Feb 282020
 


Lewis Wickes Hine Gus Hodges, 11, instructs brother Julius 5. I found Gus selling as late as 9 pm, Norfolk VA 1911

 

England Only Has 15 Beds For Worst Respiratory Cases (G.)
Diagnosis Of Coronavirus Patient In California Was Delayed For Days (NPR)
The Last Time This Happened Was Days Before The Great Depression (ZH)
Whistleblower Claims ‘Corrupt Cover-Up’ Of Dangerous Coronavirus Quarantines (ZH)
Greece Reports 4 Coronavirus Cases, Cancels Carnival (K.)
Abe Urges Japan March School Shutdown To Stem Coronavirus (R.)
EU Experts: Closing Borders ‘Ineffective’ For Coronavirus (EUO)
Turkey Says Can’t Contain Europe-Bound Syrian Refugees Amid Idlib Battle (RT)
Idlib Attack That Killed 33 Turkish Soldiers Was ‘Also Against NATO’ (RT)
East Africa Faces New Locust Threat (R.)
Not Quack-Checked! MSM Dives For ‘Chinese Duck Army’ Story (RT)
How Gold Is Manipulated (Rickards)
Biden Treated Ukraine ‘As His Private Property’ – Ex-Prosecutor Shokin (RT)
Ethics Complaint Questions How Devin Nunes Pays For Lawsuits (Hill)
UK Mainstream Media Participate In Assange Crucifixion (Galloway)
Julian Assange Leaked US Files For Political Ends – Lawyers (G.)
Your Man in the Public Gallery – The Assange Hearing Day 3 (Craig Murray)

 

Cases 83,733 (+ 1,314 from yesterday’s 82,419).

Deaths 2,860 (+ 52 from yesterday’s 2,808)

 

• Holland (2), N-Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria(!!), Lithuania first case
• Italy 653 cases, 17 deaths
• France 38 cases from 18 yesterday
• Germany 14 new cases, total 48
• Iran 245 confirmed cases, 26 deaths
• South Korea 256 new cases, total 2,337, over 1,000 new cases in 48 hours.
• China 327 new cases and 44 new deaths
– 180 million students homeschooled
• California 28 cases, monitoring 8400
• Greece 4 cases
• Starbucks says 85% of Chinese restaurants reopened
• Countries (Japan, UK) prepare to close down schools for months on end

From SCMP:

 

 

From Worldometer (Note: mortality rate down to 7%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I said yesterday: Coming to a town near you soon.

England Only Has 15 Beds For Worst Respiratory Cases (G.)

England only has 15 available beds for adults to treat the most severe respiratory failure and will struggle to cope if there are more than 28 patients who need them if the number of coronavirus cases rises, according to the government and NHS documents. Ministers have revealed in parliamentary answers that there are 15 available beds for adult extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment at five centres across England. The government said this could be increased in an emergency. There were 30 such beds in total available during the 2018-19 winter flu season. But an NHS England document prepared in November 2017 reveals the system will struggle to cope if more than 28 patients need the treatment, describing that situation as black/critical.

It suggests that if no beds are available “within the designated and surge capacity” in the UK, they might have to be sourced from other countries, for example, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. ECMO treatment is used in only the most severe cases of respiratory failure when other treatments are not working. It uses an artificial lung located outside the body to put oxygen into a patient’s blood and continuously pump this blood into and around their body. It has been used to treat Covid-19 cases in China, which is ordering more machines from Germany, according to state media.

In answer to a Labour MP’s question on Thursday about coronavirus preparedness, Jo Churchill, a health minister, said: “Since April 2013, NHS England has commissioned a total of 15 adult respiratory extra corporeal membrane oxygenation beds from five providers in England, with further provision in Scotland. In periods of high demand, capacity can be increased.” Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, questioned the readiness of the NHS to deal with a sharp escalation of coronavirus cases after years of cutbacks. “After years of Tory austerity, we know we’ve lost well over 15,000 beds since 2010,” he said. “We know that last week critical care bed occupancy was running at over 80%…”

https://twitter.com/TVRav/status/1232985651831812096

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Curious: “..in some labs, the third step of that, they were having trouble with getting a quality control validation on that, so it led to inconclusive results,” Azar said. “We now, as of yesterday afternoon, the FDA authorized the use of those tests by using just the first and second step.”

Diagnosis Of Coronavirus Patient In California Was Delayed For Days (NPR)

The first suspected U.S. case of a patient getting the new coronavirus through “community spread” — with no history of travel to affected areas or exposure to someone known to have the COVID-19 illness — was left undiagnosed for days because a request for testing wasn’t initially granted, according to officials at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif. The patient in Northern California is now the 60th confirmed case of the coronavirus in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed the latest case Wednesday evening, as President Trump assigned Vice President Pence to lead the administration’s response to the disease.

“This case was detected through the U.S. public health system — picked up by astute clinicians,” the CDC said in a brief statement about the new patient. UC Davis included more details about the case in its own statement, drawing on an email sent to staff at its medical center. It said the CDC initially ruled out a test for the coronavirus because the patient’s case didn’t match its criteria. “UC Davis Health does not control the testing process,” the hospital noted. The new patient, who lives in Solano County and has not been identified, was transferred to UC Davis Medical in Sacramento County from another hospital this month.

Staff at UC Davis then suspected the patient might be infected with the coronavirus that has caused more than 2,800 deaths. “Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID-19,” the hospital said. “We requested COVID-19 testing by the CDC, since neither Sacramento County nor CDPH [California Department of Public Health] is doing testing for coronavirus at this time. Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process.”

[..] The CDC has completed more than 3,600 coronavirus tests, Azar said during a congressional budget hearing on Thursday. While he said it hasn’t had a testing “backlog,” he added that the agency’s test has three steps — and that the last step has posed some problems. “What we found was that in some labs, the third step of that, they were having trouble with getting a quality control validation on that, so it led to inconclusive results,” Azar said. “We now, as of yesterday afternoon, the FDA authorized the use of those tests by using just the first and second step.”

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The “markets” woke up 5-6 weeks late, but now they’re clued in

The Last Time This Happened Was Days Before The Great Depression (ZH)

The US equity market is suffering its worst start to a year since 2009…

In the space of just six days, we went from record high to a ‘correction’ (over 3,000 Dow points and down over 10.5%)…

What is most ominous is the fact that, as NatAlliance Securities reports, “This would be only the second time in history that this has happened. The other? 1928.”

In other words, the only other time the Dow Jones entered a correction this fast from an all time high was months before the start of the Great Depression.

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“..the coronavirus response [is] officially an election issue now…”

Whistleblower Claims ‘Corrupt Cover-Up’ Of Dangerous Coronavirus Quarantines (ZH)

A complaint filed with Health and Human Services (HHS) and promptly leaked to the New York Times alleges that federal health employees interacted with Americans quarantined for possible coronavirus exposure without proper medical training or protective gear, and that health agency leaders engaged in a ‘corrupt cover-up’ when staff members complained, according to the Times. Filed with the Office of the Special Counsel, a whistleblower described as a ‘senior leader’ at HHS said the team was “improperly deployed” to two California military bases to assist with processing American evacuees from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere.

