May 292018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1963

 

Showdown Looms In Italy As Caretaker PM Assembles Team (AFP)
The Biggest Short-Sellers Of Italian Bonds (ZH)
If Italy Exits The Euro, It Could Be The End Of The Single Currency (Tel.)
Stock Market Borrowing at All Time High, Increasing Risk of Downdrafts (NC)
The Financial Scandal No One Is Talking About (G.)
Fears Of Bad Brexit Deal Raise Tension Between Bank of England, Treasury (G.)
Eastern, Southern African Finance Leaders Debate Yuan As Reserve Currency (R.)
Indonesia’s Currency Is Spiraling. Sacrifices Are Needed To Save It (CNBC)
Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For A Month To Root Out ‘Fake Users’ (G.)
Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Lashes Out At Former CEO Ackermann (HB)
Fake Maths: The NHS Doesn’t Need £2,000 From Each Household To Survive (G.)
After China’s Waste Import Ban EU Wants To Get Rid Of Single-Use Plastics (RT)
Great Barrier Reef On Sixth Life In 30,000 Years (AFP)

 

 

A team he knows will never be accepted.

Showdown Looms In Italy As Caretaker PM Assembles Team (AFP)

Italy’s caretaker prime minister was Tuesday assembling a cabinet lineup despite almost certain rejection by the populists whose bid for power collapsed at the weekend. Fresh elections are now looming as the most likely outcome of the long-running political saga sparked by inconclusive elections in March. Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF economist, was tasked with naming a technocrat government on Monday after President Sergio Mattarella nixed a cabinet proposed by the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The president in particular vetoed their pick for economy minister, fierce eurosceptic Paolo Savona, throwing the eurozone’s third largest economy into a fresh crisis.


Savona has called the euro a “German cage” and said that Italy needs a plan to leave the single currency “if necessary”. Mattarella said that an openly eurosceptic economy minister was counter to the parties’ joint promise to simply “change Europe for the better from an Italian point of view”. Cottarelli said Italy would face new elections “after August” if parliament did not endorse his team, a near certainty given that M5S and the League together hold a majority. [..] Salvini and Di Maio furiously denounced the presidential veto, blasting what they called meddling by Germany, debt ratings agencies, financial lobbies and even lies from Mattarella’s staff. “Paolo Savona would not have taken us out of the euro. It’s a lie invented by Mattarella’s advisors,” Di Maio said in a live video on Facebook. “The truth is that they don’t want us in government.”

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Draghi vs the vigilantes.

The Biggest Short-Sellers Of Italian Bonds (ZH)

[..] it was in December when we first pointed out a dramatic observation by Citi, which noted that over the past several years, the only buyer of Italian government bonds was the ECB, and that even the smallest political stress threatened a repeat of the 2011 “Berlusconi” scenario, when the freshly minted new ECB head Mario Draghi sent Italian yields soaring to prevent populist forces from seizing power in Italy. Or maybe it didn’t, and it only took the bulls far longer than the bear to admit that nothing in Europe had been fixed, even as the bears were already rampaging insider Europe’s third largest economy.

Consider that according to the latest IHS Markit data, demand to borrow Italian government bonds — an indicator of of short selling — was up 33% to $33.3 billion worth of debt this year to Tuesday while demand to borrow bonds from other EU countries excluding Italy has risen only 5% this year. That said, things certainly accelerated over the last week, when demand to borrow Italian bonds soared by $1.2 billion, which according to WSJ calculations, takes demand, i.e. short selling, close to its highest level since the financial crisis in 2008 (while demand to borrow bonds from EU countries excluding Italy has fallen by $800 million over the past week).


Said otherwise, while the events over the past week may have come as a surprise to many, to the growing crowd of Italian bond shorts today’s plunge and the blowout in Italian-German spreads was not only expected, but quite predictable and extremely lucrative… which is also a major problem as Brussels is well-known to take it very personally when a hedge fund profits from the ongoing collapse of Europe’s failing experiment in common everything, and tends to create huge short squeezes in the process, no matter how obvious the (doomed) final outcome is.

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Sorry, but I said it a lot better on Friday.

If Italy Exits The Euro, It Could Be The End Of The Single Currency (Tel.)

You might think that it would be fitting if the European Union were to come to a sticky end because of Italy. After all, the agreement that established the entity that we now call the European Union was signed in Rome. For several decades after that 1957 treaty, Italy was one of the strongest supporters of the European project. Having endured first fascism and then, after the war, unstable and ineffectual government, it suffered none of the angst about the loss of sovereignty that plagued British debates about joining the European Community. Moreover, in the early years of the union, Italy prospered. At one point its GDP overtook the UK’s, an event that was widely celebrated in Italy as “il sorpasso”, the surpassing, or, if you like, the overtaking.


But the overtaking did not last long. Indeed, since the euro was formed in 1999, the Italian economy has grown by a mere 9%, or less than 0.5% per annum. Over the same period, the UK economy has grown by 42%. This recent disastrous economic performance, plus mounting anxiety about inward migration and the fact that the EU has left Italy to cope with this huge influx on its own, has changed many Italians’ attitudes to the EU. Understandably. These failings go to the heart of the EU project. The truth is that Italy should never have joined the euro in the first place. And it isn’t only Anglo-Saxon euro pessimists such as myself who believe this. At the time the German Bundesbank was appalled at the idea that Italy should be admitted. After all, even then it had a huge public debt and a history of high inflation offset by frequent currency depreciation.

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“..the Chinese stock markets permit a much higher level of borrowings than those in the West..”

Stock Market Borrowing at All Time High, Increasing Risk of Downdrafts (NC)

I find it hard to get excited about stock market risks unless defaults on the borrowings can damage the banking/payments system, as they did in the Great Crash. This is one reason the China perma-bears have a point: even though the Chinese government has managed to do enough in the way of rescues and warnings to keep its large shadow banking system from going “boom,” the Chinese stock markets permit a much higher level of borrowings than those in the West, which could make them the detonator for knock-on defaults. The US dot-com bubble featured a high level of margin borrowing, but because the US adopted rules so that margin accounts that get underwater are closed and liquidated pronto, limiting damage to the broker-dealer, a stock market panic in the US should not have the potential to produce a credit crisis.

But if stock market bubble has been big enough, a stock market meltdown can hit the real economy, as we saw in the early 2000s recession. Recall that Greenspan, who saw the stock market as part of the Fed’s mission, dropped interest rates and kept them low for a then unprecedented nine quarters, breaking the central bank’s historical pattern of reducing rates only briefly. Greenspan, as did the Bank of Japan in the late 1980s, believed that the robust stock market prices produced a wealth effect and stimulated consumer spending. It isn’t hard to see that even if this were true, it’s a very inefficient way to try to spur growth, since the affluent don’t have anything approach the marginal propensity to spend of poor and middle class households.


Subsequent research has confirmed that the wealth effect of higher equity prices is modest; home prices have a stronger wealth effect. A second reason for seeing stock prices as potentially significant right now be is that the rally since Trump won the election is important to many of his voters. I have yet to see any polls probe this issue in particular, but in some focus groups, when Trump supporters are asked why they are back him, some give rise in their portfolios as the first reason for approving of him. They see him as having directly improved their net worth.1

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Accounting.

The Financial Scandal No One Is Talking About (G.)

For centuries, accounting itself was a fairly rudimentary process of enabling the powerful and the landed to keep tabs on those managing their estates. But over time, that narrow task was transformed by commerce. In the process it has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry and lifestyles for its leading practitioners that could hardly be more at odds with the image of a humble number-cruncher. Just four major global firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and KPMG – audit 97% of US public companies and all the UK’s top 100 corporations, verifying that their accounts present a trustworthy and fair view of their business to investors, customers and workers.

They are the only players large enough to check the numbers for these multinational organisations, and thus enjoy effective cartel status. Not that anything as improper as price-fixing would go on – with so few major players, there’s no need. “Everyone knows what everyone else’s rates are,” one of their recent former accountants told me with a smile. There are no serious rivals to undercut them. What’s more, since audits are a legal requirement almost everywhere, this is a state-guaranteed cartel. Despite the economic risks posed by misleading accounting, the bean counters perform their duties with relative impunity.


The big firms have persuaded governments that litigation against them is an existential threat to the economy. The unparalleled advantages of a guaranteed market with huge upside and strictly limited downside are the pillars on which the big four’s multi-billion-dollar businesses are built. They are free to make profit without fearing serious consequences of their abuses, whether it is the exploitation of tax laws, slanted consultancy advice or overlooking financial crime.

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Interesting fight.

Fears Of Bad Brexit Deal Raise Tension Between Bank of England, Treasury (G.)

The growing risk of a bad Brexit deal for the City of London is causing severe tensions between the Bank of England and the Treasury, according to reports. Amid mounting fears that Brussels will reject plans put forward by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, for maintaining close ties with the EU for financial services, the Financial Times reported that Bank officials are at loggerheads with the Treasury over the search for a “Plan B” arrangement. Threadneedle Street fears it could be left as a “rule taker” should Britain agree to a new deal that maintains European market access for financial firms without giving the Bank sufficient control over City regulations in future. The concerns stem from the sprawling scale of the City as one of the biggest financial centres in the world.


Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, used a speech in London last week to highlight the risks posed to the financial system from Brexit and said it was one of the issues raised by Britain leaving the European Union that made him most “nervous”. He also warned in plain terms last year that “we do not want to be a rule taker as an authority”. According to the FT, a number of officials at Threadneedle Street said Jon Cunliffe, the Bank’s deputy governor for financial stability, had fallen out with the Treasury over the issue. The paper quoted one anonymous official saying “the fear is the Treasury is going to give it all away”. The breakdown in relations comes as Hammond strives to prevent an exodus of international banks from the Square Mile, having attempted to reassure them in March that the UK would seek to maintain European market access after Brexit.

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Wishful thinking.

Eastern, Southern African Finance Leaders Debate Yuan As Reserve Currency (R.)

Eastern and southern African central bankers and government officials are to consider the use of China’s yuan as a reserve currency for the region, the official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday. Seventeen top central bankers and officials from 14 countries in the region will meet at a forum in Harare to consider the viability of the Chinese yuan as a reserve currency, Xinhua said, citing a statement from the Macroeconomic and Financial Management Institute of Eastern and Southern Africa (MEFMI). The forum, to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, will be attended by deputy permanent secretaries and deputy central bank governors, as well as officials from the African Development Bank, Xinhua reported.


Attendees will strategies on the weakening external positions of most member countries, following the global economy slowdown. “Most countries in the MEFMI region have loans or grants from China and it would only make economic sense to repay in termini (Chinese yuan),” said MEFMI spokesperson Gladys Siwela-Jadagu. “This is the reason why it is critical for policy makers to strategize on progress that the continent has made to embrace the Chinese yuan which has become what may be termed ‘common currency’ in trade with Africa,” she added. “Ascendancy of Chinese yuan in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket of currencies is an important symbol of its importance and the IMF’s approval as an official reserve currency,” said Siwela-Jadagu.

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Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Next!

Indonesia’s Currency Is Spiraling. Sacrifices Are Needed To Save It (CNBC)

Indonesia’s rupiah has been growing worryingly weak, and the country’s central bank has seen little success after multiple attempts to prop up the currency. Now, Bank Indonesia said it will meet again on Wednesday — and speculations are rife that the central bank has more tricks up its sleeve. The rupiah has been one of the worst-hit Asian currencies as investors pull out of the Indonesian stock and bond markets amid rising U.S. Treasury yields and strengthening in the greenback. The falling value of the rupiah could spell trouble for the country’s large foreign currency debt, and the outflows from its bonds are bad news for its government.


The central bank has tried to stem the currency weakness with measures including hiking interest rates and buying sovereign bonds, but the rupiah still depreciated: It fell to 14,202 per U.S. dollar on May 23. That was the weakest in more than two years. With the persistent rupiah weakness, more “rate hikes may be needed, with the next one possibly as early as this week,” Eugene Leow, a strategist at Singapore’s DBS Bank, wrote in a Monday note. The central bank hiked interest rates by 25 basis points in its mid-May meeting — the first raise since November 2014. Central bankers were scheduled to convene again in June, but Bank Indonesia last Friday said an additional policy meeting would be held on May 30.

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Censors?!

Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For A Month To Root Out ‘Fake Users’ (G.)

The Papua New Guinean government will ban Facebook for a month in a bid to crack down on “fake users” and study the effects the website is having on the population. The communication minister, Sam Basil, said the shutdown would allow his department’s analysts to carry out research and analysis on who was using the platform, and how they were using it, admits rising concerns about social well-being, security and productivity. “The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed,” Basil told the Post Courier newspaper. “This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”


Basil has repeatedly raised concerns about protecting the privacy of PNG’s Facebook users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which found Facebook had leaked the personal data of tens of millions of users to a private company. The minister has closely followed the US Senate inquiry into Facebook. “The national government, swept along by IT globalisation, never really had the chance to ascertain the advantages or disadvantages [of Facebook] – and even educate and provide guidance on use of social networks like Facebook to PNG users,” said Basil last month. “The two cases involving Facebook show us the vulnerabilities that Papua New Guinean citizens and residents on their personal data and exchanges when using this social network.”

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Blame game. Deutsche is hanging in the ropes.

Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Lashes Out At Former CEO Ackermann (HB)

German executives rarely wash their dirty laundry in public. This week was a notable exception, when David Folkerts-Landau, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, accused his former bosses of causing the bank’s current woes by racing hell-for-leather into investment banking. Mr. Folkerts-Landau, who has been with Deutsche’s investment banking division for over two decades, accused its former CEOs of reckless expansion and of losing control of the ship. “Since the mid-1990s, the bank’s management has left operational and strategic control of its financial markets business to the traders,” he said in an interview with Handelsblatt. The bank is still reeling from the consequences of this “reverse takeover,” the economist said.


Deutsche Bank has accumulated more than €9 billion in losses over the past three years, due chiefly to the woes of its investment banking division. The bank is in the throes of a revamp intended to refocus operations on more stable sources of revenue, such as private and commercial banking and asset management. Mr. Folkerts-Landau singled out Josef Ackermann, the bank’s flamboyant boss from 2002 to 2012, for particular criticism over his aggressive expansion into investment banking. “Ackermann was (…) fixed on the magic goal of a return on equity of 25% before taxes. At that time, however, this could only be achieved by accepting major financial and ethical risks,” said the German-born economist. After the financial crisis, Mr. Ackermann rejected state aid from the German authorities and postponed tackling the bank’s structural problems, Mr. Folkerts-Landau added.

