Jul 062018
 
 July 6, 2018  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Reading woman in violet dress 1898

 

China Imposes Tariffs, Says US Launching ‘Largest Trade War In History’ (CNBC)
Trump Says China Could Face More Than $500 Billion In US Tariffs (CNBC)
Merkel Open To Reducing EU Tariffs On American Cars (NC5)
US Labor Shortage Is Reaching A Critical Point (CNBC)
Theresa May’s New Customs Plan ‘Dead On Arrival’ In EU (Ind.)
Theresa May Battles To See Off Revolt Ahead Of Key Brexit Summit (G.)
The Dark Cloud Of Global Debt (GT)
“People Assume That Stocks Always Rise Over Time. They’re Wrong” (Eric Peters)
Most Dangerous Market Ever – Michael Pento (USAW)
Moscow Using UK As Dumping Ground For Poison, Says Sajid Javid (G.)
If The Novichok Was Planted By Russia, Where’s The Evidence? (G.)
Seehofer Tells Merkel, Italy And Greece To Solve Migration Row (EUO)
European Parliament Rejects Controversial Copyright Rules (Ind.)

 

 

Act like grown-ups.

China Imposes Tariffs, Says US Launching ‘Largest Trade War In History’ (CNBC)

China implemented retaliatory tariffs on some imports from the U.S. Friday, state media reported, immediately after new U.S. duties had taken effect. The move signals the start of a full-blown trade war between the world’s two largest economies, after President Donald Trump’s administration had initially made good on threats to impose steep tariffs on Chinese goods. At midnight Washington time, the U.S. imposed new tariffs on $34 billion of annual imports from China. This prompted Beijing to respond in kind with levy tariffs on 545 items of U.S. imports — also worth $34 billion, state-run newspaper The China Daily reported Friday.

A spokesperson at China’s ministry of commerce said that while the Asian giant had refused to “fire the first shot,” it was being forced to respond after the U.S. had “launched the largest trade war in economic history.” “This act is typical trade bullying,” the spokesperson said, before adding: “It seriously jeopardizes the global industrial chain … Hinders the pace of global economic recovery, triggers global market turmoil and will affect more innocent multinational companies, general companies and consumers.”

Read more …

China has already retaliated.

Trump Says China Could Face More Than $500 Billion In US Tariffs (CNBC)

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would consider imposing additional tariffs on $500 billion in Chinese goods, should Beijing retaliate. U.S. tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in on Friday. Another $16 billion are expected to go into effect in two weeks and potentially another $500 billion, Trump told reports aboard Air Force One on his way to a rally in Montana before the tariffs kicked in. China implemented retaliatory tariffs on some imports from the U.S., state media reported about two hours later, after new U.S. duties had taken effect.

First “34, and then you have another 16 in two weeks and then as you know we have 200 billion in abeyance and then after the 200 billion we have 300 billion in abeyance. Ok? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300,” Trump said. “It’s only on China,” he added. Trump’s statements reinforce earlier threats that he would escalate the trade conflict. The dispute with China has roiled financial markets worldwide, including stocks, currencies and the global trade of commodities from soybeans to coal.

Read more …

Was that so hard?

Merkel Open To Reducing EU Tariffs On American Cars (NC5)

In the midst of trade tension between the European Union and the U.S., German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’s open to lowering tariffs on American car imports. According to Reuters, Merkel said Europe would have to first agree upon a reduction in tariffs. In addition, she cited World Trade Organization rules that state lowering U.S. auto tariffs would mean doing the same for other countries as well. Merkel’s comments come after President Donald Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies, including the EU, and threatened to put a 20 percent tax on European car imports.

The German chancellor warned Trump on Wednesday not to implement auto tariffs to avoid inciting an all-out trade war. Auto industry experts have suggested that if the Trump administration follows through on that threat, the move would negatively affect American autoworkers’ jobs and raise car prices. Trump is scheduled to travel to Brussels next week for the NATO summit, his first big meeting with European leaders together since last month’s G-7 summit.

Read more …

With 95 million still out of the labor force.

US Labor Shortage Is Reaching A Critical Point (CNBC)

America’s labor shortage is approaching epidemic proportions, and it could be employers who end up paying. A report Thursday from ADP and Moody’s Analytics cast an even brighter light on what is becoming one of the most important economic stories of 2018: the difficulty employers are having in finding qualified employees to fill a record 6.7 million job openings. Truck drivers are in perilously low supply, Silicon Valley continues to struggle to fill vacancies, and employers across the grid are coping with a skills mismatch as the economy edges ever closer to full employment. “Business’ number one problem is finding qualified workers. At the current pace of job growth, if sustained, this problem is set to get much worse,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said in a statement.

“These labor shortages will only intensify across all industries and company sizes.” Private payrolls grew by 177,000 in June, a respectable number but below market expectations. It was the fourth month in a row that the ADP/Moody’s count fell short of 200,000 after four months at or above that level. The reason for the tick down in hiring certainly isn’t because there aren’t enough jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that April closed with 6.7 million job openings. May ended with just over 6 million people the BLS classifies as unemployed, continuing a trend this year that has seen openings eclipse the labor pool for the first time. At some point that gap will have to close. Economists expect that employers are going to have to start doing more to entice workers, likely through pay raises, training and other incentives.

Read more …

“We have been telling the UK for two years that we would not accept a single market a la carte. “What do they come with? – A single market a la carte.”

Theresa May’s New Customs Plan ‘Dead On Arrival’ In EU (Ind.)

Theresa May’s new plan for future relations with the EU will be “dead on arrival”, senior figures in Brussels have told The Independent. EU officials said any hint that the UK wants to be part of the single market on goods, but not services will be rejected. It is a blow for the prime minister who has spent the last week in meetings with EU leaders, including Angela Merkel, in a bid to prevent Europe dismissing her plans out of hand when they are published next week. Ms May is expected to push her cabinet to agree to a plan at Chequers on Friday, which would see Britain remaining in full regulatory alignment with the EU on goods, but not on services.

The meeting has also been preceded by threats and warnings from the Brexiteer wing of the Conservatives that the proposals mooted by the prime minister will not be accepted by them in the UK because they keep Britain too closely tied to the EU’s rules and regulations. But before her ministers have even agreed to the deal, EU officials told The Independent the white paper would be “dead on arrival” in Brussels if, as expected, it proposes that the UK remain in the EU’s single market for goods, but not services. They claimed they had repeatedly warned UK negotiators that this option would not work. They said it had been widely discussed among EU ministers and rejected – including, crucially, by the EU’s two most powerful players, France and Germany.

One Brussels source said: “We have been telling the UK for two years that we would not accept a single market a la carte. “What do they come with? – A single market a la carte.”

Read more …

Who will be left standing by Saturday?

Theresa May Battles To See Off Revolt Ahead Of Key Brexit Summit (G.)

Theresa May was battling to see off a revolt on the eve of a critical cabinet summit, as Boris Johnson convened a meeting of pro-Brexit ministers to discuss their options amid an atmosphere of tension and recrimination. The government was forced to deny “selective leaks” that appeared to suggest that the UK could struggle to strike a trade deal with the US in the future. No 10 insisted that paperwork released to ministers ahead of Friday’s crunch Brexit meeting at Chequers said just the opposite – as a caucus of seven cabinet members including Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and David Davis met at the Foreign Office to discuss their concerns.

An early leak suggested that the UK should “maintain a common rulebook” with the European Union on food and farming standards and that could make striking a trade deal with the more free market-oriented US more difficult as a result. That prompted a series of complaints from backbench Tory MPs and led to the Thursday evening meeting at the Foreign Office hosted by Johnson, the foreign secretary. Sources at No 10 said there had been selective leaks from the paperwork and the controversial passage appeared on page 15 out of 50 from one of several documents sent to all members of the cabinet.

Read more …

It’s corporations this time around.

The Dark Cloud Of Global Debt (GT)

While everyone is debating the effects of possible trade sanctions on the global economy, few are paying attention to a far more serious issue. Enormous global debt, combined with low-interest rates, have set the stage for a global recession that has the potential for economic chaos. The combination of enormous debt and artificially low-interest rates were at the center of the 2008 credit bubble. One would expect central banks to be aware of this and show more concern. However, the overall silence has been astonishing. An exception to this is the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which has been making loud noises about the toxic level of global debt and the anticipated bubble.

It recently reported that the global debt of 2008 was $60 trillion, small when compared to the current debt of $170 trillion. To make matters worse, today’s global debt is 40 percent higher in relation to GDP than it was in 2008, just prior to the Lehman Bros. downfall. To add to the current headache are the rising debt levels of emerging markets and corporate debts. According to McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, two-thirds of U.S. corporate debt are from corporations that pose a high default risk. Countries such as Brazil, India, and China have been busy issuing questionable credit. This dubious credit being issued in many emerging markets has come with extremely low-interest rates.

If the borrowers’ default, the lenders won’t be looking at enough compensation to recoup their loses. Low-interest rates have become an overall global problem, including the rates in the U.S. high-yield bond market. Central banks around the world have been keeping interest rates artificially low while printing money with abandon. The current global debt is the direct result of this policy. $2 trillion in corporate debt will be maturing annually through 2022. A considerable amount of this debt may default and cause debt repricing. The damage caused by central banks and their policy of easy credit has been done, and there is little that can be done at this point to stem the tide. It can only be hoped that they are more aware now than they were in 2008.

Read more …

Central banks don’t really matter anymore.

“People Assume That Stocks Always Rise Over Time. They’re Wrong” (Eric Peters)

We’ve all looked at the stats, and we’re now at an unemployment rate in the US of sub-4% – 3.8%–3.7%. I think what a lot of people focus on is if the participation rate were back where it was pre-2008 you’d end up with an unemployment rate that had an 8 handle or something like that. So that’s what people are referring to. But making comparisons like that is difficult because a lot of things are changing. The US labor force is shrinking because people are getting older. There is the opioid issue. And this disability issue. Which are difficult to really handicap in terms of how big an impact that’s having on the US labor force.

