have expressed relief, in comments to journalists, that Hollande signed a declaration embracing the policies that Italy and other southern European countries are promoting. “Now we are many, we can cause a stir,” Renzi is reported to have said, adding that he expected that “in the future the balance of power will change.”
Much as I appreciate Yanis, I’m afraid I have to agree with much of this article. Reforming the EU is akin to reforming the mob. Why not put your energy into an organization that exists ‘parallel’ to the EU?
To his credit, Varoufakis at least recognizes that progressives “have no alternative” but a “head-on clash with the EU establishment,” since the European Union simply cannot be reformed to make it more democratic. But, he nonetheless insists, leftists must not support referenda to leave the EU. He offers two confused reasons for this. First, since exit referenda are “movements that have been devised and led primarily by the Right,” it is “unlikely” that joining them “will help the Left block their opponents’ political ascendancy.” This left defeatism is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Left refuses to lead exit referenda campaigns, of course the running will be left to the Right. And since the Left cannot convincingly defend the European Union, that leaves the Right to benefit.
Secondly, Varoufakis suggests that restoring national democracy will mean the end of the free movement of “workers.” “Given that the EU has established free movement, Lexit involves acquiescence to – if not actual support for – the reestablishment of national border controls, complete with barbed wire and armed guards.” Leaving aside the fact that left-wing leadership could theoretically persuade an electorate to accept open borders, this defence of the EU is simply bizarre. The European Union is very far from “borderless” (his word). It has created free movement not for “workers,” but for EU citizens, albeit limited for the citizens from accession countries.
But for non-EU workers, the European Union has established Fortress Europe: “barbed wire and armed guards” surround the continent, resulting in thousands of dead Africans and Asians in the Mediterranean Sea, and hundreds of thousands more languishing in squalid conditions in southeast Europe (including Varoufakis’s own home country, Greece) and Turkey. Moreover, the migration crisis has led to the restoration of “barbed wire and armed guards” across the continent. The idea that the European Union safeguards some sort of workers’ paradise of open borders against right-wing revanchism is ludicrous.
Greece’s prime minister promised Saturday to deliver economic growth to a country hammered by years of economic hardship, as thousands gathered in protest at more planned austerity measures. About 15,000 protesters – beating drums, waving black flags and holding helium balloons bearing anti-government slogans – took part in demonstrations, marching through the center of Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke on the state of the nation’s economy. “In five disastrous years … a quarter of our national wealth was destroyed, disposable income fell by 40%, unemployment soared to 28% and the level of poverty rose to 38%,” Tsipras told an audience of politicians and business leaders, referring to governments before he took office in early 2015.
“Now, all the indications are that this chapter is closing…Finally, we are going from a negative direction to a positive one.” As expected Tsipras said that €246 million, the proceeds of a recent auction of TV licenses, would go toward the “needs of the welfare state.” He promised 10,000 new jobs at state hospitals, thousands more free meals at schools, more kindergarten places and a program aimed at bringing back young Greeks who left the country due to the crisis. “Every last euro of the €246 million will go the people,” he said. He also heralded a 5-year action plan – “a realistic road map for the recovery of the economy and reduction of burdens” – that would bring about a “new Greece” by 2021 and promised to freeze the social security contributions of self-employed Greeks as well as reducing taxes in two years time.
I had to read 5-6 versions of this, in order to find where the money would be going. Turns out, as I feared, that it goes not to the Greeks but to -mostly- international NGOs, who’ve done a far from stellar job. Give a fraction of the €115 million to Konstantinos and his O Allos Anthropos ‘movement’ that we support, and many more people get help. That this is still needed despite the 100s of millions of euros doled out to those NGOs says more than enough. International NGOs are way too expensive and inefficient. So please click that link and help The Automatic Earth help where it counts.
The European Union will provide humanitarian organizations in Greece an additional €115 million on top of €83 million from earlier this year, the European Commission said on Saturday. “The European Commission continues to put solidarity into action to better manage the refugee crisis, in close cooperation with the Greek Government,” Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said. “The new funding has the key aim to improve conditions for refugees in Greece, and make a difference ahead of the upcoming winter.”
About 60,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece due to border closures implemented earlier this year in the Balkans. Rights organizations have documented poor conditions in overcrowded camps. The new funding will help improve existing shelters and build new ones, pay for a voucher system for migrants, and provide education and other support to unaccompanied minors. It will be channelled via humanitarian organizations. The EU’s emergency support aid is in addition to financial assistance given under other funding programmes.
Rescuers pulled 2,300 migrants to safety on Saturday in 18 separate rescue operations in the Mediterranean coordinated by the Italian coast guard. A Spanish boat belonging to an EU naval force, an Irish navy vessel and boats of four non-governmental organizations were involved in the rescue operations, the coast guard said in a statement. It did not say where the migrants, who were traveling in 17 rubber vessel and one small boat, originally came from. Since moves to stop people crossing from Turkey to Greece, Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War Two is now focused on Italy, where some 115,000 people had arrived by the end of August, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
As central banks in Europe and Japan gear up to further expand quantitative-easing policies, market participants have issued a flurry of stark warnings about the potentially-negative unintended consequences, from the hit to pension funds to the risk of fueling market bubbles. But the more-prosaic prognostication — that further easing simply won’t stimulate slowing economies by reviving enfeebled corporate investment — may be the hardest-hitting retort from the perspective of central banks in the U.K., euro-area and Japan. While a clutch of reasons for moribund business investment in advanced economies have been advanced, central banks would do well to wake up to another typically over-looked cause, according to a new report from Citigroup.
Corporate investment faces a financing hurdle as the weighted-average cost of capital for companies (known as WACC) remains elevated thanks to the stubbornly high cost of equity, Hans Lorenzen, Citi credit analyst, said in a report published this week. The report pleads with central banks to forgo further asset purchases, citing diminishing returns from such stimulus programs and their questionable efficacy more generally. Corporates aren’t feeling the financing benefits offered by the global fall in real long-term interest rates thanks to a historically-high equity risk premium — which, in simple terms, is the excess return the stock market is expected to earn over a perceived risk-free rate, Lorenzen said.
Although companies typically aren’t dependent on equity issuance to fund investment programs – relying instead on fixed-income markets – the equity risk premium is an important factor influencing investment decisions made by company boards. The higher the cost of equity, the higher the theoretical overall cost of capital for corporates. In other words, investments that don’t on paper appear to make returns materially greater than the company’s WACC will face financing challenges.
The ECB is expected to extend its trillion-euro bond-buying program beyond March 2017 and announce to expand the universe of eligibile bonds as part of its seemingly never-ending struggle to kickstart the euro zone’s economy. The central bank and its President Mario Draghi has been trying to push inflation back to its goal of below but close to 2 percent with a plethora of measures and instruments ranging from negative deposit rates to spur lending, a QE program that has been buying €80 billion ($89 billion) in bonds every month and interest rates close to zero – but without a breakthrough success. Analysts believe the ECB’s governing council has its work cut out when it meets to decide on monetary policy Thursday.
The headline rate of inflation remained unchanged at 0.2% in August. Core, or underlying inflation, which excludes energy, goods, alcohol and tobacco, fell from 0.9% in July to 0.8%, according to Eurostat. The eurozone economy slowed slightly in August as Germany’s services sector faltered, according to surveys of purchasing managers, expanding at the weakest pace in 19 months. Amid the factors for the cooling of the economy is the UK’s decision to leave the EU which may have dampened the currency area’s modest recovery. “We think the ECB will expand the duration of its QE programme from March 2017 currently to September 2017,” Nick Kounis at ABN Amro writes. “The ECB will most likely also need to announce changes to its QE programme to increase the universe of eligible assets as it will not be able to meet even its current targets under the current structure.”
Central banks have become some of the biggest investors in bond markets. Now some in the financial markets think stocks should benefit more from their largess. Some economists say the ECB, which meets Thursday to decide if it should expand its current bond-buying program, should invest in equities. The reason: It is running out of bonds to buy. A move by the ECB into equities would have big implications for Europe’s stock markets, which have been rocked by a series of shocks this year, from volatility in China to Britain’s vote to leave the EU. The prospect of billions of euros flowing into equities could prop up prices, much as ECB bond purchases have done for debt securities. The signaling effect from the ECB’s unlimited money-printing power may also limit downturns in equities.
Stock purchases don’t appear to be on the near-term agenda. But ECB officials haven’t ruled them out, and the idea could gain steam if they continue to undershoot their 2% inflation target. Some central banks already invest in equities. Switzerland’s central bank has accumulated over $100 billion worth of stocks, including large holdings in blue-chip U.S. companies such as Apple and Coca-Cola. If the ECB decides to raise its stimulus by extending its current bond program, as many analysts expect, fresh questions will be raised about how it will continue to find enough bonds to buy. The bank is already purchasing €80 billion a month of corporate and public-sector bonds to reduce interest rates across the eurozone. Its holdings of public-sector debt reached €1 trillion last week, the ECB said Monday.
Investors are now paying for the privilege of lending their money to companies, a fresh sign of how aggressive central-bank policy is upending conventional patterns in finance. German consumer-products company Henkel AG and French drugmaker Sanofi each sold no-interest bonds at a premium to their face value Tuesday. That means investors are paying more for the bonds than they will get back when the bonds mature in the next few years. A number of governments already have been able to issue bonds at negative yields this year. But it is a rare feat for companies, which also ask investors to bear credit risk.
Yields on corporate debt have plunged in recent months as investors have pushed up prices in the scramble for returns. Roughly €706 billion of eurozone investment-grade corporate bonds traded at negative yields as of Sept. 5, or over 30% of the entire market, according to trading platform Tradeweb, up from roughly 5% of the market in early January. [..] Tuesday’s deals, however, are among just a handful of corporate offerings that have actually been sold at negative yields. They include offerings of euro-denominated bonds earlier this year by units of British oil giant BP and German auto maker BMW, according to Dealogic. Germany’s state rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, also has issued euro-denominated bonds at negative yields.
The ECB launched its corporate bond-buying program in early June and had bought over €20 billion of corporate bonds as of Sep. 2. Most of its purchases came in secondary markets, where investors buy and sell already issued bonds. The central bank meets Thursday and will decide if it should expand its current bond-buying program. The purchases have helped set off a burst of issuance following the traditional summer lull in local capital markets. Last month was the busiest August on record for new issuance of euro-denominated, investment grade corporate debt, according to Dealogic.
There is a lasting and stable connection in data between changes in the interest rate and changes in the unemployment rate. Past data suggest that if the Fed were to raise the interest rate at its next meeting, unemployment would increase and output growth would slow. It is fear of that outcome that causes central bank doves to be reluctant to raise the interest rate. But although an interest rate increase has preceded a slowdown by approximately three months in past data, there is a connection at longer horizons between inflation and the T-bill rate. That connection, sometimes called the Fisher relationship after the American economist Irving Fisher, arises from the fact that, risk-adjusted, T-bills and equities should pay the same rate of return.
The one-year real return on a T-bill is the difference between the interest rate and the expected one-year inflation rate. The one-year real return on holding the S&P 500 is the gain you can expect to make from buying the market today and selling it one year later. Economic theory suggests that the gap between those two expected returns arises from the fact that equities are riskier than T-bills, and importantly, the gap cannot be too big. Therein lies the policy maker’s conundrum. To hit an inflation target of 2%, the T-bill rate must be 2% higher than the underlying risk adjusted real rate: policy makers call this rate r*. There is some evidence that r* is currently very low currently, possibly zero or even negative. But if the Fed were to raise the policy rate to 2% at the next meeting, they are terrified that they might trigger a recession.
Let’s examine that argument. The fact that a rate rise caused a slowdown in past data does not mean that a rate rise will cause a slowdown in future data. This time really is different. It is different because in 2008 the Fed expanded its policy options. Before 2008 the interest rate set by the Fed was the Federal Funds Rate (FFR). That is the overnight rate at which commercial banks can borrow or lend to each other. Before 2008, there was a large and active Fed funds market used by commercial banks to meet reserve requirements. Commercial banks are required to hold roughly 10% of their balance sheets in the form of reserves. In the past, because reserves did not pay interest, banks kept them to a minimum. Excess reserves for much of the post-war period were essentially zero. Firms and households hold cash because they need liquid assets to facilitate trade. But cash is costly to hold because a firm must forgo investment opportunities. In the parlance of economic theory, we say that the FFR is the opportunity cost of holding money.
China is eating up a larger chunk of the world’s shrinking trade pie. Brushing off rising wages, a shrinking workforce and intensifying competition from lower cost nations from Vietnam to Mexico, China’s global export share climbed to 14.6% last year from 12.9% a year earlier. That’s the highest proportion of world exports ever in IMF data going back to 1980. Yet even as its export share climbs globally, manufacturing’s slice of China’s economy is waning as services and consumption emerge as the new growth drivers. For the global economy, a slide in China’s exports this year isn’t proving any respite as an even sharper slump in its imports erodes a pillar of demand.
Those trends are likely to be replicated in August data due Thursday. Exports are estimated to fall 4% from a year earlier and imports are seen dropping 5.4%, leaving a trade surplus of $58.85 billion, according to a survey of economists by Bloomberg News as of late Tuesday. While China’s advantage in low-end manufacturing has been seized upon by Donald Trump’s populist campaign for the U.S. presidency, the shift into higher value-added products from robots to computers is also pitting China against developed-market competitors from South Korea to Germany. A weaker yuan risks exacerbating global trade tensions, which became a hot button issue at the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou over cheap steel shipments.
“All the talk we have heard over the last few years about China losing its global competitive advantage is nonsense,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney. “This will all further fuel increasing trade tensions as already evident in the U.K. with the Brexit vote and in the U.S. with the support for Trump’s populist protectionist platform.”
Amid all the buzz about China’s hosting the G-20 summit in Hangzhou – all the accords, arguments and alleged snubs – another symbolically significant event was largely obscured. Last week, the World Bank issued bonds denominated in Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, in China’s interbank market. Beginning in October, the yuan will be included in the basket of currencies used to set the SDRs’ value. To China, this symbolizes its status as a rising power. I’d argue that it instead symbolizes why China is struggling to become a global financial center. Beijing conceived of SDRs as something of a compromise. It would like the global monetary system to be less reliant on the U.S. dollar and more favorable toward its own currency.
Yet it continues to impose capital controls, which limit the yuan’s usage overseas, and it doesn’t want to let the yuan’s value float freely, which would be a prerequisite to its becoming a true reserve currency. China saw SDRs as a way to split the difference, to create a competitor to the dollar and maintain a fixed exchange rate at the same time. The problem is that there’s almost no conceivable reason to use them. SDRs were created as a synthetic reserve asset by the IMF decades ago, under the Bretton Woods system. No country uses them for normal business, and no government is likely to issue bonds denominated in them except for political reasons, as the World Bank is doing. Companies won’t use them either. If a firm wants to borrow to build a plant in Japan, it will issue a bond in yen so it can repay in yen.
If its customers are global, surely an ambitious investment bank would be willing to build a customized currency portfolio index that would match its needs. Rather than using the SDR’s weighting of currencies, the company could sell a bond in a synthetic index of anything: a 25% split between dollars, euros, yen and reals, say. No customer pays in SDRs; why bind yourself to repaying debts in them? The reason China is pushing SDRs is that it hopes to gain the prestige of a global currency without facing the financial pressure to let the yuan float freely or to loosen capital controls. It wants the benefits of global leadership, in other words, but would prefer to avoid the drawbacks. This is precisely the attitude that’s hindering China’s rise as a global financial center.
Wall Street traders and fund managers returning from the summer break are likely to focus on the obvious: a series of central-bank meetings in coming weeks and the imminent U.S. election. They also should be paying close attention to some unusual behavior in the market, where the changing relationship between bonds and stocks may be a sign of trouble ahead. A generation of traders have grown up with the idea that stock prices and bond yields tend to rise and fall together, as what is good for stocks is bad for bonds (pushing the price down and yield up), and vice versa. This summer, the relationship seems to have broken down in the U.S. Share prices and bond yields moved in the same direction in just 11 of the past 30 trading days, close to the lowest since the start of 2007.
This is far from unprecedented. But since Lehman Brothers failed in 2008, such a swing in the relationship has been unusual and suggests prices are being driven by something other than the balance of hope and fear about the economy. It has tended to coincide with times of deep discontent in markets, notably the 2013 “taper tantrum,” when bond yields briefly surged after Federal Reserve officials signaled they would soon end stimulus, and last year’s brief bubble in German bunds. The simplest explanation is that expectations of interest rates being lower for longer—some central bankers have suggested lower forever—pushes the price of everything up, and yields down.
When the focus is on the discount rate used to value all assets, bond and stock prices rise and fall together, creating the inverse relationship between bond yields and shares. Such a focus on monetary policy isn’t healthy. It leaves markets more exposed to sudden shocks, both from changes in policy and from an economy to which less attention is being paid. “It’s a somewhat mercurial thing, but there are big shifts [in correlations], and being on the right side of those big shifts is important,” said Philip Saunders at Investec Asset Management. “You do see some brutal price action at these correlation inflection points.”
Some cracks could be starting to appear in the picture of an otherwise resilient U.S. economy. An abrupt drop in the Institute for Supply Management’s services gauge on Tuesday to a six-year low is the latest in a string of unexpectedly weak data for August. Other less-than-stellar figures include an ISM factory survey showing a contraction in manufacturing; a cooling of hiring; automobile sales falling short of forecasts; and an index of consumer sentiment at a four-month low. While there is hardly any evidence that growth is falling off a cliff, the run of disappointing figures make it tougher to argue that the underlying momentum of the world’s largest economy is holding up.
It also potentially complicates the task of Federal Reserve policy makers, who are debating whether to raise interest rates as soon as this month; traders’ bets on a September move faded further after the report on service industries, which make up almost 90% of the economy. “The latest set of ISM numbers is shockingly weak,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in New York. “It certainly gives the doves at the Fed more ammunition. It makes the Fed’s conversation at the September meeting that much more contentious.” The ISM’s non-manufacturing index slumped to 51.4, the lowest since February 2010, from 55.5 in July, the Tempe, Arizona-based group reported. The figure was lower than the most pessimistic projection in a Bloomberg survey.
The ISM measures of orders and business activity skidded by the most since 2008, when the U.S. was in a recession. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. Stocks fell, bonds climbed and the dollar weakened against most of its major peers after the data were released.
New Zealand has the world’s most frenetic property market, with prices in Auckland now outstripping London, and possibly dashing the hopes of British buyers hoping to escape Brexit. In a global ranking of house price growth by estate agents Knight Frank, New Zealand was second to Turkey, but once the impact of inflation was stripped out it came top with 11% annual growth. Canada was the only other country to see price growth of 10% or more over the past year. It also recorded the fastest price rises of any country over the past three months. Meanwhile once white-hot property markets in the far east are cooling fast. Taiwan saw price falls of 9.4% over the past year, putting it at the bottom of Knight Frank’s ranking. Hong Kong and Singapore have also seen significant reductions in house prices.
Auckland is at the centre of an extraordinary property boom, with separate data revealing that the city’s average house price last month hit NZ$1m (£550,000) for the first time. The country’s QV house price index found that the typical Auckland home was valued at NZ$1,013,632 in August, an increase of 15.9% over the year. That’s just under £560,000 and higher than the average London property price of £472,384 according to data. Spiralling prices – up NZ$20,000 a month over the past quarter – and the falling pound are likely to deter Britons hoping to emigrate.
The EU’s ethics watchdog is to look into the former European commission president José Manuel Barroso’s new job with Goldman Sachs, which includes advising the investment bank and its clients on Brexit. In a letter to Barroso’s successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, said Barroso’s appointment as non-executive chairman of Goldman raised widespread concerns. She cited “understandable international attention given the importance of his former role and the global power, influence, and history of the bank with which he is now connected”. Her intervention comes after EU staff launched a petition calling on EU institutions to take “strong exemplary measures” against Barroso including the loss of his pension while he works for Goldman.
The petition now has more than 120,000 signatures. O’Reilly told Juncker that public unease will be exacerbated by the fact that Barroso is to advise Goldman Sachs on Britain’s exit from the EU. She warned of the danger of a breach of ethics in his interaction with former colleagues, including the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, a former special adviser to Barroso. O’Reilly said new guidance was needed to ensure that EU staff were “not affected by any possible failure on Mr Barroso’s part to comply with his duty to act with integrity”. Barroso joined Goldman less than two years after leaving office at the European commission, but after the 18-month cooling-off period stipulated by European rules.
Edward Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor, became the most wanted fugitive in the world after leaking a cache of classified documents to the media detailing extensive cyber spying networks by the U.S. government on its own citizens and governments around the world. To escape the long arm of American justice, the man responsible for the largest national security breach in U.S. history retained a Canadian lawyer in Hong Kong who hatched a plan that included a visit to the UN sub-office where the North Carolina native applied for refugee status to avoid extradition to the U.S.
Fearing the media would surround and follow Snowden — making it easier for the Hong Kong authorities to arrest the one-time CIA analyst on behalf of the U.S. — his lawyers made him virtually disappear for two weeks from June 10 to June 23, 2013, before he emerged on an Aeroflot airplane bound for Moscow, where he remains stranded today in self-imposed exile. “That morning, I had minutes to figure out how to get him to the UN, away from the media, and out of harm’s way with the weight of the U.S. government bearing down on him. I did what I had to do, and could do, to help him,” Robert Tibbo, the whistleblower’s lead lawyer in Hong Kong told the Post in a wide-ranging interview, the first detailing the chaotic days of Snowden’s escape three years ago. “They wanted the data and they wanted to shut him down. Our greatest fear was that Ed would be found.”
The covert scheme to dodge U.S. attempts to arrest Snowden could have been ripped from the pages of a spy thriller. The fugitive was disguised in a dark hat and glasses and transported by car at night by two lawyers to safe houses on the crowded and impoverished fringes of Hong Kong. Snowden hunkered down in small, cluttered, dingy rooms where as many as four people shared less than 150 square feet. Batteries were removed from cellphones when they gathered, burner phones were used to place calls, SIM cards were exchanged and sophisticated computer encryption was used to communicate when face-to-face meetings were not possible. Snowden rarely ventured out, and only at night where he could easily be lost among the many other asylum seekers. “Nobody would dream that a man of such high profile would be placed among the most reviled people in Hong Kong,” recalled Tibbo, a Canadian-born and educated barrister who has practiced law for 15 years. “We put him in a place where no one would look.”
Government officials on Tuesday determined which reception centers for migrants across the country are to close and where new, improved facilities are to open but did not determine a time-frame, even as authorities on the Aegean islands warn of dangerously cramped and tense conditions in local camps. More than 12,500 migrants are currently living in reception centers on five Aegean islands – Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Leros and Samos – and hundreds more are arriving every day from neighboring Turkey. Spyros Galinos, the mayor of Lesvos, which is hosting 5,484 migrants, wrote to Alternate Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on Tuesday to express his concern about the “extremely dangerous conditions” on the island.