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Yeah, you can do the math in many different ways.

Fake Maths: The NHS Doesn’t Need £2,000 From Each Household To Survive (G.)

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation published a report on funding for health and social care. One figure from the report was repeated across the headlines. For the NHS to stay afloat, it would require “£2,000 in tax from every household”. Shocking stuff! The trouble with figures like this is that while there may be a sense in which this is mathematically true, that kind of framing is dangerously close to being false. If you’re sitting at a bar with a group of friends and Bill Gates walks in, the average wealth of everyone in the room makes you all millionaires. But if you try to buy the most expensive bottle of champagne in the place, your debit card will still be declined.

Similarly, the IFS calculated its “average” figures by taking the total amount it calculated the NHS would need and dividing it by the number of households in the country. That’s certainly one way of doing it – it’s not wrong per se – but in terms of informing people about the actual impact on their own finances, it’s very misleading. We have progressive taxation in this country: not every household gets an equally sized bill. Could you pay more if the government chose to cover the cost of social care through a bump in income tax? Sure, but for the vast majority of the country it would be a few hundred pounds.


That’s without engaging with the underlying assumption that a bump in income tax is the way the government will choose to go. Some people have argued that, since the last couple of decades have seen wealth accumulate disproportionately at the very top, government should tax wealth rather than income. Alternatively, researchers have shown that health spending is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy, so the government could opt against tax increases in the short term and instead let healthcare spending act as a fiscal stimulus, at least until purchasing power had increased.

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The reason why is revealing.

After China’s Waste Import Ban EU Wants To Get Rid Of Single-Use Plastics (RT)

The European Commission wants to ban single-use plastic products like disposable cutlery, straws and cotton buds to fight the plastic epidemic littering our oceans – months after China banned millions of tons of imported EU waste. The EC unveiled the market ban proposal on Monday, which included 10 items that make up 70% of all the marine litter in the EU. As well as the aforementioned items, the list includes plastic plates, drink stirrers, sticks for balloons and single-use plastic drinks containers. The crackdown comes less than six months after the EU announced its first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastic recycling following China’s ban on waste imports from Western countries.

At the end of 2017, Beijing banned the import of 24 types of waste from the US and EU and accused the nations of flouting waste standard rules. The new proposal says the ban on single-use plastic products will be in place wherever there are “readily available and affordable” alternatives. Where there aren’t “straight-forward alternatives,” the focus will be on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption. In order for the products to be sold in the EU, they will have to be made exclusively from sustainable materials. Single-use drink containers will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.


[..] The EC’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. It will need the approval of all EU member states and the European Parliament in order to pass – a process which could take three to four years before the rules come into force. Once fully implemented in 2030, the EC estimates that the new measures could cost businesses more than €3 billion ($3.5 billion) per year. But they could also save consumers about €6.5 billion per year, create 30,000 jobs and avoid €22 billion in environmental damage and cleanup costs.

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Resilient little bugger.

Great Barrier Reef On Sixth Life In 30,000 Years (AFP)

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, under severe stress in a warmer, more acidic ocean, has returned from near-extinction five times in the past 30,000 years, researchers said Monday. And while this suggests the reef may be more resilient than once thought, it has likely never faced an onslaught quite as severe as today, they added. “I have grave concerns about the ability of the reef in its current form to survive the pace of change caused by the many current stresses and those projected into the near future,” said Jody Webster of the University of Sydney, who co-authored a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience.


In the past, the reef shifted along the sea floor to deal with changes in its environment – either seaward or landward depending on whether the level of the ocean was rising or falling, the research team found. Based on fossil data from cores drilled into the ocean floor at 16 sites, they determined the Great Barrier Reef, or GBR for short, was able to migrate between 20 centimetres (7.9 inches) and 1.5 metres per year. This rate may not be enough to withstand the current barrage of environmental challenges. The reef “probably has not faced changes in SST (sea surface temperature) and acidification at such a rate,” Webster told AFP. Rates of change “are likely much faster now — and in future projections.”

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May 242018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Contrasting Sounds 1924

 

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)
Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)
US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)
China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)
Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)
Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)
US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)
Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)
NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)
Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)
Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)
The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

 

 

Take their power away?!

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)

Federal Reserve rate increases are a lot like shaking an overripe fruit tree. That’s the analogy offered by Deutsche Bank macro strategist Alan Ruskin in a note late Wednesday, in which he urged clients not to “overcomplicate” the macro picture. “A starting point should be that every Fed tightening cycle creates a meaningful crisis somewhere, often external but usually with some domestic (U.S.) fallout,” he wrote. To back it up, Ruskin offered the following history lesson:

“Going back in history, the 2004-6 Fed tightening looked benign but the US housing collapse set off contagion and a near collapse of the global financial system dwarfing all post-war crises. The late 1990s Fed stop/start tightening included the Asia crisis, LTCM and Russia collapse, and when tightening resumed, the pop of the equity bubble. The early 1993-4 tightening phase included bond market turmoil and the Mexican crisis. The late 1980s tightening ushered along the S&L crisis. Greenspan’s first fumbled tightening in 1987 helped trigger Black Monday, before the Fed eased and ‘the Greenspan put’ took off in earnest. The early 80s included the LDC/Latam debt crisis and Conti Illinois collapse. The 1970s stagflation tightening was when the Fed was behind ‘the curve’ and where inflation masked a prolonged decline in real asset prices.”

So what about now? The fed funds rate stands at 1.50% to 1.75% following a series of slow rate increases that began in December 2015, lifting it from near zero. The degree of tightening might seem pretty tame, but Ruskin notes that it comes after a period of “extreme and prolonged” accommodation and is also taking forms that economists and investors don’t fully understand as swollen balance sheet begins to shrink.

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The stronger the dollar the more likely rate hikes get.

Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)

Federal Reserve officials in their meeting in early May confirmed they planned to raise interest rates in June and were not concerned they were behind the curve on inflation. “Most participants judged that if incoming information broadly confirmed their economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate for the FOMC to take another step in removing policy accommodation,” the minutes said. Traders in the federal funds futures market see more than a 90% chance of a June rate hike. Although inflation hit the Fed’s 2% target in the latest reading for March, for the first time in a year, officials were not convinced it would remain there for long.

“It was noted that it was premature to conclude that inflation would remain at levels around 2%, especially after several years in which inflation had persistently run below the Fed’s 2% objective,” the minutes said. Only a “few” officials thought inflation might move “slightly” above the 2% target. “It has taken them so long to get there, with so many fits and starts, they are not quite sure it’s going to stay there,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors. Arone said the minutes were consistent with three total hikes this year although the Fed gave itself wiggle room if inflation picks up markedly. “They didn’t take [a fourth hike] off the table,” he said.

On the trade dispute with China, officials said the possible outcome on inflation and growth remained “particularly wide,” but there was some concern the dispute would hurt business confidence.

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Up to 25% tariffs. How about building better cars? Or weaning yourself off the addiction?

US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)

The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into car and truck imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March. The national security probe under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 would investigate whether vehicle and parts imports were threatening the industry’s health and ability to research and develop new, advanced technologies, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. “There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement, promising a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation.”

Higher tariffs could be particularly painful for Asian automakers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai, which count the United States as a key market, and the announcement sparked a broad sell-off in automakers’ shares across the region. The governments of Japan, China and South Korea said they would monitor the situation, while Beijing, which is increasingly eyeing the United States as a potential market for its cars, added that would defend its interests. “China opposes the abuse of national security clauses, which will seriously damage multilateral trade systems and disrupt normal international trade order,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Ministry of Commerce, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday which focused largely on whether it is making any progress in its trade dispute with Washington.

[..] Roughly 12 million cars and trucks were produced in the United States last year, while the country imported 8.3 million vehicles worth $192 billion. This included 2.4 million from Mexico, 1.8 million from Canada, 1.7 million from Japan, 930,000 from South Korea and 500,000 from Germany, according to U.S. government statistics. At the same time, the United States exported nearly 2 million vehicles worldwide worth $57 billion. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW all have large U.S. assembly plants. The United States is the second-biggest export destination for German auto manufacturers after China, while vehicles and car parts are Germany’s biggest source of export income. Asked if the measures would hit Mexico and Canada, a Mexican source close to the NAFTA talks said: “That probably is going to be the next battle.”

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For now it’s all opaque.

China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)

China will import record volumes of U.S. oil and is likely to ship more U.S. soy after Beijing signalled to state-run refiners and grains purchasers they should buy more to help ease tensions between the two top economies, trade sources said on Wednesday. China pledged at the weekend to increase imports from its top trading partner to avert a trade war that could damage the global economy. Energy and commodities were high on Washington’s list of products for sale. The United States is also seeking better access for imports of genetically modified crops into China under the deal. As the two sides stepped back from a full-blown trade war, Washington neared a deal on Tuesday to lift its ban on U.S. firms supplying Chinese telecoms gear maker ZTE, and Beijing announced tariff cuts on car imports.

But U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Wednesday that negotiations were still short of his objectives when he said any deal would need a “different structure”. China is the world’s top importer of both oil and soy, and already buys significant volumes of both from the United States. It is unclear how much more Chinese importers will buy from the United States than they would have otherwise, but any additional shipments would contribute to cutting the trade surplus, as demanded by Trump. Asia’s largest oil refiner, China’s Sinopec will boost crude imports from the United States to an all-time high in June as part of Chinese efforts to cut the surplus, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

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Erdogan defeated?

Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)

Turkey’s central bank intervened to halt the free fall of the Turkish lira on Wednesday, but it isn’t clear whether policy makers will be able to stave off a full-fledged currency crisis. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey raised its late liquidity window lending rate by 300 basis points on Wednesday, in a surprise move that put a halt to the lira selloff — at least for now. The lending rate now sits at 16.5%, compared with 13.5% before. The U.S. dollar had rallied to a historic high against Turkey’s lira on Wednesday, buying 4.9233 lira at the high, before the path reversed on the back of the CBRT’s action and the lira found its feet again. The buck last bought 4.7015 lira. In the year to date, the Turkish currency has dropped more than 20% against the dollar, according to FactSet data.

The euro-lira pair behaved similarly, first rallying to an all-time high but paring the rise after the rate increase. The euro last bought 5.5084 lira. The U.S. and eurozone are two of Turkey’s most important trading partners. The central bank has been operating in a peculiar environment given that Turkey’s inflation has been hitting double digits and its currency keeps sliding to historic lows. Moreover, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been critical of the central bank, calling for lower interest rates.

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Rising dollar.

Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)

Maria Florencia Humano opened a clothing store in 2016, convinced that Argentina’s long history of economic crises had ended under pro-business President Mauricio Macri. She will shutter it later this month, unable to make rent or loan payments. Soaring interest rates and a plunging currency have upended her dream and returned Argentina to a familiar place: asking the IMF for a lifeline. Humano’s decision comes just weeks after a somber Macri announced in a televised May 8 speech that Argentina would start talks with the IMF. He is seeking a credit line worth at least $19.7 billion to fund the government through the end of his first term in late 2019. The unexpected move surprised investors and stoked Argentines’ fears of a repeat of the nation’s devastating 2001-2002 economic collapse.

Many here blame IMF-imposed austerity measures for worsening that crisis, which impoverished millions and turned Argentina into a global pariah after the government defaulted on a record $100 billion in debt. Word of a potential bailout sent thousands of angry Argentines into the streets this month, some with signs declaring “enough of the IMF.” As recently as a few months ago, analysts were hailing Argentina as an emerging-market success story. Now some are predicting recession. Macri’s popularity has plummeted. [..] Macri’s free-market credentials earned him a 2017 invitation to the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who just last week on Twitter hailed the Argentine leader’s “vision for transforming his country’s economy.”

But economists say Macri badly damaged his credibility in December when his administration weakened tough inflation targets. The central bank followed with a January rate cut to goose growth, even as consumer prices kept galloping. Rising U.S. interest rates did not help. Argentina is saddled with more than $320 billion in external debt, equivalent to 57.1% of GDP, much of it denominated in dollars. Jittery investors hit the exits. The peso swooned. The central bank sold $10 billion in reserves trying to prop up the peso, forcing Macri to seek assistance from the IMF.

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And getting harsher all the time.

US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)

America’s birth rate has fallen to a 30-year low, let the hand-wringing and finger-pointing begin. It’s those selfish women, wanting careers before kids! Or, gasp, not wanting kids at all! It’s all those abortions! It’s Obama’s fault! The reality is, for all its pro-family rhetoric, the US is a remarkably harsh place for families, and particularly for mothers. It’s a well-known fact, but one that bears repeating in this context, that the US is one of only four countries in the world with no government-subsidized maternity leave. The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea, countries that the US doesn’t tend to view as its peer group.

This fact is met with shrugs from those who assume that companies provide maternity leave. Only 56% do, and of those, just 6% offer full pay during maternity leave. This assumption also ignores the fact that 36% of the American workforce, a number expected to surpass 50% in the next 10 years, are contract laborers with no access to such benefits. That gig economy you keep hearing so much about, with its flexible schedule and independence? Yeah, it sucks for mothers. That doesn’t stop companies and pundits from pushing it as a great way for working moms to balance children and career. As a gig-economy mother myself, I can tell you exactly how great and balanced it felt to go back to work two hours after giving birth.

If they return to work, mothers can look forward to an increasingly large pay gap for every child they have, plus fewer promotions. Who could resist? The option for one parent to stay home with kids is increasingly not economically viable for American families, either. A data point that got far less attention than the falling birth rate was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month: 71.1% of American mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce now. It’s not just because they want to be (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but increasingly because they have to be in order to support the family.

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Scripted interview?

Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)

In her first interview since surviving an alleged nerve agent attack, Yulia Skripal said she eventually wants to return to Russia. She has not shed any light on what happened in March in Salisbury. “I came to the UK on the 3rd of March to visit my father, something I have done regularly in the past. After 20 days in a coma, I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned,” Skripal said in a video that was recorded by Reuters. She reiterated her words in a handwritten statement. She and her father, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double-agent, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, but it has yet to provide evidence for the claim.

Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning. “I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that both of us were attacked. We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination. Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful,” she said. “The fact that a nerve agent was used to do this is shocking. I don’t want to describe the details but the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing.” She also said that she was “grateful” for the offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy, “but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal reiterated what she had said in an earlier written statement released by British police: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

Following the release of the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed Yulia Skripal in a comment to RT. “We’d like Yulia Skripal to know that not a single day passed without the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in London trying to reach her with the main purpose to make sure she was not held against her will, she was not impersonated by somebody else, to get the first-hand information about her and her father’s condition,” Maria Zakharova said.

Russia’s Embassy in the UK welcomed the release of the interview, stating: “we are glad to have seen Yulia Skripal alive and well.” The video itself and the wording of the written statements, however, raised concerns with Russian diplomats, who urged London once again to allow consular access to Yulia “in order to make sure that she is not held against her own will and is not speaking under pressure.” Skripal said that the ordeal had turned her life “upside down,” both “physically and emotionally.” She added that she was now focused on helping her father to make a full recovery, and that “in the long term I hope to return home to my country.”

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With the level of incompetence in UK politics, the NHS looks beyond salvation.

NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)

Taxes will “almost certainly” have to rise over the coming years simply to prevent the National Health Service and social care system from slipping further into crisis, a major new report concludes. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation state that the NHS, which has been suffering the most severe fiscal squeeze since its foundation over the past eight years, now requires an urgent increase in government spending in order to cope with an influx of older and sicker patients. Funding the projected increases in health spending through the tax system would need taxes to rise by between 1.6 and 2.6% of GDP – the equivalent of between £1,200 and £2,000 per household, the experts said.

The two organisations say that state funding growth rate, which has been just 1.4% a year since 2010, will have to more than double to between 3.3% and 4% over the next 15 years if government pledges, such as bringing down waiting times and increasing the provision of mental health services, are to stand any chance of being delivered. They also say that to finance this increase the government would “almost certainly need to increase taxes”. “If we are to have a health and social care system which meets our needs and aspirations, we will have to pay a lot more for it over the next 15 years. This time we won’t be able to rely on cutting spending elsewhere – we will have to pay more in tax,” said the IFS’s director Paul Johnson.

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Raises some interesting questions. I can block him, but he cannot block me. I can all him “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian” and much much worse, and he’s going to have to swallow it.

Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)

Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums, and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of Constitution. Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the decision’s effect would reach beyond Trump.

“It would end up applying to a wide range of government officials throughout the country,” he said. The U.S. Department of Justice, which represents Trump in the case, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps.” Twitter, which is not a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment on the ruling. Buchwald’s ruling was in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed against Trump in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users. The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland; Holly Figueroa, described in the complaint as a political organizer and songwriter in Washington state; and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Cohen, who was blocked from Trump’s account last June after posting an image of the president with words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian,” said he was “delighted” with Wednesday’s decision. “This increases my faith in the system a little,” he said. Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org are among the others who have said on Twitter that Trump blocked them. Buchwald rejected the argument by Justice Department lawyers that Trump’s own First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” Buchwald said. She said Trump could “mute” users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights.

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Said it before: putting it in monetary terms is counter-productive. Only when we recognize that it’s not about money will we do something.

Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)

Achieving the toughest climate change target set in the global Paris agreement will save the world about $30tn in damages, far more than the costs of cutting carbon emissions, according to a new economic analysis. Most nations, representing 90% of global population, would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the research indicates. This includes almost all the world’s poorest countries, as well as the three biggest economies – the US, China and Japan – contradicting the claim of US president, Donald Trump, that climate action is too costly. Australia and South Africa would also benefit, with the biggest winners being Middle East nations, which are threatened with extreme heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival.

However, some cold countries – particularly Russia, Canada and Scandinavian nations – are likely to have their growth restricted if the 1.5C target is met, the study suggests. This is because a small amount of additional warming to 2C would be beneficial to their economies. The UK and Ireland could also see some restriction, though the estimates span a wide range of outcomes. The research, published in the journal Nature, is among the first to assess the economic impact of meeting the Paris climate goals. Data from the last 50 years shows clearly that when temperatures rise, GDP and other economic measures fall in most nations, due to impacts on factors including labour productivity, agricultural output and health.

The scientists used this relationship and 40 global climate models to estimate the future economic impact of meeting the 1.5C target – a tough goal given the world has already experienced 1C of man-made warming. They also assessed the long-standing 2C target and the impact of 3C of warming, which is the level expected unless current plans for action are increased.

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It’s not gone. But it is under threat.

The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

For kids in Greece, Spain and Italy, the Mediterranean diet is dead, according to the World Health Organisation, which says that children in Sweden are more likely to eat fish, olive oil and tomatoes than those in southern Europe. In Cyprus, a phenomenal 43% of boys and girls aged nine are either overweight or obese. Greece, Spain and Italy also have rates of over 40%. The Mediterranean countries which gave their name to the famous diet that is supposed to be the healthiest in the world have children with Europe’s biggest weight problem. Sweets, junk food and sugary drinks have displaced the traditional diet based on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil, said Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

“The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone,” he said at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna. “There is no Mediterranean diet any more. Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids. The Mediterranean diet is gone and we need to recover it.” Children in southern Europe are eating few fruit and vegetables and drinking a lot of sugary colas and other sweet beverages, said Breda. They snack. They eat sweets. They consume too much salt, sugar and fat in their food. And they hardly move. “Physical inactivity is one of the issues that is more significant in the southern European countries,” he said. “A man in Crete in the 60s would need 3,500 calories because he was going up and down the mountain.”

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May 062018
 
 May 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Paul Klee In the Houses of Saint Germain 1932

 

The Rising Dollar Will Trigger Next “Systemic Banking Crisis” – Napier (ZH)
Warren Buffett Compares Bitcoin To ‘Rat Poison Squared’ (Ind.)
UK Rates Will Stay Low For A Very Long Time (G.)
Trump White House Accuses China Of ‘Orwellian Nonsense’ (G.)
US Prosecutors Allege Ex-CEO of VW Knew All About Diesel Cheating (BBC)
US Freezes Funding For Syria’s “White Helmets” (CBS)
The U.S Government Can Still Confiscate Gold (GT)
Shock Figures From Top Thinktank Reveal Extent Of NHS Crisis (G.)
Earthquakes, Lava Fissures Could Last For Months On Hawaii (R.)
CO2 Levels In Earth’s Atmosphere ‘Highest In 800,000 Years’ (Ind.)
Facing Extinction, The North Atlantic Right Whale Cannot Adapt. Can We? (G.)

 

 

Emerging markets are already hurting. Watch Turkey.

The Rising Dollar Will Trigger Next “Systemic Banking Crisis” – Napier (ZH)

Fresh off his successful call earlier this year that the US dollar would strengthen in the coming months, macroeconomic strategist and market historian Russell Napier joined MacroVoices host Erik Townsend to discuss why he favors deflation and why he has such a bullish view on the US dollar. Echoing David Tepper’s concerns that the equity highs for the year might already be in, and that a 10-year yield above 3.25% could lead to market chaos, Napier said he sees interest rates rising sharply in the coming months as the dollar strengthens – a phenomenon that will push the US back into deflation.

Napier’s thesis relies on one simple fact: With the Fed and foreign buyers pulling back, who will step into the breach and buy Treasurys? The answer is – unfortunately for anybody who borrows in dollars – nobody. In fact, the Fed is expected to allow $228 billion in Treasury debt to roll off its balance sheet this year. This “net sell” will inevitably lead to higher interest rates in the US, as well as a stronger dollar. And once the 10-year yield reaches the 4% area, signs of stress that could be a lead up to a global “credit crisis” could start to appear.

“We know what the Federal Reserve plans to sell this calendar year, $228 billion. We know what the rise in global foreign reserves is, and about 64% of that will flow into the United States’ assets. Slightly less of that will flow into Treasuries. $228 billion, at the current rate at which foreign reserves are accumulating, we are not going to see foreign central bankers offsetting the sales from the Fed. So that’s a net sell. We don’t know what that net sale will be, but it’s a net sale from central bankers at a time when the Congressional Budget Office forecasts a roughly $1 trillion fiscal deficit. This is the first time in my investment career that savers will have to fund the whole lot. And it’s perfectly normal that real rates of interest have to go higher to attract those savings.

$1 trillion is still a large amount of money. It can come from anywhere in the world. It can come from outside the United States. It can come from inside the United States. But it’s a liquidation of other assets or a rise in the savings rate, which is necessary to fund this. Either of these things is positive for the dollar.”

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“It essentially will not deliver anything other than supposed scarcity..”

Warren Buffett Compares Bitcoin To ‘Rat Poison Squared’ (Ind.)

Mega-investor Warren Buffett still is not buying into the crypto-currency craze, likening Bitcoin to “rat poison squared”. “Cryptocurrencies will come to a bad ending”, Mr Buffett told shareholders at a retreat in Omaha, Nebraska, according to the Associated Press, adding that crypto currencies have no intrinsic value. “It essentially will not deliver anything other than supposed scarcity”, added Mr Buffett, who has earned the nickname the “Oracle of Omaha” for his prescient investment decisions. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO maintained his sceptical stance even as the alternate currency’s soaring value set off a scramble last year.

In an interview with CNBC last year, he said his company did not own any cryptocurrency and was avoiding taking a position in them. “What’s going on definitely will come to a bad ending,” Mr Buffett said at the time. Other prominent economists and investors have echoed those warnings, cautioning that the frenzied speculation around crypto-currencies had the makings of a bubble. Turning to politics, Mr Buffett downplayed the risks of a trade war breaking out as a result of Donald Trump imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, which sparked Chinese retaliation. He said it was unlikely that the two countries would “dig themselves into” a “real trade war”, suggesting the broad appeal of trade would prevent conflict.

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If the Fed raises rates, can BoE remain behind?

UK Rates Will Stay Low For A Very Long Time (G.)

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has already faced accusations of behaving like the Grand old Duke of York and he will probably do so again should Britain’s central bank opt to keep interest rates on hold. Since he joined the Bank in 2013, he has marched borrowers and savers up the hill with heavy hints about the imminent prospect of a rate rise, only to march them back down again. Last November’s restoration of 2016’s emergency rate cut hardly qualified as a major move, whatever the Bank said about its significance. Until an interview with the BBC during the IMF spring meetings a fortnight ago, it seemed to be a racing cert that the Bank was finally ready to begin the long journey back to 3% and push the base rate from 0.5% to 0.75%.

The markets were guided to expect action at a meeting of the monetary policy committee on Thursday. And it wasn’t just Carney dropping hints. Almost every member of the committee who had previously blocked a rise had gone on the record arguing that the time for a rate increase was near at hand. Speeches by external member Jan Vlieghe constituted the most startling intervention. During 2016 and much of 2017, the former hedge fund economist turned interest-rate setter was one of the most vociferous opponents of a rise. His former brethren in the Square Mile considered him an arch dove who might never vote to increase rates, such was his downbeat view of the economy’s growth potential.

Yet, towards the end of last year, he was one of the most optimistic proponents of the economy’s resilience and the likelihood of a rate rise. Just as before, a moment of central bank exuberance looks like becoming a non-event – which is strange given Vlieghe’s reasoning for backing an increase last year. Then, he said that ultra-low unemployment, steady growth and the probable end to a long period of declining real wages was enough to justify tighter monetary policy.

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Ha!

Trump White House Accuses China Of ‘Orwellian Nonsense’ (G.)

The White House on Saturday condemned Chinese efforts to control how US airlines refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao as “Orwellian nonsense”. The harshly worded statement came as a high-level trade delegation led by the Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin returned from negotiations in China. The carriers were told to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggests Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China, US and airline officials said. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing considers the self-ruled, democratic island a wayward province. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.

A spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group representing United Airlines, American Airlines and other major carriers, said the group was “continuing to work with US government officials as we determine next steps”. In January, Delta Air Lines, following a demand from China over listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website, apologized for making “an inadvertent error with no business or political intention” and said it had taken steps to resolve the issue. Also in January, China suspended Marriott International’s Chinese website for a week, punishing the world’s biggest hotel chain for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.

On Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Donald Trump “ran against political correctness in the United States” and as president would “stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens”.

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What will Germany do?

US Prosecutors Allege Ex-CEO of VW Knew All About Diesel Cheating (BBC)

It was an “appalling” fraud that went to the very top of the company. That is the striking allegation made by US prosecutors looking into the emissions-cheating scandal at the Volkswagen Group. The indictment unsealed on Thursday claims that former CEO Martin Winterkorn was not only fully briefed about what his engineers were up to, he also authorised a continuing cover-up. These allegations have yet to be tested in a court of law. But if true, they paint a picture of extraordinary executive wrongdoing at one of the titans of German industry. Dr Winterkorn himself is unlikely ever to face trial in the US. But he remains under investigation in Germany on suspicion of deceiving investors.

The Volkswagen scandal erupted in September 2015, when the company admitted that nearly 600,000 cars sold in the US were fitted with “defeat devices” designed to circumvent emissions tests. Shortly afterwards the then head of its US operations, Michael Horn, told a congressional committee that the deception was the work of “a couple of software engineers”. We know that was far from the truth. Volkswagen has already admitted as much in an agreed “statement of facts” published last year as part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice. That document set out how Volkswagen engineers struggled to make a diesel engine which would both perform well and be capable of meeting stringent US emissions standards.

It explained how instead they designed a system to switch on emissions controls when the cars were being tested, and turn them off during normal driving. It also described how managers repeatedly sanctioned the use of this system despite objections from some employees, and encouraged engineers to hide what they were up to. The indictment against Dr Winterkorn goes considerably further – suggesting that the CEO himself was made well aware of what the engineers were doing and authorised a continued cover-up. It claims that in early 2014, engineers heard about a study commissioned by the International Council on Clean Transport, which showed that VW diesels were producing far higher emissions on the road than in official lab tests.

It says that senior managers were informed, and warned that the study might result in VW’s deception being uncovered. A memorandum was written for Dr Winterkorn explaining that the company would be unable to explain the test results to the authorities.