If the central banks have been the ones who have gotten us here, they just – by definition – they’re not the ones that are going to get us out of here. So I think – look, we’re always going to look at what central banks are doing, they will be important. But I think that they’re no longer going to be dominant. What’s going to be dominant are the politicians. You’re seeing that in the US right now. I know that everyone loves to hang on every word that Powell speaks. And they look at the Fed statement. And people are still trained to look at the Fed dot plots (which are probably going to go away). People are trained to look at all of these things because that’s what they’ve done their whole careers.

But they just are not going to matter that much anymore. Whether the Fed’s terminal rate is 2.25 or 2.5 or 2.75 – we’re not talking about much. What are we going to do in terms of immigration policy? What are we going to do in terms of trade policy? How is that going to impact all of the major corporations’ global supply chains? These are the things that are really going to matter.

Read more …

“It is a confluence of events coming in October ..”

Most Dangerous Market Ever – Michael Pento (USAW)

Money manager Michael Pento is sounding the alarm because we are getting very close to something called a “yield curve inversion.” Pento explains, “Why do I care if the yield curve inverts? Because 9 out of the last 10 times the yield curve inverted, we had a recession. . . . The spread with the yield curve is the narrowest it has been since outside of the start of the Great Recession that commenced in December of 2007. . . . The last two times the yield curve inverted, we had a stock market drop of 50%. The market dropped, and the S&P 500 lost 50% of its value.” Can we keep partying in the markets like it’s 1999 or is there an expiration date for the good times?

Pento says, “Well, I have put a check on the calendar for October because of the fact the rate of quantitative easing goes to $15 billion per year, because the trade war will reach a crescendo, then because I believe, unfortunately because I am conservative, the Republicans lose the House of Representatives, because the Chinese credit boom will be in full reverse by October. It is a confluence of events coming in October . . . we’ve already entered into the beginnings of a bear market around the world. The top 22 banks in the world are in a bear market. There are many, many examples of banks around the world that are in a bear market. You have a bear market in Chinese shares. 20% of the S&P 500 is in a bear market. This is an incipient bear market that is already beginning. I believe it manifests clearly to even the people on CNBC by October.”

Read more …

None of this makes any sense.

Moscow Using UK As Dumping Ground For Poison, Says Sajid Javid (G.)

Britain will consult its allies about a possible response to Russia over the latest poisonings in Wiltshire as it emerged that the couple taken critically ill had handled an item contaminated with the nerve agent novichok. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, accused Moscow of using the UK as a “dumping ground” for poison and urged Russia to explain “exactly what has gone on”. In Salisbury, public health and council chiefs warned people not to pick up unidentified objects but dismissed the idea of making a general sweep of the city for novichok, although they said they could not rule out the possibility that more of the nerve agent was present.

The Guardian understands that the novichok that harmed them may have been in a sealed container left following the attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March. Sources close to the investigation dropped a hint that they may now know the identity of the would-be killers who targeted the Skripals. The Metropolitan police confirmed on Thursday evening that the couple taken ill, Dawn Sturgess, 44, from Salisbury, and Charlie Rowley, 45, of Amesbury, collapsed after picking up a contaminated item.

Read more …

Even the Guardian allows itself to publish out right criticism. Putin has a really successful World Cup going. Brexit splits Britain. 1+1=2

If The Novichok Was Planted By Russia, Where’s The Evidence? (G.)

I seem to be the only person alive with no clue as to who has poisoned four people in Wiltshire. I am told that only Russians have access to the poison, known as novichok – though the British research station of Porton Down, located ominously nearby, clearly knows a lot about it. Otherwise, I repeat, I have no clue. I suppose I can see why the Kremlin might want to kill an ex-spy such as Sergei Skripal and his daughter, so as to deter others from defecting. But why wait so long after he has fled, and why during the build-up to so highly politicised an event as a World Cup in Russia? Four months on from the crime, the Skripals have been incommunicado in a “secure location”. Barely a word has been heard from them.

Theresa May has persistently blamed Russia. She has called the incident “brazen and despicable”, and MI5 condemned “flagrant breaches of international rules”. But I cannot see the diplomatic or other purchase in prejudging the case, when no one can offer a clue. As to why the same person or persons should want to kill a couple, unconnected to the Skripals, on an Amesbury housing development, the questions are even more baffling. It seems a funny sort of carelessness. Did the couple pick up the infecting agent nearer the original site, eight miles away? Might the new poisoning be an attempt to divert attention from the earlier one? Could it be a devious plot, to make it seem that novichok is available on every street corner, from your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer?

Or perhaps one of the victims, Charlie Rowley, has mates in Porton Down? Perhaps someone is showing off, or panicking, or behaving like a complete idiot. Who knows? Since I have not a smidgen of an answer to any of these questions, I feel no need to capitulate to the politics of terror and fear. I can open my front door without cleaning my hand. I can visit Wiltshire in peace and safety and marvel at the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. I can revel in the remains of the bronze age Amesbury archer – whose death from bone disease has finally been resolved by the scientists. Where knowledge is nonexistent, ignorance is bliss.

Read more …

NIMBY on steroids.

Seehofer Tells Merkel, Italy And Greece To Solve Migration Row (EUO)

German interior minister Horst Seehofer defused tensions with Austria on Thursday (5 July) but increased political pressure on his boss, chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as on Italy and Greece, to find a way how Germany can reject asylum seekers without closing its border with Austria. “There will be no measures taken by Germany at the expense of Austria,” Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said after meeting Seehofer in Vienna. Under a plan agreed on Monday between Merkel’s centre-right CDU party and Seehofer’s CSU, its Bavarian conservative sister party, asylum seekers would be sent back to the EU country where they were first registered, or to Austria.

Kurz had warned that in reaction, Austria would consider closing its own border with Italy and Slovenia in order to prevent migrants from coming in. This, Vienna had warned, would lead to a “domino effect” of closing borders and imperil the free-movement Schengen area. But Seehofer assured Kurz that Austria would have to take no specific measures, and that it would be up to Italy and Greece, where three-quarters of asylum seekers come from, to take them back. The Bavarian politician has been trying for almost a month to impose his plan on Merkel, who first refused to unilaterally reject asylum seekers. She advocated instead a “European solution” to be agreed with other member states, who would accept taking refugees from Germany.

Read more …

It’s not defeated yet.

European Parliament Rejects Controversial Copyright Rules (Ind.)

The European Parliament has voted against an incredibly controversial new set of copyright rules that campaigners claim could “ban memes”. The law will now be sent for a full reconsideration and debate inside the parliament, during which activists will try and remove the controversial Article 11 and 13. Article 11 has been referred to by campaigners as instituting a “link tax”, by forcing tech companies like Google and Facebook to pay to use snippets of content on their own sites. Article 13 adds rules that make tech companies responsible for ensuring any copyrighted material is not spread over their platforms. Those rules could force technology companies to scan through everything their users post and check it doesn’t include copyrighted material.

If it is found, the post will be forced to be removed, which campaigners claim could destroy the kind of memes and remixes that spread across the internet. The revamp has triggered strong criticism from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, net neutrality expert Tim Wu, internet pioneer Vint Cerf and others. Copyright campaigners claim that the rules are necessary to ensure that material isn’t illegally spread across the internet. Europe’s broadcasters, publishers and artists including Paul McCartney backed the rules, arguing the controversial Article 13 would protect the music industry.

A total of 318 law makers voted against opening talks with EU countries based on the committee’s proposal while 278 voted in favour, and 31 abstained. In practice, the vote only delays the final decision on the rules and gives the European Parliament more time to deliberate on them. Another decision will be taken in September.

Read more …

May 212018
 


Margaret Bourke-White Great Ohio River Flood, Louisville, Kentucky 1937

 

The Soaring Dollar Will Lead To An “Explosive” Market Repricing (ZH)
Draghi Calls for Consolidation of Debts? (Martin Armstrong)
Italy’s Organic Crisis (Thomas Fazi)
Italy Has A New Government As Populist Parties Agree On New Premier (ZH)
Argentina: From The “Confidence Fairy” To The -Still Devilish- IMF (CF)
US-China Trade War ‘On Hold’ As America Backs Off On Tariffs (Ind.)
Bill Aimed At Saving Community Banks Is Already Killing Them (Dayen)
EU Blocking Cities’ Efforts To Curb Airbnb (G.)
End Of Greek Bailout Means Fresh Cuts To Salaries, Pensions (K.)
Why Boomtown New Zealand Has A Homelessness Crisis
Hundreds Of Homeless People Fined And Imprisoned In UK (G.)
Scientists Revise Their Understanding of Novichok (Slane)

 

 

Dollar shortage grows as interest rates grow.

The Soaring Dollar Will Lead To An “Explosive” Market Repricing (ZH)

Something curious took place one month ago when the PBOC announced on April 17 that it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 1% to ease financial conditions: it broke what until then had been a rangebound market for both the US Dollar and the US 10Y Treasury, sending both the dollar index and 10Y yields soaring…

… which led to an immediate tightening in financial conditions both domestically and around the globe, and which has – at least initially – manifested itself in a sharp repricing of emerging market risk, resulting in a plunge EM currencies, bonds and stocks.

Adding to the market response, this violent move took place at the same time as geopolitical fears about Iran oil exports amid concerns about a new war in the middle east and Trump’s nuclear deal pullout, sent oil soaring – with Brent rising above $80 this week for the first time since 2014 – a move which is counterintuitive in the context of the sharply stronger dollar, and which has resulted in even tighter financial conditions across the globe, but especially for emerging market importers of oil.