The staff members were sent to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base and were ordered to enter quarantined areas, including a hangar where coronavirus evacuees were being received. They were not provided training in safety protocols until five days later, the person said. Without proper training or equipment, some of the exposed staff members moved freely around and off the bases, with at least one person staying in a nearby hotel and leaving California on a commercial flight. Many were unaware of the need to test their temperature three times a day. -New York Times

[..] The Times notes that the complaint comes right after President Trump began to downplay the risks of coronavirus on US soil “amid bipartisan concern about a sluggish and disjointed response by the administration to an illness that public health officials have said is likely to spread through the United States.” In other words, the coronavirus response officially an election issue now.

“The whistle-blower’s account raised questions about whether the Trump administration has taken adequate precautions in its handling of the virus to date, and whether Mr. Trump’s minimization of the risks has been mirrored by other top officials when confronted with potentially disturbing developments.” -New York Times

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Update just in from Reuters:

“Greek woman who recently returned home from northern Italy became Greece’s fourth coronavirus case and is being closely monitored, health authorities said on Friday. The 36-year-old woman has been admitted to a coronavirus isolation unit of the capital’s Attikon Hospital.”

Greece Reports 4 Coronavirus Cases, Cancels Carnival (K.)

Greece reported two new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to three, and said it would suspend all carnival celebrations in the country. The health ministry said one of the cases involved a relative of a 38-year-old woman in the northern town of Thessaloniki who became the first confirmed case in Greece. The woman had recently returned from Milan in northern Italy, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. The third reported case, in Athens, was a female who had also visited northern Italy. Among events to be canceled is a carnival parade in the coastal city of Patra slated for March 1, authorities said.

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But the Olympics are on. When you close schools, hospitals close too, because that’s where the mothers work.

Abe Urges Japan March School Shutdown To Stem Coronavirus (R.)

Angry Japanese parents joined bewildered teachers and businesses on Friday in a rush to find new ways to live and work for a month after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s shock call for all schools to close in a bid to stop coronavirus spreading. Abe’s unprecedented move late on Thursday to ask local authorities to shut down their schools means students will be out of school from Monday at least until the new academic year starts in early April. Earlier this week the government urged that big gatherings and sports events be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks to contain the virus while pledging that the 2020 Summer Olympics will go ahead in Tokyo.

As of Friday, confirmed cases in Japan topped 200, with four deaths, excluding more than 700 cases and four more deaths from the quarantined cruise liner Diamond Princess. While the virus has hit China hardest so far, causing nearly 80,000 infections and almost 2,800 deaths, according to official Chinese figures, its rapid spread to a number of other countries around in the world in the past week has stoked fresh alarm. Abe’s move – issued as a formal request rather than an order – drew scathing criticism, with health officials left scratching their heads and analysts said the plan was politically motivated and made little sense.

“We’ll just have to get our revenge at the next elections,” @Ayu49Sweetfish tweeted, as working parents with young children were left wondering what to do for the duration. In the northern Hokkaido prefecture, which has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases in Japan, the governor had already announced a closure of all schools until March 4. That left one hospital closing doors to patients without reservations on Friday because about a fifth of its nurses were unable to work while their children were out of school.

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They’ll close their borders to refugees and migrants but not virus carriers. Wonder what happens when Turkey is forced to report corona cases.

EU Experts: Closing Borders ‘Ineffective’ For Coronavirus (EUO)

EU experts said on Thursday (27 February) that refusing entry to an EU country of people with coronavirus symptoms would be counter-productive and “ineffective” to prevent the spread of the virus. “Refusal of entry is not considered an appropriate preventive measure as the virus would spread further” since those potential patients would keep moving in the region without being treated, EU sources said. Instead, the experts advised having “systematic” checks for all those arriving, ensuring a coordinated approach between border guards and national authorities, as well as a real-time exchange of information. The principle of free movement of people in the EU was already in danger in 2015 when some member states introduced border check due to the migration crisis.


Today, six EU countries – Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – still have temporary border controls to prevent irregular migrant flows. However, any member state can notify the EU authorities of the intention of closing borders temporary due to the coronavirus outbreak – a decision that can only be made by member states and that cannot be vetoed by the European Commission. None have yet done so. If national authorities decide to introduce this exceptional measure, it must be justified passing a “test of proportionality”. Additionally, the commission is working on a joint procurement to ensure there is enough protective and medical equipment for health-care workers – and other authorities like the army – over fears that the outbreak of the coronavirus could lead to a supply shortage in some member states. However, this joint initiative has not been launched yet but there is an “increasing interest” among member states to be part of it, EU sources told reporters in Brussels.

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Twitter: “Turkish coastguard not patrolling as before. They just approached a boat heading to Northern #Lesbos and then they left without intercepting” a local from Skala village just told me. It seems that #Turkey‘s government meant what they said.”

Turkey Says Can’t Contain Europe-Bound Syrian Refugees Amid Idlib Battle (RT)

Turkey is no longer able to contain millions of displaced Syrians and has reached “full capacity,” Ankara’s ruling AK party said in a fresh threat to open the floodgates into Europe as tensions over Idlib reach boiling point. With Ankara vowing to go “all in” to halt a Syrian Army offensive to retake Idlib province from rebel militias, AKP spokesman Omer Celik suggested Turkey would soon allow hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to pour into Europe, a threat repeatedly made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the past. “Turkey can not bear the pressure of the new refugees, we now say that Turkey is at full capacity,” Celik told CNNTurk early on Friday.

While the spokesman noted Turkey’s refugee policy remains “the same,” he said “We are no longer in a position to hold refugees” amid an expected influx of newly displaced Syrians. An earlier report at Reuters cited an unnamed Turkish official who said much the same, although the official went further in stating that police, coast guard and border security officers had been ordered to “stand down” and allow the refugees to cross into Europe. Turkey and the European Union (EU) struck an agreement in 2016 in hopes of stemming the flow of refugees passing into Europe, with the EU providing some €6 billion ($6.6 billion) to help resettle the displaced people.

Erdogan, however, has slammed the multinational body time and again, insisting it has yet to hand over all of the promised aid. With at least 33 Turkish troops killed in the effort to stop Damascus’ offensive on Idlib – the last remaining militant stronghold, some of which are backed by Ankara – tensions between the two countries have reached new heights. Still engaged in intense skirmishes with militants in Idlib, the Syrian Army has signaled no intention of halting its advance, putting Damascus and Ankara on a collision course as the former fights to reclaim its territory.

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Western media are reluctant to mention Russia, they want the blame to be on Assad. Russia has said that Turkey is supporting terrorists in Syria.

Idlib Attack That Killed 33 Turkish Soldiers Was ‘Also Against NATO’ (RT)

The spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK party has labelled the Syrian airstrike that allegedly claimed the lives of dozens of Turkish soldiers in rebel-held Idlib an attack on NATO, calling for the US-led alliance to intervene. “We call on NATO to [start] consultations. This is not [an attack] on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” AKP spokesman Omer Celik told Turkish media on Thursday. At least 33 Turkish soldiers are said to have been killed in Idlib, the last militant stronghold in Syria, in an airstrike Ankara blamed on Damascus. In the wake of initial reports that dozens of Turkish servicemen perished in the raid, Turkish President Receep Erdogan held a 6-hour marathon meeting that concluded early Friday.


