Jul 012019
 


Pablo Picasso Portrait of woman in wheelchair 1936

 

The Longest Economic Expansion On Record: What Happens Next? (ZH)
Surprise Collapse Of Regional Chinese Bank Sets Off Domino Effect (Salmon)
George Soros And Charles Koch Team Up To End Us ‘Forever War’ Policy (BG)
Europe Circumvents US Sanctions On Iran (Coppola)
Laffer: Federal Reserve Shouldn’t Be Independent From White House (NYP)
Hong Kong On Edge As Protests Erupt Ahead Of Handover Rally (R.)
Erdogan Says ‘Some People’ Paying ‘Serious Money’ To Bury Khashoggi Issue (R.)
Erdogan Says S-400 Systems Delivered Within 10 Days, No US Sanctions (R.)
Erdogan Says ‘Never Possible’ To Consider US Plan For Middle East (R.)
The Real Threat From Facebook’s Libra Coin (Coppola)
Goldman Sachs Has Given Itself A 150-Minute Miniseries (Cohan)
The Mythical Economic Data On Climate Change (Steve Keen)
Insects As A Whole Will Go Down The Path Of Extinction In A Few Decades (AFP)

 

 

I think we know the answer.

The Longest Economic Expansion On Record: What Happens Next? (ZH)

On July 1, the US economic expansion will become the longest on record, entering its 121st month since the end of the 2009 recession (which according to the NBER ended in June of that year), and surpassing the previous record – the March 1991 – March 2001 expansion – which ended with the bursting of the dot com bubble. As Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid writes, since US business cycles have been tracked from 1854 there have been 34 expansions. The last four have all been long relative to the past and are all in the top six in terms of duration. The other two in this top six were the June 1938-cycle which was boosted by the WWII rearmament efforts, and the Feb 1961-cycle where the Fed were late to deal with ever increasing US inflation, leading to too loose monetary policy and an extended cycle.


As part of a recent analysis, Deutsche Bank explains why this cycle – and the past four – have been so long relative to history, show various economic and market indicators from this cycle relative to the past to put the record-breaking expansion in some context, and predict what may happen next. It may come as a surprise to exactly nobody, that there is a distinct correlation between the rising length of the US business cycle – and ensuing economic and market crashes which terminate said expansion – and the advent of the Federal Reserve. Oh, and globalization has a lot to do with everything too.

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When confidence disappears, what are you left with?

Surprise Collapse Of Regional Chinese Bank Sets Off Domino Effect (Salmon)

First it was China. The end of May saw the collapse of an obscure Inner Mongolian bank, Baoshang, which had about $90 billion in assets and which had seemed perfectly healthy. The government blamed misappropriation of funds by the bank’s owner, but the damage was done. The interbank lending market in China seized up, especially for smaller institutions. Small and medium-sized Chinese banks are collectively as big as the large players, and they’re very reliant on interbank funding. After Baoshang defaulted on its interbank obligations, it became very hard for smaller banks to convince larger ones that they were safe. The central bank ended up having to step in with $125 billion of emergency liquidity, and things still aren’t back to normal.


Next came investment funds. The GAM Greensill Supply Chain Finance fund, in Switzerland, imploded in early June, followed in short succession by Neil Woodford’s Equity Income fund in the U.K. Then came French asset manager H20 Asset Management, running into similar problems. Much like Chinese banks, funds that invest in illiquid securities suddenly find themselves under extreme scrutiny. Each bad apple seems to infect another. Be smart: This isn’t a financial crisis, although it’s very similar to how many crises start. Every bull market has a massive “bezzle,” to use J.K. Galbraith’s famous term. We’re seeing the beginning of a rise in skepticism, and a shrinking bezzle. That’s good for honesty; it’s less good for asset prices.

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It really says this: “The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum ..”

George Soros And Charles Koch Team Up To End Us ‘Forever War’ Policy (BG)

Besides being billionaires and spending much of their fortunes to promote pet causes, the leftist financier George Soros and the right-wing Koch brothers have little in common. They could be seen as polar opposites. Soros is an old-fashioned New Deal liberal. The Koch brothers are fire-breathing right-wingers who dream of cutting taxes and dismantling government. Now they have found something to agree on: the United States must end its “forever war” and adopt an entirely new foreign policy. In one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history, Soros and Charles Koch, the more active of the two brothers, are joining to finance a new foreign-policy think tank in Washington. It will promote an approach to the world based on diplomacy and restraint rather than threats, sanctions, and bombing.

