Dec 022018
 
 December 2, 2018  Posted by at 5:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frans Masereel Montmartre 1925

 

 

The way ‘news’ is reported through known outlets changes so fast hardly a soul notices that news as we once knew it no longer exists. This is due to a large extent to the advent of the internet in general, and social media in particular. On the one hand this has led to an absolute overkill in ‘news’, forcing people to pick between sources once they find they can’t read or view it all, on the other hand it has allowed news outlets to flood the former news waves with so much of the same that nobody can compare one source with the other anymore.

Once you achieve that situation, you’re more or less free to make the news, rather than just report on it. The rise of Donald Trump has made the existing mass media realize that one-sided negative reporting on the man sells better than anything objective can. The MSM have sort of won the battle versus the interwebs, albeit only in that regard, and only for this moment, but that is enough for them for now; just like their readers, they don’t have the scope or the energy to look any further or deeper.

This is in a nutshell, and we really should take a much more profound look but that’s another chapter, what has changed the news, and what will keep on changing it until the truth sets us all free. This is what drives outlets like CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian today, because it provides them with readers and viewers. Which they would not have if they didn’t conduct a 24/7 war on a set list of topics they know their audience can’t get enough of.

For these outlets, there are are three targets: Assange, Putin and Trump. And it’s especially the alleged links between the three that gets media -and politicians- excited, because if such links exist, the case against the individual targets is greatly reinforced. Trump can be portrayed in a much more damaging light if he’s painted off as Putin’s stooge, Putin becomes an enemy of America, Britain and the EU is he’s deciding elections in these countries (and poisoning people), and Assange can really only be set in a negative light if he aids and abets both of them.

The problem would be evidence. Or it would seem to be, at least. But the news has changed. We are well into the second year of ‘reporting’ on how Trump and Putin have conspired against Hillary, and there is still no proof other than intelligence services swearing on their mothers’ graves that really, Assange, Putin and Trump have targeted our democracies in order to take over control of them by illegal means.

They are the enemy, and you, who are of course on the other side, are their victims. But your trusted media will save you from a grueling fate. Now, if the passing of George HW Bush makes anything clear, it’s how united politicians and media are in praise of him, and against everyone else. The Observer, Guardian’s Sunday sister, puts it ever so eloquently today:

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office.

What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that HW was basically a war criminal in thinly veiled disguise, who ordered the bombing of a caravan of civilians in Iraq 27 years ago, as the US had invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein had taken Kuwait egged on by that same US. If you can call that dignified, you have issues.

By the same token, it shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that the umpteenth Guardian hit piece on Julian Assange was just that, and invented from A to Z as well. If, when seeing the headline, you didn’t see that in the first fraction of a second, you haven’t been paying attention; you’re well into the news matrix. By now, everyone should recognize these things for what they are. But it only appears to get harder. It’s what outlets like to report, and readers like to read. It paints the world into a nice neat scheme, in which the bad guys are easy to spot, and you find yourself in a safe and cozy corner.

The problem, though, is that the entire thing is fantasy. The headline Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy, Sources Say does not contain one iota of truth. But what does it matter? Assange has been cut off from the world, he can’t defend himself. Manafort is about to be thrown in jail for lying. The Russians can’t be trusted on anything, whatever they say must be a lie. And Trump gets so much of this stuff, he wouldn’t know where to begin anymore if he’d want to sue for libel.

One interesting detail about that ‘article’, after we’ve already established that they made it up, we know there’s not a single sign of Manafort having been in London around the time he allegedly met with Assange, is the connection between the Guardian and Ecuador. The paper has stationed people in Quito, the country’s capital. And sources within the Ecuadorian government appear to be feeding them material. Such as the claim that Manafort visited Assange. He wasn’t there. We know that from his passports and surveillance cameras.

The Guardian has a vendetta with Julian Assange, and Ecuador’s new president uses the paper to smear Assange’s name, painting him as an unwashed slob and a cat hater. This is your news, Britain and other anglo readers, this is what it’s come to. Already. And we’re just in the first inning of the game of making up the news as we go along.

The byline of that Manafort/Assange fantasy piece says “Luke Harding and Dan Collyns in Quito”. Now, on May 16 2018 I published an article entitled I Am Julian Assange, in which I referred to no less than three Guardian articles all published the day before, and all with the same topic.

The first one, Revealed: Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange, lists Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Luke Harding, Fernando Villavicencio and Cristina Solórzano as authors. The second one, How Julian Assange Became An Unwelcome Guest In Ecuador’s Embassy, lists Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns.Number three is Why Does Ecuador Want Assange Out Of Its London Embassy?, written by poor lonely Dan Collyns in Quito all by himself.

It seems obvious that ‘Ecuador’ didn’t get sick of Assange. What happened was Ecuador changed presidents. Rafael Correa’s longtime friend and right hand man Lenin Moreno ran for president as his logical successor, only to turn against his former mentor as soon as he was elected. And not long after that, the Guardian has sources in Quito which it could use to smear Assange even further.

 

This way of ‘making’ the news is not limited to the Guardian, and it’s not limited to its coverage of WikiLeaks. We must ask ourselves every step of the way if we can still call this sort of thing ‘news’, ‘coverage’ and ‘reporting’. Let’s hope both WikiLeaks and Paul Manafort sue the paper, but apparently they’ll need a lot of money to do it. An additional layer of protection for fake news.

The Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the paper’s editors on November 30. The fallout of the Manafort/Assange piece has made them sort of careful in that they say: “what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!”

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump?

That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

They prompted the setting up of the Mueller inquiry into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Another document this week suggests a longtime Trump adviser, Roger Stone, may have sought information about WikiLeaks plans to release hacked Democratic party emails in 2016. There is nothing in the documents released this week that proves that Mr Trump conspired with Russian efforts to win him the presidency.

Yet those efforts were real. For two years, Mr Trump has gone to unprecedented lengths to attack the special counsel. After November’s midterms, he seemed on the verge of firing Mr Mueller. He may yet do so. But this week’s charges suggest that there is plenty more still to be revealed. Mr Trump still has questions to answer from the investigating authorities, from the new Congress – and from America’s long-suffering allies.

You see what they do, and how they do it? Big statement, and then say it’s probably not true. Post Manafort/Assange disaster piece, their lawyers have provided a way to legally make outrageous claims. It’s still smear, and it’s still slander, but they’ve already covered their asses by saying it’s probably a step too far. Still managed to say it though… And hey, what’s not to like about the phrase “..America’s long-suffering allies”?

Also on November 30, the Guardian ran the following piece. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Smear Slander Rinse and Repeat. All you need to do is add “it’s probably not true” here and there, and you’re good to go. People claim that the coming age of AI and algorithms is a threat to news dissemination, but at this pace there won’t be much left to threaten.

I think I’ll close with that Observer quote I posted above. It’s just perfect.

Donald Trump’s Growing List Of Failures (Observer Op-Ed)

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office. What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

Okay, can’t help myself. MbS: not shabby efforts, but a refusal to risk being singled out and be blamed for $400 oil prices by the same Senators who tolerated Saudi behavior for decades. Kim Jong-un: Trump is closer to peace in Korea than anyone in decades. The claim Trump is ‘kowtowing’ to Putin only makes sense if you believe the unproven allegations of collusion. Robert Mueller hasn’t provided any evidence of it in 18 months, but a bunch of guys in a London office know better? As far as the dignity of Bush 41 is concerned, I see no reason to add one single syllable.

I will never get tired of defending Julian Assange. I do get tired of defending Trump, but the media leaves me no choice. There’s a dire need for at least a little balance in what passes for the news, and that balance seems to get further out of reach every passing day. News outlets have resorted to propaganda campaigns against individuals, organizations and even entire nations because it helps them sell copies, ads and airtime.

And frankly, we must prepare for smear and allegations thought up out of thin air just to make a profit, to be used to lock away people for life regardless of what a nation’s laws say, for presidents to be impeached because it suits the owners of papers or TV stations (despite Trump being their meal ticket), and we must for the inevitable endgame, fake news as the reason to start a -nuclear- war.

 

 

Apr 222015
 
 April 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 22 2015


Jack Delano Engineer at AT&SF railroad yard, Clovis, NM 1943

Europe’s Debt Mountain Just Got A Whole Lot Bigger (Telegraph)
$5.3 Trillion Of Government Bonds Now Have Negative Yields (David Stockman)
IMF Needs To Correct Its Big Fat Greek Bailout Mistake (Ashoka Mody)
Mythology That Blocks Progress In Greece (Martin Wolf)
Why the Real Deadline for Greece Is July 20 (Bloomberg)
Greece Buys Six Weeks’ Space With Transfer of City Funds (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Sees ‘Clear Convergence’ in Greek Creditor Talks (Bloomberg)
Greece Hopes To Strike A Deal With Gazprom Soon (DW)
China Sees First Bond Default by State Firm (Bloomberg)
China Will Keep Growing Because It Has To (Bloomberg)
Hank Paulson Tells China to Be Wary (Sorkin)
Europe Should Protect People, Not Borders (Spiegel)
The Next Era of Campaign-Finance Craziness Is Already Underway (NY Times)
British Regulator Challenges US Over Scrutiny of Buffett’s Berkshire (FT)
‘Pipelines Blow Up And People Die’ (Politico)
Who Is Saudi Arabia Really Targeting In Its Price War? (Berman)
How to Avert a Nuclear War (James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin)
UK Financial Trader Arrested Over 2010 Global Markets ‘Flash Crash’ (Guardian)
Metro Vancouver Is Swept Up In A Real Estate Frenzy (Vancouver Sun)
Decisions: Life and Death on Wall Street, by Janet M. Tavakoli (Nomi Prins)
The Food Production System is Criminal (Beppe Grillo’s blog)

“Despite attempts by governments across the bloc to rein in spending..”

Europe’s Debt Mountain Just Got A Whole Lot Bigger (Telegraph)

It’s official. The eurozone is drowning in debt. According to the latest figures from the bloc’s official statistical authority, government debt in the eurozone reached nearly 92pc of GDP last year – the highest level since the single currency was introduced in 1999. Unsurprisingly, debt-stricken Greece is the worst offender, with its public debt topping 177pc of national economic output. Italy is not far behind at 132pc of GDP, with bailed-out Cyprus at 107pc. The figures also show that only four of the eurozone’s 19 countries are below the Maastricht Treaty’s 60pc debt limit. Across Europe as a whole, 16 of out the 26 member states are officially in breach of the debt criteria.

Despite attempts by governments across the bloc to rein in spending, stagnant growth and insipid demand has seen debt ratios on the continent soar. Coupled with the ominous threat of deflation, the advanced world’s debt burden is now the foremost threat facing the global economy, according to the likes of the IMF. Total public and private debt levels have reached a record 275pc of GDP in rich countries, and 175pc in emerging markets. Both are up 30 points since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But as the woes of Greece have shown, the prospect of mass debt write-offs is not on the cards. In the words of Margaret Atwood and beloved of the IMF: “And then the revenge that comes when they are not paid back.”

Read more …

Part of the game.

$5.3 Trillion Of Government Bonds Now Have Negative Yields (David Stockman)

The level of complacency in world financial markets is downright astounding – even stupid. Today there are two more signs of extreme mania – a brokerage firm calculation that there are now $5.3 trillion of government bonds trading at negative yields and the cross-over of eurolibor into the neither world of negative yields, as well. These deformations cannot be explained with reference to macroeconomic conditions – such as weak growth or a temporary spot of minimal CPI gains. Instead, they are the destructive work of central banks and a few hundred monetary mandarins who have literally usurped control of the entire world economy. And they have done it through a deft maneuver.