The military bloc itself, while pledging support to its “ally Turkey,” has been wary of making any promises. Apparently shocked by reports of the Turkish casualties, US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson reportedly exclaimed “Oh my gosh” in response to the news when speaking to media late Thursday, but dodged the question of whether the US-led alliance would consider invoking Article 5 – which would pave the way for a collective military response to an armed attack on one of its members. However, she did not miss out on a chance to call on Turkey to tear up its deal to buy the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, while also taking a jab at Moscow: “They see what Russia is, they see what they are doing now” – despite the fact that Ankara has not blamed Moscow for the attack.

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And Pakistan. Now add a coronavirus outbreak.

East Africa Faces New Locust Threat (R.)

Countries in East Africa are racing against time to prevent new swarms of locusts wreaking havoc with crops and livelihoods after the worst infestation in generations. A lack of expertise in controlling the pests is not their only problem: Kenya temporarily ran out of pesticides, Ethiopia needs more planes and Somalia and Yemen, torn by civil war, can’t guarantee exterminators’ safety. Locust swarms have been recorded in the region since biblical times, but unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for insect numbers to surge, scientists say. Warmer seas are creating more rain, wakening dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.


In Ethiopia the locusts have reached the fertile Rift Valley farmland and stripped grazing grounds in Kenya and Somalia. Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer. If left unchecked, the number of locusts in East Africa could explode 400-fold by June. That would devastate harvests in a region with more than 19 million hungry people, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned. Uganda has deployed the military. Kenya has trained hundreds of youth cadets to spray. Lacking pesticides, some security forces in Somalia have shot anti-aircraft guns at swarms darkening the skies. Everyone is racing the rains expected in March: the next generation of larvae is already wriggling from the ground, just as farmers plant their seeds.

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Popular story though.

Not Quack-Checked! MSM Dives For ‘Chinese Duck Army’ Story (RT)

Western media have fallen hard for an apparently fake if adorable story about a 100,000-strong “duck army” China has supposedly marched to fight the billions of locusts currently laying waste to Pakistan’s food supply. Initially published by local Chinese outlet Ningbo Evening News, the clickbait-tastic story, complete with a video showing a herd of ducks supposedly marching in formation, proved impossible to resist – or to factcheck – and spread around the world by the time people started asking questions. Supposedly reputable outlets including the BBC, Bloomberg, and Time unquestioningly parroted the story about “special Chinese ducks” that would be “more effective than pesticide” – not to mention better for the environment – in taking on the ravenous swarms.

Citing Lu Lizhi, said to be a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the stories called the ducks a “biological weapon” and predicted they’d be unleashed against the hungry insects “as early as the second half of this year” following a test-run in China’s Xinjiang province. Alas, the story of locust-eating ducks fighting the devastating biblical plague has proved to be largely quackery, media that had covered it began realizing on Thursday. Unfortunately for Pakistan, which declared a national emergency earlier this month over the devastating infestation, an avian army is not waddling to their rescue, and even if they were, they wouldn’t do much good.

The Food and Agriculture Organization did the math and found an army of 100,000 ducks could only eat 20 million locusts in a day, while just one square kilometer of swarming locusts contains anywhere from 40 to 80 million of the insects. Also, swarms may stretch over hundreds of square kilometers, as they have in some locust-stricken areas of Africa.

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Markets are falling off a cliff, and gold hardly moves. That’s what manipulation looks like.

How Gold Is Manipulated (Rickards)

Currently the price of gold is set in two places. One is the London spot market, controlled by six big banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. The other is the New York gold futures market controlled by COMEX, which is governed by its big clearing members, also including major western banks. In effect, the big western banks have a monopoly on gold prices even if they do not have a monopoly on physical gold. The easiest way to perform paper manipulation is through COMEX futures. Rigging futures markets is child’s play. You just wait until a little bit before the close and put in a massive sell order. By doing this you scare the other side of the market into lowering their bid price; they back away.

That lower price then gets trumpeted around the world as the “price” of gold, discouraging investors and hurting sentiment. The price decline spooks hedge funds into dumping more gold as they hit “stop-loss” limits on their positions. A self-fulfilling momentum is established where selling begets more selling and the price spirals down for no particular reason except that someone wanted it that way. Eventually a bottom is established and buyers step in, but by then the damage is done. Futures have a huge amount of leverage that can easily reach 20 to 1. For $10 million of cash margin, I can sell $200 million of paper gold.

[..] Another way to manipulate the price is through gold leasing and “unallocated forwards.” “Unallocated” is one of those buzzwords in the gold market. When most large gold buyers want to buy physical gold, they’ll call JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Citibank, or one of the large gold dealers. They’ll put in an order for, say, $5 million worth of gold. The bank will say fine, send us your money for the gold and we’ll offer you a written contract in a standard form. Yet if you read the contract, it says you own gold on an “unallocated” basis. That means you don’t have designated bars.

There’s no group of gold bars that have your name on them or specific gold bar serial numbers that are registered to you. In practice, unallocated gold allows the bank to sell the same physical gold ten times over to ten different buyers. It’s no different from any other kind of fractional reserve banking. Banks never have as much cash on hand as they do deposits. Every depositor in a bank thinks he can walk in and get cash whenever he wants, but every banker knows the bank doesn’t have that much cash. The bank puts the money out on loan or buys securities; banks are highly leveraged institutions.

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How long can Biden keep this documentary under wraps?

Biden Treated Ukraine ‘As His Private Property’ – Ex-Prosecutor Shokin (RT)

Former top Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin says he was pushed out under pressure from US Vice President Joe Biden, after he seized the assets of the oligarch behind Burisma, the gas company that employed Biden’s son. President Donald Trump’s efforts to investigate Biden’s role in getting Shokin fired served as a pretext for his impeachment in the House of Representatives back in December. However, after Trump was acquitted by the Senate, the US media forgot about Burisma — and Ukraine. French investigative journalist Olivier Berruyer, founder of popular anti-corruption and economics blog Les Crises, did not.

In the fourth installment of his documentary series ‘UkraineGate: Inconvenient facts,’ Shokin reveals why and how he was ousted and what role the US has played in Ukraine. Shokin tells Berruyer that Biden and the US government had approved his appointment as prosecutor-general — as, indeed, they did all major appointments in Ukraine since the 2014 Maidan upheaval? — and worked with him well until he started getting too close to Burisma. He rejected reports that described his probe as “dormant.” “Biden was acting on behalf of his own interests, and those of his family, and not in the interest of the American people,” Shokin said, adding that Barack Obama’s VP “believed that Ukraine was his private property, his fiefdom and that he could do whatever he wanted here.”

Within a few days of Shokin seizing the assets of Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch owner of Burisma, President Petro Poroshenko summoned him and told him to back off. “Don’t you understand what Biden wants from you? Why are you getting into this Burisma stuff again?” Shokin quoted Poroshenko as saying. Within a few weeks, he was replaced by someone Biden called “more solid” – Yuriy Lutsenko, who had no training in law, and whom Shokin describes as a traitor to Ukraine.

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Absolutely non-partisan.

