Aug 112017
 
 August 11, 2017  Posted by at 8:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Reflection of the Big Dipper 1947

 

It’s Hard to Price an ‘Extinction Event’ Like a North Korea War (BBG)
In Debt We Trust for US Consumers With $12.7 Trillion Burden (BBG)
Tesla Cars Aren’t As Carbon (And Taxpayer) Friendly As You Think (FMS)
Uber Gets Run Over by its Own Subprime Auto Leases (WS)
Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast… (WS)
Amazon Paid Just £15 Million In Tax On European Revenues Of £19.5 Billion (G.)
Airbnb Faces EU Clampdown For Not Paying ‘Fair Share’ Of Tax (G.)
Trump Will Soon Declare State Of Emergency Over Opioid Crisis (G.)
Why Saudi Arabia And Israel Have United Against Al-Jazeera (FIsk)
‘Subprime Is Contained’ -They Really Don’t Know What They Are Doing (Snider)
What Went Wrong With the 21st Century? (Bonner)
Black Swan At Bavarian Palace Seeks Partner (DW)

 

 

There are many voices saying crazy things in this North Korea thing, and I’m not even watching CNN. But this is the craziest thing of all: how to make money off a nuclear attack. These people are mentally blind.

It’s Hard to Price an ‘Extinction Event’ Like a North Korea War (BBG)

Financial markets haven’t really reacted much to the escalation in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and some observers explain that it’s largely because in the worst-case scenario it’s impossible to guess the appropriate price for things like stocks and bonds. “It’s hard to price a potentially extinction event (at least for much of the Korean peninsula),” is how Timothy Ash, a senior strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London, puts it. It’s a point also made by Mark Mobius, the Templeton Emerging Markets Group executive chairman and apostle for emerging-market investing. He said in a May interview about the prospect of a North Korean nuclear conflict: “there’s nothing you can do about it – if something breaks out, we’re all finished anyway.” Maybe that’s why the worst day this year for the Kospi index of South Korean stocks was July 28, which was all about a global tech-stock retreat and nothing to do with geopolitics.

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“This increase in leverage has sapped our ability to spend,” Roberts said. “I think we’re stuck.”

In Debt We Trust for US Consumers With $12.7 Trillion Burden (BBG)

After deleveraging in the aftermath of the last U.S. recession, Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy. Household debt outstanding – everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans – reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter, surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effects of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show. To put the borrowing in perspective, it’s more than the size of China’s economy or almost four times that of Germany’s. People are borrowing more not necessarily because they’re confident about their financial prospects. They’re doing it for necessities like education or transportation and, in many cases, just to get by.

On the surface, liabilities at an all-time high aren’t alarming when the assets side of ledger is taken into account. Household net worth stands at a record $94.8 trillion, thanks to rebounding home values and soaring stock portfolios. But that increase has primarily benefited the nation’s wealthiest, said Lance Roberts, chief investment strategist at Clarity Financial in Houston and editor of the Real Investment Advice newsletter. “When you look at net worth, it’s heavily skewed by the top 10%,” Roberts said. “The average family of four is living paycheck to paycheck.” For most Americans, whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living. The increase in debt helps explain why the economy’s main source of fuel is providing less of boost than in the past.

Personal spending growth has averaged 2.4% since the recession ended in 2009, less than the 3% of the previous expansion and 4.3% from 1982-90. A look at worker pay presents a more dire backdrop for discretionary spending for those without a lot of assets. While the difference between income from wages and household debt has improved since the last recession, it’s been leveling off and remains at a depressed level. The improvement also reflects less mortgage debt because of increased home foreclosures, rather than a pickup in earnings. “This increase in leverage has sapped our ability to spend,” Roberts said. “I think we’re stuck.”

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A series of articles on today’s new marvels, Tesla, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb. They all fall to bits, one by one.

Tesla is a highly destructive company. All it takes is a basic understanding of thermodynamics. Strip-mining, cutting down forests, throwing the Congo into even deeper misery, just so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re clean.

Tesla Cars Aren’t As Carbon (And Taxpayer) Friendly As You Think (FMS)

Tesla proponents love to remind people how their vehicles are “carbon free” (in spite of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s own carbon profligate lifestyle): Fact: the Tesla Model S is an environmentally friendly, zero emissions electric vehicle that won’t pollute the air like gas-powered cars. Carbon emissions from a gas car’s tailpipe has a dangerous impact on global warming…. In addition, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explains that, “combustion cars emit toxic gases. According to an MIT study, there are 53,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone from auto emissions.” But in reminding people about how they don’t burn fossil fuels, they make sure to omit and/or obfuscate all the other emissions-laden factors that go into production of Tesla automobiles, including the oft-unspoken costs of the vehicles to the taxpayer and to other auto manufacturers.

Start with the power source for the Tesla; their electric power plant uses lithium-ion batteries to store the electricity required to run the car. And while a good amount of lithium is produced at salt lake brines that use chemical processes to extract the requisite lithium… …a large (and growing) amount of lithium is sourced from hard-rock mining, which is also referred to as strip mining: This type of mining involves not just all the carbon used to extract the lithium from mines, it “strips” the land of its forests, which is far more environmentally (and carbon) detrimental. And while it is likely impossible to know exactly where Tesla sources its materials from, a closer examination on Tesla’s impact on the mining industry should paint a crystal clear picture:

Should the concept capture the imagination of Americans who are increasingly conscious of reducing their carbon footprint demand for these crucial elements could skyrocket in addition to the already robust global demand for lithium, nickel and copper. Major mining companies are already “future proofing” their businesses for climate change by focusing more investment into commodities that will be required by the renewable energy industry. You can’t make this stuff up – Tesla and other renewable energy industries are going to save the world by mining its natural resources to excess, without regard for the environmental impact and carbon emissions generated in the process. You shouldn’t be surprised to seldom hear this mentioned by Elon Musk, or the liberal crowd that champions electric vehicles.

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This is too insane to be labelled a ‘business model’.

Uber Gets Run Over by its Own Subprime Auto Leases (WS)

Uber, which has lost $3 billion last year and has gotten itself into a thicket of intractable issues and scandals that cost founder and CEO Travis Kalanick his job, is now facing a subprime auto-leasing crisis. Two years ago when these folks launched the subprime auto leasing program to put their badly paid drivers into new vehicles they couldn’t otherwise afford, they apparently didn’t do the math. In July 2015, when the “Xchange Leasing” program was announced, the company gushed: “We’re excited about how these new solutions meet drivers’ unique needs, and offer more and better choices and greater flexibility than ever before.” The leasing program would be “administered by an Uber subsidiary and designed to fit with the flexibility that drivers value most,” it said. This is how it would work:

Unlike most multi-year leases that have high fees for early termination, drivers who participate in Xchange for at least 30 days will be able to return the car with only two weeks notice, and limited additional costs. The program allows for unlimited mileage and the option to lease a used car, with routine maintenance also included. It wasn’t supposed to be a money maker – nothing at Uber is. But hey. And the company invested $600 million in the business, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. This type of lease was offered to drivers with subprime credit ratings or no credit ratings who barely earned enough money to get by and make the payments, if they stuck around long enough. It allowed drivers to drive new cars. When it didn’t work out for them, they could return the cars after 30 days with two weeks’ notice.

The only penalty for the early return is that Uber keeps the $250 deposit. And these leases came with “unlimited miles.” No one in the car business would ever conceive of such a thing. But Uber is different. It defies the laws of economics. Or so it thought at the time. Now, the 14-member executive committee that is running the show looked at the math and was horrified. “According to people familiar with the matter,” cited by The Journal, executives had briefed the committee in July: “The Xchange Leasing division had been estimating modest losses of around $500 per auto on average, these people said. But managers recently informed Uber executives that the losses were actually about $9,000 per car — about half the sticker price of a typical leased vehicle.”

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So your ass can shoot roots into your couch. Yeah, that’s a valid business model.

Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast… (WS)

Maybe Amazon has figured out that you’re not the only one who isn’t buying groceries online. Maybe it has figured out, despite all the money it has thrown at it, that selling groceries online is a very tough nut to crack. And no one has cracked it yet. Numerous companies have been trying. Safeway started an online store and delivery service during the dotcom bubble and has made practically no headway. A plethora of startups, brick-and-mortar retailers, and online retailers have tried it, including the biggest gorillas of all — Walmart, Amazon, and Google. Google is trying it in conjunction with Costco and others. It just isn’t catching on. And this has baffled many smart minds. Online sales in other products are skyrocketing and wiping out the businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers along the way. But groceries?

That’s one of the reasons Amazon is eager to shell out $14.7 billion to buy Whole Foods, its biggest acquisition ever, dwarfing its prior biggest acquisition, Zappos, an online shoe seller, for $850 million. Amazon cannot figure out either how to sell groceries online though it has tried for years. Now it’s looking for a new model — namely the old model in revised form? This is why everyone who’s online wants to get a piece of the grocery pie: The pie is big. Monthly sales at grocery stores in June seasonally adjusted were $53 billion. For the year 2016, sales amounted to $625 billion: But it’s going to be very tough for online retailers to muscle into this brick-and-mortar space, according to Gallup, based on its annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted in July. Consumers just aren’t doing it:

Only 9% of US households say they order groceries online at least once a month, either for pickup or delivery. Only 4% do so at least once a week. By contrast, someone in nearly all households (98%) goes to brick-and-mortar grocery stores at least once a month, and 83% go at least once a week. Gallup summarizes the quandary: At this point, online grocery shopping appears to be an adjunct to retail shopping rather than a replacement, as most shoppers whose families purchase groceries online once or twice a month or more say they still visit a store to buy groceries at least once a week. But there are some differences by age group – and maybe that’s where Amazon sees some distant hope: Of the 18-29 year olds, 15% shop for groceries on line at least once a month. For 30-49 year olds, this drops to 12%. For 50-64 year olds, it drops to 10%. For those 65 and older, it essentially fades out (2%).

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No profit, just working on a monopoly. Cut it down.

Amazon Paid Just £15 Million In Tax On European Revenues Of £19.5 Billion (G.)

Amazon paid just €16.5m (£15m) in tax on European revenues of €21.6bn (£19.5bn) reported through Luxembourg in 2016. The figures, published in Amazon’s latest annual accounts for its European online retail business, are likely to reignite the debate about US tech companies using complex crossborder arrangements to minimise the tax they pay across the continent. Separately, Amazon UK Services – the company’s warehouse and logistics operation that employs almost two-thirds of its 24,000 UK staff – more than halved its declared UK corporation tax bill from £15.8m to £7.4m year-on-year in 2016. The cut came despite turnover at the UK business, which handles the packing and delivery of parcels and functions such as customer service, rising from £946m to £1.46bn.

Ana Arendar, Oxfam’s head of inequality, said: “Despite some action by ministers and companies, widespread corporate tax avoidance continues to cost both rich and poor countries billions every year that could pay for schools and lifesaving healthcare. “We urgently need comprehensive public country-by-country reporting for multinationals to ensure they pay their fair share of tax – the UK government should implement this by the end of 2019 – unilaterally if necessary.” Amazon Europe, which is based in Luxembourg and aggregates the billions of pounds of sales the retailer makes from individual countries across the continent, reported a pre-tax profit of €59.6m last year. As a result the company, which clocked up €21.6bn in sales across Europe last year, had a tax bill of just €16.5m.

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This seems the easiest thing to contain. 90% of it is advertized online. Take average occupancy in a city, at average prices, and tax them on it.

Airbnb Faces EU Clampdown For Not Paying ‘Fair Share’ Of Tax (G.)

EU finance ministers will discuss how to force home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb to pay their fair share of taxes and in the right tax domains next month after the French minister for the economy described the current situation as “unacceptable”. The European commission announced on Thursday that a joint proposal from France and Germany would be discussed at a meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, on 16 September. Brussels will also advise on how best to deal with the so-called sharing economy, in which Airbnb is a major player. It was revealed this week that Airbnb paid less than €100,000 (£90,336) in French taxes last year, despite the country being the room-booking firm’s second-biggest market after the US.

In response, the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, informed the national assembly that the EU’s Franco-German axis would be proposing a pan-European clampdown. “These digital platforms make tens of millions of sales and the French treasury gets a few tens of thousands,” the minister said, adding that the current setup was “unacceptable”. Le Maire further claimed in parliament that an ongoing consultation being led by the commission and the OECD to address the tax question were “taking too much time, it’s all too complicated”. Many digital platforms operating in the EU have a base in Ireland, including Airbnb, where they can exploit a low corporation tax regime. Le Maire said: “Everybody has to pay a fair contribution.”

I[..] Paris city council has already voted to make it mandatory from 1 December to obtain a registration number from the town hall before posting an advertisement for a short-term rental on its website. The ruling potentially makes it harder for property owners using Airbnb to exceed the 120 days a year legal rental limit for a main residence, and easier for the authorities to collect local taxes. In Barcelona, where tensions have been rising for years over the surge in visitors, the impact of sites such as Airbnb on the local housing market has led to anti-tourist protests. In Mallorca and San Sebastián, an anti-tourism march is being planned for 17 August to coincide with Semana Grande, a major festival of Basque culture.

In Ibiza, the authorities are placing a cap on the number of beds for tourists. Owners will also be banned from renting their homes, or rooms within them, via websites such as Airbnb and Homeaway unless they obtain a licence. Owners face fines of up to €400,000 if they break the law. The websites face the same fine for letting people advertise without a valid licence number.

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Cut out the stupid pharma ads and you’re halfway there.

Trump Will Soon Declare State Of Emergency Over Opioid Crisis (G.)

Donald Trump signaled he could soon declare a state of emergency in an attempt to deal with America’s opioid overdose crisis. A commission reporting to the president said recently that declaring a state of emergency was its “first and most urgent recommendation”. But Trump, in his first remarks on the subject, appeared to set his face against treating the epidemic as a health emergency – calling instead for tougher prison sentences and “strong, strong law enforcement”. However, returning to the issue on Thursday, Trump seemed to have changed his tone. “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency,” he said, adding the administration is “drawing documents now to so attest”. “It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had,” Trump said at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, where he is on a “working vacation”.

The president can declare a state of emergency two legal ways: he could use the Stafford Act, or the Public Health Service Act, which is specific to health emergencies and can be declared by the health secretary. “When I was growing up they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs,” Trump said. “There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide.” In fact, while drug overdoses happen all over the world, the US leads by a significant margin. Though the nation has just 4% of the world’s population, the US also has 27% of the world’s drug overdose deaths, according to the UN’s 2017 World Drug Report. For example, for every million Americans between 15 and 64 years old, 245 people per year die of drug overdoses. In Mexico, 4 people per million die of drug overdoses.

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Best friends.

Why Saudi Arabia And Israel Have United Against Al-Jazeera (FIsk)

Being an irrational optimist, there’s an innocent side of my scratched journalistic hide that still believes in education and wisdom and compassion. There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahhabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends. They are our oppressors or masters, suppressors of the truth and allies of the unjust.

Netanyahu wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. Crown Prince Mohammad wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Qatar. Bush actually did bomb Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. Theresa May decided to hide a government report on funding “terrorism”, lest it upset the Saudis – which is precisely the same reason Blair closed down a UK police enquiry into alleged BAE-Saudi bribery 10 years earlier. And we wonder why we go to war in the Middle East. And we wonder why Sunni Isis exists, un-bombed by Israel, funded by Sunni Gulf Arabs, its fellow Sunni Salafists cosseted by our wretched presidents and prime ministers. I guess we better keep an eye on Al Jazeera – while it’s still around.

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And these guys are still seen as authorities. They may be dumb, but they’re not the dumbest.

‘Subprime Is Contained’ -They Really Don’t Know What They Are Doing (Snider)

Ben Bernanke, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress in March 2007 that subprime was contained. He will rightfully be remembered in infamy for that, but that wasn’t the most egregious example of being wrong. Even putting it in those terms risks understating the problem and why it stubbornly lingers. Being really wrong is claiming that IOER will establish a floor for money market rates, and then finding out it actually doesn’t. No, what policymakers did especially in the early crisis period was altogether worse; they demonstrated conclusively that though they shared this world with the rest of us, they inhabited and continue to inhabit a totally different planet. Given the anniversary date and our human affinity for round numbers (ten years or a lost decade), there is a desire to revisit some of the worst of the list which happened just before August 9, 2007. My favorite has always been Bill Dudley, as I recounted last at the ninth anniversary of nothing being done:

As far as the issue of material nonpublic information that shows worse problems than are in the newspapers, I’m not sure exactly how to characterize that because I guess I wouldn’t know how to characterize how bad the newspapers think these problems are. [Laughter] We’ve done quite a bit of work trying to identify some of the funding questions surrounding Bear Stearns, Countrywide, and some of the commercial paper programs. There is some strain, but so far it looks as though nothing is really imminent in those areas.” [emphasis added]

He spoke those words, recorded for posterity, on August 7, 2007, at the regular FOMC policy meeting. As noted earlier today, both Countrywide and the whole commercial paper market would be decimated really within hours from his “inspiring” confidence. What really stands out is for Dudley to have been the one who said them, because as head of the Open Market Desk he had to be technically proficient in a way that the others could avoid (and why so often in its history policy discussions especially about these great things would often flow through whomever was the Open Market Desk chief at that moment in time). He proved still to be an empty suit like the rest, but he was always that much less of one. So if the best the Fed had to offer was so thoroughly unaware, is it any wonder what happened then and continues to happen now?

One day after Dudley’s private embarrassment, one Bank of England governor and future chief perhaps joined his level in the Hall of Fame of Famous Last Words. Meryn King remarked on August 8, 2007: “So far what we have seen is not a threat to the financial system. It’s not an international financial crisis.” He said these words at the behest of the ECB in front of the assembled press ostensibly to impart calm. Also noted earlier today, it was the European Central Bank that made the first crisis move the very next day in a record liquidity injection.

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“There’s nothing like it. Get on the wrong side of time, and you are out of luck.”

What Went Wrong With the 21st Century? (Bonner)

And it’s Time Time Time
And it’s Time Time Time
And it’s Time Time Time
That you love
And it’s Time Time Time

To bring readers fully up to speed, the 21st century has been a flaming dud. In practically every way. Despite more new technology than ever… more PhDs… more researchers… more patents… more earnest strivers than ever before sweating to move things ahead… and despite more “stimulus” from the Fed ($3.6 trillion) than ever in history…U.S. GDP growth rates are only half of those of the last century. And household incomes, after you factor in inflation, are flat. In fact, by some calculations – using non-fiddled measures of inflation – growth has been negative for the whole 21st century. Meanwhile, there are more people tending bar or waiting tables… and fewer people with full-time breadwinner jobs. And productivity and personal savings rates have collapsed.

And those are only the measurable trends. Political and social developments have been similarly dud-ish – including the longest, losingest war in U.S. history… the biggest government deficits… the most vulgar public life… the least personal freedom… and, in our hometown, Baltimore, a record murder rate. What went wrong? Herewith, a hypothesis. It suggests three “causes,” all three linked by a single shared element: time.

[..] Fake money causes people to waste time and money. And central bank policies discourage savings by lowering interest rates… even pushing them into negative territory. Instead of saving them for the future… resources are consumed today. These mistakes accumulate as debt… which then forces people to spend more time servicing the mistakes of the past. Meanwhile, the internet gives people a new way to waste time. At home. At work. On the high plains. Or in the lowlife back alleys. People spend their precious time on idle distractions and entertainments. That leaves fewer people doing the real work that progress requires – saving, investing, and working for the future. Time is always the ultimate constraint. You can substitute one resource for another. You can switch from oil to solar… or copper to aluminum. But there’s no swapping out time. There’s nothing like it. Get on the wrong side of time, and you are out of luck.

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Oh please, can I include this? Just so Nassim Taleb knows black swans get lonely?! Like they’re unqiue but they do come in pairs… Philosophical intrigue galore.

Black Swan At Bavarian Palace Seeks Partner (DW)

The Rosenau Palace in southern Germany has published a lonely hearts ad on behalf of its resident black swan. Ground keepers believe the bird’s former companion was eaten by a fox. The department that oversees state-owned palaces, gardens and lakes in the southern state of Bavaria sent out its rather unusual appeal to the public on Thursday. “The sex of the animal isn’t important,” a message on the department’s website read. “Ideally it should be more than three years old, but this isn’t an absolute must.” The department has been on the lookout for a match since May, when one of the two black swans that lived in the palace grounds disappeared. Palace gardeners later found bones and feathers in one of the park’s bushes. “He was probably eaten by a fox,” the department concluded.