That is, by disabling the pricing system in financial markets entirely and displacing market forces with central command and control in the form of pegged money market rates, manipulated yield curves, invitations to speculators to front-run massive central bank bond buying programs and both implied and explicit promises that rising risk asset prices will be favored and facilitated at all hazards. All of this monetary mayhem is being done in the name of an astoundingly primitive Keynesian premise. Namely, that there is insufficient “aggregate demand” in the world and too little inflation in consumer goods and services as measured by the CPI and other consumption deflators; and that these insufficiencies can be magically remedied by ZIRP, massive government debt monetization and the rest of the easy money tool kit .

How? Why, by inducing businesses and households to borrow more and spend more when they are otherwise not inclined to spend income they don’t have; and to rid them of a reluctance to spend even what they can afford because the price of toilet paper, tonic water, TVs and trips to the mall may be going down tomorrow. Here’s the thing. Both of these alleged barriers to spending are postulates of Keynesian economic models, not conditions extant in the real world. Upwards of 85% of US households, for example, are not borrowing because they are already tapped out and trapped in “peak debt”. Even the borrowing rebound that has happened since the 2008 crisis has occurred for reasons that are irrelevant to the central bankers’ Keynesian predicate.

Read more …

Restructuring.

IMF Needs To Correct Its Big Greek Bailout Mistake (Ashoka Mody)

The Greek government’s mounting financial woes are leading it to contemplate the unthinkable: defaulting on a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Instead of demanding repayment and further austerity, the IMF should recognize its responsibility for the country’s predicament and forgive much of the debt. Greece’s onerous obligations to the IMF, the European Central Bank and European governments can be traced back to April 2010, when they made a fateful mistake. Instead of allowing Greece to default on its insurmountable debts to private creditors, they chose to lend it the money to pay in full. At the time, many called for immediately restructuring privately held debt, thus imposing losses on the banks and investors who had lent money to Greece.

Among them were several members of the IMF’s board and Karl Otto Pohl, a former president of the Bundesbank and a key architect of the euro. The IMF and European authorities responded that restructuring would cause global financial mayhem. As Pohl candidly noted, that was merely a cover for bailing out German and French banks, which had been among the largest enablers of Greek profligacy. Ultimately, the authorities’ approach merely replaced one problem with another: IMF and official European loans were used to repay private creditors. Thus, despite a belated restructuring in 2012, Greece’s obligations remain unbearable – only now they are owed almost entirely to official creditors. Five years after the crisis started, government debt has jumped from 130% of gross domestic product to almost 180%.

Meanwhile, a deep economic slump and deflation have severely impaired the government’s ability to repay. Almost everyone now agrees that pushing Greece to pay its private creditors was a bad idea. The required fiscal austerity was simply too great, causing the economy to collapse. The IMF acknowledged the error in a 2013 report on Greece. In a recent staff paper, the fund said that when a crisis threatens to spread, it should seek a collective global solution rather than forcing the distressed economy to bear the entire burden. The IMF’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, has warned that more austerity will crush growth. Oddly, the IMF’s proposed way forward for Greece remains unchanged: Borrow more money (this time from the European authorities) to repay one group of creditors (the IMF) and stay focused on austerity. [..]

Five years from now, the country’s economic and social stress could well be even more acute. The question will be: Why was more debt not forgiven earlier? No one is willing to confront that unpleasant arithmetic, and wishful thinking prevails. Having failed its first Greek test, the IMF risks doing so again. It remains trapped by the priorities of shareholders, including in recent years the U.K. and Germany. To reassert its independence and redeem its lost credibility, it should write off a big chunk of Greece’s debt and force its wealthy shareholders to bear the losses.

(Mody is a former IMF mission chief)

Read more …

I like this: “Forgiveness is inevitable.”

Mythology That Blocks Progress In Greece (Martin Wolf)

The Greek epic continues. It will not end well if the people involved do not recognise they are clinging on to myths. Here are six, each of which poses intellectual and emotional obstacles to reaching a solution.

A Greek exit would help the eurozone. “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” This is the question Henry II is supposed to have asked about Archbishop Thomas Becket. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, must think much the same of his Greek partners. For the English king, however, the gratification of his wish was a disaster. A similar thing is likely to be true if Greece leaves. Yes, if Greece suffered a calamitous aftermath, populist campaigns elsewhere would be less effective. But euro membership would cease to be irrevocable. Each crisis could trigger destabilising speculation.

A Greek exit would help Greece. Many believe a weak new drachma offers a painless path to prosperity. But this is only likely to be true if the economy can easily expand its production of internationally competitive goods and services. Greece cannot. And the immediate consequences are likely to include exchange controls, defaults, a halt to foreign credit, and more political turbulence. Stable money counts for something, particularly in a mismanaged country. Ditching it carries a cost.

It is Greece’s fault. Nobody was forced to lend to Greece. Initially, private lenders were happy to lend to the Greek government on much the same terms as to the German government. Yet the nature of Greek politics, tellingly described in The 13th Labour of Hercules by Yannis Palaiologos , was no secret. Then, in 2010, it became clear the money would not be repaid. Rather than agree to the write-off that was needed, governments (and the IMF) decided to bail out the private creditors by refinancing Greece. Thus, began the game of “extend and pretend”. Stupid lenders lose money. That has always been the case. It is still the case today.

Greece has done nothing. Greece has undergone a huge adjustment of its fiscal and external positions. Between 2009 and 2014, the primary fiscal balance (before interest) tightened by 12% of gross domestic product, the structural fiscal deficit by 20% of GDP and the current account balance by 12% of GDP. Between the first quarter of 2008 and the last of 2013, real spending in the Greek economy fell by 35% and GDP by 27%, while unemployment peaked at 28% of the labour force. These are huge adjustments. Indeed, one of the tragedies of the impasse over the conditions for support is that the adjustment has happened. Greece does not need additional resources.

The Greeks will repay. This myth derives partly from the refusal to recognise sunk costs. The bad lending and the adjustment to the cessation of that lending both lie in the past. What is open is whether the Greeks will devote the next few decades to repaying a mountain of loans that should never have been made. What makes this far worse is that the debt burden has doubled, relative to GDP, despite a restructuring, since the crisis. Forgiveness is inevitable. Indeed, a report from the Centre for Economic Policy Research notes that excessive debt hangs over the entire eurozone, not just Greece.

Read more …

Is it in Greece’s interest to wait that long?

Why the Real Deadline for Greece Is July 20 (Bloomberg)

Greece probably has until late July to come to an agreement with its creditors. Possible delays in payments to the IMF shouldn’t prompt the European Central Bank to shut off vital liquidity to Greek banks. By contrast, a default on marketable debt, specifically the failure of the Greek government to pay €3.5 billion due to the ECB on July 20, would probably force the central bank’s hand. The Greek government and its creditors are still likely to reach a deal on a list of reforms before that crucial date. Greek banks are relying on liquidity from the ECB to avoid financial collapse. That support is currently provided by the Emergency Liquidity Assistance scheme from the monetary authorities in Frankfurt.

In the event of a sovereign default, the banks, which are large holders of Greek debt, would probably be ruled insolvent because the value of the assets on their balance sheets would fall sharply. Under the rules of the ELA, the ECB would be unlikely to be able to continue providing liquidity to lenders in the beleaguered country – users of the scheme must be solvent. Rolling over Treasury bills of about €11 billion between now and July 20 is unlikely to create a problem, as long as ECB liquidity remains available. The debt management office will probably be able to complete those operations because Greek banks have continued to be loyal buyers of those assets. A more pressing concern is a payment to the IMF. Greece must pay about €774 million on May 12.

Still, a failure to make that payment would be unlikely to cause the ECB to cut off liquidity to the country’s banks. Since the ability to pay depends on the ability to reach an agreement on reforms, that might be considered a matter of liquidity rather than solvency, allowing the ECB to keep funding Greek banks. In addition, the IMF wouldn’t even have to make a public announcement about the country being in arrears until three months have passed since the missed payment, though the country is immediately shut off from the Fund’s resources.

The IMF could still sign off on a “successful conclusion of the review” that would officially end Greece’s second bailout even if the country were in arrears. The four-month extension granted in February stipulates that this must be done by the end of June, though it’s a soft deadline. The “successful conclusion” would release the outstanding tranche of the current European Financial Stability Facility program – €1.8 billion – and the profits from the ECB’s Securities Markets Programme – €1.9 billion%. Those funds from Greece’s euro-area creditors, which sum to €3.7 billion, would be sufficient to repay the IMF about €3 billion that are due between now and July 13.

Read more …

Yeah, but those just make Syriza new enemies.

Greece Buys Six Weeks’ Space With Transfer of City Funds (Bloomberg)

Greek officials expect an order that local governments transfer funds to the central bank will keep the country afloat until the end of May as European policy makers turn up the heat on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Municipalities’ reserves are estimated at about €1.5 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Officials in Athens ruled out also seizing pension funds and the cash reserves of state companies because there wasn’t a need and the move would unnecessarily fuel anxiety, the person said. With bailout talks stalled, access to cash is becoming increasingly critical. Resistance at the ECB to further aiding the country’s stricken lenders is growing and the ECB is studying measures to rein in emergency funding for Greek banks.

“A bigger effort by the Greek side is needed so that we can close the topic in the interest of both sides,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in Vienna. “The intensity of the talks has increased in the past 4-5 days but not to the extent that they are ripe enough to come to a quick conclusion.” Tsipras may meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels on April 23, a Greek government official said Tuesday. Although a final accord is unlikely at a meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Latvia on Friday, another extraordinary meeting could be called at the end of April if needed.

“The sooner they come up with some kind of an agreement the better, but so far Europe has never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity,” Standard Chartered Bank Global Chief Economist Marios Maratheftis said in a Bloomberg TV interview. Since Tsipras assumed office in January, Greece has been using up its cash reserves to meet its obligations. Greek lenders are mostly locked out of regular ECB cash tenders and instead have access to about €74 billion of emergency liquidity assistance from their own central bank – an amount that has been reviewed weekly by the ECB.

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Right.

Varoufakis Sees ‘Clear Convergence’ in Greek Creditor Talks (Bloomberg)

Greece and its creditors are narrowing their differences as officials on both sides recognize that the best chance for success is an accord that leaves them all a bit unsatisfied, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said. “The convergence is absolutely clear, and the institutions are admitting that now,” Varoufakis told reporters in Athens late on Tuesday. Both sides “have invested a huge amount in achieving an agreement, and neither they nor we will let the opportunity slip to arrive at an agreement that’s clearly to the benefit of everyone.” Failure to do so would be “catastrophic,” he added. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday ordered local governments to move their funds to the central bank after failing to make sufficient progress in talks with European and IMF officials to release further bailout aid.

His government needs the cash for salaries, pensions and a payment to the IMF, and is running out of options to stay solvent. Municipalities’ reserves are estimated at about €1.5 billion, which will keep the country afloat until the end of May, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greece is unlikely to meet the end-April target for it to submit a list of measures to revamp its economy, a European Union official said Tuesday. The euro area now views the end of June to be Greece’s main deadline to unlock aid payments, he added. While an April 24 meeting of euro area finance ministers in Latvia is probably too soon to seal an agreement, “an agreement will come,” Varoufakis said.

Read more …

“The proposed pipeline, which has not been approved by the European Union..”

Greece Hopes To Strike A Deal With Gazprom Soon (DW)

The Greek prime minister and Gazprom chief Alexei Miller held talks in Athens on Tuesday over a multibillion dollar gas pipeline project. Reports said both sides would work towards setting up a “road map” detailing the responsibilities the two parties would commit to in the coming months. Government sources said Athens hoped an agreement would be signed shortly. The proposed pipeline, which has not been approved by the European Union, could deliver Russian gas through Turkey and Greece to Europe. The visit by Miller came after Tsipras met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow at the beginning of April and expressed his country’s interest in taking part in the so-called Turkish Stream gas pipeline project.