This is a radical notion in Washington, where every major think tank promotes some variant of neocon militarism or liberal interventionism. Soros and Koch are uniting to revive the fading vision of a peaceable United States. The street cred they bring from both ends of the political spectrum — along with the money they are providing — will make this new think tank an off-pitch voice for statesmanship amid a Washington chorus that promotes brinksmanship. “This is big,” said Trita Parsi, former president of the National Iranian American Council and a co-founder of the new think tank. “It shows how important ending endless war is if they’re willing to put aside their differences and get together on this project. We are going to challenge the basis of American foreign policy in a way that has not been done in at least the last quarter-century.”

Since peaceful foreign policy was a founding principle of the United States, it’s appropriate that the name of this think tank harken back to history. It will be called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, an homage to John Quincy Adams, who in a seminal speech on Independence Day in 1821 declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” The Quincy Institute will promote a foreign policy based on that live-and-let-live principle.

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Potential powder keg.

Europe Circumvents US Sanctions On Iran (Coppola)

Europe has found a way of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran. The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom have developed a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to enable European businesses to maintain non-dollar trade with Iran without breaking U.S. sanctions. That SPV, known as INSTEX, is now up and running. The three governments announced the successful implementation of INSTEX at a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on June 28, 2019. The meeting was chaired on behalf of the EU by the Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Helga Schmid, and was attended by representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Iran.

In a statement, Schmid said: “France, Germany and the United Kingdom informed participants that INSTEX had been made operational and available to all EU Member States and that the first transactions are being processed. Ongoing complementary cooperation with the Iranian corresponding entity (STFI), which has already been established, will speed up. They confirmed that some EU Member States were in the process of joining INSTEX as shareholders, the special purpose vehicle aimed at facilitating legitimate business with Iran. They are also working to open INSTEX to economic operators from third countries.”

JCPOA is better known as the “Iran nuclear deal.” The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from JCPOA in May 2018, when it reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil export sector. But other countries, including EU member states, have so far declined to follow suit. They claim that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal, and the U.S.’s decision to reimpose sanctions was unjustified.

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Nuff said: “..was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month for his contributions to Republican economic theory, particularly the idea of “trickle down economics”

Laffer: Federal Reserve Shouldn’t Be Independent From White House (NYP)

Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Arthur Laffer, an economist who served as an adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, took some shots at the embattled Federal Reserve chairman as he also questioned the body’s autonomy. “The fed shouldn’t be independent of the administration. Never should be. None of those people were elected. They were appointed. And there’s no reason for them being appointed. It’s a policy tool that should be in the hands of the Congress and the President to make our country better,” Laffer told John Catsimatidis in an interview that aired Sunday on AM 970 New York. “Not in the hands of some Princeton professors who never worked a day in their lives except on an academic paper that’s far from reality. I don’t think there should be an independent Fed,” Laffer added.


Laffer also speculated that Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve who has been criticized by Trump, “feels very besieged.” “I’m sure Powell doesn’t feel good about Donald Trump,” Laffer said. “But, you know, it’s not his job to feel good or bad about Donald Trump.” Like Trump, Laffer encouraged Powell to be a “professional” and lower interest rates. The president has been frustrated by the fed’s interest rate hikes, though Powell backed off in late 2018. Laffer, an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month for his contributions to Republican economic theory, particularly the idea of “trickle down economics” — that lower tax rates trickle down to the rest of the economy.

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Violent too.

Hong Kong On Edge As Protests Erupt Ahead Of Handover Rally (R.)

Thousands of demonstrators faced off with riot police early on Monday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, as authorities braced for more mass protests amid widespread anger over a controversial extradition bill. More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger and frustration at Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, posing the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Opponents of the now-suspended extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law and are demanding it be scrapped and Lam step down.


Police fired pepper spray to disperse some demonstrators, mostly black-clad students wearing hard hats and face masks, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule. Riot police with helmets and batons raced towards protesters at one point and held up red banners warning they would use force if the activists charged. The protesters once again paralyzed parts of the financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers and wooden planks.

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And he knows who they are.