Rosenau garden department head Steffen Schubert has been sending out enquiries every day to try and locate a candidate – without success. Finding a replacement isn’t just about sparing the surviving swan from loneliness, he says. “Swans have a special significance in the history of Rosenau Palace and park,” he said. Black swans were reportedly first introduced to the palace grounds by Britain’s Queen Victoria as a symbol of mourning following the premature death of her husband Prince Albert, who was born at Rosenau Palace in 1819. The royals visited the palace together in 1845, five years after they were married. In her memoirs, the queen wrote: “If I were not who I am, this would be my real home.” The palace, near the town of Coburg in northern Bavaria, is home to Swan Lake and Prince’s Pond.

In its statement, the department said the new swan would have a good life, with a 2-hectare lake and a newly built “swan house” at its disposal. In the chillier months, the birds also have winter quarters with water access and are fed every day. The department said it would go itself to pick up the bird if a member of the public was willing to donate a swan to the grounds. “We hope our swan does not have to be alone for too long,” a spokeswoman for the palace management told German news agency DPA.

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Aug 092017
 
 August 9, 2017  Posted by at 5:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  21 Responses »
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Self Portrait 1982

 

A Guardian headline today shouts: “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War. Can He Be Stopped?”. And I’m thinking that is such obvious nonsense, how dare you print it? The North Korea nuke build up has been going on for decades, and neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush nor Obama ever took any decisive actions against it. And now it all falls into Trump’s lap. But that doesn’t mean he’s ‘taken us’ anywhere at all. The last thing Trump wants is this.

It’s not the last thing people like John McCain want, however. Who said about Trump’s “fire and fury” threat to Kim Jong-un that you shouldn’t make that threat unless you’re willing to execute it. Yeah, that’s exactly what McCain and Lindsey Graham and their entire entourage of friends and servants on Capitol Hill have been looking for for ages: war. And they see this in the same way that their peers saw Grenada in the Reagan era.

Small country, no challenge, good publicity. But Kim, crazy as he may or may not be, has learned a few lessons on the way. Cheney, W. and Rumsfeld ‘regime-changed’ Saddam Hussein, and Obama/Hillary ‘came saw and he died’ Gaddafi. They got offed before they could develop nukes. Kim knows that’s the dividing line. Sure, as I said, he may be crazy, but then everybody in this movie is.

That “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War” line is based on da Donald’s “fire and fury” comment. But that is just him trying to talk to Kim in his own language. It was my first thought as soon as I heard it. Every other approach has failed, try this. My second thought was it was directed as much against Beijing as it was against Kim: Xi Jinping, once again, you have to stop this.

Xi has taken notice. He has a crucial Communist Party convention looming this fall, and he can’t afford to have a war in his backyard. He just didn’t have a reason to prevent it before. A few hours after Trump’s “fire and fury”, North Korea released a Canadian prisoner sentenced to hard labor for life. Coincidence? That’s not likely.

What Trump, what America, would need right now is open conversation with Putin, who can make or break things in the area. But given the recent sanctions etc., he doesn’t have much incentive. And the White House has few channels left to communicate with the Kremlin, because every single phone line is under investigation from one grand jury or another, and no line can be trusted to be secret anymore.

That hampers Trump and his people, but it even more hampers Putin in expressing his opinions. At the very moment, when there are nuclear threats being openly, publicly, bandied around, and the US Congress has tied its president’s hands in a very questionable fashion, which makes it impossible for him to talk to the one nuclear power in the world that matters.

The strange, and worrisome, thing about the ‘Orwellian’ 99% vote to take Trump’s powers away from him when it comes to communicating with Putin is that Capitol Hill decided to take it away, only to endorse itself with it. While you can discuss into the wee hours and then some what a US president’s powers should be, and what not, for any political ‘entity’ to vote another’s entity only to have it fall upon itself is legally dangerous.

And that’s not just because John McCain has seemed hellbent on ending his life with a big bang, forever. It’s even more because Capitol Hill has proven that it can effectively strangulate any president it doesn’t like, even if the American people have voted him/her in.

The very ironic consequence, at some point we wish will never come, would be that if Da Donald wants to strike Kim with anything at all, he’ll have to ask McCain and Graham for permission. And they will say: of course: when can we do it, can we do a little bit more just to be sure?

But if Trump wants to prevent that war, be it conventional or nuclear, who does he have to turn to? Not McCain and Graham, McDonnell, that set. They’re lost in the pockets of the military-industrial complex. As are Hillary and Obama and whatever is left after the Democrats go through a court-induced DNC fall-cleaning. They are paid by the exact same sources.

So who? The generals he’s surrounded himself with in the West Wing? Come to think of it, they may be the only sane voices left in Washington. But at the same time, does that feel like a real confidence booster?

Look, America, there are a 100,000 things wrong with Trump. But he is your president. And even if the whole Robert Mueller dig ever gets anywhere, it may first of all be too late, second of all lead to absolute mayhem if any impeachment process gets anywhere, and third of all have you end up with something far worse, president Pence, president Hillary, whatever.

What little-big-boy Kim should be telling you is that it’s time to support your president, no matter how flawed and despicable you think he may be. Because, and this is not the first time I’ve said this, he may well be the only thing standing between you and war. And don’t listen to the voices who claim he’s eager to start it. Or at least don’t listen only to them.

There’s a real chance that Trump will start a war somewhere, but it won’t be because he wants one. Other people in Washington do though. Just about all of them, given that 99% vote on Russia sanctions.

It is time to support your president, America. Not because you like him, or because you agree with him. But because your country elected him and because if you don’t, god help you.

 

 

Mar 012017
 
 March 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, directed by Victor Fleming, 1939

 

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)
NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)
US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)
Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)
Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)
US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)
Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)
This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)
Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)
UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)
Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)
The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

 

 

Lots of retirement and pension scare stories today. I can only hope our readers have taken our warnings through the years to heart.

Raising Pension Age Will Mean Many People Die Before Getting It (G.)

Further increases in the state pension age could push it to the point where many working people die before qualifying for it, MPs have warned, in a report that calls for the end of the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions. The Commons work and pensions select committee report on intergenerational fairness, published on Tuesday, claims that financing the triple lock in future will not be possible without increasing the state pension age to 70.5 years – leaving men in Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Blackpool dying on average before they receive their state pension. Under the triple lock, pensions have risen every year since 2010 by whichever is the higher figure out of the rate of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. This has lifted many pensioners out of poverty but the committee said it had resulted in the over-65s taking an “ever greater share of national income”.

In its November 2016 report, the committee recommended that the triple lock be replaced from 2020 by a smoothed earnings link. This would benchmark the state pension to a fixed proportion of average earnings in the long run, but would protect its purchasing power in times of inflation. Citing figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the committee said the state pension age would need to rise to 70.5 years by 2060 to make the triple lock affordable, “meaning today’s young would face working lives of over 50 years before receiving a state pension”. It added: “Making the triple lock sustainable would mean pushing the state pension age over average life expectancy in poorer areas of the UK”. Current male life expectancy is lowest in Blackpool, at 67.5, while it is 68.7 in parts of Bradford and 70.2 in much of Manchester. Tower Hamlets in London’s East End has a male life expectancy of 69.1.

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Dominoes.

NY Teamsters Pension Fund Becomes First To Run Out Of Money (NYDN)

Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions. Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month. “I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” Also on the brink of drying up are the pensions for two Teamster locals — 641 and 560 — in New Jersey, union officials said. Plus 35,000 Teamster members upstate who are part of the money-hemorrhaging New York State Teamsters Pension Fund.

Bigger than all of New York’s Teamster locals combined is the Central States Pension Fund — another looming financial disaster that could leave 407,000 retirees without pensions across the Midwest and South. And there’s still more beyond that, in various industries, officials say. “It’s a nightmare, it has just devastated all of our lives. I’ve gone from having $48,000 a year to less than half that,” said Chmil, one of five Local 707 retirees who agreed to share their stories with the Daily News last week. “I don’t want other people to have to go through this. We need everyone to wake up and do something; that’s why we’re talking,” said Ray Narvaez. Narvaez, 77, got a union certificate upon retirement in 2003 that guaranteed him a lifetime pension of $3,479 a month. The former short-haul trucker — who carried local freight around the city — started hearing talk in 2008 of sinking finances in his union’s pension fund.

But the monthly checks still came — including a bonus “13th check” mailed from the union without fail every Dec. 15. Then Narvaez, like 4,000 other retired Teamster truckers, got a letter from Local 707 in February of last year. It said monthly pensions had to be slashed by more than a third. It was an emergency move to try to keep the dying fund solvent. That dropped Narvaez from nearly $3,500 to about $2,000. “They said they were running out of money, that there could be no more in the pension fund, so we had to take the cut,” said Narvaez, whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stopgap measure didn’t work — and after years of dangling over the precipice, Local 707’s pension fund fell off the financial cliff this month.

With no money left, it turned to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government insurance company that covers pension. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. picked up Local 707’s retiree payouts — but the maximum benefit it gives a year is roughly $12,000, for workers who racked up at least 30 years. For those with less time on the job, the payouts are smaller.

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“Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties…”

US Baby Boomers Forced By Law To Start Drawing From Retirement Funds (MW)

Robert Kiyosaki, author of the “Rich Dad” series of books, has for years predicted an epic market crash when baby boomers, forced by law, start drawing from retirement funds in large numbers. That meltdown was supposed to happen last year. Instead, the bull market raged on: It will be eight years old in March, if measured by the 2009 bottom. Kiyosaki has drawn some flak along the way. Kiyosaki hasn’t given up on the prediction, however, he told MarketWatch in a late-January interview and a series of follow-up emails. Baby boomers still need to start drawing money in 2017, he notes: They hold about $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to Bank of New York Mellon; Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties. (There were nearly 75 million Boomers in 2015, according to Pew Research.)

“Every time I say that to people they scoff at me,” said Kiyosaki of his baby boomer meltdown theory. “The fact is, they’re pulling the money out…the thing that did happen that I never expected, was the market went up a lot due to the ‘Trump Bump.’” Early in 2016, when stocks posted their worst January since 2009, it looked like Kiyosaki might be right about the market. Stocks recovered only to slide on Brexit last summer and then fall briefly in an autumn pre-election dip. It’s been upward momentum ever since. The surprise election victory of President Donald Trump, who rallied investors with his promise to revamp the economy, further muddied the picture for Kiyosaki’s forecast. While stocks were already up about 4.3% before the election, its outcome boosted the S&P to finish 2016 with a 9.5% gain. The Dow industrials logged their best annual finish in 3 years, up 13.4%.

[..] Kiyosaki says 2016 brought about other, unexpected, crashes. “What has happened instead of a market crash was the crash in interest rates, which are adversely affecting millions of fixed-income retirees, pension plans, and savers — at the same time incentivizing people like me to become debtors, using debt to acquire income-producing real estate,” he said. Most retirement plans assume an 8% return, Kiyosaki said, but “when interest rates are a 1% or 0% or negative%, returns aren’t working.”

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Lots of numbers, but none really matter much. The crux is that if there are Greek pensions that are too high, for instance compared to other European ones, cut them, fine. But don’t cut ones that are already below and and all minimal limits. That is not even worth being labeled policy, it’s simply inhumane.

Greek Pensioners Brace For Latest Crisis Cuts (K.)

One group of Greeks that will look upon the return of creditors to Athens for talks aimed at completing the second review with some trepidation is the country’s 2.7 million pensioners. Since 2010, when Greece signed its first bailout with the eurozone and the IMF, the retirement age and social security contributions have increased, while pensions have come down. There is rarely a review that leaves pensions untouched and this one promises to be no different as lenders are targeting a reduction of annual pension spending by about 1.8 billion euros, or 1% of GDP. The IMF has been the most vociferous among Greece’s lenders regarding the need for a further overhaul of the country’s pension system to make it sustainable in the long run.

Between 2000 and 2010, pension spending in Greece climbed from 11 to 15% of GDP, mostly due to large increases in nominal pensions, generous benefits and options for early retirement. During this period, Greece’s figure was the second highest in the eurozone after that of Italy, according to the IMF. Despite two sets of reforms legislated in 2010 and 2012, pension expenditure continued rising and hit 17.7% in 2015, largely due to a GDP contracting by 25% while the average pension decreased by 8% between 2010 and 2015. The IMF believes the combination of low contribution revenues and high pension spending led to the pension deficit climbing from 7.3% of GDP in 2010 to 11% in 2015, making it by far the highest in the euro area.

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It’s about access to the ECB’s QE program, where Draghi starts buying Greek bonds. And perhaps even the markets too. That would hugely limit Greece’s dependence on the Troika.

Merkel Bypasses Schäuble To Push For Greek Review Conclusion (K.)

Kathimerini understands that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to do whatever it takes to conclude the second review of Greece’s third bailout so that it can join the ECB’s quantitative easing program (QE), on the condition that the government agrees to a package of pension cuts and a reduced tax threshold – amounting to roughly 2% of GDP. According to sources, Merkel has, to this end, already seized the initiative and met with ECB head Mario Draghi. The German chancellor is also expected to bypass any objections that may be raised by her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and will push for a specific outline of what midterm measures for debt relief will look like – once Greece agrees to measures demanded by the IMF.

Draghi, as well as ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure, have already made it clear that Greece can only join the QE mechanism if it concludes the review, and midterm measures for debt relief are in place – which is something that, so far, Schaeuble has opposed. Merkel’s plan stipulates that after a staff level agreement is reached, the Greek Parliament will vote through the measures. When this is done, the specifics of the debt relief measures will be presented as a carrot to Athens. This will open the way for it to join the QE scheme and the IMF to rejoin the Greek program.

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if this is true, it’s massive.

US Stepping In To Ease Greece, Turkey Tensions (K.)

Washington appears to have activated a channel of communication with Ankara in a bid to reduce the recent spike in tensions with Greece in the Aegean Sea. According to sources, the US recently asked Ankara to tone down its aggressive stance in the Aegean. It is not known how Ankara has taken the American initiative, but it is clear that Washington fears a possible incident in the Aegean between the two NATO allies, which could destabilize the alliance’s southeast wing. Meanwhile, the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara, albeit from nongoverment politicians, continued Tuesday with the leader of the ultra-right MHP party Devlet Bahceli speaking of Greek islands that remained “under occupation.” Bahceli is an ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supports the bid by the Turkish president to expand his executive powers in the referendum that will take place in Turkey on April 16.

Citing what he described as international law, Bahceli called for the “unconditional end to the occupation of the islands,” referring to a string of islands and islets in the eastern Aegean. He went even further, referring to the Greek-Turkish war in 1922 and the way the Greek army was defeated by Turkish forces in Asia Minor – without, however, mentioning the Greek population of Turkey which was uprooted as a result of the war. “If [the Greeks] want to fall back into the sea [referring to how the Greek army was pushed out of Asia Minor] and if they are up to it, they are welcome to do it. The Turkish army is ready,” he said. The MHP leader also said the divided island of Cyprus is Turkish. Since the recent escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey, progress in the UN-backed peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has stalled.

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Most remarkable thing must be that Trump has learned to read from a teleprompter, and was told to stick with only that.

Trump Touts Unity Strength In Speech To Congress (R.)

President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House. Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date, seeking to regain the confidence of Americans rattled by his leadership thus far. The president’s speech was long on promises but short on specifics on how to achieve a challenging legislative agenda that could add dramatically to budget deficits. He wants a healthcare overhaul, broad tax cuts and a $1 trillion public-private initiative to rebuild degraded roads and bridges.

Trump built a base of support behind his presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration. In his speech, he took a more moderate tone, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform. He said it was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise, although he also said U.S. immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help more struggling families enter the middle class. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” said the Republican president.

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Dean Baker corrects the NYT.

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are Not Political Philosophers (Baker)

Apparently the paper is confused on this issue since it headlined a front page piece on the budget, “Trump budget sets up clash over ideology within G.O.P.” The article lays out this case in the fourth paragraph: “He [Trump] also set up a battle for control of Republican Party ideology with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who for years has staked his policy-making reputation on the argument that taming the budget deficit without tax increases would require that Congress change, and cut, the programs that swallow the bulk of the government’s spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” Most of us recognize Donald Trump and Paul Ryan as politicians who hold their jobs as a result of being able to gain the support of important interest groups. It really doesn’t make much difference what their political philosophy is.

Contrary to what the NYT might lead us to believe, this is not a battle of political philosophy, it is a battle over money. On this score, the NYT also gets matters seriously confused. First of all, it is wrong to describe Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “the programs that swallow the bulk of government spending.” Under the law, Social Security can only spend money raised through its designated taxes, either currently or in the past. For this reason, it is not a drain on the rest of the budget unless Congress changes the law. Medicaid would also not rank among the three largest programs. The government is projected to spend $592 billion this year on the military compared to $401 billion on Medicaid.

The claim that Paul Ryan is concerned that these programs would “swallow the bulk of government spending” directly contradicts everything Paul Ryan has been explicitly advocating for years. Ryan has repeatedly put forward budgets that would reduce the size of the federal government to zero outside of the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is difficult to understand how a major newspaper can so completely misrepresent a strongly and repeatedly stated view of one of the country’s most important political figures.

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Full blown insanity.

This Chart Signals China’s Housing Bubble May Burst Soon (ME)

The probability that a real estate bubble may burst in China is rising. The financial sector heavily depends on real estate, which in turn exposes the entire Chinese economy to systemic risk. This link means that a downturn in real estate could soon spread to other areas of the Chinese economy if banks face liquidity shortfalls. Also, falling housing prices could result in more non-performing loans (NPLs). While NPLs officially account for only 1.75% of all Chinese loans, the government is likely understating the figure. BMI Research, a financial consulting firm, estimated in a 2016 report that NPLs could be close to 20% of loans.

As banks gave more credit to real estate developers and buyers, their profitability stalled. In theory, China’s economy is not based on capitalism and thus doesn’t revolve around profitability; but in practice, money needs to come from somewhere. A company that doesn’t make a profit can’t survive in the long run. The Chinese government can’t afford to let banks fail since it would threaten both the financial system’s health and the key lifeline to state-owned enterprises that provide jobs. This surge in China’s real estate prices, fueled by ongoing credit expansion, are forcing the government to choose between deflating the housing market and slowing growth.

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Pipelines vs pipedreams.

Russia Seen Dominating European Energy for Two Decades (BBG)

Europe has wanted to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, the region has never been more dependent. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run export monopoly, shipped a record amount of gas to the European Union last year and accounts for about 34% of the trading bloc’s use of the fuel. Russia will remain the biggest source of supply through 2035, Shell said last week, echoing comments by BP in January. EU lawmakers have had their hearts set on diversifying supplies with liquefied natural gas delivered by tanker from the U.S., where production of the fuel skyrocketed last year. So far, those shipments have failed to materialize amid a lack of firm contracts and higher prices outside Europe. Overall, LNG shipments to the region, led by Qatar, were stagnant last year. “Russia will for sure remain Europe’s largest gas supplier for at least two more decades,” even if most of the incremental gains in EU imports are met by LNG from somewhere else, said Vladimir Drebentsov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at BP in Moscow.

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It was once a good place to live.

Sydney Home Prices Surge 14.8%, Fastest Annual Pace Since 2002 (BBG)

Dwelling values in Australia’s largest city rose at the fastest annual pace in 14-years in February as record-low interest rates outweighed regulatory efforts to avert a housing bubble. Average values in Sydney surged by 18.4%, the biggest jump since December 2002 when the nation was at the tail-end of the early 2000’s housing boom, according to data provider CoreLogic Inc. Across the state capitals combined, values rose by 11.7%. Despite tighter lending restrictions aimed at discouraging speculative buying by landlords, the runaway housing market shows few signs of easing amid strong economic growth, historically low borrowing costs and a tax system that offers perks for property investors. Housing affordability has become a hot-button political issue, with New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian promising to make it one of her top priorities.

Last month, she appointed former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens to advise on the options. Central bank Governor Philip Lowe has signaled he’d prefer not to ease interest rates as it would further inflate Sydney house prices and drive already record household debt even higher, threatening financial stability. “The strong growth conditions across Sydney have provided a substantial wealth boost for home owners,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. “However, the flipside is that housing costs are becoming increasingly out of reach.” Prices are now almost 8.5 times higher than household incomes in Sydney, according to CoreLogic. There are, however, considerable regional variations. Perth, in the mining heartland of Western Australia that’s suffering as a decade-long investment boom winds down, saw values fall by 4.5% in the year to February.