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No, CBS, you can’t sing the praises of these people without looking behind them.

US Freezes Funding For Syria’s “White Helmets” (CBS)

Less than two months ago the State Department hosted members of the White Helmets at Foggy Bottom. At the time, the humanitarian group was showered with praise for saving lives in Syria. “Our meetings in March were very positive. There were even remarks from senior officials about long-term commitments even into 2020. There were no suggestions whatsoever about stopping support,” Raed Saleh, the group’s leader, told CBS News. Now they are not getting any U.S funding as the State Department says the support is “under active review.” The U.S had accounted for about a third of the group’s overall funding. “This is a very worrisome development,” said an official from the White Helmets. “Ultimately, this will negatively impact the humanitarian workers ability to save lives.”

The White Helmets, formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense, are a group of 3,000 volunteer rescuers that have saved thousands of lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. A makeshift 911, they have run into the collapsing buildings to pull children, men and women out of danger’s way. They say they have saved more than 70,000 lives. Having not received U.S. funding in recent weeks, White Helmets are questioning what this means for the future. They have received no formal declaration from the U.S. government that the monetary assistance has come to a full halt, but the group’s people on the ground in Syria report that their funds have been cut off.

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“..gold is actually what kept the Federal Reserve solvent in 2008.”

The U.S Government Can Still Confiscate Gold (GT)

By the 1930s, the US government was facing its most severe financial crisis, and it needed gold (something of value), to stimulate the economy that was running on the fumes of fiat currency. So, it took people’s gold. It was as simple as that. Non-compliance was threatened with severe punishment. We may be facing another financial crisis, and it might be best to avoid the role of fugitive “gold hoarder.” At this point, it doesn’t make sense for the government to confiscate private gold, as a cashless society will indirectly control peoples finances. Why would the government seize gold? In 1933, under the 1913 Federal Reserve Act, the dollar had to be backed by 40 percent gold.

This would give the Federal Reserve room to print new money when needed. What’s a government to do when it needs to print money, but doesn’t have the gold reserves needed to back it up? It passes an Executive Order making gold ownership illegal but buys up the illegal gold itself. That’s what Roosevelt did. When the government continued to print more money, it declared ownership of silver illegal a year later. Soon after the government confiscated all gold, the price rose by 40 percent. As if by magic, the US government had a lot more funds than it had before. What happens is that the government buys your gold with cash, then devalues the cash and raises the value of the gold. It wins, you lose.

While the government attributes artificial value to money, it can do and does the same to the value of gold. The government currently holds 261 million ounces of gold in reserve at marked on its book at $42.22 per ounce. That’s a total value of $11 billion. Or is it? The fair market value of gold today is around $1,300 per ounce. As Jim Rickards pointed out in the New Case For Gold, gold is actually what kept the Federal Reserve solvent in 2008.

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Third world.

Shock Figures From Top Thinktank Reveal Extent Of NHS Crisis (G.)

The NHS has among the lowest per capita numbers of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world, a new study of international health spending has revealed. The stark findings come from a new King’s Fund analysis of health data from 21 countries, collected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. They reveal that only Poland has fewer doctors and nurses than the UK, while only Canada, Denmark and Sweden have fewer hospital beds, and that Britain also falls short when it comes to scanners. “If the 21 countries were a football league then the UK would be in the relegation zone in terms of the resources we put into our healthcare system, as measured by staff, equipment and beds in which to care for patients,” said Siva Anandaciva, the King’s Fund’s chief analyst.

“If you look across all these indicators – beds, staffing, scanners – the UK is consistently below the average in the resources we give the NHS relative to countries such as France and Germany. Overall, the NHS does not have the level of resources it needs to do the job we all expect it to do, given our ageing and growing population, and the OECD data confirms that,” he added. The report concludes that, given the dramatic differences between Britain and other countries: “A general picture emerges that suggests the NHS is under-resourced.”

The thinktank’s research found that the UK has the third-lowest number of doctors among the 21 nations, with just 2.8 per 1,000 people, barely half the number in Austria, which has 5.1 doctors per 1,000 of population. Similarly, the UK has the sixth-smallest number of nurses for its population: just 7.9 per 1,000 people – way behind Switzerland, which has the most: 18 nurses, more than twice as many. With hospital beds, the UK has just 2.6 for every 1,000 people, just over a third of the number in Germany, which has the most – 8.1 beds – and which places the UK 18th overall out of the 21 countries which the OECD gathered figures for. The number of hospital beds in England has halved over the last 30 years and now stands at about 100,000 ..

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How wrong can this go?

Earthquakes, Lava Fissures Could Last For Months On Hawaii (R.)

More homes on Hawaii’s Big Island were destroyed on Saturday as eruptions linked to the Kilauea volcano increased, spewing lava into residential areas and forcing nearly 2,000 people to evacuate, officials said. Scientists forecast more eruptions and more earthquakes, perhaps for months to come, after the southeast corner of the island was rocked by a 6.9 tremor on Friday, the strongest on the island since 1975. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said on Saturday that several new lava fissures had opened in the Leilani Estates subdivision of Puna District, about a dozen miles (19 km) from the volcano. Not all the fissures were still active, it added.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said at midday local time on Saturday that “eruptive activity is increasing and is expected to continue.” Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the observatory, said by telephone that the eruptions could carry on “for weeks or months.” Babb said the activity since Thursday is beginning to show similarities to another event in the area in 1955 that lasted for 88 days, when far fewer people lived near the volcano.

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Rebalancing carbon: there’s too much inside the planet.

CO2 Levels In Earth’s Atmosphere ‘Highest In 800,000 Years’ (Ind.)

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached its highest level in at least 800,000 years, according to scientists. In April, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere exceeded an average of 410 parts per million (ppm) across the entire month, according to readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the first time in the history of the observatory’s readings that a monthly average has exceeded that level. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography said that before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels did not exceed 300ppm in the last 800,000 years.

The Keeling Curve, which plots the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, shows a steady rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere for decades. Scientists have warned levels of carbon dioxide are crossing a threshold which could lead to global warming beyond the “safe” level identified by the international community, fuelling a rise in sea levels. The latest reading shows a 30 per cent increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the global atmosphere since recording began in 1958. The first measurement was recorded as 315ppm. Carbon dioxide concentration exceeded 400ppm for the first time in 2013. Prior to 1800, atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280ppm, which demonstrates the effect of manmade emissions since the industrial revolution.

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“By 1935, with as few as 60 breeding individuals left, the situation was so dire that the right whale became the first cetacean to be protected by law.”

Facing Extinction, The North Atlantic Right Whale Cannot Adapt. Can We? (G.)

As if to confound everyone, this past week Dr Charles “Stormy” Mayo and his team from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies reported seeing up to 150 right whales in Cape Cod Bay. Dr Mayo – who has been studying these animals for 40 years and has a scientist’s aversion to exaggeration – is stunned. “It is amazing for such a rare and utterly odd creature,” he tells me. All the more amazing since he knows this great gathering could be a final flourish. By 2040, the North Atlantic right whale may be gone. He hesitates, then uses the e-word: extinction. How can such a huge mammal simply disappear within reach of the richest and most powerful nation on earth?

Shifting food sources – due to climate change – are leading whales to areas where maritime industries are unused to them. In the past 12 months, 18 rights have died after ship strikes or entanglement in fishing gear. With as few as 430 animals left, 100 of them breeding females in a reduced gene pool, the species is unsustainable. The right whale may be the strangest beast in the ocean. Vast and rotund, its gigantic mouth is fringed with two-metre strips of baleen, once “harvested” by humans to furnish Venetian blinds and corset stays but used by the whale to strain its diet of rice-sized zooplankton from the sea.

These bizarre animals are not easily known or imagined. They live far longer than us – like its Arctic cousin, the bowhead, the right whale may reach 200, perhaps more. Individuals could be older than constitutional America. They exist beyond us in time, dimension and experience. If we lose the right whale, we lose part of our planet’s biological history. [..] By 1935, with as few as 60 breeding individuals left, the situation was so dire that the right whale became the first cetacean to be protected by law. But by the start of this century, the numbers seemed to recover. Shipping lanes were shifted and fishing industries took on board the whale’s protected status. It even got its own air exclusion zone. “Like a Hollywood star,” as John Waters quipped to me.


Eubalaena glacialis with calf

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May 022018
 


Brassaï The Sun King 1930

 

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

 

 

The trouble is in corporate bonds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apple has become a capital allocation venture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Remember Japanese cars?

Nissan Shocks With 28% Sales Plunge (BBG)

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

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

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

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Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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Very long essay from Hudson. Always good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Because the US will demand it strengthen it.

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

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

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Netanyahu plays games with his credibility.

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

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

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

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

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Britain better get rid of all these people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s about political control, not finance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 132017
 
 May 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Fred Stein Subway Steps New York 1943

 

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)
UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)
Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)
$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)
The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)
US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)
Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)
EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)
A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)
Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)
Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)
Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)
China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)
Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)
IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

 

 

Edward Snowden @Snowden: “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.”

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)

Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain’s public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere. The attacks amounted to an audacious global blackmail attempt spread by the internet and underscored the vulnerabilities of the digital age. Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in – with a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met.

By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, according to security firms tracking the spread. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa.[..] The hackers’ weapon of choice on Friday was Wanna Decryptor, a new variant of the WannaCry ransomware, which encrypts victims’ data, locks them out of their systems and demands ransoms. Researchers said the impact and speed of Friday’s attacks had not been seen in nearly a decade, when the Conficker computer worm infected millions of government, business and personal computers in more than 190 countries, threatening to overpower the computer networks that controlled health care, air traffic and banking systems over the course of several weeks.

One reason the ransomware on Friday was able to spread so quickly was that the stolen N.S.A. hacking tool, known as “Eternal Blue,” affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Hours after the Shadow Brokers released the tool last month, Microsoft assured users that it had already included a patch for the underlying vulnerability in a software update in March. But Microsoft, which regularly credits researchers who discover holes in its products, curiously would not say who had tipped the company off to the issue. Many suspected that the United States government itself had told Microsoft, after the N.S.A. realized that its hacking method exploiting the vulnerability had been stolen.

Privacy activists said if that were the case, the government would be to blame for the fact that so many companies were left vulnerable to Friday’s attacks. It takes time for companies to roll out systemwide patches, and by notifying Microsoft of the hole only after the N.S.A.’s hacking tool was stolen, activists say the government would have left many hospitals, businesses and governments susceptible. “It would be deeply troubling if the N.S.A. knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Friday. “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.”

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Don’t just blame the hospitals. Blame the government that squeezes them so dry they have to choose patients over computers.

UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)

Britain’s National Health Service ignored numerous warnings over the last year that many of its computer systems were outdated and unprotected from the type of devastating cyberattack it suffered on Friday. The attack caused some hospitals to stop accepting patients, doctor’s offices to shut down, emergency rooms to divert patients, and critical operations to be canceled as a decentralized system struggled to cope. At some hospitals, nurses could not even print out name tags for newborn babies. At the Royal London Hospital, in east London, George Popescu, a 23-year-old hotel cook, showed up with a forehead injury. “My head is pounding and they say they can’t see me,” he said. “They said their computers weren’t working. You don’t expect this in a big city like London.”

In a statement on Friday, the N.H.S. said its inquiry into the attack was in its early phases but that “at this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.” Many of the N.H.S. computers still run Windows XP, an out-of-date software that no longer gets security updates from its maker, Microsoft. A government contract with Microsoft to update the software for the N.H.S. expired two years ago. Microsoft discontinued the security updates for Windows XP in 2014. It made a patch, or fix, available in newer versions of Windows for the flaws that were exploited in Friday’s cyberattacks. But the health service does not seem to have installed either the newer version of Windows or the patch.

“Historically, we’ve known that N.H.S. uses computers running old versions of Windows that Microsoft itself no longer supports and says is a security risk,” said Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert in Oxford, England. “And even on the newest computers, they would have needed to apply the patch released in March. Clearly that did not happen, or the malware wouldn’t have spread this fast.” Just this month, a parliamentary research briefing noted that cyberattacks were viewed as one of the top threats facing Britain. The push to make medical records systems more interconnected might also make the system more vulnerable to attack. Britain plans to digitize all patient records by 2020.

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The anti-Trump battle will be fought with financial weapons. And the Donald is walking into that trap.

Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)

Yesterday I said the Donald was absolutely right in canning the insufferable James Comey, but that he has also has stepped on a terminal political land-mine. And he did. That’s because the entire Russian meddling and collusion narrative is a ridiculous, evidence-free attempt to re-litigate the last election. And now that the powers that be have all the justification they need. And what is already an irrational witch-hunt will be quickly turned into a scorched-earth assault on a sitting president. I have no idea how this will play out, but as a youthful witness to history back in 1973-1974 I observed Tricky Dick’s demise in daily slow motion. But the most memorable part of the saga was how incredibly invincible Nixon seemed in early 1973. Nixon started his second term, in fact, with a massive electoral landslide, strong public opinion polls and a completely functioning government and cabinet.

Even more importantly, he was still basking in the afterglow of his smashing 1972 foreign policy successes in negotiating detente and the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty with Brezhnev and then the historic opening to China on his Beijing trip. So I’ll take the unders from anyone who gives the Donald even the 19 months that Nixon survived. After all, Trump lost the popular vote, is loathed by official Washington, barely has a functioning cabinet and is a whirling dervish of disorder, indiscipline and unpredictability. To be sure, the terms of the Donald’s eventual exit from the Imperial City will ultimately by finalized by the 46th President in waiting, Mike Pence. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: Between now and then, there is not a snow ball’s chance in the hot place that Donald’s severance package will include the ballyhooed Trump Tax Cut and Fiscal Stimulus.

Markets slipped today because of carnage in the retail sector (which I’ve been warning readers about). But these fantasies are apparently still “priced-in” to a market that has now become just plain stupid. What is surely coming down the pike after the Comey firing, however, is just the opposite. That is, Washington will soon become a three-ring circus of investigations of Russia-gate and the “hidden” reasons for Trump’s action. The Imperial City will get embroiled in bitter partisan warfare and the splintering of the GOP between its populist and establishment wings. In that context, what passes for “governance” will be reduced to a moveable Fiscal Bloodbath that cycles between debt ceiling showdowns and short-term continuing resolution extensions.

