Feb 232018
 
 February 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Rooster 1938

 

Art Cashin: Once the 10-Year Yield Hits 3% ‘All Hell’ Could Break Loose (CNBC)
China Regulators Take Control Of Insurance Giant Anbang (AFP)
Xi’s Debt Crackdown Goes Into Hyperdrive (BBG)
BIS Suggests Beijing Is Behind China Shadow Banking Sector (F.)
China Is Letting The Yuan Crush The Dollar To Appease Trump (CNBC)
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector (CP)
Reserve Bank Of Australia Accused Of Causing Ponzi Mortgage Market (AFR)
US Shale Investors Still Waiting On Payoff From Oil Boom (R.)
EU Leaders Go to Battle Over Post-Brexit Budget Gap (BBG)
Irish President Criticises EU Treatment Of Greece (IT)
Greek MPs Vote To Investigate Top Politicians In Novartis Bribery Claims (G.)
Greece Is The European Champion In Corporate Taxes (K.)
The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America (French)
50,000 Die In UK ‘Cold Homes Public Health Crisis’ (Ind.)

 

 

The cavalry.

Art Cashin: Once the 10-Year Yield Hits 3% ‘All Hell’ Could Break Loose (CNBC)

It could be a bad day for the markets once the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury hits 3%, closely followed trader Art Cashin told CNBC on Thursday. “That 3% level is both a target and a kind of resistance. Everybody knows it’s like touching the third rail,” said Cashin, UBS director of floor operations at the New York Stock Exchange. “The assumption is once they do it, all hell will break loose. So we’ll wait and see.” As of early Thursday, the 10-year yield was slightly lower, around 2.91%, down from Wednesday’s four-year high of 2.95%. Wall Street fears returned Wednesday afternoon after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting sent bond yields rising and stocks into a tailspin. The last time the 10-year yield traded above 3% was in January 2014.

“Initially, yields moved down, stocks rallied like crazy,” Cashin recalled about Wednesday, moments after the Fed minutes were released. “Then about eight minutes into that move, stocks looked back and noticed bonds had changed their mind.” The sharp moves seen Wednesday were probably due to “our friends, the long-lost ‘bond vigilantes,'” Cashin told “Squawk on the Street.” The term “bond vigilantes” was coined by market historian Ed Yardeni during the 1980s, referring to traders who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce what they consider fiscal discipline. Selling bonds sends yields higher due to the inverse relationship between bond prices and bond yields. “We’re going to need a couple weeks to see if the bond vigilantes really are back or not,” Cashin said. “Or whether it was simply a fluke. But remembering what bond vigilantes look like, it certainly had fingerprints on them.”

Read more …

Before it burns down the entire financial sector.

China Regulators Take Control Of Insurance Giant Anbang (AFP)

China took over Anbang Insurance for a year on Friday and said its former chairman faces prosecution for “economic crimes”, in the government’s most drastic move yet to rein in politically connected companies whose splashy overseas investments have fuelled fears of a financial collapse. The highly unusual commandeering of Anbang signalled deep official concern over the Beijing-based company’s financial situation and comes as the government looks to address spiralling debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The China Insurance Regulatory Commission said Anbang, which has made a series of high-profile foreign acquisitions in recent years, had violated insurance regulations and operated in a way that may “severely” affect its solvency. The announcement also clarified the fate of Anbang’s chairman Wu Xiaohui, who was reported by Chinese media to have been detained last June.

The insurance regulator confirmed Wu was being “prosecuted for economic crimes”, a startling fall from grace for a man who reportedly married a granddaughter of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. A statement by government prosecutors in Shanghai said Wu was suspected of fraudulent fundraising and “infringement of duties”. Acquisitive private companies such as Anbang, HNA, Fosun and Wanda have increasingly loomed in the government’s cross-hairs as it conducts a sweeping crackdown on potential financial risks. The four firms were in the vanguard of an officially-encouraged surge in multi-billion-dollar overseas deals by Chinese firms to snatch up everything from European football clubs to hotel chains and movie studios, and were until recently considered untouchable because of their political connections.

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China needs to keep its reserves at home.

Xi’s Debt Crackdown Goes Into Hyperdrive (BBG)

If you needed confirmation about China’s determination to rein in surging corporate debt, the dramatic government takeover of Anbang Insurance is pretty much it. The unprecedented seizure of a private insurer underscores President Xi Jinping’s policy drive to cut back on the debt-fueled excesses that have accompanied China’s growth miracle. It’s a direct hit to corporate binge spending that authorities want to stem; it energizes a long running anti-corruption campaign; and it demonstrates that short-term economic pain will be tolerated for the longer-term goal of a more sustainable expansion. For the rest of the world, the intervention offers up a useful reminder: When you do business with China, you do business with the Communist Party.

“It’s a new example of the seriousness of Xi Jinping’s government to insert the party and the state at all levels of business,” said Fraser Howie, co-author of the book “Red Capitalism” who has two decades of experience in China’s financial markets. “They have no qualms about coming in over the top and saying ‘we are going to take this over.’” He likened the takeover to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission coming together to restructure a company. [..] The backdrop to the pincer move on Anbang and its founder Wu Xiaohui, who is to be prosecuted for alleged fraud, is a robust economy that’s giving officials the running room to crack down on debt excesses without depressing growth.

Overseas investment by Chinese companies has been strictly curtailed since last year as part of the broader ambition to shift the economy onto a more sustainable footing after years of debt-fueled expansion. Because China is self financed and credit is steered by state-owned lenders to state-controlled or linked companies, authorities have the luxury of intervening at their whim to shuffle money from one section of the economy to another. That’s one of the key reasons why regulators are able to tackle Anbang and other high profile conglomerates without lawyers, shareholder activists or opposition politicians getting in the way.

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I don’t believe this is the whole story. Shadow banking in China is so lucrative there’s no way foreigners are not heavily involved.

BIS Suggests Beijing Is Behind China Shadow Banking Sector (F.)

Concerns about the scale of shadow banking in China have now risen alongside concerns about the ever-rising debt load across the economy. The IMF, for example, has been consistently warning about this issue, along with Western credit ratings agencies. But the biggest hawk on China’s credit risks has for some time been the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), known as the central banker’s bank. The BIS produced a comprehensive assessment of the “shadow banking” sector last week. The report itself is not very surprising, but it does suggest much coverage of the issue adopts a misplaced tone. The most important insight the report generates is simply that the shadow banking sector in China is almost entirely driven by the traditional, state-dominated banks ; the SOE banks, the Joint Stock banks and the City commercial banks, all of which have significant levels of state involvement.

Indeed it was estimated in 2014 that the Chinese banking system was capitalized by only about 12% private capital, the rest linking back to the Chinese state, either centrally or regionally. In other words, although the phrase “shadow banking” is used in China, in Western economies this usually refers to activity that is quite distinct from the state, where private investors knowingly operate outside of the many regulatory safeguards offered by traditional banking. Whereas in China the state is either the key mediator or even the guarantor of the unregulated activity. In other words, the state in China is freely engaging in unregulated activity, precisely in order to avoid the burdens of their own regulations. This is perhaps why “shadow banking” in China is often–and more accurately–referred to as “banking in the shadows” as it is a substitute for traditional banking, but it takes place out of sight.

This may be well understood by banking professionals, but it is an example of the kind of difference of emphasis that leads to misunderstanding in the markets and the press. The impression that China is somehow slowly getting to grips with a poorly regulated sector, or at least announcing its intention to do so, is quite simply at variance with what is actually going on, which is that the state itself is the source of the problem. The “shadow banking” sector in China has expanded enormously, not in spite of the state but because of it. It both applies the regulations in the formal banking sector, and avoids them in the “shadow banking” sector. None of this changes the fact that the overarching problem is China’s rapidly rising overall debt pile, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions over what exactly is hiding in the shadows. More to the point, if the activities of the Chinese state are hiding in the shadows, it is worth considering what exactly they are hiding from?