Meanwhile, all this is playing out in the context of a world where the Fed continues to shrink its balance sheet – a public sector “Quantitative Tightening (QT)” – further tightening monetary conditions (i.e., shrinking the global dollar supply amid growing demand), even as high grade US corporate bond issuance has dropped off a cliff for cash-rich companies which now opt to repatriate cash instead of issuing domestic bonds, with the resulting private sector deleveraging, or “private sector QT”, further exacerbating tighter monetary conditions and the growing dollar shortage (resulting in an even higher dollar).

Read more …

Europe has no bond market left. Japan has no bond market left. All they have is central banks.

Draghi Calls for Consolidation of Debts? (Martin Armstrong)

COMMENT: You were here in Brussels a few weeks ago. Suddenly, the ECB is talking about the need to merge the debts to prevent a crisis. So your lobbying here seems to work. – RGV, Brussels. REPLY: I do not lobby. It is rather common knowledge I have made those proposals since the EU commission attended our World Economic Conference held back in 1998 in London. I focused on the reason the Euro would fail if the debts were not consolidated. So it is not a fair statement to say I meet in Brussels to lobby for anything. I meet with people who call me in because of a crisis brewing.

So everyone else understands what this is about, the ECB President Mario Draghi has come out and proposed interlocking the euro countries to create a “stronger” and “new vehicle” as a “crisis instrument” to save Europe. He is arguing that this should prevent countries from drifting apart in the event of severe economic shocks. Draghi has said it provides “an extra layer of stabilization” which is a code phrase for the coming bond crash. He has conceded that the legal structure is difficult because what he is really talking about is the consolidation of national debts into a single Eurobond market. There is no bond market that is viable in Europe after the end of Quantitative Easing. There will be NO BID.

There is no viable bond market left in Europe. The worst debt is below US rates only because the ECB is the buyer. Stop the buying and the ceiling comes crashing down. This is why what he is saying is just using a different label. He is not calling it debt consolidation, just an extra layer of stabilization to bind the members closer together. It will be a hard sell and it may take the crisis before anyone looks at this. You have “bail-in” policies because of the same problem. If the banks in Italy need a bailout from Brussels, then other members will look at it as a subsidization for Italy which is unfair. There is no real EU unity behind the curtain which is when the debt was NEVER consolidated from day one. They wanted a single currency, but not a single responsibility for the debt.

Read more …

“..20% of Italy’s industrial capacity has been destroyed, and 30% of the country’s firms have defaulted..”

Italy’s Organic Crisis (Thomas Fazi)

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci coined the term “organic crisis” to describe a crisis that differs from ”ordinary” financial, economic, or political crises. An organic crisis is a “comprehensive crisis,” encompassing the totality of a system or order that, for whatever reason, is no longer able to generate societal consensus (in material or ideological terms). [..] Gramsci was talking about Italy in the 1910s. A century later, the country is facing another organic crisis. More specifically, it is a crisis of the post-Maastricht model of Italian capitalism, inaugurated in the early 1990s.

[..] The downfall of the political establishment—and the rise of the “populist” parties—can only be understood against the backdrop of the “the longest and deepest recession in Italy’s history,” as the governor of the Italian central bank, Ignazio Visco, described it. Since the financial crisis of 2007–9, Italy’s GDP has shrunk by a massive 10%, regressing to levels last seen over a decade ago. In terms of per capita GDP, the situation is even more shocking: according to this measure, Italy has regressed back to levels of twenty years ago, before the country became a founding member of the single currency. Italy and Greece are the only industrialized countries that have yet to see economic activity surpass pre–financial crisis levels.

As a result, around 20% of Italy’s industrial capacity has been destroyed, and 30% of the country’s firms have defaulted. Such wealth destruction has, in turn, sent shockwaves throughout the country’s banking system, which was (and still is) heavily exposed to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Italy’s unemployment crisis continues to be one of the worst in all of Europe. Italy has an official unemployment rate of 11% (12% in southern Italy) and a youth unemployment rate of 35% (with peaks of 60% in some southern regions). And this is not even considering underemployed and discouraged workers (people who have given up looking for a job and therefore don’t even figure in official statistics).

If we take these categories into consideration, we arrive at a staggering effective unemployment rate of 30%, which is the highest in all of Europe. Poverty has also risen dramatically in recent years, with 23% of the population, about one in four Italians, now at risk of poverty—the highest level since 1989.

Read more …

Europe gets nervous.

Italy Has A New Government As Populist Parties Agree On New Premier (ZH)

Taking the biggest step toward forming Italy’s next government, the head of the anti-immigration League party Matteo Salvini said he’s reached a deal with Five Star leader Luidi Di Maio on forming a populist government, and picked a premier. According to a report in Corriere, Florence University law professor Giuseppe Conte was chosen as prime minister, while Matteo Salvini would be proposed as interior minister, and Five Star head Luigi and Di Maio would be labor minister. On Saturday, Il Messaggero reported that Salvatore Rossi, the Bank of Italy’s director general, could be picked as finance minister.

Today, Ansa added that according to Di Maio, Five Star will head joint ministry of economic development and labor; separately Giancarlo Giorgetti, Matteo Salvini’s right-hand man, will be proposed as economy minister, while Nicola Molteni would become minister of the infrastructure and transport and Gian Marco Centinaio would head the department of Agriculture and Tourism. ANSA added that Salvini will present the proposal to President Sergio Mattarella on Monday. As Bloomberg adds, the endgame follows a week of turmoil in Italian bonds and stocks triggered by reports about the coalition’s spending plans and rejection of European Union budget rules.

Italy’s 10-year yield spread over German bonds shot up to 165 bps on Friday, the most since October, prompting a warning from Paris. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a Sunday interview with Europe 1 radio that “if the new government took the risk of not respecting its commitments on debt, the deficit and the cleanup of banks, the financial stability of the entire euro zone will be threatened.” Salvini fired back on Twitter, suggesting the warning was “unacceptable” interference. “Italians first!” he said, clearly referencing Donald Trump.

Read more …

No crisis until now because so much was borrowed. Crisis now because so much was borrowed. It’s like a blue print for the entire world.

Argentina: From The “Confidence Fairy” To The -Still Devilish- IMF (CF)

[..] looking at the external front, one may even be forgiven for asking: why did this crisis take so long to burst? Argentina was haemorrhaging dollars for many years, and with no sign of reversal: since 2016 the domestic non-financial sector acquired an accumulated amount of USD 41 billion in external assets. During the same period, the current account deficit totalled another USD 30 billion, in the form of trade deficit, tourism deficit, profit remittances by foreign companies and increasing interest payments. The well-known factor that allowed all these trends to last until now is the foreign borrowing spree that involved the government, provinces, firms, and the central bank, including the inflow from short-term investors for carry trade operations.

In the case of debt issuance, since 2016 the central government, provinces and private companies, have issued a whopping USD 88 billion of new foreign debt (13% of GDP). In the case of carry trade operations, since 2016 the economy recorded USD 14 billon of short-term capital inflows (2% of GDP). The favourite peso-denominated asset for this operations were the debt liabilities of the central bank called LEBAC (Letters of the Central Bank). Because of this, the outstanding stock of this instrument has now become the centre of all attention. It is important to understand the LEBACs. They were originally conceived as an inter-bank and central bank liquidity management instrument.

Since the lifting of foreign exchange and capital controls and the adoption of inflation targeting, the stock of LEBACs grew by USD 18 billion. Moreover, the composition of holders has changed significantly since 2015: At that time, domestic banks held 71% of the stock, and other investors held 29%. In 2018 that proportion has reverted to 38% banks/62% to other non-financial institution holders, which includes other non-financial public institutions (such as the social security administration) (17%), domestic mutual investment funds (16%), firms (14%), individuals (9%), and foreign investors (5%). That means that a large part of all the new issuance of LEBAC is held by investors outside the regulatory scope of the central bank, especially individuals and foreign investors. [..] these holdings could easily be converted into foreign currency, causing a large FX depreciation.

Read more …

They’re talking.

US-China Trade War ‘On Hold’ As America Backs Off On Tariffs (Ind.)

The US will hold off on imposing steep tariffs on China that ignited fears of a trade war as both sides pursue a broader deal, a top economic official said. “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “We have agreed to put the tariffs on hold”. The announcement of a detente in the escalating trade dispute came after Chinese officials visited Washington last week, leading the White House to release an optimistic statement about both sides agreeing to take “measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China” and to work on expanding trade and protecting intellectual property.

Donald Trump has railed against trade imbalances, particularly with China, as he seeks to renegotiate America’s economic relationship with other nations he accuses of exploiting the US. Breaking with some of his top economic advisers, Mr Trump announced earlier this year that he would levy tariffs on steel and aluminium. He also signed a memorandum seeking tariffs on $60bn worth of Chinese goods. [..] Mr Mnuchin signalled that America was using the leverage from tariff threats to pivot to negotiation, saying talks with Chinese officials had produced “very meaningful progress” – including a “Very productive” oval office meeting between Mr Trump and a top Chinese official.

Read more …

Unintended?

Bill Aimed At Saving Community Banks Is Already Killing Them (Dayen)

After initial reluctance, House Republicans have finally reached an agreement to move forward on a bipartisan bank deregulation bill that the Senate passed in March. Its stated aim — to help rural community banks thrive against growing Wall Street power — appears to have been enough to power it across the finish line. But banking industry analysts say the bill is already having the opposite effect, and its loosening of regulations on medium-sized banks is encouraging a rush of consolidation — all of which ends with an increasing number of community banks being swallowed up and closed down. “We absolutely expect bank consolidation to accelerate,” Wells Fargo’s Mike Mayo told CNBC the day after the Senate passed the deregulation bill in March.

The reason? Banks no longer face the prospect of stricter and more costly regulatory scrutiny as they grow. And regional banks in Virginia, Ohio, Mississippi, and Wisconsin have already taken note before the bill has even passed into law, announcing buyouts of smaller rivals. The expected consolidation simply furthers an existing trend. Community banks have been struggling for decades against an epidemic of consolidation; the number of banks in America has fallen by nearly two-thirds in the past 30 years. Ironically, the one state that has seemingly figured out how to arrest this systemic abandonment of smaller communities is North Dakota, the home state of the bill’s co-author, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. That’s because North Dakota has a public bank.