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The swamp that can’t be drained without causing explosions.

$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)

Economists at the New York Fed included this gem in their report on a two-day conference on “Derivatives and Regulatory Changes” since the Financial Crisis: “Though the notional amount [of derivatives] outstanding has declined in recent years, at more than $500 trillion outstanding, OTC derivatives remain an important asset class.” An important asset class. A hilarious understatement. Let’s see… the “notional amount” of $500 trillion is 25 times the GDP of the US and about 7 times global GDP. Derivatives are not just an “important asset class,” like bonds; they’re the largest “financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003.

Derivatives are used for hedging economic risks. And they’re used as “speculative directional exposures” – very risky one-sided bets. It’s all tied together in an immense and opaque market interwoven with the banks. The New York Fed: The 2007-09 financial crisis highlighted weaknesses in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets and the increased risk of contagion due to the interconnectedness of market participants in these markets. This chart from the New York Fed shows how derivatives ballooned 150% – or by $360 trillion – in less than four years before the Financial Crisis. They ticked down during the Financial Crisis, then rose again during the Fed’s QE to peak at $700 trillion. After the end of QE, they declined, but recently ticked up again to $500 trillion. I added in red the Warren Buffett moment:

The vast majority of the derivatives are interest rate and credit contracts (dark blue). Banks specialize in that. For example, according to the OCC’s Q4 2016 Report on Derivatives, JPMorgan Chase holds $47.5 trillion of derivatives at notional value and Citibank $43.9 trillion. The top 25 US banks hold $164.7 trillion, or 8.5 times US GDP. So even a minor squiggle could trigger some serious heartburn.

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Try use “normal” and “derivatives” in one sentence and put on a straight face.

The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)

Since 2009, there has been ongoing discussion of the size & composition of major central bank balance sheets (I’m focusing on the Federal Reserve Bank, European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan) but little discussion of why these institutions felt (and continue to feel) compelled to “buy” assets. The chart below highlights the ongoing collective explosion of these bank “assets” since 2009 after a previous period of relative stability. These institutions clearly have the capability and willingness to digitally conjure “money” from nothing and have felt compelled to remove over $10 trillion worth of assets from the markets since 2009. This swap of illiquid assets for liquid cash had (and continues to have) the effect of squeezing the prices of the remaining assets higher (more money chasing fewer assets=price appreciation).

A prime example of that squeeze, the US stock market total valuation (represented by the Wilshire 5000, below) is $10 trillion higher than the “bubble” peak of 2008…and $11 trillion higher than the 2001 “bubble” peak. Likewise, US federal debt since 2008 has increased by…you guessed it, $10 trillion. The narrative seems to be that 2009 was a one off event and that the central banks role was and still is to “stabilize” the situation until things “normalize”. But right there…that idea that 2009 was a “one-off” or “abnormal” couldn’t be more wrong. So what is “normal” growth, at least from a consumption standpoint? Normal is never the same twice…it is ever changing and must be constantly rediscovered.

To determine “normal” growth in consumption, all we need do is figure the change in the quantity of consumers (annual population growth) and the quality of those consumers (their earnings, savings, and utilization of credit). The chart below details the ever changing “normal” that is the annual change in the under 65yr/old global population broken down by wealthy consuming nations (blue line) and the rest of the (generally poor) world (red line). The natural rate of growth in consumption has been declining ever since 1988 (persistently less growth in the population on a year over year basis)…but central banks and central governments have substituted interest rate cuts and un-repayable debt to maintain an unnaturally high consumption growth rate.

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If we don’t put a stop to this, we have no chance. This is where it all begins and ends.

US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh. The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. “We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit. The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs. The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.” The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

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How many executives in jail, you said?

Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)

Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts, far more than previously estimated, according to lawyers seeking approval of a $142 million settlement over the practice. The new estimate was provided in a filing late Thursday night in the federal court in San Francisco, and is 1.4 million accounts higher than previously reported by federal regulators, in what became a national scandal. Keller Rohrback, a law firm for the plaintiff customers, said the higher estimate reflects “public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery.” The Seattle-based firm also said the number “may well be over-inclusive, but provides a reasonable basis on which to estimate a maximum recovery.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez in an email said the new estimate was “based on a hypothetical scenario” and unverified, and did not reflect “actual unauthorized accounts.” Nonetheless, it could complicate Wells Fargo’s ability to win approval for the settlement, which has drawn opposition from some customers and lawyers who consider it too small. “This adds more credence to the fact there is not enough information to assess whether the settlement is fair and adequate,” Lewis Garrison, a partner at Heninger Garrison Davis in Birmingham, Alabama who represents some objecting customers, said in an interview. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco is scheduled to consider preliminary approval at a May 18 hearing. The accounts scandal mushroomed after Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million in penalties to settle charges by authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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They better be thorough, or individual countries must each formulate their own responses.

EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice on May 11 could prevent people from using or working for services such as Uber and Airbnb. The opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice follows a case that has been brought by Spanish taxi drivers against the ride sharing service Uber. It found that Uber should be regulated like a transportation company, not as an “information society service”. If the opinion is upheld, these services could be required to apply for specific licences or be restricted in number as is the case with taxis in various European cities in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

The court is slated to deliver a final ruling on whether Uber should be classified as a transport company or as a passive internet intermediary, in the coming months. Usually, the judges follow the opinion of the Advocate General. It remains to be seen whether the case will impact other so-called sharing economy services as Airbnb. Speaking after the opinion was issued, Dan Dalton, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) spokesman on the EU internal market said: “The opinion given today has huge implications for innovative, consumer driven digital services all across Europe… It is right that there are safeguards for consumers, but applying analogue era regulation to the digital world only strangles innovation and entrenches privileged monopolies.”

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Beppe always had one goal first: get rid of corruption. The WSJ can talk all it wants about M5S teething problems, but there are bigger issues here.

A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)

Europe’s establishment breathed a sigh of relief after the pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president this week. But another populist storm is brewing in Italy, where the euroskeptic 5 Star Movement has remained strong. Fueled by discontent with slow growth, high unemployment and disillusionment with mainstream politicians, 5-Star has won local elections in Rome, Turin and elsewhere, partly on the strength of its leaders’ call for a referendum on Italy’s use of the European single currency. Pollsters say about 30% of Italian voters support the movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, a level of popularity that has stood firm despite a series of high-profile stumbles, especially by its mayor in Rome.

The self-described association of free citizens has replaced the center-left Democratic Party at the top of most polls ahead of national elections to be held by May 2018. Now, the group that has flouted the rules of the game for establishment parties in Italy is experiencing growing pains as it prepares for the possibility of taking power. The prospect of Mr. Grillo and his supporters winning and forming a government has made investors nervous and pushed up yields on Italian bonds in recent months. On Friday, the spread between Italian and German 10-year sovereign bond yields was 1.85 percentage points, nearly five times the corresponding spread between French and German bonds.

Mr. Grillo and 5 Star waged a successful campaign to block constitutional changes sought by former Democratic Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, effectively forcing him from office in December. Since then, a caretaker government has run Italy. The movement has vowed to institute tougher anticorruption laws and deliver a minimum guaranteed income for all working-age and retired Italians if it emerges from upcoming elections as head of a minority government or in a governing coalition with other euroskeptic parties.

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There is no support for a beefed up EU or eurozone. Besides, Macron will be fighting the unions over the summer.

Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France. After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip. The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said. Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions. He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office. Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.

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Jim waxes nostalgic on Nixon.

Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)

I remember that sweaty August day that he threw in the towel. (I was a young newspaper reporter when newspapers still mattered.) It was pretty much a national orgasm. “NIXON RESIGNS!” the headlines screamed. A moment later he was on the gangway into the helicopter for the last time. Enter, stage right, the genial Gerald Ford…. Forgive me for getting caught up in the very nostalgia I castigate. And now here we are in the mere early months of Trumptopia about to hit the replay button on a televised inquisition. In my humble opinion, Donald Trump is a far more troubling personality than Tricky Dick ever was, infantile, narcissistic, at times verging on psychotic, but the RussiaGate story looks pretty flimsy. At this point, after about ten months of NSA-FBI investigation, nothing conclusive has turned up about Trump’s people “colluding” with Russia to gain unfair advantage in the election against You-Know-Who.

Former NSA chief James Clapper has publicly stated twice in no uncertain terms that there’s no evidence to support the allegations (so far). And there remains the specter of the actual content of the “collusion” — conveniently ignored by the so-called “Resistance” and its water-carriers at The New York Times — the hacked emails that evince all kinds of actual misbehavior by Secretary of State HRC and the DNC. The General Mike Flynn episode seems especially squishy, since it is the routine duty of incoming foreign affairs officials to check in with the ambassador corps in Washington. Why do you think nations send ambassadors to other countries? The upshot of all this will be a political circus for the rest of the year and the abandonment of any real business in government, at a moment in history when some very weighty black swans circle above the clouds waiting to crash land. Enjoy the histrionics if you dare, and pay no attention to collapsing economy as it all plays out.

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Draghi need to buy Greek bonds, and bring down those rates.

Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)

Greece is considering tapping the capital markets for the first time in three years. Let’s hope its second attempt to regain market access goes more smoothly for investors than its first. A bond sale in July or September is being considered – if a deal on debt relief is reached, and the ECB adds Greek debt to the shopping list of securities it can buy through its quantitative easing program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The news comes as the U.S. presses European officials to ease Greece’s debt burden at informal talks during the Group of Seven gathering currently taking place in Italy.Investors can be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu.In April 2014, Greece sold €3 billion of 4.75% bonds repayable in 2019 in its first issue for almost four years.

The country had sought to raise €2.5 billion; orders from more than 550 investors, though, exceeded €20 billion, and, five months later, the bond was increased by a further €1 billion. The then PM Antonis Samaras called the sale “one more decisive step toward exiting the crisis.”Except … it turned out Greece was about to get worse, not better. The day after the sale, the price of the bonds slipped by a bit more than half a point. By the end of the year, they’d lost almost 20% of their value. And by the middle of 2015, they slumped to as low as 40% of face value as the government was forced to introduce capital controls in an effort to stanch the flood of money leaving the country’s banking system. The bond price recovered as the Greek government dropped its defiance against the terms demanded by its lenders, implemented pension and labor market reforms and accelerated the sale of government assets.

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Does Brussels really want China to buy up Greece?

China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the prime minister of deeply indebted Greece strong support on Saturday, saying the two countries should expand cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. Xi told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece was an important part in China’s new Silk Road strategy. “At present, China and Greece’s traditional friendship and cooperation continues to glow with new dynamism,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying. Cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications should be “deep and solid”, Xi added, without giving details. Tsipras is in Beijing to attend a summit to promote Xi’s vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment called the Belt and Road initiative.

Greek infrastructure development group Copelouzos has signed a deal with China’s Shenhua Group to cooperate in green energy projects and the upgrade of power plants in Greece and other countries, the Greek company said on Friday. The deal will involve total investment of €3 billion, Copelouzos said in a statement, without providing further details. China has been investing heavily in Greece in recent years. Its biggest shipping company, COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority last year under a plan to turn Greece into a transhipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Asia and Eastern Europe. Xi said China and Greece should focus their efforts on turning the Piraeus port into an important international transhipment hub and key part of the new Silk Road, the Chinese ministry said.

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Yanis says Greece’s future is Kosovo, Steve Keen said Somalia. They’re both right.

Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)

In an interview Friday on Skai TV, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit out at his erstwhile government colleagues, accusing both his successor Euclid Tsakalotos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of giving in to the country’s international creditors. “There is no new agreement, just a new surrender,” he said of the latest deal with Greece’s lenders. “The first memorandum burned Papandreou, the second Samaras, the third Tsipras. The fourth will require a new prime minister,” he said. As for Greece’s prospects, his prediction was bleak. “We will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Never seen a more broken record.

IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

The IMF and eurozone government lenders need more time to reach an agreement on debt relief for Greece because the eurozone is still not sufficiently clear in its intentions, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday. Top eurozone officials and Lagarde met on Friday morning to discuss debt relief for Athens which eurozone finance ministers, or the Eurogroup, promised in May 2016, but under strict conditions. “We will carry on working on this debt relief package. There is not enough clarity yet. Our European partners need to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an imperative,” Lagarde told reporters in the city of Bari in Italy. German Finance Ministers Wolfgang Schaeuble, also at the meeting of the G7 advanced economies in Bari, asked if he would be prepared to ease the conditions for debt relief, said: “We are prepared to stick to what we have agreed in May 2016. That is the basis on which we are working … I am still in favor of getting a solution, at least a political solution, in the Eurogroup on the 22nd of May.”

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Jun 222016
 
 June 22, 2016  Posted by at 1:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Founding father of the EU, French economist and financier, Jean Monnet

I stumbled upon an article by Day of the Jackal author Frederick Forsyth, published last week in the Daily Express, that I think every Briton and European and everyone else should read. Forsyth doesn’t delve into the American pressure to form a European Union as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, he sticks with ‘founding father’ Jean Monnet and his reasoning behind the particular shape the Union took. And that is bad enough.

All Forsyth has to do is to quote from Monnet’s work, and I have to admit that while reading it I increasingly got the feeling that it’s quite remarkable that no-one, especially no journalist, does this. It’s there for everyone to see, but that means little if and when no-one actually sees it.

I have repeatedly talked about how the very structure of the EU self-selects for sociopaths and/or worse, but perhaps not enough about how that was deliberately built into the design. A feature not a flaw.

And I don’t think Monnet ever thought about how structures like that develop over time, in which the flaws in that design become ever more pronounced and the more severe cases of sociopathy increasingly take over the more powerful positions. A development that is well visible in present day Brussels.

For me, as I’ve written before, being here in Athens these days is plenty testimony to what the EU truly represents. Not only do we need to help feed many tens of thousands on a daily basis, depression levels are up 80% or so and life expectancy is plunging because proper health care is ever further away for ever more people in a country that not long ago had a health care system anyone would have been proud of.

That is the EU. And, yeah, Britons, do reflect on the NHS. Sure, you can argue it’s not the EU but Cameron and his people that are breaking it down, but it’s also Cameron who is pleading with you to vote to stay in the union.