Erdogan Says ‘Some People’ Paying ‘Serious Money’ To Bury Khashoggi Issue (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said “some people” were paying “serious money” to bury the issue of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, broadcaster NTV reported on Monday. Erdogan, who was speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, did not elaborate. Speaking earlier at the summit, Erdogan said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must uncover the killers of the Washington Post columnist, and added that some aspects of the murder were still being hidden.

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Really? You sure?

Erdogan Says S-400 Systems Delivered Within 10 Days, No US Sanctions (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the first delivery of the Russian S-400 missile defense system would take place within 10 days, broadcaster NTV reported on Sunday, a day after he said there would be no U.S. sanctions over the deal. Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have been at odds over Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400s, with Washington warning of U.S. sanctions if the delivery took place. Turkey has dismissed the warnings, saying it would not back down. The United States says the S-400s will compromise its Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, of which Turkey is a producer and buyer. Washington has also formally started the process of expelling Turkey from the F-35 program, halting the training of Turkish pilots in the United States.


But on Saturday, Erdogan said U.S. President Donald Trump had told him there would be no sanctions over the Russian deal, after Trump said Turkey had been treated unfairly over the move. The White House said Trump “expressed concern” over the S-400 deal and “encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defense cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance.” Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Japan, where he held bilateral talks with Trump, Erdogan said he believed the dispute over the S-400s would be overcome “without a problem” and added that his U.S. counterpart supported Turkey in the dispute. “In our phone calls, when we come together bilaterally, Mr Trump has not said so far: ‘We will impose these sanctions.’ On the S-400s, he said to me: ‘You are right.’ We carried this issue to a very advanced level,” Erdogan said, according to NTV.

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“.. the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a summit in July to discuss developments in Syria..”

Erdogan Says ‘Never Possible’ To Consider US Plan For Middle East (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said it was “never possible” for Turkey to positively consider the $50 billion U.S. peace plan for the Middle East, broadcaster NTV reported on Monday. The White House last week outlined a $50 billion Middle East economic plan that would create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit in Japan, Erdogan also said that the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a summit in July to discuss developments in Syria, NTV said.

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Digital identities.

The Real Threat From Facebook’s Libra Coin (Coppola)

Facebook’s business model since its inception has been to harvest and monetize data. I see no reason to assume that this has changed. So when I find, buried in Libra’s whitepaper, two sentences that imply Facebook’s real aim in creating Libra is to set the standard for global digital identities, my hair stands on end. As Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion and an expert on digital identity, puts it: “There are no throwaway remarks in a Facebook white paper that has taken a year to put together. It’s in there for a reason. [Facebook] are actually going to try and fix the identity problem.”

Dave seems fairly sanguine about Facebook’s intention. But I am not. We now know just how damaging Facebook’s data harvesting can be. If Facebook became the standard setter for digital identities, it could gain access to all personal data. And that is what it wants. Not control of finance, control of data. And if you think your personal data would be digitally secure from harvesting simply because Facebook said so, you are the biggest sucker in the world.

From a financial perspective, Libra seems fairly harmless. Even if all 2bn of Facebook’s users adopted Libra for some transactions, and all 90m of its small businesses used Libra for purchases and sales, it is not going to pose a major threat to the financial system, let alone replace sovereign currencies. But Libra is in reality a vehicle for bringing about Facebook’s wider aim of becoming the standard setter for digital identity. And that is a much, much bigger issue. Facebook is the last organization on earth that should have anything to do with digital identity or standards setting. For that reason, Libra must be stopped.

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Accumulating power for 150 years.

Goldman Sachs Has Given Itself A 150-Minute Miniseries (Cohan)

Goldman Sachs is impeccably predatory, elegantly selfish. It’s harder to get into than Harvard. And when you do leave, there’s a good chance you’ll be Treasury secretary, national economic adviser, or the governor of New Jersey, as if the lucre were only a detour and not the whole point. In era after era of boom and bust, Goldman’s bankers never lost their shirts, even as all around them were losing theirs. Goldman is an inescapable American institution, a part of history, and now, like the Civil War and New York City and baseball, on the occasion of its 150th birthday, it has its own multipart documentary series directed by someone named Burns. Unlike those other institutions, though, it paid for the documentary itself, for what has to be an eight-figure sum (it declined to say how much it spent), given the luscious production values.