The pipeline is expected to transport Russian gas though Turkey and then in to Europe by 2017. Some observers, however, doubt the pipeline will be built on time, or even at all. “The pipeline is of big interest to our country and is among our priorities,” said Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. “We are continuing talks with the Russian side and we hope to reach an agreement very soon,” he added, terming the talks as constructive. According to the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, Athens stands to earn several billion dollars in advance of the deal.

However, Lafazanis declined to comment when asked by reporters about any advance payments. Talking to reporters after meeting Tsipras, Gazprom’s Chief Executive Alexei Miller also did not make any reference to any advance payments to Greece from the pipeline. Greece is heavily dependent on Russian energy imports and is looking to negotiate a deal with Moscow for the reduction of the price of gas that it imports from Russia. Furthermore, Athens has indicated its interest in becoming a European hub for the natural gas pipeline project.

Read more …

Nothing is safe anymore?

China Sees First Bond Default by State Firm (Bloomberg)

A Chinese power-transformer maker became the country’s first state-owned company to default on an onshore bond, signaling the government’s willingness to let market forces decide an enterprise’s fate. Baoding Tianwei, the unit of central government-owned China South Industries Group Corp., said it will fail to pay 85.5 million yuan ($13.8 million) of bond interest due Tuesday. Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd. became the first Chinese developer to default on its U.S. currency debt Monday. Until now, only private-sector companies have defaulted in China’s domestic bond market even as state-owned enterprises have sold the vast majority of debt.

Tianwei’s default highlights a shifting attitude toward financial risk, underscored by Premier Li Keqiang’s pledge to open a cooling economy to market forces and strip power from the government. “It’s probably a start of more defaults in China,” said Qu Qing, a bond analyst at Huachuang Securities Co. in Beijing. “The economic slowdown has given a huge blow to some industries.” Baoding Tianwei’s 1.5 billion yuan of 5.7% April 2016 notes have dropped 7.1% since March 31 to 85.3% of par as of Monday, set for the sharpest monthly decline since they were issued in 2011.

The company will continue to raise payment funds via various means including asset disposal, according to today’s statement posted to Chinamoney.com.cn, the China Foreign Exchange Trade System website. The bonds’ rating is now B versus AA+ at issuance. “Our company suffered huge losses in 2014 and the debt to asset ratio surged quickly,” Baoding Tianwei said in today’s statement. “Our company has lost financing ability and suffered from a capital shortage. We can’t raise enough money to repay interest, despite all the efforts we have made.”

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There’s irony in that headline somewhere.

China Will Keep Growing Because It Has To (Bloomberg)

Can China’s economic policy makers maneuver their way out of this one? Let’s see: there’s a property bubble that’s beginning to deflate, a construction boom that’s now going in reverse and a financial system that’s riddled with bad debts. Oh, and the air is still really dirty. On the bright side, though, Cirque du Soleil and Segway are coming to China. With the success of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the country has established itself as a global economic leader. And the Shanghai Composite Index has more than doubled during the past nine months. The outside world has a hard time fitting all this evidence together into a coherent picture. Is the stock boom a sign of hope, or a policy-driven bubble?

How about that bond default today by state-owned Baoding Tianwei – is it an indication of new financial maturity or the beginning of a great unraveling? Is the slowdown in construction, however scary for the world’s metal producers, a welcome signal that the economy is moving away from its dependence on exports and infrastructure to more sustainable consumer-driven growth? The common thread here is the Chinese government using every tool it has to keep its long growth run going. As the U.S. and the U.K. grew into industrial powers in the 19th century, they were tripped up every 10 to 20 years by financial crises and economic depressions. Measuring from December 1978, when the Chinese Communist Party “shifted its center of gravity from propagandizing class struggle and organizing political campaigns to economic construction,” China is now in its 37th straight year of economic expansion.

That quote is from a new biography of Deng Xiaoping by historians Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine. I’ve just been reading the chapter about Deng’s 1977-78 battle with the charmingly named but otherwise not so great Whateverists, which set the course that China more or less still follows. In the months after founding father Mao Zedong’s death in September 1976, the Whateverist motto was:

We will resolutely defend whatever political decisions were taken by Chairman Mao; we will unwaveringly follow whatever directives were issued by Chairman Mao.

Mao’s handpicked successor, Hua Guofeng, defended these “two whatevers” even as he tried to tweak some of Mao’s decisions and directives. Deng, just rehabilitated after a year on the political outs, saw this as a disastrous approach to governing, given how often Mao had changed his mind and contradicted himself. He dug up an old Mao slogan to back himself up: “Seek truth from facts.” He then endorsed a polemic by several party intellectuals titled “Practice is the Sole Criterion of Truth” that pushed the two whatevers aside as the party’s guiding line.

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I know, I know, Paulson and Sorkin…

Hank Paulson Tells China to Be Wary (Sorkin)

About 340 pages into Henry M. Paulson’s new book on China, a sentence comes almost out of nowhere that stops readers in their tracks. “Frankly, it’s not a question of if, but when, China’s financial system,” he writes, “will face a reckoning and have to contend with a wave of credit losses and debt restructurings.” Mr. Paulson, the former Treasury secretary, knows a thing or two about financial crises, having been the lead firefighter during the 2008 financial collapse, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Mr. Paulson also knows more about China, its politics and the players behind it than most Westerners, having been the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs and one of the first businessmen to seek to establish ties with China more than two decades ago, regularly making trips to the country and befriending top officials.

A crisis in China, even a small one, would be contagious, especially in the United States. Already, fears of a slowdown in China in recent months have led to jitters about the trajectory of the American economy. Mr. Paulson stresses that he’s not saying a crisis is inevitable, and he believes that one can be averted if officials make the right policy decisions. But Mr. Paulson’s anxieties about China have an unnerving similarity to the financial crisis in the United States, and his warnings demand attention. Like the United States crisis in 2008, Mr. Paulson worries that in China “the trigger would be a collapse in the real estate market,” and he declared in an interview that China is experiencing a real estate bubble. He noted that debt as a %age of GDP in China rose to 204% in June 2104 from 130% in 2008.

“Slowing economic growth and rapidly rising debt levels are rarely a happy combination, and China’s borrowing spree seems certain to lead to trouble,” he wrote. Mr. Paulson’s analysis in his book, “Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower,” are all the more remarkable because he has long been a bull on China and has deep friendships with its senior leaders, who could frown upon his straightforward comments. Mr. Paulson is hopeful that the book, an eye-opening account that praises China while acknowledging the challenges, will be published there and that the government won’t seek to press him to remove his critique. “I have just begun discussions with a Chinese publisher,” he said. “I will only authorize publication if it is published completely and accurately. I am unwavering on that.”

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Or banks.

Europe Should Protect People, Not Borders (Spiegel)

Workers at the Warsaw headquarters of Frontex, the European border protection agency, track every single irregular boat crossing and every vessel filled with refugees. Since December 2013, the authority has spent hundreds of millions of euros deploying drones and satellites to surveil the borders. The EU registers everything that happens near its borders. In contrast to the claims that are often made, they do not look away when refugees die. They are watching very closely. And what is happening here is not negligent behavior. They are deliberately killing refugees. People have been perishing as they sought to flee to Europe for years now. They drown in the Mediterranean, bleed to death on the border fences of the Spanish North African conclaves of Ceuta and Melilla or freeze to death in the mountains between Hungary and Ukraine.

But the European public still doesn’t appear to be entirely aware of the dimensions of this humanitarian catastrophe. We have become accomplices to one of the biggest crimes to take place in European postwar history. It’s possible that 20 years from now, courts or historians will be addressing this dark chapter. When that happens, it won’t just be politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris who come under pressure. We the people will also have to answer uncomfortable questions about what we did to try to stop this barbarism that was committed in all our names. The mass deaths of refugees at Europe’s external borders are no accidents — they are the direct result of European Union policies.

The German constitution and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights promise protection for people seeking flight from war or political persecution. But the EU member states have long been torpedoing this right. Those wishing to seek asylum in Europe must first reach European territory. But Europe’s policy of shielding itself off from refugees is making that next to impossible. The EU has erected meters-high fences at its periphery, soldiers have been ordered to the borders and war ships are dispatched in order to keep refugees from reaching Europe. For those seeking protection, regardless whether they come from Syria or Eritrea, there is no legal and safe way to get to Europe. Refugees are forced to travel into the EU as “illegal” immigrants, using dangerous and even fatal routes. Like the one across the Mediterranean.

A Darwinist situation has emerged on Europe’s external borders. The only people who stand a chance of applying for asylum in Europe are those with enough money to pay the human-traffickers, those who are tenacious enough to try over and over again to scale fences made of steel and barbed wire. The poor, sick, elderly, families or children are largely left to their fates. The European asylum system itself is perverting the right to asylum.

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One dollar one vote.

The Next Era of Campaign-Finance Craziness Is Already Underway (NY Times)

There may be no political adviser closer to Rand Paul than Jesse Benton. Benton was integral to Paul’s Senate run in 2010 and was a top strategist for both of Ron Paul’s Republican presidential campaigns. When a fellow Kentuckian, Senator Mitch McConnell, needed help with his re-election campaign last year, Rand Paul lent him Benton. Benton also happens to be married to Paul’s niece. So it would have been natural to expect Benton to move into Paul’s campaign headquarters as soon as he declared his candidacy for president. Not going to happen.

On April 6, the day before Paul made his formal announcement, National Journal reported that instead, Benton will be running America’s Liberty PAC, the principal Paul-supporting super PAC — the class of technically independent campaign organization that is free to spend as many millions of dollars as it can raise, without all those nettlesome regulations that limit donations to formal presidential campaigns to $5,400 a person. Then there is the longtime Jeb Bush adviser Mike Murphy. Murphy guided Bush through the rocky shallows of early-stage presidential politics and helped manage Bush’s successful push to lock down most of the Republican Party’s top donors for the 2016 race, effectively sidelining Mitt Romney and hobbling Chris Christie.

Not long ago, it would have been taken as a given that Murphy would join Bush’s formal campaign once it was announced — but people close to the campaign expect he will join Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, instead. And Gov. Scott Walker’s former campaign manager and chief of staff, Keith Gilkes, announced late last week that he would not be joining Walker’s formal campaign but rather Walker’s super PAC, Unintimidated PAC — this in spite of legal investigations into Walker’s aides’ interactions with outside conservative groups. All these moves point to the next stage in the great unraveling of the presidential campaign-finance system. And they make the few remaining prohibitions against coordination between these “independent” groups and campaigns look trifling, if not absurd.

Outside groups have played influential roles in presidential races for decades. Forerunners of the super PAC include groups like the National Security Political Action Committee, which produced the “Willie Horton” ads against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which in 2004 brought false charges that John Kerry lied about his Vietnam War record. That same year, the Democratic-aligned groups America Coming Together and the Media Fund tried to help Kerry with get-out-the-vote operations and campaign ads attacking President George W. Bush.

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Nobody stateside dares touch Warren.

British Regulator Challenges US Over Scrutiny of Buffett’s Berkshire (FT)

British regulators have challenged their US peers over their apparent reluctance to subject Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to tougher scrutiny as part of a worldwide push to make the financial system safer. The Bank of England has written to the US Treasury asking why Berkshire’s reinsurance operation — among the world’s most powerful — was left off a provisional list of “too big to fail” institutions drawn up by the Financial Stability Board. Regulators have already deemed nine primary insurance companies — including AIG of the US, Germany’s Allianz and UK-based Prudential — globally “systemically important”, a designation that could lead to higher capital requirements. But they have put off saying which reinsurers — groups such as Swiss Re, Munich Re and Berkshire, which provide insurance for insurers — should be included.