If it can do this today to one of its member states, it will do it tomorrow to others, and more, if it sees fit. The benefits of the union flow to a select few countries, and to a select few within those countries. And ever fewer are selected as economic policies continue to fail.

It is frankly beyond me to see why anyone would want to be part of that. It’s not about Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage or George Osborne, that is just more deception. It’s about being ruled by midgets, as Forsyth puts it.

Here are some snippets from Frederick Forsyth’s article:

Birth of superstate: Frederick Forsyth on how UNELECTED Brussels bureaucrats SEIZED power

There was nothing base or inhumane about Jean Monnet, the French intellectual now seen as the founding father of the dream, nor those who joined him: De Gasperi the Italian, Hallstein the German, Spaak the Belgian and Schumann the Frenchman. In 1945 they were all traumatised men. Each had seen the utter devastation of their native continent by war and after the second they swore to try for the rest of their lives to ensure nothing like it ever happened again. No one can fault that ambition.

First Monnet analysed what had gone wrong and became obsessed by one single fact. The German people had actually voted the Austrian demagogue into the office of chancellor. What could he, Monnet, learn from this? What he learned stayed with him for the rest of his life and stays with us today in the EU.

The continent of Europe, from western Ireland to the Russian border, from Norway’s North Cape to Malta’s Valletta harbour, must be unified into one huge superstate. Politically, socially, economically, militarily and constitutionally.

There could be no war between provinces so war would be banished. (For a man who had witnessed the Spanish Civil War that was an odd conclusion but he came to it. And there was more).

As coal, iron and steel were the indispensable sinews of war machinery, these industries should be unified under central control. Thus would also be prevented any single state secretly rearming. That at least had the benefit of logic and the Coal and Steel Community was his first success.

But the big question remained: how should this Europe-wide single state be governed? Then he came to the conclusion that still prevails today. In the 1930s democracy had failed. In Germany, Italy and elsewhere desperate people had flocked to the demagogues who promised full bellies and a job in exchange for marching, chanting columns.

So democracy must go. It could not be the governmental system of the new Utopia. It was not fit to be. (He was already president of the Action Committee for the Superstate, his official title. There is nothing new about the word superstate).

Instead there would be a new system: government by an enlightened elite of bureaucrats . The hoi polloi (you and me) were simply too dim, too emotional, too uneducated to be safely allowed to choose their governments.

It never occurred to him to devise a way to strengthen and fortify democracy to ensure that what happened in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s could not happen again. No, democracy was unsafe and had to be replaced. (This is not propaganda, he wrote it all down).

He faced one last stigma as he sought the support of the six who would become the kernel of his dream: Germany (still ruined by war), France (fighting dismal colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria), Italy in her usual chaos, Holland, Belgium and tiny Luxembourg. How could the various peoples ever be persuaded to hand over their countries from democracy to oligarchy, the government of the elite? Let me quote from what he wrote:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the Super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”

In other words he could not force them (he had no tanks). He could not bribe them (he had no money). He could not persuade them (his arguments were offensive). Hence the deliberate recourse to government by deception. Both nostrums continue to this day. Study the Remain campaign and the people behind it.

Almost without exception they are pillars of the establishment, London-based, accustomed to lavish salaries, administrative power and enormous privilege. None of this applies to 95% of the population. Hence the need for deception.

At every stage the Remain campaign has stressed the issue is about economics: trade, profits, mortgages, share prices, house values – anything to scare John Citizen into frightened submission. The gravy train of the few must not be derailed. Some of them are already sticking pins into a wax figurine of David Cameron for being soft enough to offer the proles a chance to recover their parliamentary democracy and thus their sovereignty.

Forsyth then continues with a bunch of typically British issues, and ends with:

[..] You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.

Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve.

It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.

Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.

Sep 202015
 
 September 20, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 20 2015


DPC Government Street, Mobile, Alabama 1906

Human Migration Will Be A Defining Issue Of This Century (Alexander Betts)
5-Year Old Child Drowns Off Greece, Others Paddle Across From Turkey (Reuters)
30 Refugees Missing In New Boat Sinking Off Greece On Sunday (AFP)
Europe Needs To Take Big Numbers Of Refugees. Until Then Chaos Reigns (Guardian)
Greece Is Making America Look Bad (Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte)
Thousands Of Refugees Pour Into Austria As European Crisis Intensifies (AFP)
Exhausted Migrants Left With Few Options on Slovenian Border (WSJ)
UN Warns European Unity At Risk As Borders Close To Refugees (Guardian)
Bank of Finland Governor Supports Opening Door to Migrants (WSJ)
Do China’s Ghost Cities Offer A Solution To Europe’s Migrant Crisis? (Reuters)
Xi Jinping: Does China Truly Love ‘Big Daddy Xi’ – Or Fear Him? (Guardian)
How China Decided To Redraw The Global Financial Map (Reuters)
The US Federal Reserve Has Got It Wrong (Andrew Sentance)
A Divided Fed Pits World’s Woes Against Domestic Growth (Reuters)
Stuck At Zero: Global Risks Have Tied The Fed’s Hands (Forbes)
US Oil Tumbles 4.7% To Settle At $44.68 A Barrel (Reuters)
Jim Chanos on What Lies Ahead for Greece (Lynn Parramore)
Catalonia Separatists: Spanish State Has Failed. We Can Change This (Guardian)
UK’s NHS To Collapse Within Two Years, Warns Former Health Minister (Guardian)

Certainly of this decade. A whole century is a bit much. A harbinger of things to come sounds about right.

Human Migration Will Be A Defining Issue Of This Century (Alexander Betts)

This is the first time in its history that the European Union has faced a mass influx of refugees from outside the region. Each year, as UNHCR announced record numbers of displaced people, the general assumption – until recently – was that this is a problem for other parts of the world. However, rising displacement that had mainly affected the Middle East and Africa has finally reached Europe’s shores in significant numbers. Many are beginning to ask whether the current crisis represents a temporary peak in displacement or presages a new, long-term trend. On what basis can we know? Will the dystopian images we see at the Hungarian-Serbian border of desperate families being beaten back by armed guards or the shocking image of Alan Kurdi become “the new normal”? The simple answer is: it depends.

It depends significantly on us, and the policies we, and our leaders, choose to adopt – nationally, regionally, and globally. Asylum numbers do fluctuate over time depending on the state of the world, and Europe has witnessed significant spikes in numbers before. In 1992, the EU received 672,000 asylum seekers, and numbers remained high during the Bosnia conflict. In 2001, numbers again peaked at 424,000 following the Kosovo crisis and with many arriving from Somalia and Afghanistan. This year, numbers are likely to exceed those figures but not dramatically, especially when one considers that in 1992 there were 15 EU member states and today there are 28. In general terms, the number of refugees in the world is broadly a function of the number of wars and human-rights-abusing dictatorships at any given time.

Today, there are a series of internal and regional armed conflicts around the world. Most of these are in two regions, the Middle East and Africa. There are humanitarian emergencies in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Nigeria and, closer to home, in Ukraine. The UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, has described a “world at war”. If we were able to address the root causes of those conflicts, the number of refugees in the world would decline significantly. However, there are also grounds to believe that refugees and displacement are likely to become a defining issue of the 21st century. Two global trends in particular suggest this: fragility and mobility. In both cases, the international community is struggling to come up with viable collective responses.

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Without photographs, the reaction is completely different.

5-Year Old Child Drowns Off Greece, Others Paddle Across From Turkey (Reuters)

A girl believed to be five years died on Saturday and 13 other migrants were feared lost overboard after their boat sank in choppy seas off the Greek island of Lesbos, the Greek coastguard said. A second, exhausted group of around 40 people reached the island in a small boat following a traumatic journey from Turkey, having paddled through the night with their hands across 10 kilometers (six miles) of ocean after their engine failed. “When we were on the sea … I didn’t have any hope … I said: I am dead right now, nobody can help me,” Mohammed Reza, 18, said after being pulled ashore from the boat by foreign volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees have braved the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to Greece’s eastern islands this year, mainly in flimsy and overcrowded inflatable boats.

Reza, who fled from Afghanistan and left the rest of his family in Iran, told Reuters TV: “The water and fuel mixed up together … and we were on the sea for about seven or eight hours without any water or any food.” He said neither the Greek and Turkish coastguard had assisted the group of men, women and children. “At that moment, we, all of us, thought that we are useless, we are not human.” Greek coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said 11 people were rescued from the boat that sank and a twelfth swam ashore in the early hours. The girl who died was found unconscious and was later declared dead in hospital, Lagkadianos said, adding that the coastguard and Greek navy were searching for survivors. Fifteen babies and children were among 34 refugees who died when their boat capsized off the small island of Farmakonisi last Sunday. Twenty-two others drowned and 200 were rescued two days later trying to reach Kos.

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To be continued.

30 Refugees Missing In New Boat Sinking Off Greece On Sunday (AFP)

Nearly 30 migrants were feared missing off the Greek island of Lesbos, the coastguard said Sunday, in the latest boat sinking in an ongoing Aegean Sea tragedy that has cost hundreds of lives. The coastguard said it had rescued 20 people spotted in the water by a helicopter from EU border agency Frontex, but the survivors said another 26 people had been in the boat. The state news agency ANA said there were children among those missing. On Saturday, a five-year-old Syrian girl died in another attempted crossing from Turkey to Greece, and there were no news on another dozen people who were in the boat with her. The accident again occurred east of the island of Lesbos, one of the Greek islands that has seen a heavy influx of refugees from war-torn Syria this year.

Many have perished trying to cross the Aegean Sea in search of a better future in Europe. Earlier this month, harrowing pictures of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat carrying his family to the Greek island of Kos sank, caused an outpouring of emotion around the world, pressuring European leaders to step up their response to the refugee crisis. The body of another four-year-old Syrian girl washed up on a beach in western Turkey on Friday. Migrants have in recent days turned to Turkey’s land borders with Greece and Bulgaria to avoid the sea voyage that has cost over 2,600 people their lives in the Mediterranean this year. Greece has seen over 300,000 refugees and migrants enter the country this year, most of them passing through to other European countries.

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Much as Europe is criminally negligent, this is a global issue, not a European one.

Europe Needs To Take Big Numbers Of Refugees. Until Then Chaos Reigns (Guardian)

Europe’s heads of government gather this week for a meeting billed as a last-ditch effort to resolve the refugee crisis sweeping the continent. But the pace of arrivals has accelerated so fast that the deal some are touting as a solution to the challenge is actually more of a stopgap measure to tackle an emergency. Politicians in Brussels have been arguing fiercely about where 120,000 refugees should be allowed to settle, even though tens of thousands more have already travelled into the continent. Borders are being sealed with bewildering speed, as columns of desperate people move from country to country in their attempt to find a haven. And winter is only likely to bring a pause, rather than an end, to the crisis.

The sea crossing from Turkey to Greece may soon be partly “sealed” by harsh weather, but migration groups have warned that many people will die in a desperate attempt to cross before the seas get too stormy. And when spring comes again, the exodus will almost certainly pick up. Claude Moraes, MEP and chair of the European parliament’s justice, civil liberties and home affairs committee, said: “My concern is that we have had this paralysis for so long that the numbers are now out of date. So even if we get [a deal] on Wednesday we are going to have to lift them again. The EU has worked hard on this. But these were figures for the start of the crisis, not now.” Countries from the Balkans to Denmark are sealing land borders, setting up a chain of obstacles that may eventually all but block passage for refugees to prosperous western European nations.

But the journeys from Turkey to Europe’s eastern edge will be almost impossible to stop. Franck Düvell, senior researcher at Oxford University’s migration observatory, said: “Along the sea border with Greece there are too many routes and beaches. [Turkish authorities] can launch operations like they are doing around Bodrum now, but people will find other routes and other beaches.” The long, irregular coastline will always be a challenge, and Turkish police and border guards have told Düvell they are stretched too thin by other emergencies to monitor it all now. “They are at the limits of what they can do, and at the moment their priority lies in the east, borders with Syria and Kurdish areas.” While sea crossings are possible, they will continue to be made.

The trip is relatively short, and although the odds of survival may seem terrifying to people watching from safety, many fleeing war or the endless suffocating limbo of refugee camps long ago decided that they are not unreasonable. “You can’t block the border with Turkey in any meaningful way,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration. “There is the rise of expectation that you can do it, the push factor of people with Isis at their back, and the result is they put themselves at far greater risk than they would have before.” Only an unlikely peace, a moderation of the violence in Syria or far better conditions in regional refugee camps are likely to reduce the number of boats landing on Greek shores. Tighter border controls further north will only trap new arrivals in Greece, where they will still be a European responsibility.

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“If you scream about foreigners usurping the nation here, people might mistake you for a fascist. Back in America, you can be a frontrunner in a major political party.”

Greece Is Making America Look Bad (Pittsburgh Post-Gazatte)

More than 200,000 refugees fleeing mayhem in the Middle East already have worked their way this year from Turkey to Greece, site of the worst economic crisis to hit a developed country since World War II. About 100,000 illegal immigrants come each year from Mexico to the United States, which has 30 times as many people as Greece and a vastly more prosperous economy. So which country is witnessing the meteoric rise of an anti-immigrant political figure? Hint: It’s not Greece. It’s America, of course, where Donald Trump has shot to the top of the Republican presidential fold on an astoundingly nativist platform: Put up a wall between the United States and Mexico, deport anyone who is in America illegally and deny birthright citizenship to their offspring.

And that’s not because waves of Mexicans have been sneaking across our borders to steal jobs and commit crimes, as Mr. Trump would have you believe. Illegal immigration declined with the recession of 2007-2009 and remains a relative trickle. As for Mr. Trump’s fear-mongering, undocumented workers are less likely to engage in criminal activity than native-born citizens. It’s been especially depressing to watch Mr. Trump’s ascent from here in Greece, which has an actual — rather than imagined — flood of newcomers on its hands. On the islands closest to Turkey, especially Kos and Lesbos, 33,000 migrants have arrived in the last month alone. Despite their own economic crisis, however, Greeks have aided the refugees in every way they can.