Using idle state tax revenue as its deposit base, the Bank of North Dakota partners with community lenders on infrastructure, agriculture, and small business loans. It has thrived, earning record profits for 14 straight years, which have funneled back into state coffers. And while Heitkamp has complained that the Dodd-Frank Act has been disastrous for community banks, in North Dakota they appear to be doing well. According to a Institute for Local Self-Reliance analysis of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, North Dakota has more banks per capita than any other state, and lends to small businesses at a rate that is four times the national average.

Read more …

The wonders of lobbying.

EU Blocking Cities’ Efforts To Curb Airbnb (G.)

The explosive rise of short-stay Airbnb holiday rentals may be shutting locals out of housing and changing neighbourhoods across Europe, but cities’ efforts to halt it are being stymied by EU policies to promote the “sharing economy”, campaigners say. “It’s pretty clear,” said Kenneth Haar, author of UnfairBnB, a study published this month by the Brussels-based campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory. “Airbnb is under a lot of pressure locally across Europe, and they’re trying to use the top-down power of the EU institutions to fight back.” While it might have started as a “community” of amateur hosts offering spare rooms or temporarily vacant homes to travellers, Airbnb had seen three-digit growth in several European cities since 2014 and was now a big, powerful corporation with the lobbying clout to match, Haar said.

The platform lists around 20,500 addresses in in Berlin, 18,500 in Barcelona, 61,000 in Paris and nearly 19,000 in Amsterdam. Data scraped by the campaign group InsideAirbnb suggests that in these and other tourist hotspots, more than half – sometimes as many as 85% – of listings are whole apartments. Many of the properties are also rented out year-round, removing tens of thousands of homes from the residential rental market. Even in cities where short-term lets are now restricted, about 30% of Airbnb listings are available for three or more months a year, the data indicates. In those where they are not, such as Rome and Venice, the figure exceeds 90%.

[..] local attempts to protect residents’ access to affordable housing and preserve the face of city-centre neighbourhoods are being undermined, campaigners say, by the EU’s determination to see the “collaborative economy” as a key future driver of innovation and job creation across the bloc. “The commission seems almost hypnotised by the prospect of a strong sharing economy, and not really interested in its negative consequences,” said Haar. “Commissioners talk about ‘opportunities, not threats’. The parliament, too, recently condemned cities’ attempts to restrict lettings on online platforms.”

Read more …

The torture never stops. Death by a thousand cuts.

End Of Greek Bailout Means Fresh Cuts To Salaries, Pensions (K.)

Millions of salaried workers and pensioners stand to lose at least one monthly payment within two years, in 2019 and 2020. For Greece to boast of a successful – as the government desires – exit from the third bailout program without facing any obstacles by August, the Finance Ministry has ruled out the option of avoiding a reduction to pensions from 2019 and will also be proceeding with demands to reduce the minimum tax threshold as of 2020. [..] January 2019 is when the barrage of cuts to pensions is due to start, lasting at least until 2022, with reductions to main as well as auxiliary pensions and also the abolition of family benefits. The bulk of cuts will affect some 1.1 million retirees, who will see their main pension slashed as of this December (when the January 2019 pensions are paid out) by up to 18%.

In total, in the private and public sector, the reduction of pension expenditure from this particular measure in 2019 is estimated at 2.13 billion euros. Reductions will start at 5 euros a month and may reach up to 350 euros a month. There will even be cuts to pensions where there is no personal difference, owing to the abolition of family benefits currently being paid out with the pensions in the public and private sectors. This is expected to concern around 1 million pensioners. Some 200,000 pensioners will also be affected by the cut of the personal difference from auxiliary pensions. According to the midterm fiscal plan, the reduction in 2019 will amount to savings of 232 million euros for state coffers, which is the amount pensioners will also be deprived of.

According to the government’s plans, the sum of cuts that will become evident as of this December will mean that new pensions will eventually be 30 percent below the original level before the law introduced in May 2016 by then labor minister Giorgos Katrougalos. Therefore, the vast majority of monthly pensions will hover in the 700-euro range, even for retirees who used to bring in an average of 1,300 euros.

Read more …

“They’re a long way down a hole that was created by somebody else..”

Why Boomtown New Zealand Has A Homelessness Crisis

New Zealand’s dairy-fuelled economy has for several years been the envy of the rich world, yet despite the rise in prosperity tens of thousands of residents are sleeping in cars, shop entrances and alleyways. The emerging crisis has created a milestone that New Zealanders won’t be proud of: the highest homelessness rate among the 35 high-income OECD countries. It’s a curious problem afflicting boom towns where some residents get pushed onto the streets as they can no longer afford the rocketing rents in a flourishing economy – let alone purchase a house as the price of property has soared. “I have no assets at the moment,” said 64-year-old Victor Young, who spoke to Reuters at a soup kitchen in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington.

“It’s not a kind country, it’s not an easy country. I slept in my car 20 days last year. I worked 30 hours a week.” That sentiment is something the country’s popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would like to reverse. Last Thursday, across town from the Sisters of Compassion Soup Kitchen, her Labour-led government unveiled its first budget with an ambitious plan to build social infrastructure. The government has allocated NZ$3.8 billion ($2.62 billion) of new capital spending over a five-year period. This includes an extra NZ$634 million for housing, on top of the NZ$2.1 billion previously announced to fund Kiwibuild, a government building program to increase affordable housing supply.

[..] But experts say the government’s first budget underwhelms on the radical reforms the wider public wanted. “They’re a long way down a hole that was created by somebody else and they haven’t really got a great or easy solution,” said John Tookey, professor of construction management at Auckland University of Technology. He said the government’s much-vaunted Kiwibuild could come unstuck because there weren’t enough skilled workers to deliver on its ambitious target to build 100,000 homes in the next decade.

Read more …

Where does this originate? WIth Theresa May of course.

Hundreds Of Homeless People Fined And Imprisoned In UK (G.)

Growing numbers of vulnerable homeless people are being fined, given criminal convictions and even imprisoned for begging and rough sleeping. Despite updated Home Office guidance at the start of the year, which instructs councils not to target people for being homeless and sleeping rough, the Guardian has found over 50 local authorities with public space protection orders (PSPOs) in place Homeless people are banned from town centres, routinely fined hundreds of pounds and sent to prison if caught repeatedly asking for money in some cases. Local authorities in England and Wales have issued hundreds of fixed-penalty notices and pursued criminal convictions for “begging”, “persistent and aggressive begging” and “loitering” since they were given strengthened powers to combat antisocial behaviour in 2014 by then home secretary, Theresa May.

Cases include a man jailed for four months for breaching a criminal behaviour order (CBO) in Gloucester for begging – about which the judge admitted “I will be sending a man to prison for asking for food when he was hungry” – and a man fined £105 after a child dropped £2 in his sleeping bag. Data obtained by the Guardian through freedom of information found that at least 51 people have been convicted of breaching a PSPO for begging or loitering and failing to pay the fine since 2014, receiving CBOs in some cases and fines up to £1,100. Hundreds of fixed-penalty notices have been issued. Lawyers, charities and campaigners described the findings as “grotesque inhumanity”, saying disadvantaged groups were fined for being poor.

Read more …

“..one of its primary effects is to generate in its victims a strong desire to go out for a beer followed by a pizza.”

Scientists Revise Their Understanding of Novichok (Slane)

Warning: This article is likely to contain traces of satire. In the aftermath of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4th March, scientists are currently re-evaluating their understanding of A-234 – or Novichok as it is more commonly known. Prior to the poisoning, it had been thought that the substance was around 5-8 times more toxic than VX nerve agent, and therefore that just a tiny drop would be likely to kill a person within minutes or possibly even seconds of them coming into contact with it. In the unlikely event of a person surviving, it was believed that their central nervous system would be completely destroyed, and that they would suffer numerous chronic health issues, including cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, and epilepsy before dying a premature and miserable death, probably within a year or so.

However, according to an anonymous source at the Porton Down laboratory, which is located just a few miles down the road from Salisbury, scientists now believe they may have completely misunderstood the properties and effects of the chemical: “All the available information we had about Novichok before March this year suggested that it was by far the most lethal nerve agent ever produced, and we had assumed that even the tiniest drop would kill a person within minutes. However, after studying the movements of the Skripals after being poisoned, we have now revised our understanding, and we now believe that one of its primary effects is to generate in its victims a strong desire to go out for a beer followed by a pizza.”

Yet it’s not only the effects of the substance that have led to this reappraisal, but also its mysterious ability to move about from location to location, seemingly at will. According to the source: “At first, differing reports of the location of the poisoning baffled us. First it was the restaurant, then it was the pub, followed by the bench, the car, the cemetery, the flowers, the luggage, the porridge, and then finally the door handle three weeks after the incident. However, we now believe we have an explanation for this phenomena. When Novichok was developed, we think it may have been given the ability to appear in one place, only to then disappear and turn up in an entirely different place.

Read more …

May 172018
 
 May 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Daubigny’s garden 1890

 

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)
Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)
Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)
Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)
Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)
Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)
New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)
Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)
Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)
31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)
DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)
Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)
Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

 

 

“People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.”

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)

With mortgage rates rising, one would expect refi activity to slow. And it has: Refi Applications are at an 8-Year Low. But why is there any refi activity all at all? In September 2017 the MND mortgage rate rate was 3.85%. In June 2016, the MND rate was 3.43%.

It makes little sense to refi at 4.70% when one could have done it less than two years ago a point and a quarter lower. At these rates, refi activity should be in the low single digits. Yet, 36% of mortgage applications are refis.