Ethics Complaint Questions How Devin Nunes Pays For Lawsuits (Hill)

A nonpartisan watchdog group in an ethics complaint Wednesday asked Congress to investigate how Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is paying for several ongoing lawsuits against critics. In its complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Campaign Legal Center notes Nunes’s annual congressional salary of $174,000 would likely not cover the costs of the various suits, indicating that he is either receiving free or discounted legal services or working on contingency with an attorney, all of which would require him to disclose the assistance. Nunes has yet to file a legal expense fund with the Office of Congressional Ethics. “Representative Nunes’s overt involvement with the highly-publicized lawsuits threatens to establish a precedent that the Legal Expense Fund regulations no longer apply to Members,” the complaint states. “Although Representative Nunes is entitled to legal representation and he may pursue any legal action to protect and defend his interests, he must comply with House rules,” it continued.


“An [Office of Congressional Ethics] investigation will preserve Representative Nunes’s legal right to counsel while upholding well-established House rules and precedent.” Defendants in Nunes’s lawsuits include Twitter, CNN, McClatchy and two anonymous Twitter accounts that have mocked him. The complaint also claims that even if Nunes was paying Virginia attorney Steven Biss based on contingency — meaning that should Nunes win his cases, Biss would get paid by taking a percentage the resulting award — Biss has also sent two letters demanding apologies for criticisms from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Nunes’s 2017 opponent Andrew Janz. “Mr. Biss sent a letter to Representative Lieu threatening to bring an ethics complaint against him,” the complaint reads. “An ethics complaint will not result in a monetary award that could support payment under a contingency fee agreement.”

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“..the arrow that flies in the night..”

UK Mainstream Media Participate In Assange Crucifixion (Galloway)

The vast majority of the Fourth Estate in Britain either care nothing for the plight of Julian Assange, or are actively participating in his crucifixion. On the face of it, that makes no sense. If it were the intention of these journalists to actually be worthy of that name, then the proceedings in Belmarsh would be the biggest story in their world. The law being tested in the Woolwich Crown Fort would be a mortal danger to them, a dagger at their throat, a sword of Damocles hanging over their head. The prosecution made perfectly clear that the mere possession by a newspaper or a broadcaster of the foreign state secrets published by Assange would itself be a crime under the US Espionage Act, and thus they themselves open to an extradition request from a foreign state.


Though this statement was made in “open court,” virtually no msm journalist even reported it, never mind condemned it. How has this situation come about? Whatever happened to Woodward and Bernstein, to the Sunday Times devastating campaign against the Thalidomide scandal, the New York Times revelations of the Pentagon Papers? Where is the reporting about My Lai? The answer lies in the words of Francis Bacon four centuries ago, when he foretold of the impact of self-censorship: “the arrow that flies in the night” he called it. You don’t see it but it kills its quarry just the same. If Julian Assange is sent into the dungeons of America, free journalism, free speech and even democracy itself will have been murdered in plain sight. On the British mainstream media watch.

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“Fitzgerald responded that Assange didn’t only seek to change US government policy, but that he succeeded.”

Julian Assange Leaked US Files For Political Ends – Lawyers (G.)

Julian Assange’s legal team has rejected a suggestion by lawyers for US authorities that his actions were not “political offences”, arguing that the WikiLeaks founder had published classified documents to highlight human rights abuses. On the fourth day of Assange’s extradition hearing in London, before proceedings were adjourned until May, his barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, said the motives for publishing confidential information about Guantánamo Bay and the actions of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan were political. Assange faces 18 charges in the US of attempted hacking and breaches of the Espionage Act over the publication of classified US cables a decade ago.

His defence argues that he should be protected from extradition because the US-UK treaty rules it out for political offences. James Lewis QC, a barrister for the US authorities, argued earlier on Thursday that Assange’s actions were not inherently political as they did not have the direct purpose of overthrowing the US government or changing US government policy. “Any bare assertion that WikiLeaks was engaged in a struggle with the US government … needs to be examined far more,” he told Woolwich crown court. Fitzgerald responded that Assange didn’t only seek to change US government policy, but that he succeeded. “WikiLeaks didn’t just seek to induce change, it did induce change,” he said, referring to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

“What other purpose can there be publishing the Apache helicopter strike [video, showing the killing of 12 people] and [US] rules of engagement than to show that the war was being waged in a way that conflicted with fundamental human rights? “What other point can there be to releasing the Guantánamo Bay files than to induce a government change of policy? And the same for revealing civilian deaths in the Iraq war – [it] was to induce a change in government policy.’’

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Murray in court.

Your Man in the Public Gallery – The Assange Hearing Day 3 (Craig Murray)

Edward Fitzgerald made a formal application for Julian to be allowed to sit beside his lawyers in the court. Julian was “a gentle, intellectual man” and not a terrorist. Baraitser replied that releasing Assange from the dock into the body of the court would mean he was released from custody. To achieve that would require an application for bail. Again, the prosecution counsel James Lewis intervened on the side of the defence to try to make Julian’s treatment less extreme. He was not, he suggested diffidently, quite sure that it was correct that it required bail for Julian to be in the body of the court, or that being in the body of the court accompanied by security officers meant that a prisoner was no longer in custody.

Prisoners, even the most dangerous of terrorists, gave evidence from the witness box in the body of the court nest to the lawyers and magistrate. In the High Court prisoners frequently sat with their lawyers in extradition hearings, in extreme cases of violent criminals handcuffed to a security officer. Baraitser replied that Assange might pose a danger to the public. It was a question of health and safety. How did Fitzgerald and Lewis think that she had the ability to carry out the necessary risk assessment? It would have to be up to Group 4 to decide if this was possible. Yes, she really did say that. Group 4 would have to decide.

Baraitser started to throw out jargon like a Dalek when it spins out of control. “Risk assessment” and “health and safety” featured a lot. She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade. “No jurisdiction” – “Up to Group 4”. Recovering slightly, she stated firmly that delivery to custody can only mean delivery to the dock of the court, nowhere else in the room. If the defence wanted him in the courtroom where he could hear proceedings better, they could only apply for bail and his release from custody in general. She then peered at both barristers in the hope this would have sat them down, but both were still on their feet.

In his diffident manner (which I confess is growing on me) Lewis said “the prosecution is neutral on this request, of course but, err, I really don’t think that’s right”. He looked at her like a kindly uncle whose favourite niece has just started drinking tequila from the bottle at a family party. Baraitser concluded the matter by stating that the Defence should submit written arguments by 10am tomorrow on this point, and she would then hold a separate hearing into the question of Julian’s position in the court.

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From Greece.

 

 

 

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May 162016
 
 May 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 16 2016


Harris&Ewing Ford Motor Co. New medical center parking garage, Washington, DC 1938

Goldman: The Median Stock Has NEVER Been More Overvalued (ZH)
The Business Of Corporate America Is No Longer Business – It Is Finance (FT)
Stockman: Trump Will Scare The Hell Out Of The Markets, But That’s OK (CNBC)
Trump’s ‘Print the Money’ Proposal Echoes Franklin and Lincoln (E. Brown)
India’s Central Bank Governor Warns On Stimulus Overuse (FT)
Average Asking Price For UK First-Time Buyer Home Jumps 6.2% In A Month (G.)
CERN Discovers New Particle Called The FERIR (Steve Keen)
Isn’t it Time to Stop Calling it “The National Debt”? (Steve Roth)
Forget the Saudis, Nigeria’s the Big Oil Worry (BBG)
China Housing Revival Props Up Economy (WSJ)
China’s Record $26 Billion Buyout Deals at Risk of Unraveling (BBG)
China Private Sector Investment Is Declining (R.)
China’s Record Daily Steel Output Bodes Ill for Global Industry (BBG)
How Investors Are Duped Each Earnings Season (MW)
Battle Brews in Spain, Portugal Over Negative Mortgage Rates (WSJ)
Refugee Numbers Returned To Turkey Fall Short Of EU ‘Expectations’ (FT)

In some places, this would be called a bubble.