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Short term gains. Halt outflows. But a strong yuan wreaks hovoc on exports.

China Is Letting The Yuan Crush The Dollar To Appease Trump (CNBC)

The Chinese yuan has appreciated 10% against the dollar since the start of 2017, quelling some criticism that the export giant has been deliberately suppressing its currency to gain economic advantage over its trading partners. This is all going according to China’s plan, experts said. Although the strength of the yuan against the dollar is in part due to the greenback’s weakness, experts said the world’s second-largest economy is also propping up its currency to appease President Donald Trump. China has “reversed the rise” of the dollar against the yuan, and there’s now “meaningful” strength against the greenback, Bilal Hafeez, global head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Nomura, wrote in a recent note. “Part of this was likely a response to the election of President Trump and the need to avoid being labelled a currency manipulator,” Hafeez added.

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump repeatedly said he would name China a currency manipulator from his first day in office. That has not happened. [..] China will probably continue to manage its currency in the background even if it keeps its value against the dollar relatively high, analysts said. Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note this week that the trade-weighted yuan should remain “largely stable” around current levels as Beijing’s capital control efforts have worked. “If [the yuan] continues to appreciate rapidly, policy-makers may seek to stem the rise in order to maintain stability in the trade-weighted [yuan], which would likely be achieved by verbal communication and a relaxation of some outbound capital restrictions,” Morgan Stanley added.

Beijing is walking a tricky tightrope as the Communist regime seeks to balance political concerns with economic reforms and the demands that come with a market-based system. In the second half of 2015, the Chinese government shocked markets by devaluing the yuan. That spurred capital flight due to concerns over the health of the world’s second-largest economy — which further depressed the Chinese currency. Beijing has been trying to reverse that damage. “I think they ultimately want a weaker currency, they just don’t know how to achieve it. They tried in 2015, it didn’t work, turned into a vicious cycle and they’re kind of stuck right now with always trying to control everything but not knowing how to get a weaker currency through a structural slowdown in a way that does not cause a lot of disturbances to domestic financial markets for instance,” said Jason Daw at Societe Generale.

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The Russians did it.

Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector (CP)

If the world economy were a Bond movie, Latvia’s offshore banking economy would be its Bond villain. Presently, this plucky state of 1.8 million people on Russia’s border is leading the world’s financial press with two major scandals. First, there is their long-standing Central Bank Governor, Mr. Ilmars Rimsevics. While Latvia’s population (disproportionally aged, as many of the young have left to find work abroad) only rivals that of Hamburg, but with a much smaller economy, Mr. Rimsevics nonetheless commands a salary bigger than Central Bank heads of most similar sized countries and in 2016 saw the largest%age salary increase of any EU Central bank head. Regardless of his super-sized income, Mr. Rimsevics has been accused of using his post as a sinecure to increase his pay by several multiples. His ‘victims’ being the banks in Latvia that he oversees, of which one, Norvik, the provenance of a Russian oligarch in London, protested.

[..] The other scandal, more serious, but lacking a face and bereft of central casting’s villainous imagery (e.g., oligarchs at the hunting lodge), is that of ABLV. ABLV is the largest Latvian owned bank. Latvia is a small country with lots of ‘banks.’ ABLV is largely a correspondent bank, or a bank holding deposits of foreigners along with providing them with ‘services’ that conceal the identity of their owners. Correspondent banking, euphemistically in the ‘industry’ called “wealth management” and “tax optimization.” [..] Just as Mr. Rimsevics has seemingly been caught with Russian oligarchs, ABLV has been linked to handling money for North Korea’s weapons program. This crossed the line for the United States, which in the main has vacillated between support and tolerance of offshore banking, but who since 9/11 has become wary of its ‘downsides,’ such as terrorists and ‘axis of evil’ states availing themselves of their helpful services.

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“Yes RBA, you did inflate housing bubble…”

Reserve Bank Of Australia Accused Of Causing Ponzi Mortgage Market (AFR)

For years the Reserve Bank of Australia dismissed our warnings that excessively stimulatory interest rate cuts – which bequeathed borrowers with never-before-seen 3.4% mortgage rates that fuelled double-digit house price inflation – had blown a bubble that presented genuine financial stability risks. This manifested via record increases in speculative investor activity, interest-only loans and, more broadly, Australia’s household debt-to-income and house price-to-income ratios, which leapt into unchartered territory (notably above pre-global financial crisis peaks). The RBA narrative was very different. “Our concern was not that developments in household balance sheets posed a risk to the stability of the banking system,” governor Philip Lowe recently explained.

“Rather, it was more that…the day might come, when faced with bad economic news, households feel they have borrowed too much and respond by cutting their spending sharply, damaging the overall economy.” Nothing to see here when it comes to financial stability, if you believe the weasel words. It turns out Lowe was privately “packing his dacks” after unleashing the mother-of-all-booms powered by the cheapest credit in history. After the sudden deceleration in national house price growth – as documented here – from an 11.5% annualised rate in May 2017 to just 1.9% today, the governor revealed to parliamentarians that he’s now “much more comfortable…than I have been in recent years when I have been appearing before this committee, when I was quite worried”. That’s central speak for petrified.

Lowe conceded that “housing prices were rising very, very quickly – much faster than people’s income – and the level of debt was rising much faster than people’s income”. Yet according to the RBA’s interpretation, the 50% explosion in house prices between 2012 and 2018 was propelled not by the 11 interest rate cuts it bestowed on borrowers over the same period, but by a lack of new housing supply. You have to ignore the record building boom to believe this BS.

Read more …

Pay me Ponzi!

US Shale Investors Still Waiting On Payoff From Oil Boom (R.)

U.S. oil production has topped 10 million barrels per day, approaching a record set in 1970, but many investors in the companies driving the shale oil revolution are still waiting for their payday. Shale producers have raised and spent billions of dollars to produce more oil and gas, ending decades of declining output and redrawing the global energy trade map. But most U.S. shale producers have failed for years to turn a profit with the increased output, frustrating their financial backers. Wall Street’s patience ran out late last year as investors called for producers to shift more cash to dividends and share buybacks. “‘Give me some cash, please.’ That’s what investors have said,” said Anoop Poddar, a partner at private equity firm Energy Ventures.

And yet such calls for payouts remain a debate in the industry as oil prices have recently creeped up to four-year highs. Investors demanding immediate returns could risk forcing firms to curb expansion that could have a higher long-term payoff if oil prices continue to rise. For now, share prices of shale producers have yet to fully recover from the 2014 oil price collapse, when many investors took losses as hundreds of firms went bankrupt and those that survived struggled. The energy sector has lagged the rally that took the broader stock market to record highs. The S&P 500 Energy Index remains nearly a third off its peak in mid-2014, when oil prices topped $100 a barrel. The broader S&P 500 index is up 39% during the same period.

This year, five of the 15 largest U.S. independent shale firms have started paying or raised quarterly dividends, the documents show. But six of the firms have never offered a dividend or have not restored cuts implemented since the 2014 oil price collapse. Anadarko Petroleum earlier this month added $500 million to an existing buyback program and raised its dividend by 20%, sending its shares up 4.5% the next trading day. Buybacks reduce the number of shares outstanding, boosting the value of stock that remains.

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This could turn ugly. Very ugly.