Greece dispatched 60 extra coast guard officials to register refugees on the island of Lesbos, where an estimated 20,000 people were sleeping in streets and parks awaiting travel permits. The government also provided special ferries to transport refugees to Athens, where most of them will continue toward other destinations in Europe. In the wake of the debt deal signed earlier this summer, however, the government’s capacities are obviously limited. So ordinary citizens have stepped into the breach. Spurred by photos of a drowned Syrian child who was trying to reach Greece, vacationers in speedboats have rescued people cast adrift on the sea. Waves of volunteers have been providing food and clothing for refugees when they get to shore.

To be sure, there have also been reports of young thugs beating refugees. And the far-right Golden Dawn party has tried to capitalize on the crisis, spreading a rumor earlier this summer that Muslim immigrants had defecated in churches on Lesbos. “We will do everything we can to protect the Greek homeland against immigrants,” the party declared in response to the defecation story, which was later exposed as a lie. As Greece braces for elections Sunday, however, Golden Dawn’s popularity has remained in single digits. Its leader has denied the Holocaust, which took the lives of an estimated 60,000 Greek Jews. Its symbol is a slightly modified swastika. And whereas Donald Trump wants to build a wall on America’s southern border, Golden Dawn advocates putting land mines around Greece to kill illegal immigrants.

But Golden Dawn also helps to stigmatize anti-immigrant sentiment in Greece, in ways that might surprise Americans. If you scream about foreigners usurping the nation here, people might mistake you for a fascist. Back in America, you can be a frontrunner in a major political party.

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“Around 13,000 people entered Austria on Saturday, according to the Red Cross, after being forced away from to Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia”

Thousands Of Refugees Pour Into Austria As European Crisis Intensifies (AFP)

Thousands of refugees have streamed into Austria after being shunted through Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia as Europe’s divided nations stepped up efforts to push the migrants into neighbouring countries. The continent’s biggest migratory flow since 1945 has opened a deep rift between western and eastern members of the European Union over how to distribute the refugees fairly, and raised questions over the fate of the Schengen agreement allowing borderless travel within the 28-nation bloc. Several countries have imposed border controls, as recent figures have shown nearly half a million people have braved perilous trips across the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, while the EU has received almost a quarter of a million asylum requests in the three months to June.

In Austria, up to 13,000 people entered the country over the course of Saturday alone, the head of the Austrian Red Cross told the APA news agency. The figure was not immediately confirmed by local police, who had said earlier they were readying for an influx of around 10,000 refugees and migrants. Austrian police said Hungary had shipped at least 6,700 people to the border, with more expected in the Burgenland border region by the end of Saturday. Hungary’s rightwing government has faced international criticism over violent clashes with migrants and a hastily-erected fence along its frontier with Serbia, but in a shift late Friday, Hungarian authorities began transporting thousands of migrants straight to the border with Austria, an apparent bid to move them through and out of their territory as quickly as possible.

There was no let-up in the stream of people making the gruelling journey across the Balkans into western Europe, with Croatia saying 20,700 had entered the country since Wednesday. Zagreb, which initially said it would allow migrants to pass through freely, announced it was swamped on Friday and began transporting hundreds to the Hungarian border by bus and train – sparking a furious reaction from Budapest. Despite the row, Croatian and Hungarian authorities appeared to be coordinating on the ground. An AFP journalist along the frontier between the two countries saw migrants board Croatian buses that took them to the border, before disembarking and crossing on foot then boarding Hungarian buses that quickly departed.

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Shifting disasters.

Exhausted Migrants Left With Few Options on Slovenian Border (WSJ)

In this small Croatian village, an army tent has been set up to cater for the hundreds of migrants stranded at the border crossing with Slovenia. Volunteers with the local Red Cross and Caritas are sorting through donated clothes and pouring hot ratatouille into plastic bowls. A sturdy, tattooed man is piling the fresh meals onto a large tray. “We delivered 600 meals yesterday and today we’re prepared for 2,000,” says Joakim Nilsson, a student from Sweden who traveled to the Balkans to help out wherever he could. “This is a world crisis,” he says about the thousands of migrants and refugees who have streamed daily from Serbia into Croatia after Hungary sealed its border.

At the border crossing, where a two-lane bridge is sealed off and guarded by a dozen of Slovenian riot police, the crowd is exhausted and angry. Many refuse Mr. Nilsson’s meals or prefer instead to walk back into the village where there is shade and stretchers for them to rest. Eventually, however, his tray is empty. “Good luck,” he tells one of the refugees. “And see you in Sweden.” The migrants, a mix of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Africans, have been waiting for three days, and only on Saturday morning did two buses arrive to take some of them to a registration center in Slovenia. “When is a bus coming—when?” they repeatedly ask police officers wearing helmets, shields, batons and cans with pepper spray. But the officers remain silent.

At least one of those cans was used the night before, around midnight, when tensions flared as a group of migrants started pelting the police cordon with plastic bottles and sticks. A spokeswoman from the Slovenian Interior Ministry, Vesna Drole, maintained that only one officer used pepper spray against “a single protester” who was part of a larger group trying to break through the police cordon. “Pepper spray is one of the milder means of coercion that police may use to maintain public order and ensure people’s safety,” she added.

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Time for UN to act, not talk.

UN Warns European Unity At Risk As Borders Close To Refugees (Guardian)

Europe’s biggest refugee crisis in 70 years atomised into a chaotic series of border confrontations and diplomatic disputes this weekend, as crowds of refugees were blocked from passing through a number of crossings in central Europe, prompting the UN to warn that the concept of European unity was at risk. Hungary sent armoured vehicles to its border with Croatia, while Slovenian police sealed several crossings after Croatia attempted to offload tens of thousands of refugees who are using it as an alternative entry point to the European Union.

Croatian policemen accompanying hundreds of migrants into Hungary were disarmed by their Hungarian counterparts and turned away, while Slovenian police used pepper spray to ward off hundreds, mostly Syrians and Afghans, trying to cross to reach the countries of northern Europe. The chaos had been sparked by Hungary’s decision to shut off its southern border with Serbia, blocking a well-trodden refugee railroad that has brought more than 170,000 refugees into the EU since the start of the year. In response, refugees flooded instead into Croatia, which immediately tried to move them back into Hungary and Slovenia, prompting quasi-military manoeuvres from its neighbours.

Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, called Hungary’s actions “incomprehensible”, given that no refugee wanted to stay in Hungary, and said the situation was “the ugliest thing I have seen in Croatia since the [Balkans] war”. He also refused to seal Croatia’s border, because “even if that were possible under the constitution – and it is not – it means killing people”. In response, Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said Croatia had “lied in the face” of Hungary. He argued that Croatia had failed to show adequate solidarity with Hungary by sending refugees across their border, just days after the same refugees had rushed into Croatia after being blocked from crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border.

The UN warned that failure to agree on a united response to the crisis endangered the concept of European unity. Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative on international migration, said: “If there is no agreement to share refugees between the countries of the European Union, it risks undermining the very essence of the European project.” Sutherland was also surprised at how central and eastern European countries were undermining some of the EU’s key values so soon after joining its membership. “It’s amazing that this is the reaction of central and eastern Europe to the whole concept of solidarity, having only just joined,” Sutherland said.

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“..as new workers would help finance a generous set of welfare benefits..” Sure.

Bank of Finland Governor Supports Opening Door to Migrants (WSJ)

An influx of migrants into Finland could give the small Nordic nation’s shrinking economy a shot in the arm, as new workers would help finance a generous set of welfare benefits, Bank of Finland Governor Erkki Liikanen said Saturday. “More foreign workers would support our economic growth,” the central banker told Finnish television. Mr. Liikanen’s recommendation to open Finland’s doors to foreigners echo comments heard in Germany—where government and business leaders have said the large migrant stream into Europe represents an opportunity to rejuvenate a fast-aging population and boost the economy Finland has experienced three years of stagnation and is expecting gross domestic product growth of only 0.3% this year.

Although Mr. Liikanen cautioned the process of integrating refugees could be “difficult,” the central banker’s view contrasts sharply with the anti-immigration sentiment prevailing among Finns and the government they elected in June. Earlier on Saturday, the Finnish government introduced rules on processing asylum seekers in a bid to tighten Finland’s borders following an increasing number of refugees entering the country from Sweden through a northern checkpoint. The Finnish Interior Ministry said the new rules would see all refugees registered at the country’s border upon arrival. The Finnish Police and Immigration Service have tightened family reunification criteria, saying they aimed to make swift decisions on applications deemed unfounded.

Inside the government, the anti-immigrant camp is led by Timo Soini, leader of the populist Finns Party, who was named deputy prime minister and foreign minister in June. He serves in the government of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, who has pledged to repair the country’s recession-choked economy through deep spending cuts.

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Bigger priority than stocks?! “A full 39% of individual wealth in China is kept in housing, and, according to Nomura, 21% of China’s urban households possess more than one home.”

Do China’s Ghost Cities Offer A Solution To Europe’s Migrant Crisis? (Reuters)

Nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees have already claimed asylum in Europe and tens of thousands more are flooding the borders in search of places to live. Meanwhile, in China, there are millions of new apartments sitting completely empty and entire sections of freshly constructed cities that are virtually uninhabited. This disparity between unmet housing need and oversupply has not been lost on many around the world, and after writing a book about China’s ghost cities, I’ve recently found my email inbox getting flooded with suggestions such as this: Do you think the Ghost Cities could be used, even as a temporary situation, to accommodate those displaced from Syria? It seems that many of the cities are just waiting for a community and here is a community that needs a city.

This sentiment is widespread across popular social media platforms, and on Twitter alone roughly 7 out of 10 results for searches pertaining to China’s ghost cities reveal tweets recommending the mass movement of Syrian refugees to these under-populated urban terrains. Realistically speaking, this suggestion isn’t worth analyzing with much depth. The political quagmire of relocating masses of people across the planet — not to mention the fact that refugees need more than just housing — means that this is a far greater ordeal than simply assuaging demand with supply. It does shed light, though, on the gulf that exists between the predominant international opinion on China’s so-called ghost cities and their present reality.

Even though there are between 20 and 45 million unoccupied homes across China, which account for roughly 600 million square meters of uninhabited floor space — enough to completely cover Madrid — these places are not the urban wastelands they are often posited to be. While many of China’s new cities and urban districts are deficient in people they are not deficient in owners. Nearly every apartment that goes on the market in China is quickly purchased, often at exorbitant prices that commonly range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Far from being unwanted infrastructure that could seamlessly be doled out to refugees, those arrays of vacant high-rises are actually the proud possessions of people who paid a lot of money for them.

So why would anyone spend incredible amounts of cash on houses they do not intent to use? All over the world, the value of property extends beyond the utilitarian function of being a place to live. Real estate is also a vital economic entity that presents an avenue for investment as well as a way of storing wealth — a use of property that is taken to the extreme in China. “Many Chinese investors are buying property based on expectations of appreciation, and that it is a solid, safe investment that they can easily understand,” said Mark Tanner, the founding director of China Skinny, a Shanghai based marketing research firm.

A full 39% of individual wealth in China is kept in housing, and, according to Nomura, 21% of China’s urban households possess more than one home. The reasons for this desire to invest in housing often results from a lack of better options. China’s banks pay negative interest and are becoming even more unattractive with the recent wave of currency devaluation. Wealth management products are not fully developed and are highly regulated by the government, and the stock market is viewed to be about as secure as a casino.

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Curious travel itinerary. Pope and XI are in US at the same time. Xi is due in Washington on Thursday, just two days after the Pope?!

Xi Jinping: Does China Truly Love ‘Big Daddy Xi’ – Or Fear Him? (Guardian)

[..] spin doctors have set about building a cult of personality around their leader with books, cartoons, pop songs and even dance routines celebrating Xi Dada’s rule. Earlier this month, thousands of troops goose-stepped through Tiananmen Square as part of a massive military parade proclaiming Xi’s unassailable position at the party’s helm. “There is this aristocratic flair which has now become more apparent, particularly after the military parade,” said Lam. “The word demi-god would be an exaggeration but after the military parade he looked like an emperor.” Many ordinary Chinese appear enamoured with their 21st century emperor. “He has the backing of the whole country,” claimed Zhang Jingchuan, the songwriter from Sichuan province, describing his leader as an approachable man of ideas.

Human rights activists, liberals and dissidents – some of whom will gather in the United States this week to protest the Chinese president’s visit – have been less impressed. Since Xi came to power, there has been a concerted effort to obliterate civil society in China, with moderate and once-tolerated critics including human rights lawyers, feminists, religious leaders and social activists harassed or thrown in prison. More than 200 lawyers have been detained or interrogated as part of a sweeping crackdown on their trade that began in July. At least 20 remain in detention or are missing, prompting calls for Barack Obama to cancel Xi’s visit to the US. “We had hoped for something different,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch. “We are surprised by just how bad it is.”

MacFarquhar blamed the dramatic tightening on Xi’s obsession with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which followed Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts at reform. “When he first came in he exhibited how much the Gorbachev phenomenon had spooked him. He is very conscious of long-term threats – and maybe he doesn’t see it as long-term. If he is only thinking in terms of 10 years, now is the time to solidify the country and he thinks he knows how to do it.” Yet for all Xi’s apparent muscle – one academic has dubbed him the Chairman of Everything – not everyone is convinced by the growing legend of Xi Dada. “I never bought the powerful leader narrative at all. But now it’s publicly displayed to be a fiction,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, a respected observer of the Chinese economy and politics, who believes the recent stock market debacle and deadly Tianjin explosions exposed a president far weaker than many had thought.

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AIIB.

How China Decided To Redraw The Global Financial Map (Reuters)

Plans for China’s new development bank, one of Beijing’s biggest global policy successes, were almost shelved two years ago due to doubts among senior Chinese policymakers. From worries it wouldn’t raise enough funds to concerns other nations wouldn’t back it, Beijing was plagued by self-doubt when it first considered setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in early 2013, two sources with knowledge of internal discussions said. But promises by some Middle East governments to stump up cash and the support of key European nations – to Beijing’s surprise and despite U.S. opposition – became a turning point in China’s plans to alter the global financial architecture.

The overseas affirmation, combined with the endorsement of stalwart supporters, including a former Chinese vice premier and incoming AIIB President Jin Liqun, a former head of sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp, enabled China to bring the bank from an idea to its imminent inception. The bank’s successful establishment is likely to bolster Beijing’s confidence that it can play a leading role in supranational financial institutions, despite the economic headwinds it is facing at home. “At the start, China wasn’t very confident,” one of the sources said in reference to Beijing’s AIIB plans. “The worry was that there was no money for this.”