Among its other gifts, Goldman has always had a near-obsession for selling itself, its intelligence, its civic-mindedness. Goldman Sachs at 150 is the most expansive expression yet of this impulse. Goldman Sachs at 150 is a strange bit of filmmaking, hard to get one’s mind around. It’s obviously a piece of corporate marketing, so a viewer starts by resisting its conclusions—but its documentary tropes are so familiar that it wears you down. Current and former white male partners are interviewed in abundance, of course, but Burns—in this case Ric Burns, younger brother of Ken—also spends time with a number of Goldman’s female partners and partners of color, some of whom are also women. (In other words, a public relations home run.) It’s not exactly hagiography, because Goldman is clever enough to include in the film a number of instances in which it really messed up—and almost went out of business.

That makes the film, which is available on Amazon Prime, nearly credible as a piece of journalism, but only nearly so. More than anything it reveals both Goldman’s gargantuan superego and its immense—and justified—pride in making it to 150. (Among major American investment banks, only Brown Brothers Harriman (founded in 1818) and Lazard (founded in 1848) are older than Goldman.) Burns’s Goldman Sachs at 150 is mostly a story of Goldman’s glory. One cannot help thinking, while watching the film, that Goldman is Lake Wobegon on the Hudson: all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. I’ve never seen so many polished, happy, prosperous well-dressed people (of all stripes) in one place at one time. I feel certain this was not an accident.

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Steve destroys William Nordhaus’s Nobel material.

The Mythical Economic Data On Climate Change (Steve Keen)

What this shows is that mainstream economists are generally climate change trivializers—not that they know anything meaningful about the magnitude of disruption to the globe’s ecological and economic systems that will result from climate change. The 30-times difference in expectations of serious disruption from climate change between scientists and economists should have been the takeaway from this survey, not the average of the expectations of damage. Nordhaus at least acknowledges one important flaw in this survey: with him asking the questions, people who weren’t experts in climate change—the majority, at 14 of the 19 respondents (if we count Nordhaus and Pearce as experts, at least in the sense that their own models would have given them a basis for their opinions)—could have been intimidated by Nordhaus’s own well-known position, to give answers that were similar to what Nordhaus himself would give. He framed the answers in effect, by being the one asking the questions:


“Two important methodological issues may contaminate the results. The first is the interviewer effect. I am known to the respondents as one who has developed estimates of the impact of climatic change that are modest compared with some of the scientific concerns and popular rhetoric, and this knowledge might have influenced the respondents (p. 46)” Therefore, the substantive content of this “data” is not the average temperature result from the opinions of 2 climate change experts and 16 others (mainly economists), but the huge difference between the climatic expert predictions and the guesses of the other 16 (where 2 of these, Nordhaus and Pearce, would have been influenced in their answers by the results of their own models—including earlier versions of the model Nordhaus was using this data point to calibrate).

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“Unless we change our ways of producing food,..”

Insects As A Whole Will Go Down The Path Of Extinction In A Few Decades (AFP)

[..] the total biomass of flying insects here has plummeted by 76 percent. To demonstrate the rapid decline, a lab technician holds up two bottles: one from 1994 contains 1,400 grammes of trapped insects, the newest one just 300 grammes. “We only became aware of the seriousness of this decline in 2011, and every year since then we have seen it get worse,” says Sorg, the man who sounded the alarm. At the time, the news didn’t make major waves outside ecological circles. Concern about biodiversity loss focused mostly on large charismatic mammal species, and environmental monitoring such as that in Krefeld was considered a quaint Sunday hobby, largely ignored by the scientific community.

Also in 2011, just across the Dutch border, ecology professor Hans de Kroon was working on the decline of birds in the region. He hypothesised that the birds suffered from a shortage of food, especially insects, but had no data to prove it. “Then our German colleagues from Krefeld got in touch and said, ‘we have the data, we’ve witnessed a strong decline, we are very concerned, could you analyse the data?’. “That’s how it all started.” In the search for the cause, the landscape around Krefeld provides some clues. In the distance, industrial chimneys billow smoke. On one side of the road lies a protected nature reserve. On the other, a sugar beet field is being sprayed with pesticides by an agricultural machine. “You see, protected reserves are not so protected,” says Sorg.