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You can’t easily tweak internation law on nuclear. For good reasons.

UK Nuclear Power Stations ‘Could Be Forced To Close’ After Brexit (G.)

Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned. Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt. The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards. “Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.” The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee. “There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place,” said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.

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Bur perhaps none of this matters in the long run, perhaps waste is the inevitable consequence of the need to feel rich, be rich. As Ken Latta put it in his February 23 article here at the Automatic Earth: “wealth is best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”.

Denmark Reduces Food Waste By 25% In 5 Years With Help Of One Woman (Ind.)

Never underestimate the power of one dedicated individual. A woman has been credited by the Danish Government for single-handedly helping the country reduce its food waste by 25% in just five years. Selina Juul, who moved from Russian to Denmark when she was 13 years old, was shocked by the amount of food available and wasted at supermarkets. She told the BBC: “I come from a country where there were food shortages, we had the collapse of infrastructure, communism collapsed, we were not sure we could get food on the table”. Her organisation, Stop Spild Af Mad – which translates as Stop Wasting Food – made all the difference and is recognised as one of the key drivers behind the government’s focus to tackle food waste.

“She was this crazy Russian woman that walked in the door, with a crazy idea about stop wasting food and she has come really far since,” Maria Noel, communication officer of Dagrofa, a Danish retail company, told the BBC. “She basically changed the entire mentality in Danemark,” she added. Ms Juul convinced Rema 1000, the country’s biggest low-cost supermarket chain, to replace all its quantity discounts with single item discounts to minimise food waste. Max Skov Hanser, a grocer at Rema 1000, said the retailer wasted about 80 to 100 bananas every day. However, after the supermarket put up a sign saying “take me I’m single”, it reduced the waste on bananas by 90%. In the past five years Denmark has become one of the leading European countries in the fight against food waste. Last year, a charity in Copenhagen opened Denmark’s first ever food surplus supermarket, which sells products at prices 30 to 50% cheaper than usual retailers.

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On Wendell Berry.

The World-Ending Fire – How America’s Farmers Betrayed The Land (G.)

Berry’s essays roam widely over such topics as “Writer and Region” (an A-grade discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), “The Work of Local Culture” and his high-minded disinclination to swap his ancient typewriter for a computer (complete with several shocked technophile responses). But the majority of them return, out of a kind of disgust, to the idea of betrayal, and the way in which the US farming industry has abandoned its responsibility to the terrain it has been cultivating for the last century and a half. The startling aspect of this charge sheet is its proxy villain, which is neither the cereal companies nor the burger chains but the American dream. Ronald Reagan once named his favourite children’s books as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, in which the resourceful Ingalls family head west across the newly available prairie states.

Pa chops trees, builds shacks and plants corn while Ma keeps house and thinks the native population “dirty”. To Berry, by contrast, the Pa Ingallses of the 1870s midwest are simply opportunists casting aside the old ways without bothering to reflect on their value, exploiters whose hard work and high moral tone obscure the absence of any real relationship with the land they are bent on despoiling. “A Native Hill”, a series of pointed reflections on the landscape of Henry County, Kentucky, notes that the original inhabitants had managed to preserve its integrity for thousands of years. The pioneers “in a century and half plundered the area of at least half its topsoil and virtually all its forest”, and constructed a road they may not have needed in the first place.

On the one hand, Berry is placing the Native American Indians and Pa Ingalls in false opposition: the effervescing Ingalls brood were different kinds of people – most obviously, nomads and settlers – wanting different things from the world they inhabited. On the other hand, Berry’s agrarian arguments are persuasive. To produce five feet of topsoil, he suggests in “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, takes 50,000 to 60,000 years. Meanwhile, the rallying cries are mounting up: think small; distrust the combines; a family can live for a year off a 60 sq ft vegetable plot; nobody ever did themselves any good by living in a city (he derides “the assumption that the life of the metropolis is the experience, the modern experience … ”).

As for The World-Ending Fire’s implications, you can just about envisage a future in which, once the fossil fuels have run out, necessity forces us all to live in smaller, self-sustaining societies without the benefit of the internal combustion engine. So perhaps Berry will have the last laugh. Whether by that stage in human evolution it will be worth having is another matter.

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Oct 272016
 
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Marion Post Wolcott. Unemployed coal miner’s mother in law and child. Marine, West Virginia 1938

With 70% Of Wildlife Gone, We Face Mass Extinction On Scale Of Dinosaurs (YP)
Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction. Can We Stop Ourselves? (TP)
Our Landfill Economy (CH Smith)
Mike Maloney: DEFLATION FIRST! (Max Keiser)
Globalization Goes Into Reverse (BBG)
The Next 10 Years Will Be Ugly for Your 401(k) (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Probes “Misstated” Derivative Valuations, Finds “Divergences” (ZH)
Goldman Sachs Does Mass Layoffs Piece by Piece (BBG)
US Election: Nothing to Lose (Steen Jakobsen)
Hacked Memo Offers Angry Glimpse Into Conflicted ‘Bill Clinton Inc.’ (Pol.)
Clinton Adviser Proposes Attacking Iran to Aid the Saudis in Yemen (NYMag)
Putin Tried to Warn Us About Syria Three Years Ago (TAM)
UK Deploys Hundreds Of Troops And Aircraft To Eastern Europe (G.)
Merkel Accuses Facebook, Google Of “Distorting Perception” (ZH)
Nuclear Power Is Over In The US Without More Government Subsidies (BBG)

 

 

To be correct, we don’t so much face it as live it.

70% Of Wildlife Gone: World Faces Mass Extinction On Scale Of Dinosaurs (YP)

Global wildlife populations will have fallen by more than two thirds on 1970 levels by the end of the decade, conservationists warn today. An assessment of more than 3,700 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles reveals a fall of 58% between 1970 and 2012, with no sign of a slowdown in the annual two per cent reduction in numbers. By 2020, populations of vertebrate species could have fallen by 67pc over half a century, unless action is taken to reverse the damaging impacts of human activity, the Living Planet report from WWF and the Zoological Society of London said. The figures prompted experts to warn that nature was facing a global “mass extinction” for the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs.

African elephants in Tanzania have seen numbers decimated by persistent poaching, while maned wolves in Brazil are threatened by grasslands being turned into farmland. Leatherback turtles in the Atlantic have seen populations reduced by up to 95pc, and European eels are also in decline. Wildlife faces further threats from over-exploitation, climate change and pollution, the report warns. Among the species most at risk are tigers, with only 3,900 left in the wild, and Amur leopards, whose numbers have fallen to just 70 in the face of hunting and the destruction of their habitat. Giant pandas have a population of just 1,864 in the wild in China, and although numbers are increasing, the species is still threatened by climate change and impacts of human activity.

Humans themselves are also victims of the deterioration of nature, the report warns, since they depend on breathable air, water and nutritious food. [..] Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF-UK, said: “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. “We ignore the decline of other species at our peril, for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us. “Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.”


This elephant is thought to have died after eating crops sprayed with pesticides in Assam, India REUTERS

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No we can’t. But we will be stopped.

Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction. Can We Stop Ourselves? (TP)

Populations of wild animals have plummeted 58% in the past four decades as humans have pushed them into ever-smaller habitats or killed them for food and financial gain, according to a new report from a leading environmental group. World Wildlife Fund researchers said the losses could be reversed over the 21st century by systematically factoring the value of nature into how we produce and consume goods and services, as well as adopting farming methods that work with ecosystems rather than against or in spite of them. WWF compiled data on more than 14,000 populations of 3,706 vertebrate species for the latest edition of its biennial Living Planet Report and found that global populations of amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals, and reptiles sank by an average of 58% between 1970 and 2012.

These populations could drop another 9% by 2020 based on current trends, the report stated. Freshwater wildlife populations dropped a dramatic 81%—meaning that for every 10 pond frogs that existed during Richard Nixon’s first term in the White House, there were fewer than two at the beginning of Barack Obama’s second. Terrestrial and marine species populations dropped by 38% and 36%, respectively, over the same period. The leading driver of wildlife population losses has been food production—overfishing and natural habitats converted to crop and grazing land—followed by pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

All five threats are symptoms of overconsumption of natural resources, the report stated, which has far outstripped the capacity of ecosystems to restore the fertile soil and clean water that support wildlife as well as human health and welfare. “Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide the goods and services we use each year,” the report noted, and the short-term goals of most economic systems offer no incentive to change.

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It had been a while since I last saw that term.

Our Landfill Economy (CH Smith)

Correspondent Bart D. (Australia) captured the entire global economy in three words: The Landfill Economy. Stuff is manufactured, energy is consumed shipping it somewhere, consumers buy it and shortly thereafter it ends up as garbage in the landfill. This is of course the definition of “economic growth”: waste, inefficiency, environmental destruction–none of these matter. Only two things matter: maximize “growth” by any means necessary, and maximize profits by any means necessary. The Landfill Economy now encompasses the entire planet. The swirling gyre of plastic trash the size of Texas between Hawaii and California: it’s just one modest example of the planetary trash dump that “growth” and profit generate as byproducts/blowback.

The planet’s oceans are one giant trash dump. Everything from plastic water bottles to abandoned fishing nets to radiation to containers that fell off ships is floating around even the most distant corners of the seas. Seabirds nesting in remote islands die of starvation as their guts fill with plastic bits of “permanent growth.” Globalization has turned the planet’s land masses and rivers into trash dumps. Want to make a quick profit along a tropical sea coast? Dig some big holes near the coast, dump in baby prawns, food and chemicals to suppress algae blooms and diseases and then harvest the prawns to ship to the insatiable markets of the developed world. Once the prawn farms are poisoned wastelands, move on and despoil another coastline elsewhere.

Globalization has greased the slippery slope from factory to landfill by enabling the global distribution of defective parts. Whether they are pirated, designed to fail or just the result of slipshod quality control, the flood of defective parts guarantee that the entire assembly they are installed in–stoves, vacuum cleaners, transmissions, electronics, you name it–will soon fail and be shipped directly to the landfill, as repairing stuff is far costlier than buying a new replacement.

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Mike Maloney is one of the very few people who, like the Automatic Earth, have emphasized Deflation and The Velocity of Money as driving forces ever since we both predicted the 2008 fiasco. It’s funny, because Mike is all gold and stuff, and we have been saying all the time that there are more important things, like growing your own food etc etc. But that’s just a matter of who you’re addressing, and our audience unlike Mike’s isn’t necessarily investors, but ‘normal’ people.

Mike Maloney: DEFLATION FIRST! (Max Keiser)

Mike Maloney appears on Keiser Report to discuss how velocity of currency determines what happens next in the cycle. You’ll learn how central banks are manufacturing a crisis of epic proportions.

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You heard it here first.

Globalization Goes Into Reverse (BBG)

There’s a backlash against globalization underway in many Western countries. Although Americans still say positive things about international trade and immigration, political candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have gotten a lot of support for opposing both to a degree that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Meanwhile, trade deals like the relatively innocuous Trans-Pacific Partnership are suddenly in danger. Britain’s divorce from the European Union is also commonly interpreted as a rejection of globalization. But there’s a likelihood that today’s anti-globalization warriors are fighting yesterday’s war. By many measures, globalization has been in full retreat since the crisis of 2008. First, there’s trade. For many decades up until 2008, global trade volumes had been increasing at a healthy clip. But the crisis and recession stopped trade growth in its tracks, and it hasn’t recovered; 2008 was the all-time peak of world trade as a % of total output:

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And the next 10 after that.

The Next 10 Years Will Be Ugly for Your 401(k) (BBG)

It doesn’t seem like much to ask for—a 5% return. But the odds of making even that on traditional investments in the next 10 years are slim, according to a new report from investment advisory firm Research Affiliates. The company looked at the default settings of 11 retirement calculators, robo-advisers, and surveys of institutional investors. Their average annualized long-term expected return? 6.2%. After 1.6% was shaved off to allow for a decade of inflation1, the number dropped to 4.6%, which was rounded up. Voilà. So on average we all expect a 5%; the report tells us we should start getting used to disappointment. To show how a mainstream stock and bond portfolio would do under Research Affiliates’ 10-year model, the report looks at the typical balanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds.

An example would be the $29.6 billion Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX). For the decade ended Sept. 30, VBINX had an average annual performance of 6.6%, and that’s before inflation. Over the next decade, according to the report, “the ubiquitous 60/40 U.S. portfolio has a 0% probability of achieving a 5% or greater annualized real return.” One message that John West, head of client strategies at Research Affiliates and a co-author of the report, hopes people will take away is that the high returns of the past came with a price: lower returns in the future. “If the retirement calculators say we’ll make 6% or 7%, and people saved based on that but only make 3%, they’re going to have a massive shortfall,” he said. “They’ll have to work longer or retire with a substantially different standard of living than they thought they would have.”

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Deutsche senses legal threats, ‘volunteers’ to cooperate.

Deutsche Bank Probes “Misstated” Derivative Valuations, Finds “Divergences” (ZH)

Perhaps the single biggest reason why Deutsche Bank’s stock has been drastically underperforming most of Europe’s banks, in addition to its skyhigh leverage and lack of capital buffer, is the market’s concern about what is hidden on its books, namely whether the bank’s billions in loans and its trillions in derivatives have been marked correctly. Which is why a just released report from Bloomberg that Deutsche Bank is reviewing whether it “misstated” the value of derivatives in its interest-rate trading business, will hardly spark optimism in the bank’s critical asset marking practices; the good news is that according to the report the biggest German lender is sharing its findings with U.S. authorities, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Zero-coupon inflation swaps are derivatives that help customers bet on, or hedge against, inflation. Two parties agree to exchange a payment in the future whose size is determined by how much an inflation index rose or fell. The issue, however, is not the underlying security, but the total notional involved, which based on the DB’s latest public filings, could be in the hundreds of billions (or more), and how substantial the impact on DB’s P&L any variation from true market values will be. Specifically, DB is looking at valuations on a type of derivative known as zero-coupon inflation swaps. The reason for the probe is that, as has been a recurring case with many of its peers of the last few years, the bank found valuations that “diverged from internal models” at which point it began questioning traders.

The push to finally open its books comes after CEO John Cryan’s vow in February to try to resolve his institution’s legal challenges swiftly. As Bloomberg sarcastically adds, “he is still working on it.” The bank has been facing regulatory and enforcement pressure around the world, including a money-laundering investigation tied to its Russia operations, inquiries into mortgage-bond trading before and after the financial crisis and charges that the bank colluded to help falsify the accounts of Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. More importantly perhaps is the reason why DB has decided to share its internal probe with the US, whose Justice Department asked in September for a $14 billion settlement, an amount the bank said it wouldn’t pay.

The figure was big enough to unleash a selling frenzy in the stock, sending it to all time lows, leading to repeating rumored discussions with outside sources, most recently of Saudi and Chinese origina, about raising capital. The bank last year hired Steven F. Reich as its general counsel for the Americas to help navigate its legal probes. Reich is a former official at the Justice Department and attorney for former President Bill Clinton. Perhaps it is time for Deutsche to make some donations to the Clinton Foundation?

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Spare a thought for a Goldman banker.

Goldman Sachs Does Mass Layoffs Piece by Piece (BBG)

The first “plant layoff” notice came in February: 43 people would lose their jobs. The second arrived six weeks later, increasing the cuts to 109 workers. Then a third, in April, for 146 more. And a fourth, in June: 98. Three more notices followed, including 20 dismissals announced last week. The “plant” in question – Goldman Sachs. Like all big companies in New York State, the firm is required to file a “WARN notice” with state authorities when it plans to shed large numbers of employees as part of a plant closing, or “mass layoffs” involving 250 or more. Employers also must inform the state of smaller reductions under certain circumstances, and Goldman Sachs cited a “plant layoff” in each case. Last week’s notice brings this year’s job-cut tally to 443.

With the run of notices, seven since the start of the year, the bank has signaled its intention to dismiss hundreds of employees in New York without placing a single, headline-grabbing number on the overall reduction, already its largest since 2008. The company’s approach differs from competitors, including Morgan Stanley, who have shown a preference for larger, one-time cuts. “When there’s a big number, people right away get that something is happening at that firm – it’s a negative,” said Jeanne Branthover, a partner at New York-based executive-search firm DHR International. “This is more, ‘We’re having layoffs and we don’t want to explain it.’ It’s more under the radar screen.”

It also reflects the firm’s philosophy. The company doesn’t see a reason to make announcements about job cuts since it’s part of the normal course of business and something that needs to be done if the environment calls for it, CFO Harvey Schwartz said last year. “You just have to run the business, and if the revenue environment is such that you’re in a period of decline, you just need to take those actions,” Schwartz said in November at a conference. “So, you probably won’t hear us make lots of announcements.”

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“..the US presidential campaign comes up short in many categories except one: failure is almost guaranteed.”

US Election: Nothing to Lose (Steen Jakobsen)

My present macro speech is titled “Ugly: Don’t fight with ‘ugly’ people as they have nothing to lose”. To me, this is the essence of the US presidential campaign. The ugly truth surrounding this ballot lies in the bigger picture, as whomever becomes president will go down in history as the “non-president” – the president who made us need, see, and demand something else. For all of the colourful headlines, and the almost McCarthy-esque pursuit of Trump by mainstream media, this is not going to be about “Trump, the person” or his more or less moronic views; Trump merely represents the catalyst for change. He is the anti-establishment candidate, yes, but not our vision for the future. Ultimately, Trump may still win despite (rather than because of) being… Trump.

That does not excuse mainstream media for not going after Clinton. If elected, she will be the least-liked president in US history, and I doubt any of her policies will do anything good for America. More Barack Obama-type policy is not what the world needs. Obama may have created more jobs, but the average income for American has actually fallen during his presidency. What does this mean? It means he has presided over an economy that has created more jobs but less valuable ones, and growth during his tenure has been lower than during any other president, with the largest build-up in debt. I am pretty sure that even this economist could create jobs with the amount of money Obama has spent!

Mind you I am 100% agnostic, politically-speaking. In fact, I don’t even think this election really matters! No, this is not a new trend; no, Clinton is not the answer… but what this is a generational repositioning and renegotiation of the social contract. The last time that this happened was in the 1960s, when the children of World War II went for peace, love, and a lot of drugs. Now we have the Berlin Wall generation coming of age, and this time the focus is anti-globalisation and anti establishment sentiment… and yes, again a lot of drugs. The real election issue in America, but also in Europe. is how to deal with a broken social contract.

Society has been pushed so far away from its natural equilibrium in terms of markets, social homogeneity, equality, and productivity that the move back to “normal” will bear both a political price and a penalty in terms of growth and outlook. Put differently, when we look throughout history we know that part of the process of evaluation is to smell, feel, taste, and experience what we don’t need in order to move towards what we do – a better version of society, but mainly a better one of ourselves. The next election cycle is about protest; it will be followed by crisis and then new beginnings.

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Boy what a mess. And all they can think of is blaming the Russians. And the media just copy that, no questions asked.

Hacked Memo Offers Angry Glimpse Into Conflicted ‘Bill Clinton Inc.’ (Pol.)

As a longtime Bill Clinton adviser came under fire several years ago for alleged conflicts of interest involving a private consulting firm and the Clinton Foundation, he mounted an audacious defense: Bill Clinton’s doing it, too. The unusual and brash rejoinder from veteran Clinton aide and Teneo Consulting co-founder Doug Band is scattered across the thousands of hacked emails published by WikiLeaks, but a memo released Wednesday provides the most detailed look to date at the intertwined worlds of nonprofit, for-profit, official and political activities involving Clinton and many of his top aides.

The memo at one point refers bluntly to the money-making part of Clinton’s life as “Bill Clinton Inc.” and notes that in at least one case a company – global education firm Laureate International Universities – began paying Clinton personally after first being a donor to the Clinton Foundation. The 12-page document, prepared in November 2011 by Band with input from Clinton adviser John Podesta, came as Chelsea Clinton was pressing for changes to the foundation’s governance and complaining that Band, Teneo co-founder Declan Kelly and others were profiting from their ties to her father and the foundation. In the memo, addressed to outside lawyers conducting a review of the foundation’s governance, Band insists that the relationship actually benefited the foundation financially, by bringing in new donors.