Are people pulling money out of their houses to pay bills? That’s how it appears as Cash-Out Mortgage Refis are Back. What’s Going On?
• People feel wealthy again and are willing to blow it on consumption
• People pulling money out to invest in stocks or Bitcoin
• People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.

I suspect point number three is the primary reason. Regardless, releveraging is as wrong now as it was in 2007. Totally wrong.

Read more …

Dump and dump.

Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)

Like Powell, Clarida said he “absolutely” supports the Fed’s normalization of interest rates and the balance sheet. Like Powell, he said that the normalized balance sheet should be “a lot smaller,” and that Powell’s suggestion of a range of $2.4 trillion to $2.9 trillion, down from its peak-level of $4.5 trillion, “makes sense.” Like Powell, he said stock market volatility itself – that’s downward volatility, the only volatility that matters on Wall Street – shouldn’t determine the Fed’s policy decisions. On banking regulation too he mirrored Powell. So in this sense, what he said about mortgage-backed securities on the Fed’s balance sheet is fascinating: The Fed should shed them entirely, down to zero.

Clarida explained that there are “benefits and costs” of QE, and that as more layers of QE were piled on, “the benefits of QE diminished and the costs went up.” And as vice chairman, he’d “have to take a serious look at the costs of QE.” Then he was asked about “non-Treasury instruments, like mortgage-backed securities,” for QE – that the Fed, when selecting non-Treasury securities, would be getting into something that it shouldn’t, namely “allocating credit.” “Yes, absolutely,” Clarida replied: “My preference would be for the Fed to end up with a Treasury-only portfolio.” He then added that, “as a general proposition, my preference would be to have the balance sheet as much as possible in Treasury securities.”

Shedding MBS from the balance sheet entirely and keeping them off could have a big impact. Currently, the Fed holds $1.74 trillion of MBS. That’s about 26% of all residential mortgage-backed securities outstanding. The Fed is the elephant in the MBS room.

Read more …

“..the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world..”

Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)

In less than a month, Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), faces three lawsuits that may end up taking all of the oil giant’s international assets, leaving it bankrupt. According to the economist and opposition congressman, Ángel Alvarado, the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world, is about to disappear. Alvarado says that the state has no way to pay all its outstanding debts or the legal judgments that are looming. In an ominous sign, creditors today attempted to collect USD $2.9 billion that the oil company has failed to pay in debt obligations. The bankrupt company not only must face ConocoPhillips, after having lost a lawsuit where it was ordered to pay the US oil company USD $2 billion.

PDVSA now must also respond to a wave of similar claims, as it looks for a way to pay bondholders after default, and tries to restart refineries that are about to close because of diminished production caused by abandonment and embezzlement. In short, PDVSA faces the perfect storm for falling into bankruptcy, with no credible path for solvency. According to OPEC, Venezuela is the country with the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world with 296 billion barrels. However, paradoxically, the export of crude oil is not a profitable business for the South American country after years of neglect by the socialist government. Recently the US company ConocoPhillips decided to seize the PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, a dangerous precedent that could influence other plaintiffs to take similar measures.

Read more …

Joining the rest of the world.

Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)

Births in the United States have plunged to record lows not seen in decades, marking a profound cultural shift that could have ramifications for the future economy, experts said Thursday. The overall fertility rate, which essentially shows how many babies women are having in their childbearing years, and indicates whether the population is replenishing itself, fell to 1.76 births per woman last year, down 3% from the rate of 1.82 in 2016. That marks “the lowest total fertility rate since 1978,” said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the US birth rate plunged to a 30-year low.

The 3.85 million US births in 2017 were the fewest since 1987, as American women under 40 continued to delay childbearing. About 77,000 fewer babies were born last year than in 2016 – about a 2% drop year-on-year. The latest downward trend began around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, but has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and the economy has improved. “To me the biggest surprise is the continuing decline of fertility rates among young women,” said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution. “About 10 years since the Great Recession we still see this declining fertility among women in their 20s and that could be problematic if it continues for another three or four years.”

Read more …

“The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone..”

Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)

Letter to CEO John Ridding and editors of the Financial Times. Dear Sirs, I have read your article “Rome opens its gates to the modern barbarians” and, with all due respect to an important newspaper like yours, honestly I think you need to better understand what is taking place in Italy. And I suggest you get to know the 5 Star MoVement a little more closely. The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone, marking every possible negative record in our history. Nowadays, Italy has about 6 million people under the absolute poverty threshold and about 100,000 young people every year expatriating to try their luck elsewhere, often in your country.

All this is the result of barbarians, old barbarians about whom I have never read as many negative things in your editorials as I am reading these days against us. The 5 Star Movement was born in 2009 with a specific aim: to bring the popular will back to the centre of the political debate and the decisions of the central government. In just 9 years we have grown so much that we can now see what we have accomplished, with over 11 million people who trusted us in the last elections. We succeeded by working hard, with our heads down, studying, always struggling to defend Italian citizens. We succeeded with the youngest, most educated and most gender-balanced parliamentary group that the history of Italy has ever seen. Italians have always believed us based on the awareness that everything we have promised or written in a program, has become a reality on the first occasion we have had to make it happen.

In your article you are talking about a contract of government that is difficult to implement and economically unsustainable: what a pity you have not read this contract yet! And this is an offence to professional journalism, also. But there is one thing you are right about. The contract we are writing is challenging and it will not be easy to remedy the damage caused by political barbarians governing our country for the past 30 years. But we are doing our best to restore hope and to give Italians a brighter future. If you want to better understand how we will acccomplish this, I suggest you do not waste time publishing false news created ad-hoc by the Italian media system, get to know the 5 Star Movement and report the truth instead. Good luck!

Read more …

On the Guardian’s hit pieces yesterday.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.” Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.”

The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual. On March 27, Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was cut off by Ecuadorian officials, who also installed jamming devices to prevent Assange from accessing the internet using other means of connection. Assange’s previously active Twitter account has had no activity since then, nor have any journalists been able to communicate with him. All visitors to the embassy have also been denied access to Assange, who was formally made a citizen of Ecuador earlier this year.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

Read more …

Hopeful.

New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)

The first Labour government in close to a decade has pledged to make New Zealand a kind and equitable nation where children thrive, and success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people. Finance minister Grant Robertson said the Labour coalition government didn’t want to “manage” issues such as child poverty and homelessness – it wanted to end them. Although the 2018 budget was focused on rebuilding vital public services – particularly the health care sector – Robertson said next year’s budget would be the first in the world to measure success by its people’s wellbeing. “We want New Zealand to be a place where everyone has a fair go, and where we show kindness and understanding to each other,” said Robertson.

“These changes are about measuring success differently. Of course a strong economy is important but we must not lose sight of why it is is important. And it is most important to allow all of us to have better lives … the government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work. The 2018 budget had been preceded by weeks of cautious rhetoric by the government, which repeated time and again that before embarking on its ambitious social policies such as ending child poverty, tackling climate change and housing every New Zealander, it first had to invest in upgrading public services such as hospitals and schools.

Labour’s first budget was viewed as restrained and fiscally cautious, with Robertson forecasting a NZ$3bn ($2bn) surplus this year, increasing to $7bn in 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government’s first budget was not focused on the election cycle, but generational improvement in New Zealanders’ lives. “Rebuild what?” said Ardern, defending her government’s budget and rounding on the opposition leader, Simon Bridges. “Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we? We are rebuilding a government that thinks about people.” “In 15 or 20 or 30 years’ time I want my child to look back on the history books and judge me and this government favourably, rather than deciding to change their name.”

Read more …

A sad comedy.

Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)

Peers have inflicted a 15th defeat on the government’s key Brexit bill, underlining the acute political challenge Theresa May faces in seeking a deal that both parliament and her warring ministers can live with. The latest amendment, aimed at bolstering environmental protection after Brexit, was carried by 294 to 244 votes on Wednesday. Peers argued that enforcement measures proposed in a consultation document published last week were inadequate and that the environment had been subordinated to housing and economic growth. With her cabinet still deadlocked over customs arrangements, the prime minister must now decide when to bring the legislation back to the House of Commons and seek to undo the changes made by peers.

Martin Callanan, the Conservative leader in the Lords, said: “During the bill’s journey through the House of Lords, some changes have been made that conflict with its purpose or are designed to frustrate the entire exit process, and so we are considering the implications of those decisions.” The backbench pro-Brexit European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, wants to see the votes brought forward as soon as possible to scotch the idea that there is a majority against hard Brexit among MPs. They point to a pair of recent Commons victories, over the release of Windrush documents and a , as evidence that the government’s majority is more secure than moderate backbenchers claim.

Read more …

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities..”

Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)

A sample of Novichok, the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Skripals, was obtained by German intelligence back in the 1990s, local media report. The substance has since been studied and produced by NATO countries. Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media outlets reported following a joint investigation. The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insights into the issue of the nerve agent said to have been used in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.

Western governments were able to lay their hands on the formula of what is described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed” after the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, obtained a sample of the nerve agent from a Russian defector in the early 1990s. A Russian scientist provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok for some time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German NDR and WDR broadcasters, as well as Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung dailies, report, citing unnamed sources within the BND. At some point, the man offered to bring the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for him and his family.

A sample was eventually smuggled by the wife of the scientist and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical lab, according to the reports. Following the sample analysis, the Swedish experts established the formula of the substance, which they then handed over to Germany. By the order of the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND then shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the intelligence services of the US and the UK. Later, the UK, the US and Germany reportedly created a special “working group” tasked with studying the substance, which also included representatives from France, Canada and the Netherlands.

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities,” the four media outlets reported, adding that it was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it remains unclear which particular states were involved in the Novichok production.

Read more …

Let’s make sure they are protected.