Across the border, Kroon says, “we must realise that here in western Europe our nature is getting smaller, the agriculture fields are very hostile to insects. There is no food, they get poisoned. “And nature areas are also more and more isolated. Insects can’t move from one place to another, it’s too far away.” Although the exact cause for the die-off is not yet clear, he says, “the cause is anthropogenic, there’s no doubt about it. “It is our greatest fear that a point of no return will be reached, which will lead to a permanent loss of diversity.” The Krefeld research played a central role in a meta-study published by Francisco Sanchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys from the Australian universities of Sydney and Queensland.

In February, they published the first synthesis of 73 studies on entomological fauna around the world over the past 40 years, listing places from Costa Rica to southern France. They calculated that over 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, and each year about one percent is added to the list. This is equivalent, they noted, to “the most massive extinction episode” since the dinosaurs disappeared. The main drivers appeared to be habitat loss and land conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation, followed by pollution, mainly from pesticides and fertilisers, invasive species and climate change. “The conclusion is clear,” they wrote. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.”

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Oct 092018
 
 October 9, 2018  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Ford Madox Brown Finding of Don Juan by Haidee 1873

 

 

World Leaders ‘Have Moral Obligation To Act’ After UN Climate Report (G.)
US Economists Win Nobel Memorial For Work On Climate And Growth (G.)
Nobel Prizes in Economics, Awarded and Withheld (NC)
The End Of The World Will Save Theresa May From Brexit (Ind.)
Stock Markets Stage Sharp Sell-Off Amid Fear Of Italy-EU Budget Fight (G.)
QE Party Is Drying Up, Even at the Bank of Japan (WS)
Higher Rates Will Hurt Stocks Far More Than You Think (SA)
Pakistan Seeks Bailout From IMF (WSJ)
IMF Not Concerned About China’s Ability To Defend The Yuan (R.)
Sharp Slowdown In Consumer Spending Cools UK Retail Sales (G.)
Google Drops Out Of Bidding For $10 Billion Pentagon Data Deal (R.)

 

 

Groundhog Day. They just want to get (re-)elected. Which won’t happen if they tell people to cut their driving and flying.

World Leaders ‘Have Moral Obligation To Act’ After UN Climate Report (G.)

World leaders have been told they have moral obligation to ramp up their action on the climate crisis in the wake of a new UN report that shows even half a degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals and intensify heat extremes. But the muted response by Britain, Australia and other governments highlights the immense political challenges facing adoption of pathways to the relatively safe limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures outlined on Monday by the IPCC. With the report set to be presented at a major climate summit in Poland in December, known as COP24, there is little time for squabbles. The report noted that emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 in order to keep warming within 1.5C.

That means decisions have to be taken in the next two years to decommission coal power plants and replace them with renewables, because major investments usually have a lifecycle of at least a decade. Mary Robinson, a UN special envoy on climate, said Europe should set an example by adopting a target of zero-carbon emissions by 2050. “Before this, people talked vaguely about staying at or below 2C – we now know that 2C is dangerous,” she said. “So it is really important that governments take the responsibility, but we must all do what we can.” The UK, which has gone further than most nations by cutting its annual emissions by 40% since 1990, will need to step up if the more ambitious goal is to be reached.

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Both think adapting to climate change is easy.

US Economists Win Nobel Memorial For Work On Climate And Growth (G.)

Two American economists at the forefront of work on climate change and the role of governments in boosting growth have been jointly awarded the prestigious Nobel Memorial prize for economics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said William Nordhaus and Paul Romer were being honoured for their research into two of the most “basic and pressing” economic issues of the age. Nordhaus made his name by warning policymakers during the first stirrings of concern about climate change in the 1970s that their economic models were not properly taking account of the impact of global warming and he is seen as one of the pioneers of environmental economics.

The Yale economist was honoured a day after the latest UN warning on global warming said that urgent and unprecedented changes were needed to keep climate change to a maximum of 1.5C (2.7F). The co-winner – Romer – is seen as the prime mover behind the endogenous growth theory, the notion that countries can improve their underlying performance if they concentrate on supply-side measures such as research and development, innovation and skills. [..] Responding to news of his award, Romer said it was perfectly possible for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, in line with the latest recommendation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.” [..] Nordhaus has been a prominent advocate of the use of a uniformly applied carbon tax as the best way to put a true cost on the use of burning fossil fuels and so reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The committee that awarded the prize said he was the first person to design “simple but dynamic and quantitative models of the global economic-climate system, now called integrated assessment models (IAMs). “His tools allow us to simulate how the economy and climate would co-evolve in the future under alternative assumptions about the workings of nature and the market economy, including relevant policies.”