[..] A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation declined to comment on the memo or confirm the authenticity of the document, which was apparently stolen in a massive hack of Podesta’s Gmail account. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has taken a similar tack, declining to comment on the emails, while pointing to evidence that their release is part of a Russian government effort aimed at interfering in the presidential election.

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Morell’s perspective is in line with that of a new report on Middle East strategy released by the Center for American Progress and the thinking of Clinton’s top national-security aide Jake Sullivan, who recently declared, “We need to be raising the costs to Iran for its destabilizing behavior and we need to be raising the confidence of our Sunni partners.” On Tuesday, Morell put this sentiment in terms both more concise and grandiose: “We’re back and we’re going to lead again.”

Clinton Adviser Proposes Attacking Iran to Aid the Saudis in Yemen (NYMag)

Michael Morell is a former acting director of the CIA and a national security adviser to Hillary Clinton — one who is widely expected to occupy a senior post in her administration. He is also an opponent of the Iran nuclear agreement, a defender of waterboarding, and an advocate for making Russia “pay a price” in Syria by covertly killing Putin’s soldiers. On Tuesday, Morell added another title to that résumé: proponent of going to war with Iran, for the sake of securing Saudi Arabia’s influence in Yemen. “Ships leave Iran on a regular basis carrying arms to the Houthis in Yemen,” Morell said, in remarks to the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank founded by Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. “I would have no problem from a policy perspective of having the U.S. Navy boarding their ships, and if there are weapons on them, to turn those ships around.”

Morell did note, per Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, that this policy “raised questions of international maritime law.” Which is a bit like saying, “Breaking into someone’s home, putting a gun in their face, and demanding they hand over all their weapons raises questions about armed-robbery law.” Understatement aside, Morell’s stipulation suggests that he might be dissuaded from initiating a naval war with Iran if the legal issues prove too pesky. But the fact that a person who has Clinton’s ear on national security thinks this proposal makes sense from a “policy perspective” is alarming. Forcibly boarding another nation’s naval or civilian vessels (outside one’s own territorial waters) and confiscating their weapons can reasonably be construed as an act of war, a point that would be unmistakable if the roles here were reversed.

How many Americans (whose paychecks aren’t directly or indirectly subsidized by Gulf State monarchies) think keeping Yemen within Saudi Arabia’s sphere of influence is a cause worth entering another Middle Eastern war over? How many would think so if they knew that the Saudis had recently bombed a Yemeni funeral hall, killing 140 people and leading the Obama administration to reconsider its support for the Saudi intervention? Or that some observers of the conflict contend that the Saudis are exaggerating Iran’s role, in order to justify the kingdom’s own expansionist ambitions?

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And the west pretend they don’t know this. So we can create chaos and used it to take over resources.

Putin Tried to Warn Us About Syria Three Years Ago (TAM)

As Russia and the United States approach arguably the most dangerous crossroads in history — and as Western media continues to crucify Russia for its actions within Syria — a closer look at the rationale Putin used for intervening in the Syrian war paints a sane explanation of how we ended up at this juncture of a global conflict. Unsurprisingly, the explanation comes from the Russian president himself and was actually offered over 3 years ago. As expected, the Western corporate media and the Obama administration chose to ignore Vladimir Putin’s explanation for Russia’s stance on Syria and continued a number of policies that have completely exacerbated the conflict.

In a live interview with RT in June 2013, Putin was asked for an explanation regarding Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria, even though this support has made some people very angry at Russia. Putin’s response was that Russia does not support the Assad government or Assad himself, but before defining Russia’s official position, he explained what Russia does not want to do within Syria or across the Middle East: “We do not want to interfere into the internal schism of Islam, between Shias and Sunnis. These are internal issues of the Islamic world. We have very good relations with much of the Arabic world, Iran for example, and others.” However, according to Putin, what worries Russia can be identified by having a look “at what is going on in the Middle East in general.”

“Egypt is not calm. Iraq is not calm – and it is not assured in its continued existence as one state. Yemen is not calm; Tunisia is not calm. Libya is witnessing inter-ethnic, inter-tribal conflict. So the entire region has been engulfed, at a minimum, into a state of conflict and undecidedness. And now Syria, down the same path.” In Putin’s eyes, these events are no accident. As he puts it, these events happened for a reason: “Some people, from the outside, think that if they can ‘comb’ the region to how they see fit – some of them call this ‘democracy’ – then the region will come into calmness and order. That’s not how it is. Without taking into account the history, the traditions, religious particularities, you must not do anything in the Middle East, especially as an outsider.”

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Don’t you guys have enough trouble at home?

UK Deploys Hundreds Of Troops And Aircraft To Eastern Europe (G.)

The UK is deploying hundreds of troops, as well as aircraft and armour to eastern Europe as part of the biggest build-up of Nato forces in the region since the cold war. The deployment is taking place during growing tensions over a series of high-profile Russian military manoeuvres. RAF Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby will be sent to Romania for up to four months, while 800 personnel will be sent with armoured support to Estonia, 150 more than previously planned, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said. France and Denmark will also commit more troops, the British government said. The announcement was made soon after a Russian fleet, believed to be bound to take part in the fighting in Syria, passed close to the British Isles.

On Wednesday, Russia withdrew a request to refuel its boats in Spanish territory, as Nato put pressure on Madrid to deny permission. Tensions between Nato members and Russia have been heightened since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine descended into civil war as a result. The deployment of British troops to Estonia forms part of a wider Nato commitment to station four new battalions, totalling around 4,000 personnel, on the alliance’s eastern flank. David Cameron confirmed at Nato’s summit in Warsaw in July that the UK was to send 650 troops to Estonia. As well as announcing the extra 150, the MoD on Wednesday gave further details of the deployment, including the Typhoons, a detachment of drones and Challenger tanks.

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“The algorithms must be made public, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen on questions like: what influences my behavior on the internet and that of others?”

Merkel Accuses Facebook, Google Of “Distorting Perception” (ZH)

While Facebook and Google have been repeatedly accused of media bias and manipulating public opinion, especially during the US presidential campaign, an unexpected attack on the two media giants came today not from the US but from Germany, when Chancellor Angela Merkel launched a full-on attack at the two companies, accusing them of “narrowing perspective,” and demanding they disclose their privately-developed algorithms. Merkel previously blamed social media for anti-immigrant sentiment and the rise of the far right. “The algorithms must be made public, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen on questions like: what influences my behavior on the internet and that of others?” said Merkel during a media conference in Berlin on Tuesday cited by RT.

What she said next echoed similar complaints lobbed at the media giants by those considered less than mainstream: “These algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they narrow our breadth of information.” In a tech-driven world, Google uses an algorithm to decide which search results are first shown to a user (and which are not, for example when one searches about Hillary’s health), while Facebook arranges the order of the news feed, and decides to include certain posts from a user’s liked pages and friends, at the expense of others. Both sites also promote links to news articles, often based on a user’s own media interests. However, it is still a human’s job to write and calibrate these algorithms which are at the core of the intellectual property of any social media or search website, and comprise some of the most highly-protected trade secrets in the world, potentially worth billions.

No internet giant has ever revealed its inner workings. Merkel did not specifically name Facebook, Google or Twitter, but implied that the large platforms are creating “bubbles” of self-reinforcing views, and squeezing out smaller news providers. One could also call it propaganda. “The big internet platforms, via their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle which diverse media must pass through to reach users,” warned Merkel. “This is a development that we need to pay careful attention to.” In their defense, Google and Facebooks have retorted that the so-called social media bubble is largely a “myth”, and that online users have a wider access to differing views than under a pre-internet model, where most news would be acquired from just a handful of newspapers and one or two TV channels.

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It’s decomissioning that will be teh most expensive. Hey, US, what’s going on at Yucca mountain?

Nuclear Power Is Over In The US Without More Government Subsidies (BBG)

Nuclear power will come to an end in the U.S. if the industry doesn’t get more government support, according to Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest investment firms. The nation’s nuclear reactors need more subsidies to keep running, such as a federal carbon tax that’ll reward them for their zero-emissions power, Bob Mancini, co-head of Carlyle Group’s power unit, said at a conference in New York. Carlyle, which has $176 billion in assets under management across funds, invests in natural gas- and coal-fired power plants and renewable energy projects. Its outlook comes as nuclear power generators including Exelon and Entergy make plans to shut reactors across the country.

Low power prices, fueled by an abundance of natural gas from shale drilling and weakening demand, have squeezed their profits just as their operating costs rise amid mounting regulation. “We will see the end of the nuclear industry in the next coming decades” without legislation, incentives or other support to keep reactors open or encourage new builds, Mancini said at S&P Global Platts’s Financing U.S. Power Conference on Tuesday.

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 October 11, 2016  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 11 2016
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NPC Grand Palace shoe shining parlor, Washington DC 1921

“How Do You Have Capitalism Without Any Cost Of Capital?” (BBG)
7 in 10 Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MF)
After Becoming Debt Slaves, Millennials Get Blamed for Lousy Economy (WS)
S&P 500 Triangle Chart Pattern ‘Warns Of A Big Selloff’ (MW)
The Bank of Mom and Dad is Australia’s Fastest-Growing Housing Lender (BBG)
Goldman Warns China’s Outflows May Be Worse Than They Look (BBG)
‘Why Do They Hate Us So?’-A Western Scholar’s Reply to a Russian Student (SC)
Remainers, Brexit, Racism and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Hannan)
Greece Gets Fresh Loan Payout as Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt (BBG)
Brazil Votes To Amend Constitution, Ban Spending Increases For 20 Years (BBG)
Global Clean Energy Investment Dropped 43% in Worst Quarter Since 2013 (BBG)
Russia’s Rosneft Boss Sechin Says No To OPEC Oil Cut/Freeze (R.)
Britain’s Nuclear Cover-Up (NYT)

 

 

Titans of finance gather and sulk.

“How Do You Have Capitalism Without Any Cost Of Capital?” (BBG)

Mary Callahan Erdoes, one of JPMorgan Chase’s most senior executives, summed up her industry’s mood like this: “There is no excitement,” she told throngs of bankers gathered in Washington. “There is a lot of handwringing.” Again and again, speakers at the Institute of International Finance’s three-day meeting in Washington, which wrapped up Saturday, bemoaned the inability of central banks to rev up economic growth, as well as the drag of tougher regulations and the looming impact of Brexit. Concerns over Deutsche Bank’s mounting legal costs deepened the gloom. Slow growth is leaving companies little reason to expand, fueling the public’s frustration and giving rise to extreme political views and nationalism, said Erdoes, 49, who runs JPMorgan’s asset-management operations.

Low interest rates – instead of better fiscal stimulus – are taking a toll on the entire system, she said. “We had a very smart economist at JPMorgan ask me the following question: How do you have capitalism without any cost of capital? And therein lies the problem.” [..] Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn called the world’s central banks an “ineffective cartel,” as actions in Europe and Japan lead to negative rates and hamstring other policy makers. The outlook for low growth is long-term, he said. “I don’t see this changing,” Cohn said Friday. “We keep saying we’re getting closer to the end, but I don’t think we’re getting closer to the end.”

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I’m not sure how one writes an article like this and completely fails to mention that for millions of Americans, it’s not a matter of bad saving habits, but of spending everything on the basics.

7 in 10 Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MF)

The U.S. is often referred to as the land of economic opportunity. Apparently, it’s also the land of consumption and “spend everything you’ve got.” We don’t have to look far for confirmation that Americans are generally poor savers. Every month the St. Louis Federal Reserve releases data on personal household savings rates. In July 2016, the personal savings rate was just 5.7%. Comparatively, personal savings rates in the U.S. 50 years ago were double where they are today, and nearly all developed countries have a higher personal savings rate than the United States. In other words, Americans are saving less of their income than they should be — the recommendation is to save between 10% and 15% of your annual income — and they’re being forced to do more with less in terms of investing.

However, new data emerged this week from personal-finance news website GoBankingRates that shows just how dire Americans’ savings habits really are. Last year, GoBankingRates surveyed more than 5,000 Americans only to uncover that 62% of them had less than $1,000 in savings. Last month GoBankingRates again posed the question to Americans of how much they had in their savings account, only this time it asked 7,052 people. The result? Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. Breaking the survey data down a bit further, we find that 34% of Americans don’t have a dime in their savings account, while another 35% have less than $1,000. Of the remaining survey-takers, 11% have between $1,000 and $4,999, 4% have between $5,000 and $9,999, and 15% have more than $10,000.

Furthermore, even though lower-income adults struggle with saving money more than middle- and upper-income folks, no income group did particularly well. Some 29% of adults earning more than $150,000 a year, and 44% making between $100,000 and $149,999, had less than $1,000 in savings. Comparatively, 73% of the lowest income adults (those earnings $24,999 or less annually) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. There was even minimal difference between multiple generations of Americans. From seniors aged 65 and up to young millennials aged 18 to 24, between 62% and 72% of Americans had less than $1,000 in a savings account.

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Great little piece by Wolf Richter.

After Becoming Debt Slaves, Millennials Get Blamed for Lousy Economy (WS)

Over the past few days, the Diamond Producers Association launched its first new ad campaign in five years after watching retail sales of diamond jewelry slow down, as Millennials built on the habit pioneered by prior generations of delaying or not even thinking about marriage, and thus not being sufficiently enthusiastic about buying diamond engagement rings. The campaign, according to Adweek, is designed to motivate Millennials “to commemorate their ‘real,’ honest relationships with diamonds, even if marriage isn’t part of the equation.” Mother New York, the agency behind the campaign, spent months interviewing millennials, according to Quartz, and learned that they associated diamonds with a “fairytale love story that wasn’t relevant to them.”

So the premium jewelry industry, seeing future profits at risk, needs to do something about that. A year ago, it was Wall Street – specifically Goldman Sachs – that did a lot of hand-wringing about millennials. “They don’t trust the stock market,” Goldman Sachs determined in a survey. Only 18% thought that the stock market was “the best way to save for the future.” It’s a big deal for Wall Street because millennials are now the largest US generation. There are 75 million of them. They’re supposed to be the future source of big bonuses. Wall Street needs to figure out how to get to their money. The older ones have seen the market soar, collapse, re-soar, re-collapse, re-soar…. They’ve seen the Fed’s gyrations to re-inflate stocks. They grew up with scandals and manipulations, high-frequency trading, dark pools, and spoofing.

They’ve seen hard-working people get wiped out and wealthy people get bailed out. Maybe they’d rather not mess with that infernal machine. And today, the Los Angeles Times added more fuel. “They’re known for bouncing around jobs, delaying marriage, and holing up in their parents’ basements,” it mused. Everyone wants to know why millennials don’t follow the script. Brick-and-mortar retailers have been complaining about them for years, with increasing intensity, and a slew of specialty chains have gone bankrupt, a true fiasco for the industry, even as online retailers are laughing all the way to the bank. “For starters, millennials are not big spenders, at least not in the traditional sense,” the Times said. Yet most of them spend every dime they earn, those that have decent jobs. But much of that spending goes toward their student-loan burden and housing.

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Trying to fit human behavior into triangles.

S&P 500 Triangle Chart Pattern ‘Warns Of A Big Selloff’ (MW)

The S&P 500 is moving fast toward an impending breakout that could be bad news for investors. “And it’s gonna be big, by all accounts,” said Carter Braxton Worth, a technical analyst at research firm Cornerstone Macro. The S&P 500 has been trading within a “symmetrical triangle” on a number of time scales, as the index traced out a pattern of rising lows and falling highs. Since the upper and lower boundary lines are narrowing to a point, it’s just a matter of time before the S&P 500 breaks above or below one of them. “It is a circumstance where buyers and sellers are matched off so evenly that purchases being made by those who like a particular security are in the same order of magnitude as the selling being done by those who dislike the security,” Worth wrote in a note to clients.

His research suggests that the resolution of these standoffs is usually “aggressive,” with the index moving past the declining or rising trendlines “in a meaningful way.” Many technicians believe triangles represent continuation patterns, or periods of pause in a bigger trend, which means they should eventually be resolved in the direction of the preceding trend. In the S&P 500’s case, that would mean a big rally is coming. But Worth said that based on his interpretation of the charts, the S&P 500’s triangle looks more like a reversal pattern. “We believe the current formation is a setup for a move lower,” Worth said.

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Hoping that just this once it’s different.

The Bank of Mom and Dad is Australia’s Fastest-Growing Housing Lender (BBG)

Beset by lending curbs and bubble-esque prices, first-time home buyers in Australia are turning to a rapidly growing source of finance: The Bank of Mom and Dad. More parents are taking advantage of record-low interest rates to refinance their properties and help their grown-up kids onto the housing ladder amid sky-rocketing house values. Digital Finance Analytics estimates the number of Aussies getting help from their parents has soared to more than half of first-home buyers from just 3% six years ago. Australia’s housing rally has favored baby-boomers and locked out youth, compounding an inter-generational shift of wealth.

As the number of bank loans to first-time buyers dwindles, the average slice of cash handed to them by parents has almost quadrupled in the past six years, DFA says. The downside: a market that the Reserve Bank of Australia is already wary of may get further inflated. First-time buyers are “being infected by the notion that property is about wealth building, rather than somewhere to live,” said Martin North, Principal at DFA. That “may be tested if interest rates rise later, or property prices fall from their current illogical stratospheric levels.” [..] The boom is turning some homes into cash dispensers. More than two thirds of owners that refinanced houses worth more than A$750,000 did so to extract capital for reasons including helping their kids. Near the start of 2010, the average helping hand from parents was about A$23,000; today, it’s more than A$80,000.

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“..they don’t have a strong willingness to hold the yuan due to depreciation expectations..” Does that rhyme with the SDR basket thing?

Goldman Warns China’s Outflows May Be Worse Than They Look (BBG)

China’s currency outflows may be bigger than they look, with Goldman Sachs warning that a rising amount of capital is exiting the country in yuan rather than in dollars. While the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves have stabilized and lenders’ net foreign-exchange purchases for clients have fallen close to a one-year low, official data show that $27.7 billion in yuan payments left China in August. That’s compared with a monthly average of $4.4 billion in the five years through 2014. Such large cross-border moves can’t be explained by market-driven factors and need to be taken into account when measuring currency outflows, according to MK Tang, Hong Kong-based senior China economist at Goldman Sachs.

Any sign of increased capital outflows could disturb a recent calm in China’s foreign-exchange market, adding to pressure from a potential Federal Reserve interest-rate increase and denting the yuan’s image as the world’s newest global reserve currency. The yuan fell to a six-year low on Monday, adding to outflow pressures. “There is some window guidance from the central bank that limits companies’ dollar conversion onshore, so they need to move the money overseas in yuan,” said Harrison Hu, chief Greater China economist at RBS in Singapore. “But they don’t have a strong willingness to hold the yuan due to depreciation expectations, so they sell it to offshore banks. This pressures the offshore yuan’s exchange rate.”

[..] Goldman Sachs started including yuan funds in its analysis of outflows in July, after noting that cross-border movement of the currency masked actual pressures. The bank estimates that 56% and 87% of outflows took place through the offshore yuan market in July and August, respectively.

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Do read the whole thing for a good history lesson.

‘Why Do They Hate Us So?’-A Western Scholar’s Reply to a Russian Student (SC)

In 2000 when Putin was elected president, he publically promoted security and economic cooperation with Europe and the United States. After 9/11, he offered real assistance to Washington. The United States accepted the Russian help, but continued its anti-Russian policies. Putin extended his hand to the west, but on the basis of five kopeks for five kopeks. This was a Soviet policy of the interwar years. It did not work then and it does not work now. In 2007 Putin spoke frankly at the Munich conference on Security Policy about overbearing US behaviour. The “colour revolutions” in Georgia and the Ukraine, for example, and the Anglo-American war of aggression against Iraq raised Russian concerns. US government officials did not appreciate Putin’s truth-telling which went against their standard narrative about «exceptionalist» America and altruistic foreign policies to promote «democracy».

Then in 2008 came the Georgian attack on South Ossetia and the successful Russian riposte which crushed the Georgian army. It’s been all down-hill since then. Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen are all victims of US aggression or that of its vassals. The United States engineered and bankrolled a fascist coup d’état in Kiev and has attempted to do the same in Syria reverting to their “Afghan policy” of bankrolling, supplying and supporting a Wahhabi proxy war of aggression against Syria. Backing fascists on the one hand and Islamist terrorists on the other, the United States has plumbed the depths of malevolence. President Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have made important concessions, to persuade the US government to avert catastrophe in the Middle East and Europe.