31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)

Some 2,500 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Greece last year, around 8% of the total 31,400 child refugees who sought asylum in European Union countries in 2017. Italy received a relatively large chunk of applications for asylum – more than 10,000, or 32% of the total – followed by Germany, with 9,100 applications (29%). The United Kingdom received 2,200 applications (7%), while Austria received 1,400 (4%), Sweden 1,300 and the Netherlands 1,200. The number of child refugees seeking asylum in EU countries in 2017 almost halved compared to the previous year. In 2016 there were 63,200 applications, while there were 95,200 in 2015. However, the total number of applications in the EU last year was still double the annual average of 12,000 between 2008 and 2013.

Read more …

On the river.

DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)

The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control. Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month. The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa. Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died. Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak’s shift to a major city meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases. “This is a major development in the outbreak”. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.” Mr Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people. “This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.

[..] On Wednesday more than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine sent by the WHO arrived in the country with another batch expected soon. The vaccine from pharmaceutical firm Merck is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C. Electricity supplies in Congo are unreliable.

Read more …

Curious.

Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)

A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia, but finding a more precise location requires further investigation. CFC chemicals were used in making foams for furniture and buildings, in aerosols and as refrigerants. But they were banned under the global Montreal protocol after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s. Since 2007, there has been essentially zero reported production of CFC-11, the second most damaging of all CFCs.

The rise in CFC-11 was revealed by Stephen Montzka, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado, and colleagues who monitor chemicals in the atmosphere. “I have been doing this for 27 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was just shocked by it.” “We are acting as detectives of the atmosphere, trying to understand what is happening and why,” Montzka said. “When things go awry, we raise a flag.” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer. It’s therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action.”

Read more …

Profound.

Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

A haunting cover image on the June issue of National Geographic is circulating online, suggesting the plastic pollution we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Such is the extent of Earth’s mind-boggling plastic problem that scientists recently found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench — the deepest point in the ocean, sitting nearly 11 kilometres below the surface. The Nat Geo cover image was shared by the magazine’s senior photo editor Vaughn Wallace on Twitter this morning who called it “one for the ages”.

[..] The latest edition of the magazine is dedicated to Earth’s plastic consumption and is filled with striking images and infographs that show the immense scale of plastic pollution plaguing our planet. As a small part of addressing the problem, the magazine has committed to delivering its issues in paper wrappers rather than plastic wrappers moving forward. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the globe and most of them end up in landfill where they take a significant time to break down, or in the ocean where they kill marine life.

Read more …

Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 1:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee 1633
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

I am gullible. Very. I betcha I am more gullible than you. And that tells you something, because you know how gullible you are. Or so you think. Still, as bad as I got it, something physically snapped in the back of my head this morning, I could hear it snap, when I saw this Guardian headline:

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months…

See, because of my gullibility, I’ve decided that if I’m to have any idea of what really goes on around me, I’m condemned to reading a lot. Obviously, like you, I’ve found that the vast majority of what passes for news is as fake as it gets. More so by the day. So we have to read between the lines all the time. It’s what it is. But this…

If these two people have actually been poisoned, that’s a really terrible thing. But maybe lying about such things is much worse. And I doubt that anything at all we’ve been told about the Skripal case is true. Not because I don’t want to believe it, but because the storytellers plant so many trees they’re getting lost in their own forest.

Today the British press reports that the Skripal father and daughter pair were poisoned “from their front door”. They do that with the same level of certainty that just a few days ago they used in telling us they were poisoned through the air vents of the dad’s BMW. Exact same story, just a different location. And that’s after a by now long sequence of headlines that claimed it had happened inside the home, or in a bar, a pizzeria, or on the parkbench they were ostensibly ‘found’ on.

What that headline above, and all others on the topic that came before it, tells me is that evidently the hundreds of ‘experts’ involved in the case have not yet been able to locate the ‘nerve agent’. They’re still just guessing, even 25 days after the incident is supposed to have happened. How would that be done? I have no idea, but I’m surely thinking that after almost 4 weeks it’s essentially a pure guessing game, and nothing more than that.

Does the alleged nerve agent leave traces after all that time? I don’t have a clue, but I do know from what I’ve read that it’s apparently so toxic (as in lethal) that even very faint traces of the stuff are, well, lethal. So when I first read the BMW air vent theory last week I was thinking: did the guy who towed that car to the police station wear a full hazmat suit? He would have had to if he’s still alive.

And where is that car anyway? Come to think of it, where are the Skripals? And how is it possible that they survived the ‘attack’? Were they given a full blood transfusion? Are they being treated 24/7 by dedicated personnel in hazmat suits? There are too many questions for me to answer. And that goes for you too. And for Boris Johnson. And Donald Trump. And the governments of the 30-or-so nations that nevertheless expelled well over a hundred Russian diplomats.

 

Now, I’m not a chemist, let alone an organic chemist. So perhaps I should consult with my friend Dave Collum, who is. But I was going to write this from memory, not go back and find all those headlines, or ask around. This is not about me being 100% correct, it’s about the ‘news reports’ being so far off the truth.

Here’s what I have picked up about the nerve agent. The press calls it “Novichok“ (Russian for newbies), but Novichok is not a nerve agent, it’s a group of them. In the Skripal case, the journalists -who I can only hope are not as gullible as I am- behind all the ‘news’ have been told by ‘authorities’ that we’re dealing with A-234, which is a novichok nerve agent.

Developed by Russia a long time ago, but no longer produced in Russia after 1993, as the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has confirmed. Its chemical formula has been made public, which means that at least in theory anyone could produce it.

Russia would seem to be the last country to try that, because it would point straight to them. And they haven’t stood still for 25 years, they can make Novichok 2.0 if they want. Not that they appear to have much if any reason to poison the Skripals, there are quite a few parties that have at least as much incentive to do that.

 

Wait, before I forget, there was a policeman who allegedly ‘treated’ the Skripals first, and was himself ‘poisoned’ in the act and hospitalized, but was released a few days ago. What exactly happened to him? How did the A-234 not kill him? Did he receive such a faint trace that he was ‘cleaned’ within days? Where is he now? Why has he not released any statement? Doesn’t he strike you, too, as being a little bit pregnant?

But, again, I’m not a chemist. Collum, who I can’t really claim as a friend anymore, because he’s everybody’s friend these days, tweets a hint:

Hey organic chemists: the Novichuk nerve agents are like those below. [..] You could just use the racemate with plenty of effect. Unlike drugs, the goal here is to kill the recipient.

From what I understand, A-234, like all novichoks, is just a pesticide with a fancy dress on. Not terribly unique or special, and not terribly Russian after 25 years either. Just terribly lethal. Which by the way is saying something about how we produce our food, too. Can we blame Putin for losing our insects as well, please? It’s so much easier that way.

 

But I digress. As I started out saying, it’s the ‘news’ that yet another ‘location’ for the ‘nerve agent’ had been discovered after 25 days and hundreds of specialists, at the bleeping front door of the ‘victims’ home, as if nobody ever thought of looking there, that snapped that thingy in my head. Location, location, location.

Still, when I venture beyond what can be or has been proven, which is about as near to zero Kelvin as I even want to think about, there was this other thing this morning. Julian Assange has been cut off from the internet by his gracious Ecuadorian hosts in their London embassy. And I betcha that’s because he dared question Britain in the Skripal case, on Twitter.

Here’s my theory, borne off my gullibility in all its glory: Theresa May and her government have been stumbling from disaster to catastrophe over the Brexit calamity for months now, and they needed some relief. But they themselves are not smart enough to provide it. So someone got it for them.

They’re keeping Labour boss Jeremy Corbyn occupied for all he’s worth with a cocked-up narrative of him being an antisemite. Stupid as can be story, but it works for as long as they need it to. The other day the BBC photoshopped a Russian hat on Corbyn’s face; that stuck less than the Jew-hater tale, so they went with that one. Some UK parliamentary fake news committee wants to talk to Zuckerberg, but they should look closer to home. If fake news is what they’re really after.

So anyway, they all went with the Novichok concocted thing, and boy did that ever catch on. Even every western politicians’ pet hamsters have now sent their Russian caregivers packing. And you know what it is, even if May and Boris had any proof of Russian involvement, all those countries certainly do not. Even if they had the evidence, they’re not going to send it around to dozens of countries. Just not.

Boris Johnson couldn’t resist comparing Putin to Hitler. You can’t fall any lower than that. Or can you? The diplomats were all expelled on a day that Russia was lamenting the death of 64(?) victims (mostly children) in a shopping mall fire, in what they declared a day of national mourning. You think Boris sent his condolences?

 

I can write about this all day long, and weekends too. You know, Crimea, Ukraine, MH17, the new cold war narrative has been well prepared. And now John Bolton, who may well be the deadliest cartoon character we’ve ever seen -let alone imagined-, is all set to score the easy tip-in. But that is possible only because all of you are as gullible as I am. Don’t forget that. They’re blinding you with silence, with stupidity, with your own lack of neuron activity.

Even if this is a story with too many holes in it to qualify as Swiss cheese. The story doesn’t make any sense? Who cares, really, all the front pages shout it out in bold print. And if you get tired of it: where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

British politician and former candidate for mayor of London, George Galloway, on Twitter, says it so much better than I ever could, and shorter too, which is why I quote him at the end of this article:

Why do I not believe you? Let me count the ways. You’re not looking for anyone in connection with the attack on the Skripals. There is no manhunt, no all points alert, no description, no identikit drawing, no CCTV. No suspects. That means you already know what happened. #Russia

We know Facebook is trying to screw with your brains. Well, they’re not the only ones. Your government -and ‘intelligence’ services- want the monopoly on that, too.

I can not make this a definitive, or final, or complete story. Because nobody can. But I can tell you this: if you think that Russia or God forbid Putin, ‘poisoned’ the Skripals, you’re so wrong you’re beyond salvation. Not because it may or may not be true, but because you have seen no evidence. And you still go with it. Where’s the remote, Mildred?