EU Leaders Go to Battle Over Post-Brexit Budget Gap (BBG)

Hashing out the European Union’s multiannual budget is a political slugfest at the best of times. Throw in Brexit and the contest looks even more bruising. The U.K.’s scheduled withdrawal from the EU next year will leave a 10 billion-euro ($12.3 billion) annual hole in the bloc’s spending program, the main topic when leaders meet on Friday to map out Europe’s 2021-2027 budget. A Bloomberg survey of government positions reveals splits over how to cover the gap, with at least three net contributors – Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria – saying they won’t pay more. While amounting to only 1 percent of EU economic output, the European budget of 140 billion euros a year provides key funds for farmers, poorer regions and researchers in everything from energy to space technologies.

It’s also a barometer of the political mood in European capitals, signaling the risk of fissures as the EU seeks to maintain unity in the Brexit talks, confront new security challenges and curb democratic backsliding in countries such as Poland. “I expect it to be quite a fight,” said Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. “The EU budget hole is quite substantial. You actually have a double challenge: you have to cut some spending and increase money for new priority areas.” [..] Britain’s absence from the next multiannual European spending program is conspicuous because the country is the No. 2 net contributor. Germany, which is the largest, and Italy, the fourth biggest, both say they are open to increasing their payments into the financial framework, the survey shows. Portugal and Estonia, both net recipients of funds, are prepared to raise their contributions, while France and Belgium are still undecided.

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So what’s he going to do about it?

Irish President Criticises EU Treatment Of Greece (IT)

Those responsible for mistaken economic policies that have had such a negative effect on the Greek people need to take responsibility for their actions, President Michael D Higgins has said, on the first day of his state visit. “It is a moral test of all actions that the person who initiates an action must take responsibility for its consequences,” Mr Higgins told his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos. “It is little less than outrageous that the social consequences of decisions that are taken are not in fact understood and offered to people as choices,” Mr Higgins said, in remarks at a bilateral meeting at the presidential mansion.

Referring to the speech made by Emmanuel Macron on his recent state visit to Athens, Mr Higgins said he had to “say something much stronger” than the French president, who, he noted had acknowledged “that great mistakes, with great effect on the Greek people, have been made and that these were mistakes of the European Union”. “Cohesion, social cohesion, social Europe, must be placed on the top of the agenda that we all now share on the future of the union.” This meant that “we cannot continue adjusting out populations to economics models that not only have failed but have not submitted themselves to empirical tests in relation to their social consequences. “If parliaments and the mediating institutions continue to leach influence because they no longer have any power, because influences are coming from those who have no accountability, then we have a crisis.”

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Note: the whole thing is based on an FBI report, with probes of Novartis going back to at least 2014.

“..bribery scandal [..] the worst since the creation of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago..”

Greek MPs Vote To Investigate Top Politicians In Novartis Bribery Claims (G.)

The Greek parliament is to investigate 10 of the country’s top politicians over in return for patronage that resulted in huge losses for Greece. After a raucous 20-hour debate, MPs voted early on Thursday to form a parliamentary committee tasked solely with investigating two former prime ministers and eight other ministers in connection with the allegations. The governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras; Europe’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos and the country’s former prime minister Antonis Samaras are among those accused of giving Novartis preferential market treatment. “We will not cover up,” Samaras’s successor, Alexis Tsipras, told parliament. “The Greek people must learn who turned pain and illness into a means of enrichment.”

Officials in Tsipras’ leftist-led administration have described the alleged bribery scandal as the worst since the creation of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago. It has raised fears of political instability at a time when many had hoped the country was finally returning to normality after years of tumult. All 10 of those implicated vehemently rebutted the charges in often angry and emotional speeches during the debate. Stournaras, a former finance minister who helped steer Greece through some of its darkest days of the debt crisis after the country’s near-economic collapse, described the allegations as “disgusting fabrications”. Panagiotis Pikrammenos, who headed a one-month caretaker administration at the height of the crisis in 2012, came close to tears as he described the allegations against him “as lies and unacceptable slander”.

The cross-party committee, made up of 21 MPs, is expected to be established imminently. It will have the power to decide whether accusations of bribery, breach of duty and money-laundering apply, under a strict statute of limitation, to each of the accused. Under Greek law, parliament must investigate politicians for alleged infractions before they can face judicial prosecution. Few question that wrongdoing was committed. A confidential report by prosecutors originally tipped off by US authorities alleged that bribes of as much as €50m (£44m) were paid to politicians between 2006 to 2015 to promote Novartis’s products. More than 4,500 doctors are accused of malpractice as well. [..] With losses of around €4 billion for the country’s health system, the scandal will have played a significant role in Greece’s financial meltdown.

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How to make sure an economy won’t recover.

Greece Is The European Champion In Corporate Taxes (K.)

Corporate taxation in Greece is burdensome and anti-competitive, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) says in a report published on Thursday, stressing that Greek taxes also fail to draw revenues above the average rate of other European countries that as a rule have lower corporate taxation. According to SEV, the real tax load on corporations has increased considerably, with income tax reverting to the 2006 level plus the income on revenues from dividends: Today income tax comes to 29%, the tax on dividends to 15%, the solidarity levy to 10% and social security contributions for board members to 26.7%. This amounts to 81% of profit distribution, SEV said.

The federation’s analysts argue that profit taxation is above the European Union average and definitely higher than neighboring states that are Greece’s direct rivals within the bloc. If one adds board members’ social security contributions, then Greece has the highest corporate taxes by far, being the only country to have increased its tax sum since 2000, at a time when other states have been reducing the burden. SEV goes on to note that the tax rates are the just tip of the iceberg. The report focuses on the overall framework of corporate taxation that does not allow enterprises to grow and improve their competitiveness in international markets.

The federation highlights six specific problems in the corporate tax framework:
– The option of offsetting losses against future profits in Greece is for just five years, against at least 10 years in most EU states;
– Other countries have special incentives through tax exemption on expenditure, which in Greece are particularly limited;
– There is no framework for favorable regulations and incentives for mergers and acquisitions, which would encourage the streamlining and expansion of companies and reduce bad loans;
– There are no incentives such as accelerated amortization for new investments on equipment, which SEV calculates would have been fiscally neutral;
– Greek amortization rates are noncompetitive, particularly concerning investments in machinery and other equipment, forcing Greek firms to amortize their equipment slowly;
– Finally, Greece retains anachronistic levies such as stamp duty.

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Ignores the role of social media-induced echo chambers.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America (French)

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second Amendment. They mocked the notion that rape victims might want to arm themselves for protection. There were calls of “murderer.” Rubio was compared to a mass killer. There were wild cheers for the idea of banning every single semiautomatic rifle in America. The discourse was vicious. It was also slanderous. There were millions of Americans who watched all or part of the town hall and came away with a clear message: These people aren’t just angry at what happened in their town, to their friends and family members; they hate me.

They really believe I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care if kids die, and they want to deprive me of the ability to defend myself. The CNN town hall might in other circumstances have been easy to write off as an outlier, a result of the still-raw grief and pain left in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But it was no less vitriolic than the “discourse” online, where progressives who hadn’t lost anyone in the attack were using many of the same words as the angry crowd that confronted Rubio and Loesch. The NRA has blood on its hands, they said. It’s a terrorist organization. Gun-rights supporters — especially those who oppose an assault-weapons ban — are lunatics at best, evil at worst. This progressive rage isn’t fake. It comes from a place of fierce conviction and sincere belief. Unfortunately, so does the angry response from too many conservatives.

[..] Unlike the stupid hysterics over net neutrality, tax policy, or regulatory reform, the gun debate really is — at its heart — about life and death. It’s about different ways of life, different ways of perceiving your role in a nation and a community. Given these immense stakes, extra degrees of charity and empathy are necessary in public discussion and debate. At the moment, what we have instead are extra degrees of anger and contempt. The stakes are high. Emotions are high. Ignorance abounds. Why bother to learn anything new when you know the other side is evil?