Goldman: The Median Stock Has NEVER Been More Overvalued (ZH)

When Goldman warned on Friday that a “big drop” in the market is possible before the S&P hits the firm’s year end price target of 2,100, one of the bearish reasons brought up by the firm’s chief strategist David Kostin is that stocks are now massively overvalued. In fact, according to Goldman , while the aggregate market is more overvalued than 86% of all recorded instances, the median stocks has never been more overvalued, i.e., is in the 100% valuation percentile, according to some key metrics such as Price-to-Earnings growth and EV/sales.

This is what Goldman said: “Valuation is a necessary starting point of any drawdown risk analysis. At 16.7x the forward P/E multiple of the S&P 500 index ranks in the 86th percentile relative to the last 40 years. Most other metrics paint a similar picture of extended valuation. The median stock in the index trades at the 99th percentile of historical valuation on most metrics (see Exhibit 3).” Goldman’s conclusion: “The most likely future path of US equities involves a lower valuation.”

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America no longer makes much of anything anymore.

The Business Of Corporate America Is No Longer Business – It Is Finance (FT)

One of the great ironies of business today is that the richest and most powerful companies in the world are more involved than ever before in the capital markets at a time when they do not actually need any capital. Take Apple, which has around $200bn sitting in the bank, yet has borrowed billions of dollars in recent years to buy back shares in order to bolster its stock price, which has lagged recently. Why borrow? Because it is cheaper than repatriating cash and paying US taxes, of course. The financial engineering helped boost the California company’s share price for a while. But it did not stop activist investor Carl Icahn — who had manically advocated borrowing and buybacks — from dumping the stock the minute revenue growth took a turn for the worse in late April. Apple is not alone in eschewing real engineering for the financial kind.

Top-tier US businesses have never enjoyed greater financial resources. They have $2tn in cash on their balance sheets – enough money combined to make them the tenth largest economy in the world. Yet they are also taking on record amounts of debt to buy back their own stock, creating a corporate debt bubble that has already begun to burst (witness Exxon’s recent downgrade). The buyback bubble is only one part of a larger trend, which is that the business of corporate America is no longer business – it is finance. American firms today make more money than ever before by simply moving money around, getting about five times the revenue from purely financial activities, such as trading, hedging, tax optimisation and selling financial services, than they did in the immediate postwar period. No wonder share buybacks and corporate investment into research and development have moved inversely in recent years.

It is easier for chief executives with a shelf life of three years to try to please investors by jacking up short-term share prices than to invest in things that will grow a company over the long haul. It is telling that private firms invest twice as much in things like new technology, worker training, factory upgrades and R&D as public firms of similar size — they simply do not have to deal with market pressure not to. Indeed, the financialisation of business has grown in tandem with the rise of the capital markets and the financial industry itself, which has roughly doubled in size as a percentage of gross domestic product over the past 40 years (even the financial crisis did not keep finance down; the industry itself shrank only marginally and the largest institutions that remained became even bigger). As finance grew, so did its profits — the industry creates only 4% of US jobs yet takes around 25% of the corporate profit share.

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“..Why would you hang in a boiling pot where the upside is 2% and the downside is 40?”

Stockman: Trump Will Scare The Hell Out Of The Markets, But That’s OK (CNBC)

Former Reagan administration aide David Stockman has a message for the next president: The markets are going down for the count and you can’t do anything about it! President Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget said in a recent CNBC interview it doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump gets elected in November — neither will be able to stop the economic meltdown that’s looming. Wall Street seems to have its mind made up about which candidate it prefers. More than 70% of respondents to a recent Citigroup poll of institutional clients said the former secretary of state, first lady and New York senator would likely become the U.S.’s 45th president. Just over 10% gave Trump the nod, and small business owners appear to be divided between the GOP and Democratic standard bearers.

Stockman, however, doesn’t believe either one can prevent what may be on the horizon. “There’s no way the next president can stop a recession that’s already baked into the cake,” Stockman said Thursday in the “Futures Now” interview. Stockman has been calling for a major market downturn and global recession for some time, but he is more certain than ever that it could happen during this political cycle. He pointed to depleting earnings, peaked auto sales, inventory ratios and issues in the freight and rail space as some key indicators that the U.S. economy is more unstable than people would like to believe. “The idea that this economy is somehow going to get stronger in the second half, or that the next president can stall a recession I think is wrong,” he said.

According to Stockman, there is “plenty of evidence” that the U.S. will slip into a recession by year-end or shortly after. And as he sees it, that could send the S&P 500 spiraling to levels not seen since 2012. “The market can easily drop to 1,300,” Stockman warned. That represents a nearly 40% fall from where the large-cap S&P 500 Index is currently trading. “We have been trading in a range for the last 600 days plus or minus days 2,060 on the S&P 500. … Why would you hang in a boiling pot where the upside is 2% and the downside is 40?” Stockman noted that if given a choice between Trump and Clinton, he certainly would not want another Clinton in the White House. Instead, he said America needs a disruptor like Trump to “break the chains of the status quo” and manage the country in a different way than what has been done in the last decade.

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It’s time this becomes a serious discussion.

Trump’s ‘Print the Money’ Proposal Echoes Franklin and Lincoln (E. Brown)

“Print the money” has been called crazy talk, but it may be the only sane solution to a $19 trillion federal debt that has doubled in the last 10 years. The solution of Abraham Lincoln and the American colonists can still work today.
“Reckless,” “alarming,” “disastrous,” “swashbuckling,” “playing with fire,” “crazy talk,” “lost in a forest of nonsense”: these are a few of the labels applied by media commentators to Donald Trump’s latest proposal for dealing with the federal debt. On Monday, May 9th, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate said on CNN, “You print the money.”

The remark was in response to a firestorm created the previous week, when Trump was asked if the US should pay its debt in full or possibly negotiate partial repayment. He replied, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.” Commentators took this to mean a default. On May 9, Trump countered that he was misquoted:

People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt – these people are crazy. This is the United States government. First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, okay? So there’s never a default.

That remark wasn’t exactly crazy. It echoed one by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who said in 2011:

The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So there is zero probability of default.

Paying the government’s debts by just issuing the money is as American as apple pie – if you go back far enough. Benjamin Franklin attributed the remarkable growth of the American colonies to this innovative funding solution. Abraham Lincoln revived the colonial system of government-issued money when he endorsed the printing of $450 million in US Notes or “greenbacks” during the Civil War. The greenbacks not only helped the Union win the war but triggered a period of robust national growth and saved the taxpayers about $14 billion in interest payments. But back to Trump. He went on to explain:

I said if we can buy back government debt at a discount – in other words, if interest rates go up and we can buy bonds back at a discount – if we are liquid enough as a country we should do that.