He asked the minister for the immediate transfer of migrants from Lesvos to other facilities on the mainland “to avert far worse developments.” However, decongesting facilities on the islands is part of the government’s broader overhaul of a network of reception centers spread across the country. An aide close to Mouzalas determined on Tuesday which camps in northern Greece will close and which will be improved but did not say when this would happen. Among the facilities that are to close are those in Sindos and Oraiokastro, near Thessaloniki, and in Nea Kavala, near Kilkis. Reception centers in Diavata and Vassilika, also in northern Greece, are to be upgraded.
A new reception center for minors is to start operating at the Amygdaleza facility, north of the capital, next Monday. Meanwhile, sources said on Tuesday that child refugees will start attending Greek schools at the end of this month. The 22,000 child refugees currently in Greece will be inducted into the school system in groups. Those aged between 4 and 7 will attend kindergartens to be set up within migrant reception centers. Children aged 7 to 15 will join classes at public schools near the reception centers where they are staying. And unaccompanied minors aged 14 to 18 will be able to join vocational training classes if they so desire.
Work is about to begin on “a big, new wall” in Calais as the latest attempt to prevent refugees and migrants jumping aboard lorries heading for the Channel port, the UK’s immigration minister has confirmed. Robert Goodwill told MPs on Tuesday that the four-metre high wall was part of a £17m package of joint Anglo-French security measures to tighten precautions at the port. “People are still getting through,” he said. “We have done the fences. Now we are doing the wall,” the new immigration minister told the Commons home affairs committee. Building on the 1km-long wall along the ferry port’s main dual-carriageway approach road, known as the Rocade, is due to start this month.
The £1.9m wall will be built in two sections on either side of the road to protect lorries and other vehicles from migrants who have used rocks, shopping trolleys and even tree trunks to try to stop vehicles before climbing aboard. It will be made of smooth concrete in an attempt to make it more difficult to scale, with plants and flowers on one side to reduce its visual impact on the local area. It is due to be completed by the end of the year. The plan has already attracted criticism from local residents who have started calling it “the great wall of Calais”.
Children now make up more than half of the world’s refugees, according to a Unicef report, despite the fact they account for less than a third of the global population. Just two countries – Syria and Afghanistan – comprise half of all child refugees under protection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while roughly three-quarters of the world’s child refugees come from just 10 countries. New and on-going global conflicts over the last five years have forced the number of child refugees to jump by 75% to 8 million, the report warns, putting these children at high risk of human smuggling, trafficking and other forms of abuse.
The Unicef report – which pulls together the latest global data regarding migration and analyses the effect it has on children – shows that globally some 50 million children have either migrated to another country or been forcibly displaced internally; of these, 28 million have been forced to flee by conflict. It also calls on the international community for urgent action to protect child migrants; end detention for children seeking refugee status or migrating; keep families together; and provide much-needed education and health services for children migrants. “Though many communities and people around the world have welcomed refugee and migrant children, xenophobia, discrimination, and exclusion pose serious threats to their lives and futures,” said Unicef’s executive director, Anthony Lake.
“But if young refugees are accepted and protected today, if they have the chance to learn and grow, and to develop their potential, they can be a source of stability and economic progress.”
What does the beginning of an economic collapse look like? Do you see grocery stores closing? Do you see other retailers, like clothing stores and department stores, going out of business? Are there shuttered storefronts along your Main Street shopping district, where you bought a tool from the hardware store or dropped off your dry cleaning or bought fruits and vegetables? Are you making as much money annually as you did 10 years ago? Do you see homes in neighborhoods becoming run down as the residents either were foreclosed upon, or the owner lost his or her job so he or she can’t afford to cut the grass or paint the house? Did that same house where the Joneses once lived now become a rental property, where new people come to live every few months?
Do you know one or two people who are looking for work? Maybe professionals, who you thought were safe in their jobs? Friday’s anemic jobs numbers tell that tale. Did your high school buddy take a job at the local convenience store because he could not find work in sales? Is the pothole on your street getting larger instead of getting repaired? Is there more than one street light out in your town? Is the town pool closed this summer much more than usual? Have you seen a situation — any situation — and said, “Jeez, it wouldn’t take much money to fix that” — but it hasn’t been fixed? You may have witnessed many of these situations, but you tell yourself it can’t be an economic collapse because the stock market is at an all-time high. Does that mean all is well? No, this is what a 21st-century economic collapse looks like in the beginning.
[..] We are entering the problem months for the markets. September and October are historically times of greater market volatility to the downside. There was a time when this was very explainable. In the last two centuries, huge amounts of cash would move from the Eastern money markets over the mid- to late summer to the Midwest and Western states to buy crops, leaving the equity and bond markets in a liquidity squeeze come late summer/early fall. Now it’s down to the returning traders from the Hamptons or the Cape realizing that their trading book looks a little sick. Their bonus will depend on them making the right moves in the next three months, and they need to sell those dog stocks soon.
Energy experts poured scorn on the prospect of Russia and Saudi Arabia collaborating to stabilize the oil market, after the two countries made a joint statement to that effect on Monday. The two major oil producers announced at the G-20 summit in China that they would form a group to monitor the market and make recommendations on stabilizing prices, according to media reports. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak described the moment as “historic” and touted the possibility of the much-discussed-but-never-delivered crude production freeze. Commodity strategists told CNBC that the statement might push crude prices higher in the short-term, perhaps toward $50 per barrel, but insisted that little in the way of deeper cooperation was likely.
“The running gag of the ‘freeze’ means just nothing,” Eugen Weinberg, head of commodity research at Commerzbank, told CNBC on Monday. “As to the cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia – no chance! It’s clearly just lip service since real cooperation between these competitors is just impossible,” he later added. [..] “The press conference came and went without any significant initiatives being announced. Once again it highlights key producers’ ability to talk up the market without backing it by action,” Ole Hansen, head of commodities strategy at SaxoBank, told CNBC on Monday. “I expect the market to drift lower as this was an exercise in building up expectations without delivering anything,” he added.
Hanjin Shipping’s government-backed creditors are ready to provide the collapsed carrier with roughly 100 billion won ($90.60 million) of loans if Hanjin’s parent provides collateral, South Korean government officials said on Tuesday. The funding, however, is seen as falling far short of what the world’s seventh-largest container carrier needs after filing for court receivership last week when its creditors, led by Korea Development Bank (KDB), decided to halt support. “The 100 billion won funding, if it comes to pass, is not nearly enough to save Hanjin Shipping at all – it will most likely be used to pay fees to unload stranded cargo going forward,” said an official at a creditor bank, who was not authorized to speak with media and declined to be identified.
Hanjin Shipping shares jumped as much as 28% on Tuesday morning before trimming their gains to be up 20% by 0155 GMT. They had hit a record low on Monday. [..] Shares in Korean Air Lines, the biggest shareholder of Hanjin Shipping, fell as much as 5.7% on Tuesday. Hanjin Shipping had debt of 5.6 trillion won at the end of 2015. Last month, parent Hanjin Group submitted a plan to creditors pledging to raise up to 500 billion won for the troubled shipper, which KDB deemed inadequate.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has previously accused the Federal Reserve of keeping interest rates low to help President Barack Obama, said on Monday that the U.S. central bank has created a “false economy” and that interest rates should change. “They’re keeping the rates down so that everything else doesn’t go down,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s request to address a potential rate hike by the Federal Reserve in September. “We have a very false economy,” he said. “At some point the rates are going to have to change,” Trump, who was campaigning in Ohio on Monday, added. “The only thing that is strong is the artificial stock market,” he said.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last month that the U.S. central bank was getting closer to raising interest rates, possibly as early as September, saying that the Fed sees the economy as close to meeting its goals of maximum employment and stable prices. The Fed raised interest rates last December for the first time in nearly a decade, and at that time projected four more hikes in 2016. The Fed later scaled back that projection to two rate hikes this year in the wake of a slowdown in global growth and continued financial market volatility. Trump, during the primary campaign, as he took on 16 Republican rivals, had called Yellen’s tenure “highly political” and said the Fed should raise interest rates but would not do so for “political reasons.”
One month ago, Donald Trump urged his followers to sell stocks, warning of “very scary scenarios” for investors, and accused the Fed of setting the stage for the next market crash when he said that “interest rates are artificially low” during a phone interview with Fox Business. “The only reason the stock market is where it is is because you get free money.” Earlier today, speaking to a reporter traveling on his plane who asked Trump about a potential rate hike by the Fed in September, Trump took his vendetta to the next level, saying that the Fed is “keeping the rates artificially low so the economy doesn’t go down so that Obama can say that he did a good job. They’re keeping the rates artificially low so that Obama can go out and play golf in January and say that he did a good job.”
“It’s a very false economy. We have a bad economy, everybody understands that but it’s a false economy. The only reason the rates are low is so that he can leave office and he can say, ‘See I told you.'” He then lashed out at Yellen, whom he accused of having a political mandate when conducting monetary policy: “So far, I think she’s done a political job. You understand that.” On whether we can have a rate hike in September: “Well, the only thing that’s strong is the artificial stock market. That’s only strong because it’s free money because the rates are so low. It’s an artificial market. It’s a bubble. So the only thing that’s strong is the artificial market that they’re created until January. It’s so artificial because they have free money… It’s all free money. When rates are low like this it’s hard not to have a good stock market.”
His conclusion: “At some point the rates are going to have to change.” Indeed they will, and that’s precisely what almost every bank, from Goldman yesterday to Citi today, and many others inbetween, have been warning about in recent months. Until recently, Trump’s latest anti-Fed outburst would have been swept under the rug as just another example of the deranged ramblings of an anti-Fed conspiracy theorist (trust us, we’ve been there). However, considering the spike in anti-Fed commentary in recent weeks coming from prominent, and established institutional sellside analysts all the way to the WSJ, it may be that Trump was once again simply saying what everyone else thought but dared not mention.
The entire Republican party and the ruling heights of the Democratic Party loathe unions. Yet they also claim they want to build a strong U.S. middle class. This makes no sense. Wanting to build a middle class while hating unions is like wanting to build a house while hating hammers. Sure, maybe hammers — like every tool humans have ever invented — aren’t 100% perfect. Maybe when you use a hammer you sometimes hit your thumb. But if you hate hammers and spend most of your time trying to destroy them, you’re never, ever going to build a house. Likewise, no country on earth has ever created a strong middle class without strong unions. If you genuinely want the U.S. to have a strong middle class again, that means you want lots of people in lots of unions.
The bad news, of course, is that the U.S. is going in exactly the opposite direction. Union membership has collapsed in the past 40 years, falling from 24% to 11%. And even those numbers conceal the uglier reality that union membership is now 35% in the public sector but just 6.7% in the private sector. That private sector%age is now lower than it’s been in over 100 years. Not coincidentally, wealth inequality – which fell tremendously during the decades after World War II when the U.S. was most heavily unionized – has soared back to the levels seen 100 years ago. The reason for this is straightforward. During the decades after World War II, wages went up hand in hand with productivity. Since the mid-1970s, as union membership has declined, that’s largely stopped happening. Instead, most of the increased wealth from productivity gains has been seized by the people at the top.
[..] the degree to which a country has created high-quality, universal health care is generally correlated with the strength of organized labor in that country. Canada’s single payer system was born in one province, Saskatchewan, and survived to spread to the rest of the country thanks to Saskatchewan’s unions. Now Canadians live longer than Americans even as their health care system is far cheaper than ours. U.S. unions were also key allies for other social movements, such as the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, people generally say Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington – but in fact it was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and it was largely organized by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The average house price in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has surged above NZ$1 million ($730,000) for the first time. The price for the Auckland area, home to a third of New Zealand’s 4.7 million people, jumped 16% in August from a year earlier and 6.1% in the last three months to NZ$1.01 million, according to data published Tuesday by government property research agency Quotable Value. The city’s average price has risen 86% since 2007. Record immigration, low interest rates and a supply shortage are driving Auckland’s housing market, and in turn fueling a nationwide boom. The central bank, which has been unable to raise borrowing costs because of weak general inflation, has introduced lending restrictions, focusing particularly on investors, in an effort to curb demand.
The Reserve Bank in October 2013 required banks to limit lending to borrowers with low deposits. It followed in November last year with measures targeting investors in Auckland. In July, the central bank announced a further round of restrictions, due to take effect Oct. 1, which require investors across the country to have a deposit of at least 40% to obtain a mortgage. Those measures may have caused an initial pick-up in buying but could now be starting to bite as banks begin to enforce the new rules early. [..] New Zealand isn’t alone in introducing new measures to try to cool surging house prices.
The Canadian province of British Columbia on Aug. 2 imposed a 15% tax on foreign buyers after average prices in Vancouver doubled over the past decade. The average price of a detached property in the city declined 17% in August from July, and 0.6% from a year earlier, to C$1.47 million ($1.1 million), according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Auckland’s average is still below London’s 705,600 pounds ($939,435) and some way behind New York’s $1.02 million, although that figure is boosted by Manhattan’s $2.2 million. Auckland prices are higher than those in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. CoreLogic data available for Sydney, which use the median rather than the average, show a price of A$780,000 ($593,000) in August.
The New Zealand prime minister, John Key, has said the country is forced to rely on overseas workers to fill jobs because some Kiwis lack a strong work ethic and may have problems with drugs. The comments came on the back of record high immigration figures, showing in the year to July 69,000 people moved to New Zealand. In his weekly appearance on Radio New Zealand, Key was asked to explain high immigration figures, with 200,000 Kiwis currently unemployed. Key responded that schemes to get Kiwi beneficiaries into jobs had routinely failed because many lacked basic work skills. “Go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on,” Key told Radio New Zealand.
“So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income to work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.” Every year New Zealand brings in more than 9,000 seasonal workers from the Pacific islands to work on short-term contracts in the horticulture and wine industry. Both industries also say they are heavily reliant on overseas visitors with work permits – particularly backpackers. Leon Stallard, a director for Horticulture New Zealand and the owner of an apple orchard in Hawke’s Bay, said he had tried “for years” to get unemployed New Zealanders to pick his apples but had been let down time and again.
Expectations are running low ahead of Friday’s Eurogroup meeting on Greece, as Athens is particularly late in implementing the 16 prior actions that were needed over the summer to secure the disbursement of a €2.8 billion subtranche. Friday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers is not expected to go beyond an update on the progress of the Greek program, which is seriously lagging. Meanwhile, a report in German newspaper Handelsblatt said that Greece should not expect any disbursements for now, even though the first review was completed in May, as the government has only implemented two out of the 16 prior actions. Finance Ministry sources say that this Eurogroup was never going to approve a payment anyway as it is an informal gathering and that the delays in the prior actions will be the reason for the arrival of the creditors’ representatives in Athens on September 12.
Despite the concerns expressed by eurozone officials and the completion of just two prior actions so far, the Greek side insists everything is running “according to schedule.” In Brussels, however, the climate is souring as the failure to implement all the prior actions will push the completion of the first review beyond September. One eurozone official told Kathimerini that “I do not see the first review completed any time soon and as for the second, I do not see it being completed in the near future.” The creditors are also growing increasingly alarmed by Athens’s rhetoric and stance in asking for more independence from the bailout program, seen as backtracking on reforms. Officials monitoring the government’s moves have expressed their opposition to the Education Ministry’s law banning teacher layoffs from private schools, as this contravenes the spirit of the bailout program.
The bankruptcy of one measly shipping company will look like a zit on the ass of a diving blue whale as countless trade operations seize up for lack of confidence that they will ever be paid. Then what? Then we are forced to pay attention to the actual dynamics now at work in the world. Or be driven crazy by our refusal to get with the program. I tend to think we’ll opt for the latter. We’re too unused to reality. We’d rather crash and burn than change anything about our behavior, or even our perception. Both Trump and Hillary are perfect avatars for this date with a hard landing. The disorder both of them are capable of inducing will be a spectacle for the ages.
Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been discovered in human brains in “abundant” quantities, a newly published study reveals. The detection of the particles, in brain tissue from 37 people, raises concerns because recent research has suggested links between these magnetite particles and Alzheimer’s disease, while air pollution has been shown to significantly increase the risk of the disease. However, the new work is still a long way from proving that the air pollution particles cause or exacerbate Alzheimer’s. “This is a discovery finding, and now what should start is a whole new examination of this as a potentially very important environmental risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof Barbara Maher, at Lancaster University, who led the new research.
“Now there is a reason to go on and do the epidemiology and the toxicity testing, because these particles are so prolific and people are exposed to them.” Air pollution is a global health crisis that kills more people than malaria and HIV/Aids combined and it has long been linked to lung and heart disease and strokes. But research is uncovering new impacts on health, including degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, mental illness and reduced intelligence. The new work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined brain tissue from 37 people in Manchester, in the UK, and Mexico, aged between three and 92. It found abundant particles of magnetite, an iron oxide. “You are talking about millions of magnetite particles per gram of freeze-dried brain tissue – it is extraordinary,” said Maher.
Global warming is making the oceans sicker than ever before, spreading disease among animals and humans and threatening food security across the planet, a major scientific report said on Monday. The findings, based on peer-reviewed research, were compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, experts said at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. “We all know that the oceans sustain this planet. We all know that the oceans provide every second breath we take,” IUCN Director General Inger Andersen told reporters at the meeting, which has drawn 9,000 leaders and environmentalists to Honolulu. “And yet we are making the oceans sick.”
The report, “Explaining Ocean Warming,” is the “most comprehensive, most systematic study we have ever undertaken on the consequence of this warming on the ocean,” co-lead author Dan Laffoley said. The world’s waters have absorbed more than 93% of the enhanced heating from climate change since the 1970s, curbing the heat felt on land but drastically altering the rhythm of life in the ocean, he said. “The ocean has been shielding us and the consequences of this are absolutely massive,” said Laffoley, marine vice chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN. The study included every major marine ecosystem, containing everything from microbes to whales, including the deep ocean. It documents evidence of jellyfish, seabirds and plankton shifting toward the cooler poles by up to 10 degrees latitude.
The movement in the marine environment is “1.5 to five times as fast as anything we are seeing on the ground,” Laffoley said. “We are changing the seasons in the ocean.” The higher temperatures will probably change the sex ratio of turtles in the future because females are more likely to be born in warmer temperatures. The heat also means microbes dominate larger areas of the ocean. “When you look overall, you see a comprehensive and worrying set of consequences,” Laffoley said. More than 25% of the report’s information is new, published in peer-reviewed journals since 2014, including studies showing that global warming is affecting weather patterns and making storms more common.
The study includes evidence that ocean warming “is causing increased disease in plant and animal populations,” it said. Pathogens such as cholera-bearing bacteria and toxic algal blooms that can cause neurological illnesses such as ciguatera poisoning spread more easily in warm water, with direct impact on human health. “We are no longer the casual observers in the room,” Laffoley said. “What we have done is unwittingly put ourselves in the test tube where the experiment is being undertaken.”
EU-led efforts to relocate people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece to other EU states remain dismal. The two-year plan, broadly hatched last September, aims to dispatch some 160,000 people arriving on Italian and Greek shores to other EU states. But one year in and less than 3% of that total have found a new home outside either country. Some ended up in non-EU states like Norway and Switzerland, which are also part of the scheme. As of earlier this month, just over 1,000 people left Italy and 3,493 people left Greece. The European Commission, which masterminded the scheme, on Monday urged national governments to step up efforts, but declined to answer questions on potential sanctions if they failed to meet the quotas.
“Relocations are still taking place, the last flights from Greece took place on the second of September,” an EU commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels. In July, the commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, sent a letter to the 28 EU interior ministers imploring them to relocate more people. But despite his appeal, in the period covering August and the first few days of September, member states took in just 65 more people. Finland took 40 asylum seekers from Greece. France took 18 and Cyprus took seven. Austria, Hungary, and Poland have yet to relocate anyone. Others, such as the Czech Republic, have relocated just handfuls of people. France took the most, with 1,431 from Greece alone.
Pledges from EU states to help Greece with border staff and asylum experts have also failed to fully materialise. Meanwhile, the issues and the numbers remain sensitive. Hungary has launched an anti-immigrant campaign in the lead up to a national referendum on 2 October on whether to boycott the EU relocation scheme. The German government is paying a political cost for taking in asylum seekers – on Sunday, the anti-immigrant AfD party beat chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party in regional elections. In Austria, the EU faces the prospect of having its first far-right head of state, as the FPO party’s candidate, Norbert Hofer, again leads opinion polls ahead of a presidential run-off on 2 October.
Softex sits in an industrial wasteland on the northern fringes of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city. Refugees have been here since the border shut in May, forcing the cash-strapped Greek authorities to hastily house people in whatever spaces they could find. Several hundred have now smuggled their way north, but about a thousand are still left. Most of them live in tents inside the gloomy warehouse. The rest sleep outside, a few hundred metres from a grim row of burnt-out trains and factory chimneys. “We’re suffering, emotionally – we’re not good,” says Mohammad Mohammad, a 30-year-old taxi driver whose wife and children are under siege in a Damascus suburb. Mohammad came to Greece in February, hoping he could make his way to Germany, claim asylum, and then apply for his family to join him.
Instead, the border shut before he could leave – meaning that he must pay a smuggler to take him north, or wait for the EU relocation programme to assign him a permanent place elsewhere in Europe. But as so many stuck in Greece point out, relocation is not working properly – with just 5,100 places made available in the space of nearly 12 months. “The system doesn’t work,” says Mohammad. “At this rate, they’ll need 10 years to get it finished. But if we’re here for another month, we’ll be in a mental asylum.” It is a familiar sentiment. Interviewees consistently said that the limbo they are trapped in – which has left them far from loved ones, without access to work and education, and without any clarity on their future – has led to a wave of depression and mental health problems.
Abouni, 17, is at Softex without his parents and sister, who are still under siege in Aleppo. As a minor, Abouni hoped to apply for family reunification after being granted asylum. Instead he is likely to turn 18 before that can happen, and he says the anxiety of the situation has led to him being taken to hospital four times with panic attacks. “Sometimes I feel so angry that I can’t breathe, and then I fall unconscious,” says Abouni, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym to avoid being stigmatised at the camp. “I have family in Syria under the bombs, and when I talk to my little sister on the phone, she asks if she’ll ever see me again. I’m stuck here in this jail.”
At the Vasilika camp outside Thessaloniki, one of seven visited recently by the Guardian, the warehouse is brighter than at Softex but the despair is the same. Hisham worked as a medic for an international aid group for 10 years in Syria but now finds himself as its beneficiary rather than its employee. The work he did in Syria still haunts him, with the images of dead bodies flashing before him as he tries to sleep at night. “For years I saw people getting killed in Syria, and then you’re here for six months without knowing what’s going on, and I cannot sleep,” says Hisham. “What happened in Syria is playing every night like a film in front of my eyes. Psychologically, I need a doctor.”