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Major cold spell on the doorstep.

50,000 Die In UK ‘Cold Homes Public Health Crisis’ (Ind.)

Thousands of people are “needlessly” dying each year because they cannot afford to properly heat their homes, new research has revealed. The UK has the second-worst rate of excess winter deaths in Europe, a study by National Energy Action and climate-change charity E3G found. The organisations called for urgent action to end to the devastating but “entirely preventable” tragedy that they say amounts to a “cold homes public health crisis”. The death toll looks set to rise next week as the UK braces for an imminent “polar vortex” predicted to bring harsh frost, snow showers and freezing temperatures. Almost 17,000 people in the UK are estimated to have died in the last five years as a direct result of fuel poverty and a further 36,000 deaths are attributable to conditions relating to living in a cold home, the research found.

The number dying each year is similar to the amount who die from prostate cancer or breast cancer. A total of 168,000 excess winter deaths from all causes have been recorded in the UK over the latest five-year period. Of 30 countries studied, only Ireland has a higher proportion of people dying due to cold weather. The research was published to coincide with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day on Friday which aims to highlight the problems faced by those struggling to keep warm in their homes. It comes just 24 hours after Centrica, which owns British Gas, announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs after a “weak” year in which it made £1.25bn profit. The company’s chief executive, Ian Conn, said the Government’s energy price cap – designed to prevent loyal and vulnerable customers being ripped off – was partly to blame for the layoffs. Pedro Guertler, of E3G, who co-authored the research, said the winter death figures were not only a tragedy but a “national embarrassment”.

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Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Corot Study for “The Destruction of Sodom” 1843

 

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)
‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)
How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)
Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)
These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)
China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)
Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)
Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)
An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)
Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)
Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

 

 

“Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount.”

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)

Yea….it’s that psychology thing. Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount. This behavioral bias of investors is one of the most serious risks arising from ETFs as the concentration of too much capital in too few places.

But this concentration risk in ETF’s is not the first time this has occurred: In the early 70’s it was the “Nifty Fifty” stocks, Then Mexican and Argentine bonds a few years after that; “Portfolio Insurance” was the “thing” in the mid -80’s; Dot.com anything was a great investment in 1999; Real estate has been a boom/bust cycle roughly every other decade, but 2006 was a doozy; Today, it’s ETF’s and Bitcoin.

Risk concentration always seems rational at the beginning, and the initial successes of the trends it creates can be self-reinforcing. Until it goes in the other direction. While the sell-off last week was not particularly unusual, it was the uniformity of the price moves which revealed the fallacy “passive investing” as investors headed for the door all at the same time. Such a uniform sell-off is indicative of what we have been warning about for the last several months. For price chasing investors, last week’s plunge should serve as a warning. “With everyone crowded into the ‘ETF Theater,’ the ‘exit’ problem should be of serious concern. Unfortunately, for most investors, they are likely stuck at the very back of the theater.

I warned of this previously: “At some point, that reversion process will take hold. It is then investor ‘psychology’ will collide with ‘margin debt’ and ETF liquidity. It will be the equivalent of striking a match, lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it into a tanker full of gasoline. When the ‘herding’ into ETF’s begins to reverse, it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to price, valuation or fundamental measures. Importantly, as prices decline it will trigger margin calls which will induce more indiscriminate selling. The forced redemption cycle will cause catastrophic spreads between the current bid and ask pricing for ETF’s.

As investors are forced to dump positions to meet margin calls, the lack of buyers will form a vacuum causing rapid price declines which leave investors helpless on the sidelines watching years of capital appreciation vanish in moments. Don’t believe me? It happened in 2008 as the ‘Lehman Moment’ left investors helpless watching the crash.” “Over a 3-week span, investors lost 29% of their capital and 44% over the entire 3-month period. This is what happens during a margin liquidation event. It is fast, furious and without remorse.” Make no mistake we are sitting on a “full tank of gas.”

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No! “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options..”

‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)

A scheme to manipulate Wall Street’s fear gauge, VIX, poses risk to the entire equity market and costs investors hundreds of millions of dollars a month, a law firm on behalf of an “anonymous whistleblower” told U.S. financial regulators and urged them to investigate before additional losses are suffered. The Washington-based law firm which represents an anonymous person who claims to have held senior roles in the investment business, told the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday that he discovered a market manipulation scheme that takes advantage of a widespread flaw in the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX).

The CBOE Volatility Index measures the cost of buying options and is the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility. “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options and without needing to physically engage in any trading or deploying any capital,” it said in a letter. Those bets against volatility unraveled last week as the benchmark S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their biggest respective percentage drops since August 2011. Investors using exchange-traded products linked to the VIX were pummeled and two banks, Credit Suisse and Nomura, said they would terminate two exchange traded notes that bet on low volatility in stock prices.

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Try 6%, 7%.

How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)

Mortgage rates are now at their highest level in four years and poised to move even higher. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the usually busy spring housing market kicked into gear early this year amid higher home prices and strong competition for a record low supply of homes for sale. Add it all up, and affordability is starting to hurt. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed is now right around 4.50%, still low when looking historically, but buyers over the past six years have gotten more used to rates in the 3% range. Mortgage rates have not been at 5% since 2011. A 5% rate would cause more than a quarter of today’s homebuyers to slow their plans, according to a Redfin survey of 4,000 consumers at the end of last year. Just 6% said they would drop their plans to buy altogether.

About one-fifth of consumers said 5% rates would cause them to move with more urgency to purchase a home, fearing rates would rise even further. Another fifth said they would consider more affordable areas or just buy a smaller home. Despite rate concerns, the bigger issue for buyers is changes to tax laws that had lowered the cost of homeownership. Specifically, the deduction on property taxes is now limited to $10,000. While that does not affect homeowners in the majority of the country, it does hit those in high-cost states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and those in higher-priced housing markets like California. Some have claimed that higher rates and the new tax law will put downward pressure on home prices, alleviating some of the current sticker shock, but other factors are fighting that assertion.

“Tight credit, lack of inventory and high demand are the major factors that tell us there’s no housing bubble, despite rapid price increases,” said Redfin’s chief economist, Nela Richardson. “There are still many more buyers than the current housing supply can support, with no major relief in sight.”

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From Australia. Check interest-only where you live. Big Threat.

Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)

Interest-only property investors seeking to switch their loan to principal and interest may be forced to sell because of lenders’ tough new serviceability requirements. A typical borrower paying 4.5% on a $400,000 loan will have to prove to their lender they can meet repayments for a 7.25% loan, or an increase in annual repayments from $18,000 to more than $32,700. The higher serviceability rates have been introduced after many investors took out their loans and are forcing borrowers to try and sell their properties, despite markets beginning to soften. It’s worse for many self-managed super fund investors who bought investment properties and are boxed in from making bigger payments because of annual caps on the size of their contributions. Real estate agents are warning the cash flow crunch is causing mortgage stress to rapidly spread from one-time mining boom towns and the outer suburbs into prestigious inner suburbs.

“Clients are ringing to say they need to refinance and their next call is that they need to sell,” said Andrew Fawell, director of Beller Property Group. Mr Fawell, whose business covers inner Melbourne within 10 kilometres of the central business district, has been asked to value four potential mortgagee property sales in the past month after having none in the past two years. “Many investors who bought two or three apartments with, in many cases, only 10% deposit with cheap interest-only loans are beginning to feel the heat,” Mr Fawell said. “These numbers will get a lot worse as investors find it harder to service their debt.”