To no avail, five kopeks for five kopeks is not an offer the United States understands. Assymetrical advantages is what Washington expects. One cannot reproach the Russian government for trying to negotiate with the United States, but this policy has not worked in the Ukraine or Syria. Russian support of the legitimate government in Damascus has exposed the US-led war of aggression and exposed its strategy of supporting Al-Qaeda, Daesh, and their various Wahhabi iterations against the Syrian government. US Russophobia is redoubled by Putin’s exposure of American support for Islamist fundamentalists and by Russia’s successful, up to now, thwarting of US aggression. Who does Putin think he is? From my observations, I would reply that President Putin is a plain-spoken Russian statesman, with the support of the Russian people behind him.

For five kopeks against five kopeks, he will work with the United States and its vassals, no matter how malevolent they have been, if they adopt less destructive policies. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that the United States has no intention of doing so. After one hundred years of almost uninterrupted western hostility, no one should be under any illusions. So then, the question is “Why do they hate us so?” Because President Putin wants to build a strong, prosperous, independent Russian state in a multi-polar world. Because the Russian people cannot be bullied and will defend their country tenaciously. “Go tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives!» Prince Aleksandr Nevskii declared in the 13th century: «Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as a guest. But those who come to us sword in hand will die by the sword! On that Russia stands and forever will we stand!”

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Yeah, Daniel Hannan has lots of stuff wrong with him. But Britain must have this conversation regardless of that. I picked this piece up on Twitter, with this accompanying comment: “No aspect of Brexit is Remain voters’ fault in any way, or to any extent at all.” I don’t know if that was meant sarcastically, but I would certainly hope so. Without that conversation things can only get worse. Remainers must try harder to understand why Brexit happened. If nothing else, I would think they’re at least ‘guilty’ of not seeing it coming. And perhaps also of seeing Brexit as the problem, not a mere symptom.

Remainers, Brexit, Racism and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Hannan)

Shortly after the EU referendum, several thousand young people marched through London demanding a rerun. I happened to be sitting next to three of them on a train as I travelled into the capital that morning. They evidently recognised me right away as an Evil Tory Leaver, but we were past Clapham Junction before one of them plucked up the courage to talk to me. “Are you Daniel Hannan? I just wanted to say that what you’ve done is terrible. We’re not a racist country. You’ve taken away our future.” “Is that so? Out of interest, can you tell me who the President of the European Commission is?” “No. What’s that got to do with it?” “Can you name a single European Commissioner, come to that? Do you know what our budget contribution will be this year? Or what the difference is between a Directive and a Regulation?”

She was affronted by the questions. So were her two friends with their “I [heart] EU” placards. They weren’t interested in details. For them, it was about values. Are you a decent, internationalist, compassionate person? Or are you a selfish bigot? Let’s leave aside the fact that no one would ever vote on any ballot paper for a “selfish bigot” option. Their determination to approach the issue in terms of character, rather than cost-benefit, explains why they were so upset – and why, even now, some Remain voters struggle to accept the outcome. In my experience, the 48% who voted Remain fall into two categories. There are those who were making a judgement as to where Britain’s best options lay. They could see that the is EU flawed.

They were well aware of the corruption, the lack of democracy, the slow growth. But they took the view that, on balance, the disruption of leaving would outweigh the gains. These people, by and large, now want to make a success of things, and are keen to maximise our opportunities. Then there were those like my companions on South West Trains, for whom the issue was not financial but somehow moral. For them, the EU wasn’t the grubby and self-interested body that exists in reality; rather, it was a symbol of something better and purer, an embodiment of the dream of peace among nations. They never heard, because they never wanted to hear, the democratic or economic arguments against membership. As far as they were concerned, the only possible reason for voting Leave was chauvinism.

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“Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt” sounds like the epitomy of cynicism. The Eurogroup withheld €1.7 billion, to Greece’s surprise, because it wanted to assess A) whether a June payment was fully used to pay off third parties, and B) whether the government had squeezed its people enough (reforms). The delay is convenient for Brussels because it also delays debt restructuring talks once again, for the umpteenth time. And without those talks, the IMF won’t commit. Rinse and repeat.

Greece Gets Fresh Loan Payout as Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt (BBG)

The euro area authorized a €1.1 billion payment to Greece and signaled a further €1.7 billion would follow this month, saying the region’s most indebted nation has made progress in overhauling its economy. The green light, given by euro-area finance ministers on Monday in Luxembourg, removes a hurdle on Greece’s path to debt relief on which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has staked part of his political future. The country had to fulfill 15 conditions on matters such as selling state assets and improving bank governance to get the first payout.

It “was unanimously decided that Greece had completed the 15 milestones, so we can proceed to the €1.1 billion disbursement,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told reporters after the meeting, saying the talks produced a “very good” outcome for his country. The delay in getting an endorsement for the remaining sum, which is tied to the clearing of arrears, is merely “technical,” he said. Greece, in its third bailout since 2010, is struggling to right an economy that is poised to undergo its eighth annual contraction in the past nine years. A second review of the country’s rescue program will pave the way for a possible restructuring of Greece’s debt, which the IMF says is a necessary condition for its future involvement.

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This feels like a military coup, a chapter straight out of the Shock Doctrine. Stocks go up because people’s lives go down.

Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: “Brazil’s lower House- in the face of negative growth- just voted to amend the Constitution to ban spending increases for 20 years..” “This extreme austerity in Brazil – enabled by impeachment- is being imposed in world’s 7th largest economy, 5th most populous country (200m). ”

Nomi Prins on Twitter: “Brazil’s coup was about advancing western speculative market access & squashing domestic population needs – for decades…bastards.”

Brazil Votes To Amend Constitution, Ban Spending Increases For 20 Years (BBG)

The Ibovespa rose to a two-year high and the real gained as commodities advanced and as expectations mounted that lawmakers will approve a bill to cap spending, a key measure in President Michel Temer’s plan to trim a budget deficit and rebuild confidence in Brazil. The benchmark equity index rose 0.9% and the currency climbed 0.5% Monday in Sao Paulo. [..] Brazilian stocks have gained 75% in dollar terms this year and the real has strengthened 24%, the best performances in the world, on bets that a new government would be able to pull the country out of its worst recession in a century.

Temer, who formally replaced impeached former President Dilma Rousseff in August, said the administration should have enough votes to drive through a budget bill Monday that’s seen as a vital first step toward his economic reforms. The proposal to amend the Constitution to set limits on government spending for as long as 20 years must be approved by at least three-fifths of both chambers of Congress. “The market is very optimistic over this legislation,” said Paulo Figueiredo, an economist at FN Capital in Petropolis, Brazil. “New bets on local assets depend a lot on the signals that will come from this vote.”

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Bubble?!

Global Clean Energy Investment Dropped 43% in Worst Quarter Since 2013 (BBG)

Global investment in clean energy fell to the lowest in more than three years as demand for new renewable energy sources slumped in China, Japan and Europe. Third-quarter spending was $42.4 billion, down 43% from the same period last year and the lowest since the $41.8 billion reported in the first quarter of 2013, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in a report Monday. Financing for large solar and wind energy plants sank as governments cut incentives for clean energy and costs declined, said Michael Liebreich at the London-based research company. Total investment for this year is on track to be “well below” last year’s record of $348.5 billion, according to New Energy Finance.

The third-quarter numbers “are worryingly low even compared to the subdued trend we saw” in the first two quarters, Liebreich said in a statement. “Key markets such as China and Japan are pausing for a deep breath.” Part of the reason for the steep decline in the quarter was a slowdown following strong spending in the first half of the year on offshore wind. Investors poured $20.1 billion into European offshore wind farms in the first and second quarters, “a runaway record,” according to Abraham Louw, an analyst for energy economics with New Energy Finance. That was followed by a “summer lull,” with $2.4 billion in spending in the third quarter.

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So much for that.

Russia’s Rosneft Boss Sechin Says No To OPEC Oil Cut/Freeze (R.)

Igor Sechin, Russia’s most influential oil executive and the head of Kremlin energy champion Rosneft, said his company will not cut or freeze oil production as part of a possible agreement with OPEC. His comments underline how difficult it is for Russia to get its oil companies to freeze or cut output as part of a potential deal with OPEC designed to support oil prices. President Vladimir Putin told an energy congress on Monday that Russia was ready to join the proposed OPEC cap, but did not provide any details. “Why should we do it?” Sechin, known for his anti-OPEC position, told Reuters in Istanbul on Monday evening, when asked if Rosneft, which accounts for 40% of Russia’s total crude oil output, might cap its own output.

Sechin said he doubted that some OPEC countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela would cut their output either, saying that an increase in oil prices above $50 per barrel would make shale oil projects in the United States profitable. There have been several attempts in the past for Russia and OPEC to join forces to stabilize oil markets. Those efforts have never come to pass however. Oil prices surged on Monday after Putin’s comments amid hopes that a two-year price slide could be halted.

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Uglee!!!

Britain’s Nuclear Cover-Up (NYT)

Last month, the British government signed off on what might be the most controversial and least promising plan for a nuclear power station in a generation. Why did it do this? Because the project isn’t just about energy: It’s also a stealth initiative to bolster Britain’s nuclear deterrent. For years, the British government has been promoting a plan to build two so-called European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) at Hinkley Point C, in southwest England. It estimates that the facility will produce about 7% of the nation’s total electricity from 2025, the year it is expected to be completed. The EPR’s designer, Areva, claims that the reactor is reliable, efficient and so safe that it could withstand a collision with an airliner.

But the project is staggeringly expensive: It will cost more than $22 billion to build and bring online. And it isn’t clear that the EPR technology is viable. No working version of the reactor exists. The two EPR projects that are furthest along — one in Finland, the other in France — are many years behind schedule, have hemorrhaged billions of dollars and are beset by major safety issues. The first casting of certain components for the Hinkley Point C reactors left serious metallurgical flaws in the pressure vessel that holds the reactor core. In 2014, the Cambridge University nuclear engineer Tony Roulstone declared the EPR design “unconstructable.”

The lead builder of the EPR, the French utility company Electricité de France, faced a mutiny this year: Its unions fought the Hinkley Point project, fearing it might bring down the company. E.D.F.’s chief financial officer has resigned, arguing that it would put too much strain on the company’s balance sheet. But the British government continues to act as though it wants the Hinkley project to proceed at almost any price. In return for covering about one-third of the costs, the Chinese state-run company China General Nuclear Power Corporation will take about one-third ownership in the project. (A subsidiary of E.D.F. owns the rest.) The British government has also provisionally agreed to let China build a yet-untested Chinese-designed reactor in Bradwell-on-Sea, northeast of London, later.

[..] The British government has [..] guaranteed that investors in the Hinkley project will get $115 per megawatt-hour over 35 years. This is approximately twice the price of electricity today [..]. If the market price of electricity falls below that rate, a government company is contractually bound to cover the difference — with the extra cost passed on to consumers. Price forecasts have dropped since the deal was struck: This summer the government, revising estimates, said differential payments owed under the contract could reach nearly $37 billion. If the Hinkley plan seems outrageous, that’s because it only makes sense if one considers its connection to Britain’s military projects — especially Trident, a roving fleet of armed nuclear submarines, which is outdated and needs upgrading.

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Jun 072016
 
 June 7, 2016  Posted by at 8:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Esther Bubley Soldiers with their girls at the Indianapolis bus station 1943

This Job Market Slump Started In January
Yellen Sees Rates Rising Gradually But .. (BBG)
The Shadow Looming Over China (Balding)
Nation of Debt: New Zealand Sitting on Half-Trillion-Dollar Debt Bomb (NZH)
Sterling Swings Wildly As Polls Suggest UK Heading For EU Exit (G.)
S&P Downgrades Royal Bank of Canada Outlook (WSJ)
Goldman Probed Over Malaysia Fund 1MDB (WSJ)
This Fannie-Freddie Resurrection Needs To Die (WaPo ed.)
State Department Blocks Release Of Hillary Clinton’s TPP Emails (IBT)
Debt Buyers (John Oliver)
Taxes And Recession Slash Income Of Greek Households (Kath.)
Nausea Rising (Jim Kunstler)
NATO Countries Begin Largest War Game In Eastern Europe Since Cold War (G.)
Finns To Bury Nuclear Waste In World’s Costliest Tomb (AFP)
Great Barrier Reef: The Stench Of Death (G.)

And this is Yellen’s favorite index?! Makes you wonder.

This Job Market Slump Started In January

The sharp May hiring slowdown revealed in Friday’s employment report took a lot of people – including me – by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Things have actually been on the downswing for the U.S. labor market for months, according to the Federal Reserve’s Labor Market Conditions Index. The LMCI is a new measure cooked up by Federal Reserve Board economists in 2014 that consolidates 19 different labor market indicators to reflect changes in the job market. They calculated it going all the way back to 1976; the chart above shows its movements since the end of the last recession in June 2009. The May index, released Monday morning, showed a 4.8-point decline from April. As you can see from the chart, the index has now declined for five straight months — its worst performance since the recession.

The index does get revised a lot. When the January number was first reported on Feb. 8, for example, it was still modestly positive. Still, since the February number was released on March 7 the news from the LMCI has been unremittingly negative. Which probably should have told us something. Not many people were paying attention, though. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is apparently a fan of the LMCI, but I have to admit that I first learned of its existence Monday when Erica Groshen, the Commissioner of the BLS, mentioned it at a conference for BLS data users in New York. It was a good reminder, as were a lot of the other presentations at the conference, that the headline jobs numbers that get the lion’s share of attention – the monthly change in payroll employment and the unemployment rate – aren’t always the best places to look for information on the state of the jobs market.

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They should really start having her do these speeches in a cave filled with smoke and vapors.

Yellen Sees Rates Rising Gradually But .. (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the U.S. economy was making progress but was silent on the timing of another interest-rate increase, an omission viewed as a signal that a June move was off the table. “I continue to think that the federal funds rate will probably need to rise gradually over time to ensure price stability and maximum sustainable employment in the longer run,” Yellen said Monday during a speech in Philadelphia. Her comments were less specific than in her previous remarks in describing when she thought the Fed should raise rates again.

On May 27 at Harvard University, she said an increase would likely be appropriate in “coming months,” a phrase she didn’t repeat on Monday. Since then, the Labor Department reported U.S. employers in May added the fewest number of new jobs in almost six years, causing expectations for a rate increase to plunge. “She did not address the timing of the Fed’s next gradual move, which suggests to us that she is in no hurry,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd, arguing that her comments on the payroll report “largely rules out a move in rates next week. July is not a strong bet either.”

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Beijing has not just allowed shadow banks to grow much too big, it has used this growth to hide its actions behind. Local governments got most of their credit to build highways to nowhere from shadow banks. It’s really weird that the western press only catches on now.

The Shadow Looming Over China (Balding)

Of all the topics sure to be come up in Sino-U.S. economic talks this week – from the problem of excess capacity to currency controls – the health of China’s financial sector will no doubt feature high on the list. Especially worrying are the multiplying links between the country’s commercial and “shadow” banks – the name given to a broad range of non-bank financial institutions from peer-to-peer lending platforms to trusts and wealth management companies. All told, the latter now hold assets that exceed 80 percent of China’s gross domestic product, according to Moody’s – much of them linked to the commercial banking sector in one way or another. That poses a systemic threat, and needs to be treated as such. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shadow banks, of course.

Largely owned by the government, China’s commercial banks focus primarily on directing capital from savers to state-owned enterprises, leaving Chinese households and smaller private enterprises starved for funds. Shadow banks have grown to meet the demand. At their best, they allocate capital more efficiently than state-owned lenders and keep afloat businesses that create jobs and growth. The line between good shadow banks and dodgy ones is increasingly fuzzy, however, as is the divide between shadow and commercial banking. Traditional banks often assign their sales teams to sell shadow products. This gives an unwarranted sheen of legitimacy to schemes that are inherently risky. Buyers trust that the established bank will make them whole if their investment goes south.

Shadow banks are also selling more and more products directly to commercial banks. Wealth management products held as receivables now account for approximately 3 trillion yuan of interbank holdings, or around $500 billion — a number that’s grown sixfold in three years. According to Autonomous Research, as much as 85 percent of those products may have been resold to other shadow banks, creating a web of cross-ownership with disturbing parallels to the U.S. mortgage securities market just before the 2008 crash. In total, the big four state-owned banks hold more than $2 trillion in what’s classified as “financial investment,” much of it in trusts and wealth-management products.

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A nation of lost souls.

Nation of Debt: New Zealand Sitting on Half-Trillion-Dollar Debt Bomb (NZH)

New Zealand is sitting on a half-a-trillion-dollar debt bomb and Kiwis are increasingly treating their houses like cash machines, piling on the debt as they watch the value of their properties soar. Reserve Bank figures show household debt, excluding investment property, has risen 23% in the past five years to $163.4 billion. Incomes have risen only 11.5%. Households are now carrying a debt level that is equivalent to 162% of their annual disposable income – higher than the level reached before the global financial crisis. Including property investment the total debt households owed as of April was $232.9 billion, according to the Reserve Bank. Satish Ranchhod, a senior economist at Westpac Bank, says the main driver has been low interest rates.

“Continued low interest rates have sparked a sharp increase in household borrowing at a time when income growth has been very modest.” And it’s housing loans where the growth has mainly come from. Housing loan debt has risen 23.4% to $132.83 billion. Student loans were up 22.9% to $14.84 billion and consumer loans are up 16.6% to $15.7 billion. Ranchhod said much of the rising debt on housing was down to investors, as more people jumped into the property market on the back of rising house prices. He also believed many people were using their home loans to make consumer purchases. “We think a lot of the increase in lending on housing loans will also be an increase in spending … people feel wealthy when the value of their home goes up.”

Hannah McQueen, an Auckland financial coach and managing director of EnableMe, said she had seen three clients in the past week alone who had paid for a new car by using the equity in their home to increase their mortgage debt. “It’s definitely on the increase … People think, ‘I’m worth so much more now …'”

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Volatility just getting started.

Sterling Swings Wildly As Polls Suggest UK Heading For EU Exit (G.)

The pound swung wildly on currency markets on Monday, reaching extremes of volatility not seen since the financial crisis, as City traders reacted to polls suggesting voters were increasingly likely to send Britain out of the EU this month. The poll boost to the Vote Leave campaign sent the pound tumbling by up to 1.5 cents to below $1.44, adding to a decline of 2 cents last week and indicating the degree of pressure on the UK currency since the remain camp’s lead in the polls began to evaporate. A dovish speech by the US central bank chief, Janet Yellen, hinting that poor jobs data meant the Federal Reserve was unlikely to raise rates this month, steadied the pound – despite her comments that a vote to leave the EU could hurt the US economy.

“One development that could shift investor sentiment is the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom. A UK vote to exit the European Union could have significant economic repercussions,” she said. Sterling’s value has become increasingly volatile as fears of a Brexit have increased among investors. The index charting the daily swings in the pound’s value has risen to its highest level of volatility since the first quarter of 2009. It is double the level seen in April when the remain camp was ahead in the polls. Elsa Lignos, a foreign exchange expert at City firm RBC, one of many to warn that the pound would come under further pressure should the lead established by Vote Leave be consolidated, said: “Brexit is almost all that matters for the pound at the moment.”

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Hmm.. “..speculative-grade borrowers..”, “..highly indebted Canadian consumers ..”

S&P Downgrades Royal Bank of Canada Outlook (WSJ)

Standard & Poor’s is downgrading the outlook for Royal Bank of Canada, a change it says reflects the lender’s increased risk appetite and credit-risk exposure relative to other domestic banks. The credit-ratings firm said Monday it was revising its outlook on RBC, Canada’s largest bank by assets, to “negative” from “stable,” but would leave its credit ratings untouched. The move comes less than two weeks after the Toronto-based lender reported a stronger-than-expected fiscal second-quarter profit but set aside bigger provisions to cover soured loans. “The outlook revision reflects concerns over what we see as RBC’s higher risk appetite, relative to peers,” said S&P credit analyst Lidia Parfeniuk in a release.

“We see one example of this in its aggressive growth in loans and commitments in the capital markets wholesale loan book, particularly in the U.S., with an emphasis on speculative-grade borrowers, including exposure to leveraged loans,” she added. S&P also pointed to RBC’s “higher-than-peer average exposure” to highly indebted Canadian consumers and to the country’s oil- and gas-producing regions, which have been hard hit by the collapse in crude-oil prices. S&P, however, affirmed RBC’s ratings including its “AA-/A-1+” long- and short-term issuer credit ratings. “RBC is one of the strongest and highest rated banks in Canada, reflecting our strong financial profile and the success of our diversified business model,” said RBC in an emailed statement. “This outlook change will have no direct impact to RBC clients,” it later added.