Fifteen bodies were recovered and more than 2,700 boat migrants rescued off the coast of Libya on Monday, the Italian coastguard said, in another day of mass departures from north Africa. Italy’s navy and coastguard, ships patrolling on a European Union anti-smuggling mission, vessels run by humanitarian groups, and a commercial tug boat aided in the rescues. Earlier in the day, the Italian Navy said six bodies had been found after migrants fell out of a leaking rubber boat. The coastguard gave no further details. The migrants were saved from 19 dangerously overcrowded rubber boats and four small boats, the coastguard said. People smugglers operate freely in Libya, cashing in on migrants desperate to reach Europe.
Last week calmer seas and Libya’s lawlessness opened the way for smugglers to ship 13,000 migrants across the Mediterranean Sea in just four days. Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War Two is now focused on Italy, at Europe’s southern frontier, where some 93,000 people had arrived by the end of August, according to Italy’s Interior Ministry. The death toll on the route from North Africa to Italy has jumped to one migrant for every 42 making the crossing, compared to one in every 52 last year, a U.N. refugee agency spokesman said last week.
Shvets says the world should have actually delevered or paid down the debt to return initiative to the private sector, but thinks people could not accept the levels of pain associated with it. “You could eliminate the impact of the overcapacity through deflation. Nobody is prepared to accept that we might have to wipe out decades of growth just to eliminate leverage. Banks go, there are defaults, bankruptcies, layoffs,” he said. He thinks the Biblical debt jubilee, where slaves would be freed and debt would be forgiven every 50 years is a nice idea that would also work today if it weren’t for entrenched special interests. “The debt is not spread evenly, we still live in a tribal world, and it’s easier to start a war than to forgive debt,” Shvets said.
Global central banks with their easy money policies of negative interest rates and quantitative easing are working against a debt deflation scenario, with limited success, according to Shvets. “That was the entire idea of aggressive monetary policies: Stimulate investment and consumption. None of that works, there is no evidence. It can impact asset prices, but they don’t flow into the real economy,” he said. “Remember, the people at the Fed and the Bank of England are not supermen, they are people with an above average IQ trying to do a very difficult job in a highly complex environment.” Both overleveraging, easy money policies, and technological shifts are responsible for increasing levels of income inequality across the globe, another hallmark of the previous two industrial revolutions. Fewer people control more of the wealth.
The Federal Reserve signals a reluctance to raise interest rates. The yen strengthens to 90 per dollar. Haruhiko Kuroda decides to act. Helicopter money is coming, says Mark Mobius, even as soon as next month. The 80-year-old investment veteran is outlining how he expects central banks to respond to sluggish economic growth. For Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, traditional easing measures have just made people save instead of spend or borrow. Combined with a stronger yen, he says that’s going to force the Bank of Japan governor to contemplate a policy he’s repeatedly ruled out. “They’re really beginning to think what ammunition they have,” he said in an interview on a visit to a typhoon-struck Tokyo this week.
“The first reaction is to say, OK, let’s go for helicopter money, let’s get money directly into the hands of consumers,” he said. “I think that would probably be the next step.” Central bankers have flooded their economies with monetary stimulus in the eight years since the global financial crisis, driving up asset prices – including the stock markets that Mobius invests in – while struggling to kickstart global growth. A foray into negative interest rates in Japan has been met with the yen surging to about 100 per dollar, falling stocks and dwindling bank profits.
While markets wait for Janet Yellen’s latest message about the direction of monetary policy, the Federal Reserve chief and her colleagues already have one for politicians: the U.S. economy needs more public spending to shift into higher gear. In the past few weeks, Yellen and three of the Fed’s other four Washington-based governors have called in speeches and Congressional hearings for government infrastructure spending and other efforts to counter weak growth, sagging productivity improvements, and lagging business investment. The fifth member has supported the idea in the past. The Fed has no direct influence over fiscal policy and its officials traditionally refrain from discussing it in detail.
Having its top officials – from Yellen to former investment banker and Bush administration official Jerome Powell – speak in one voice sends a strong signal to the next president and Congress about the limits they face in setting monetary policy and what is needed to improve the economy’s prospects. The Fed’s annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Yellen speaks on Friday, is due to focus on how to improve central banks’ “toolkit,” but the unanimous message from the Fed’s top policymakers is that those tools are not enough. “Monetary policy is not well equipped to address long-term issues like the slowdown in productivity growth,” Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer said on Sunday. He said it was up to the administration to invest more in infrastructure and education.
Behind Fischer’s statement lies a troubling feature of the recovery – business investment has fallen below levels in prior years and companies seem to have stopped responding to low borrowing costs. As a share of GDP, U.S. annual business investment since 2008 has averaged nearly a full percentage point below the previous decade’s average, government data shows. Reuters calculations indicate the investment shortfall has blown a hole in annual GDP that has grown to as much as one trillion dollars a year compared with what it would have been if the previous trend continued.
Adding to the picture of crummy demand for goods around the world, the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, just released its preliminary data of its Merchandise World Trade Monitor for June. Trade volumes rose 0.7% in June from May, after falling 0.5% in May, but were about flat year-over-year, and below the volumes of December 2014! On a quarterly basis – it averages out the monthly ups and downs – world trade fell 0.8%, contracting for the second quarter in a row. The CPB recently adjusted its world trade data down, going back many years.
The new data now depicts a post-Financial Crisis recovery of global trade that was a lot weaker than the original data had indicated. These downward adjustments of 2% to 3% came in a world where economic growth, according to the IMF, is stuck at 3.1% in 2016. This chart of the CPB’s World Trade Monitor index shows the old data released as of July 2015 (blue line) and the newly adjusted data released today (red line). Note the 4.4% drop from the peak in global trade volumes in the original data for December 2014 and in the current data for June 2016!
World trade is a reflection of the goods-producing economy. Services don’t get shipped around the world. Goods do. So industrial production, excluding construction, is key. And here the trend is awful for advanced economies. Global industrial production, excluding construction, rose 0.6% in June, after a 0.3% decline in May. The index for industrial production in advanced economies rose to 102.5, below where it had been in January (103.4), a level it had hit after the Financial Crisis in December 2012, but down from the glory days before the Financial Crisis when the index peaked in February 2008 (107.8). And here’s a tidbit: the first time that the index hit the current level had been in April 2006. A full decade of stagnation.
Industrial production has shifted to emerging economies (“cheap labor” economies) for many years, such as China, as companies in the US, decades ago, and eventually in Europe and Japan began outsourcing and offshoring production to emerging economies. Hence, industrial production in emerging economies has surged over this period. This was particularly the case after the Financial Crisis when companies in the US, Europe, and Japan redoubled their efforts to get production relocated offshore. This chart shows the CPB’s industrial production index globally (green line), and also separated by advanced economies (the dismally flat-ish blue line at the bottom) and emerging economies (brown line at the top):
Some of the world’s largest energy companies are saddled with their highest debt levels ever as they struggle with low crude prices, raising worries about their ability to pay dividends and find new barrels. Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron hold a combined net debt of $184 billion—more than double their debt levels in 2014, when oil prices began a steep descent that eventually bottomed out at $27 a barrel earlier this year. Crude prices have rebounded since, but still hover near $50 a barrel. The soaring debt levels are a fresh reminder of the toll the two-year price slump has taken on the oil industry. Just a decade ago, these four companies were hauled before Congress to explain “windfall profits” but now can’t cover expenses with normal cash flow.
Executives at BP, Shell, Exxon and Chevron have assured investors that they will generate enough cash in 2017 to pay for new investments and dividends, but some shareholders are skeptical. In the first half of 2015, the companies fell short of that goal by $40 billion, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of their numbers. “Eventually something will give,” said Michael Hulme, manager of the $550 million Carmignac Commodities Fund, which holds stakes in Shell and Exxon. “These companies won’t be able to maintain the current dividends at $50 to $60 oil—it’s unsustainable.” BP has said it expects to be able to pay for its operations, make new investments and meet its dividend at an oil price of between $50 and $55 a barrel next year.
The debt is piling up despite cuts of billions of dollars on new projects and current operations. Repaying the loans could weigh the companies down for years, crimping their ability to make investments elsewhere and keep pumping ever more oil and gas. “They are just not spending enough to boost production,” said Jonathan Waghorn at Guinness Atkinson Asset Management.
Soothsayers out there have been prophesying time and again, for over a year, that very soon, in fact next week, the supply glut will start to unwind; that production in the US is already coming down sharply, that demand is up, or whatever…. In the end, a glut comes down to whether inventories are rising, particularly during a time of the year when they’re supposed to be falling (glut gets worse), or whether they’re falling (glut stabilizes or abates). It’s not just crude oil, but also the products that crude oil gets refined into for eventual use. And these stocks of petroleum products have been a doozie, particularly gasoline.
Gasoline stocks were essentially unchanged for the week, at 232.7 million barrels, a record for this time of the year, and up 8.5% from the already elevated inventory levels last year. Distillate fuels rose by 200,000 barrels to 153.3 million barrels. And “all other oils” jumped by a total of 3.9 million barrels to 490.6 million barrels. So total petroleum products stocks rose by 6.6 million barrels during the week, or 0.5%. Once again, this small-ish number, but over the period of the oil bust, total petroleum products stocks have soared by 30% and now exceed for the first time ever another huge milestone: 1.4 billion barrels. This chart shows what a truly relentless glut looks like:
Scotland’s revenues from North Sea oil have collapsed by 97% in the past year as oil prices have plummeted, reigniting a fierce debate over whether an independent Scotland could finance itself. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The nationalists’ case for independence has been swallowed up by a £14bn black hole.” Taxes collected from oil production fell from £1.8bn in 2015 to just £60m in 2016. The gap between tax revenues and what Scotland spends is now 9.5%, or £14.8bn, compared to a 4% deficit for the UK as a whole. Scotland’s public sector now spends £12,800 per person, but collects just £10,000 each, the figures reveal. In 2008-9, as oil peaked at almost $150 per barrel, the Scottish government brought in a record £11.6bn from North Sea fields.
Russian markets are red hot again. Two years after plunging oil prices and Western economic sanctions fueled an investor exodus, the Micex stock index on Tuesday hit an all-time high. It is up 25% this year in dollar terms, making Russia the sixth-best performer among 23 emerging countries tracked by MSCI Inc. The ruble has gained 13% against the dollar this year, ranking third among all emerging currencies. Russia’s local-currency bonds rank third this year in performance out of 15 countries tracked by JP Morgan Chase. Many investors credit central-bank chief Elvira Nabiullina for Russia’s resurgence. They cite her surprise decision to end the ruble’s peg to the dollar in November 2014 and then sharply raise interest rates to combat capital flight and knock down inflation.
The moves were painful for Russia’s economy, which went into a sharp recession as the value of the ruble slumped, reducing consumer and business purchasing power. But over time they have helped to restore some international-investor faith in a country still shadowed by its 1998 default. “The correct steps taken by the Russian central bank have restored confidence in the ruble and its macroeconomic policy,” said Andrey Kutuzov, an associate portfolio manager of the Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap fund. Global investors this year have added $1.3 billion to funds that invest in Russian bonds and stocks, according to EPFR Global. The share of foreigners among government bondholders rose to 24.5% as of June 1, its highest level since late 2012, according to the Russian central bank.
China imposed limits on lending by peer-to-peer platforms to individuals and companies in an effort to curb risks in one part of the loosely-regulated shadow-banking sector. An individual can borrow as much as 1 million yuan ($150,000) from P2P sites, including a maximum of 200,000 yuan from any one site, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said in Beijing on Wednesday. Corporate borrowers are capped at five times those levels. Tighter regulation may encourage consolidation that aids the industry long-term, said Wei Hou at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. China’s authorities are concerned about defaults and fraud among the nation’s 2,349 online lenders. In December, the country’s biggest Ponzi scheme was exposed after Internet lender Ezubo allegedly defrauded more than 900,000 people out of the equivalent of $7.6 billion.
The nation has 1778 “problematic” online lenders, according to the CBRC. The P2P lenders are barred from taking public deposits or selling wealth-management products and must appoint qualified banks as custodians and improve information disclosure, the regulator said. [..] China’s P2P industry brokered 982 billion yuan of loans in 2015, almost quadruple the amount in 2014 and an approximately 10-fold increase from 2013, according to Yingcan. P2P firms attracted more than 3.4 million investors and 1.15 million borrowers in July, with loans extended at an average interest rate of 10.3%, according to Yingcan. Products offered by P2P platforms in China can include anything from loans for weddings, guaranteed against the cash gifts that couples expect to receive, to high-yield lending for risky property or mining projects.
Wanted posters for fugitive debtors, not commercials, are the main images that flash up on a big electronic screen in downtown Yixing, in the heart of the faltering Chinese industrial powerhouse that is the Yangtze River Delta. The posters, from the local courts, show the identity card numbers and pictures of dozens of people who have fled unpaid debts. Rewards ranging from 20,000 yuan (HK$23,000) to 330,000 yuan are offered to anyone reporting their whereabouts. But Hengsheng Square is the glitziest part of Yixing – with the most luxury stores, the brightest lights and the priciest office buildings – and few passers-by, their attention directed elsewhere, heed the wanted posters. They have little novelty value in any case, with the “runaway debtor” phenomenon now just part of daily life in the small city as economic growth slows.
In many ways, the square stands as a metaphor for the overall health of the Chinese economy. Under a prosperous surface, deep cracks have begun to emerge in its investment-led model, casting a shadow over the country’s economic growth prospects and even giving rise to doubts about the fundamental soundness of the world’s second-biggest economy. “The economic dynamics are waning,” said Professor Hu Xingdou, an economist at Beijing Institute of Technology. “China’s economic growth in recent years was powered by massive money printing, which is dangerous and unsustainable.”
Jacob Rothschild, the billionaire scion of arguably Europe’s greatest banking dynasty says we’re living through “the greatest experiment in monetary policy in the history of the world.” There’s a major flaw in the experiment, though: the real world isn’t responding to policy in the way that the textbooks say it should. Moreover, it seems increasingly evident that the fears that led to zero interest rates and quantitative easing were at best overblown, if not entirely unjustified. The economic quandary is easy to parse. Central banks almost everywhere have sanctioned a 2% inflation target as signifying financial Nirvana. But, as the table below shows, consumer prices in the world’s major economies are rising much slower than that arbitrary ideal:
Spain has emerged as the poster child for deflation. Prices fell by 0.6% in July, the country’s 12th consecutive month with no increase in inflation. The textbooks suggest that when there’s a prolonged period of falling prices – the definition of deflation – the economy can quickly find itself in a tailspin. Businesses and consumers will defer purchases in the expectation that goods and services will be even cheaper in the future. So if Spain has had an average inflation rate of -0.4% since the end of 2013, and has seen lower prices in 23 of the past 30 months, consumers will have responded by shunning the shops and curtailing their spending, right? Wrong:
International credit rating agency S&P Global Ratings has warned of the increasing risks facing New Zealand banks as a result of the continuing rise in house prices. In a new report, S&P has downgraded its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA) for NZ’s banks by a notch, dropping it from 3 to 4, on a scale where 1 is the lowest risk and 10 is the highest risk. However it has not changed the individual credit ratings of any New Zealand banks. [..] .. our ratings on all the financial institutions operating in New Zealand remain unchanged. “This reflects our expectation that despite some weakening in the capital levels of all these financial institutions, their stand alone credit profiles (SACPs) would remain unchanged.
However S&P did downgrade the SACPs of ASB and Rabobank by one notch each, although it did not downgrade the two banks’ credit ratings, “… reflecting our assessment of timely financial support from their respective parents, if needed,” S&P said. S&P said the increased risks to this country’s banking sector had been driven by “…continued strong growth in residential property prices nationally, coupled with an increase in private sector credit growth.” “We believe the risk of a sharp correction in property prices has further increased and, if it were to occur – with about 56% of registered banks’ lending assets secured by residential home loans – the impact on financial institutions would be amplified by the New Zealand economy’s external weaknesses, in particular its persistent current account deficit and high level of external debt.”
There’s a giant pot of corporate gold sitting outside the United States, and the U.S. Treasury and the European Commission are squabbling over how to get their hands on it. American multinational corporations have stashed more than $2 trillion in profits and assets outside to avoid paying what many companies argue are unduly high U.S. corporate tax rates. Over the past few years, the European Commission has opened investigations into a handful of those companies, including Apple, Starbucks and Amazon, to determine whether they owe taxes to European countries. But the Treasury Department, in a “white paper” released Wednesday, said those investigations have gone too far.
The paper attacked the legal approach the EU is using to determine tax liabilities on American companies, saying it targets “income that (European) Member States have no right to tax under well-established international tax standards.” The paper also argued that taxes collected by European countries could, in effect, come right out of the pockets of American taxpayers. That’s because taxes collected by European countries could be deducted from any future payments to the Treasury. “That outcome is deeply troubling, as it would effectively constitute a transfer of revenue to the EU from the U.S. government and its taxpayers,” the paper said. The report urged the European Commission to “return to the system and practice of international tax cooperation that has long fostered cross-border investment between the United States and EU Member States.”
The drama of Brexit may soon be matched or eclipsed by crystallizing events in France, where the Long Slump is at last taking its political toll. A democracy can endure deflation policies for only so long. The attrition has wasted the French centre-right and the centre-left by turns, and now threatens the Fifth Republic itself. The maturing crisis has echoes of 1936, when the French people tired of ‘deflation decrees’ and turned to the once unthinkable Front Populaire, smashing what remained of the Gold Standard. Former Gaulliste president Nicolas Sarkozy has caught the headlines this week, launching a come-back bid with a package of hard-Right policies unseen in a western European democracy in modern times.
But the uproar on the Left is just as revealing. Arnaud Montebourg, the enfant terrible of the Socialist movement, has launched his own bid for the Socialist Party with a critique of such ferocity that it bears examination. The former economy minister says France voted for a left-wing French manifesto four years ago and ended up with a “right-wing German policy regime”. This is objectively true. The vote was meaningless. “I believe that we have reached the end of road for the EU, and that France no longer has any interest in it. The EU has left us mired in crisis long after the rest of the world has moved on,” he said. Mr Montebourg stops short of ‘Frexit’ but calls for the unilateral suspension of EU labour laws. “As far as I am concerned, the current treaties have elapsed.
I will be inspired by the General de Gaulle’s policy of the ’empty chair’, a strike against the EU. I am not in favour of a French Brexit, but we can longer accept a Europe like that,” he said. In other words, he wishes to leave from within – as Poland, and Hungary are doing – without actually triggering any legal or technical clause. Mr Montebourg is unlikely to progress far but his indictment of president François Hollande is devastating. The party leadership was warned repeatedly and emphatically that contractionary policies would inevitably lead to another million jobless but the economic was swept aside. “They never budged from their Catechism and their false certitudes,” he said.
The tweet was sent by Germany’s ministry for migration and refugees a year ago today. “The #Dublin procedure for Syrian citizens is at this point in time effectively no longer being adhered to,” the message read. With 175 retweets and 165 likes, it doesn’t look like classic viral content. But in Germany it is being spoken of as the first post on social media to change the course of European history. Referring to an EU law determined at a convention in Dublin in 1990, the tweet was widely interpreted as a de facto suspension of the rule that the country in Europe where a refugee first arrives is responsible for handling his or her asylum application.
By this point in 2015, more than 300,000 asylum seekers had reached Europe by boat – a figure that was already 50% higher than even the record-breaking number of arrivals in 2014. Although the German ministry’s intervention certainly did not start the crisis, it did make Germany the first-choice destination for Syrians who previously might have aimed for other countries in Europe, such as Sweden, which at the time offered indefinite asylum to Syrians. It also created an impression of confusion and loss of political control, from which Angela Merkel’s government has at times struggled to recover. Twelve months on, politicians and officials at the centre of Berlin’s bureaucratic machine are still trying to figure out how the tweet came about.
Four days previously, Angelika Wenzl, the executive senior government official at the refugee ministry, which in Germany is known as BAMF, had emailed out an internal memo titled “Rules for the suspension of the Dublin convention for Syrian citizens” to its 36 field bureaux around the country, stating that Syrians who applied for asylum in Germany would no longer be sent back to the country where they had first stepped on European soil. [..] By channels that officials and journalists have so far failed to pinpoint, Wenzl’s internal memo was leaked to the press.
When Charles Dickens, the English novelist, was detailing the “soft black drizzle” of pollution over London, he might inadvertently have been chronicling the early signs of global warming. New research led by Australian scientists has pegged back the timing of when humans had clearly begun to change the climate to the 1830s. An international research project has found human-induced climate change is first detectable in the Arctic and tropical oceans around the 1830s, earlier than expected. That’s about half a century before the first comprehensive instrumental records began – and about the time Dickens began his novels depicting Victorian Britain’s rush to industrialise.
The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, were based on natural records of climate variation in the world’s oceans and continents, including those found in corals, ice cores, tree rings and the changing chemistry of stalagmites in caves. Helen McGregor, an ARC future fellow at the University of Wollongong and one of the paper’s lead authors, said it was “quite a surprise” the international research teams of dozens of scientists had been able to detect a signal of climate change emerging in the tropical oceans and the Arctic from the 1830s. “Nailing down the timing in different regions was something we hadn’t expected to be able to do,” Dr McGregor told Fairfax Media.
Interestingly, the change comes sooner to northern climes, with regions such as Australasia not experiencing a clear warming signal until the early 1900s. Nerilie Abram, another of the lead authors and an associate professor at the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, said greenhouse gas levels rose from about 280 parts per million in the 1830s to about 295 ppm by the end of that century. They now exceed 400 ppm.
Dorothea Lange Home of rural rehabilitation client, Tulare County, CA 1938
Our by now regular contributor Dr. Nelson Lebo III, the New Englander ‘lost’ in New Zealand, sent me another article, and it’s great (well, in my view). His title for the article may put some people on the wrong foot, but I think that’s alright.
I’ve been to New Zealand a few times, and Nicole of course has even moved there, so I was aware of how poorly constructed many homes are -and often made of wood-, but I’d never heard of ‘curtain banks’. Still, they exist all over the country. Turns out, lots of New Zealand homes are so damp and moldy that curtains can literally save lives, and certainly make them more comfortable/bearable. But many people are too poor to be able to afford curtains. Hence the curtain banks. I’d be curious to know if similar initiatives exist anywhere lese on the planet. Do let me know.
Nelson’s second ‘bank’ is made of/filled with water. Agriculture, in particular the one-trick pony of the dairy industry, has caused the land to deteriorate so badly that water washes off the hillsides and the land without natural barriers like trees and shrubs left to stop and naturally regulate it. In other words, there is no ‘water bank’ or ‘stream bank’ left. I really like Nelson’s comparing this velocity of water to the velocity of money in a financial system.