The failure to designate reinsurers has angered insurance companies, which argue reinsurers are more important to the financial system. In a separate move that underscores concern about the increased scrutiny brought by designation, MetLife has sued the US government to try to escape being deemed systemically important by Washington. Insurers deemed systemically important on a global level may need to hold more capital to cover unexpected losses and could face a requirement to draw up “living wills” to make them easier to wind down in a crisis. Yet regulators have yet to quantify the scale of the HLA requirements and the consequences of designation remain unclear. The Basel-based FSB was expected to make the reinsurance list public last year. But in November, following consultation with national authorities, it postponed the decision “pending further development of the methodology”.

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“Tens of thousands of miles of pipeline go completely unregulated by federal officials..”

‘Pipelines Blow Up And People Die’ (Politico)

Oil and gas companies like to assure the public that pipelines are a safer way to ship their products than railroads or trucks. But government data makes clear there is hardly reason to celebrate. Last year, more than 700 pipeline failures killed 19 people, injured 97 and caused more than $300 million in damage. Two of the past five years have been the worst for combined pipeline-related deaths and injuries since 2000. To understand the failure revealed by these numbers, POLITICO talked to more than 15 former and current federal pipeline officials and advisers, as well as dozens of safety experts, engineers and state regulators. We reviewed more than a decade of government data on fatalities, injuries, property damage, incident locations, inspections, damages and penalties.

The picture that emerges is of an agency that lacks the manpower to inspect the nation’s 2.6 million miles of oil and gas lines, that grants the industry it regulates significant power to influence the rule-making process, and that has stubbornly failed to take a more aggressive regulatory role, even when ordered by Congress to do so. This is a particularly bad time for a front-line safety agency to take a backseat. The current boom in fossil fuel production has created intense pressure for massive new pipelines like Keystone XL. Many of the pipes already in the ground are more than half a century old. Tens of thousands of miles of pipeline go completely unregulated by federal officials, who have abandoned the increasingly high-pressure lines to the states.

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“Stupid money”.

Who Is Saudi Arabia Really Targeting In Its Price War? (Berman)

Saudi Arabia is not trying to crush U.S. shale plays. Its oil-price war is with the investment banks and the stupid money they directed to fund the plays. It is also with the zero-interest rate economic conditions that made this possible. Saudi Arabia intends to keep oil prices low for as long as possible. Its oil production increased to 10.3 million barrels per day in March 2015. That is 700,000 barrels per day more than in December 2014 and the highest level since the Joint Organizations Data Initiative began compiling production data in 2002. And Saudi Arabia’s rig count has never been higher. Market share is an important part of the motive but Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi recently emphasized that “The challenge is to restore the supply-demand balance and reach price stability.”

Saudi Arabia’s need for market share and long-term demand is best met with a growing global economy and lower oil prices. That means ending the over-production from tight oil and other expensive plays (oil sands and ultra-deep water) and reviving global demand by keeping oil prices low for some extended period of time. Demand has been weak since the run-up in debt and oil prices that culminated in the Financial Collapse of 2008. Since 2008, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and the central banks of other countries have further increased debt, devalued their currencies and kept interest rates at the lowest sustained levels ever.

These measures have not resulted in economic recovery and have helped produce the highest sustained oil prices in history. They also led to investments that are not particularly productive but promise higher yields that can [not] be found otherwise in a zero-interest rate world. The quest for yield led investment banks to direct capital to U.S. E&P companies to fund tight oil plays. Capital flowed in unprecedented volumes with no performance expectation other than payment of the coupon attached to that investment. This is stupid money. These capital providers are indifferent to the fundamentals of the companies they invest in or in the profitability of the plays. All that matters is yield. The financial performance of most companies involved in tight oil plays has been characterized by chronic negative cash flow and ever-increasing debt.

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2 generals, one of each.

How to Avert a Nuclear War (James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin)

We find ourselves in an increasingly risky strategic environment. The Ukrainian crisis has threatened the stability of relations between Russia and the West, including the nuclear dimension — as became apparent last month when it was reported that Russian defense officials had advised President Vladimir V. Putin to consider placing Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert during last year’s crisis in Crimea. Diplomatic efforts have done little to ease the new nuclear tension. This makes it all the more critical for Russia and the United States to talk, to relieve the pressures to “use or lose” nuclear forces during a crisis and minimize the risk of a mistaken launch. The fact is that we are still living with the nuclear-strike doctrine of the Cold War, which dictated three strategic options: first strike, launch on warning and post-attack retaliation.

There is no reason to believe that Russia and the United States have discarded these options, as long as the architecture of “mutually assured destruction” remains intact. For either side, the decision to launch on warning — in an attempt to fire one’s nuclear missiles before they are destroyed — would be made on the basis of information from early-warning satellites and ground radar. Given the 15- to 30-minute flight times of strategic missiles, a decision to launch after an alert of an apparent attack must be made in minutes. This is therefore the riskiest scenario, since provocations or malfunctions can trigger a global catastrophe. Since computer-based information systems have been in place, the likelihood of such errors has been minimized. But the emergence of cyberwarfare threats has increased the potential for false alerts in early-warning systems.

The possibility of an error cannot be ruled out. American officials have usually played down the launch-on-warning option. They have argued instead for the advantages of post-attack retaliation, which would allow more time to analyze the situation and make an intelligent decision. Neither the Soviet Union nor Russia ever stated explicitly that it would pursue a similar strategy, but an emphasis on mobile missile launchers and strategic submarines continues to imply a similar reliance on an ability to absorb an attack and carry out retaliatory strikes. Today, however, Russia’s early warning system is compromised. The last of the satellites that would have detected missile launches from American territory and submarines in the past stopped functioning last fall. This has raised questions about Russia’s very ability to carry out launch-on-warning attacks.

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Fishy narrative. 2 questions: 1) if he’s so smart, how come he only made $40 million? 2) why let him continue for another 5 years if they were on to him even before the flash crash?

UK Financial Trader Arrested Over 2010 Global Markets ‘Flash Crash’ (Guardian)

A financial trader who played the world’s futures markets from a small suburban house in Hounslow, west London, has been arrested and faces extradition to the US after supposedly making $40m (£27m) for his alleged role in the so-called “flash crash” of 2010. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said on Tuesday that it was seeking the extradition of Navinder Singh Sarao, 37, who it claims “spoofed” financial markets using commercially available trading software to place $200m of false trades from his home in Hounslow. The US agency added that Sarao’s supposed manipulation contributed to the flash crash on 6 May 2010, when the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 600 points in five minutes and created havoc on Wall Street.

Sarao is expected to appear in custody at Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday. He is accused of duping the market into believing there were a lot more sellers than there really were and profiting from the market movement. He is said to have changed his orders more than 19,000 times before cancelling them. The episode, although not attributed to him, formed the backdrop for the Robert Harris novel The Fear Index. A DoJ spokesman would not speculate on how one person, using widely available commercial software, might have been able to crash the world’s financial markets. Nor would he comment on how an individual, who appears to live in a street populated by unremarkable three-bedroom semi-detached houses, seemed to make such huge rewards from his alleged scheme.

However, the US regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said Sarao and his company had profited by more than $40m. The DoJ detailed a series of supposed coups, including episodes where Sarao is said to have made profits of more than $820,000 during a day’s trading. In an affidavit published by the DoJ in support of its complaint, FBI special agent Gregory LaBerta said Sarao was “a futures trader who operated from his residence in the United Kingdom and who primarily traded through his company, Nav Sarao Futures Limited.

“On numerous occasions between at least in or about April 2010 and in or about April 2014, Sarao spoofed the market and manipulated the intra-day price for … S&P 500 futures contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, including on or about 6 May 2010, when the US stock markets plunged dramatically in a matter of minutes in an event that came to be known as the ‘Flash Crash’.”

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Hongcouver has been crazy for years.

Metro Vancouver Is Swept Up In A Real Estate Frenzy (Vancouver Sun)

It is no exaggeration to use an F-word to describe Vancouver’s current real estate scene. As in, the market is in a Frenzy. Observers describe a perfect storm of forces coming together to create a tempestuous result: A 5.8-per-cent jobless rate in B.C., low interest rates, a devalued Canadian dollar attracting more foreign buyers, and panic over prices going even higher if buying is delayed. Even the particularly vicious winters of recent years in Eastern Canada may be having an impact. Meanwhile, the Bank of Canada warned last Wednesday about the risk of correction in three Canadian property markets — Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary. For the moment, few are heeding the caution.

A press release sent out last week by WestStone Properties, regarding its Evolve condominium project in Surrey, reported sales in a single day (April 11) of 300 condo units, worth $70 million. And get this — project completion is still three years into the future. The release described the purchasers’ enthusiasm: “Excited early buyers who stood in line for hours, grappled for position and swarmed the buying counter in a frenzy that hasn’t been seen in recent years.” Who was buying? Everyone. “Today’s buyers included first-time homeowners, parents purchasing for children and a large number of buyers from throughout Canada, the U.S. and overseas.” The Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board reported earlier this month, bidding wars are taking place with greater frequency.

And Royal Lepage last week cited a rush on Vancouver’s detached homes, resulting from a scarcity of product and high demand to live here. It seems that real estate enthusiasm is not limited to the Lower Mainland. The B.C. Real Estate Association has just reported: “B.C. home sales post the strongest March in eight years. … More homes traded hands last month than any March since 2007.” Property sales jumped 37.6% over March 2014 and sales dollar volume was up 57.1%. In Greater Vancouver, activity was even more robust, with year-over-year sales jumping 53.2%. Association chief economist Cameron Muir says: “Many board areas are now exhibiting sellers’ market conditions, with home prices advancing well above the overall rate of inflation.” The average sale price in March for all types of Vancouver-area housing was $891,000 — up from $801,000 12 months earlier.

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Sounds like a book.

Decisions: Life and Death on Wall Street, by Janet M. Tavakoli (Nomi Prins)

Janet Tavakoli is a born storyteller with an incredible tale to tell. In her captivating memoir, Decisions: Life and Death on Wall Street, she takes us on a brisk journey from the depravity of 1980s Wall Street to the ramifications of the systemic recklessness that crushed the global economy. Her compelling narrative sweeps through her warnings about the dangers of certain bank products in her path-breaking books, speeches before the Federal Reserve, and in talks with Jaime Dimon. She probes the moral complexity behind the lives, suicides and murders of international bankers mired in greed and inner conflict. Some of the people that touched her Wall Street career reflect broken elements of humanity. The burden of choosing money and power over values and humility translates to a loss for us all.

To truly understand the stakes of the global financial game, you must know its building blocks; the characters, testosterone, and egos, as well as the esoteric products designed to squeeze investors, manipulate rules, and favor power-players. You had to be there, and you had to be paying attention. Janet was. That’s what makes her memoir so scary. In Decisions, she breaks the hard stuff down with humor and requisite anger. As a side note, her international banking life eerily paralleled my own – from New York to London to New York to alerting the public about the risky nature of the political-financial complex. Her six chapters flow along various decisions, as the title suggests. In Chapter 1 “Decisions, Decisions”, Janet opens with an account of the laddish trading floor mentality of 1980s Wall Street.

In 1988, she was Head of Mortgage Backed Securities Marketing for Merrill Lynch. Those types of securities would be at the epicenter of the financial crisis thirty years later. Each morning she would broadcast a trade idea over the ‘squawk box.‘ Then came the stripper booked for a “final-on-the-job-stag party.” That incident, one repeated on many trading floors during those days, spurred Janet to squawk, not about mortgage spreads, but about decorum. Merrill ended trading floor nudity and her bosses ended her time in their department. Her bold stand would catapult her to “a front row seat during the biggest financial crisis in world history.” Reading Decisions, you’ll see why this latest financial crisis was decades in the making.