The potential problem arises for many three- to five-year fixed rate loans that have reached the end of their terms and the much stricter regime introduced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Many borrowers deposited only 10%. In recent years most major lenders have introduced a 7.25% “floor for serviceability” for investor and owner-occupier loans, which is the minimum rate at which the bank will assess a home loan. Serviceability is the lenders’ assessment of the borrowers’ capacity to afford the loan and takes into account possibly higher future interest rates. It is usually assessed by a review of income and fixed commitments over the life of the loan and potential rental income.

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The ECB supports those parties that don’t need it.

These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)

This is tapering? With the economic recovery well under way in Europe the European Central Bank has cut its government bond purchases by two-thirds. Fair enough. However, it is not reining in its involvement in company debt. The securities now comprise about 20% of monthly purchases, up from 7% at the start of the program in mid-2016. The total amount could top €200 billion ($244 billion) before quantitative easing ends. If it had any self-knowledge the ECB should be aware of the problems it’s creating. The fact that, by its purchases, it has soaked up all the liquidity in the secondary market and has had to turn to the primary market should be a warning sign. The central bank’s growing involvement in company borrowing should be causing ructions among the hawks on the Governing Council, who seem alive to the dangers of being late in withdrawing stimulus.

Yet their silence is deafening. Through QE the ECB has invested in over 230 individual companies, and with an average maturity of 5.6 years it’s impossible to see them as being exposed only in the short term. Performance has been decent – spreads have tightened on about three-quarters of its holdings. The odd misstep, such as having to liquidate Steinhoff or German fertilizer maker K+S bonds when they fell below investment grade, can be overlooked. The knock-on effect of such largess is that corporate bond spreads have had a seemingly unending streak of achieving record lows. Support for credit markets in times of strife is one thing. But driving outsized performance isn’t just storing up trouble for an individual company or investor for the future, it’s a reckless refusal to allow financial discipline to inform the decision making of actors in the financial system.

[..] The surge of demand for additional tier one bank capital is another particularly worrying phenomenon. Investors face a total loss if the issuing bank’s capital ratios fall below regulatory requirements. Raiffeisen Bank was able in January to issue an AT1 perpetual bond at 4.5%, having issued a similar 6.125% AT1 security in June. Though there was a one-notch credit-rating upgrade, that can hardly justify such an enormous improvement. And 4.5% can never be enough compensation for the risk of getting completely wiped out.

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Now Beijing wants to push rental housing. Easier to control?

China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)

While all eyes are on China’s stocks rout after the U.S. swoon, there’s a troubled sector that’s garnering fewer headlines but will have broader reverberations – real estate. Chinese property stocks slumped last week, dragged down not just by the global sell-off but by worries this may be the year when housing finally takes a hit. To date, Beijing’s crackdown on risk amid soaring household debt has had little effect on prices. December data showed values in small cities continued to rise, while they were mostly flat in top-tier conurbations like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing. There are several reasons, though, why the 13-year rally in house prices must end at some point. First, banks are making borrowing tough, not only raising costs for home loans but also restricting supply, especially in major centers such as Beijing and Shenzhen, under a semi-official mortgage quota.

Even last year’s stars, the second- and third-tier cities that led price gains, may fade as China curtails easy home loans that were intended to help soak up a glut of property. Downpayments there ranged between 20 and 30%, compared with 40 to 80% in top-tier locations, according to Credit Suisse. As the curbs bite, mortgage lending has started to decline. (The other plank of household debt, consumer lending, has been an even bigger problem, surging 180% last year, according to Credit Suisse.) Second, perhaps further down the line, a property tax is looming. Finance Minister Xiao Jie indicated this might happen as early as 2020. When President Xi Jinping exhorted people to remember that houses are for living, not speculation, real estate investors must have grown nervous; a tax will make them quake.

With few investment options available to individuals beyond the volatile stock market and wealth-management products (more and more of which are being banned), it’s no surprise that as much as 25% of the demand for real estate is speculative, according to Bloomberg Economics. Third, there’s the more immediate threat to real estate prices of a supply-side push by Beijing. The government is starting to shift from tamping down demand to promoting new housing. Among measures the government is promoting, according to BNP Paribas economist Chen Xingdong, is encouraging homes where the government and buyers share property rights, and even allowing state-owned firms to sell apartments to their employees. The government is also encouraging the growth of a rental market. While much of the current stock of rental housing is of poor quality, that’s likely to change.

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And only now does this reach European media. The upshot: Novartis pulled the same stunt in South Korea.

Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has called for parliament to investigate whether two of his predecessors and eight former ministers accepted bribes from the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, after allegations of industrial-scale bribery involving senior politicians. The former PMs Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the governor of the Bank of Greece and the EU’s migration commissioner were all identified as alleged beneficiaries of bribes in a report compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors with the help of US authorities. Novartis is alleged to have bribed politicians to approve overpriced contracts and to have made payments to thousands of doctors as part of concerted efforts to boost sales between 2006 to 2015.

The claims have rocked Greek society since coming to light last week. One serving government minister claimed the kickbacks surpassed €50m and resulted in costs of more than €4bn to the Greek public health system. The deputy justice minister, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, said it was “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state” almost 200 years ago. Widening the net on Monday, Tsipras said it was imperative there could be no cover-up. “We will make use of every power afforded by national and international law to recover the money stolen from the Greek people down to the last euro,” the leftist leader told MPs in his Syriza party. “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth.”

MPs will vote on establishing a committee of inquiry later this month. Only parliament has the power to investigate politicians for alleged infractions during their term in office. The allegations have been rebutted vehemently by the accused. The report’s reliance on three unnamed witnesses – who are currently under government protection – has been especially criticised, and legal experts contend that the claims would not stand up in court. The EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos demanded that the identity of the witnesses be revealed and expressed his “disgust” at what he said were fabrications created by “sick minds”. He stands accused of purchasing 16m anti-flu vaccines from Novartis while health minister between 2006 and 2009. [..] Novartis has faced similar investigations in recent years. Last year South Korea fined the company $48m for offering kickbacks to doctors.

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Just as Greece starts selling bonds again, it faces increasing competition,

Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)

Greece almost makes it look easy. It issued a new €3 billion ($3.7 billion) seven-year bond on Thursday, at a very healthy 3.5% yield, stepping into a briefly open window for raising money during the most torrid week for markets in years. The security is now trading very close to 4%. Ouch. The benefits of going ahead with the sale went to Greece rather than to investors. With a €6 billion order book there was no lack of demand – but there is buyer’s remorse now. It’s the first sovereign syndicated new issue to perform badly in Europe so far this year. This could make it troublesome for the region’s other governments to bring deals on top of an already-heavy regular auction schedule. Greece may just be one turkey, but investor demand is going to become a lot pickier.

And there’s plenty to choose from. Governments have been crowding out the syndicated new issue market even more this year, comprising 26.5% of deals versus an already-strong 23% at this stage in 2017. If supra-nationals and agencies are included then half of all new syndicated deals are from an official institution. It’s a curious result, given that the European new-issue market is supposed to be much more about companies. For example, the European Financial Stability Facility – created to fund Greece’s bailout – has already issued half of its €28 billion annual plan. The EFSF has come three times in 2018 with €13.5 billion in maturities ranging from 6 to 23 years. That is an almost indecent rush to complete its annual funding schedule as early as possible. It’s smart for the issuer – less so for the investor.

Borrowers can try to front-load sales in a low-rate environment, but with more central banks getting comfortable with tightening, investors are not going to play that game unless the yield is generous. It’s an increasing struggle, given that the German benchmark 10-year yield has risen sharply since the mid-December lows of 30 basis points. The yield famine is easing up.

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What a shame: too late!