Dr. Nelson Lebo III: Banks…what is there to say that hasn’t already been said? If you read the Automatic Earth, if you watch Max Keiser, if you’ve followed The Crash Course, there is no comment about financial institutions I can make that would add to the critique. That’s not my gig anyway. My gig is to offer realistic, achievable, grass roots, no-excuses alternatives to the dominant neoliberal consumerist paradigm. One approach I’ve gravitated toward over the years goes by the name of permaculture.
Permaculture has been around for decades. You’ve probably heard of it but do you know what it is? Yeah, that’s the problem. My observations are that the eco design methodology known as permaculture suffers in two fundamental ways: a confusing name and dogmatic application by inexperienced converts. The name is the name – no changing it at this point – and there is no antidote for dogma. But for a general audience of readers I’d like to lay out the ethics and practice of permaculture in the clearest ways possible – by using concrete examples.
Example One: The Permaculture Ethics
When engaging with permaculture as a design methodology, practitioners are bound to follow a simple code of ethics: care for the environment; care for people; and, share surplus resources. I appreciate this ethical code because it helps distinguish a permaculturist from anyone else who may be involved in some aspect of the ‘sustainability movement’ such as an organic farmer, recycler, green builder, eco-entrepreneur or local currency advocate.
This is not to say that a permaculturist cannot engage in all of these (indeed they do), but that anyone who practices one or more than these is not necessarily engaging with the permaculture ethics. Think of large-scale organic farms in California that truck in “certified organic” inputs and ship out bags of lettuce thousands of miles to the East Coast. Not permaculture.
People may take a permaculture course or buy a permaculture book for various reasons, but these do not necessarily make them a practicing permaculturist. I like to make the point that the difference between a permaculturist and a survivalist is 100 cases of baked beans and a gun. If you ain’t sharing, it ain’t permaculture.
I also appreciate the ethics because they are an integral part of the design process. In other words, the ethics can be used to help shape a larger project. An example of this is the ‘curtain bank’ that we recently opened in our community.
Those unfamiliar with curtain banks can be forgiven as many developed countries around the world have decent standards for housing that include high performance windows and central heating. But most of the New Zealand housing stock has been variously described as “sub-standard”, “abysmal”, “horrid”, and “a joke.” Mind you, that’s a bad joke instead of a funny one.
The majority of homes in this country are so cold that curtains must be used as a serious way to reduce heat loss. It is not uncommon for overnight indoor temperatures to drop into the mid-single-digits Celsius and daytime indoor temperatures to barely reach double-digits. I’ve heard stories of frost on the inside of windowpanes.
To add insult to injury, we also suffer from wealth and income inequality that make the purchase of new or even second-hand curtains out of reach for many families. As a result curtain banks have popped up in cities around the nation to redistribute second-hand curtains free of charge.
Applied Permaculture Ethics
Sharing surplus resources : People of means replace their curtains for various reasons, but most often for aesthetic ones. If the curtains are still in good condition and free of mould, they can be dropped off at the curtain bank, which makes them available for other households. Like any bank it accepts deposits and grants withdrawals. No fees. No contracts. No interest rates.
While traditional banks have the privilege to ‘lend money into existence’ we cannot lend curtains into existence, although it would be nice. We rely on donations from good people in our community to be passed on to other good people in our community. Which brings us to the next ethic.
Caring for people : It’s no secret that there is a link between sub-standard housing and illness in New Zealand. Sadly, most of the housing in our city is cold and/or damp. These unhealthy homes are especially hard on children and seniors. Many lack adequate curtaining.
Getting properly installed curtains, insulating blinds and window blankets into as many homes as possible helps make the occupants more comfortable and healthier. This is straight up caring for people by addressing some fairly basic needs.
Care for the earth : Improving the ‘thermal envelope’ of a home is the best way to save the energy required for heating and cooling. Saving energy is generally considered good for the environment by reducing carbon emissions or reducing the number of rivers dammed or even reducing the number of solar panels that need to be manufactured.
In these ways curtain banks tick all of the boxes for the permaculture ethics.
Example Two: Applied Eco-Design
The other example I’ll share is a direct application of eco-design: imitating nature to develop or reestablish robust ecological systems. The latter of these is sometimes called ‘regenerative design’.
Most of New Zealand is plagued by a legacy of bad farming practices most easily described as overgrazing steep slopes and allowing stock to foul streams.
We took possession of our small farm two years ago and have been working persistently to – dare I say it – ‘heal the land.’ Currently we are in the process of reestablishing a wetland and protecting the streams from stock. Additionally, we are planting native trees and poplar poles on steep hillsides to prevent slips, reduce erosion and provide bee fodder.
We are doing all this because that’s what nature wants. In other words, that’s the way the land was 1,000 years ago (less the non-native poplars) and given enough time that’s what it would revert to after the permanent removal of large hooved mammals. Our work just speeds up the process and allows for a continued agricultural function, which we are still figuring out.
All of this work is supported by our amazing Regional Council, which offers expert advice, low-cost poplar poles, and matching funding for fencing and native plantings. I cannot speak highly enough of these programmes. Horizons Regional Council does a fantastic job of looking at the big picture and applying holistic solutions. Unlike most government bodies and agencies, they get it.
Lake Horowhenua Planting Day
Forests and wetlands play important roles in moderating seasonal water flows across large land areas. In other words they store water high on the landscape during wet periods and release it slowly during dry periods. It works like a bank by accepting deposits and granting withdrawals.
Much of the farmland in our region suffers from extreme weather on both ends – wet and dry. Neither is good for stock, nor good for farmers, nor good for water quality, nor good for anyone living downstream. It’s a lose-lose-lose-lose situation and the reasons are clear: not enough trees on hillsides and streamsides. That’s basically it.
The solution is to build resilient waterways by imitating nature. Projects like ours are the best way that landowners and supportive communities can directly address the extreme weather events associated with a volatile changing climate.
The restoration work on our farm will help – to a tiny degree – everyone who lives and works downstream and downriver from us by keeping water out of the system during peak rain events. This is critical to our community that already faces tens of millions of dollars in repair bills from the last two major rain events that occurred just 13 months apart.
Given enough farmers with enough will and enough government assistance there is no reason we could not fence off all the streams in our region and plant all the steep hillsides to appropriate species. It’s much cheaper than cleaning up over and over again after serial flood events.
This is the heart and soul of permaculture design thinking, and it is the best way to address the two biggest issues facing humanity: wealth inequality and climate change.
When I dip my toe into the financial news media on occasion I hear this phrase: “the velocity of money” as it pertains to the “health of the economy.”
I thought of the phrase the other day while meeting with a client on managing storm water on their large rural property after they had already done everything wrong. Yes, they had done absolutely everything wrong and I was trying to get them to understand that channelizing water only makes it go faster and cause more damage. The damage was obvious after the last major rain event – that’s why they called me in for an assessment.
As I explained the biological – rather than engineering – solutions, I felt we were going around in circles because they did not really want to hear what I had to say. They just wanted to be rid of the water. Sorry, but that’s not an option without over half a million dollars to spend on massive underground drains, which don’t solve the problem but simply pass it on to everyone downstream. And besides, they don’t have the money anyway.
Finally, I simply said, “The only possible solution is to slow the water and spread the water. It’s the only way to stop the damage.”
And that has me thinking. Should we apply the same approach to dollars?
I reckon a critical piece of the puzzle for neglected rural economies like ours is to slow and spread the flow of money as much as possible before it inevitably drains back to the major centres of power and wealth.
Dorothea Lange wrote about the photograph at the top, back in November 1938:
“Home of rural rehabilitation client, Tulare County, California. They bought 20 acres of raw unimproved land with a first payment of 50 dollars which was money saved out of relief budget (August 1936). They received a Farm Security Administration loan of $700 for stock and equipment. Now they have a one-room shack, seven cows, three sows, and homemade pumping plant, along with 10 acres of improved permanent pasture. Cream check approximately 30 dollars per month. Husband also works about ten days a month outside the farm. Husband is 26 years old, wife 22, three small children. Been in California five years. ‘Piece by piece this place gets put together. One more piece of pipe and our water tank will be finished’. From Shorpy.
Corporate debt is projected to swell over the next several years, thanks to cheap money from global central banks, according to a report Wednesday that warns of a potential crisis from all that new, borrowed cash floating around. By 2020, business debt likely will climb to $75 trillion from its current $51 trillion level, according to S&P Global Ratings. Under normal conditions, that wouldn’t be a major problem so long as credit quality stays high, interest rates and inflation remain low, and there are economic growth persists. However, the alternative is less pleasant should those conditions not persist. Should interest rates rise and economic conditions worsen, corporate America could be facing a major problem as it seeks to manage that debt.
Rolling over bonds would become more difficult should inflation gain and rates raise, while a slowing economy would worsen business conditions and make paying off the debt more difficult. In that case, a “Crexit,” or withdrawal by lenders from the credit markets, could occur and lead to a sudden tightening of conditions that could trigger another financial scare. “A worst-case scenario would be a series of major negative surprises sparking a crisis of confidence around the globe,” S&P said in the report. “These unforeseen events could quickly destabilize the market, pushing investors and lenders to exit riskier positions (‘Crexit’ scenario). If mishandled, this could result in credit growth collapsing as it did during the global financial crisis.” In fact, S&P considers a correction in the credit markets to be “inevitable.” The only question is degree.
[..] “Central banks remain in thrall to the idea that credit-fueled growth is healthy for the global economy,” S&P said. “In fact, our research highlights that monetary policy easing has thus far contributed to increased financial risk, with the growth of corporate borrowing far outpacing that of the global economy.” Between now and 2020, debt “flow” is expected to grow by $62 trillion – $38 trillion in refinancing and $24 trillion in new debt, including bonds, loans and other forms. That projection is up from the $57 trillion in new flow S&P had expected for the same period a year ago. [..] China is expected to account for the bulk of the credit flow growth, with the nation projected to add $28 trillion or 45% of the $62 trillion expected global demand increase. The U.S. is estimated to add $14 trillion or 22%, with Europe adding $9 trillion, or 15%.
Since QE 3 ended in October 2014, stocks have traded in a large range between roughly 2,130 and 1800 on the S&P 500.
During this time, whenever stocks began to breakdown in a serious way, a clear intervention was staged in which someone manipulated the markets higher. Regardless of whether you are a bull or a bear, none of those rallies felt normal or sane in any way. No one panic buys every single day at the exact same time for days on end. Which brings us to today. Stocks have broken out of the trading range to the upside hitting new all-time highs.
They are doing this despite the US entering a recession, China continuing to devalue the Yuan, Italy facing a banking crisis, etc. The explanation the bulls are giving for the breakout is that stocks supposedly hitting all time highs because with $13 trillion in bonds posting negative yields, stocks’ 2.4% or so in dividends are extremely attractive from a yield perspective. Yes, we’ve reached the point at which investors are buying stocks for yield and bonds for capital gains. This is extremely problematic in that it implies that all equity purchases are being driven by a “once in history” bond bubble.• German bond yields are negative out to nearly 10 years. • Japanese bond yields are negative out to 10 years. • Swiss bond yields are negative out to 50 years.
These are completely unsustainable developments. Buying stocks for their yield because bonds are at their lowest yields in 5000 years is like switching to cigarettes from crack for health purposes. At some point something will break in the bond markets. Central Banks are attempting to corner the asset class that is the benchmark for the risk-free rate globally. Put another way, investors are willing to PAY for the right to lend to these Governments for up to and even over a decade. At some point something is going to break here. When it does, stocks will implode below the 2008 lows. It’s only a matter of time.
Theresa May’s new administration has received a significant boost from a Bank of England report showing that the economy has been resilient in the first few weeks since the Brexit vote and displays no general signs of slowing down. The monthly survey by the Bank’s regional agents – considered to be the “eyes and ears” of policymakers in Threadneedle Street – found that a majority of firms questioned were not planning to mothball investment or change hiring plans. Even so, City analysts said the Bank was still likely to announce fresh stimulus measures for the economy next month in anticipation that the better-than-expected economic news since the referendum would not last.
Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “While there may be some relief that the economy may have dodged an immediate sharp slowdown from the Brexit vote, the danger is still very much there given the major uncertainty that is apparent – and there seems a compelling case for the Bank of England to deliver a substantial package of measures at its August meeting to try and bolster business and consumer confidence” The agents’ report was released at the same time as the Office for National Statistics reported that the labour market remained solid in the period from March to May, the first three months of the referendum campaign, with the jobless rate falling to its lowest level in more than a decade.
U.S. prosecutors have linked the prime minister of Malaysia, a key American ally in Asia, to hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly siphoned from one of the country’s economic development funds, according to a civil lawsuit seeking the seizure of more than $1 billion of assets from other people connected to him. The Justice Department filed lawsuits Wednesday to seize assets that it said were the result of $3.5 billion that was misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, a fund set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 to boost the Malaysian economy. The move sets up a rare confrontation between U.S. prosecutors and an important partner in the fight against terrorism.
The moderate Muslim nation is also a counterpoint to China’s rising ambitions in Asia. Among the Justice Department’s assertions: That some $1 billion originating with 1MDB was plowed into hotels; luxury real estate in Manhattan, Beverly Hills and London; fine art; a private jet and the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Among those behind the spending, the lawsuit alleges, was Riza Aziz, stepson of Mr. Najib. N o c r i m i n a l c h a r g e s w e r e f i l e d . The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale, said Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe at a news conference announcing the complaints. The asset seizure would be the largest ever by the Justice Department’s anticorruption unit.
Singapore vowed to take action against four banks for failures in anti-money laundering controls and said it seized S$240 million ($177 million) in assets linked to alleged fraud at the Malaysian state investment company known as 1MDB. Preliminary findings uncovered “instances of control failings” in UBS’s Singapore branch, Standard Chartered’s local unit and DBS, as well as “substantial breaches” of anti-money laundering regulations at Falcon Private Bank in the city-state, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in a statement Thursday. The regulator’s probe, which started in March 2015, is part of global investigations into 1Malaysia Development Bhd. that stretch across Abu Dhabi, Switzerland, the Caribbean, Hong Kong and the U.S.
More than $3.5 billion was misappropriated from the Malaysian firm, and about $1 billion laundered through the U.S. banking system, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday as it launched what could potentially be its biggest ever seizure for such ill-gotten gains. “Supervisory examinations of financial institutions with 1MDB-related fund flows have revealed a complex international web of transactions involving multiple entities and individuals operating in several jurisdictions,” the Singapore central bank said. “Certain financial institutions in Singapore were among those used as conduits for these transactions” and MAS will be taking actions against them, it said.
Having warned earlier of the possibility, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday announced a three-month state of emergency, saying this would enable the authorities to take swift and effective action against those responsible for last weekend’s failed military coup. He explicitly focused on the effort across his nation to “effectively tackle the Gulen movement,” as Erdogan stated that there might be more plans to continue coup attempts. The state of emergency, which comes into force after it is published in Turkey’s official gazette, will allow the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in passing new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary. The decision has immediately raised fears of more arbitrary arrests, killings and disappearances.
“The aim of the declaration of the state of emergency is to be able to take fast and effective steps against this threat against democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms of our citizens,” the president said. Erdogan, who has launched mass purges of state institutions since the July 15 coup attempt by a faction within the military, said the move was in line with Turkey’s constitution and did not violate the rule of law or basic freedoms of Turkish citizens. The president added that “citizens should have no concerns for democracy,” and warned ratings egency S&P “not to mess with Turkey” and comforted his citizens that a “state of emergency does not mean military rule” and that the decision was not against the constitution.
Erdogan said regional governors would receive increased powers under the state of emergency, adding that the armed forces would work in line with government orders. But most amusingly, Erdogan promptly warned S&P, which earlier today downgraded Turkey to BB, “not to mess with Turkey” and that the decision to downgrade the country was political. Finally, he lashed out at Europe, “which he said does not have the right to criticize this decision,” anticipating expressions of “concern” from the European Union, which has become increasingly critical of Turkey’s rights record and has urged restraint as Ankara purges its state institutions since the abortive coup.
Wikileaks claimed Monday it was under attack after it announced it would release hundreds of thousands of documents related to Turkey and the failed military coup attempted Friday, CNET reported. The organization, which has released information on everything from war crimes to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, announced Sunday it would be releasing 100,000 documents related to Turkey’s “political power structure,” some of which detail the “leadup” to the coup.
ANNOUNCE: Get ready for a fight as we release 100k+ docs on #Turkey’s political power structure. #TurkeyCoup #Soon
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 18, 2016
Wikileaks anticipated the release would be censored in Turkey, cautioning in a three-part tweet posted Monday: “Turks will likely be censored to prevent them reading our pending release of 100k+ docs on politics leading up to the coup. We ask that Turks are ready with censorship bypassing systems such as TorBrowser and uTorrent and that everyone else is ready to help them bypass censorship and push our links through the censorship to come.” The Turkish government, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has increasingly ramped up censorship efforts against journalists, lending credibility to Wikileaks suspicions their release may not fully reach Turkish citizens—especially considering the latest leak concerns his ruling party, AKP.
As CNET noted: “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were reportedly blocked in Turkey during the attempted coup Friday, but many residents appear to have gotten around the blocks, posting messages and videos, likely using VPNs or other anonymizing services.”
Throughout Monday, Wikileaks continued to promote the release. (“Turks ask whether WikiLeaks is pro or anti-AKP. Neither. Our only position is that truth is the way forward. 100k+ docs serves all sides. – WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 18, 2016”). They then tweeted that instead of 100,000 documents, they would actually be releasing far more. “Our pending release of 100k docs on Turkish political power? Just kidding. The first batch is 300k emails, 500k docs,” they announced.
But just hours later, they alerted followers their website was being attacked. “Our infrastructure is under sustained attack,” they tweeted, alongside the hashtag, #TurkeyPurge. “We are unsure of the true origin of the attack. The timing suggests a Turkish state power faction or its allies. We will prevail & publish,” Wikileaks tweeted shortly after.
Reports that a group of Turkish military commandos tried to cross from Turkey to the island of Symi, in the southeastern Aegean, put the Greek armed forces on alert on Wednesday amid fears that ties between Greece and Turkey could be tested in the wake of a failed coup in the neighboring country. The Greek Coast Guard was on alert from around 11 a.m. when a group of inflatable dinghies and other vessels were seen departing from Datca, on the Turkish coast, in the direction of Symi. Confused intelligence referred to the presence of around 20 Turkish commandos on those vessels. Athens had been anticipating a possible attempt by participants in the failed coup to come to Greece and so took the reports seriously.
Later in the day, citing Turkish military officials, Reuters reported that Turkish F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to check reports that missing Turkish coast guard vessels had appeared in Greek waters in the Aegean. Some Turkish military hardware was stolen and used in the failed coup but Turkish government officials have insisted that no military equipment remains unaccounted for. Later on Wednesday, the Turkish interior ministry denied claims that rebel soldiers might have “hijacked” a vessel to flee to Greece, Reuters reported. Sources of the Hellenic Air Force confirmed that two Turkish F-16s had conducted patrols but they said they remained in Turkish air space. The Greek Coast Guard monitored the movements of the Turkish vessels, which remained in Turkish waters. Also, a contingent of the Greek Police was dispatched to Symi to conduct checks there.
The developments came after a statement by Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias on the anniversary of the Turkish occupation of Cyprus prompted a terse reaction by Ankara. “Greece does not and will never accept the consequences of the Turkish invasion,” Kotzias said. “It has made it clear to all sides that the elimination of the anachronistic system of guarantees and the withdrawal of all Turkish occupation forces – which, as the recent events in Turkey confirmed, undermine rather than ensure constitutional order and democratic normalcy – are an integral part of the solution of the Cyprus problem.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded that linking the Cyprus situation to recent events in Turkey was “ill-intentioned” and “unfortunate,” and called on Athens to avoid trying to benefit from the events and to display good neighborly behavior.
A lot of words have already been said in the past few days about the Turkish coup that couldn’t fly, but strangely enough some rather obvious things went unmentioned, so I’ll try to fill in a few gaps. Specifically, a lot of the things that have been said range from feeble-minded to utterly preposterous. If this is propaganda, then it sounds like very bad, weak propaganda. Still, there is no shortage of people endlessly repeating these talking points, whether because they get paid to or because they don’t know better. They are the ones I want to address.
Idiotic Theory #1: Erdogan staged his own coup in order to consolidate his power. Prior to the putsch, Erdogan went on vacation, which is traditionally the best time to overthrow a leader. For example, Gorbachev’s tenure as “president” of USSR was ended by a putsch in August 1991 while he was on vacation. People who are busy staging a putsch to consolidate their power don’t go on vacations; they are too busy plotting and orchestrating. Erdogan attempted to fly back to Turkey, only to find that he couldn t land at Istanbul Ataturk, then found himself chased by hostile F-16s. He then flew toward Europe and requested political asylum in Germany, which was refused (bye-bye, Germany!). At some point it dawned on him that most of the army and virtually all of the people in Turkey were on his side, and so he called upon them to take to the streets in defense of the legitimate government.
He did this using an improvised public communications technique that was almost a mockery of itself: his face on a cell phone held in front of a television camera. What followed wasn’t some peaceful, timid demonstration in support of the status quo but gonzo political action, complete with civilians laying down in front of tanks and getting crushed, followed by other civilians jumping on top of tanks and slitting the drivers’ throats. The putsch crumbled. The optics of all of this are hard to misread. He went on vacation; he tried to flee; he begged his people for help over a cell phone. He ended up looking like a very weak and confused leader in a region where leaders either look strong or they don’t stay leaders for long. Do you still think that he planned all this? I don’t.
A glut of refined products has worsened the already-grim outlook for U.S. crude oil for the rest of the year and the first half of 2017, traders warned this week, as the spread between near-term and future delivery prices reached its widest in five months. A stubborn, massive supply overhang punished crude over the winter as U.S. oil futures hit 12-year lows in February. As supply outages and production cuts increased, crude rallied and spreads tightened significantly in May. But the unusually large amount of gasoline and oil in storage, combined with expectations of a ramp-up in crude production, has made traders more bearish on the price outlook for late 2016 and early 2017.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures for delivery in September traded at a discount of as much as $2.23 to those for delivery in December on Wednesday, the biggest this year. Turnover in that spread soared, touching a record high of more than 19,000 contracts, or about 19 million barrels of oil. December spreads, which are the most actively traded, have also blown out in the past month. The discount of the WTI December 2016 contract to December 2017 widened to $4.11 last week. On Wednesday it traded as wide as $3.92 with over 15,000 lots traded. In May that spread had narrowed to just 50 cents, the tightest since November 2014.
A top banker’s dire warning about New Zealand’s overheated house prices shows the market is in crisis and an immigration rethink is needed, Labour says. In a strongly worded opinion piece, ANZ chief executive David Hisco has warned Auckland property prices are over-cooked and the end would likely be messy. He has joined several leading establishment figures in calling for stronger action on housing, and warns yesterday’s Reserve Bank lending restrictions did not go far enough. Hisco’s comments come after Finance Minister Bill English and Housing Minister Nick Smith signalled they expected property values to slow or drop.