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This is useful h/t Yves. Peter Dorman on how Martin Weitzman, who has a far more aggressive take on economics and climate, was snubbed so Nordhaus’ light version would get the attention.

Nobel Prizes in Economics, Awarded and Withheld (NC)

Nordhaus was widely expected to be a winner for his work on the economics of climate change. For decades he has assembled and tweaked a model called DICE (Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy), that melds computable general equilibrium theory from economics and equations from the various strands of climate science. His goal has been to estimate the “optimal” amount of climate change, where the marginal cost of abating it equals the marginal cost of undergoing it. From this comes an optimal carbon price, the “social cost of carbon”, which should be implemented now and allowed to rise over time at the rate of interest. In his first published work using DICE, from the early 1990s, he recommended a carbon tax of $5 a tonne of CO2, inching slowly upward until peaking at $20 in 2085. His “optimal” policy was expected to result in an atmospheric concentration of CO2 of over 1400 ppm (parts per million) at the end of this planning horizon, yielding global warming in excess of 3º C. (Nordhaus, 1992)

Over time Nordhaus has become slightly more concerned with the potential economic costs of climate change but also more sanguine about the prospects for decarbonized economic growth, even in the absence of policy. In his latest work he advocates a carbon tax of $31 per tonne in 2015, increasing at 3% per year over the following century. This too would result in more than 3º warming. To give a sense of how modest his suggestion is, consider that, in the same paper, Nordhaus calculates that the most efficient carbon tax to limit warming to 2.5º is between $107-184 per tonne depending on assumptions. The target of the Paris Accord is 2º, and most scientists consider this an upper bound for the amount of warming we should permit.

What do these “optimal” tax numbers mean? Based on the carbon content of gas, each $1 carbon tax translates into a one cent tax on a gallon of gas at the pump. If we adopted Nordhaus’ suggestion for carbon pricing, the result would be minuscule compared to the year-to-year fluctuations in energy prices due to other causes. In other words, while his prize is being trumpeted as a statement from the Swedish bankers on the importance of climate change, in fact he is a key spokesman for the position, rejected by nearly all climate scientists, that the problem is modest and can be solved by easy-to-digest, nearly imperceptible adjustments to energy prices. If we go down his road we face a significant risk of a climate apocalypse.

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The benefits of climate change.

The End Of The World Will Save Theresa May From Brexit (Ind.)

Brexit has been in its “something will turn up phase” for some time now and possibly, at last, something has. This is meant to be Theresa May’s “Hell Week”, with important post-Brexit proposals to be published in both Brussels and the UK, both of which will of course necessitate demented rows within her own party (current “strategies” include threatening to vote down the Budget), but Hell Week could hardly have got off to a better start. The most sensible reading of Hell Week is that it looks likely to end with May agreeing to keep the UK in the EU’s customs union until 2022. In the circumstances, the prime minister will not have failed to notice that, according to this morning’s report from the UN’s IPCC, that is a mere eight years before all of the planet’s inbuilt life preserving systems are currently scheduled to turn against humanity in act of vengeance that will be swift and total.

To borrow briefly from the probability-based lexicon of the climate science community, let’s take a look at the likelihood of Brexit being concluded by then in any meaningful way. Even in the unlikely event of Britain voting to leave the European Union, right up until around 8am on 24 June 2016, the latest point at which it was all meant to have been sorted out was 24 June 2018. But when David Cameron decided not to trigger the two-year Article 50 process “straight away” as he had consistently claimed he would, but resigned instead, that date was eventually pushed back by May to 29 March 2019, expanding Brexit by 37.5 per cent.

Then, in March 2018, the Brexit “transition period” was agreed to last until until 31 December 2020, and now, just seven months later, that deadline has been extended until the next general election in 2022, a further eighteen months. At the most conservative estimate, that gives Brexit a rate of expansion of around two hundred per cent, or four years for every two. If the depth to which it can be kicked into the long grass can be maintained on this exponential gradient, May has every reason to be optimistic that tornadoes of sulphuric gas will be moving freely over the Irish border long before she has to deliver any acceptable proposals for how to avoid the reintroduction of customs infrastructure across it.

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Not the only issue.

Stock Markets Stage Sharp Sell-Off Amid Fear Of Italy-EU Budget Fight (G.)