 

 

Mar 192018
 
 March 19, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ernest R. Ashton Evening near the Pyramids 1898

 

Facebook And Cambridge Analytica Face Mounting Pressure Over Data Scandal (G.)
Boris Johnson Ramps Up Anti-Russia Rhetoric (G.)
Why Default Rates Are Subdued Even As Corporate Debt Levels Hit Records (MW)
How Seriously is the Treasury Market Taking the Fed? (WS)
65% of Americans Save Little or Nothing (CNBC)
Developing Countries At Risk From US Rate Rise, Debt Charity Warns (G.)
Rising US Interest Rates May Damage Gulf Economies (MEE)
Kim Jong-Un Has Committed To Denuclearisation, Says South Korea (G.)
Kim Jong-Un Caught Off Guard by Trump’s Quick Agreement to Meet (BBG)
Japan: Embattled Shinzo Abe Blames Staff Over Land Sale Scandal (AFP)
Apple Is Secretly Developing Its Own Screens for the First Time (BBG)
Canadian Household Debt Hits Record $1.8 Trillion (CP)
German Interior Minister Wants More Internal EU Border Controls (DW)
Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050 – UN (G.)

 

 

Facebook knows more about you than your friends and family do. No, really. But it can’t figure out -for years- that its data are being downloaded and used?! Yeah, I’ll buy that.

The real issue here should be what Facebook itself uses its -or should that be ‘your’- data for, and what intelligence services do with it.

Facebook And Cambridge Analytica Face Mounting Pressure Over Data Scandal (G.)

Facebook and that worked with Donald Trump’s election team have come under mounting pressure, with calls for investigations and hearings to explain a vast data breach that affected tens of millions of people. In Britain, the head of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news accused Cambridge Analytica and Facebook of misleading MPs after revelations in the Observer that more than 50m Facebook profiles were harvested and used to build a system that may have influenced voters in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Conservative MP Damian Collins said he would call the heads of both companies, Alexander Nix and Mark Zuckerberg, to give further testimony.

His intervention came after a whistleblower spoke to the Observer and described how the profiles, mostly of US voters, were harvested for Cambridge Analytica, in one of Facebook’s biggest ever data breaches. The disclosures caused outrage on both sides of the Atlantic; in the US, a state attorney general has called for investigations and greater accountability and regulation. There have been reports that Cambridge Analytica is trying to stop the broadcast of a Channel 4 News exposé in which Nix is said to talk unguardedly about the company’s practices. According to the Financial Times, reporters posed as prospective clients and secretly filmed a series of meetings, including one with the chief executive. The report is due to air this week.

Read more …

Very little credibility so far. From descriptions of the nerve agent, it would seem impossible that “..at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by it..” and all lived to tell it. Is the whole Novichok story a fabrication? Know what, Boris? Why not show the proof you claim to have?!

Boris Johnson Ramps Up Anti-Russia Rhetoric (G.)

Boris Johnson will today seek to convince the EU foreign affairs council to join him in fresh condemnation of Russia after his explosive claims that Moscow has been creating and stockpiling nerve agent novichok and working out how to use it for assassinations. Scientists from the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive today to analyse samples of the agent used to poison the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The foreign secretary made his claims after Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov issued blanket denials and said British agents might have used their stockpiles at Porton Down.

As the row enters its third week, Johnson dismissed Chizhov’s comments, saying they were “not the response of a country that really believes it’s innocent”. On Sunday, Vladimir Putin, fresh from a profoundly unsurprising electoral victory, denied any such nerve agents existed and said the idea of carrying out such a killing during an election campaign would be “rubbish, drivel, nonsense”. The latest theory to gain prominence is that the Skripals were poisoned via his car’s ventilation system. The report, from ABC news in the US, came as counter-terrorism police renewed their appeal for sightings of Skripal’s burgundy BMW 320D saloon car on 4 March. ABC also reported that at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by the nerve agent.

Read more …

Zero interest rates?!

Why Default Rates Are Subdued Even As Corporate Debt Levels Hit Records (MW)

U.S. corporate debt levels stand above crisis highs even as default rates among the most leveraged firms remain subdued. With an economy hitting its stride, it’s perhaps no surprise that the high-yield bond market is placid. The extent of the divergence between debt levels and defaults, however, is worrying to some analysts who feel rising corporate indebtedness will eventually catch out unwary investors and deflate the junk-bond market. But beyond complacency John Lonski at Moody’s Capital Market Research, argued that globalization and the tendency of U.S. businesses to hoard cash as reasons why corporate debt levels may no longer move in sync with default rates and credit spreads.

The high-yield default rate in the fourth-quarter of 2017 fell to 3.3%, even as U.S. nonfinancial-corporate debt ended in 2017 at 45.4% of GDP. This compares with a much higher default rate of 11.1% in the second quarter of 2009, with corporate debt levels at 45% of GDP. Granted, the current levels come with the economy in the eighth year of an expansion, while the second quarter of 2009 marked the final quarter of the longest and deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression. The yield spread between high-yield bonds and safe government paper, as represented by the 10-year Treasury note narrowed to an average 3.63 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2017, from an average 12.02 percentage points in the second quarter of 2009.

The tight credit spreads reflects that borrowing costs are still close to historic lows, and that investors are demanding minimum compensation for holding arguably the riskiest debt in the bond market. One answer “might be supplied by the ever increasing globalization of U.S. businesses where the more relevant denominator is not U.S. GDP, but world GDP” said Lonski. The fortunes of U.S. companies are now wove into the broader global economy. When commodity prices took a hit in 2015 and early 2016, crimping growth in China and other emerging markets, high-yield bonds were also slammed.

Read more …

If they keep up the forward guidance, everyone will sleep on. But will the yield spread sleep too?

How Seriously is the Treasury Market Taking the Fed? (WS)

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that the Fed could never unload the securities it had acquired during QE. How things have changed! On Friday, the three-month Treasury yield closed at 1.78%, the highest since August 19, 2008. When yields rise, by definition bond prices fall:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that The Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate has been 1.25% to 1.50% since its last rate hike at the December FOMC meeting. In other words, the three-month yield is already above the upper limit of the Fed’s target range after the next rate hike. So the market has fully priced in a rate hike at the FOMC meeting ending March 21. And it’s also starting to price in another rate hike in June. In this rate-hike cycle, the Fed has engaged in policy action only at meetings that are followed by a press conference.

There are four of these press-conference meetings per year. The next two are this week and June. If, in this cycle, the Fed hike rates at an FOMC meeting that is not followed by a press conference – there are also four of them this year – it would be considered a “monetary shock” that the Fed decided to administer to the markets. It would be like a rate hike of 50 basis points instead of the expected 25 basis points. There would be a hue and cry in the markets around the world. But I think the Fed isn’t ready to spring that on the markets just yet. Maybe later. The two-year yield rose to 2.31% on Friday, the highest since August 29, 2008:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that In past rate hike cycles, the two-year yield reacted faster to rate-hike expectations than the 10-year yield. This is happening now as well. The 10-year yield has its own dynamics that are not in lockstep with the Fed’s rate-hike scenario. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.85%, within the same range where it had been since late February, tantalizingly close to 3%:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that [..] After the surge of the two-year yield, the difference between the two-year and the 10-year yield – the “two-10 spread” – has narrowed again. On Friday, it was at 54 basis points. In the chart below, note the narrowing at the end of last year to 50 basis points, then the mini-spike, as the 10-year yield surged faster than the two-year yield, and the recent fallback:

Read more …

Always the same braindead question: “What’s keeping Americans from saving?” We still don’t know?!

65% of Americans Save Little or Nothing (CNBC)

Despite a low unemployment rate and increasing wage growth, Americans still aren’t saving much. That’s according to a new survey from Bankrate.com, which found that 20% of Americans don’t save any of their annual income at all and even those who do save aren’t putting away a lot. Only 16% of survey respondents say that they save more than 15% of what they make, which is what experts generally recommend. A quarter of respondents report saving between 6 and 10% of their income and 21% say they sock away 5% or less.

At this rate, many people could be setting themselves up to fall short in retirement, Bankrate warns. “With a steady, significant share of the working population saving nothing or relatively little, it’s virtually guaranteed that they’ll be unable to afford a modest emergency expense or finance retirement,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “That amounts to a financial fail.” The economy might be prospering now, but that won’t last forever: “The party has to stop sometime, and when it does, employers will lay off workers,” the study says. In fact, Bankrate estimates that half of the American population won’t be able to maintain their standard of living once they stop working.

A report from GoBankingRates found similar results: Over 40% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire. What’s keeping Americans from saving? “Expenses” was the No. 1 answer of 39% of respondents. Another 16% say they don’t have a “good enough job” to be able to save, which presumably means they aren’t earning enough. “The average American has less than $5,000 in a financial account, a quarter to a fifth of what you should have, and those aged 55 to 64 who have retirement savings only carry $120,000 — which won’t last long in the absence of paychecks,” the survey reports.

Read more …

How strong will this make the dollar?

Developing Countries At Risk From US Rate Rise, Debt Charity Warns (G.)

The expected rise in US interest rates will increase financial pressures on developing countries already struggling with a 60% jump in their debt repayments since 2014, a leading charity has warned. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said a study of 126 developing nations showed that they were devoting more than 10% of their revenues on average to paying the interest on money borrowed – the highest level since before the G7 agreement to write off the debts of the world’s poorest nations at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. Five of the countries on the charity’s list – Angola, Lebanon, Ghana, Chad and Bhutan – were spending more than a third of government revenues on servicing debts.

Developing country debt moved down the international agenda following the Gleneagles agreement in which the G7 industrial countries agreed to spend £30bn writing off the debts owed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank by the 18 poor countries. But developing country debt is now once again being closely monitored by the IMF, which says 30 of the 67 poor countries it assesses are in debt distress or at risk of being so. Lending to developing countries almost doubled between 2008 and 2014 as low interest rates in the west led to a search for higher-yielding investments. A boom in commodity prices meant many poor countries borrowed in anticipation of tax receipts that have not materialised.