Both told first home buyers to ride the bubble out before buying. Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson said Hisco’s message reflected the fact the housing market was in crisis. “This is the kind of warning from inside the system that should, if nothing else, shake the Government.” Labour policy is to ban foreign buyers, extend the “bright line” test to five years so investment properties on-sold within five years have to pay a tax on the capital gains achieved, fast-track the building of affordable homes and begin consultation on ending negative gearing.
[..] NZ First leader Winston Peters said Hisco’s warning of a “messy end” was totally predictable and avoidable but had been ignored by the Government and others for too long. “There will be a correction. It is going to be enormously painful for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders and that’s the sad part about it. Many people will lose their equity. But any conception such a build up in the house price bubble could go on shows what enormous denial the political system is in.” Peters said English and Smith were trying to stave off the inevitable. He did not believe the Reserve Banks’ moves this week to increase loan to value radios for investors from 30 to 40 per cent deposits would have much impact. “It’s crude, it’s blunt and not helpful.”
A special study by the Bank of Greece on Wednesday showed that 223,000 young people left the country from 2008 to 2013 in search of a better future abroad, constituting the so-called “brain drain.” The results of recent research point to the vast majority of people aged between 25 and 39 years who left the country in the first five years of the Greek recession being single and with a university degree. The young Greeks left not only due to unemployment and adverse economic conditions but also because of state’s failure to provide and generate opportunities for professional evolution.
The Bank of Greece study revealed that the momentum and magnitude of the phenomenon makes it essential to record its characteristics and to investigate the factors that are in play before analyzing the negative consequences for the local economy. The main characteristic identified is that it mainly concerns the section of the workforce that is healthy, educated and specialized, and has high mobility and employability rate. The central bank also attributed the growth of the brain drain to the failure of the local education system to produce high-quality human capital and to the inability of the domestic economy to hold on to and attract talented workers.
The Antarctic Peninsula is a long, relatively narrow limb extending 800 miles out from West Antarctica, and is home to hundreds of glaciers. These rivers of ice ooze their way down through the Peninsula’s rocky mountain range and into the ocean, powered by gravity and their own weight. But of the 674 glaciers on the Peninsula’s western side, almost 90% are retreating. This happens when their ice melts faster than new snowfall can replenish it. The prevailing theory has been that warming air are melting the glaciers. But a new study, just published in Science, finds that the main cause is actually rising ocean temperatures. As the Peninsula’s glaciers are among the main contributors to sea level rise, knowing how and why they’re changing will help make predictions more accurate, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.
The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming regions on Earth. Temperatures have risen by more than 3C over the past 50 years. The warming atmosphere has caused some remarkable changes to the eastern side of the Peninsula. The Larsen ice shelf, a floating sheet of ice formed from glaciers spilling out onto the cold ocean, has lost two of its four sections in recent decades. Larsen-A collapsed in 1995, followed by its neighbour, Larsen-B, in 2002. Rising air temperatures are also contributing to the thinning of Larsen-C, which is now at risk of collapse. Over on the western side of the Peninsula, around 600 small glaciers of various shapes and sizes have also been melting.
Scientists had thought that warming air temperatures were the likely cause of these retreating glaciers, says lead author Dr Alison Cook, a research fellow at the Durham University. She explains to Carbon Brief: “Few of these glaciers had been studied in detail and it was thought that their retreat was in response to the atmospheric warming, which has been the predominant driver on the eastern side.” However, recent research suggests the glaciers are retreating even more quickly than can be explained by just the warming atmosphere. Cook’s study finds that the main cause of glacier melt actually lies deep in the ocean – several hundred metres beneath the surface.
Average ocean temperatures (at a depth of 150m) and change in glacier size (in % per year) for 1945-2009 on the Antarctic Peninsula. The size and colour of the dots indicates glacier change – the larger, red dots showing the largest decrease, and the blue dots show stable glaciers that aren’t retreating. Ocean circulation and types of water mass are labelled as follows: Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW), Shelf Water (SW), Bransfield Strait Water (BSW), and Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). Source: Cook et al. (2016)
As investors wring their hands over the impact of Britain’s potential withdrawal from the European Union, otherwise known as “Brexit,” one of the market’s biggest bears delivered a surprising message. “I happen to think that a Brexit would be bullish for global economic growth,” Marc Faber told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Wednesday. “It would give other countries incentive to leave the badly organized EU.” The editor and publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report emphasized that a vote on June 23 by Britain to leave the EU would be an ideal course of action for the country. Additionally, Faber expressed the belief that small countries like Croatia, Estonia and Malta would also prosper as independent nations versus being a part of a larger system.
Currently, the EU has 28 members that operate within a single market with the goal of encouraging the free movement of goods and services. British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed disdain for leaving the bloc, explaining in a piece for The Telegraph that doing so would “be the gamble of the century.” However, that’s a risk that Faber says Britain should be willing to take and noted that the EU is an “empire that is hugely bureaucratic.” Faber further reasoned that a Brexit would not be a disaster. “On the contrary, it would be the best thing for Britain that would ever happen!” Faber defended his case by citing Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU nor the European Economic Area, but instead operates in the “single” market. That enables the Swiss to have rights in the U.K., but theoretically allows them to operate independently of both groups.
Britain is the world’s most vulnerable state on a key measure of short-term debt and credit markets might suddenly seize up if voters opt for Brexit, Standard & Poor’s has warned. The US credit rating agency is crystal clear that Britain will be stripped of its coveted AAA status immediately and may face a double-barrelled downgrade if the country takes a leap in dark, jeopardizing its trading and financial ties to its biggest market. “We are categorical about this,” said Moritz Kraemer, the agency’s head of sovereign ratings. “There is no clear ‘Plan B’ in the UK and we are not going to wait until we find out what the British position actually is. We could potentially see a two-notch downgrade,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Mr Kraemer said the British financial system is extremely dependent on external financing. This is the Achilles Heel for an economy that relies so heavily on the City of London, and has a current account deficit above 5pc of GDP – the highest in Britain’s peace-time history. The level of debt coming due over the next 12 months is 755pc of the country’s external receipts, the highest for all 131 sovereign states rated by S&P. This compares to 318pc for the US and 316pc for France, the next two states most exposed. Much of this short-term debt is owed by banks operating in the City, some of them American, Japanese, European, or Mid-East institutions.
In theory, the liabilities are matched by assets and therefore simply ‘net out’ if stress forces banks to shrink their operations, but crises have a nasty habit of revealing skeletons in the cupboard. “If there is no currency and maturity mismatch, then there is no big issue. But we don’t know that for sure,” Mr Kraemer said. “These sums are very large and have to be rolled over constantly. Nobody has ever hesitated in the past because it was always assumed that Britain is a safe haven and there is no risk,” he said.
We are told that Britain’s net contribution to the EU budget, about 0.5pc of our GDP after the rebate (our gross contribution is much bigger; what we “get back” is EU payments to universities and interest groups as part of the EU’s subversion strategy) is the entry fee we must pay for “access” to the EU single market. Why do numerous other countries, with equal access to the single market, receive substantial net payments from the EU – that is, from us and a few other countries? Jean-Claude Juncker has said that France gets away with breaking the budgetary rules “because it’s France”. Britain is gleefully given the rough end of the stick by our partners “because it’s Britain”.
What access brings to Britain is the enormous cost of single market regulations imposed on all firms, not just the very small minority of exporters to the EU. It also brings higher prices in the shops because we are forced to apply the EU’s common external tariff to imports from third countries. Importantly, it brings a massive deficit with the EU on trade in goods and services – reducing the amount we can spend without borrowing from abroad by close to a massive 4pc of our GDP. But we do borrow. The trade deficit with the EU is the biggest single contributor to Britain’s unsustainable current-account position.
We do not yet have much net debt to the rest of the world. But if the current account deficit continues at anything like its present rate it will not be long before we build up foreign debt that leaves us with four choices: default; an economic depression like that in Greece; substantial sterling depreciation; and total political submission to Germany in the hope of getting permanent transfers from that country. The last option is far-fetched beyond science fiction. The first and second are obviously unthinkable for a country such as Britain, at least if we restore control over our own affairs by leaving the EU. That leaves just sterling depreciation, and the sooner it happens the less disruptive it will be. The more Leave thrives in the opinion polls, the better it is for the prospect of avoiding default and depression.
The wealth disparity in the euro zone is increasing, with rising property prices helping Germans get richer while southern European countries lag behind, a study has found. While the gap between northern countries, such as the Netherlands, and southern states like Portugal has long been a feature of the euro bloc, the study by an arm of German fund manager Flossbach von Storch shows it is getting ever wider. Taking a basket of items including property, stocks, art and expensive wine, the research concluded that wealth in Germany and Austria jumped more than 7% at the end of 2015 compared to a year earlier.
That was roughly twice the growth rate of Italy and Spain, while Greeks saw their wealth drop by more than 4%. Property prices, which, for example, jumped by more than 6% in Germany, are the biggest driver of wealth. This difference leads to political tension in the 19-member euro zone, while weak property prices in southern countries hit their banks, which hold homes and commercial property as security for loans. “Until 2006 when the bubble burst, countries in the south were really taking off. Now they are in a Japan-like situation,” said Thomas Mayer, founder of the research institute that carried out the study.
Bill Gross, the manager of the $1.4 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, warned central bank policies that pushed trillions of dollars into bonds with negative interest rates will eventually backfire violently. “Global yields lowest in 500 years of recorded history,” Gross, 72, wrote Thursday on the Janus Twitter site. “$10 trillion of neg. rate bonds. This is a supernova that will explode one day.” A supernova is a star at the end of its life that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass. Gross has argued for some time that the economy is at the end of a decades-long cycle of expanding credit that has culminated in negative interest rates, a situation he said is unsustainable.
Rather than spurring economic growth, low rates are promoting asset bubbles as investors reach for higher yields while punishing individual savers and industries that rely on interest rates, such as bank and insurance companies, according to Gross. He said in a June 2 note that the era of 7.5% annualized investment gains is history and that investors should eventually take positions to protect principal or profit from market declines. Returns will be low, risk will be high and at some point the ‘Intelligent Investor’ must decide that we are in a new era with conditions that demand a different approach,” he wrote. “Negative durations? Voiding or shorting corporate credit? Buying instead of selling volatility? Staying liquid with large amounts of cash? These are all potential ‘negative’ carry positions that at some point may capture capital gains or at a minimum preserve principal.”
today we had a chance to update the total US credit following the release of the Fed’s Flow of Funds (Z.1) statement, which is usually parsed for its tracking of changes to household wealth. And while it showed that in the first quarter the net worth of US residents, mostly the wealthy ones as the bulk of financial assets is held by a small fraction of the total population, rose by $837 billion to $88 trillion mostly as a result of a change in real estate holdings, we were more interest in the aggregate picture. It wasn’t pretty.
As a reminder, according to the latest BEA revision, nominal Q1 GDP was $18.23 trillion, an increase of just $65 billion from the previous quarter or an annualized 0.7% rate, the question is how much credit had to be created to generate this growth. Well, according to the Z.1, total credit rose to a new record high $64.1 trillion. This was an increase of $645 billion from the previos quarter. It means that in the first quarter, it “cost” $10 in new debt to generate just $1 in new economic growth!
And here are the two other key charts: the first, showing total credit (debt and loans) vs GDP growth since 1950. The trend is hardly anyone’s friend, except for those who create the debt out of thin air to pocket the ever lower cash flows associated with it (and await the next inevitable bailout):
More importantly, on a leverage ratio basis, the US economy is now at a level of 352% total credit/GDP, the highest since Q1 2013, and a level which has been relatively flat since it peaked at 380% just before the crash. One way to read this chart perhaps is that the “carrying debt capacity” of the US economy is roughly 380% at which point something “unexpected” happens. At the current rate of surging credit relative to slowing GDP, the US economy should be there in the not too distant future.
The most determined seller of U.S. stocks may not be in the U.S. at all. Investors outside the country dumped $128 billion in American shares over the past year, data from the U.S. Treasury International Capital System show. Despite the higher quality of companies in the U.S., long-term investors may be drawn to the faster pace of growth in other economies, said Stewart Warther, an equity strategist at BNP Paribas.
US federal personal tax receipts receipts are falling fast. So is the Evercore ISI State Tax Survey. The last two times the survey plunged this much, the US was already in recession. Is it different this time?
“We’ve almost got the perfect storm,” says veteran fund manager Brian Gaynor as he reels off the many reasons New Zealand house prices and debt levels are soaring to precipitous heights. There are many ingredients. But right now, New Zealand seems to have them all: not enough building, restrictions on development, surging migration, baby boomer savings, low interest rates and banks that are all too happy to lend for property investment. “When you get the perfect storm like we did in the 1980s with the sharemarket, you see things just go up and up. People start to believe they will never fall,” he says.
“People didn’t believe the sharemarket would fall in the 80s. I’d come in from a trip to Australia and the guy at customs wouldn’t let me in unless I gave him sharemarket tips. It was just euphoria. Everyone was talking about the sharemarket. Now everyone is talking about the property market.” New Zealand’s gross debt is a whopping half trillion dollars; housing now accounts for $218 billion of that. As of April that housing debt was growing at an annualised rate of 8.3% – and that rate is accelerating. The median price of an Auckland house has almost doubled since the bottom of the last cycle in 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis. The boom has now spilt over into the regions, with places like Hamilton and Tauranga surging 26 and 23% respectively in the past 12 months.
The fundamental context of China’s economy is that it has traced out an S-Curve – as did previous fast-developing nations such as Japan and South Korea. The S-Curve can be likened to a rocket’s trajectory: first, there’s an ignition phase, as the fuel of financialization, cheap labor and untapped productive capacity is ignited. The boost phase lasts as long as credit-fueled production and consumption expand rapidly. In the boost phase, investors and financial authorities can do no wrong. The high growth rate of credit and production overwhelms all other factors, as the virtuous cycle of expanding profits and production increases wages which then support further expansion of credit and consumption which then supports more production, and so on.
A vast tide of foreign investment fuels an equally vast expansion of fixed capital assets such as factories and new homes. But then the fuel of financialization is consumed, and the previously fast-growing economy slows to stall speed. Depending on how much leverage, corruption and wealth has piled up in the boost phase, this phase may last a few years. This is the top of the S-Curve. As the economy weakens, everything that worked in the boost phase no longer works: expanding credit no longer boosts growth, inflating yet another real estate bubble no longer generates a widespread wealth effect, and every effort to shift from being an export-dependent economy to a self-supporting consumer economy fails to achieve liftoff.
hina’s propaganda department, tasked with controlling the media and arts, has been given a slap on the wrist for not being good enough at shaping public opinion, according to a report on a government website. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) posted an article on its website Wednesday that described findings from its two-month-long probe of the ruling Communist party’s propaganda department, which began in February. Leaders in the department did not feel a sufficient sense of responsibility for undertaking ideological work, the piece cited CCDI member and investigation spokesman Wang Huaichen as saying. Art was not directed clearly enough towards socialist aims and political thought not emphasised enough in universities, he was quoted as saying.
News propaganda was not targeted or effective enough, especially in the field of new media, where the department had failed to fully implement the principle of “the party controlling the media”, the post cited him as saying. Wang called upon the department to make propaganda appear more valid by enhancing its attractiveness and appeal, it said. The Communist party tolerates no opposition to its rule and newspapers, websites, and broadcast media are strictly controlled. An army of censors patrols social media and many Western news websites are blocked. President Xi Jinping reminded top state media outlets to “strictly adhere to the orders of the Chinese Communist Party” during a series of high-profile visits to their headquarters in February.
How Hillary stands out against the US Marine Corps. Click the link to read a young man’s sense of duty and honor. Perhaps a bit overcharged, but what Clinton tries to get away with drags down the entire nation. She’s not the only one to flaunt the rules, but if the commander-in-chief -supposing she’s elected- does this, what does that tell everyone else? I can’t see the military and the FBI accepting it. Maybe the higher-ups would, but you don’t want widespread unrest in the ranks.
Clinton is the antithesis of that young captain, someone with no honor, little courage and commitment only to her endless ambition. This has nothing to do with gender, party affiliation, ideology or policy. It is a question of character — not just hers, but ours. Electing Clinton would mean abandoning holding people accountable for grievous errors of integrity and responsibility. What we already know about her security infractions should disqualify her for any government position that deals in information critical to mission success, domestic or foreign. But beyond that, her responses to being found out — dismissing its importance, claiming ignorance, blaming others — indict her beyond anything the investigation can reveal. Those elements reveal her character. And the saddest thing is that so many in America seem not to care.
[..] the unspeakable has become the inescapable in today’s world. It’s become a running joke on the internet that the word “upgrade” inevitably means poorer service, fewer benefits, and more annoyances for those who have to deal with the new and allegedly improved product. The same logic can be applied equally well across the entire landscape of modern technology. What’s new, innovative, revolutionary, game-changing, and so on through the usual litany of overheated adjectives, isn’t necessarily an improvement. It can be, and very often is, a disaster. Examples could be drawn from an astonishingly broad range of contemporary sources, but I have a particular set of examples in mind.
To make sense of those examples, it’s going to be necessary to talk about military affairs. As with most things in today’s America, the collective conversation of our time provides two and only two acceptable ways to discuss those, and neither of them have anything actually useful to say. The first of them, common among the current crop of American pseudoconservatives, consists of mindless cheerleading; the second, common among the current crop of pseudoliberals all over the industrial world, consists of moralizing platitudes. I don’t particularly want to address the moralizing platitudes just now, other than to say that yes, war is ghastly; no, it’s not going away; and it’s not particularly edifying to watch members of the privileged classes in the countries currently on top of the international order insist piously that war ought to be abandoned forever, just in time to keep their own nations from being displaced from positions they won and kept at gunpoint not that many decades ago.
The cheerleading is another matter, and requires a more detailed analysis. It’s common among the pseudoconservative right these days to insist that the United States is by definition the world’s most powerful nation, with so overwhelming a preponderance of military might that every other nation will inevitably have to bow to our will or get steamrollered. That sort of thinking backstops the mania for foreign intervention that guides neoconservatives such as Hillary Clinton on their merry way, overthrowing governments and destabilizing nations under the fond delusion that the blowback from these little adventures can never actually touch the United States.
In America these days, a great deal of this sort of cheerleading focuses on high-tech weapons systems—inevitably, since so much of contemporary American pop culture has become gizmocentric to the point of self-parody. Visit a website that deals with public affairs from a right-of-center viewpoint, and odds are you’ll find a flurry of articles praising the glories of this or that military technology with the sort of moist-palmed rapture that teenage boys used to direct to girlie-mag centerfolds. The identical attitude can be found in a dizzying array of venues these days, very much including Pentagon press releases and the bombastic speeches of politicians who are safely insulated from the realities of war. There’s only one small difficulty here, which is that much of the hardware in question doesn’t work.
are there any unintended consequences of negative interest rates? Unintended consequences are hard to think about, and most people get a headache even trying. How can it be that clean, plentiful nuclear energy will eventually pollute the whole planet with long-lived radionuclides, resulting sky-high cancer rates? How can it be that wonderful genetically modified seeds will render us sickly and infertile in just a few generations? And how can it be that ingenious mobile computing technology has turned our children into zombies who are constantly twiddling their smartphones as they sleepwalk through life? It s hard to think about any of this without taking some happy pills; and how can it be that taking those happy pills has… you get the idea.
The unintended consequence of negative interest rates is that they destroy money. This is true in an entirely trivial sense: if you deposit x dollars at -p% annual, then a year later you will only have x(1-p) dollars because xp dollars has been destroyed. (In case you prefer to count on your fingers and toes, if you deposit $10 at -10% annual, then a year later you will only have $9 because $1 has been destroyed.) But what I mean is something slightly more profound: negative interest rates erode the very concept of money. To get at the reason for this, we have to ask a slightly more profound question: What is money? I think that money is the cult of the god Mammon.
“Despite its intention to process all cases, Greece lacks the manpower to deal with the volume of applications. It says it needs more help from EU institutions. As many as 6,656 people applied for asylum in March and April this year, up from 1,899 in those months last year. Even if it could hire more people, they would need to be highly qualified legal experts, government officials say.”
Tents were set on fire, punches were thrown, children cried through the night and families were forced to flee the burning detention camp and sleep in open fields. The tension is palpable on Greece’s islands, where about 8,000 asylum seekers feel stranded by a European Union deal with Turkey to stem the arrival of refugees and other migrants on European shores from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. The deal, hailed a success by its European architects, prevents migrants from going beyond Greece – or even its islands – in their search for a new home in Europe, until their asylum claims are processed and those rejected are sent back to Turkey, from where they arrived. But some European officials say the assessment has been slow, and the wait long for those confined to often overcrowded camps.
In June, the most violent month yet, dozens were injured in clashes on three islands, police said. Videos in Greek media showed clouds of smoke rising over the centers on three occasions. In clashes on Lesvos the night of June 1-2, families with young children had to flee and spend the night in nearby fields or Mytilene town, several kilometers away, Amnesty International said. Many returned to burned down tents and destroyed belongings. Women told Amnesty they “live in constant fear” in camps where fights break out in food queues. Journalists are barred from entering the camps on the islands. But humanitarian organizations and police officials on the ground speak of people on edge. “They’re reacting. They want to leave the islands,” said a police official for the northern Aegean region which includes the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios where rival migrant groups brawled. “We’re bracing for all eventualities.”
More than 3,000 boat migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean over the past two days and two bodies have been recovered, Italy’s coastguard said on Thursday. The coastguard coordinated rescues of migrants from 15 different boats on Thursday, bringing 1,950 people to safety. Two bodies were recovered from a rubber boat. Some 1,100 migrants were rescued at sea on Wednesday. The coastguard had no details about the nationalities of the migrants, nor about the two deaths.
All the rescues took place between Italy and Libya, where people-smugglers operate with impunity amid the chaos of civil war. Britain’s HMS Enterprise and Germany’s FGS Frankfurt, patrolling the area as part of the European Union’s anti-people-smuggling operation, together rescued migrants from seven boats, a coastguard spokesman said. A Doctors without Borders vessel, the Dignity 1, rescued almost 500 from four boats, while the Phoenix, run by humanitarian group Migrant Offshore Aid Station, took 243 people from two boats.
Irving Underhill Irving Trust Building, Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York 1931
Last night, I made it back to Athens, still half a cripple, but there must be someone in this city who knows how to stick needles in the appropriate muscles, right?!, paid the rent for the Social Kitchen big house/nerve center late this morning, a tough 1 mile walk for my leg muscles -they kill me!-, still, that’s done, and hoping to get back to writing articles very soon, but having an ouzo right now just to make sure I blend in with the Romans. One can never be too sure.