Global stock markets staged a sharp sell-off on Monday amid growing concerns over a budget showdown between Italy and the EU and the prospect of weaker growth in the Chinese economy. Italian borrowing costs jumped and the euro dropped on foreign exchanges as the war of words between Rome and Brussels escalated, while shares on Wall Street and other major international markets declined amid growing concerns over the US-China trade war. Italian bond yields jumped by as much as 30 basis points to the highest levels since early 2014 after the Italian deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, attacked the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the economics commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, as enemies of Europe.

Speaking at a news conference with the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, he said the country would not cave to pressure from the financial markets or retreat from its plan for government spending. “We are against the enemies of Europe — Juncker and Moscovici — shut away in the Brussels bunker,” he said. Brussels has told Italy it is concerned over the plan because it would mean the nation running a larger budget deficit – the gap between income from taxes and government spending – than previously planned for the next three years. Rome is to submit its draft budget to the commission, the EU’s executive arm, which will check whether it is in line with EU rules by 15 October.

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When the easy money goes, how do we keep the bubbles inflated?

QE Party Is Drying Up, Even at the Bank of Japan (WS)

As of September 30, total assets on the Bank of Japan’s elephantine balance sheet dropped by ¥5.4 trillion ($33 billion) from a month earlier, to ¥537 trillion ($4.87 trillion). It was the fourth month-over-month decline in a series that started in December. This chart shows the month-to-month changes of the balance sheet. Despite all the volatility, the trend since mid-2016 is becoming clear: Abenomics became the economic religion of Japan in later 2012, and “QQE” (Qualitative and Quantitative Easing) was an integral part of it. So has the “QQE Unwind” commenced? Are central bankers, even at the Bank of Japan, getting cold feet about the consequences?

At BOJ policy meetings, concerns have been voiced over the “sustainability” of the stimulus program, according to the minutes of the July meeting, released on September 25. So the BOJ staff “proposed measures to enhance the sustainability of the current monetary easing while taking into consideration, for example, their effects on financial markets.” And “flexibility” has been proposed as solution to those concerns. The minutes reiterated that the BOJ would continue to buy Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) in “a flexible manner” so that its holdings would increase by about ¥80 trillion a year. But this is precisely what has not been happening, in line with this “flexibility.”

Over the past 12 months, the BOJ’s holdings of JGBs rose by “only” ¥26.2 trillion – not ¥80 trillion. And they declined in September from the prior month (more in a moment). Shortly after the minutes had been released, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, once the most reckless among the money printers, changed his tune and said in a speech that, “in continuing with powerful monetary easing, we now need to consider both its positive effects and side-effects in a balanced manner.” The Fed has already whittled down its balance sheet by $285 billion since it started its QE unwind last October. The ECB has tapered its QE from a peak of buying €85 billion a month to buying €15 billion currently and will end it altogether in December. The discussion has switched to raising rates and unwinding QE.

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Like the graph.

Higher Rates Will Hurt Stocks Far More Than You Think (SA)

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell thinks the economy is awesome. And he has no problem telling us so. What Powell will never discuss, however, is the “way-too-low-for-way-too-long” stimulus that the central bank engaged in to get here. In particular, the Fed has kept the neutral rate of interest far beneath the rate of inflation (CPI) for an entire decade. Consumers, corporations and Uncle Sam predictably borrowed as if there’d never be consequences. What consequences? Asset bubbles. Stocks, bonds, real estate, collectibles, cryptos, alternatives, everything. Straight across the Ouija board.

Perhaps ironically, we have seen this streaming video before. “Too-low-for-to-long” rate policy in the previous economic expansion (11/01-12/07) created an environment whereby the quality and the quantity of household mortgage debt became toxic. Granted, mortgage debt is less of an issue in the current credit cycle. Nevertheless, total household debt levels may not be sustainable at higher average interest costs. Meanwhile, the federal government is making households look downright responsible.

Long after the Great Recession ended, the country averaged $1.07 trillion in deficits (2010-2017). We’ve now hit $21.5 trillion in our national debt. Uncle Sammy’s bar tab won’t be getting smaller anytime soon. The new tax law, which has provided a near-term kick start for economic growth (GDP), will keep the trillion-dollar deficit train running for years to come. None of this would be so ominous were it not for the rapid-fire advance of interest expense. Interest expense alone accounts for 11% of the federal budget. Just interest. No debt repayment. Tack on higher interest rates to new borrowing needs? Pretty soon interest expense will surpass the money that goes to the Department of Defense (13.6%).