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“Making a vegetable garden is a political statement”.

The Food Production System is Criminal (Beppe Grillo’s blog)

Italian foodstuffs are subject to strict controls in order to guarantee the quality of the end product and the health of the consumer. Thanks to the strictness of these controls and the hard work of small Italian livestock and vegetable farmers and fishermen, the food in our Country is considered to be a source of excellence worldwide. One of the few things that we have left but that we will soon lose even that as soon as the TTIP is approved, a treaty that will allow cheap, low quality US products to find their way onto our tables.

As the crisis deepens, Italian consumers will lower their expectations and purchase chlorine flavoured chickens , beef and pork grown and nourished on hormones and fruit and vegetables with pesticides. Their health will undoubtedly suffer, farmers breeders and fishermen will close up shop and “Made in Italy” foods will become little more than a distant memory. We simply cannot allow this crime against our health! My friend Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, explains how each and every one of us can sink this Criminal Foodstuff System by supporting our small Italian producers through their purchasing choices.

Blog – Slow Food is at the Expo with this slogan: “SAVE OUR BIODIVERSITY. SAVE THE PLANET. Can you explain to us why biodiversity is such an important asset?

Carlo Petrini – Biodiversity is the real driving force behind human understanding so we have to respect it. If we continue sticking to this foodstuff production model, with this criminal foodstuff system that destroys biodiversity by virtue of the fact that we must favour strong and more productive breeds and cultivars because we are only interested in the bottom line and never in Mother Earth or nature, all we will hand down to future generations is a far, far weaker genetic legacy.

Blog – Let’s talk about the TTIP: you have often mentioned your concern about the effect that this treaty will have on the European food industry. Why is there such a rush to get it approved very quickly? Who will profit from the TTIP? Who will the losers be? What will the long term effects be for Italy and for the consumer? And what about the planet’s equilibrium?

Carlo Petrini – I think that it is dishonest and improper to come up with these treaties in total and absolute secrecy and without involving the community at all. When things are done in secret it usually means that those involved are being dishonest! We must not allow these treaties to be introduced on the backs of millions of farmers, fishermen and food producers that are working all around the world and must be protected like now when they are facing this fetish called the free market, which is anything but free and often destroys the lives of these communities. Now, by virtue of the free market, I am allowed to bring in products made from meat that is not subject to the strict requirements that our breeders have to comply with and is full of chemicals, antibiotics, anabolic steroids and growth hormones, all of which are banned in Italy and in Europe but not banned in the United States.

It is unfair on our breeders because the law should be the same for everyone. We citizens can become co-producers because our choices can lead to certain agricultural choices. If I eat products that come from local small-scale farmers who don’t use pesticides, in other words who farm cleanly, then I’m helping that kind of farming along. If instead I buy and eat products produced by the multinationals, products that perhaps come from elsewhere in the world without any of the rules that our farmers have to adhere to, and perhaps obtained by means of slave labour, then equally I am helping that kind of farming.

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Feb 142015
 
 February 14, 2015  Posted by at 10:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson Camp wagon on a Texas roundup 1901

Nuclear Specter Redux: ‘Threat of War Is Higher than in the Cold War’ (Spiegel)
Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rejects Peace Deal, Vows ‘To Continue War’ (RT)
Yes, Yellen Can Have It All as She Gets Ready to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)
One Hundred Years of Austerity (Bloomberg)
Greek Government Doesn’t Hold Out Much Hope For A Deal On Monday (Kathimerini)
Hopes Of Greek Debt Deal Rise (Guardian)
Dijsselbloem ‘Pessimistic’ About A Quick Deal With Greece (AFP)
GDP Growth Masks A Broken Eurozone (Guardian)
White House Warns Europe On Greek Showdown (AEP)
Don’t Make Us Do It: ECB Wants a Political Deal on Greece (Bloomberg)
Rising Deposit Outflows Behind Extra Greek Bank ELA Access (Reuters)
Most Of Greek Deposit Outflows To Return If A Deal Is Made (Kathimerini)
Band-Aids for Greece, Ukraine and Global Economy (El-Erian)
Inside The Germans’ Debt Psyche – What Makes Them Tick? (BBC)
Yanis Varoufakis: ‘If I Weren’t Scared, I’d Be Awfully Dangerous’ (Guardian)
Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Bailout Foe (BBC)
US Will Not Become Energy Independent: Total CEO (CNBC)
Russian Gas To Europe Can Be 35% Cheaper: Ministry (RT)
Falling Oil Prices Don’t Scare Russian Energy Firms (CNBC)
German Coal Imports From Russia Highest Since 2006 (RT)
Argentina President Fernandez Charged in Probe of Alleged Cover-Up (Bloomberg)
Farmland Values in Parts of Midwest Fall for First Time in Decades (WSJ)
The Super-Rich Don’t Care About Us. It Will Be Their Downfall (Guardian)

Trust has been eroded to the point of almost being destroyed,” said Nunn. “You got a war going on right in the middle of Europe.”

Nuclear Specter Redux: ‘Threat of War Is Higher than in the Cold War’ (Spiegel)

Deep mistrust has developed between the West and Russia, and it is having a massive effect on cooperation on security matters. In November 2014, the Russians announced that they would boycott the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in the United States. In December, the US Congress voted, for the first time in 25 years, not to approve funding to safeguard nuclear materials in the Russian Federation. A few days later, the Russians terminated cooperation in almost all aspects of nuclear security. The two sides had cooperated successfully for almost two decades. But that is now a thing of the past. Instead, Russia and the United States are investing giant sums of money to modernize their nuclear arsenals, and NATO recently announced that it was rethinking its nuclear strategy.

At the same time, risky encounters between Eastern and Western troops, especially in the air, are becoming more and more common, a report by the European Leadership Network (ELN) recently concluded. “Civilian pilots don’t know how to deal with this,” explains ELN Chair Des Browne, a former British defense minister. “One of these incidents could easily escalate. We need to find a mechanism in which we can talk at the highest level.” Brown, together with Ivanov and former US Senator Sam Nunn, the grandfather of international disarmament policy, published an analysis last week. The trio recommends “that reliable communication channels exist in the event of serious incidents.” In other words, these channels currently do not exist.

Recently Philip Breedlove, the head of NATO Allied Command Operations in Europe, even called for a new “red telephone,” alluding to the direct teletype connection established in 1963 between the United States and the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis. A direct line had been set up between NATO and the Russian military’s general staff in February 2013, but it was cut as a result of the Ukraine crisis. “Trust has been eroded to the point of almost being destroyed,” said Nunn. “You got a war going on right in the middle of Europe. You got a breakdown of the conventional forces treaty, you got the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty under great strain, you got tactical nuclear weapons all over Europe. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

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The narrative that will allow Kiev to keep fighting despote the ceasefire deal. And then claim innocence.

Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rejects Peace Deal, Vows ‘To Continue War’ (RT)

Ukraine’s Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said his radical movement rejects the Minsk peace deal and that their paramilitary units in eastern Ukraine will continue “active fighting” according to their “own plans.” The notorious ultranationalist leader published a statement on his Facebook page Friday, saying that his radical Right Sector movement doesn’t recognize the peace deal, signed by the so-called ‘contact group’ on Thursday and agreed upon by Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia after epic 16-hour talks. Yarosh claimed that any agreement with the eastern militia, whom he calls “terrorists,” has no legal force. In his statement, Yarosh claimed that that the Minsk deal is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, so Ukrainian citizens are not obliged to abide by it.

Thus if the army receives orders to cease military activity and withdraw heavy weaponry from the eastern regions, the Right Sector paramilitaries, who are also fighting there “reserve the right” to continue the war, he said. The Right Sector paramilitary organization continues to deploy its combat and reserve units, to train and logistically support personnel, while coordinating its activities with the military command of the Ukrainian army, paramilitary units of the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry, he said. The breakthrough Minsk agreement was reached on Thursday following marathon overnight negotiations between Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia, and offer hope the fighting in Eastern Ukraine may come to an end. The talks were part of a Franco-German initiative. President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel visited Kiev and Moscow before meeting the Russian and Ukrainian leaders at the negotiating table in Minsk.

Bluntly rejecting the German and French initiative, Yarosh said President Petro Poroshenko should have turned to the US or UK which “observe a consistent anti-Kremlin policy.” “This could be devastating for the whole agreement,” Lode Vanoost, a former OSCE security consultant, told RT. “It could destroy it before it even starts. Now the fact that they announced it already one day ahead could of course mean that they sort of tried to force some kind of provocation so that the other side would react giving them an excuse to go on. But nevertheless this is indeed a very dangerous situation, yes.” [..] In July last year Interpol put Right Sector leader Yarosh on its wanted list.

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Anyone still thinking she won’t do it?

Yes, Yellen Can Have It All as She Gets Ready to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)

As the job market gains steam, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen faces a massive challenge to adjust her monetary levers just right: She wants to keep the recovery going without stoking a bubble or spurring inflation. It’s a delicate balance that has bedeviled many central bank chiefs in the past. A dramatic drop in U.S. bond yields over the past year might be just what Yellen needs to strike that balance, according to two International Monetary Fund economists. “Having long-term rates at relatively low levels may actually give the Fed more degrees of freedom,” Nigel Chalk and Jarkko Turunen wrote in a blog post Thursday. That’s because low long-term government bond yields would act as a cushion to the Fed raising short-term rates (specifically, by supporting the housing sector). In other words, Yellen would be able to start tightening without having to worry as much about hobbling the economic recovery.

The IMF economists’ point runs counter to some of the prevailing wisdom. The depression of long-term yields was a well-known source of concern for former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who called it a “conundrum” in testimony to Congress in 2005. Many say borrowing costs got too low in the mid-2000s, prompting people and businesses to take on too much debt. That all came crashing down in the form of the 2008 global financial meltdown. Credit is, once again, strikingly cheap. By the end of January, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes had fallen to the lowest since May 2013 (since the end of last month, the gauge has ticked slightly ticked back up). It’s strange because the U.S. economy has regained its status as the main engine of the world economy and analysts expect the Fed to soon start raising rates. The IMF economists note that the so-called term premium – the extra yield investors demand for holding long-term debt over short-term paper – has actually turned negative.

What’s driving this demand for long-term bonds? Chalk and Turunen offer several explanations. It’s possible that low inflation expectations are causing bondholders to require less compensation in the form of higher yields. With major risks ranging from instability in Ukraine to Greece and the Middle East, investors might be running to the safety of U.S. debt. Other reasons could include the recent strength of the U.S. dollar, according to the authors. The real risk is what happens when long-term yields head in the other direction – as occurred in 2013, when then-Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke mused about ending bond purchases sooner than investors expected. The resulting surge in mortgage rates and capital flight from emerging markets came to be known as the “taper tantrum.” “What we should be watching out for is the economic and financial stability fallout that could unfold if U.S. yields snap back upwards in a sudden and unexpected manner,” according to the IMF staff members.

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“”If every similar state saves at the same time by cutting spending, the result is the shrinkage of everyone’s economy since they are one another’s trading partners..”

One Hundred Years of Austerity (Bloomberg)

People have been preaching austerity for a very long time. Ancient Greek philosophers, Jesus’s disciples, Benjamin Franklin—they’re all part of a chorus of voices over the centuries who’ve warned us against the dangers of debt and profligate spending. Fiscal austerity, though, is a modern invention. It wasn’t until after World War I that governments started making serious efforts to address debt and other problems by cutting their spending. One reason is that, until the early 20th century, most countries had such small budgets that there wasn’t much to cut. (The U.S. federal budget on the eve of World War I equalled about 2.5% of the national economy; now, it’s around 20%, and that in turn is much lower than the figure in some other countries.)