Apparently he was referring to the fact that when interest rates go up, long-term bonds at the lower rate become available on the secondary market at a discount. Anyone who holds the bonds to maturity still gets full value, but many investors want to cash out early and are willing to take less. As explained on MorningStar.com:

If a bond with a 5% coupon and a ten-year maturity is sold on the secondary market today while newly issued ten-year bonds have a 6% coupon, then the 5% bond will sell for $92.56 (par value $100).

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“..central banks “cannot claim to be out of ammunition because immediately that would create the wrong kind of expectations..”

India’s Central Bank Governor Warns On Stimulus Overuse (FT)

Central banks and governments of rich countries are running out of ammunition for stimulating their economies, says Raghuram Rajan, the head of the Indian central bank — but they can never admit as much. Speaking to the Financial Times at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in London, Mr Rajan criticised efforts to use fiscal and monetary policy and infrastructure programmes to boost growth rates in advanced economies. Long a critic of low interest rates in rich countries that can drive hot-money flows to poorer parts of the world, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India suggested that loose policies were also weakening the underlying performance of advanced economies.

Although Mr Rajan said there were limits on stimulus, he said central banks “cannot claim to be out of ammunition because immediately that would create the wrong kind of expectations, so there’s always something up their sleeves”. Mr Rajan said he was a supporter of stimulus policies to “balance things out” over short periods when households or companies were proving excessively cautious with their spending. But eight years after the financial crisis, we “have to ask ourselves is that the real problem?”. “I have this image of stimulus as a bridge,” he said. “As the economy goes down, there is an expectation it will come up. Stimulus is a bridge which smoothes over the growth rate of the economy and prevents damaging expectations from building up.”

If stimulus went on for a long time, if it did not work, he said, the adjustment would be sharp, indicating there was little room for further stimulus. Mr Rajan warned governments not to rely too much on fiscal stimulus through cutting taxes or increasing public spending. “If your debt to GDP is over 100%, [and you] do more fiscal stimulus, you’d better have a pretty high rate of return in mind, otherwise your younger and middle-aged generations are thinking ‘This thing is not going to return enough, but I’m going to have to pay for it’.”

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Want to know how to bankrupt a society?

Average Asking Price For UK First-Time Buyer Home Jumps 6.2% In A Month (G.)

The average asking price of a typical first-time buyer home leapt by 6.2% in a month after buy-to-let investors rushed to buy properties before last month’s stamp duty increase, according to figures on Monday. The average for properties coming on to the market in England and Wales with two bedrooms or fewer was £11,298 higher in May than in April, at £194,224, according to data from the property website Rightmove. The figures, based on properties listed during the month, showed that across the UK the average price of a first-time buyer property had risen by 11.4% since May 2015. In hotspots such as Croydon, Dartford and Luton – all towns within easy commuting distance of central London – asking prices were up by more than 18% over the year.

The figures do not include inner-London homes. The website said strong demand from investors keen to buy before the introduction of the surcharge on second homes had caused a “property drought” at the lower end of the market, putting upwards pressure on prices for those homes that were being made available. However, Rightmove’s director, Miles Shipside, said: “It remains to be seen if these prices can be achieved and there may be some over pricing in the market. It is also a reflection of better quality property coming to market in this sector which is now targeting owner-occupiers rather than landlords.”

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Brilliantly hilarious must read.

CERN Discovers New Particle Called The FERIR (Steve Keen)

CERN has just announced the discovery of a new particle, called the “FERIR”. This is not a fundamental particle of matter like the Higgs Boson, but an invention of economists. CERN in this instance stands not for the famous particle accelerator straddling the French and Swiss borders, but for an economic research lab at MIT—whose initials are coincidentally the same as those of its far more famous cousin. Despite its relative anonymity, MIT’s CERN is far more important than its physical namesake. The latter merely informs us about the fundamental nature of the universe. MIT’s CERN, on the other hand, shapes our lives today, because the discoveries it makes dramatically affect economic policy.

CERN, which in this case stands for “Crazy Economic Rationalizations for aNomalies”, has discovered many important sub-economic particles in the past, with its most famous discovery to date being the NAIRU, or “Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment”. Today’s newly discovered particle, the FERIR, or “Full Employment Real Interest Rate”, is the anti-particle of the NAIRU. Its existence was first mooted some 30 months ago by Professor Larry Summers at the 2013 IMF Research Conference. The existence of the FERIR was confirmed just this week by CERN’s particle equilibrator, the DSGEin. Asked why the discovery had occurred now, Professor Krugman explained that ever since the GFC (“Global Financial Crisis”), economists had been attempting to understand not only how the GFC happened, but also why its aftermath has been what Professor Summers characterized as “Secular Stagnation”.

Their attempts to understand the GFC continued to fail, until Professor Summers suggested that perhaps the GFC had destroyed the NAIRU, leaving the ZLB (“Zero Lower Bound”) in its place. This could have happened only if there was a mysterious second particle, which was generated when a NAIRU equilibrated with a GFC. Rather than remaining in equilibrium, as sub-economic particles do in DSGEin, NAIRU apparently vanished instantly when the GFC appeared. Something else must have taken its place. DSGEin was unable to help here, since it rapidly returned to equilibrium—while the real world that it was supposed to simulate clearly had not. CERN’s attempts to model this phenomenon in DSGEin were frustrated by the fact that a GFC does not exist inside a DSGEin—in fact, the construction of the DSGEin was predicated on the non-existence of GFCs.

The ever-practical Professor Krugman recently suggested a way to overcome this problem. Why not turn to the real world, where GFCs exist in abundance, and feed one of those into the DSGEin? Unfortunately, the experiment destroyed the DSGEin, since the very existence of a GFC within it put it through an existential crisis. However, before it broke down (while mysteriously singing the first verse of “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do”), the value for the NAIRU in DSGEin suddenly turned negative. This led Professor Summers to the conjecture that perhaps there was a negative anti-particle to the NAIRU, which he dubbed the FERIR.

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It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Isn’t it Time to Stop Calling it “The National Debt”? (Steve Roth)

Fourteen. Trillion. Dollars. That’s how much the U.S. government “owes.” You hear that massive number all the time, right? And people are forever telling you that you and your family are on the hook to pay off that scary huge number. There are 125 million U.S. households. You do the arithmetic. The horror. What those scare-mongers don’t tell you, and generally don’t even understand: it actually makes almost no sense to call that figure “the national debt.” And no, you’re not on the hook to pay it back. Imagine this: you’re the queen or king of a sovereign country. You decide to mint and issue a bunch of tin coins that your people will find useful. You use those coins to buy stuff from people in the private sector, and pay them to do work. Voilà, the people have money.

Is your government now in “debt” as a result of that “deficit spending”? Does it have to “pay” something to somebody at some point in the future? Do you have to redeem those coins for wheat or pigs or anything else? Obviously not. There’s just a bunch of money out there that people can use. You’ve made no promise that your treasury will ever redeem those coins for anything. They just circulate. Those government-issued assets, held by the private sector, are only “liabilities” to the government in the most pettifogging accounting sense. If you “owed” some money that you would never, ever have to pay, would you put that on your balance sheet as a liability? Would it be anything beyond a pro forma entry designed to satisfy some obsessive impulse for accounting closure? A debt that will never be paid off is a very questionable “liability.”