Ergo: first here is, once again, our dearly beloved New England-raised friend from New Zealand, Nelson Lebo III, touching on a theme that will be found to have legs once the world sees Janet Yellen has no clothes on (and I DO understand the problem with that visual) :
Nelson Lebo: “Our already horrendous suicide rate hit a new record high last year.” The news of New Zealand’s suicide rate did not surprise me when I heard it on the radio earlier this week. Anyone who pays attention to global trends could see this coming. “Psychotherapists say we need a wide-ranging review into the mental health system before there are more preventable deaths” reported Newstalk ZB.
At lighter moments I joke that the best thing about living in New Zealand is that you can see worldwide trends that are heading this way, but the worst part is that no-one believes you. This is not a lighter moment. Suicide is a serious issue and one that is growing dramatically among my peer group: white middle-aged men.
The first people to notice the emerging pattern in the United States were Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case. The New York Times reported on 2nd November, 2015 that the researchers had uncovered a surprising shift in life expectancy among middle-aged white Americans – what traditionally would have been considered the most privileged demographic group on the planet.
The researchers analyzed mountains of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other sources. As reported by the Times, “they concluded that rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. The mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.”
The most amazing thing about this discovery is that the Princeton researchers stumbled across these findings while looking into other issues of health and disability. But as we hear so often, everything is connected. A month before releasing this finding Dr. Deaton was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics based on a long career researching wealth and income inequality, health and well-being, and consumption patterns.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences credited Dr. Deaton for contributing significantly to policy planning that has the potential to reduce rather than aggravate wealth inequality. In other words, to make good decisions policy writers need good research based on good data. Too often this is not the case. “To design economic policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty, we must first understand individual consumption choices. More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding.”
Days before hearing the news about New Zealand’s rising suicide rate I learned of another major finding from demographic researchers in the United States. For the first time in history the life expectancy of white American women had decreased, due primarily to drug overdose, suicide and alcoholism. This point is worth repeating as it marks a watershed moment for white American women. After seeing life expectancies continually extend throughout the history of the nation, the trend has not only slowed but reversed. Data show the slip is only one month, but the fact that it’s a decrease instead of another increase should be taken as significant milestone.
Please note that the following sentence is not meant in the least to make light of the situation, but is simply stating a fact. The demographic groups that are experiencing the highest rates of drug overdose, suicide and alcoholism are also the most likely to be supporters of Donald Trump in his campaign for the U.S. Presidency. It does not take a Nobel Laureate to observe a high level of distress among white middle-class Americans. Trump simply taps into that angst.
As reported by CBS News, “The fabulously rich candidate becomes the hero of working-class people by identifying with their economic distress. That formula worked for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Today, Donald Trump’s campaign benefits from a similar populist appeal to beleaguered, white, blue-collar voters – his key constituency.”
I don’t blame most Americans for being angry. That the very architects of the global financial crisis have only become richer and more powerful since they crashed the world economy in 2008 is unforgivable. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen and the chasm has now engulfed white middle-aged workers. As the Pope consistently tells us, wealth and income inequality is the greatest threat to humanity alongside climate change.
Instead of going down the Trump track for the rest of this piece, I’d rather wrap it up by bringing the issue back to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and my small provincial city of Whanganui. To provide some background for international readers, the NZ economy relies significantly on dairy exports and many dairy farmers hold large debts. Dairy prices are known for their volatility, and recently the payouts have dropped below break-even points for many farmers.
Earlier this month Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced that the government would invest $175,000 to study innovative, low cost, high performing farming systems already in place in New Zealand. Stuff.co.nz reported, “The government is set to pick the brains of New Zealand’s top dairy farmers in an effort to help those struggling with the low dairy payout.”
That is great news, but the government’s investment in researching the best of the best farmers is a pittance when compared with what is spent addressing issues of depression and suicide prevention among Kiwi farmers. Isn’t this a case of putting the cart ahead of the horse, or treating symptoms instead of causes?
Research shows that financial stress contributes significantly to the increasing suicide rates here and abroad. We know that innovative farmers who use low-input/high-performance systems are more profitable that their conventional farming brethren. Would it then be a stretch to conclude that depression and suicide is much lower among these innovative and profitable farmers? At the same time, research shows that wealth and income inequality in our more urban centres contribute to anti-social behaviours such as crime, domestic abuse and illegal drug usage.
Angus Deaton, the Nobel-winning economist, would argue that in order for policy planners to address these issues effectively they must understand the underlying causes and resultant costs. Thankfully, we do see glimmers of that from central government instead of the usual neoliberal claptrap. Credit must be given to Finance Minister Bill English for his actuarial approach to some social issues rather than the inaccurate dogmatic position often adopted by the right.
But closer to home for me, such enlightened policy planning has yet to reach our city by the awa (river). To start off, the Council’s rates structure is stunningly regressive, clearly taking significantly higher proportions of household wealth from low-income families than from high-income families. If we believe the research in this field (ie, The Spirit Level, etc) wouldn’t we expect the widening gap between rich and poor to result in even more anti-social behavior in our city that already suffers from reputation problems nationwide?
Secondly, the council’s vision documents and long-term plan are nearly devoid of intelligent strategies to address the underlying issues of anti-social behaviour, depression, poor health, and domestic problems that afflict our community. The Council pours mountains of money into an art gallery and arts events while providing token services and events for low-income families.
Will it take our own Trump or Sanders running for office to stimulate a populist revolt against regressive policies that potentially do more harm than good to our community? What will it take for us to finally get it? I first wrote about these issues in our city’s newspaper, the Chronicle, two and a half years ago… but, apparently, no one believed me. Welcome to provincial New Zealand!
European leaders probably don’t want to hear this now, as they frantically try to close their borders to stop hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants and asylum seekers escaping hunger and violence in Africa and the Middle East. But they are dealing with the unstoppable force of demography. Fortified borders may slow it, somewhat. But the sooner Europe acknowledges it faces several decades of heavy immigration from its neighboring regions, the sooner it will develop the needed policies to help integrate large migrant populations into its economies and societies. That will be no easy task. It has long been a challenge for all rich countries, of course, but in crucial respects Europe does a particularly poor job.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, as a recent report by the OECD found, that it is harder for immigrants to get a job in EU nations than in most other rich countries. But that doesn’t explain why it is also harder for their European-born children, who report even more discrimination than their parents and suffer much higher rates of unemployment than the children of the native-born. Rather than fortifying borders, European countries would do better to improve on this record. The benefits would be substantial, for European citizens and the rest of the world. Over the summer, as Hungary hurried to lay razor wire along its southern border and E.U. leaders hashed out plans to destroy smugglers’ boats off the coast of North Africa, the United Nations Population Division quietly released its latest reassessment of future population growth.
Gone is the expectation that the world’s population will peak at 9 billion in 2050. Now the U.N. predicts it will hit almost 10 billion at midcentury and surpass 11 billion by 2100. And most of the growth will come from the poor, strife-ridden regions of the world that have been sending migrants scrambling to Europe in search of safety and a better life. The population of Africa, which has already grown 50% since the turn of the century, is expected to double by 2050, to 2.5 billion people. South Asia’s population may grow by more than half a billion. And Palestine’s population density is expected to double to 1,626 people per square kilometer (4,211 per square mile), three times that of densely populated India.
Over the next several decades, millions of people are likely to leave these regions, forced out by war, lack of opportunity and conflicts over resources set in motion by climate change. Rich Europe is inevitably going to be a prime destination of choice. “With Africa’s population likely to increase by more than three billion over the next 85 years, the EU could be facing a wave of migration that makes current debates about accepting hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers seem irrelevant,” wrote Adair Turner, the former chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority and now chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
The annual report in 2013 from a multibillion-dollar London private-equity firm that counts a French pastry baker and a Dutch shoemaker among its holdings touted a new opportunity with “promising organic and acquisitive growth potential.” That investment was the management of refugee camps. “The margins are very low,” said Willy Koch, the retired founder of the Swiss company, ORS Service, which runs a camp in Austria that overflowed this summer with migrants who crossed from the Balkans and Hungary. “One of the keys is, certainly, volume.” Since early 2014, more than a million people have claimed asylum in the EU. Germany alone is preparing for at least 800,000 asylum-seekers this year. The surge, experts say, amounts to the biggest movement of people in Europe since World War II.
The crisis has produced harrowing tales of tragic deaths and lives in upheaval. It is also giving shape to an industry that everyone from small Greek shop owners to some of America’s biggest pension funds are benefiting from: the business of migration. In many ways, private companies are increasingly defining the European migration experience. In some cases, the companies see potential to win favor with a future group of European consumers, a welcome jolt amid the Continent’s economic doldrums. In other cases, they are stepping in to help provide services that governments can’t or won’t. At times they have provoked protests from advocacy groups who accuse them of cutting corners in order to profit from human misery. Some of the businesses, in turn, say they are sensitive to the risks of working with vulnerable people, and they argue that neither governments nor charities can meet on their own the huge range of demands resulting from the tide of migrants now arriving in Europe.
“Because of our involvement it is a better service run more efficiently,” said Guy Semmens, partner at Geneva-based private-equity firm Argos Soditic, which previously invested in ORS. There are also profits to be made. In Germany, Air Berlin was paid some $350,000 last year operating charter flights to deport rejected asylum seekers on behalf of the government. In Sweden, the government paid a language-analysis firm $900,000 last year to verify asylum-seekers’ claims of where they were from. In Athens, a Western Union branch has been disbursing €20,000 a day to migrants, reaping fees on each transaction. “I’m making at least twice the money I was making last year,” said Mohammed Jafar, the Afghanistan-born owner of the branch. “I wouldn’t make this in any other country in Europe.”
Refugees blazed a new pathway through Europe on Wednesday, with hundreds hiking through cornfields to reach welcoming Croatia even as others faced tear gas and water cannons from Hungarian police determined to turn them away. The contrasting scenes along the Serbian border highlighted both the make-or-break resolve of the asylum seekers and the growing friction facing Europe, which has failed to create a coordinated policy for the unprecedented influx of economic migrants and war refugees from the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We hit a stone and we flow around it”, said Arazak Dubal, 28, a computer programmer from Damascus, who had been on the road for 18 days.
He and his three companions reached Belgrade only to discover on Facebook and WhatsApp that the Hungarian border was closed to refugees. “So I went to Google Maps, and here we are”, said Dubal, huffing in the hot afternoon as he trudged across the farm fields. A two-hour drive to the northeast -along Serbia’s frontier with Hungary- the route was slammed shut. Just steps from Hungary, thousands of people spent the night in the wet grass on the Serbian side of the border. Hours later, hundreds tried to punch through the cordon of razor wire and riot police massed near the Serbian border town of Horgos. But they ran headlong into security forces≠ who unleashed tear gas and pepper spray to drive them back. Some refugees were swatted by batons and crumpled to the ground in pain.
“Open the door! the refugees yelled as they hurled water bottles and debris at riot police. Nearby, children screamed for their missing parents. Water cannons sprayed crowds on the Serbian side, forcing refugees to retreat to a squalid squatters camp that took root just after Hungary closed the border Tuesday. There were no major injuries, but some refugees were treated by Serbian authorities for respiratory problems from the tear gas and at least one migrant had a leg injury, AP reported. It was the first major clash between security force and migrants since police used stun grenades to stop refugees from crossing into Macedonia from Greece almost a month ago “We fled wars and violence and did not expect such brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe”, said Amir Hassan, who was drenched from a water cannon and tried to wash tear gas from his eyes, according to AP.
Turkish authorities have announced that hundreds of refugees who have set up camp on a main road at Edirne near the Greek border will be forcibly removed in three days if they refuse to leave. Many others are holding out at Istanbul’s main bus station in the hope of reaching northern Europe by land rather than risk the perilous sea journey. Bus services from the main terminal in Istanbul to cities on the Greek and Bulgarian borders were suspended last week, prompting several hundred refugees, most of them Syrians, to take to the road in an attempt to reach the European Union on foot. In the small green spaces around the bus terminal, some refugees have set up camp, with families trying to shelter smaller children against the sun with blankets and jackets.
Renas, 25, a Syrian-Kurdish construction worker from Qamishli, said he had no other hope than trying to reach Europe to claim asylum. “We are running away from a war and from the oppression of [Syrian president] Bashar [al-Assad]. There is nothing in Syria anymore, no jobs, no life, no future. In Turkey life is very difficult, because we are not allowed to work and there are no jobs here.” Turkey is hosting approximately 2 million refugees, the largest such population in the world. But increasingly difficult living and working conditions, as well as the impossibility of claiming asylum in the country, has led a growing number of people to try to reach Europe via smugglers’ routes.
Renas said he did not want to risk the dangerous journey by sea. “I have several relatives who drowned on their way to Greece,” Renas said. “These boats are nothing but floating death traps, they are not safe at all.” On Tuesday at least 22 people drowned off the Turkish coast after their boat capsized. Most refugees have resorted to paying smugglers to take them from the Turkish coast to Greek islands after authorities cracked down on the routes from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria via the land borders.
Bulgaria is sending more soldiers to strengthen controls along its border with Turkey and avoid a refugee influx that has overwhelmed its neighbours, Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev said on Wednesday. “There is a change in the situation in the past few days and it is hard to predict where the refugee wave will head…so we are standing ready,” Nenchev told public BNR radio. Fifty soldiers have been sent to the border and a further 160 could be deployed by the end of Thursday. The Bulgarian army could send up to 1,000 troops to back up border police if needed, he added.
Bulgaria took the measures after reports that hundreds of mostly Syrian refugees have spent the night in the open near the Turkish border with Greece, which is also very close to Bulgarian-Turkish border. Bulgaria is a member of the European Union but not the border-free Schengen Area. About 660 migrants have tried to cross the Bulgarian-Turkish border in the past 25 hours but have returned voluntarily after they had seen that the border was well-guarded, the chief secretary of the interior ministry Georgi Kostov, told reporters. Bulgaria is a member of the European Union but not the border-free Schengen Area.
Anas Al-Asadi spent three months and €6,000 making his way from his home in Damascus to Germany, braving the frigid waters of the Mediterranean aboard leaky, overcrowded ships on three separate occasions, culminating in a rescue by the Italian Coast Guard and finally a bus across the Alps. For the next four months, he was bored stiff. Then the 26-year-old got a job through a municipal program in Pfungstadt, a German town 25 miles south of Frankfurt, where he landed in February. The work wasn’t exactly challenging for Al-Asadi, who had been an attorney in Syria, and it certainly wasn’t well paid. His employer was a local youth club, since private companies are barred from hiring people without work permits, and he earned just €1 per hour, the maximum allowed for new arrivals.
But he says even simply vacuuming and sorting library books helped him better understand German culture and forced him to learn the language. “I was just sitting there sleeping, eating, doing nothing,” said Al-Asadi, who has since gotten asylum and just started working as a waiter in a local cafe. “I asked if I could do something – anything.” The town of 24,000 is home to more than 100 refugees seeking to start the formal asylum process and 50 others who have been granted residency, with more sure to come. The best way to integrate them, local officials say, is to help them find work, even if it’s odd jobs at community centers.
Here’s what to look for when the Federal Open Market Committee releases its policy statement along with quarterly economic projections at 2 p.m. Thursday in Washington, and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen holds a press conference at 2:30 p.m. he FOMC will weigh the impact on the U.S. outlook from slowing growth overseas and falling stock prices, as committee members determine whether to end almost seven years of near-zero interest rates. Economists are close to evenly divided on the outcome, with 59 of 113 surveyed by Bloomberg expecting the Fed to stand pat “It is a very finely balanced question,” said Jonathan Wright, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a former economist at the central bank’s Division of Monetary Affairs. “It is close to a 50-50 call.”
While economic data have been “pretty compelling,” investors are skeptical the FOMC will want to move in the face of recent financial turbulence, said Stephen Stanley at Amherst Pierpont Securities. The FOMC’s forecasts of the benchmark fed funds rate, revealed in dot-filled charts representing each official’s projections, may suggest a more gradual pace of tightening over the next few years than was suggested in June, said Michael Hanson at Bank of America. “The most important thing investors will try to ascertain is the pace of hikes going forward,” he said. “Yellen has emphasized that it is not liftoff that matters but it is the pace of tightening and we will get some additional information on that.”
Yellen and her colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee wrap up a two-day meeting on Thursday to debate whether to increase the benchmark federal funds rate, which they have held near zero since late 2008. If and when they do move, it won’t be like before, and they’ll be using new tools to lift rates higher. In the past, the central bank kept the fed funds rate at or near the target chosen by policy makers by injecting or draining bank reserves from the system via the New York Fed’s trading desk. The amounts of cash involved were small and the Fed was pretty good at hitting its desired rate. Not anymore. Three rounds of so-called quantitative easing from 2008 to 2014, in which the Fed bought bonds to support the economy, has swamped banks with cash –deposited with them by investors who sold bonds to the Fed.
That added $2.6 trillion of reserves in excess of requirements to banks’ accounts held at the Fed. It also boosted the size of the Fed’s own balance sheet to $4.5 trillion, a five-fold increase from pre-crisis levels. [..] With so much cash and little need for banks to borrow in the fed funds market, the Fed has lost the ability to lift the funds rate in the way that it did before the crisis. It has also decided for now against selling the bonds back to investors, which would shrink its own balance sheet and extinguish the excess reserves. Instead, Fed officials designed new tools to help the central bank raise rates without reducing its balance sheet, which it hopes to slowly shrink over years by letting the bonds it now holds mature, without reinvestment. Officials say they expect to phase out reinvestments sometime after liftoff.
Their main innovation, an overnight reverse repurchase agreement facility, is a powerful solution, but heavy usage may cause problems for banks trying to comply with new regulations installed in the wake of the financial crisis, said Zoltan Pozsar at Credit Suisse. The facility promises to drain reserves from the banks by encouraging investors to withdraw the deposits created when they sold bonds to the Fed, and place the cash in money-market mutual funds. Through overnight reverse repos, the Fed can borrow the cash from money funds at a specified rate and post securities as collateral, unwinding the trades the next day. In effect, the Fed will be borrowing back the money it created to buy the bonds while cutting out the middlemen in the banking system.
The U.S. Federal Reserve opened a two-day meeting Wednesday to weigh a historic interest rate increase amid calls for it to move gingerly as world economic growth slows. The World Bank has warned developing economies to prepare for more capital and currency market turmoil while the OECD urged the Fed to move slowly and make its policy plans clear, whatever it decides. Most analysts saw the Fed again putting off the long-awaited increase to the benchmark federal funds rate, which has been locked at 0-0.25% since the 2008 crisis, giving the world a massive supply of cheap dollars. While U.S. growth has been strong, still-weak inflation and the recent China-driven turmoil in global markets “most likely mean that the FOMC will leave rates unchanged at this week’s meeting,” said Harm Bandholz of UniCredit.
The Fed has not raised rates in more than nine years, and what would probably amount to an increase of 0.25 percentage point would represent a momentous break with the extraordinary crisis stance it has adopted since the 2008-2009 recession. It would begin what is expected to be a slow series of rate hikes toward a “normal” monetary policy stance of around 3% in the next two years. But it would also make the dollar more expensive and hike borrowing costs for developing economies around the world. The policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, led by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, will announce a decision at 1800 GMT Thursday. Yellen will then address the media, with analysts saying her justification will be as crucial to markets as the decision itself.
China’s stocks sank in the last 30 minutes of trading in thin volumes as traders tested the limits of state support amid the biggest price swings since 1997. The Shanghai Composite Index slid 2.1% to 3,086.60 at the close, wiping out an advance of as much as 1.7%, as material and drug companies slumped. The benchmark gauge jumped 4.9% on Wednesday in a last-hour rally – the hallmark of state-backed fund buying – after falling dropped 6.1% in the first two days of the week. Volatility is surging and turnover is slumping on concern government intervention will fail to shore up the world’s second-largest stock market amid signs of a deeper economic slowdown.
Price swings have been exacerbated by state investigations into market manipulation as well as the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate meeting this week. “The market is becoming increasingly volatile as state support has caused confusion to the market and investors,” said Li Jingyuan, head of securities investment at Shanghai Zhaoyi Asset Management. “Information on state buying isn’t transparent and it seems that the national team doesn’t have a clear strategy and tactics. So you see a volatile market as investors don’t follow state buying.”
Standard & Poor’s cut Japan’s long-term credit rating one level to A+, saying it sees little chance of the Abe government’s strategy turning around the poor outlook for economic growth and inflation over the next few years. The move comes just a day after the Bank of Japan refrained from boosting record asset purchases, betting there will be a resumption in growth and inflation. That’s left the onus on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet to consider a fiscal stimulus package to boost what evidence indicates is a lackluster recovery in the second half of the year so far. “We believe that the government’s economic revival strategy – dubbed “Abenomics” – will not be able to reverse this deterioration in the next two to three years,” S&P said in a statement. “Economic support for Japan’s sovereign creditworthiness has continued to weaken.”
Japan’s problems are mounting, with inflation near zero, the economy contracting last quarter and debt rising as the population ages. The IMF estimates public debt will increase to about 247% of gross domestic product next year. Japan’s sovereign debt yield and bond risk have stayed low as the Bank of Japan pushes on with its unprecedented asset purchases. The benchmark 10-year government bond yield was at 0.37% on Wednesday, after touching a record low of 0.195% in January. Credit-default swaps insuring Japan’s sovereign notes have dropped 30 basis points this year to 37 basis points, according to data provider CMA. “The government’s fiscal reform plan released in June lacked details and specifics, making it look unreliable on how to ensure fiscal sustainability,” said Masaki Kuwahara at Nomura in Tokyo, who said the downgrade wasn’t a surprise after a cut by Moody’s in December.
“Today’s downgrade is a message that the government will need to have a more credible fiscal reform plan.” Toshihiro Uomoto, a credit strategist at Nomura, said the risk now is that overseas investors will take a more critical view of Abenomics. “Japan is trying to escape from deflation, but it’s not succeeding,” he said. “The perception is that the Bank of Japan’s policy isn’t having as much of an impact as it was originally aiming for.” Japan is now rated lower than China and South Korea – two of its key economic rivals – by S&P. South Korea was lifted one level to AA- on Tuesday, with S&P citing the nation’s sound fiscal position and relatively strong economic performance.
A glut of crude may keep oil prices low for the next 15 years, according to Goldman Sachs. There’s less than a 50% chance that prices will drop to $20 a barrel, most likely when refineries shut in October or March for maintenance, Jeffrey Currie, head of commodities research at the bank, said in an interview in Lake Louise, Alberta. Goldman’s long-term forecast for crude is at $50 a barrel, he said. Goldman cut its crude forecasts earlier this month, saying the global surplus of oil is bigger than it previously thought and that failure to reduce production fast enough may require prices to fall near $20 a barrel to clear the glut. Prices may touch that level when stockpiles are filled to capacity, forcing producers in some areas to cut output, Currie said Wednesday.