An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)

“A man’s house is his castle,” Sir Edward Coke wrote back in the 17th century. These days, Britons are relying on their properties not just for refuge but also to fund their retirements. It’s a strategy that could backfire badly. Along with the rest of the world, the U.K. has an aging population: a growing number of retirees are being supported by a shrinking pool of workers. The U.K.’s dependency ratio – calculated by adding together the over 65s and under 15s, then dividing by the working-age population and multiplying by 100 – will rise to 60% by 2027. That’s up from 55% in 2017 and from 54% in 1997. As the pyramid grows more inverted, how does the top-heavy non-working cohort propose to finance a life of leisure and superannuation? By releasing the equity they expect to have accumulated in their homes once they’re ready to hit the golf course.

One in five Brits agreed with the statement “when I retire, I plan to sell my house, downsize and live off the profit,” according to a survey commissioned by pension consultants LCP from polling firm YouGov. That gamble seems unwise. In recent years home values, like global stock markets, only ever seemed to increase. But, again as with global stock markets, the notion of ever-rising prices has taken something of a beating recently. According to a report published on Monday, U.K. house prices posted their first annual decline in six years in January. Moreover, with wage growth in recent years failing to keep pace with either rising property prices or inflation, it’s become harder for those of working age to get on the housing ladder in the first place. And the percentage of under 34s who own their own homes has slumped in the past decade.

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This is so sick it makes one silent.

Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)

British charities are facing a government crackdown to combat the “horrific” sexual exploitation exposed at Oxfam, amid concerns about a wider culture of abuse. All British charities working overseas have been ordered to provide “absolute assurances” that they are protecting vulnerable people and referring complaints to authorities. Oxfam’s deputy chief executive resigned during crisis talks with the Government, saying she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti. But aid workers told The Independent sexual misconduct against both locals and staff remains “widespread” in humanitarian agencies and called for wholesale reforms.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has written a letter to all UK charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”. “It is not only Oxfam that must improve,” she said. “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.” The Department for International Development (Dfid) has created a new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities.

[..] “Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti – for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation’s response to it,” said Ms Mordaunt. “They spoke of the deep sense of disgrace and shame that they and their organisation feel about what has happened, and set out the actions they will now take to put things right and prevent such horrific abuses happening in future.“

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It’s not just Oxfam, it’s an industry-wide culture.

Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

The UN’s children’s agency has admitted shortcomings in its humanitarian support to children who allege that they were raped and sexually abused by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic. A statement by Unicef Netherlands is the first public acknowledgement of the agency’s recent failure to provide support to some of the victims of alleged abuse by peacekeepers in the African nation. It comes as the aid sector and the UN face increasing scrutiny for their failings in managing internal sexual misconduct by their own staff. Unicef was given the task of overseeing the support for children who said they had been abused by peacekeepers.

But in March last year, an award-winning investigation by Swedish Television’s Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) revealed that some of the children supposedly in the UN’s care were homeless, out of school and forced to make a living on the streets, despite UN assurances that they would be protected. Unicef’s representative in CAR told the programme that the children were in the agency’s assistance programme for minors and were being supported. He said he was not aware that some were on the streets. But earlier this month – ahead of a Dutch screening of the programme – Unicef Netherlands admitted to the Dutch television programme Zembla that Unicef had failed in its duty to help some of the alleged victims. But it said that since the programme had first aired, it had taken steps to locate the children featured in the programme and provide them with support.

Marieke van Santen, of Zembla, said she found the Swedish film “astonishing” because the children who were interviewed were known to Unicef, yet they were not being cared for. Van Santen said: “It is quite shocking to realise that not only once but twice UN agencies have failed to help these victims.” The statement from Unicef Netherlands was welcomed by Karin Mattisson, a reporter for Mission Investigate. “I hope it makes a difference to the children and gives them strength. They have said they were failed,” said Mattisson.Several boys who testified to having been sexually assaulted by French soldiers were living rough, Mattisson found, while a girl, who became pregnant at the age of 14 by a Congolese peacekeeper and had later found out she was HIV-positive, was out of school looking after her baby. Another boy, aged eight, who was too traumatised to be interviewed, was in an orphanage. “I hope they live up to this statement,” she said. “When we investigated the UN and Unicef it was a long journey into their culture of silence.”

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Feb 102018
 
 February 10, 2018  Posted by at 11:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1950s

 

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)
By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)
The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)
‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)
The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)
US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)
2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)
Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)
Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)
UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)
Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)
Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)
EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

 

 

The one thing that really matters now is volatility, and all the outstanding bets for or against it.

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)

U.S. equities ended their worst week in two years on a positive note, but rate-hike fears that pushed markets into a correction remain as investors await American inflation figures on Feb. 14. The S&P 500 tumbled 5.2% in the week, its steepest slide since January 2016, jolting equity markets from an unprecedented stretch of calm. At one point, stocks fell 12% from the latest highs, before a furious rally Friday left the equity benchmark 1.5% higher on the day. Still, the selloff has wiped out gains for the year. Signs mounted that jitters spread to other assets, with measures of market unrest pushing higher in junk bonds, emerging-market equities and Treasuries. The Cboe Volatility Index ended at 29, almost three times higher than its level Jan. 26.

The VIX’s bond-market cousin reached its highest since April during the week, and a measure of currency volatility spiked to levels last seen almost a year ago. Pressure on equities came from the Treasury market, where yields spiked to a four-year high, raising concern the Federal Reserve would accelerate its rate-hike schedule. Yields ended the week at 2.85%, near where they started, as Treasuries moved higher when equity selling reached its most frantic levels. Commodities including oil, gold and industrial metals moved lower Friday. The dollar, euro and sterling all declined. “Sometimes making a bottom can take time,” Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust Co., said by phone. “Investors should be at least aware, cognizant, and expect a little more volatility after we go through this period of more cathartic volatility.”

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In more detail: volatility. Or in other words: how the Fed killed the market.

By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)

Back in 2008, the non-financial world had to digest a lot of jargon in a hurry – collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), asset-backed securities (ABSs) and the rest of the alphabet soup of derivative products that contributed to the great banking crash. This week’s diet has felt similar. As the Dow Jones industrial average twice fell 1,000 points in a day, we have had to swallow tales about the VIX, the inverse VIX, the XIV, and ETPs. Did this overdose of three-letter acronyms really cause the stock markets to swoon? Have those geniuses in the back offices of investment banks really baffled themselves – and a lot of investors – with complexity again? The short answer to the second question is: yes. The chart shows one of the most spectacular blow-ups you could hope to see.

This is the XIV – it is actually the snappier name for the Credit Suisse VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term exchange traded note – since the start of 2016. It was a beautiful investment until, suddenly, it was a disaster. What is the XIV? It was a way to bet that the S&P 500, the main US stock index, would be tranquil – in other words suffer few outbreaks of volatility. The measure of volatility is called the VIX and it is compiled and published by the Chicago Board Options Exchange by noting the prices of various option contracts in the market and then applying a mathematical formula. The VIX is more famously known as the “fear index”. In itself, the VIX is just a number – its long-term average is about 20, more than 30 is a worry, and more than 40 could herald a crisis.

For much of last year it was between 10 and 12 but on Tuesday it hit 50, before recoiling back to around 30 currently. The fun starts when products are invented to trade and speculate on how the VIX will perform. Conventional futures contracts came first. Then ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, a low-cost product that has taken the financial world by storm in the last couple of decades, followed. The XIV is slightly different (it’s a note, rather than a fund) but it comes from the same school. By trading S&P 500 options, or contracts to buy and sell the S&P at points in the future, it was structured to do the exact opposite of the VIX. If volatility in the stock market was low – as it was throughout 2016 and 2017 – owners of the XIV would do well. In the jargon, they were “short vol”. But, if volatility exploded, then the XIV would fall.