But the Jubilee Debt Campaign said the boom–bust in commodity prices was only one factor behind rising debt, pointing out that some countries were paying back money owed by former dictators, while others had been struggling with high debts for many years but had not been eligible for help. The campaign said developing countries were also vulnerable to a rise in global interest rates as central banks withdrew the support they have been providing since 2008. [..] The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates this week – with the financial markets expecting two or three further upward moves during 2018.

Tim Jones, an economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “Debt payments for many countries have risen rapidly as a result of a lending boom and fall in commodity prices. The situation may worsen further as US dollar interest rates rise, and as other central banks reduce monetary stimulus. Debt payments are reducing government budgets when more spending is needed to meet the sustainable development goals.”

Read more …

A few economies that have not done well.

Rising US Interest Rates May Damage Gulf Economies (MEE)

[..]The latest available data shows that Oman, for instance, has a debt equivalent to 31.4% of their GDP for 2016, which is up from 4.9% in 2014, according to TradingEconomics.com. That jump in debt coincided with a fall in oil prices from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to a low of $26 in early 2016. Rising rates also tend to increase costs for businesses, says Rosso. And the higher costs of borrowing ultimately means that fewer businesses that request loans from banks will receive the money they need. In short, growth in the available credit in the economy will slow. If we learned nothing else from the financial crisis of 2008-2009, it is that the world of business runs on credit. Slower credit growth usually means slower economic growth.

The base case is that among the countries with the dollar peg such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, the increased interest rates will likely drag on growth for their economies. The timing is really pretty bad for some of the countries involved. For instance, the Saudi economy shrank by 0.43% in the quarter ending September 2017, according to TradingEconomics.com. The prior quarter was worse; the economy sank 1.03%. Two quarters of negative growth is generally seen as a recession. Will the impact of rising rates push Saudi’s economy back into another recession? It’s hard to tell so far, but there is a risk. Similar problems seem likely for some other countries in the dollar-peg group.

The latest data from Oman is awful as well, although not as recent as that on Saudi Arabia. That economy contracted 14.1% in 2015, followed by another 5.1% decline in 2016. Likewise, the UAE has seen its growth steadily decline in each of the five years through 2016 from 6.9% to 3% most recently. That would not be bad for economic growth, but it is going in the wrong direction.

Read more …

That’s quite the statement.

Kim Jong-Un Has Committed To Denuclearisation, Says South Korea (G.)

South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May. Trump has agreed to what would be historic talks after South Korean officials relayed that Kim Jong-un was committed to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and was willing to halt nuclear and missile tests. North Korea hasn’t publicly confirmed the summit plans, and a meeting place isn’t known. South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.” She told the CBS programme Face the Nation that “he’s given his word” and it’s “the first time that the words came directly” from the North’s leader.

Read more …

Only include this because it’s exactly what I said last week. Kim still hasn’t publicly agreed to meet.

Kim Jong-Un Caught Off Guard by Trump’s Quick Agreement to Meet (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immediate willingness to meet Kim Jong Un for nuclear talks likely caught the North Korean leader by surprise, forcing him to consider his position before responding publicly, the South Korean foreign minister said. “We were all quite surprised by the readiness of that decision,” South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump. We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock.” Trump agreed to meet with Kim on March 8 after a briefing from South Korean officials.

The summit, expected to take place in a few months, would represent the first time a U.S. president has met a North Korean leader – either Kim or his father or grandfather – and is part of an overall strategy to dismantle that nation’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has already detonated what it described as a hydrogen bomb capable of riding an intercontinental ballistic missile to cities across the U.S., and Kim has threatened to use nuclear arms against Americans. The summit, if it occurs, will likely follow an already-scheduled meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to take place in South Korea, at which denuclearization will also be discussed, Kang said.

Read more …

Yeah, Shinzo, the Russians did it.

Tyler earlier: “82% of Asahi poll respondents said Abe bears responsibility for the doctored documents relating to the Moritomo scandal”

Japan: Embattled Shinzo Abe Blames Staff Over Land Sale Scandal (AFP)

Japan’s embattled prime minister has hit back at critics over a favouritism and cover-up scandal that has seen his popularity plunge and loosened his grip on power. In a statement in parliament, Shinzo Abe stressed he had not ordered bureaucrats to alter documents relating to a controversial land sale. “I have never ordered changes,” he said. The scandal surrounds the 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist operator of schools who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie. The sale was clinched at a price well below market value amid allegations that the high-level connections helped grease the deal. The affair first emerged early last year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.

Versions of the original and doctored documents made public by opposition lawmakers appeared to show passing references to Abe were scrubbed, along with several references to his wife Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso. Aso has blamed the alterations on “some staff members” at the ministry. But Jiro Yamaguchi, a politics professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, said the public was “not at all convinced” by this explanation. “Why was the land sold at a discount price? Without any political pressure, this could never happen, and voters are angry about it,” said Yamaguchi. The prime minister repeated an apology, saying he “keenly felt” his responsibility over the scandal that has “shaken people’s confidence in government administration.”

The affair is hitting Abe’s ratings hard, with a new poll in the Asahi Shimbun showing public support nosediving by 13 percentage points from the previous month to 31%. The figure is the lowest approval rating for Abe in the poll since his return to power at the end of 2012.

Read more …

A different kind of protectionism.

Apple Is Secretly Developing Its Own Screens for the First Time (BBG)

Apple is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make small numbers of the screens for testing purposes, according to people familiar with the situation. The technology giant is making a significant investment in the development of next-generation MicroLED screens, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. MicroLED screens use different light-emitting compounds than the current OLED displays and promise to make future gadgets slimmer, brighter and less power-hungry. The screens are far more difficult to produce than OLED displays, and the company almost killed the project a year or so ago, the people say.

Engineers have since been making progress and the technology is now at an advanced stage, they say, though consumers will probably have to wait a few years before seeing the results. The ambitious undertaking is the latest example of Apple bringing the design of key components in-house. The company has designed chips powering its mobile devices for several years. Its move into displays has the long-term potential to hurt a range of suppliers, from screen makers like Samsung, Japan Display, Sharp and LG to companies like Synaptics that produce chip-screen interfaces. It may also hurt Universal Display, a leading developer of OLED technology. Display makers in Asia fell after Bloomberg News reported the plans. Japan Display dropped as much as 4.4%, Sharp tumbled as much as 3.3% and Samsung slid 1.4%.

Read more …

“$22,837 per person, not including mortgages…”

Canadian Household Debt Hits Record $1.8 Trillion (CP)

Canadians’ collective household debt has climbed to $1.8 trillion as an international financial group sounds an early warning that the country’s banking system is at risk from rising debt levels. Equifax Canada says consumers now owe $1.821 trillion including mortgages as of the fourth-quarter of 2017, marking a 6% increase from a year earlier. Although nearly half of Canadians reduced their personal liabilities, roughly 37% added to their debt to push the average amount up 3.3% to $22,837 per person, not including mortgages.

The fresh numbers come as an international financial group owned by the world’s central banks says Canada’s credit-to-GDP and debt-service ratios show early warning signs of potential risk to the banking system in the coming years. The latest report by the Bank for International Settlements says Canada’s credit-to-GDP gap and debt-service ratios have surpassed critical thresholds and are signalling red, pointing to vulnerabilities. The group, however, cautions that these indicators should not be treated as a formal stress test, but as a first step in a broader analysis.

Read more …

From Merkel’s own camp.

German Interior Minister Wants More Internal EU Border Controls (DW)

Germany should consider stepping up its border controls, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Sunday. “Not that many border points in Germany are permanently occupied,” Seehofer told German weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, adding: “We will now discuss whether that needs to change.” Seehofer also appealed for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement within the EU bloc. “Internal border checks [between EU member states] must be in place so long as the EU fails to effectively control the external border,” he said, adding: “I don’t see it being able to do this in the near future.” The reintroduction of border controls is a prerogative of EU member states. Under EU rules they must remain an exception and respect the principle of proportionality.

Germany’s temporarily reintroduced border controls continue until May 12 and have been imposed on the land border with Austria and on flight connections from Greece because of the “security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous secondary movements,” according to the European Commission. Seehofer’s comments follow EU demands in February that Germany and four other Schengen members – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – lift their border controls when the current agreed terms run out in May. [..] Seehofer is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

Read more …

Waterwars in waterworld.

Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050 – UN (G.)

More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs. The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.” Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum.

Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year. This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities. [..] By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion.

Read more …

Mar 162018
 
 March 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Women of Algiers (after Delacroix) 1955

 

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)
UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)
Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)
Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)
UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)
UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)
More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)
European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)
Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)
EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)
The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)
Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

 

 

Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.

 

 

Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)

[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.

Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:

“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:

“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”

[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’

Read more …

People are subject to abuse for questioning the official story. At least Corbyn has the decency to ask for evidence.

UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)

It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.

The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.

[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”

Read more …

Casino.

Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)

It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.

And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.

The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!

Read more …

Household debt. That’s the focal point.

Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)

There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.

So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.

I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).

Read more …

You can see the wall ahead that hey’re about to crash into.

UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)

Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.

Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.

He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.

Read more …

What QE has brought us. This is a global phenomenon revealed stronger and sooner in Britain because of, but not caused by, Brexit.

UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)

The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.

“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.

Read more …

Third world here we come.

More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)

More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.

The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.

[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”

Read more …

This is Brussels. Simple as that. The next crony case is already known in the person of Selmayr. More on that soon. There are a few decent people in Brussels, but they don’t have much time left.

European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)

An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.

She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.

[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..

The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”

Read more …

Abe had better leave while he can.

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)

A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.

Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…

Read more …

How to spell recovery.

Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)

Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.

Read more …

That EU-Turkey refugee deal looks darker by the minute. Dirty politics.

EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)

The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.

Read more …

No, really, it’s an industry.

The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)

Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.

My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.

Read more …

There are still a few smart people left.

Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.

This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”

Read more …