Nowadays, fiscal austerity is often associated with the IMF, which has required budget cutting as a condition for bailouts in scores of troubled economies. In other cases, though, governments have embraced austerity for reasons of their own, such as fighting inflation or repaying foreign debt. Some of these efforts—such as Germany’s and Japan’s in the 1930s and Romania’s in the 1980s—were catastrophic failures. Elsewhere, the record has been less clear-cut. The British are still debating the impact of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s budget cuts in the early 1980s. Some countries have recovered fairly quickly after taking IMF-prescribed austerity medicine, while others suffered prolonged economic misery.

Muddying the picture still further, the IMF usually requires structural economic reforms, such as deregulating industries and labor markets, in addition to budget austerity. That, along with such other factors as interest-rate changes and currency devaluations, makes it harder to gauge the effect of austerity. The euro zone debt crisis adds a new wrinkle to the story. Countries pursuing austerity programs frequently have devalued their currencies, which can help spur growth as exports become more competitive. But Greece and other bailed-out European economies can’t devalue, because they’re part of a shared currency.

Mark Blyth, a Brown University professor who has written a book on the history of austerity, warns that it is a “dangerous idea.” The biggest danger, he writes, comes “when everyone tries it at once,” as happened when Japan and Germany cut spending during a global depression. Europe’s recent debt crisis is another example, Blyth contends. “If every similar state saves at the same time by cutting spending, the result is the shrinkage of everyone’s economy since they are one another’s trading partners and sources of income. Perversely, their debt goes up, not down, relative to their shrinking GDP.”

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“Some members, such as Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis have been adamant that the government should stick to its pre-election pledges.”

Greek Government Doesn’t Hold Out Much Hope For A Deal On Monday (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chaired a meeting of his cabinet on Friday night to brief ministers on the state of talks with the eurozone but also to assess his own room for maneuver ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup. With the possibility of the government having to make a compromise with the eurozone over the way forward in the next few days, Tsipras was eager to assess the mood of his cabinet. Some members, such as Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis have been adamant that the government should stick to its pre-election pledges. Overall, the government is not holding out much hope for a solution in Brussels on Monday.

“There have been some positive steps but there is a lot of ground that has to be covered,” said a government source. Sources also insisted that the Greek government would not be willing to back down from its position on certain issues such as labor regulations, privatizations and the lowering of the primary surplus target. Athens believes that the two sides can find common ground on issues like public administration reform, improving tax collection and tackling corruption.

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I don’t think so.

Hopes Of Greek Debt Deal Rise (Guardian)

Greek stock markets have rallied on growing confidence that Athens will reach a deal with its international creditors next week. In the runup to a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Monday, the new Greek prime minister’s office vowed to do “whatever we can” to come to an agreement over a new support programme for the bailed-out country. Talks between eurozone ministers this week failed to make progress in resolving a standoff over the desire by Greece’s new leftist government to ditch the strict terms of its €240bn bailout programme and the insistence from other eurozone countries, most notably Germany, that the old framework should continue. But on Friday, the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, appeared to soften his stance. He agreed that Greek officials would meet representatives of the troika of lenders who supplied the bailout money and imposed and policed the terms that came with it.

Previously, Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said the new government would refuse to engage with representatives of troika, made up of the ECB, the EC and the IMF. A government spokesman said Greece was straining to get the pieces in place for a deal on Monday, but he also sought to play down fears time was running out to avert a fresh crisis in the eurozone that would see Greece defaulting on the bailout programme and being forced to leave the single currency. “We will do whatever we can so that a deal is found on Monday,” Gabriel Sakellaridis told Greece’s Skai TV. “If we don’t have an agreement on Monday, we believe that there is always time so that there won’t be a problem.”

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Dijsselbloem has been the worst factor in all this. Expect him to be ousted soon.

Dijsselbloem ‘Pessimistic’ About A Quick Deal With Greece (AFP)

Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Friday he was pessimistic about making progress on resolving a bitter row over extending Greeces bailout at an upcoming meeting of eurozone finance ministers. “At this stage I’m very pessimistic about it,” Dijsselbloem told the NOS public broadcaster when asked whether he thought concrete steps will be taken on Monday at the talks between Greece and its fellow single currency countries in the Eurogroup. “The Greeks have sky-high ambitions. The possibilities, given the state of the Greek economy, are limited,” said Dijsselbloem, who is the Dutch finance minister, ahead of a cabinet meeting on Friday. “I don’t know if we’ll get there by Monday.” Dijsselbloem and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras agreed on Thursday to renew efforts to find a solution on extending Greeces current bailout after talks overnight Wednesday collapsed acrimoniously.

An agreement however was reached to ask “institutions to engage with Greek authorities to start work on a technical assessment of the common ground between the current programme and the Greek government’s plans,” Dijsselbloem tweeted after the meeting. The agreement was made to help discussions set to take place Monday, seen by many as the last chance to seal a deal before Greeces current bailout programme expires at the end of the month. Dijsselbloem however on Friday blasted Greece, saying Athens “for a number of months now has received no loans from Europe, because nothing’s happening.” “We only lend out money when theres real progress and when new reforms are being carried through. For months this has not been the case,” Dijsselbloem said.

“It really is up to the Greek government to take the firsts steps,” he said. Failure to reach a deal on an extension of the bailout or a credit line for Greece by the end of the month means Athens would quickly default and almost inevitably crash out of the eurozone. European sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Wednesday’s eurozone ministers’ meeting had descended into a “total mess”, making a reconciliation between Dijsselbloem and Tsipras necessary to prepare the talks for Monday. Dijsselbloem said: “The Greek government has made it clear that they don’t want to carry on with the programme as it currently stands.” “The Eurogroup has made it clear that there are only possibilities for change as long as the programme remains on the rails.”

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Too much difference between Gernamy and Greece: “Look beyond the figures and the chatter of ivory tower policymakers..”

GDP Growth Masks A Broken Eurozone (Guardian)

Frankfurt’s stock market has reached a new high, topping 11,000 for the first time. According to the latest eurozone GDP figures, Germany enjoyed strong GDP growth in the last three months of the year and helped push expansion across the currency bloc to 0.3% for the quarter and 0.9% for the year. In Portugal and Spain, the headline growth figures improved. Even Italy beat analysts’ expectations after it avoided a decline. So the recovery is real. In fact, say the eurozone’s top policymakers, it’s all going so well the new Greek government should open its eyes and see the warm, golden glow of sunshine appearing on the horizon. Jens Weidmann, the head of the German central bank, was in London on Thursday evening and joined the chorus of top officials bemoaning those who believe the eurozone is entering a long period of Japan-like stagnation.

He urged the Greeks to stop opposing the austerity measures imposed by Brussels and accept wage cuts that have already brought an increase in competitiveness. No doubt the 0.2% fall in Greek GDP in the fourth quarter will be cast as a temporary blip and a lesson that political uncertainty has unhelpful economic consequences. Investors also believe the upbeat story, hence the soaring Frankfurt stock market. The promise of a huge stimulus package from the ECB (which Weidmann believes is unnecessary, such is his confidence) and the fall in value of the euro it has precipitated, when combined with the vast European bailouts funds now available, have convinced global investment funds that Europe is a one-way bet. Look beyond the figures and the chatter of ivory tower policymakers and you will find the story is radically different. Yes, Spain is growing. But its GDP growth in 2014 has made up only around half of its losses in 2013.

It is still an economy in need of major investment to get back on its feet. Unemployment remains at disturbingly high levels and the state is held in contempt in many quarters. Why else would the radical anti-austerity Podemos party be polling ahead of all the established parties at the moment, and its leader be writing in praise of Tsipras (and the Catalonia independence movement still be in full swing)? Weidmann said the policies of austerity he supported would work slowly but staying the course was important. To him, a lost generation of young workers, who were denied skilled training and out of work for several years, is a matter for individual countries. He cannot see that sovereign states under the current arrangements are denied the funds to invest and improve productivity over the longer term. He cannot see that austerity, if only for this reason, is self-defeating.

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“They have asymmetric rules. They need to make it socially fairer..”

White House Warns Europe On Greek Showdown (AEP)

Washington blames Europe for the lack of global recovery and is losing its patience with EMU creditor states that fail to pull their weight The Obama administration has leapt to the defence of Greece, warning Germany and Europe’s creditor powers that they must meet Athens half-way to avert a potentially dangerous rupture and a euro break-up. Caroline Atkinson, the US deputy-national security adviser, said the eurozone authorities had imposed the main burden of adjustment on the weaker deficit states and should do more to accept their share of responsibility for the euro crisis. “They have asymmetric rules. They need to make it socially fairer,” she said. “It is important for creditors to take into account that Greece has had a very sharp drop in incomes, real wages, and output as well as a big rise in unemployment,” she told a gathering at Chatham House in London.

“Greece has moved into primary surplus. How much more fiscal consolidation is necessary?” she said. The comment will be music to the ears of Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who wants a cut in the EU-IMF Troika target for the primary surplus to 1.5pc of GDP from 3pc this year and 4.5pc next year. Mrs Atkinson said the White House is relieved that “both sides” are starting to pull back from the brink, a clear warning that Washington is just as exasperated with the high-handed approach of eurozone creditors as it is with the leftist Syriza government in Athens. “We believe it is strongly in the interests of the Greek people and Europe more generally that Greece and its creditors work out a compromise for Greece to stay in the euro and thrive in the euro,” she said.

The two sides have toned down the rhetoric slightly and agreed to start technical talks but each is in a different cognitive universe on the core dispute over austerity and debt relief. The US administration does not share the widespread view in Europe that there is little risk of contagion if the European Central Bank cuts off liquidity support for the Greek banking system and forces the country out of the euro. President Barack Obama has seized on the Greek crisis to push for a broader reflation strategy in Europe. “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression. At some point there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts,” he said earlier this month.

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Draghi doesn’t like being accused of taking political decisions. Even though he’s taken many already.

Don’t Make Us Do It: ECB Wants a Political Deal on Greece (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank is sending a message to the euro-area’s leaders: don’t make us pull the trigger on Greece’s banks. After the Frankfurt-based ECB blessed the expansion of so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance to the debt-stricken country’s lenders by about €5 billion euros on Thursday, officials are insisting that continued support is contingent on political talks over Greece’s bailout. Greek stocks and bonds rallied Friday, after PM Alexis Tsipras hinted at progress. The ECB does not want to be pushed into a position where it is making decisions on the future of the Greek banking system – and the country’s membership of the euro – without political cover from European capitals.

If talks on a “bridge” financing deal for Greece break down again, ECB President Mario Draghi will have to weigh whether to ration funds further or threaten a veto, just as he did in Cyprus two years ago. “Ending ELA would be a very last-resort type of intervention, paramount to a nuclear option,” said Henrik Enderlein at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “The ECB would never really want to use it, as it is basically the same as pushing Greece out of the euro area.” ELA is funding provided by national central banks at their own risk, and is extended against lower-quality collateral than the ECB itself will accept.

Greece’s lenders now have access to about €65 billion in such funds, according to a euro-area central bank official. The expansion from €60 billion euros was reported Thursday by German newspaper FAZ. Tsipras said yesterday that his government aims to reach a six-month bridge agreement leading to a “new contract” with international creditors. In 2012, as Greece stumbled toward its second international rescue and a debt-writedown, banks ran up a tab of as much as €158 billion euros in local central bank and ECB funding. That suggests the ECB will allow a much greater extension of the emergency line, as long as politicians are seen as being on the path to agreement.