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Posted a different version of this chart (from Arbeter) yesterday, coming from Market Watch.

The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)

Interest-rates going up “for the right reason” is bullish, right? Each time interest rates have surged up to their long-term trendline, a ‘crisis’ has occurred…

But this time is different right? Because rates are “going up for the right reason.” Hhmm, the reaction in markets each time the yield on the 10-Year Treasury yield reaches its trendline is ominous…

So the question is – have interest rates ‘ever’ gone up for the right reason? Or is this narrative just one more bullshit line from a desperate industry of asset-gatherers and commission-takers? It does make one wonder what the relationship between US government ‘interest costs’ and global money flow really is. Does an engineered equity tumble spark safe-haven-buying and ease the pain as deficits and debt loads soar. It would certainly help as $300bn additional budget deals are passed, The Fed has left the game, and China is threatening to be a seller not a buyer…

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If everyone’s on the same side of the boat, somebody must be on the other.

‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)

There’s reason to be concerned about bond vigilantes, who are no longer under “lock and key” and are free to push yields higher, Wall Street veteran Ed Yardeni told CNBC on Friday. Yardeni, a market historian, coined the term bond vigilantes in the 1980s to refer to investors who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce fiscal discipline. Having fewer buyers drives prices down — and drives yields up — in the fixed-income market. That, in turn, makes it more expensive for the government to borrow and spend. “They had been sort of put under lock and key by the central banks. The Fed had lowered interest rates down to zero in terms of short-term rates and that pushed bond yields down. And then they bought up a lot of these bond yields,” said Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.

Now the Fed is slowly raising interest rates and starting to unwind its balance sheet. On top of that, new tax cuts were passed and a massive spending deal was just signed into law. “Now people are looking more at the domestic situation and saying, ‘You know what, maybe we need a higher bond yield,'” Yardeni said in an interview with “Power Lunch.” “They’ve saddled up, and they’re riding high. The posse is getting ready. They’re getting the message out.” Bond vigilantes last made their mark during the Clinton administration, when a bond market sell-off forced President Bill Clinton to tone down his spending agenda. Yardeni said while Clinton got the message back then, he doesn’t think the Trump administration has this time around.

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Sub: Rising rates slam stocks as market volatility rages on.

The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)

It all started with bond yields. Spiking yields spilled over onto the stock market in the past week, first triggering a nearly 666-point drop on the Dow last Friday and then sparking two declines of more than 1,000 points within just 4 days. The bond rout will continue with yields on the 10-year possibly reaching 3% in the near term, according to Craig Johnson, senior technical strategist at Piper Jaffray. That is a level it has not reached since January 2014. “This is a 36-year reversal in rates,” Johnson told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. Bond yields, which move inversely to prices, have generally been in decline over the past 3 decades, indicating a long-term bull market for bond prices.

“When you reverse that downtrend from down to up you typically get a momentum response and a quick move up. That’s exactly what you’re seeing in the bond market right now,” added Johnson. “You’ve got to be careful in here right now.” The yield on 10-year Treasurys has risen at a fast clip since the U.S. election in November 2016. Bond yields held at around 1.8% prior to the election and have since moved up 100 basis points to hit a 4-year high of 2.86% this week. The uncertainty of a Trump presidency initially sent bond prices lower and yields higher at the end of 2016. Now, worries over the effect an accelerating economy and rising inflation might have on Federal Reserve policy this year have taken over. Historically, bond prices fall when interest rates rise.

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No savings and huge debt means less consumer spending. Which is what 70% of US GDP is made of.

US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)

Last Friday, GDP for the fourth quarter of 2017 was released. Despite being 0.3% short of expectations at 2.6% annual growth, it nonetheless produced enthusiasm as witnessed by the S&P 500 which jumped 25 points. One of the reasons for the optimism following the release was a strong showing of the consumer which notched 2.80% growth in real personal consumption. The consumer, representing about 70% of GDP, is the single most important factor driving economic growth and therefore we owe it to ourselves to better understand what drove that growth. This knowledge, in turn, allows us to better assess its durability. There are three core means which govern the ability of individuals to spend. The most obvious is income and wages earned.

To help gauge the effect of changes in income we rely on disposable income, or the amount of money left to spend after accounting for required expenses. Real disposable personal income in the fourth quarter, the same quarter for which GDP growth data was released, grew at a 1.80% year over year rate. While other indicators of wage growth are slightly higher, we must consider that payroll gains are not evenly distributed throughout the economy. In fact as shown below 80% of workers continue to see flat to declining growth in their wages. While this may have accounted for some of the growth in consumption we need to consider the two other means of spending over which consumers have control, savings and credit card debt.

Savings: Last month the savings rate in the United States registered one of the lowest levels ever recorded in the past 70 years. In fact, the only time it was lower was in a brief period occurring right before the 2008/09 recession. At a rate of 2.6%, consumers are spending 97.4% of disposable income. The graph below shows how this compares historically. [..] the savings rate is less than half of that which occurred since the 2008/09 recession and well below prior periods.

Credit Card Debt: In addition to reducing savings to meet basic needs or even splurge for extra goods, one can also use credit card debt. Confirming our suspicion about savings, a recent sharp increase in revolving credit (credit card debt) is likely another sign consumers are having trouble maintaining their standard of living. Over the last four quarters revolving credit growth has increased at just under 6% annually which is almost twice as fast as disposable income. Further, the 6% credit card growth rate is about three times faster than that of the years following the recession of 2008/09.

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The liquidity super machine is stalling.

2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)

A decade of massive, synchronised monetary and fiscal stimulus has led to the greatest asset bubble in history, to the tune of about $100 trillion, nearly 1.5 times the world’s GDP. Compared to 2-3% of GDP growth in the global economy, we should be mindful of the potential and huge cost associated with it. Even though the US stock market is more expensive than in 1929 or 2000, and China’s property valuation is higher than Japan’s a quarter-of-a-century ago, fear-driven selloffs have been rare and brief, leading to the belief that high asset prices are the new normal. Massive amounts of financial and business activities, especially in technology, are predicated on high asset prices going higher. The unusual longevity and resilience of high asset prices are largely because government actions — not herd behaviour in the market — are force-feeding the bubble.

Government actions will lose their grip only when growth expectations crash or inflation flares up. Neither is a major risk for 2018. Hence, 2018 won’t kill the speculators of the world. But 2018 will teach them a lesson or two. High-risk assets such as internet stocks and high-end properties will struggle like never before in the past decade. US interest rates will rise above inflation for the first time in a decade. And China is tightening, especially in the property sector, out of fear of a life-threatening financial crisis. China accounts for about half of global credit growth. The interaction between the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and China’s credit targeting has been the liquidity super machine. It is stalling in 2018. The asset bubble demands that the excess liquidity-money supply rises faster than GDP to sustain it.

This year may see global money supply line up with GDP. The Fed is likely to raise interest rates from the current 1-1.25% and take the level to 2.5%. This is still low compared with the 4.5-5% nominal GDP growth rate. But the US stock market is more expensive than it was in 1929 or 2000. When the interest rate surpasses inflation, it will become wobbly. Policymakers are caught between a rock and a hard place. The structural problems that led to the 2008 crisis are still here. The global economy grows ever more dependent on asset bubbles. If the global asset bubble bursts, the economy will slide into recession. Hence, when a market wobbles — as it probably will in 2018 — policymakers will come out to soothe market sentiment and may even temporarily reverse the tightening.

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The EU is a feudal neo-liberal machine. There is no such thing as Soical Europe anywhere but in words. It’s about keeping the poor down, and dependent on your money.

Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)

Twenty-two out of 28 EU states have introduced a minimum wage, trumpeted as a key pillar in the construction of a social Europe. But huge disparities from one country to the next are fuelling resistance from opponents who see the policy as dragging down competitiveness, sovereignty as well as levelling down salaries. Brexit, as an expression of eurosceptic populism, has jolted the European Commission into going on the offensive as it looks to show the European Union is not just a common market but a bloc with a social dimension. A November 17 Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth last year set the ball rolling as all 28 EU members signed up to a Europe-wide charter on social rights, laying down 20 basic principles including statutory minimum wages as a mainstay of a policy framework to boost convergence.

“Adequate minimum wages shall be ensured, in a way that provide for the satisfaction of the needs of the worker and his/her family in the light of national economic and social conditions, whilst safeguarding access to employment and incentives to seek work,” according to the guidelines. But the non-binding declaration is, as such, merely symbolic, not least because “European treaties stipulate clearly that salaries come under the national purview,” notes Claire Dheret, head of employment and social Europe at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC). To date, the Gothenburg charter is being respected only partially, even if all but six EU states have a legal minimum wage, as witnessed by Eurostat data highlighting starkly varying levels from Bulgaria’s 460 leva (€235; $270) a month gross to €1,999 in Luxembourg, that is, nine times as much.

Even so, the discrepancy does shrink to around a factor of three when the cost of living in each state is taken into account. But the Eurostat data shows up major discrepancies between eastern and western states. Ten of the former pay a minimum of less than €500, whereas seven western EU members have set rates surpassing €1,300 euros. Five southern states pay between €650 and €850. The six without an official minimum, which have their own arrangements to cover the basic needs of low earners are Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

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We can repeat this every day: the mess gets messier.

Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)

David Davis has been dragged into renewed war of words with Brussels over the Brexit transition period, accusing the EU of having a “fundamental contradiction” in its approach and wanting to “have it both ways” after a week of fruitless talks. Relations between Britain and the European Commission sank to a new low on Friday after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, casually claimed at a press conference the UK had cancelled an important meeting due to a “diary clash”. UK officials behind the scenes took offence to the claim and said the meeting had not been cancelled at all and instead took place in the afternoon. Mr Barnier sealed the state of mutual incomprehension, telling reporters in Brussels that he had “problems understanding the UK’s position” on the transition period.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon after Mr Barnier’s press conference – a solo affair in contrast to previous joint outings – Mr Davis said the EU could not “have it both ways” on the transition period. “Given the intense work that has taken place this week it is surprising to hear that Michel Barnier is unclear on the UK’s position in relation to the implementation period,” he said. “As I set out in a speech two weeks ago, we are seeking a time-limited period that maintains access to each other’s markets on existing terms. “However for any such period to work both sides will need a way to resolve disputes in the unlikely event that they occur.

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And collapsing social services, health care etc. It’s a choice, not a flaw.

UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)

There are now more than 750,000 property millionaires in Britain, and in some towns in the south of England half of all homes cost more than £1m, according to analysis by website Zoopla. Despite a slowing property market, Zoopla estimated that the number of property millionaires has climbed to 768,553, a rise of 23% since August 2016. The figures underscore the hugely lopsided nature of the UK property market. Yorkshire and Humberside has 4,103 property millionaires, and Wales 2,223, while in London the figure is 430,720. The figures suggest that while one in 20 people in the capital are paper property millionaires, the same can be said for only one in every 1,400 people in Wales. Zoopla did not take into account the mortgage debt attaching to properties, just the number of properties valued at over £1m.

Outside London, Guildford in Surrey is the town with the most property millionaires, estimated at 5,889, followed by Cambridge and Reading. But Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire emerges as having the greatest concentration of property wealth in just one town. Zoopla found that 49% of all the houses in the town of 12,000 people nestled below the Chiltern Hills are valued at more than £1m. Agents in the town – dubbed Mayfair in the Chilterns – are currently marketing an opulent six-bed home in Beaconsfield’s “golden triangle” for £6m, boasting a cinema, wine-tasting room and its own six-person smoke-mirrored passenger lift opening on to a galleried balcony with a “Sexy Crystals” chandelier. There is a separate annexe for staff.

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The EU plays the ultimate card: Scotland. The UK has no rebuttal. None. Nada.

Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)

Officials from the UK and EU are drawing up a plan to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border. The opening of technical talks followed a warning from Brussels that keeping the region under EU laws was currently the only viable option for inclusion in its draft withdrawal agreement. The development, first reported by the Guardian on Friday and later confirmed by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, triggered an immediate row. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument – it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a Tory MP and officer in the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Conservatives, accused Barnier of “playing hardball”. “I am surprised that the media are reporting his comments as if they are the only voice and hard fact,” she said. “Perhaps Mr Barnier could remember that the UK is in negotiations, which is a two-way discussion.” “It is important to tell the truth,” Barnier said. “The UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs unions would make border checks unavoidable. Second, the UK has committed to proposing specific solutions to the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. And we are waiting for such solutions. “The third option is to maintain full regulatory alignment with those rules of the single market and the customs union, current or future, that support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday agreement. “It is our responsibility to include the third option in the text of the withdrawal agreement to guarantee there will be no hard border whatever the circumstances.”

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The present European commissioner for migration and home affairs is reported to have taken €40 million in bribes. He should lose his job, today.

Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)

Just days after 10 former ministers in Greece were implicated in bribery allegations against Novartis, the country’s prime minister is calling for a special parliamentary committee to investigate the charges, which have been pegged as slanderous by some politicians pulled into the widening scandal. Meanwhile, three former Novartis executives believed to have provided the meat of the allegations have come under fire, even as their lawyer fights to shield their identities. The investigation targeting Novartis’s Greece offices has been going on since last January, but it blew up earlier this week when news emerged that the case would be submitted to the Greek parliament, which would then decide whether to prosecute the 10 politicians. Novartis is the target of allegations that it bribed doctors and government officials to help boost sales of its drugs.

Now Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants the special committee to look into allegations that the 10 politicians received millions of euros in exchange for fixing drug prices and granting other favors to Novartis, according to local press reports. A spokesman for Novartis told FiercePharma that the company continues “to cooperate with requests from local and foreign authorities.” Novartis has not received an indictment related to the investigation in Greece, he added. According to press accounts of the prosecutors’ report, the allegations of bribery stemmed from testimony from three witnesses who worked for Novartis. The witnesses spoke to the FBI, which joined in the investigation in Greece. The employees reported that Greece’s health minister from 2006 to 2009 took €40 million ($49 million) in exchange for ordering “a huge amount” of Novartis products, according to The Greek Reporter.

The health minister working between 2009 and 2010 allegedly accepted €120,000 ($147,000) from the company and laundered it through a computer hardware firm, the news organization added. At least one of the politicians named in the report wants the identities of the three Novartis witnesses to be revealed. Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was the health minister from 2006 to 2009 and now serves as European commissioner for migration and home affairs, held a press conference Friday during which he said he will file a lawsuit demanding the names of the witnesses be made public, according to Politico.

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How dare he use the word sovereign in this context? Greece, like all other EU nations, was and is always sovereign. Demand his resignation.

EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

On exiting its third international bailout in August, Greece will be an “absolutely sovereign country,” European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a conference on Friday organized by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and Kathimerini in Athens. “There should be no precautionary credit line,” Moscovici said. “There should be an end to the programs.” The commissioner said that Greece “did what it had to do” but that economic and structural reforms must continue. He also drew attention to an “issue of administrative competence,” without elaborating. In addition, Moscovici expressed his confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who he described as “smart and flexible,” adding that their relationship was “perfect.” Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos decided to “play ball,” Moscovici said. He further said Tsakalotos’s predecessor Yanis Varoufakis wreaked major political and financial damage on Greece.

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