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“..Goldman wired the $3 billion in proceeds to a Singapore branch of a small Swiss private bank instead of to a large global bank, as would be typical for a transfer of that size..”

Goldman Probed Over Malaysia Fund 1MDB (WSJ)

U.S. investigators are trying to determine whether Goldman Sachs broke the law when it didn’t sound an alarm about a suspicious transaction in Malaysia, people familiar with the investigation said. At issue is $3 billion Goldman raised via a bond issue for Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. Days after Goldman sent the proceeds into a Swiss bank account controlled by the fund, half of the money disappeared offshore, with some later ending up in the prime minister’s bank account, according to people familiar with the matter and bank-transfer information viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The cash was supposed to fund a major real-estate project in the nation’s capital that was intended to boost the country’s economy.

U.S. law-enforcement officials have sought to schedule interviews with Goldman executives, people familiar with the matter said. Goldman hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. The bank says it had no way of knowing how 1MDB would use the money it raised. Investigators are focusing on whether the bank failed to comply with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to regulators. The law has been used against banks for failing to report money laundering in Mexico and ignoring red flags about the operations of Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff. The investigators believe the bank may have had reason to suspect the money it raised wasn’t being used for its intended purpose, according to people familiar with the probe.

One red flag, they believe, is that Goldman wired the $3 billion in proceeds to a Singapore branch of a small Swiss private bank instead of to a large global bank, as would be typical for a transfer of that size, the people said. Another is the timing of the bond sale and why it was rushed. The deal took place in March 2013, two months after Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, approached Goldman Sachs bankers during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. And it occurred two months before voting in a tough election campaign for Mr. Najib, who used some of the cash from his personal bank account on election spending, the Journal has reported, citing bank-transfer information and people familiar with the matter.

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This being from the mouthpiece WaPo, g-d only knows what’s behind it.

This Fannie-Freddie Resurrection Needs To Die (WaPo ed.)

It’s been said that Washington is where good ideas go to die. We don’t know about that, but some bad ideas are certainly hard to get rid of. Consider the persistent non-solution to the zombie-like status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac known as “recap and release.” The plan is to return the two mortgage-finance giants to their pre-financial-crisis status as privately owned but “government-sponsored” enterprises. That is to say, to recreate the private-gain, public-risk conflict that helped sink them in the first place. Their income would recapitalize the entities, rather than be funneled to the treasury, as is currently the case. Then they could exit the regulatory control known as “conservatorship” that has constrained them since 2008 — and resume bundling home loans and selling them, as if it had never been necessary to bail them out to the tune of $187 billion in the first place.

Congress last year effectively barred recap and release, at least for the next two years. Coupled with the Obama administration’s firm opposition, you’d think that would put a stake through its heart. But “no” is not an acceptable answer for the handful of Wall Street hedge funds that scooped up Fannie and Freddie’s beaten-down common stock for pennies a share after the bailout — and would realize a massive windfall if the government suddenly decided to let shareholders have access to company profits again. With megabillions on the line, the hedge funds have been arguing high-mindedly that their true concerns are property rights and the rule of law; they have also made common cause with certain low-income-housing advocates who see a resurrected Fan-Fred as a potential source of funds for their programs.

Left unexplained, because it’s inexplicable, is how the hedge funds’ arguments square with the fact that there wouldn’t even be a pair of corporate carcasses to fight over but for the massive infusion of taxpayer dollars and the public risk that represented. The latest iteration of recap and release is a hedge-fund-backed bill sponsored by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), which would set Fannie and Freddie, unreformed, loose on the marketplace again and do so under terms wildly favorable to the hedge funds. Specifically, shareholders would be charged nothing for the government backing the entities would retain, supposedly to save scarce resources for the capital cushion. But as the WSJ recently noted, capital could be “risk-weighted” so forgivingly that the actual cushion required might be considerably less than headline numbers suggest.

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Desperate move.

State Department Blocks Release Of Hillary Clinton’s TPP Emails (IBT)

Trade is a hot issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But correspondence from Hillary Clinton and her top State Department aides about a controversial 12-nation trade deal will not be available for public review — at least not until after the election. The Obama administration abruptly blocked the release of Clinton’s State Department correspondence about the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), after first saying it expected to produce the emails this spring. The decision came in response to International Business Times’ open records request for correspondence between Clinton’s State Department office and the United States Trade Representative. The request, which was submitted in July 2015, specifically asked for all such correspondence that made reference to the TPP.

The State Department originally said it estimated the request would be completed by April 2016. Last week the agency said it had completed the search process for the correspondence but also said it was delaying the completion of the request until late November 2016 — weeks after the presidential election. The delay was issued in the same week the Obama administration filed a court motion to try to kill a lawsuit aimed at forcing the federal government to more quickly comply with open records requests for Clinton-era State Department documents.

Clinton’s shifting positions on the TPP have been a source of controversy during the campaign: She repeatedly promoted the deal as secretary of state but then in 2015 said, “I did not work on TPP,” even though some leaked State Department cables show that her agency was involved in diplomatic discussions about the pact. Under pressure from her Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, Clinton announced in October that she now opposes the deal — and has disputed that she ever fully backed it in the first place.

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John Oliver buys $15 million of unpaid debt for $60,000. And then forgives it. Now there’s an idea. Unless I’m very mistaken, that means $1 million could forgive $250 million in debt. $10 million, you free $2.5 billion in debt. Well, quite a bit more, actually, because now we’d be talking wholesale. People raise a millon bucks for all sorts of purposes all the time. Know what I mean?

Someone get this properly organized in a fund, and why wouldn’t they (?!), means: You donate $1 and $250 in debt goes away. Donate $100 and $25,000 goes up in air. 100 people donate $100 each, $2,500,000 in debt is gone. I’m not the person to do it, but certainly somebody can?! (Do call me on my math if I missed a digit..). It’s crazy people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are not doing this. Or even Janet Yellen. Not all that smart after all, I guess. $1 billion can buy off $250 billion in debt. Want to fight deflation?

Debt Buyers (John Oliver)

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How to make sure an economy and society cannot recover.

Taxes And Recession Slash Income Of Greek Households (Kath.)

The avalanche of new taxes that began this month will deal a devastating blow to household incomes, consumption and the prospects of the Greek economy in general. As the dozens of new measures are implemented, the market will also be forced to deal with the higher charges that will strengthen the lure of tax evasion. All this is expected to extend the recession and deter investment, while leading to more business shutdowns. Crucially, the disposable income of households will shrink anew due to the increase in taxation and the hikes in almost all indirect taxes and social security contributions.

Hundreds of thousands of families are cutting down on their basic expenses while many have run into debt over various obligations: For example, unpaid Public Power Corporation bills now total €2.7 billion. All that has resulted in major drop in retail spending. A consumer confidence survey carried out by Nielsen for the first quarter of the year shows that eight out of 10 Greeks are constantly attempting to reduce their household expenditure. Their main targets for cuts are going out for entertainment and food delivery, while they are buying cheaper and fewer groceries.

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JHK: “As you may know, Kunstler.com is currently under an aggressive Denial of Service (DoS) attack. My web and server technicians are working to get the website and blog back up and live soon (though it’s going to cost a pretty penny). In the meantime, here is today’s blog. Please share this with any of your friends so they don’t miss out.”

Nausea Rising (Jim Kunstler)

The people of the United States have real grievances with the way this country is being run. Last Friday’s job’s report was a humdinger: only 38,000 new jobs created in a country of over 300 million, with a whole new crop of job-seeking college grads just churned out of the diploma mills. I guess the national shortage of waiters and bartenders has finally come to an end. What’s required, of course, is a pretty stout restructuring of the US economy. And that should be understood to be a matter of national survival. We need to step way back on every kind of giantism currently afflicting us: giant agri-biz, giant commerce (Wal Mart etc.), giant banking, giant war-making, and giant government — this last item being so larded with incompetence on top of institutional entropy that it is literally a menace to American society.

The trend on future resources and capital availability is manifestly downward, and the obvious conclusion is the need to make this economy smaller and finer. The finer part of the deal means many more distributed tasks among the population, especially in farming and commerce operations that must be done at a local level. This means more Americans working on smaller farms and more Americans working in reconstructed Main Street business, both wholesale and retail. This would also necessarily lead to a shift out of the suburban clusterfuck and the rebuilding of ten thousand forsaken American towns and smaller cities.

For the moment, many demoralized Americans may feel more comfortable playing video games, eating on SNAP cards, and watching Trump fulminate on TV, but the horizon on that is limited too. Sooner or later they will have to become un-demoralized and do something else with their lives. The main reason I am so against the Hillary and Trump, and so ambivalent on Bernie is their inability to comprehend the scope of action actually required to avoid sheer cultural collapse.

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Completely crazy. Is Trump really the only person who can stop this? For the first time since the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland began on 22 June 1941, German tanks will cross the country from west to east.

NATO Countries Begin Largest War Game In Eastern Europe Since Cold War (G.)

The largest war game in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war has started in Poland, as Nato and partner countries seek to mount a display of strength as a response to concerns about Russia’s assertiveness and actions. The 10-day military exercise, involving 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles from 24 countries, has been welcomed among Nato’s allies in the region, though defence experts warn that any mishap could prompt an offensive reaction from Moscow. A defence attache at a European embassy in Warsaw said the “nightmare scenario” of the exercise, named Anaconda-2016, would be “a mishap, a miscalculation which the Russians construe, or choose to construe, as an offensive action”. Russian jets routinely breach Nordic countries’ airspace and in April they spectacularly “buzzed” the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.

The exercise, which US and Polish officials formally launched near Warsaw, is billed as a test of cooperation between allied commands and troops in responding to military, chemical and cyber threats. It represents the biggest movement of foreign allied troops in Poland in peace time. For the first time since the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland began on 22 June 1941, German tanks will cross the country from west to east. Managed by Poland’s Lt Gen Marek Tomaszycki, the exercise includes 14,000 US troops, 12,000 Polish troops, 800 from Britain and others from non-Nato countries. Anaconda-2016 is a prelude to Nato’s summit in Warsaw on 8-9 July, which is expected to agree to position significant numbers of troops and equipment in Poland and the Baltic states.

It comes within weeks of the US switching on a powerful ballistic missile shield at Deveselu in Romania, as part of a “defence umbrella” that Washington says will stretch from Greenland to the Azores. Last month, building work began on a similar missile interception base at Redzikowo, a village in northern Poland. The exercise comes at a sensitive time for Poland’s military, following the sacking or forced retirement of a quarter of the country’s generals since the nationalist Law and Justice government came to power in October last year. So harsh have the cuts to the top brass been that the Polish armed forces recently found themselves unable to provide a general for Nato’s multinational command centre at Szczecin.

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Tell me, do I feel safe now? 100,000 years is a long time. No fault lines? Volcanic activity?

Finns To Bury Nuclear Waste In World’s Costliest Tomb (AFP)

Deep underground on a lush green island, Finland is preparing to bury its highly-radioactive nuclear waste for 100,000 years — sealing it up and maybe even throwing away the key. Tiny Olkiluoto, off Finland’s west coast, will become home to the world’s costliest and longest-lasting burial ground, a network of tunnels called Onkalo – Finnish for “The Hollow”. Countries have been wrestling with what to do with nuclear power’s dangerous by-products since the first plants were built in the 1950s. Most nations keep the waste above ground in temporary storage facilities but Onkalo is the first attempt to bury it for good. Starting in 2020, Finland plans to stow around 5,500 tons of nuclear waste in the tunnels, more than 420 metres (1,380 feet) below the Earth’s surface.

Already home to one of Finland’s two nuclear power plants, Olkiluoto is now the site of a tunnelling project set to cost up to €3.5 billion until the 2120s, when the vaults will be sealed for good. “This has required all sorts of new know-how,” said Ismo Aaltonen, chief geologist at nuclear waste manager Posiva, which got the green light to develop the site last year. The project began in 2004 with the establishment of a research facility to study the suitability of the bedrock. At the end of last year, the government issued a construction license for the encapsulation plant, effectively giving its final approval for the burial project to go ahead. At present, Onkalo consists of a twisting five-kilometre (three-mile) tunnel with three shafts for staff and ventilation. Eventually the nuclear warren will stretch 42 kilometres (26 miles).

[..] The waste is expected to have lost most of its radioactivity after a few hundred years, but engineers are planning for 100,000, just to be on the safe side. Spent nuclear rods will be placed in iron casts, then sealed into thick copper canisters and lowered into the tunnels. Each capsule will be surrounded with a buffer made of bentonite, a type of clay that will protect them from any shuddering in the surrounding rock and help stop water from seeping in. Clay blocks and more bentonite will fill the tunnels before they are sealed up.

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Long piece on bleaching by the Guardian. Depressing.

Great Barrier Reef: The Stench Of Death (G.)

It was the smell that really got to diver Richard Vevers. The smell of death on the reef. “I can’t even tell you how bad I smelt after the dive – the smell of millions of rotting animals.” Vevers is a former advertising executive and is now the chief executive of the Ocean Agency, a not-for-profit company he founded to raise awareness of environmental problems. After diving for 30 years in his spare time, he was compelled to combine his work and hobby when he was struck by the calamities faced by oceans around the world. Chief among them was coral bleaching, caused by climate change. His job these days is rather morbid. He travels the world documenting dead and dying coral reefs, sometimes gathering photographs just ahead of their death, too.

With the world now in the midst of the longest and probably worst global coral bleaching event in history, it’s boom time for Vevers. Even with all that experience, he’d never seen anything like the devastation he saw last month around Lizard Island in the northern third of Australia’s spectacular Great Barrier Reef. As part of a project documenting the global bleaching event, he had surveyed Lizard Island, which sits about 90km north of Cooktown in far north Queensland, when it was in full glorious health; then just as it started bleaching this year; then finally a few weeks after the bleaching began. “It was one of the most disgusting sights I’ve ever seen,” he says. “The hard corals were dead and covered in algae, looking like they’ve been dead for years. The soft corals were still dying and the flesh of the animals was decomposing and dripping off the reef structure.”

[..] When the coral dies, the entire ecosystem around it transforms. Fish that feed on the coral, use it as shelter, or nibble on the algae that grows among it die or move away. The bigger fish that feed on those fish disappear too. But the cascading effects don’t stop there. Birds that eat fish lose their energy source, and island plants that thrive on bird droppings can be depleted. And, of course, people who rely on reefs for food, income or shelter from waves – some half a billion people worldwide – lose their vital resource.

[..] What’s at stake here is the largest living structure in the world, and by far the largest coral reef system. The oft-repeated cliche is that it can be seen from space, which is not surprising given it stretches more than 2,300km in length and, between its almost 3,000 individual reefs, covers an area about the size of Germany. It is an underwater world of unimaginable scale. But it is up close that the Great Barrier Reef truly astounds. Among its waters live a dizzying array of colourful plants and animals. With 1,600 species of fish, 130 types of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, it is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet.


Coral off Lizard Island, bleached in March, and then dead and covered in seaweed in May. Photo: the Ocean Agency

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Jan 302016
 
 January 30, 2016  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 30 2016
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William Henry Jackson Steamboat Metamora of Palatka on the Ocklawaha, FL 1902

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)
Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)
The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)
Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)
China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)
China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)
China To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)
Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)
I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)
VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)
Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)
Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)
Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

The essence, as Steve Keen keeps saying, is that negative rates on reserves are madness, because banks can’t lend out their reserves. Something central bankers genuinely don’t seem to grasp, weird as that may seem. Which speaks volumes, and shines a very bleak light, on the field of economics.

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)

The Japanese central bank has only dug the country deeper into a hole by adopting negative interest rates, Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar said Friday. “I think it’s economic kamikaze,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Let’s tax money and hope things get better. Let’s create higher inflation for the Japanese people, who are barely seeing wage growth. And let’s amp up the currency battles, and hope everything gets better.” The Bank of Japan surprised markets on Friday by pushing interest rates into negative territory for the first time ever. By doing so, the BOJ is essentially charging banks for parking excess funds. The fact that the vote was split shows that BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda got a lot of pushback to advance the policy, Boockvar said. “If this means now that they’re out of bullets with [QE], and this is their last hope, then I think this is a mess,” he said.

In a statement released along with the rate decision, the BOJ said the Japanese economy has recovered modestly with underlying inflation and spending by companies and households ticking up. But the bank warned that increasing uncertainty in emerging markets and commodity-exporting countries may delay an improvement in Japanese business confidence and negatively affect the current inflation trend. The BOJ’s inflation target is 2%. The BOJ now forecasts core inflation to average 0.2 to 1.2% between April 2016 and March 2017. Boockvar said he believes it’s a fallacy that Japan needs inflation to generate growth. “Inflation readings are a symptom of what underlying growth is,” Boockvar said. “For Kuroda to think ‘I need to generate higher inflation to generate growth’ to me is completely backwards, especially when Japanese wage growth is so anemic. You’re basically penalizing the Japanese consumer, and I don’t know what economic theory is behind that.”

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And they will make things worse.

Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)

When stripping away all the philosophy, the pompous rhetoric, and the jawboning, all central banks do, or are supposed to do, is to influence capital allocations and spending behavior by adjusting the liquidity preference of the population by adjusting interest rates and thus the demand for money. To be sure, over the past 7 years central banks around the globe have gone absolutely overboard when it comes to their primary directive and have engaged every possible legal (and in the case of Europe, illegal) policy at their disposal to force consumers away from a “saving” mindset, and into purchasing risk(free) assets or otherwise burning through savings in hopes of stimulating inflation. Today’s action by the Bank of Japan, which is meant to force banks, and consumers, to spend their cash which will now carry a penalty of -0.1% if “inert” was proof of just that.

Ironically, and perversely from a classical economic standpoint, as we showed before in the case of Europe’s NIRP bastions, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, the more negative rates are, the higher the amount of household savings! This is what Bank of America said back in October: “Yet, household savings rates have also risen. For Switzerland and Sweden this appears to have happened at the tail end of 2013 (before the oil price decline). As the BIS have highlighted, ultra-low rates may perversely be driving a greater propensity for consumers to save as retirement income becomes more uncertain.” Bingo: that is precisely the fatal flaw in all central planning models, one which not a single tenured economist appears capable of grasping yet which even a child could easily understand.

[..] And here is the one chart which in our opinion virtually assures that the Fed will follow in the footsteps of Sweden, Denmark, Europe, Switzerland and now Japan. Since the middle of 2015, US investors have bought a big fat net zero of either bonds or equities (in fact, they have been net sellers of risk) and have parked all incremental cash in money-market funds instead, precisely the inert non-investment that is almost as hated by central banks as gold.

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Lots of good graphs. This one must be the scariest.

The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)

As we often stress, economics is a social science and therefore simply does not work like physics or other natural sciences. Only economic theory can explain economic laws – while economic history can only be properly interpreted with the aid of sound theory. Here is how we see it: If the authorities had left well enough alone after Hoover’s depression had bottomed out, the economy would have recovered quite nicely on its own. Instead, they decided to intervene all-out. The result was yet another artificial inflationary boom. By 1937 the Fed finally began to worry a bit about the growing risk of run-away inflation, so it took a baby step to make its policy slightly less accommodative.

Once the artificial support propping up an inflationary boom is removed, the underlying economic reality is unmasked. The cause of the 1937 bust was not the Fed’s small step toward tightening. Capital had been malinvested and consumed in the preceding boom, a fact which the bust revealed. Note also that a huge inflow of gold from Europe in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power boosted liquidity in the US enormously in 1935-36, with no offsetting actions taken by the Fed. Moreover, the Supreme Court had just affirmed the legality of several of the worst economic interventions of the crypto-socialist FDR administration, which inter alia led to a collapse in labor productivity as the power of unions was vastly increased, as Jonathan Finegold Catalan points out.

He also notes that bank credit only began to contract after the stock market collapse was already well underway – in other words, the Fed’s tiny hike in the minimum reserve requirement by itself didn’t have any noteworthy effect. On the other hand, if the Fed had implemented the Bernanke doctrine in 1937 and had continued to implement monetary pumping at full blast in order to extend the boom, it would only have succeeded in structurally undermining the economy and currency even more. Inevitably, an even worse bust would eventually have followed.