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More political decisions by an allegedly ‘neutral’ central bank. First cut them off, then feed them bite-sized carrots.

Rising Deposit Outflows Behind Extra Greek Bank ELA Access (Reuters)

The ECB allowed Greek banks access to extra emergency financing from the Bank of Greece because deposit outflows have picked up and to make sure they have liquidity while tense talks take place in Brussels next week, Greek banking sources said on Friday. The ECB on Thursday raised the cap on what Greek banks can get from the Bank of Greece through the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) window by about €5 billion to €65 billion. The extension will run until Feb. 18 when the ECB Governing Council will reappraise the situation. One banking source said that there was a mix of reasons for the action. “Some banks likely needed to tap more ELA,” said the senior banker at one of the country’s four top banks. “(But) I believe the ECB wanted to allow some headroom, liquidity comfort until Feb. 18.”

He said recent daily outflows were in the region of €300 million to €500 million on average. Another executive at a big bank cited a similar figure. “Outflows continued this week, the situation showed a deterioration in the last days,” he said. “When you see €400-500 million of outflows a day, this shows a developing trend.” He added that outflows may have gone as high €1 billion on some days. Euro zone finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday in an attempt to forge a deal which will allow for Greek funding over a period in which Greece’s large debt will be renegotiated. Failure to reach a deal before the end of February, when Greece’s current bailout ends, could lead to Greece being ejected from the euro zone – hence the nervousness of Greek banks and depositors.

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The outflow problem isn’t all that bad.

Most Of Greek Deposit Outflows To Return If A Deal Is Made (Kathimerini)

The bulk of deposits withdrawn from Greek bank accounts in the last two-and-a-half months due to political and financial uncertainty has stayed inside the country, stashed away in safe deposit boxes, mattresses and investment products. Banks estimate that only a small part, about 20%, of the funds that came out of depositors’ accounts has been sent to banks abroad. As banks sources have stressed, if the government agrees terms with its creditors next week, confirming the European course of the country and putting an end to uncertainty, most of the €20 billion that has left local banks since end-November could return, and quickly.

Bankers believe that some 50% of the deposit outflows, i.e. some €10 billion, has stayed in the country in the form of disposable cash and can be found in safe deposit boxes, mattresses etc, as many households have chosen to keep their cash at hand due to the ongoing uncertainty. Another 30%, or €6 billion, has been deposited in investment products. The 20% of deposit outflows that has gone abroad, amounting to some €4 billion, mostly concerns corporate funds and some of it has gone to subsidiaries of Greek banks in other countries, such as in Cyprus, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Malta, etc.

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The purpose behind all this is more centralization, and that will cause ever stronger reactions.

Band-Aids for Greece, Ukraine and Global Economy (El-Erian)

This week, three sets of meetings sought to defuse three distinct threats to the global economy. All of the gatherings featured suspenseful atmospheres, dramatic posturing and some public tantrums. And their outcomes were similar, too: The participants ended up just buying time, without doing much, if anything, to begin to address the underlying causes of the unfolding crises. In the first instance, President Francois Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany traveled to Minsk on Wednesday to compel the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to stem the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine that has claimed about 5,000 lives. After a tough all-night negotiation session, they agreed Thursday to a cease-fire to take effect this weekend.

Earlier Wednesday, the finance ministers of the euro zone countries gathered in Brussels to try to find common ground on Greece. After seven hours of discussions, they weren’t even able to settle on a road map for future negotiations. But with both their finance ministers playing tough and signaling seemingly unbridgeable negotiating positions, Merkel and the newly elected prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, were subsequently able to show leadership and be “presidential.” On Thursday, both declared themselves willing to compromise, providing much needed political cover for the finance ministers’ negotiations that are set to resume Monday (preceded by technical preparations starting today).

Earlier in the week, some of those ministers had joined their central bank colleagues in Istanbul for a meeting of the Group of 20. The agenda included policy actions to strengthen a global economy that, with the exception of the U.S., has been losing steam. In their communiques, they reaffirmed prior commitments and renewed their encouragement of central banks to continue pursuing unconventional monetary policies. Yes, some progress was made in all three meetings, but they mainly just kicked the can down the road. At best, they were holding operations that risk resulting in failure if they aren’t quickly supplemented by more comprehensive agreements.

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It’s not the 1920’s.

Inside The Germans’ Debt Psyche – What Makes Them Tick? (BBC)

Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy, the beating heart of the eurozone and guardian of financial discipline. So when it comes to money – and especially debt – what makes Germans tick? The election of Greece’s left-wing government on a promise to reduce the country’s mountain of debt has created a standoff with Europe’s economic powerhouse. And it has thrown Germany’s ultra-conservative attitude to debt into sharp focus. Germany’s extreme debt aversion is even rooted in the German language itself, says Prof Marcel Fratzscher, head of Germany’s leading Economic Research Institute. “The German word for debt – ‘schuld’ – is the same as the German word for ‘guilt’,” he explains. “To get into debt you have done something bad and that describes the German people’s attitude quite well.”

The German way is to “save now, have later” rather than “have now, pay later” – and that is not just the older generation talking. On the streets of Berlin young Germans told us what they would do if they won a million euros. A new car, a holiday, a new outfit? “I would save it for when I need it,” came a typical reply. That habit of saving money is the key to understanding another characteristic of Germans – fear of inflation. Popular wisdom says that this is due to the scars left by hyperinflation in the 1920s, when the exchange rate escalated out of control. One US dollar went from being worth four Deutschmarks to four trillion. There may be some residual echoes of that period but it is nearly 90 years ago now and Germans have moved on. The real reason is to be found in the German love of saving.

Inflation is the enemy of savers. So for a nation full of them, the idea of lowering interest rates and printing money holds a double threat – it reduces the rate you get on your savings, while any potential future inflation would mean that those same savings allow you to buy less. The good news for Germany is that inflation hasn’t arrived and, although interest rates are low, the related weakness of the euro has kept German exports like cars and machinery competitively priced. Indeed education, engineering and exporting success is the source of considerable German pride. Economists credit the post-war economic miracle – or “Wirtschaftswunder” – to a set of crucial, interlocking principles[..]

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“We constantly hear, ‘if you don’t sign on the dotted line there is going to be Armageddon’. My answer is ‘let it happen!’

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘If I Weren’t Scared, I’d Be Awfully Dangerous’ (Guardian)

In the space of three short weeks, he’s been christened Europe’s man of the moment, compared to heroes great and small, likened to a rock star, hailed as a sex icon, feted by fashionistas, and in Germany, no less, portrayed as the greatest action man to bestride planet earth since Bruce Willis set Hollywood alight in Die Hard 6. Few have had their demeanour and dress code so dissected; when he posed with George Osborne in Downing Street, his tieless, leather-jacketed look standing in stark contrast to the Chancellor’s, the press was as breathless as if a supermodel had blown in. “Britain,” declared no less venerable an authority than the Daily Telegraph, “is crying out for a politician who looks like Yanis Varoufakis. It’s quite a change in lifestyle. Has it gone to his head? The response is immediate. “I can assure you, Helena, I did not engineer it in any way. I am not promoting it. They go on about me riding a bike, but I have been riding a bike since I was 15. I just am who I am.” [..]

Even by the standards of those who have occupied the sixth floor of the finance ministry before, Varoufakis’ tenure comes at an unusually onerous time. With the country’s €240bn bailout – the biggest in global history – set to expire at the end of February, and the Greek electorate having overwhelmingly rejected austerity, Greece is at a crossroads. In a climate of high-octane pressure – though her language was more emollient, the German chancellor Angela Merkel showed little sign this week of giving in anytime soon – the possibility of political blunder, or accident, grows with each day. Athens owes some €25bn in repayments, this year alone, and what is certain is that it does not have that kind of money. When I ask Varoufakis if he has a plan B, for all negotiators surely have a credible alternative, he looks at me wide-eyed. “We constantly hear, ‘if you don’t sign on the dotted line there is going to be Armageddon’. My answer is ‘let it happen!’ There is no fall-back plan. That is my plan B. ”

What if it does happen, I ask, as images of the chaos bankruptcy would surely entail flicker across my mind. “Well, that is like asking me what happens if a comet strikes planet Earth. I have no idea. None!” he shoots back. Varoufakis is the first to say that no one should grow too fond of power. He has no desire to be on the sixth floor of the finance ministry longer than necessary. He has dispensed with the policemen assigned to protect him, the army of advisers that come with the job (let go to make way for the rehiring of the ministry’s sacked women cleaners), and each of the three cars deployed to him. If he lost the job, he says, he wouldn’t mind. “When interlocutors threaten me with the fall of this government, because they do, I say: ‘Make my day,’” he smiles. “I mean, I really don’t want to be in this office … I will go back to my book about Europe, which is half-finished. It’s very difficult to find an ending when I am still in this job.”

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“Simple logic dictates that if you cannot even conceive the possibility of leaving a negotiation, then it is preferable never to enter one..”

Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Bailout Foe (BBC)

Greece’s left-wing Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is leading the offensive to persuade the nation’s creditors to end austerity and forgive part of its debt. Mr Varoufakis, 53, is not only a well-respected political economist, but a charismatic man and natural charmer. A few weeks after his appointment, he has become something of a global celebrity. That is hardly surprising for Greeks – after all, Mr Varoufakis got more votes than any other candidate in the 25 January general election that swept the leftist Syriza party into power. In the wake of victory he immediately embarked on a European tour that took him to London, Paris, Rome and Berlin. The sight of a shaven-headed, athletic minister refusing to tuck his shirt into his trousers or wear a tie – even while visiting 11 Downing Street – fascinated business reporters, fashion editors and gossip columnists.

Even the German media – among Greece’s sternest critics – seemed impressed. ZDF television anchor Marietta Slomka said “he is someone you could imagine starring in a film like Die Hard 6”, and conservative daily Die Welt ran the headline “What makes Yanis Varoufakis a sex icon”. In his home country, a new word was coined – “Varoufitses” – to describe women who idolise Mr Varoufakis. At the time of writing, Mr Varoufakis had 128,000 Twitter followers, a number of devoted fan pages on Facebook, and he has inspired a video game “Syrizaman Vs Troika”. His eurozone colleagues may not find him quite so charming. In his first meeting with them on 11 February he refused to approve a common statement by the Eurogroup that implied Athens would seek an extension of its bailout. “Simple logic dictates that if you cannot even conceive the possibility of leaving a negotiation, then it is preferable never to enter one,” he wrote in a blog entry back in May 2010.

Mr Varoufakis showed signs of defiance and non-conformism from a very early age. That includes deliberately misspelling his name Yanis, writing it with only one “n” since elementary school. “I had an aesthetic problem with the double “n”,” he said. “So I decided to write my name with one. My teacher gave me a bad grade, which made me very angry and I’ve kept writing my name with one “n” ever since.” Mr Varoufakis was born on 24 March 1961 in Athens. He is a graduate of the Moraitis private school, which has nurtured many members of Greece’s political and economic elite. His father, 89-year-old Giorgos Varoufakis, is chairman of Halyvourgiki, a Greek industrial giant. This background of relative privilege did not prevent Mr Varoufakis from becoming a libertarian Marxist, who has said that “Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day”.

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So let’s put that myth to rest.

US Will Not Become Energy Independent: Total CEO (CNBC)

Despite the so-called U.S. shale revolution and American aspirations for energy independence, the CEO of major oil giant Total told CNBC he was not convinced it would happen any time soon. “The U.S. is still relying on oil from the Middle East. It is not true the U.S. will be independent in oil – they continue to import,” Patrick Pouyanne, the new chief executive of French oil giant Total, told CNBC this week. He stressed that the U.S. “will not get” energy independence because it still consumes far more oil than it produces. “For me, the world today is interdependent. This idea that you could be (energy) independent – especially when you are the U.S., where you have many world companies; a country that is probably benefiting the most from the globalization of the world – is just something that is strange to me, I don’t believe in that,” Pouyanne added.