“When we think of the longer term oil price, yes we put it at $50 a barrel,” he said. “However the risks are to the downside given what’s happening in the other commodity markets and the macro markets more broadly.” Lower iron ore, copper and steel prices as well as weaker currencies in commodity-producing countries have reduced costs for oil companies, according to Currie. The world is shifting from an “investment phase” of a 30-year commodity cycle to an “exploitation phase,” with shale fields as an important source of output, he said.
The retrenchment in drilling for U.S. oil is threatening to leave a different market short: natural gas. “The impacts of oil rig counts extend beyond oil: the outlook for U.S. natural gas is critically dependent on the outcome of this balancing act in U.S. oil rigs,” Anthony Yuen, a strategist at Citigroup Inc. in New York, said in a report to clients Wednesday. “If the oil market remains oversupplied and oil-rig counts fall, the decline in associated gas production would leave the market short of gas.” Associated gas is the gas that comes out of oil wells along with the crude. Supplies of this byproduct from fields including the Bakken formation in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in Texas may fall by about 1 billion cubic feet a day next year as drillers idle rigs in response to the collapse in oil prices, Yuen said.
That’s about 7% of U.S. residential gas demand. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has already forecast that shale gas production will drop in October for the fourth straight month, a record streak of declines. U.S. oil has lost half its value in the past year amid a worldwide glut of crude. Drillers have responded by sidelining almost 60% of the country’s oil rigs since Oct. 10. Crude producers in the lower 48 states may have to keep the number of working rigs low for a while longer to balance the global market, Yuen said. A recovery in the rig count may “exacerbate the current oversupplied environment” and weaken prices, he said.
If the 1997 Asian financial crisis was a heart attack for emerging markets, the current situation is akin to chronic cardiovascular disease, according to Macquarie analysts led by Viktor Shvets and Chetan Seth. In 1997, speculative attacks against the Thai baht forced the country to float and devalue its currency in a move that was swiftly followed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Then came a massive decline in Hong Kong’s stock market that led to losses in markets around the globe. While parallels exist between 1997 and the current emerging market selloff (notably in the form of a stronger dollar, which makes it more expensive for emerging-market countries to finance their debts, plus lower commodity prices and slowing trade), the Macquarie analysts reckon the current situation might actually be worse.
Instead of sharp heart attack (a la 1997), it is far more likely that EM economies and markets would face an extended period that can be best described as a “chronic disease”, with limited (if any) cures or exits, punctuated by occasional significant flare-ups (short of an outright heart attack). In many ways it is likely to be a far more painful and insidious process. In the meantime, any signs of significant strain (either at a country or corporate level) could easily freeze up the emerging market universe.
The crux of their argument is that despite the difficulties of 1997, its effects were mitigated by rising global leverage, liquidity, and trade shortly thereafter. This time around, those factors might not be there.
[A c]ombination of excessively loose monetary policies (particularly post 2000 bursting of dot-com bubble) and China’s integration into global trade systems has enabled both EMs and DMs to recover quickly. This does not describe the environment facing EMs and DMs over the next five to ten years. The combination of long-term structural shifts (primarily driven by the grinding deflationary progress of the Third Industrial Revolution, which first became apparent in early 1990s but matured into a global phenomenon over the last decade), is aggravated by the more recent impact of overleveraging and associated overcapacity.
China’s slowdown is rippling across Africa and these three nations are the most exposed, relying on demand from the Asian economy for almost half their exports: Republic of Congo, Angola and Mauritania. Oil accounts for the bulk of Angola’s and Congo’s exports, damaging their prospects after crude prices plunged 55% since the beginning of June last year to below $50 a barrel. The price of iron ore, which makes up more than 40% of Mauritania’s exports, has dropped by almost a third in the past year. The three nations each shipped more than 45% of their exports in 2014 to China, data from the IMF shows. “For countries like Angola, which basically only has one commodity, there is a huge knock when prices fall and less oil is being exported to China,” Christie Viljoen at NKC African Economics, said.
“It’s a case of when things are good, it’s really good, but when it turns bad, it’s really bad.” Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer after Nigeria, has been forced to devalue its currency twice since June and has slashed its budget by a quarter following a slump in revenue. Congo’s fiscal deficit almost doubled to 8.5% of gross domestic product in 2014 from the previous year and in May Finance Minister Gilbert Ondongo cut $500 million of spending from the 2015 budget to bring it down to $4.5 billion. Reliance on a single commodity and exposure to one country for the bulk of exports is a double-whammy. China’s slowdown means weaker currencies and higher import prices for these African nations, which in turn feeds into more pressure on their exchange rates and a run down of central bank reserves, said Viljoen.
“If you are at the top of the list in terms of dependence on China and your economy is not well diversified, there are a bunch of negative things which can fall like dominoes,” he said. While South Africa is the continent’s single biggest exporter to China – with shipments totaling $45 billion in 2014 – its exports are more diversified and destined to a wider range of countries. China buys 37% of South Africa’s goods, followed by the European Union at 20%. Commodities such as gold, platinum and iron ore still make up the bulk of exports at just over half, though vehicle shipments have grown in importance to reach 13% of the total, according to data from the South African Revenue Service.
There are many good reasons to gasp at Jeremy’s Corbyn’s planned assault on capital, but his enthusiasm for “People’s QE” is not one of them. Overt monetary financing of deficits – the technical term – is exactly what the world will need if the global economy tips into another recession with interest rates already at zero and debt ratios stretched to historic extremes. Governments that do not have such a contingency plan in place to combat a potential deflationary shock from East Asia should be hauled before their respective parliaments to account for their complacency. HSBC’s chief economist, Stephen King, argues such drastic measures may be our last resort in a “Titanic” world with few lifeboats left, if anything goes wrong. He is not alone in the City of London.
“A pervasive sense that the financial elites pulled a blinder – while austerity is for little people – explains in part why Mr Corbyn has suddenly stormed into the limelight, and why the US socialist Bernie Sanders has so upset the Democratic primaries” Jeremy Lawson, from Standard Life, gave his blessing to radical action this week, arguing central banks should be willing to fund fiscal stimulus directly, and even inject money “directly into household bank accounts” if need be. Mr Corbyn’s ideas are a variant of “helicopter money”, the term coined by Milton Friedman, the doyen of monetary orthodoxy, lest we forget. Friedman did not, of course, mean that banknotes should be dropped from the sky, though they could be in extremis, but rather that central banks have the means to create money to fund tax cuts, or to cover state spending, until the economy comes back to life.
We cannot revert to plain vanilla forms of quantitative easing at this stage. The various rounds of QE by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England after the Lehman crisis were assuredly better than nothing. They averted a depression. But little more can be extracted from pulling down long-term interest rates by a few more basis points. The trade-off between risk and reward has, in any case, turned negative. Much of the money has leaked into asset booms, greatly enriching the “haves”, with a painfully slow trickle-down to the rest of society. A pervasive sense that the financial elites pulled a blinder – while austerity is for little people – explains in part why Mr Corbyn has suddenly stormed into the limelight, and why the US socialist Bernie Sanders has so upset the Democratic primaries.
This is not a criticism of the Anglo-Saxon central banks. The public would not have accepted avant-garde QE or helicopter money at the time. The Fed’s Ben Bernanke faced impeachment calls by hard-liners in Congress even as it was. He did what was humanly possible. Yet if we have to do QE again – and right now the US and the UK are preparing to tighten, so it is not imminent – it would surely be better to inject the money directly into the veins of the real economy.
Journalists from BBC, El Pais, Die Zeit, RT and more. In total nearly 400 individuals from France, Greece, Israel, Spain, Italy, USA, Russia, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, the UK and several other countries..
President Petro Poroshenko has banned two BBC correspondents from Ukraine along with many Russian journalists and public figures. The long-serving BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg and producer Emma Wells have been barred from entering the country, according to a list published on the presidential website on Wednesday. The decree says those listed were banned for one year for being a “threat to national interests” or promoting “terrorist activities”. BBC cameraman Anton Chicherov was also banned, along with Spanish journalists Antonio Pampliega and Ángel Sastre, who went missing, presumed kidnapped, in Syria in July. The list targeted people involved in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the aggression in eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko said, referring to the conflict with Russia-backed rebels that has continued in certain hotspots this year despite a February ceasefire.
Andrew Roy, the BBC’s foreign editor, said: “This is a shameful attack on media freedom. These sanctions are completely inappropriate and inexplicable measures to take against BBC journalists who are reporting the situation in Ukraine impartially and objectively and we call on the Ukrainian government to remove their names from this list immediately.’ The reason for the BBC correspondents’ ban was not clear, but media coverage of the conflict with the rebels – whom the authorities and local media often call “terrorists” – has been a sensitive subject. Russian television has covered the Ukrainian crisis in a negative light, frequently referring to the new Kiev government as a “fascist junta”, while international media has focused on civilian casualties and the use of cluster munitions in populated areas by both sides.
New Zealand’s government has blocked the $56m (£36m) purchase of a local farm by Chinese firm Shanghai Pengxin. The government said it was not satisfied that the sale of the Lochinver farm would be of substantial benefit to the country, which is a key requirement for a big land purchase. The surprise move comes after the body that oversees bids for sensitive assets in New Zealand had approved the sale. There have been growing concerns about foreign land ownership in New Zealand. Those fears were stoked after Shanghai Pengxin New Zealand, which is a unit of the Chinese parent firm Shanghai Pengxin, bought 16 dairy farms in the country in 2011. China is New Zealand’s biggest market for many dairy and meat products. Dairy products are also New Zealand’s biggest export.
The Chinese firm said in a statement that it was “surprised and extremely disappointed with the decision and will be considering our options”. The 13,800-hectare Lochinver farm is located in North Island and is used to breed sheep, as well as cattle for beef and dairy products. The Chinese government has encouraged its companies to look to overseas markets to meet the demands of its growing consumer class. Stevenson Group, the company selling the farm, said it was also disappointed by the outcome after a 14-month process. “We are unclear as to why this property is different to the many others that have been approved through the Overseas Investment Office process, given the obvious benefits both to the farm and to Stevenson Group,” it said in a statement.
As if a sharp fall in the price of milk, New Zealand’s biggest export, wasn’t bad enough, the country is now bracing for a summer drought that could further hurt farmers and raise the risk of recession. The most severe El Nino weather pattern in at least 18 years is brewing and set to bring dry winds and below-average rainfall to the South Pacific nation in the months ahead. That will play havoc with dairy farmers and other agricultural producers that together account for a third of New Zealand’s export earnings. While no economists are yet forecasting a recession, central bank Governor Graeme Wheeler last week said if the El Nino is severe and continues into the middle of 2016, a contraction could be the result. The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research says soil moisture levels are already falling in eastern regions and there is an elevated risk of drought later in the summer amid signs the weather event may be the worst since 1998.
New Zealand’s economy, while among the world’s most developed, is particularly vulnerable to nature turning against it. The country suffered its most recent recession in 2010 after an earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, while the two previous economic contractions in 2008 and 1998 coincided with severe droughts and slumps in financial market sentiment. Agriculture and food processing industries make up about 9% of the nation’s GDP, making the economy sensitive to climate swings and global demand. “Over history, to get into recession we need to have multiple shocks,” said Nathan Penny, an economist at ASB Bank Ltd. in Auckland. “A drought makes us vulnerable, and if we got a drought plus say a shock from China then that would make a recession quite possible.”
Greece will need €74 billion ($82.55 billion) in fresh funding, the three institutions overseeing the eurozone bailout program said in their assessment of the country’s request for a new aid package, according to three European officials. The €74 billion could include €16 billion from the IMF, should the Washington-based institution decide to participate in the new aid program, the officials said. A fourth official said some funding could come from Greece raising money on debt markets. Two officials said the institutions found Greece’s proposals for new overhauls and budget cuts to be a basis for negotiating a new bailout “under certain conditions.”
The development indicates some of the struggles that could lie ahead this weekend, when eurozone finance ministers and leaders meet to decide on how much money they are willing to commit to keeping Greece in their currency union. The institutions’ assessment was sent to eurozone finance ministries Saturday morning. In the early hours on Saturday, Greece’s Parliament passed the new proposal, which included cuts to pensions and tax increases, with the backing of 251 out of 300 lawmakers. The vote was supported by center-right and center-left opposition parties, while 17 lawmakers from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s own left-wing Syriza party failed to support their own government, with two voting against Mr. Tsipras and others abstaining or staying absent.
Eurozone finance ministers are set to meet Saturday to decide how much more money and political capital they are prepared to spend on keeping the flailing country afloat. Only unanimous agreement on the amount of new rescue loans and debt relief to grant Athens will allow the country to avoid full-on bankruptcy and Greek banks to reopen Monday with euros in their tills. Some European officials cautioned that even a broad deal this weekend could collapse later once it comes to nailing down the details and implementing the new measures. The two sides “might end up in agreement in principle,” said one official. “But whether [a bailout] program [is] ever accepted or money disbursed is another thing.”
Greece’s international creditors told national finance ministries early Saturday that they believe the country is eligible for another support program, according to a European official. An official familiar with those talks said new financing needs had been the most divisive issue during that quality check.
If Greece and its European partners reach a deal on a third aid programme on Sunday, it will still have to be approved by at least eight different national parliaments. And the German Bundestag will even get to vote on it twice. If in most countries, despite certain grumblings, approval of the deal is not really in any doubt, the matter is more complicated in countries such as Slovakia and Latvia. And opposition would grow if the deal includes a write-down of Greece’s debt. In the Netherlands, lawmakers will decide themselves whether to hold a vote or not. The Irish government doesn’t have to ask for parliamentary approval, but it could choose to seek lawmakers’ backing. A majority would near-certain given its majority in the assembly.
The parliaments of Belgium, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Lithuania, Italy, Spain and Portugal will not hold a vote. Neither will the parliaments in Malta or Slovenia, as long as the total financial aid to Greece does not increase. That is unlikely to be the case, if the money comes from the European Stability Mechanism, which euro members paid into in 2012. Slovenian lawmakers will, however, vote if there is some write-off of Greece’s debt. Slovenia has the largest exposure to Greek debt in the euro area as a proportion of its GDP, so parliament may be difficult to convince.
Greece’s Left-wing Syriza government has agreed to draconian austerity terms rejected by the Greek people in a landslide referendum just five days ago, capping one of the most bizarre political episodes of modern times. Prime minister Alexis Tspiras sought to put the best face on a painful climbdown, recoiling from a traumatic fight that would have led to Greece’s ejection from the euro as soon as Monday. He implicitly recognised that the strain of capital controls and economic collapse has been too much to bear. “We are confronted with crucial decisions. We got a mandate to bring a better deal than the ultimatum that the Eurogroup gave us, but we weren’t given a mandate to take Greece out of the eurozone,” he said.
Hopes for a breakthrough set off euphoria across Europe’s stock and bond markets, though Greece still has to face an emergency meeting of Eurogroup ministers on Saturday, and probably a full-dress summit of the EU’s 28 leaders on Sunday. A top Greek banker close to the talks said there is now a “90pc chance” of clinching a deal, thanks both to intervention behind the scenes by a team from the French treasury and to aggressive diplomacy by Washington. Inflows of tourist cash means that there is still €2.75bn of liquidity available, enough to keep ATM machines stocked until Monday night. Greeks will be able to withdraw the daily allowance of €60. Pensioners will continue to draw €120 a week. “We are preparing to open up branches for normal banking services next week. Capital controls will last for a while but not for as long as in Cyprus. The situation is very fluid but we don’t think we will need a major recapitalisation of the banks,” said the source.
An estimated €40bn of money stashed in “mattresses” should flow back into deposits as confidence returns. One or two of the weaker banks may need a capital boost of €10bn to €15bn, involving a potential “bail-in” of savings above the insured threshold of €100,000. Any deal almost certainly means the European Central Bank will lift its freeze on emergency liquidity for the Greek financial system as soon as Monday, entirely changing the picture. Syriza accuses the ECB of deploying “liquidity asphyxiation” to bring a rebel democracy to its knees. The ECB freeze has been a controversial political and legal move – given the bank’s treaty obligations to uphold financial stability – and is likely to be dissected by historians for years to come.
A final deal to end the long-running saga is still not certain. The outcome depends on how much debt relief the creditor powers are willing to offer, and whether it is a contractual obligation written in stone or merely a vague promise for the future. Yet the broad outlines are taking shape after Syriza agreed to three more years of fiscal tightening, with deep pension cuts and tax rises, and a raft of “neo-liberal” reform measures that breach almost all the party’s original red lines. Panagiotis Lafazanis, head of Syriza’s Left Platform, protested bitterly, saying it would be better for Greece to restore sovereign self-government and return to the drachma. “The most humiliating and unbearable choice is an agreement that will surrender and loot our country and subjugate our people,” he said.
Party insiders did not hide their disgust, though Mr Tsipras managed to quell a full-scale mutiny. “It is a total capitulation. We never had a ‘Plan B’ for what to do if the ECB cuts off liquidity and the creditors simply destroyed our country, which is what they are doing,” said one Syriza veteran. “We thought that when the time comes, Europe would blink, but that is not what happened. It should have been clear since April that the markets were not going to react to Grexit.” Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister, said he would back his successor and close friend, Euclid Tsakalotos, but only for the next two days. “I will reserve my judgment. I have serious doubts as to whether the creditors will really sign on the dotted line and offer substantive debt relief. My fear is that they will make all the right noises, but then fail to follow through, as in 2012,” he told The Telegraph.
Did Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras betray his principles and cave in to Greece’s creditors? Or did he fight valiantly and succeed in establishing that his nation’s debt load is not sustainable and has to be reduced? Those were the questions being asked across Greece on Friday in the wake of Mr. Tsipras’s abrupt decision to give the creditors nearly all of what they have sought throughout the long and contentious negotiations over keeping Greece afloat. From the halls of Parliament to streets filled with people who have suffered through five years of severe economic hardship, Greeks were struggling to process the news, gird themselves for further budget cuts and assess what they had gotten for their efforts to stand against the European orthodoxy.
Some Greeks said they felt betrayed by what they saw as a quick about face. Hundreds of people marched in Athens on Friday night in a rally organized by the Communist Party to protest the reversal of the “no” vote in Sunday’s referendum. A Twitter trend was formed under the hashtag #ExplainNoToTsipras, with some wondering what the point of the referendum was. “And this whole time I thought it was Merkel who was bluffing,” one user wrote, referring to the expectation that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany would blink first in the showdown with Mr. Tsipras. In Parliament, opposition parties took to the floor to excoriate Mr. Tsipras’s latest proposals as even worse than those that Greeks rejected in the referendum.
They chided him as naïve for thinking that he would get a better deal from the creditors than the opposition parties had when they ran the country – though early Saturday lawmakers did vote to approve his new package of proposals. “We have to vote yes,” said Harry Theoharis, a member of the new To Potami centrist party. “It’s a bad deal, but it’s this deal or catastrophe.” Evangelos Venizelos, the former leader of Greece’s Socialist Party, even asked Mr. Tsipras’s finance minister whether he would, in effect, apologize for past statements suggesting that the previous government had been incompetent. Early in the day, the government released a photograph of Mr. Tsipras smiling and receiving a standing ovation after briefing members of his Syriza Party on the state of his negotiations with European officials.
But later, on the chamber floor, one Syriza member, Rachel Makri, took the microphone to criticize the new deal and announce that she would not vote for it. “Under no circumstances will I approve proposals that align with the lenders by 80%,” she said. Ms. Makri added that the proposals were what 60% of voters on Sunday had rejected. The mandate from the referendum, she said, would not allow reductions in pensions, one of the concessions made by Mr. Tsipras.
Oxidation can have destructive effects, like rusting. But it’s a process that has great benefits too: it lowers the risk of cancer, improves metabolism, increases the production of energy, and helps weight loss. Could the Greek people’s Oxi vote and its effect on the EU have healthy qualities too? Not likely now, given Syriza’s decision to perform a backflip: the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is presenting a memorandum to the Greek parliament that is similar, if not harsher, to the one rejected in the referendum. I’ve heard a lot of odd things in the streets of Athens recently. Foremost among these is the view that we’re heading for an imminent Grexit. We see now that the chances of this happening are about as great as a meteorite hitting New York City tomorrow morning.
I have even wagered a souvlaki (extra onions, no sauce) with a friend, another teacher at the high school where I work, that a new memorandum will soon be signed between Greece’s “radical left” Syriza government and the EU-ECB-IMF troika. All along I’ve maintained Syriza will perform a backflip. As of course, will the establishment in Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt, and New York. After all, who needs a Grexit? Do German and French banks want a Lehman Brothers-style domino effect financial disaster? Is China interested in seeing Greece forced out of the eurozone? Has the Red Dragon’s huge China Ocean Shipping Company – Cosco – leased the gateway to Europe only to find that the port of Piraeus is no longer in the eurozone? Russia, embattled and politically isolated with tremendous problems of its own?
Or does the United States want Greece out of the EU, with a potentially tempestuous geopolitical seachange at the crossroads of three continents? President Barack Obama and IMF boss Christine Lagarde do not appear to. Even Germany is showing greater “flexibility”. And this makes sense. How could Angela Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble be such blind eurocrats as to be motived only by the thirst for revenge — to punish the Greek voters who stubbornly asserted their right to adopt polices incompatible with their obligation as a member of the eurozone?
For European leaders gathering in Brussels Sunday to find a way to keep Greece in the euro, the credibility of a half-century of economic and political unification is on the line. Failing to find a solution to Greece’s five-year debt crisis would be arguably the greatest setback in the history of what proponents call “the European project.” Europe’s integration, born in the aftermath of World War II, was always designed to be permanent and irrevocable, the better to make future conflict impossible. A so-called Grexit would dramatically undermine those principles. Even as a proposed deal has taken shape, the EU’s cohesion is under assault on multiple fronts. “This crisis, it seems to me, is calling into question all that the European project has achieved,” said Giles Merritt, secretary general of the Brussels research institute Friends of Europe.
The Greek turmoil “has really showed us where all the weaknesses lie,” he said. In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on membership in response to relentless criticism of the EU by members of his own Conservative Party and much of the media. In France, Italy, and Spain, populist parties hostile to integration are gaining increasing support, some of them questioning the single currency as well as the pro-European consensus that’s dominated their politics for decades. The leaders of all 28 EU states will try to decide this weekend whether to grant Europe’s most indebted country a new bailout in exchange for economic reforms and spending cuts. France is trying to broker a compromise between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s left-wing government and more hawkish countries like Germany and the Netherlands.
Investors were hailing the possibility of avoiding a breakdown of the most fundamental principle of the European project: its irreversibility. The first sentence of the Treaty of Rome, the 1957 founding document of what is now the EU, described its intent to “lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe.” As the EU grew to become the world’s largest trade bloc and granted citizens the right to work in every member state, leaders differed widely over how far and fast integration should proceed. The toughest question: whether it should focus on political union or primarily on trade and economics.