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Belt and Road. Silk Road.

Pakistan Seeks Bailout From IMF (WSJ)

Pakistan, the flagship country for China’s global infrastructure building initiative, said Monday that it needed a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, amid growing concerns that Beijing’s program is pushing recipient countries into financial crisis. The fiscal constraints of an IMF program would also undercut the promises made by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new government, which include millions of new jobs and the establishment of a welfare state.

But a ballooning trade deficit and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves left the Pakistani government no other choice, officials said, after markets were spooked by the government’s recent suggestions that it might try to make do without the fund. “Uncertainty was growing and the stock market was falling,” said Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the Information Minister. “We decided to end the uncertainty.” The Pakistani request for an IMF loan could further test already-strained U.S.-China relations. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the U.S. didn’t want to see any IMF lending to Pakistan “go to bail out Chinese bondholders or—or China itself.”

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Growing at 6.9%(?) and still in need of pretty extreme support. I’d be concerned.

IMF Not Concerned About China’s Ability To Defend The Yuan (R.)

IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld said on Tuesday that he was not concerned about the Chinese government’s ability to defend its currency despite the recent depreciation of the yuan. “No, I don’t think it’s a problem,” Obstfeld said when asked about the issue on the sidelines of a news conference at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali. But Obstfeld also told the news conference that Beijing would face a “balancing act” between actions to shore up growth and ensure financial stability. China’s yuan currency has faced strong selling pressure this year, losing over 8% between March and August at the height of market worries, though it has since pared losses as authorities stepped up support.

On Tuesday, China’s central bank fixed the yuan’s official mid-point for trading at 6.9019 per dollar, edging close to the psychologically important 7.0 barrier and helping to send Asian stocks to a 17-month low. A U.S. Treasury official on Monday repeated that the Trump administration was concerned about the yuan’s recent weakening as the department prepares a semi-annual report on currency manipulation due out next week. Obstfeld said financial markets have overly emphasized short-term movements in China’s currency, adding that the yuan has often quickly recovered from periods of volatility in recent years.

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Reading this, I kept thinking: what sharp slowdown? Where is it? Not in the numbers…

Sharp Slowdown In Consumer Spending Cools UK Retail Sales (G.)

Britain’s retailers experienced a sharp slowdown in consumer spending last month, bringing to a close the World Cup-inspired summer spree on the high street. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the accountancy firm KPMG, growth in total sales dropped to the weakest level in almost a year. Total sales grew at an annual rate of 0.7% in September, compared with 2.3% growth during the same month a year ago. The BRC said this was the lowest growth rate since October 2017. Excluding new store openings, like-for-like sales dropped by 0.2% in the year to September, compared with a 19.9% increase for the same period a year ago.

The latest snapshot for the retail sector comes before the important autumn and winter shopping periods, vital for industry profits, when sales of gifts and electrical goods are lifted by the Black Friday sales event in November and shoppers buying Christmas presents. Retailers have been hit hard by a combination of problems that have led to job cuts and store closures across Britain. The ongoing shift to online shopping has increased competition, while sluggish wage growth and high levels of inflation have damaged the spending power of British households. Sales of stationery, footwear and clothing fell last month, while retailers sold more computers, jewellery, furniture, home accessories and food.

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If this doesn’t scare you…

Google Drops Out Of Bidding For $10 Billion Pentagon Data Deal (R.)

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Monday it was no longer vying for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Defense Department, in part because the company’s new ethical guidelines do not align with the project, without elaborating. Google said in a statement “we couldn’t be assured that [the JEDI deal] would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.” The principles bar use of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) software in weapons as well as services that violate international norms for surveillance and human rights.

Google was provisionally certified in March to handle U.S. government data with “moderate” security, but Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp have higher clearances. Amazon was widely viewed among Pentagon officials and technology vendors as the front-runner for the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, or JEDI. Google had been angling for the deal, hoping that the $10 billion annual contract could provide a giant boost to its nascent cloud business and catch up with Amazon and fellow JEDI competitor Microsoft. That the Pentagon could trust housing its digital data with Google would have been helpful to its marketing efforts with large companies. But thousands of Google employees this year protested use of Google’s technology in warfare or in ways that could lead to human rights violations.

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