Oil prices have fallen dramatically in recent months – and at one point were down around 60% from highs in June 2014, on the back of a glut in supply and lack of global demand. Brent crude is currently trading around $59 a barrel and U.S. crude is at $51. OPEC has been blamed for the volatility in prices after it refused to cut production to support the cost of oil. Many saw its inaction as a bid to retain market share in the face of increased competition from U.S. shale oil producers. American oil production has grown steadily from 5 million barrels per day in 2005 to 8.6 million last year, according to the U.S. Energy information Administration.

If OPEC was hoping a low oil price would put the brakes on U.S. oil production, it might have worked. Some 87 rigs were deactivated in the week ending February 6, according to oilfield services company Baker Hughes, after a drop of 90 rigs over the previous seven days. It marks the largest absolute reduction in a single week since Baker Hughes started keeping records in 1987. But Pouyanne said that, despite anger from some at OPEC’s “game of chicken,” the U.S. was still a major oil importer and its economy was benefitting from a lower oil price.

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“The average price of Russian gas supplied abroad will be $222 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2015. It could mean a 35% price cut for Gazprom supplied gas to Europe..”

Russian Gas To Europe Can Be 35% Cheaper: Ministry (RT)

The average price of Russian gas supplied abroad will be $222 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2015. It could mean a 35% price cut for Gazprom supplied gas to Europe, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development has forecast. The price for Russian gas started to decline last year, as the contract price for Gazprom supplies are directly linked to falling oil prices, according to Vedomosti. Gas prices respond to the dynamics of oil prices with a lag of 6-9 months. In summer 2014 the company expected $350 per 1,000 cubic meters, in the end the average turned out to be $341, while the price of Brent in the second half of 2014 lost more than 50%. Next week, the management of Gazprom plans to present to the board of directors stress tests of a financial plan with an oil price of $40 and $50 per barrel based on the Ministry’s forecast.

Gazprom is expected to increase supplies to Europe to 160 billion cubic meters compared to 146.6 billion in 2015. At the same time revenue will decrease by $14.3 billion to $35.5 billion if the ministry’s prediction comes true. However, the figures may change in a planned outlook revision in April and September; Vedomosti say citing the ministry. Gazprom’s sales to Europe accounted for almost 70% of company revenues in 2014. In recent years, the average price in the EU, according to calculations by Vedomosti, was 5 to 14% higher than the overall average sales price. However, $222 per 1,000 cubic meters may be unprofitable for Gazprom in view of growing production costs, said Michael Krutikhin a partner at RusEnergy, as quoted by Vedomosti.

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“..at $110 oil and 33 rubles to the U.S. dollar, Russian upstream free cash flow for the companies his group covered was roughly the same as now, with oil near $60 and 60 rubles per U.S. dollar.”

Falling Oil Prices Don’t Scare Russian Energy Firms (CNBC)

Low oil prices are hurting the Russian state as tax revenue tumbles along with crude. But Russia’s energy firms aren’t feeling the same pain, and they may in fact weather the cheap oil storm better than their international peers. Experts point to two major factors helping the companies in a low-price environment: Moscow’s tax rate on producers shifts lower as the price of oil falls (meaning the cost is mostly borne by the state), and most of the oil companies’ expenses are denominated in rubles. Together, those factors largely offset any negative impact from oil prices, Goldman Sachs energy analyst Geydar Mamedov wrote in a recent note.

The currency point is key: Russian energy companies’ expenditures are largely conducted in rubles because there is a strong local oilfield services sector, and their revenues are dollar-denominated. So as the Russian currency has fallen against the dollar, the firms have been nearly totally insulated from oil’s price decline. “In the short term, there is definitely a natural buffer built into the system through the ruble,” Ildar Davletshin, Renaissance Capital oil and gas analyst, told CNBC. “The ruble has halved over the past 12 months; that’s a natural hedge against weak oil prices.” Mamedov noted that at $110 oil and 33 rubles to the U.S. dollar, Russian upstream free cash flow for the companies his group covered was roughly the same as now, with oil near $60 and 60 rubles per U.S. dollar.

Meanwhile, while many international oil companies outside Russia are cutting back on production, Mamedov wrote that he does not expect to see a slowdown in Russian upstream activity. (Russian refiners, on the other hand, could take a hit because of how the tax scheme works). In fact, Goldman predicts that Russian production will increase to 532 million tonnes in 2015 from 527 million tonnes in 2014. Despite those short-term positives, Davletshin said he “wouldn’t be too optimistic” in the medium or long term. Local costs may catch up with the currency differentials as inflation accelerates, and sanctions are hurting the companies by depriving them of international technology-sharing opportunities, he explained. “I’m not saying Russia cannot move on its own, but it will take longer,” he said.

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Germany only plays green.

German Coal Imports From Russia Highest Since 2006 (RT)

Germany imported more than 12 million tons of coal from Russia in 2014 – the biggest volume in 9 years, despite calls for energy independence and a switch to renewables. Coal imports from Russia increased 6.6% in 2014, at 12.6 million metric tons, Germany’s Federal Statistics Office reported Friday. This is about a third of the country s total coal imports. At a time when geopolitical relations between the two countries are strained, Germany continues to pump money into a country that the US and other European countries are bent on economically isolating. Poland, also a Moscow naysayer, is Russia’s second biggest coal importer in the EU. Another country that had sworn off Russian coal, but ended up buying the cheap energy to heat homes and factories, was Ukraine. Kiev bought some 50,000 metric tons in December.

Russian coal has become even more attractive to Europeans since the ruble depreciated more than 50%, which means importers spend less dollars and euro. The devaluation of the ruble and the decline in oil prices has placed Russian thermal coal exporters among the most competitive suppliers to both the Atlantic and Pacific markets, says Diana Bacila, a coal analyst at Oslo-based Nena, an independent energy analysis firm. About 50% of German electricity comes from coal, with the rest coming from natural gas and nuclear energy. Germany is also Russia’s biggest gas client, importing over 25 billion cubic meters per year. The recently completed Nord Stream pipeline, which feeds directly from Russia to Germany, has a capacity to deliver 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

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This is serious.

Argentina President Fernandez Charged in Probe of Alleged Cover-Up (Bloomberg)

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was formally accused by a prosecutor of trying to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish center that killed 85 people. In a document filed to a federal court, Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita said Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, lawmaker Andres Larroque and other government supporters tried to remove Iranian officials from Interpol lists in exchange for trade preferences with the Islamic republic. Pollicita’s 62-page statement was posted on the prosecutor general’s website. The charges will overshadow Fernandez’s last 10 months in office as she struggles to revive growth in South America’s second-biggest economy and repair relations with investors after last year’s default.

The accusations come one month after former prosecutor in the case, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment with a bullet to the head. Investigators have yet to determine if it was suicide or murder. “This could be a seismic change for Argentina’s political environment,” said Carl Meacham, Americas program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “You have an economic crisis on the horizon and you marry that with a political crisis, it could be a disaster for Argentina.” Fernandez, 61, has denied the accusations against her and said last month that Nisman may have been murdered in order to sully the image of her government.

Judge Daniel Rafecas must now decide whether the evidence of a cover-up is admissible and whether to pursue the case, said Hernan Munilla Lacasa, a professor in criminal law at the Universidad Catolica Argentina in Buenos Aires. Fernandez can be called on to testify, though as president she has the right to do so in writing and not in person. Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich early Friday said the accusations and a march planned for Feb. 18 to commemorate Nisman’s death were part of a “judicial coup” against the president. “The Argentine people should know that we’re talking about a vulgar lie, of an enormous media operation, of a strategy of political destabilization and the biggest judicial coup d’etat in the history of Argentina to cover up for the real perpetrators of the crime,” Capitanich said at his daily press conference.

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Asset prices cannot hold.

Farmland Values in Parts of Midwest Fall for First Time in Decades (WSJ)

Farmland values declined in parts of the Midwest for the first time in decades last year, reflecting a cooling in the market driven by two years of bumper crops and sharply lower grain prices, according to Federal Reserve reports on Thursday. The average price of farmland in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s district, which includes Illinois, Iowa and other big farm states, fell 3% in 2014, marking the first annual decline since 1986, the Chicago Fed said. Prices for cropland during the fourth quarter remained steady compared with the previous quarter, according to the bank’s survey of agricultural lenders, though half of all respondents said they expect farmland values to decline further in the current quarter.

In the St. Louis Fed’s district, which includes parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas, prices for “quality” farmland gained 0.8% in the fourth quarter compared with year-ago levels, despite lower crop prices and farm incomes in the region. A majority of lenders in the district expect values to cool in the current quarter compared with the first quarter of last year, reflecting reduced demand for land amid tighter profit margins for farmers. The reports spotlight an overall slowdown in the U.S. farm economy and in the appreciation of farmland prices. Crop prices had soared for much of the past decade, fueled by drought and rising demand for corn from ethanol processors and foreign importers. The gains pushed agricultural land values so high that some analysts warned of a bubble.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected net U.S. farm income this year would fall to $73.6 billion, the lowest since 2009, from $108 billion in 2014. Prices for corn, the biggest U.S. crop by value, have tumbled more than 50% since the summer of 2012, when they soared to record highs amid a severe U.S. drought. Growers produced the nation’s largest corn and soybeans harvests ever last autumn, helped by nearly flawless weather over much of the growing season. In the Chicago Fed district, farmland values in the latest quarter dropped in major corn-producing states like Illinois, Iowa and Indiana compared with year-ago levels, while land values in Wisconsin increased slightly and were unchanged in Michigan.

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Marie Antoinette all over again.

The Super-Rich Don’t Care About Us. It Will Be Their Downfall (Guardian)

The news this week that a bank helped wealthy customers to dodge taxes should not come as a surprise to many. The super-rich have long held some profoundly distorted ideas about the world. They are more than averagely likely to believe their achievements are the product of their superior brains and hard work. They may believe the Selfish Gene rhetoric that those with the best genes rise to the top of the pond, and at the bottom is genetic sludge. They are oblivious to any evidence to the contrary. They have no idea that had they been born on a sink estate they too would have sunk. This is partly because the super-rich are no longer exposed to data and experiences that contradict their worldview. Flitting between their various homes around the world, they know nothing of our lives.

They have never, ever had to sit on the phone waiting for the next available customer support agent – “your call really matters to us” – to not fix their phone/internet/energy bill issue. Of particular concern is that they only consume media that support their worldview. Recently, an Oxbridge-educated CEO in all seriousness told me that there has been no increase in inequality in this country. My jaw was slack with amazement when another told me that “inner London secondary pupils have the best exam results of any in the world”. They are living in the la-la land that Polly Toynbee and David Walker painstakingly exposed in their book Unjust Rewards. Consider your response to the following information. About 15,700 under-two-year-olds live in a family that is classed as homeless, according to a new report.

Homelessness adversely affects parental responsiveness, and early responsiveness has been proved to affect the capacity of the brain to process positive experiences. My response to this would be: “Since early care profoundly affects the size and content of our brains and subsequent mental health, government should act to eradicate involuntary homelessness. If Thatcher had not sold off the council housing stock this problem would be far less. A Labour government should reverse that policy.” When I put that to a super-rich man whom I know, he said: “It’s a shame there are so many babies with homeless parents but it is not the role of the state to house them. My charity does not directly address this issue but I am sure there are others that do. The role of government is to leave people like me free to create jobs which will enable those parents to earn enough to pay rent and live in decent accommodation.”

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