The continuing euro crisis is providing Europe with some tough Greek lessons. First, Europe must avoid overreach. What was politically feasible on the eve of monetary union in the late 1990s is proving less economically sustainable today. Greece should never have been admitted to the euro in 2001. It did not qualify. The numbers were largely fabricated. By 2004, the Greek government confessed its budget deficit was 3.8%, not the statutory 3% required for admission. The euro zone refused to question Greece’s membership, though. This was compounded by years of economic profligacy and endemic political corruption. In addition, a feeding frenzy ensued through an influx of short-term money seeking big profits and readily available credit. Since the EU’s inception, the prospect of membership has carried enormous leverage.
After all, if aspiring member states were able to meet European standards – often achieved by instituting sweeping economic and political reforms – they would win a ticket to first-world status. The inclusion of Spain, Portugal and Greece in the 1980s, and the post-Cold War accession of former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, were history in the making. The vision of modern Europe’s founding fathers, including German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who rebuilt his country into a powerful state after World War Two, and Jean Monnet, the key economic architect of European unity, was becoming a reality. The current woes, however, prove even Europe has its limits. The EU must now be more realistic about its ability to deliver on and manage expectations.
The euro zone needs to get its existing house in order and streamline its institutions. Any talk of further expansion must be placed on hold for the foreseeable future – with the exception of the western Balkans. The security factor still looms large there, particularly in the states of former Yugoslavia. More than 20 people died in Macedonia in May after violence broke out between government forces and an ethnic Albanian paramilitary group. The incident sparked fears of renewed ethnic conflict in the region. Even in pursuit of geopolitical aims, however, the EU must insist on full compliance with accession standards.
Greece’s financial drama has dominated the headlines for five years for one reason: the stubborn refusal of our creditors to offer essential debt relief. Why, against common sense, against the IMF’s verdict and against the everyday practices of bankers facing stressed debtors, do they resist a debt restructure? The answer cannot be found in economics because it resides deep in Europe’s labyrinthine politics. In 2010, the Greek state became insolvent. Two options consistent with continuing membership of the eurozone presented themselves: the sensible one, that any decent banker would recommend – restructuring the debt and reforming the economy; and the toxic option – extending new loans to a bankrupt entity while pretending that it remains solvent.
Official Europe chose the second option, putting the bailing out of French and German banks exposed to Greek public debt above Greece’s socioeconomic viability. A debt restructure would have implied losses for the bankers on their Greek debt holdings. Keen to avoid confessing to parliaments that taxpayers would have to pay again for the banks by means of unsustainable new loans, EU officials presented the Greek state’s insolvency as a problem of illiquidity, and justified the “bailout” as a case of “solidarity” with the Greeks. To frame the cynical transfer of irretrievable private losses on to the shoulders of taxpayers as an exercise in “tough love”, record austerity was imposed on Greece, whose national income, in turn – from which new and old debts had to be repaid – diminished by more than a quarter.
It takes the mathematical expertise of a smart eight-year-old to know that this process could not end well. Once the sordid operation was complete, Europe had automatically acquired another reason for refusing to discuss debt restructuring: it would now hit the pockets of European citizens! And so increasing doses of austerity were administered while the debt grew larger, forcing creditors to extend more loans in exchange for even more austerity. Our government was elected on a mandate to end this doom loop; to demand debt restructuring and an end to crippling austerity. Negotiations have reached their much publicised impasse for a simple reason: our creditors continue to rule out any tangible debt restructuring while insisting that our unpayable debt be repaid “parametrically” by the weakest of Greeks, their children and their grandchildren.
In my first week as minister for finance I was visited by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup (the eurozone finance ministers), who put a stark choice to me: accept the bailout’s “logic” and drop any demands for debt restructuring or your loan agreement will “crash” – the unsaid repercussion being that Greece’s banks would be boarded up.
A total of 84% of Greeks want to keep the euro, an opinion poll released on Friday showed, with just 12% favoring a return to the drachma, as the country races to clinch a cash-for-reforms deal with its creditors. The poll by Metron Analysis for Parapolitika newspaper showed that although the overwhelming majority of those polled want to remain in the single currency, 55% said it was the right choice to vote ‘No’ in last weekend’s referendum on tough austerity measures.
SYRIZA maintained a commanding lead over the opposition conservatives with 45.6% of Greeks saying they would vote for the leftist party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras were there to be parliamentary polls, up from the 36.3% the party garnered in January’s election. The center-right New Democracy has seen its support drop from 27.8% to 22.7%. It was not immediately clear when the poll was conducted.
I have to admit that I was flummoxed by the political developments in Greece this week. After winning a referendum based on rejecting the Troika’s terms, Tsirpas capitulated to those same terms—if anything, to somewhat harsher terms—less than a week later. I have given up believing that Syriza was executing a straightforward political strategy—negotiate to get less extreme conditions plus some debt relief—and can now see only 4 other interpretations:
• One of two Byzantine political strategies;
• Absolutely no strategy and chaos that appears Byzantine; or
• They were broken by the EU and have capitulated.
The Troika’s strategy, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward to interpret: an intention to either break Syriza or (preferably) force them out to office, to be replaced by a more compliant party; and an imposition of austerity for both moral reasons, and because, as Ordo-Liberals, they actually think that hard work and reform are all that are needed. Interpreting what’s going on with Syriza is only of peripheral interest: unless they do something absolutely stunning, like default on all their debts and introduce the Drachma overnight, what happens in Greece will be determined by the Troika. So I’m going to address those who support the Troika’s approach first with a plea based on a medical analogy.
Schaeuble’s diagnosis is that market correction of a mis-pricing of Greek risk was the cause of the crisis, and to end it Greece must regain the trust of the international community by undertaking serious reforms. Spreads will fall, and growth will occur, once these reforms are in place. Let’s assume that is correct. What is then being undertaken on Greece is like an emergency medical procedure, from which the patient is expected to emerge cured and stronger. This medical operation analogy can be carried further: when you are undertaking surgery on a patient, what do you do to their vital physical systems? You anaesthetise their brains and nervous systems so that they don’t feel the pain, and you give them an ongoing blood transfusions to make up for the blood lost during the operation.
Is this how the Troika’s program is being administered? It would be, if the huge changes to legal and taxation and subsidy and workplace and privatisation rules were accompanied by allowing a substantial government deficit. The cash flow from the deficit would soften the blow on Greek businesses and societies as they made the painful transition from rules befitting a patronage state across to those of an efficient, modern society.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of dangers to the global economy from U.S. borrowing while saying Greece isn’t solely to blame for its debt crisis. “It’s a serious problem not just for the United States but for the whole world economy,” Putin told reporters Friday in the Russian city of Ufa in response to a question on the prospects of the biggest developing nations. “Debt exceeds gross domestic product there.” Putin said he’s concerned about Greece and hopes its crisis will be resolved soon, reiterating that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hasn’t asked him for financial aid. Even so, he said Russia has the resources to help its partners. Putin is battling his own economic woes after sanctions over Ukraine and a drop in oil prices triggered Russia’s first recession in six years.
This isn’t the first time the Russian leader has attacked U.S. economic policy: he’s previously derided the “dollar monopoly” that allows the U.S. to act like a “parasite” on the global economy. The ruble is the second-worst performer against the dollar in the past year among more than 150 global currencies tracked by Bloomberg, with a 40% dive. Russia’s central bank resumed purchases of foreign-currency assets in May, planning purchases of $100 million to $200 million a day to replenish reserves. The U.S. ratio of government debt to GDP will fall to 104% in 2018 from 105% in 2014, the IMF predicts. Russia drained its foreign-currency stockpiles as fighting raged in Ukraine and global energy prices plunged. That hasn’t left the government in a position where it can’t assist its allies, according to Putin.
Russian reserves were $359.6 billion as of July 3. “Russia, of course, is able to offer help to its partners regardless of today’s difficulties with the economy,” he said after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. “We’re helping some countries.” Putin said Russia and Greece, both of which are majority Orthodox Christian, have a special relationship. Being a euro member, the government in Athens is unable to take measures such as devaluation to help revive its economy, according to Putin. “Greece is an EU country and within its obligations is conducting rather difficult negotiations with its partners,” he said. “Mr. Tsipras hasn’t approached us regarding aid. And that’s generally understandable because the numbers are big and we know what’s at stake.”
Germany is at last bowing to pressure as a chorus of countries and key institutions demand debt relief for Greece, a shift that could break the five-month stalemate and avert a potentially disastrous rupture of monetary union at this Sunday’s last-ditch summit. In a highly significant move, the European Council has called on both sides to make major concessions, insisting that the creditor powers must do their part as the radical Syriza government puts forward a new raft of proposals on economic reforms before a deadline expires tonight. “The realistic proposal from Greece will have to be matched by an equally realistic proposal on debt sustainability from the creditors,” said Donald Tusk, the European Council president.
This is the first time Europe’s institutions have acknowledged clearly that Greece’s public debt – 180pc of GDP – can never be repaid and that no lasting solution can be found until the boil is lanced. Any such deal would give Greek premier Alexis Tspiras a prize to take back to the Greek people after they voted by 61pc to 39pc to reject austerity demands in a landslide referendum last weekend. While he would still have to deliver on tough reforms and breach key red lines, a debt restructuring of sufficient scale would probably be enough to clinch a deal, and allow him to return to Athens as a conquering hero. The Greek parliament is due to vote to ratify the measures on Friday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “a classic haircut” is out of the question, but tacitly opened the door to other forms debt restructuring, conceding that it had already been done in 2012 by stretching out maturities.
The contours of a deal on Sunday are starting to emerge. Syriza has requested a three-year package of loans from the eurozone bail-out fund (ESM) – perhaps worth as much as €60bn – and is reportedly ready give ground on tax rises and pension cuts. Germany’s subtle shift in position comes as the United States, France, and Italy joined in a united call for debt relief, buttressed by a crescendo of emphatic statements by Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF. “Greece is clearly in a situation of acute crisis, which needs to be addressed seriously and promptly. We remain fully engaged in order to find a solution to restore stability, growth and debt sustainability,” said Ms Lagarde.
You can’t exaggerate the importance of France’s decision to align itself with Greece before this weekend’s crisis meetings. As Wolfgang Munchau correctly notes in the Financial Times, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has finally succeeded in dividing the creditors. A split between Germany and France, no less, and on an issue as momentous as this – on the course of the entire European project – isn’t just any division. Ignore all the expressions of bewilderment over Tsipras’s acceptance of terms he and his country just roundly rejected. That’s all beside the point. He had already capitulated – weeks ago – on the larger part of the fiscal obligations in the creditors’ last offer. He was holding out for a commitment to debt relief now, rather than talks about it later.
That’s the condition he’s dropped, and rightly, because a consensus has finally emerged that debt relief, one way or another, will follow if some kind of deal is done. In return, he’s secured France as an ally against Germany. That’s a pretty good deal for Greece. The much more consequential U-turn is in Paris. Suddenly, Tsipras’s promises on fiscal policy are “serious, credible,” according to President Francois Hollande. In truth, of course, they are exactly as serious and credible as they have been for the past five months. Even if Tsipras becomes a born-again fiscal conservative and actually tries to keep these promises, he’ll fail – and everybody knows it. A tightening of fiscal policy as the economy falls further into recession is anti-growth and fiscally counterproductive. Those primary-surplus targets that the creditors want carved in stone are almost impossible to hit.
The crucial thing about the new Greek proposals is not that they’re significantly different from the last set, but that French officials helped to shape them. In this long and convoluted saga, that’s a stunning development. Instead of the usual pre-emptive dismissal from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – saying the new offer has nothing new, is worthless, and what do you expect from the Greeks? – we have a pre-emptive declaration of breakthrough from Hollande. This by no means guarantees success. Certainly, the chances of a genuinely good outcome – softer fiscal targets, prompt agreement on debt relief, and a fully functioning lender of last resort – are still vanishingly small.
But the likelihood of a bad agreement, one that keeps Greece in the euro system and lets its banks reopen without resolving the underlying problems, has surged. I maintain that a bad agreement of that kind is somewhat better than none, and since those sad alternatives are all the EU seems able to contemplate, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. The question for France is, what took you so long? If Hollande had intervened this forcefully five months ago, the savings for European taxpayers, to say nothing of Greece’s citizens, would have been colossal. The question for Berlin is, how much does your alliance with Paris still matter to you?
In a dusty field that straddles the Greek-Macedonian border, quite where one country ends and the other begins is not entirely clear. But several Macedonian soldiers in the area are very certain. “Get back,” one shouts through the darkness, herding hundreds of refugees a couple of metres further south from where they stood a moment ago. “Get back to the Greek border.” The crowds shuffle briefly backwards, and the soldiers seem satisfied. “Please,” a Syrian mother calls back, a toddler in her arms. “We are a family. Where should we go now?” It is a filthy spot, filled with the detritus of past travellers. Surrounded by farmland, the only lighting comes from a nearby train track, and the only bedding is the sand the woman stands on.
“You must sleep here,” the Macedonian replies. It is an alarming order – not just for these refugees, who have walked 40 miles to reach this point, but for the people of the country they have just crossed. Greece has received nearly 80,000 refugees this year, a record figure that has seen it overtake Italy as the primary migrant gateway to Europe. Migrants are arriving in such high numbers by dinghy from Turkey that the authorities – already battling an economic crisis – cannot feed, house, or process their paperwork fast enough, leading to bottlenecks on the Greek islands. One factor helping relieve the pressure was the constant stream of refugees out the other side of Greece, near the northern border town of Idomeni, into Macedonia.
But in the past fortnight, the Macedonian government has begun to regulate the flow. Until a few days ago the route had been blocked for a whole week – raising the spectre of a refugee bottleneck at both ends of Greece, at a time when the country is struggling to support its own citizens, let alone a record wave of refugees. “At a certain point there were more than 2,000 waiting there,” says Stathis Kyroussis, head of mission for MSF, one of the few aid groups helping migrants in this remote area. “People started getting angry, and big groups of two or three hundred tried to force their way through.” By his account, Macedonian soldiers had to use their truncheons to maintain order, and fired in the air to keep people back. “This fact of sealing the border,” says Kyroussis, “coupled with the fact that the flows from the island have really exploded, means that we’ve had many more people coming to Idomeni, and not many passing through.”
This is the talk I gave at the FT/Alphaville conference in London last week. A number of people asked me to send the PPT to them, and I got buried in other work and the emails are long lost in my Gmail queue. My apologies to those correspondents to whom I haven’t replied directly.
If you thought the Goldman Sachs banker who did the deal to get Greece into the euro might have been chased out of the City of London, think again. Antigone Loudiadis, more widely known as “Addy”, has been richly rewarded by the bank for her dealmaking prowess and now sits atop one of Europe’s fastest growing insurance companies, Rothesay Life. The 52-year-old, who lives with her family in a vast stucco house in west London, was one of the brightest stars in Goldman’s Fleet Street headquarters. While she lists her nationality as Greek, her education was as English as can be. Schooled at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, she went on to Oxford University before joining JPMorgan, and then Goldman, gaining partner status in 2000.
Colleagues describe her as “fiercely clever”, although by some accounts, she was simply fierce. It is said some of her staff would pretend to be on the phone when she walked past them in the office to avoid her infamous rollockings. Although her Continental twang remains hard to place, her fluency in Greek and strong connections in the country were instrumental in winning the lucrative mandate to create the financial deals that would flatter the country’s debts. Christoforos Sardelis, former boss of Greece’s Debt Management Agency who worked on the trades with her, told Bloomberg she was “very professional – a little bit aggressive as is everyone at Goldman Sachs”. But she was trusted by the government which, it should be remembered, was far more right wing than the Syriza party.
What it most liked about her seems to be the way she could magic away the country’s dismal financial position. The trade she came up with is reported to have made the bank hundreds of millions of dollars, although only Goldman knows the true figure. Reports suggest she was paid up to $12m a year by the time she was named co-head of the investment banking group. Not that it wasn’t a stressful job. In an interview in 2005 she told the Wall Street Journal she was “your typical Type A workaholic smoker” with a “stressful schedule”.
Goldman Sachs faces the prospect of potential legal action from Greece over the complex financial deals in 2001 that many blame for its subsequent debt crisis. A leading adviser to debt-riven countries has offered to help Athens recover some of the vast profits made by the investment bank. The Independent has learnt that a former Goldman banker, who has advised indebted governments on recovering losses made from complex transactions with banks, has written to the Greek government to advise that it has a chance of clawing back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it paid Goldman to secure its position in the single currency. The development came as Greece edged towards a last-minute deal with its creditors which will keep it from crashing out of the single currency.
Goldman Sachs is said to have made as much as $500m from the transactions known as “swaps”. It denies that figure but declines to say what the correct one is. The banker who stitched it together, Oxford-educated Antigone Loudiadis, was reportedly paid up to $12m in the year of the deal. Now Jaber George Jabbour, who formerly designed swaps at Goldman, has told the Greek government in a formal letter that it could “right historical wrongs as part of [its] plan to reduce Greece’s debt”. Mr Jabbour successfully assisted Portugal in renegotiating complex trades naively done with London banks during the financial crisis. His work helped trigger a parliamentary inquiry and cost many senior officials and politicians their jobs. It also triggered major compensation payments by banks to the Portuguese taxpayer.
Mr Jabbour, who now runs Ethos Capital Advisors, has also helped expose other cases including allegations against Goldman Sachs and Société Générale over their dealings with Libya relating to financial transactions that left the country’s taxpayers billions of dollars out of pocket. Both banks deny wrongdoing. Based on publicly available information, he believes the size of the profit Goldman made on the transactions was unreasonable. Scrutiny and analysis of the documents and email exchanges could give Greece grounds to seek compensation and assess if the deals were executed for the sole purpose of concealing the country’s debts.
The Obama administration is caught in a trap as it tries to bring home a trade deal with its Pacific Rim partners. Some of the chief beneficiaries may be big drug companies like Novartis, Roche Holding, and Pfizer while the losers could be consumers in both the U.S. and the region. The administration says it’s bound by congressionally imposed instructions to try to get as much current U.S. law as possible into trade accords – including stringent protections for patented drugs that it’s repeatedly tried to ease at home to encourage more cost-saving generics. The disconnect has put U.S. negotiators in the position of pushing provisions in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that would preclude the administration from making further attempts to win the legal changes.
It also has negotiators pressing the region’s developing countries to sign onto a schedule for adopting the stronger rules, reversing previous exemptions to allow them easier access to cheap medicines. Even though U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says the talks are “in a closing mode,” American proposals for tough intellectual-property protections for drugs are meeting resistance from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Pacific Rim nations. Chile’s foreign minister, for one, has said flatly that his country won’t accept some key provisions. At stake: hundreds of billions of dollars or more in extra costs that consumers may have to pay if the proposals make it harder for cheaper generics to win approval.
That, or the loss of protections sought by the U.S. for movies, music and software as well as drugs if no agreement is reached on the deal’s intellectual-property provisions. “The USTR’s drug proposals are an astonishing effort to require other countries to adopt policies that aren’t in their best interests and lock in policies here that the Obama administration doesn’t support,” said Frederick Abbott, a Florida State University law professor and veteran consultant to the World Health Organization and the United Nations on health and trade issues. Negotiators returned to bargaining this week to try to wrap up the most ambitious trade deal in at least a generation covering about 40% of global output. In the U.S., any final accord must be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed.
U.S. negotiators want to win makers of advanced drugs 12 years of exclusivity for data that might otherwise help competitors produce similar, cheaper versions. The administration has repeatedly sought to cut that period to seven years in domestic law. Negotiators are also seeking language to make it easier for the big drugmakers to win “secondary” patents to strengthen their control over products. The administration has proposed changing U.S. law to make it harder to get such add-ons.
The first picture has emerged of Chinese buying patterns in Auckland’s pressure-cooker housing market — and it suggests a powerful, big-spending influence. Real-estate figures leaked to the Labour Party, which cover almost 4,000 house sales by one unidentified firm from February to April, indicate that people of Chinese descent accounted for 39.5% of the transactions in the city in that period. Yet Census 2013 data shows ethnic Chinese who are New Zealand residents or citizens account for just 9% of Auckland’s population. The percentage of Chinese buyers in the sales figures rises with the price of houses, peaking at just over 50% for those that sell for more than $1 million.
A similar trend appears in a frequency comparison of buyers’ names — Chinese names make up about eight out of the 20 most common ones among Auckland residents but fill 19 of the top 20 places for house buyers. It is not known if the Chinese buyers were based here or overseas. Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford claimed the data, which represents 45% of all Auckland sales over the three months, showed for the first time the scale of an issue that was pricing first-home buyers out of the market. “It’s staggering evidence that strongly suggests there’s a significant offshore Chinese presence in the Auckland real estate market. It could not possibly be all Chinese New Zealanders buying; that’s implausible.”
It seems everyone in Auckland has a story to tell about Chinese buyers wanting their house. One elderly Takapuna man was startled to hear a Chinese syndicate was interested in buying his well-established family home. His place wasn’t even on the market when a real estate agent door-knocked the 82-year-old last month, said a relative. “A Chinese syndicate was wanting to buy a series of sections to build a block of apartments. The hard-sell was on apparently, but thankfully he resisted the temptation.” A few suburbs away in Birkenhead, another real estate agent cold-called, leaving his card in the front door of a huge, stately white house, also not on the market.
“It was the smiley face (on the card) which made me call him,” confessed the owner, who had just finished extensive renovations on his three-level wooden villa. “He said ‘we’ve got Chinese buyers’. So we’ve got a CV of $1.9 million but I asked for $3 million. I haven’t heard back.” It’s not surprising the owner deliberately pushed the price up. The willingness of overseas-based Chinese buyers to pay above the odds has become the stuff of Auckland legend – a perception enthusiastically fuelled by many agents. “Our Chinese buyers helped us [at] Harcourts Flat Bush push the house price even higher in East Auckland yesterday and set a new record high price,” agent Tom Chen wrote to his clients in June about an auction, which he said was “again, dominated by Chinese buyers” with “a much higher budget”.
Chen told the Weekend Herald he meant Chinese people who live here, not foreigners, but the evidence suggests most of the big money is coming from overseas. Local agents aggressively market Auckland houses throughout Asia to Chinese buyers, who can borrow money at much lower interest rates. In April, an ad on a Singaporean radio station promoted Auckland as “an investor’s dream”, with no land tax, stamp duty or capital gains tax. In 2013 a Chinese TV producer offered local sellers commercial spots in Asian markets “to get the attention of the majority of the affluent Chinese community”.
The trend has even alarmed some real estate agents – Barfoot and Thompson’s Ian Thornhill raised concerns in 2013 when a Chinese investor with “surplus funds” bought an Epsom house, reportedly for more than $2 million, and then left it empty. “I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he told the Herald. “Kiwis are getting really upset. They can’t compete with Asians who have the money and they pay more … It’s as plain as the nose on your face, what’s happening in the auction rooms each week.”