That’s essentially the situation with the U.S. national “debt.” The U.S. issues money by deficit spending. It puts more money into private accounts than it takes out via taxes. The private sector has more balance-sheet assets (but no more liabilities, so it has more “net worth,” the balancing item on the righthand side of its balance sheet). The treasury has made no promises to redeem that new money for…anything (except maybe…different government-issued assets). It’s just out there. Now it’s true that the U.S. et al operate under an arguably archaic and purely self-imposed rule: their treasuries are required to issue bonds equal to that deficit spending. This is a straightforward asset swap: the private sector gives checking-account deposits (back) to the government, and the government gives bonds in return.

Private sector assets and net worth are unaffected by that accounting swap; it just changes the private-sector portfolio mix — more bonds, less “cash.” (Treasury “forces” the private sector to make that collective portfolio-adjusting swap through the simple expedient of selling bonds at an attractive price — a point or two below similar deals in the private sector.) The same kind of asset swap happens when the Fed “prints money” for quantitative easing. The private sector gives bonds (back) to the government, and the Fed gives “reserves” in return — deposits in banks’ Fed accounts. Sure, the Fed creates those reserves ab nihilo, but they’re not a money injection into the private sector, like deficit spending. They’re just swapped for bonds. That accounting event doesn’t increase private-sector assets or net worth. It just changes the private-sector portfolio mix (more reserves, less bonds).

In any case, the private sector is holding government-issued assets. Whether they consist of bonds, “cash,” or reserves, is it realistic to call that money originally spent into private accounts a “debt” for the government? Is it in any real sense a government “liability” if it will never be redeemed for anything?

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Big Oil’s decades of criminal activity come home to roost.

Forget the Saudis, Nigeria’s the Big Oil Worry (BBG)

Drag your attention away from the Middle East for a moment. While policymakers have been focused on Saudi Arabia’s oil market machinations, what really matters right now is happening 3,000 miles away in the Niger River delta. The country that was, until recently, Africa’s biggest crude producer is slipping back into chaos. A wave of attacks and accidents have hit infrastructure, taking Nigeria’s output down to 20-year lows. Oil prices are responding, rising to their highest in more than six months. Part of this is explained by the IEA lifting demand estimates this week. But taking both things together, it’s easy to doubt whether current oil surpluses are sustainable. With no solution in sight to the problems that beset the delta’s creeks and mangrove swamps, production from onshore and shallow-water oil fields looks vulnerable.

If the latest group of freedom fighters seeks to outdo its predecessors, then deepwater facilities may be at risk too.The Niger Delta Avengers have certainly been busy, forcing Shell’s Forcados terminal to shut in about 250,000 barrels of daily exports; and breaching an offshore Chevron facility in the 160,000 barrels per day Escravos system. In April, ENI had to declare force majeure – letting it stop shipments without breaching contracts – on exports of its Brass River grade after a pipeline fire. It’s hard to see any long-term let-up given Nigeria’s record on fixing this problem. The previous wave of discontent, which hit a peak in 2009, only came to an end when President Yar’Adua offered amnesty, training programs and monthly cash payments to nearly 30,000 militants, at a yearly cost of about $500 million.

Some leaders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the militant group, got lucrative security contracts. But the failure to properly address local grievances means it was only a matter of time before another wave of angry young men took up the fight for a better deal for southern Nigeria. The crisis has been hastened by new president Muhammadu Buhari’s termination of the ex-militants’ security contracts and his seeking the arrest of former MEND leaders. The Avengers now say they want independence for the Niger River delta. And it’s not as if Nigeria’s oil woes are limited to the militants. Exxon had to declare force majeure on Qua Iboe exports after a drilling platform ran aground and ruptured a pipeline, while Shell did similar with Bonny Light exports after a leak from a pipeline feeding the terminal.

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Beijing will flood in enough money to ‘reach its targets’ while talking about clamping down.

China Housing Revival Props Up Economy (WSJ)

China’s housing market is showing nascent signs of recovery after a two-year downturn, helping to counter a slowdown in the broader economy but prompting fresh warnings about a buildup of debt. Property prices and sales have risen in recent months, driven by looser lending policies, accompanied by a sustained advance in new construction. That occurred even though China is weighed down by unsold homes with enough square footage to fill seven Manhattan islands. “Property developers’ appetite has returned,” said Xia Qiang, a senior partner at Yi He Capital, which provides loans to property firms. “Just two weeks ago four developers from Fujian and Zhejiang asked if there were any projects they could invest in in Shanghai.”

From January to April, housing sales rose 61.4% to 2.41 trillion yuan ($369 billion) from a year ago, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Saturday. Property investment in the first four months of this year rose 7.2% to 2.54 trillion yuan. Construction starts gained 21.4% to 434.3 million square meters. But the rosy statistics present a quandary for Chinese officials. After engineering a credit-fueled property upturn, Beijing has started tapping the brakes amid concern that it has overshot, economists say. Among the fixes Beijing has imposed are a decrease in bank lending and more purchase restrictions on some of the hottest property markets, including Shanghai and Shenzhen. A column in the official People’s Daily recently criticized debt-fueled growth policies, warning that China faces a “property bubble.”

The zigzag policy reflects China’s tough balancing act in a nation where empty apartment towers ring many smaller cities. It wants to boost the property sector enough to hit its 6.5%-plus growth target for 2016 without making its overcapacity and debt problems too much worse, economists said. “New loans are pouring into the real-estate sector,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, economist with investment bank Natixis, part of France’s Groupe BPCE. “But the elephant in the room is credit risk.”

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This is about money that doesn’t at all want to move back home, no matter how lucrative that may seem.

China’s Record $26 Billion Buyout Deals at Risk of Unraveling (BBG)

The great retreat of Chinese companies from the U.S. stock market is hitting a snag. Concern last week that Chinese regulators may restrict overseas-traded companies from returning home helped erase more than $5 billion in the market value of firms seeking to do so. Shares of companies from Momo to 21Vianet have plunged at least 20% since May 6 amid speculation that the management-led investor groups may back away from the buyout deals or lower their purchase prices. The selloff marks another twist in the saga of U.S.-listed Chinese companies seeking to go private, lured by the prospect of relisting at higher valuations in Shanghai or Shenzhen. More than 40 have received buyout offers worth at least $35 billion since the beginning of 2015.

About three quarters of the deals are still pending, including Qihoo 360, whose $9.3 billion offer is the largest. The unraveling started on May 6 when the China Securities Regulatory Commission said that it’s studying the impact of companies seeking to relist domestically after withdrawing from overseas. The regulators are concerned the valuations estimated for some domestic backdoor listings are too high and could affect the stability of the stock market, according to the people familiar with matter. Policy makers also want to avoid encouraging more buyouts that could prompt capital outflows, the people said.

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The one sector Beijing cannot control is the biggest there is. “Pushing on a string” comes to mind. “Interest rates are low, but investment is declining, which shows that the overall market – domestic and overseas market – is not good,” he said.”

China Private Sector Investment Is Declining (R.)

Xia Xiaokang and Bruno Chen, who both run private-sector companies, are the sort of businessmen that Chinese leaders are increasingly concerned about as economic growth slows. Beijing is counting on the private sector to invest more in the economy and take up the slack as the government tries to engineer a shift away from largely state-run heavy industry to more entrepreneurial and services-led growth. Unfortunately, just when China needs the private sector to step up, they look to be stepping back. “We plan to downsize our business rather than expand,” said Chen, who runs Ningbo Tengsheng Garments Co in the coastal export hub of Zhejiang province in eastern China. “We cannot feel any improvement in the economy,” he said.