A Finance Ministry delegation that called on Southeast Asian nations to gauge interest in the AIIB was not encouraging, the source said. Governments backed the idea, but were too poor to contribute heavily to the bank’s funding. But subsequent visits to the Middle East helped to win the day as regional governments informed China they needed new infrastructure and, crucially, were able to pay for it, a source said. “They are all oil-producing countries, they have foreign currencies, they were very enthusiastic, and they could shell out the cash,” he said. “That was when we thought ‘Ah, this can be done.'”

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“The key debate then should be around the pace and extent of this rise, not whether it should take place at all.”

The US Federal Reserve Has Got It Wrong (Andrew Sentance)

The US Federal Reserve decided not to raise the key policy rate in the US this week. That would be an understandable decision if rates were at or close to a normal level. But they are not. Interest rates of 0.5% in the UK and 0-0.25% in the US are the lowest recorded levels in history. Seven years into a recovery, central bankers need to explain why the interest rate playing field is still so heavily tilted to borrowers. Continuing with such low interest rates in the UK and the US, when unemployment rates are back to 5-5.5% and our economies are growing well, raises some more profound questions about monetary policy in the west. First, how independent are central banks? Since the 1990s, the Fed and the Bank of England have pursued policies similar to the ones any well-meaning government official would have chosen.

They have cut interest rates very readily, but when they have raised them (in 1994-5 and 2005-7) they have been behind the curve. Independent central banks were established precisely to avoid this “behind the curve” interest rate policy. But it has not worked. Once again, they are at serious risk of lagging behind in their interest rate decisions as the major western economies climb out of the post-crisis recession. Second, if interest rates cannot rise now, when will they increase? In the case of the US, growth has averaged over 2% for more than six years since the recovery started in mid-2009. Unemployment has halved from around 10% to 5% over roughly the same period. Yet interest rates remain stuck — close to zero. A similar position prevails in the UK.

A multitude of reasons have been advanced for delaying the first rate rise: sluggish growth in all the major western economies in 2011-12; the euro crisis in 2013-14; and now the Fed is citing weak economic growth in China and the impact this has on financial markets. If you look around hard enough, there can always be a reason for not raising interest rates. But that highlights the key problem. Monetary policymakers are very timid at the moment. They are lions who have lost their roar. The third problem is that central bankers appear to lack a clear strategy for monetary policy. Their implicit strategy is that interest rates will remain at current excessively low levels — until sufficient evidence accumulates to raise them. But a more realistic approach to keeping monetary policy on a steady and neutral course would involve a gradual rise in interest rates over the next few years. The key debate then should be around the pace and extent of this rise, not whether it should take place at all.

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Liar, liar, economy on fire.

A Divided Fed Pits World’s Woes Against Domestic Growth (Reuters)

Federal Reserve policymakers appeared deeply divided on Saturday over how seriously problems in the world economy will effect the U.S., a fracture that may be difficult for Fed Chair Janet Yellen to mend as she guides the central bank’s debate over whether to hike interest rates. Though last week’s decision to again delay an interest rate increase was near-unanimous, drawing only one dissent, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard called the session “pressure-packed” as members debated whether global uncertainty or the continued strength of the U.S. economy deserved more attention. In the end the committee felt that tepid global demand, a possible weakening of inflation measures, and recent market volatility warranted waiting to see how that might impact the U.S.

Bullard, who does not have a vote this year on the Fed’s main policy-setting committee, said he would have joined Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker’s dissent, and worried the central bank had paid too much attention to recent financial market gyrations. Markets sold off sharply this summer over concerns about a slowdown in China and weak world growth, leaving Fed officials to vet whether that reflected a short-term correction or more fundamental problems on the horizon. “Financial markets tend to wax and wane, sometimes suddenly. Monetary policy needs to be more stable,” said Bullard, who in prepared remarks here to the Community Bankers Association of Illinois said he did not think the Fed “provided a satisfactory answer” to why rates should stay near zero.

The economy is near full employment, and inflation will almost certainly rise, Bullard said, leaving the Fed’s near seven-year stay at near zero rates out of line with the broad economic picture. In a statement Lacker said he felt the current low rates “are unlikely to be appropriate for an economy with persistently strong consumption growth and tightening labor markets.”

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“Some people call this stealing economic activity from the future..”

Stuck At Zero: Global Risks Have Tied The Fed’s Hands (Forbes)

On the seventh anniversary of the implosion of Lehman Brothers, an event that rocked the global economy, it’s more than ironic that the main topic of global financial discussion has been a rate hike by the Federal Reserve, which just announced that it would leave rates unchanged yet again. Behind the scenes, more interesting is the growing list of risks which may be tying the FOMC’s hands behind their back. The Fed should have hiked rates in 2012, but every day they put off the rate raise, Lehman-like systemic risk is lurking and rising. It’s a Colossal Failure of Common Sense all over again. With all the debate about what exactly the Federal Reserve should do with short-term interest rates, historical perspective is something that’s being left behind.

The U.S. has had near zero short-term interest rates before. The period of 1932 to 1953 was defined by rates that were between zero and 2.1%. The last time we hit the zero bound, we stayed very close to it for upwards of 21 years. This is not something you hear often from economists these days. The main reason central banks raise and lower rates is to shift consumption around and smooth out periods of stagnation. The Fed’s dual mandate of non-accelerating inflation and full employment defines the characteristics of the smoothing that society wants to see. Low rates pull consumption and investment forward and allow projects to be undertaken that otherwise would have to wait. Some people call this stealing economic activity from the future, but we must keep our eye on the incentives created by Fed policy.

On the other hand, higher rates make debt more expensive and push consumption and investment out. This year, most economist have felt the Fed is looking to “tap the brakes” on the improving U.S. economy. The other pressing issue is high debt levels. The Fed is in no hurry to hike rates with debt levels so high in the post-Lehman era. The U.S. hit its debt ceiling in March, at $18.1 trillion, but the devil is in the details, or what’s called interest costs as a%age of federal spending. As you can see below, net interest outlays are on course to more than double by 2017 from 2005 levels. Interest costs on the staggering U.S. debt load, added together with government entitlement spending, is nearing 71% of Federal spending, compared to 26% in the early 1960s. Is this sustainable?

There’s a price to pay for six years of a zero interest rate policy, it’s not free. As the world’s most influential central bank has kept interest rates so low for so long, debt has piled up in all kinds of global pockets, especially in emerging markets. According to the Bank of International Settlements, emerging markets’ total debt to GDP ratio has surged to nearly 170%, up from 100% just before Lehman’s failure. Even more disturbing, according to Bloomberg data: there’s a strong correlation between the surge in emerging market debt levels and the cost of credit default protection. Investors wanting to insure themselves against the risk of EM defaults are paying up for the privilege these days.

U.S. Government Net Interest Outlays
2005: $150 billion
2009: $190 billion
2017: $335 billion
*Data from CBO

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The lower the price, the more producers will pump.

US Oil Tumbles 4.7% To Settle At $44.68 A Barrel (Reuters)

U.S. oil prices fell about 5% on Friday after U.S. energy firms cut oil rigs for a third week in a row this week, data showed on Friday, a sign the latest crude price weakness was causing drillers to put on hold plans announced several months ago to return to the well pad. The drop comes amid increased concerns about the outlook for energy demand. The U.S. central bank warned of the health of the global economy and bearish signs persisted that the world’s biggest crude producers would keep pumping at high levels. Drillers removed eight rigs in the week ended Sept. 18, bringing the total rig count down to 644, after cutting 23 rigs over the prior two weeks, oil services company Baker Hughes said in its closely followed report. Those reductions cut into the 47 oil rigs energy firms added in July and August after some drillers followed through on plans to add rigs announced in May and June when U.S. crude futures averaged $60 a barrel.

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“Can you imagine what would happen in the U.S. if you cut spending by 20 or 30% and cut Social Security? You’d have riots in the streets, more so than we ever saw in Greece.”

Jim Chanos on What Lies Ahead for Greece (Lynn Parramore)

Jim Chanos, the well-known hedge fund manager and president and founder of Kynikos Associates, is half Greek on his father’s side. He has been traveling to the country since 1970 and has also been active in the Greek community in the United States. A long-time observer of Greece, he became more involved in 2010 when he was part of a group that met with then-prime minister Papandreou to offer some pro bono advice. Since then, he has been watching closely from the sidelines with increasing levels of concern. In the following interview, he discusses how Greece reached this point of crisis, the upcoming elections, and what lies ahead.

LP: You’ve recently returned from a trip to Greece to visit family and friends. How did you find the mood in the country?

JC: It was grim — away from the vacation spots, of course, which are more international than domestic locations. I’d gotten there just after they’d finally agreed to sign the third memorandum. There was a general sense of resignation and not knowing what else they can do. The feeling of the people I spoke to — whether high level or people in restaurants and tavernas — was that they [the Troika] have them by the short hairs because of the banking system. And I think that was pretty clear. Really, there was no sense of any chance of this working out with an alternative currency. To this day we’re really not quite sure whether they had that planned — various reports differed as to whether they could have even done it — but I think that there’s just this general level of resignation coupled with despair amongst people worried about the long-term growth of the country and its well-being. People are worried about their kids, as they should be.

LP: I think pretty much everybody agrees that the negotiations with the Troika have been a fiasco. How do you assess what’s happened? Who is to blame?

JC: It’s important to understand that while Syriza may have botched the negotiations —and I do I think there’s a general consensus that they did or at least didn’t play it as well for their country as they could have — they didn’t cause this mess. When the first memorandum was signed and then agreed to by PASOK and Papandreou, and then the follow-on was agreed to by Samaras and New Democracy to the right, in effect they were the same types of understandings. But they couldn’t work from the get-go because, as we now know, there was no net new money in any meaningful way coming into Greece. Whatever new capital was coming in was just a way to keep the banks current. It was going in the front door and out the back door.

Greece really did a decent job from an austerity point of view. They brought down spending, they raised taxes. I know there’s this belief that the Greeks are just world-class tax evaders, but in fact, in terms of taxes collected as a%age of GDP, they’re now quite a bit higher than a number of European countries because a lot of the taxes are indirect: the Greeks couldn’t evade them if they wanted to. They also cut spending dramatically. Can you imagine what would happen in the U.S. if you cut spending by 20 or 30% and cut Social Security? You’d have riots in the streets, more so than we ever saw in Greece.

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This weekend Greece, next weekend Catalunya.

Catalonia Separatists: Spanish State Has Failed. We Can Change This (Guardian)

At the port of Tarragona recently, with the sun shining on the harbour, it became clear that Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), the Catalan independence coalition which hopes to score a significant victory next weekend, is a pretty big tent. Asked about a controversial megacomplex of hotels, casinos and theme parks in the works, candidate Germà Bel was confident that the project would create wealth and jobs for the area. But Raül Romeva, charismatic leader of the Together for Yes list, doubted whether the project would actually go ahead. “It’s not a done deal,” he hedged. Spanish media seized on the moment as evidence of the uneasy bedfellows that had joined together for Catalonia’s forthcoming regional elections.

But Romeva, who leads the Junts pel Sí ticket, sees the unwieldy coalition backed by the conservative Democratic Convergence party, the leftwing Catalan Republican Left and grassroots independence activists, as a sign of the extraordinary moment Catalonia is experiencing. “This is a movement that goes from left to right, spanning conservatives, liberals, ecologists, sociologists and many others,” he told the Observer. “It’s a consequence of necessity.” For the past decade, he argued, the Spanish state has failed to represent the plurality of the country: “What we have is the opportunity to change all this.” His coalition seeks to turn the 27 September ballot into a de facto referendum on independence, segregating parties by their stance on the question and launching the region’s most ambitious move in recent years in the push to break away from Spain.

“If there is a majority, we will have to manage that result. If there is not a majority, we will have to accept that and move on.” Polls suggest that pro-independence parties could win a slim majority in the 135-seat regional parliament. If so, Catalan leader Artur Mas has pledged to lead a transitional government, lasting no longer than 18 months, which will begin drafting a Catalan constitution and work towards negotiating secession with the central government in Madrid. A leftist who dresses in jeans and wears bright yellow glasses, Romeva comes across as a bridge between the diverse groups that make up Junts pel Sí. Born in Madrid and raised in Catalonia, he said his position on independence was cemented in 2010, when Spain’s constitutional court ruled that Catalonia’s status and powers could not be considered tantamount to nationhood.

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Channel Greece: “The system will crash. Elderly people won’t get the care they need, and it will be people with mental ill health who suffer most, because that is where the squeeze always comes.”

UK’s NHS To Collapse Within Two Years, Warns Former Health Minister (Guardian)

The National Health Service will crash within two years with catastrophic consequences unless the government orders an immediate multibillion pound cash injection, the former minister in charge of care services says. The stark assessment from Norman Lamb, minister of state at the Department of Health until May’s general election, comes as fears mount among senior NHS officials, care providers and local authorities that NHS and care services are approaching breaking point. In an interview with the Observer, Lamb, a Liberal Democrat who was at the heart of policymaking during the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, accuses the government of dishonesty in failing to admit the scale of the problems.

He says that an increasing number of private companies and other organisations contracted to provide care by local authorities are refusing to tender again because cash-starved councils, already hit by budget cuts of more than 40% since 2010, cannot pay enough to let them run adequate services. Lamb says the result is that more elderly people in particular will end up in already overstretched hospitals, compounding the crisis. Pre-election promises by the Tories to provide an additional £8bn for the health service by 2020, on top of £2bn extra pledged at the end of last year, are insufficient and too vague to reassure anyone, he argues.

“If the investment is not made upfront and in the early period of this parliament, you could see serious failures in the system,” he said. “The system will crash. Elderly people won’t get the care they need, and it will be people with mental ill health who suffer most, because that is where the squeeze always comes.” While the promised extra money would help, it was nowhere near enough. “I don’t think anyone in the NHS believes that is enough. The government talks very vaguely about an extra £8bn by 2020, but it is needed now. If it comes in 2019-20, the system will have crashed by then. I think the next two years will make or break the NHS and the care system.”

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