Xia, general manager of Wenzhou Kingsdom Sanitary Ware, some 400 km from Shanghai, similarly lacks confidence in the economy. “We have hardly made any fixed-asset investment since last year and we now plan to rent out part of our factory building because it’s too big,” he said. After March data suggested that economic activity was finally picking up after a long slowdown, April figures released at the weekend suggested otherwise. Overall investment, factory output and retail sales all grew more slowly than expected. Private-sector investment for January to April grew just 5.2%, its weakest pace since the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) started recording the data in 2012. More worrying, private-sector investment is decelerating sharply from rates near 25% in 2013, to just 10% last year and now just over 5%.

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Damn the torpedoes!

China’s Record Daily Steel Output Bodes Ill for Global Industry (BBG)

China’s record daily steel output in April bodes ill for an embattled global steel industry already reeling from a deluge of exports from the world’s top producer. Crude steel output over the month rose 0.5% to 69.42 million metric tons from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Saturday. The gains came after mills ramped up production to take advantage of a spurt higher in prices that has given them the best profits this decade. While below March’s record monthly figure of 70.65 million tons, the daily rate of 2.314 million tons was higher due to fewer producing days and surpassed the previous best set in June 2014. “Given how high margins went, we’ve been expecting to see a supply response like this,” Ian Roper at Macquarie said in a WeChat message. “Chinese mills will likely look back to the export market as domestic oversupply reappears.”

China’s overseas sales in the first four months were already running 7.6% higher than a year earlier, piling on the pressure after the nation shipped a record 112 million tons in 2015. Output remaining at such elevated levels “definitely adds to oversupply risks and exports may continue to rise,” said Helen Lau, Hong Kong-based analyst at Argonaut Securities. In a sign that China is recommitting to the reform of its bloated state sector, its top producer, Hebei Iron & Steel, said Friday it’ll cut 5.02 million tons of capacity. That still leaves a way to go. Japan’s biggest mill, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, also said Friday that it would take control of a smaller domestic steelmaker in a bid to weather a “rapid deterioration of the business environment” caused in part by overcapacity in China of some 400 million tons.

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It’s all so sad it’s funny.

How Investors Are Duped Each Earnings Season (MW)

A year ago, we explained the many ways companies make reading their quarterly earnings reports a miserable task. We weren’t just whining. We wanted to remind companies that our readers regularly tell us they struggle to understand earnings announcements, and our job is to decode them for investors. Making that difficult isn’t helping anyone. We noted that some of their tactics – inventing or manipulating numbers, using meaningless jargon, distributing lame executive quotes, and more — can be outright damaging, eroding investor trust and creating skepticism. We hoped they’d change their ways. We’re sorry to say that today, as another earnings season draws to a close, things are even worse.

“Companies are definitely less transparent than they used to be,” said Leigh Drogen, founder and chief executive of Estimize, which crowdsources earnings estimates. They are “using accounting schemes that are more specific to … how they want investors to perceive their results.” Earnings are a crucial quarterly update for investors, as they provide the “best unbiased” view of what’s going on with companies, sectors and the economy, said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior market strategist at Voya Investment Management. “Earnings discount all the noise,” she said. But today, according to FactSet, more than 90% of S&P 500 companies use their own metrics in an attempt to make their numbers look better. Some conceal revenue and other key numbers in hard-to-access tables.

And a recent NYSE rule change has led some companies to report very early in the morning and pushed others to join the posse reporting after the closing bell, creating bottlenecks. While all this has meant more stress for reporters and analysts, it’s also made things harder for everyday investors trying to do due diligence on the companies they own. Experts say more companies seem to be breaking the most fundamental pact they have with their co-owners: to keep them informed of the true state of their business. “It’s a holographic presentation bubble distorting underlying operational reality,” said analyst Nicholas Heymann at William Blair. “Companies are working all the angles.”

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What you get when decision makers don’t understand their fields.

Battle Brews in Spain, Portugal Over Negative Mortgage Rates (WSJ)

As interest rates in Europe fall near or below zero, lawmakers and consumer advocates in Spain and Portugal are attacking an ancient tenet of finance by insisting that lenders can owe money to borrowers. Banks in the two countries, struggling to recover from recessions that shook their financial systems, are fighting back, with billions of dollars in mortgage interest payments potentially at stake. Portugal’s central-bank governor, in a reversal, has rushed to defend the banks against a proposed law that would require them to pay borrowers when interest rates turn negative. Banks in both countries are rewriting new mortgage contracts to warn homeowners that they could never profit from subzero rates.

In Spain and Portugal, banks typically tie interest rates on mortgages to the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, a fluctuating rate banks pay to borrow from each other. In addition, interest rates in both countries include a fixed percentage of the loan, called the spread. In much of Europe, by contrast, fixed mortgage rates are common. Euribor began turning negative last year after the ECB cut interest rates below zero—charging lenders to hold deposits—to stimulate the Continent’s economies. That has pulled mortgage rates into negative territory in a few isolated cases in Portugal.

The vast majority of Spanish and Portuguese mortgage holders still pay interest, because Euribor hasn’t dropped enough to wipe out the spreads. But while lenders consider further steep drops unlikely, they are taking steps to protect themselves just in case. Europe already has a precedent: Banks in Denmark are paying thousands of borrowers interest on their home loans, nearly four years after the central bank introduced negative interest rates. Danish banks have increased some fees to compensate but never mounted serious legal objections. In Spain and Portugal, bank executives said they would pay borrowers when pigs fly.

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Europeans have established the ultimate NIMBY.

Another EU plan that goes predictably off track. “Brussels wants to see group returns but Greece is looking at applications for asylum on a case-by-case basis.”

Refugee Numbers Returned To Turkey Fall Short Of EU Expectations (FT)

The number of migrants being sent back to Turkey from Greece has fallen well short of EU expectations, prompting fears that a fresh wave of arrivals could overwhelm the Aegean Islands during this summer. Fewer than 400 of the 8,500 people who have arrived on the Greek islands since the March 20 EU deal with Ankara — aimed at reducing migrant flows — have been returned to Turkey, according to figures from the Greek government’s migration co-ordination unit. Instead, Athens has approved more than 30% of the 600 asylum applications from Syrians that have been assessed since March 20, a significantly higher percentage than anticipated, according to European officials and aid workers. While the slow pace of returns will irk many in Brussels, Greek officials say it reflects their own policy on asylum requests.

They dismiss fears that the deal between the EU and Turkey could collapse if the trend continues – leading to a fresh influx – and stress that Greece’s migration laws do not recognise Turkey as a safe third country for refugees. Maria Stavropoulou, a former UN official who heads the Greek asylum service, said: “We fully understand the [EU] concerns but if you look at it from the perspective of the rule of law, it is going exactly as it should. “We have many vulnerable people on the islands … a lot of very sick people. By law they are exempt from the return process.” Epaminondas Farmakis of Solidarity Now, a refugee charity funded by the billionaire investor George Soros, said: “Brussels wants to see group returns but Greece is looking at applications for asylum on a case-by-case basis.”

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