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There’s not a number left you can trust.

Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)

Central banks around the world are going to new lengths to boost their economies, underscoring both the importance and limits of monetary policy in a global economy plagued by paltry growth and unsettled markets. The Bank of Japan on Friday joined a host of European peers in setting its key short-term interest rate below zero. The move, long denied as a possible course by the bank s governor, came a week after the ECB president indicated he was ready to launch additional monetary stimulus in March and days after the Fed expressed new worries over market turbulence and sluggish growth overseas. The latest moves by central banks to rescue the global economy capped a volatile month across financial markets, with U.S. stocks finishing strong Friday but nonetheless posting their worst January since 2009, and major currencies lurching lower against the dollar.

The swings highlighted the fragile mood of investors despite hopes that some economies, particularly the U.S., could lead an exit from crisis-era policies. Fresh data Friday that showed the U.S. economy had sputtered in the final months of 2015 could cloud Fed deliberations over the timing of another round of rate increases. U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of economic output, grew by just 0.7% in the fourth quarter, hit hard by shrinking exports and business investment. Despite growth in consumer spending and clear strength in the job market, the weak performance added to concerns that the sagging global economy could hit the U.S.

Markets around the world were buoyed by Japan s move, extending the earlier assurances delivered by the ECB. Japan s Nikkei Stock Average closed up 2.8% in a volatile session, while the yield on Japanese government bonds fell to historically low levels. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.1% and the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 2.2%. U.S. stocks also rose, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing nearly 400 points. Despite the day s surge, some investors remained skeptical about the lasting impact of the central banks efforts. People are starting to feel more and more that central bank action is having less and less fire for effect, said Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities.

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Lunar New year starts Feb 7. Beijing will be so happy with the week long break.

China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)

Thanks to BoJ’s global “float all boats” NIRP-tard-ness, Chinese stocks avoided the headline of “worst month in 21 years” by rallying above the crucial 2,667 level (for SHCOMP). However, January’s 23% plunge is the worst month since October 2008 and is officially the worst start to a year in the history of Chinese stocks. While Shanghia Composite was ugly, the higher beta Shenzhen and ChiNext indices were a disaster…

Making it the worst January ever…

So February is a buying opportunity?

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4% over past 5 years. Could easily be 2% for 2015.

China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)

It’s the biggest question in the world of finance: how fast is China’s economy growing? And the biggest frustration is: what are the actual numbers? China’s lack of transparency – with murky data releases, opaque policy making and confusing announcements – is notorious among emerging-market watchers. But rarely do research firms or analysts use different figures to the official statistics. Until recently. The Conference Board, a widely respected and often-cited non-profit research group, used an alternate series of Chinese GDP estimates in its latest economic outlook paper. In an effort to adjust for overstated official Chinese data, the Conference Board looked to the work of Harry Wu, an economist at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, to adjust its calculations.

This was a footnote of the report: “Growth rates of Chinese industrial GDP are adjusted for mis-reporting bias and non-material services GDP are adjusted for biases in price deflators. This adjustment has important implications for our assessment of the growth rate of the global economy in general and that of the emerging markets in particular – both reflecting a downward adjustment in their recent growth rates.” Macquarie Wealth Management analysts picked up on the change, adding: “We are unaware of any other reputable agency adopting anything other than official numbers as a base case, although clearly there has always been a lot of scenario analysis.” Traditionally, China has used the Soviet system of collecting information through a chain of command, where local officials reported on their states, often misrepresenting their figures to meet designated targets.

Over the past 10 years, China has gradually moved towards the internationally recognised System of National Accounts, which relies on statistical surveys to discover what people are spending their money on and where. But as Macquarie points out, that transition is far from complete. The Wu-Maddison estimates are starkly different to those issued by Chinese authorities. Whereas Chinese authorities have claimed average GDP growth of about 7.7% for the past five years, Wu suggests it is much lower, about 4%. These new figures show a much higher degree of volatility than suggested by the official numbers. While the world frets about the possibility of a “hard landing” for the Chinese economy, the Conference Board observed the new estimates “suggest that the economy has already experienced a significant slowdown over the past four years, beginning in 2011.”

Macquarie echoes this sentiment. “In our view, Wu-Maddison numbers explain the current state of commodity markets and fit into the global deflationary narrative much better than official numbers,” the analysts Macquarie said in a note. But, as the bank points out, if the “hard landing” has already occurred, there will be a range of consequences for productivity growth, overcapacity absorption and financial stress. “If Wu estimates are right, the room for stimulus and investment is more limited and the need to drive productivity [structural reforms] much more urgent. Although by the time China retroactively adjusts its GDP, it would be treated as history. “In the absence of stronger productivity rebound, China would be in danger of getting stuck in the ‘middle-income trap’ and would be unable to inject incremental demand into the global economy. Stay safe.”

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They can target what they want, and so they do. But it’s meaningless.

China Set To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)

China’s leaders are expected to target economic growth in a range of 6.5% to 7% this year, sources familiar with their thinking said, setting a range for the first time because policymakers are uncertain on the economy’s prospects. The proposed range, which would follow a 2015 target of “around 7%” growth, was endorsed by top leaders at the closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to the sources with knowledge of the meeting outcome. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.9% in 2015, the weakest in 25 years, although some economists believe real growth is even lower. “They are likely to target economic growth of 6.5-7% this year, with 6.5% as the bottom line,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Policymakers, worried by global uncertainties and the impact on growth of their structural economic reforms, struggled to reach a consensus at the December meeting, the sources said. The State Council Information Office, the public relations arm of the government, had no comment on the growth forecast when contacted by Reuters. The floor of 6.5% reflects the minimum average rate of growth needed over the next five years to meet an existing goal of doubling gross domestic product and per capita income by 2020 from 2010. The 2016 growth target and the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint covering 2016-2020, will be announced at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the country’s parliament, in early March.

Although the target range was endorsed by the leadership in December, it could still be adjusted before parliament convenes. “The government will not be too nervous about growth this year and will focus more on structural adjustments,” said a government economist. “Growth may still slow in the first and second quarter and people are divided over the third and fourth quarter. The full-year growth could slow to 6.5-6.6%.” A string of cuts in interest rates and bank reserve requirements since November 2014 have failed to put a floor under the slowing economy. Beijing is expected to put more emphasis on fiscal policy to support growth, including tax cuts and running a bigger budget deficit of about 3% of GDP.

China’s leaders have flagged a “new normal” of slower growth as they look to shift the economy to a more sustainable, consumption-led model. About half of China’s 30 provinces and municipalities have lowered their growth targets for 2016, while nearly a third kept targets unchanged from last year, according to local media. Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces have set a growth target of 7-7.5% this year, while Jiangsu and Shandong are aiming for growth of 7.5-8%. In 2015, growth in Chongqing municipality was 11%, the fastest in the country, while growth in Liaoning province in the rustbelt northeast, was 3%, the country’s lowest. For this year, Chongqing is eyeing 10% growth and Liaoning is aiming for 6%.

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Correlation.

Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)

The U.S. high-yield, or “junk” bond market, has started the year on the back foot, which history suggests could be a very bad sign for the stock market. The asset class is showing negative returns of almost 2% for the year so far, and negative returns of 7.6% for the last six months, according to The Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index. The negative return is especially significant, given that the month of January has recorded positive returns in 25 of the 29 years that the BofA high-yield index has existed, or 86.2% of the time, according to Marty Fridson, chief Investment Officer–Lehmann Livian Fridson, in a report published in LCD. With the S&P 500 index also heading for the biggest monthly decline in nearly six years, stock investors may finally be catching on to the high-yield bond market’s bearish message.

In previous instances in which the high-yield bond market and stocks trended in a different direction, it was the high-yield bond market that proved prescient. The reason stocks have been so late to follow the high-yield market’s bearish trend, may be because of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to prop up asset prices through quantitative easing. The current bearish trend is showing no signs of letting up. The high-yield index’s option-adjusted spread widened to 775 basis points at Thursday’s close from 695 basis points at the end of December, and 526 basis points at the end of July. The OAS is now about 200 basis points wider than its historical average of 576 basis points, according to Fridson. Much of the weakness is still due to the troubled energy sector, which combined with slowing Chinese growth to spark a more than 100 basis-points widening of the BofA US High Yield Index’s option-adjusted spread in the first three weeks of January. That send the spread to a high of 820 basis points on Jan 20.

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Condemnation.

I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)

I owe almost my entire Wall Street career to the Clintons. I am not alone; most bankers owe their careers, and their wealth, to them. Over the last 25 years they – with the Clintons it is never just Bill or Hillary – implemented policies that placed Wall Street at the center of the Democratic economic agenda, turning it from a party against Wall Street to a party of Wall Street. That is why when I recently went to see Hillary Clinton campaign for president and speak about reforming Wall Street I was skeptical. What I heard hasn’t changed that skepticism. The policies she offers are mid-course corrections. In the Clintons’ world, Wall Street stays at the center, economically and politically. Given Wall Street’s power and influence, that is a dangerous place to leave them.

Salomon Brothers hired me in 1993, seven months after President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Getting a job had been easy, Wall Street was booming from deregulation that had begun under Reagan and was continuing under Clinton. When Bill Clinton ran for office, he offered up him and Hillary (“Two for the price of one”) as New Democrats, embracing an image of being tough on crime, but not on business. Despite the campaign rhetoric, nobody on the trading floor I joined had voted for the Clintons or trusted them. Few traders on the floor were even Democrats, who as long as anyone could remember were Wall Street’s natural enemy. That view was summarized in the words of my boss: “Republicans let you make money and let you keep it. Democrats don’t let you make money, but if you do, they take it.”

Despite Wall Street’s reticence, key appointments were swinging their way. Robert Rubin, who had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, was appointed to a senior White House job as director of the National Economic Council. The Treasury Department was also being filled with banking friendly economists who saw the markets as a solution, not as a problem. The administration’s economic policy took shape as trickle down, Democratic style. They championed free trade, pushing Nafta. They reformed welfare, buying into the conservative view that poverty was about dependency, not about situation. They threw the old left a few bones, repealing prior tax cuts on the rich, but used the increased revenues mostly on Wall Street’s favorite issue: cutting the debt. Most importantly, when faced with their first financial crisis, they bailed out Wall Street.

That crisis came in January 1995, halfway through the administration’s first term. Mexico, after having boomed from the optimism surrounding Nafta, went bust. It was a huge embarrassment for the administration, given the push they had made for Nafta against a cynical Democratic party. Money was fleeing Mexico, and much of it was coming back through me and my firm. Selling investors’ Mexican bonds was my first job on Wall Street, and now they were trying to sell them back to us. But we hadn’t just sold Mexican bonds to clients, instead we did it using new derivatives product to get around regulatory issues and take advantages of tax rules, and lend the clients money. Given how aggressive we were, and how profitable it was for us, older traders kept expecting to be stopped by regulators from the new administration, but that didn’t happen.

When Mexico started to collapse, the shudders began. Initially our firm lost only tens of millions, a large loss but not catastrophic. The crisis however was worsening, and Mexico was headed towards a default, or closing its border to money flows. We stood to lose hundreds of millions, something we might not have survived. Other Wall Street firms were in worse shape, having done the trade in a much bigger size. The biggest was rumored to be Lehman, which stood to lose billions, a loss they couldn’t have survived. As the crisis unfolded, senior management traveled to DC as part of a group of bankers to meet with Treasury officials. They had hoped to meet with Rubin, who was now Treasury secretary. Instead they met with the undersecretary for international affairs who my boss described as: “Some young egghead academic who likes himself a lot and is wide eyed with a taste of power.” That egghead was Larry Summers who would succeed Rubin as Treasury Secretary.

To the surprise of Wall Street, the administration pushed for a $50bn global bail-out of Mexico, arguing that to not do so would devastate the US and world economy. Unmentioned was that it would have also devastated Wall Street banks.

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New twist.

VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)

Another week brings more new stories on the diesel-emission cheating scandal that threatens to dig Volkswagen deeper into a ditch of its own making. Following reports in German newspapers late last week suggesting that the “defeat device” software was an “open secret” in VW’s engine group, the company bit back yesterday. VW Group CEO Matthias Müller told reporters at a reception that the sources for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report “have no idea about the whole matter.” Müller’s statement, as reported by Reuters, “casts doubt” on the newspaper’s report, which it said came from statements by a whistleblower cited in the company’s internal probe of the scandal. The CEO also suggested that the company would not release results of that probe, conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day, any time before its annual shareholder meeting on April 21.

“Is it really so difficult to accept that we are obliged by stock market law to submit a report to the AGM on April 21,” asked Müller, “and that it is not possible for us to say anything beforehand?” VW Group’s powerful Board of Directors will hold their third meeting in three weeks on the affair this coming Wednesday. Despite PR fallout, VW Group’s German communications unit continues to allege that while the “defeat device” software in its TDI diesels violated U.S. laws, it was entirely legal in Europe. The majority of the 11 million affected vehicles were sold in European countries, helped by policies instituted by some national governments that gave financial advantages to diesel vehicles and their fuel.

In a statement to The New York Times, which published an article on the matter last week, the VW Group wrote that the software “is not a forbidden defeat device” under European rules. As the Times notes, that determination, “which was made by its board, runs counter to regulatory findings in Europe and the United States.” “German regulators said last month that VW did use an illegal defeat device,” the newspaper said, suggesting that the statement reflected VW’s legal approach to the affair. “While it promises to fix affected vehicles wherever they were sold,” it said, “it is prepared to admit wrongdoing only in the United States.” The VW view only underscores the loosely-regulated European emission testing rules, now the subject of a fight in the European Parliament.

Two issues are at stake. The first is the degree to which new and tougher testing rules continue to allow manufacturers to exceed existing emission limits The second is whether European Union authorities can, in some circumstances, overrule the testing bodies of individual countries -namely Germany- which enforce common EU limits within their own borders. And so the saga continues.

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I think that as pensions plans crumble to levels where too many elederly go hungry, basic income will come to the forefront.

Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)

Swiss residents are to vote on a countrywide referendum about a radical plan to pay every single adult a guaranteed income of £425 a week (or £1,700 a month). The plan, proposed by a group of intellectuals, could make the country the first in the world to pay all of its citizens a monthly basic income regardless if they work or not. But the initiative has not gained much traction among politicians from left and right despite the fact that a referendum on it was approved by the federal government for the ballot box on June 5. Under the proposed initiative, each child would also receive 145 francs (£100) a week. The federal government estimates the cost of the proposal at 208 billion francs (£143 billion) a year.

Around 153 billion francs (£105 bn) would have to be levied from taxes, while 55 billion francs (£38 bn) would be transferred from social insurance and social assistance spending. The group proposing the initiative, which includes artists, writers and intellectuals, cited a survey which shows that the majority of Swiss residents would continue working if the guaranteed income proposal was approved. ‘The argument of opponents that a guaranteed income would reduce the incentive of people to work is therefore largely contradicted,’ it said in a statement quoted by The Local. However, a third of the 1,076 people interviewed for the survey by the Demoscope Institute believed that ‘others would stop working’. And more than half of those surveyed (56%) believe the guaranteed income proposal will never see the light of day.

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There will be no money to pay for even temporary storage, and there is no solution for permament.

Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)

Half a kilometre beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, a nightmare is playing out. A scheme to dig up previously buried nuclear waste is threatening to wreck public support for Germany’s efforts to make a safe transition to a non-nuclear future. Enough plutonium-bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface.

It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse. “There were people who said it wasn’t a good idea to put radioactive waste down here, but nobody listened to them,” says Annette Parlitz, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), as we tour the mine. This is just one part of Germany’s nuclear nightmare. The country is also wrestling a growing backlog of spent fuel. And it has to worry about vast volumes of radioactive rubble that will be created as all the country’s 17 nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2022 – a decision taken five years ago, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The final bill for decommissioning power plants and getting rid of the waste is estimated to be at least €36 billion.

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste requiring long-term shielding, including what is dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. What will happen to the high-level waste, the spent fuel and other highly radioactive waste that must be kept safe for up to a million years is still debated. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050. But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says.

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Is it the smugglers or the EU?

Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

More people died crossing the eastern Mediterranean in January than in the first eight months of last year, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday, blaming increased ruthlessness by people-traffickers. As of Jan. 28, 218 had died in the Aegean Sea – a tally not reached on the Greek route until mid-September in 2015. Another 26 died in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Italy. Smugglers were using smaller, less seaworthy boats, and packing them with even more people than before, the IOM said. IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the more reckless methods might be due to “panic in the market that this is not going to last much longer” as traffickers fear European governments may find ways to stem the unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees.

There also appeared to be new gangs controlling the trafficking trade in North Africa, he said. “There was a very pronounced period at the end of the year when boats were not leaving Libya and we heard from our sources in North Africa that it was because of inter-tribal or inter-gang fighting for control of the market,” Millman said. “And now that it’s picking up again and it seems to be more lethal, we wonder: what is the character of these groups that have taken over the trade?” The switch to smaller, more packed boats had also happened on the route from Turkey to Greece, the IOM said, but was unable to explain why.

The increase in deaths in January was not due to more traffic overall. The number of arrivals in Greece and Italy was the lowest for any month since June 2015, with a total of 55,528 people landing there between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, the IOM said. Last year a record 1 million people made the Mediterranean Sea crossing, five times more than in 2014. During the year, the IOM estimates that 805 died in the eastern Mediterranean and 2,892 died in the central Mediterranean. In the past few months the proportion of children among those making the journey has risen from about a quarter to more than a third, and Millman said children often made up more than half of the occupants of the boats.

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Dec 242015
 
 December 24, 2015  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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NPC “Poli’s Theater, Washington, DC. Now playing: Edith Taliaferro in “Keep to the Right” 1920

Half The Country Is Either Living In Poverty Or Damn Near Close To It (AN)
Most Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MarketWatch)
The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 2 (Stockman)
Extreme Oil Bears Bet on $25, $20 and Even $15 a Barrel in 2016 (BBG)
US Banks Hit By Cheap Oil As OPEC Warns Of Long-Term Low (FT)
Oil Crash Is a Party Pooper as Holiday Affairs Lose Their Luster (BBG)
New Saudi Budget Expected to Be Squeezed by Low Oil Prices (WSJ)
OPEC Faces A Mortal Threat From Electric Cars (AEP)
The Trouble With Sovereign-Wealth Funds (WSJ)
China Tackles Housing Glut To Arrest Growth Slowdown (Xinhua)
German Emissions Scandal Threatens To Engulf Mercedes, BMW (DW)
Australia Approves Expansion of Barrier Reef Coal Terminal (WSJ)
Japanese Court Clears Way For Restart Of Nuclear Reactors (BBG)
On the 19th day of Christmas… [Am 19. Tag der Weihnachtszeit…] (Orlov)
Greek Banking Sector Cut In Half Since 2008 (Kath.)
No Further Cuts To Greek Pensions, Tsipras Tells Cabinet (Kath.)
Donald Trump: An Evaluation (Paul Craig Roberts)
20 Refugees Drown; 2015 Death Rate Over 10 Human Beings Each Day (CNN)

Yeah, recovery. Sure. “Jobs gained since the recession are paying 23% less than jobs lost..”

Half The Country Is Either Living In Poverty Or Damn Near Close To It (AN)

Recent reports have documented the growing rates of impoverishment in the U.S., and new information surfacing in the past 12 months shows that the trend is continuing, and probably worsening. Congress should be filled with guilt — and shame — for failing to deal with the enormous wealth disparities that are turning our country into the equivalent of a 3rd-world nation.

Half of Americans Make Less than a Living Wage According to the Social Security Administration, over half of Americans make less than $30,000 per year. That’s less than an appropriate average living wage of $16.87 per hour, as calculated by Alliance for a Just Society (AJS), and it’s not enough — even with two full-time workers — to attain an “adequate but modest living standard” for a family of four, which at the median is over $60,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. AJS also found that there are 7 job seekers for every job opening that pays enough ($15/hr) for a single adult to make ends meet.

Half of Americans Have No Savings A study by Go Banking Rates reveals that nearly 50% of Americans have no savings. Over 70% of us have less than $1,000. Pew Research supports this finding with survey results that show nearly half of American households spending more than they earn. The lack of savings is particularly evident with young adults, who went from a five-percent savings rate before the recession to a negative savings rate today. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman summarize: “Since the bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families.”

Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Can’t Afford to Fix Their Cars The Wall Street Journal reported on a Bankrate study, which found 62% of Americans without the available funds for a $500 brake job. A Federal Reserve survey found that nearly half of respondents could not cover a $400 emergency expense. It’s continually getting worse, even at upper-middle-class levels. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a JP Morgan study’s conclusion that “the bottom 80% of households by income lack sufficient savings to cover the type of volatility observed in income and spending.” Pew Research shows the dramatic shrinking of the middle class, defined as “adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars.” Market watchers rave about ‘strong’ and even ‘blockbuster’ job reports.

But any upbeat news about the unemployment rate should be balanced against the fact that nine of the ten fastest growing occupations don’t require a college degree. Jobs gained since the recession are paying 23% less than jobs lost. Low-wage jobs (under $14 per hour) made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, but accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained in the first three years of the recovery. Furthermore, the official 5% unemployment rate is nearly 10% when short-term discouraged workers are included, and 23% when long-term discouraged workers are included. People are falling fast from the ranks of middle-class living. Between 2007 and 2013 median wealth dropped a shocking 40%, leaving the poorest half with debt-driven negative wealth. Members of Congress, comfortably nestled in bed with millionaire friends and corporate lobbyists, are in denial about the true state of the American middle class. The once-vibrant middle of America has dropped to lower-middle, and it is still falling.

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Damning.

Most Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MarketWatch)

Americans are living right on the edge — at least when it comes to financial planning. Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website GOBankingRates.com. “It’s worrisome that such a large%age of Americans have so little set aside in a savings account,” says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance analyst for the site. “They likely don’t have cash reserves to cover an emergency and will have to rely on credit, friends and family, or even their retirement accounts to cover unexpected expenses.”

This is supported by a similar survey of 1,000 adults carried out earlier this year by personal finance site Bankrate.com, which also found that 62% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (26%), borrowing from family and/or friends (16%) or using credit cards (12%). And among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used some or all of their savings in the Great Recession, according to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of over 4,000 adults released last year. Of course, paltry savings-account rates don’t encourage people to save either.

In the latest survey, 29% said they have savings above $1,000 and, of those who do have money in their savings account, the most common balance is $10,000 or more (14%), followed by 5% of adults surveyed who have saved between $5,000 and just shy of $10,000; 10% say they have saved $1,000 to just shy of $5,000. Just 9% of people say they keep only enough money in their savings accounts to meet the minimum balance requirements and avoid fees. But minimum balance requirements can vary widely and be hard to meet for some consumers. They can vary anywhere between $300 a month and $1,500 a month at some major banks.

Some age groups are less likely to have savings than others. Some 31% of Generation X — who are roughly aged 35 to 54 for the purpose of this survey — while being older and presumably more experienced with money than their younger cohorts, actually report a savings account balance of zero, which is the highest%age of all age groups. Around 29% of millennials — aged 18 to 34 — and 28% of baby boomers — aged 55 to 64 — said they have no money in their savings account. Baby boomers (17%) and seniors aged 65 and up (20%) have the most money saved of any age group while less than 10% of millennials and approximately 16% of Generation X have $10,000 or more saved.

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“High powered central bank credit has exploded from $2 trillion to $21 trillion since the mid-1990’s..”

The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 2 (Stockman)

Our point yesterday was that the Fed and its Wall Street fellow travelers are about to get mugged by the oncoming battering rams of global deflation and domestic recession. When the bust comes, these foolish Keynesian proponents of everything is awesome will be caught like deer in the headlights. That’s because they view the world through a forecasting model that is an obsolete relic – one which essentially assumes a closed US economy and that balance sheets don’t matter. By contrast, we think balance sheets and the unfolding collapse of the global credit bubble matter above all else. Accordingly, what lies ahead is not history repeating itself in some timeless Keynesian economic cycle, but the last twenty years of madcap central bank money printing repudiating itself.

Ironically, the gravamen of the indictment against the “all is awesome” case is that this time is different – radically, irreversibly and dangerously so. High powered central bank credit has exploded from $2 trillion to $21 trillion since the mid-1990’s, and that has turned the global economy inside out. Under any kind of sane and sound monetary regime, and based on any semblance of prior history and doctrine, the combined balance sheets of the world’s central banks would total perhaps $5 trillion at present (5% annual growth since 1994). The massive expansion beyond that is what has fueled the mother of all financial and economic bubbles. Owing to this giant monetary aberration, the roughly $50 trillion rise of global GDP during that period was not driven by the mobilization of honest capital, profitable investment and production-based gains in income and wealth.

It was fueled, instead, by the greatest credit explosion ever imagined – $185 trillion over the course of two decades. As a consequence, household consumption around the world became bloated by one-time takedowns of higher leverage and inflated incomes from booming production and investment. Likewise, the GDP accounts were drastically ballooned by a spree of malinvestment that was enabled by cheap credit, not the rational probability of sustainable profits. In short, trillions of reported global GDP – especially in the Red Ponzi of China and its EM supply chain – represents false prosperity; the income being spent and recorded in the official accounts is merely the feedback loop of the central bank driven credit machine.

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More casino. That’s all that‘s left.

Extreme Oil Bears Bet on $25, $20 and Even $15 a Barrel in 2016 (BBG)

Oil speculators are buying options contracts that will only pay out if crude drops to as low as $15 a barrel next year, the latest sign some investors expect an even deeper slump in energy prices. The bearish wagers come as OPEC’s effective scrapping of output limits, Iran’s anticipated return to the market and the resilience of production from countries such as Russia raise the prospect of a prolonged global oil glut. “We view the oversupply as continuing well into next year,” Jeffrey Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a note on Tuesday, adding there’s a risk oil prices would fall to $20 a barrel to force production shutdowns if mild weather continues to damp demand.

The bearish outlook has prompted investors to buy put options – which give them the right to sell at a predetermined price and time – at strike prices of $30, $25, $20 and even $15 a barrel, according to data from the New York Mercantile Exchange and the U.S. Depository Trust & Clearing. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, is currently trading at about $36 a barrel. The data, which only cover options deals that have been put through the U.S. exchange or cleared, is viewed as a proxy for the overall market and volumes have increased this week as oil plunged. Investors can buy options contracts in the bilateral, over-the-counter market too. Investors have bought increasing volumes of put options that will pay out if the price of WTI drops to $20 to $30 a barrel next year, the data show. The largest open interest across options contracts – both bullish and bearish – for December 2016 is for puts at $30 a barrel.

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2016 will be a very bad year for US energy lenders. And that’s not just the banks.

US Banks Hit By Cheap Oil As OPEC Warns Of Long-Term Low (FT)

US banks face the prospect of tougher stress tests next year because of their exposure to oil in a sign of how the falling price of crude is transforming the outlook not just for energy companies but the financial sector. OPEC on Wednesday lowered its long-term estimates for oil demand and said the price of crude would not return to the level it reached last year, at $100 a barrel, until 2040 at the earliest. In its World Oil Outlook it said energy efficiency, carbon taxes and slower economic growth would affect demand. Crude oil’s price on Tuesday hit an 11-year low below $36, piling further pressure on banks that have large loans to energy companies or significant exposure to oil on their trading books.

The US Federal Reserve subjects banks with at least $50bn in assets, including the US arms of foreign banks, to an annual stress test, that is designed to ensure they could keep trading through a deep recession and a big shock to the financial system. Today’s oil prices are about 55% below their level when the Fed set last year’s stress test scenarios in October 2014. That test included looking at how banks’ trading books would fare if there was a one-off 68% fall in oil prices sometime before the end of 2017. Banks’ loan books were not tested against falls in oil prices. Banks including Wells Fargo have recently spoken about the dangers of low oil prices that could make exploration companies and oil producers unable to pay their loans.

There are now five times as many oil and gas loans in danger of default to the oil and gas sector as there were a year ago, a trio of US regulators warned in November. Michael Alix, who leads PwC’s financial services risk consulting team in New York, warned the price of oil would weigh much more heavily on the assessors when drawing up next year’s bank stress tests. “It would test those institutions [banks] for both the direct effects [of oil price falls] on their oil or commodity trading business but importantly the indirect effects [of] lending to energy companies, lending in areas of the country that are more dependent on energy companies and energy-related revenues.”

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No kidding: “You can’t have a $2 million Christmas party while at the same time laying off half your workforce..”

Oil Crash Is a Party Pooper as Holiday Affairs Lose Their Luster (BBG)

The Grinch nearly stole Christmas in the oil patch this year. Thanks to the lowest crude and natural gas prices in more than a decade, Norwegian oil and natural gas producer Statoil cut its holiday party budget by about 40% from 2014. KBR Inc. and Marathon Oil opted for smaller affairs with less swank. One Houston hotel said its seasonal party business is down 25% from 2014. Pricey wine and champagne are off the menu. The industry has shed more than 250,000 jobs and idled more than 1,000 rigs as crude prices fell by more than half since last year. Oil services, drilling and supply companies are bearing the brunt of the downturn and account for more than three quarters of the layoffs, according to industry consultant Graves & Co. “You can’t have a $2 million Christmas party while at the same time laying off half your workforce,” said Jordan Lewis at Sullivan Group, a Houston event planning company.

Independent power generators have also been stung by cheap electricity amid declining gas prices. The heating and power plant fuel slid recently to the lowest level since 1999, and is heading for the biggest annual drop since 2006 as the lack of demand leaves stockpiles at a seasonal record. The commodity rout and the layoffs that followed have dampened holiday festivities. Several hundred Statoil employees were invited earlier this month to Minute Maid Park, where Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros play, for a party that featured scaled back entertainment and décor, spokesman Peter Symons said. At the Houston-based oil and gas construction firm KBR, management canceled this year’s companywide party. Instead, individual departments were encouraged to hold their own gatherings from potlucks to group socials, spokeswoman Brenna Hapes said.

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Like all the rest, they’ll go to war to hide their troubles.

New Saudi Budget Expected to Be Squeezed by Low Oil Prices (WSJ)

The drastic slide in global crude prices is expected to force Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, to slash spending and cut back on the billions of dollars it spends on generous benefits for its citizens in next year’s budget. The oil-rich kingdom spent hundreds of billions of dollars at home in the past decade to bolster its economy and dole out subsidies that provide cheap energy and food for its 30 million people, as it enjoyed years of high crude prices. But the price of oil has fallen by more than half since the middle of last year, forcing the government to dip into reserves, reassess its spending plans and look for ways to diversify sources of revenue. “I’m worried that prices would go up,” said a man waiting for his SUV to be filled in a gas station in northern Riyadh this week.

“There is a lot of talk but I think the government has put this into account,” he said, adding that he expects the increase in prices to be small. Saudi Arabia exports about seven million barrels of oil a day and those revenues make up around 90% of the government’s fiscal revenues, and around 40% of the country’s overall gross domestic product. Saudi Arabia sees the need to cut output to boost prices but so far has been reluctant to do it alone. Officials say that preserving the country’s share of the global market is more important. The 2016 budget, expected to be unveiled in the coming days, will be the first major opportunity for the government to publicly outline a strategy to cope with a prolonged period of cheap oil and soothe the nerves of both the public and investors in the Middle East’s largest economy.

It isn’t clear whether ambitious and sensitive policy changes—such as privatizations and the cutting of energy subsidies—will be included. But even if energy subsidies are cut, the government is unlikely to immediately target consumers, who have become accustomed to some of the lowest gas prices in the world. Any reduction would risk a backlash from the public. “My expectation is that it will start gradually, and that it will target non-consumers first,” said Fahad Alturki, chief economist at Riyadh-based firm Jadwa Investment, of potential subsidy cutbacks. “We won’t see a radical change….The change will be gradual, with a clear road map—and it may not be part of the budget.”

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Ambrose is the posterchild for techno-happy. The thinking is that all it takes is for a lot of money to be thrown at the topic. Mind you, the projection is for the number of cars to double in 25 years. That is a disaster no matter what powers the cars. The magic word is ‘grid-connected vehicles’, but that grid would then have to expand, what, 4-fold?

OPEC Faces A Mortal Threat From Electric Cars (AEP)

OPEC remains defiant. Global reliance on oil and gas will continue unchanged for another quarter century. Fossil fuels will make up 78pc of the world’s energy in 2040, barely less than today. There will be no meaningful advances in technology. Rivals will sputter and mostly waste money. The old energy order is preserved in aspic. Emissions of CO2 will carry on rising as if nothing significant had been agreed in a solemn and binding accord by 190 countries at the Paris climate summit. OPEC’s World Oil Outlook released today is a remarkable document, the apologia of a pre-modern vested interest that refuses to see the writing on the wall. The underlying message is that the COP21 deal is of no relevance to the oil industry. Pledges by world leaders to drastically alter the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions before 2040 – let alone to reach total “decarbonisation” by 2070 – are simply ignored.

Global demand for crude oil will rise by 18m barrels a day (b/d) to 110m by 2040. The cartel has shaved its long-term forecast slightly by 1m b/d, but this is in part due to weaker economic growth. One is tempted to compare this myopia to the reflexive certainties of the 16th Century papacy, even as Erasmus published in Praise of Folly, and Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. The 407-page report swats aside electric vehicles with impatience. The fleet of cars in the world will rise from 1bn to 2.1bn over the next 25 years – topping 400m in China – and 94pc will still run on petrol and diesel. “Without a technology breakthrough, battery electric vehicles are not expected to gain significant market share in the foreseeable future,” it said. Electric cars cost too much. Their range is too short. The batteries are defective in hot or cold conditions.

OPEC says battery costs may fall by 30-50pc over the next quarter century but doubts that this will be enough to make much difference, due to “consumer resistance”. This is a brave call given that Apple and Google have thrown their vast resources into the race for plug-in vehicles, and Tesla’s Model 3s will be on the market by 2017 for around $35,000. Ford has just announced that it will invest $4.5bn in electric and hybrid cars, with 13 models for sale by 2020. Volkswagen is to unveil its “completely new concept car” next month, promising a new era of “affordable long-distance electromobility.” The OPEC report is equally dismissive of Toyota’s decision to bet its future on hydrogen fuel cars, starting with the Mirai as a loss-leader. One should have thought that a decision by the world’s biggest car company to end all production of petrol and diesel cars by 2050 might be a wake-up call.

Goldman Sachs expects ‘grid-connected vehicles’ to capture 22pc of the global market within a decade, with sales of 25m a year, and by then – it says – the auto giants will think twice before investing any more money in the internal combustion engine. Once critical mass is reached, it is not hard to imagine a wholesale shift to electrification in the 2030s. Goldman is betting that battery costs will fall by 60pc over the next five years, driven by economies of scale as much as by technology. The driving range will increase by 70pc. This is another world from OPEC’s forecast.

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They’re all invested in hubris.

The Trouble With Sovereign-Wealth Funds (WSJ)

Kazakhstan’s $55 billion sovereign-wealth fund helped pull the country through the global financial crisis and offered funding for the country’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. But the collapse in oil prices has hit Kazakhstan and its fund, Samruk-Kazyna JSC, hard. In October, the fund borrowed $1.5 billion in its first syndicated loan to help a cash-strapped subsidiary saddled with a troubled oil-field investment. “Our oil company lost lots of its revenues,” says the fund’s chief executive, Umirzak Shukeyev. “Currently, we are trying to adjust to the situation.” Funds like Samruk are at a critical juncture. For years, sovereign-wealth funds—financial vehicles owned by governments—swelled in size and number, fueled by rising oil prices and leaders’ aspirations to increase economic growth, invest abroad and boost political influence.

A new wave of sovereign funds came from African countries like Ghana and Angola. Asian nations joined in with funds like 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. The world’s sovereign-wealth funds together have assets of $7.2 trillion, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, which studies them. That is twice their size in 2007, and more than is managed by all the world’s hedge funds and private-equity funds combined, according to JP Morgan. The number of funds tracked by the Institute of International Finance is up 44% to 79 since the end of 2007. Nearly 60% of sovereign-wealth-fund assets are in funds dependent on energy exports. Now, some funds are shrinking or are being tapped by governments as oil revenues fall.

That is forcing them to borrow or sell investments, potentially pressuring global markets just as other investors are pulling back from risk. Saudi Arabia’s central bank, which functions in some ways like a sovereign-wealth fund as it holds significant reserves that are invested widely, has sold billions in assets this year. Norway says it plans to tap its fund, the world’s largest, for the first time in 2016. The stress from low energy prices comes at a sensitive time. At least two funds are embroiled in controversy. 1MDB, which amassed $11 billion in debt, is the subject of at least nine investigations at home and abroad. One of its main financial backers was an Abu Dhabi fund. The head of South Korea’s fund stepped down in the wake of a public outcry over his plan to invest in the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Adnan Mazarei, deputy director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, says the worry is sovereign-wealth funds will be forced to sell during a period of already turbulent markets. “A withdrawal of assets by sovereign-wealth funds against the background of liquidity concerns could lead to large price movements,” he says. “Nobody knows how much or when but the concern is there.”

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Behind the curve by a mile and a half: “China will roll out policy to transform 100 million farmers into registered urban residents..”

China Tackles Housing Glut To Arrest Growth Slowdown (Xinhua)

China will continue to actively destock its massive property inventory over concerns that the ailing housing market could derail the economy.Along with cutting overcapacity and tackling debt, destocking will be a major task in 2016, according to a statement released on Monday after the Central Economic Work Conference, which mapped out economic work for next year.Attendees of the meeting agreed that rural residents that move to urban areas should be allowed to register as residents, which would encourage them to buy homes in the city. Property developers have been advised to reduce home prices, according to the statement.”Obsolete restrictive measures [in the property market] will be revoked,” said the statement, without specifying which “restrictive measures” it was referring to.

To rein in house prices, China has been trying to curb real estate speculation, with policies such as “home purchase restriction” that only allows registered residents to buy houses. It is believed the restrictive policies mainly affected the property markets in third- and fourth-tier cities, which saw the most supply glut. The property market took a downturn in 2014 due to weak demand and a supply glut. This cooling continued into 2015, with sales and prices falling, and investment slowing. Property investment’s GDP contribution in the first three quarters of this year hit a 15-year low of 0.04%. The property market is vital to steel and cement manufacturers, as well as furniture producers; its poor performance would breed financial risks.

GDP growth during the January-September period eased to 6.9%, down from 7.4% posted for the whole of 2014. Policymakers believe the housing inventory will be lessened as long as rural residents are encouraged to buy. Nearly 55% of the population live in cities but less than 40% are registered to do so. There are around 300 million migrant workers but most are denied “hukou” (official residence status). In addition to housing rights, a hukou gives the holder equal employment rights and social security services, and their children are allowed to be enrolled in city schools. Starting next year, China will roll out policy to transform 100 million farmers into registered urban residents, according to Xu Shaoshi, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, on Tuesday. No deadline for completion was specified.

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Be that way: “Should you in any way present the accusation that my client manipulated its emissions data, we will act against you with all necessary sustainability and hold you responsible for any economic damage that my client suffers as a result.”

German Emissions Scandal Threatens To Engulf Mercedes, BMW (DW)

The environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and German state broadcaster ZDF presented the results of nitric oxide tests they had conducted on two Mercedes and BMW diesel models. They appeared to show similar discrepancies between “test mode” and road conditions that hit Volkswagen earlier this year, triggering one of the biggest scandals in German automobile history. In response to the report released on December 15, a law firm representing Daimler, which owns Mercedes, sent a letter to the DUH that read, “Should you in any way present the accusation that my client manipulated its emissions data, we will act against you with all necessary sustainability and hold you responsible for any economic damage that my client suffers as a result.”

In defiance of another threat by the Schertz law firm, the DUH published the threatening letter in full on its website. “We have been massively threatened two more times, demanding that we take down the letter – we have told them we won’t,” DUH chairman Jürgen Resch told DW on Wednesday. “For me it’s a very serious issue, because in 34 years of full-time work in environmental protection, and dealing with businesses, I have never experienced a business using media law to try and keep a communication – and a threatening letter at that – secret. “How are we supposed to do our work as a consumer and environmental protection organization when industry forbids us from making public certain threats it makes?” an outraged Resch added. “I think the threat itself is borderline legal coercion.”

In a short documentary broadcast on December 15, ZDF tested three diesel cars – a Mercedes C200 CDI from 2011, a BMW 320d from 2009, and a VW Passat 2.0 Blue Motion from 2011 – and showed that all three produced more nitric oxide on the road than they did in an official laboratory test. “The measurement results show that the cars behave differently on the test dynamometer than when they are driven on the road,” said the laboratory at the University of Applied Sciences in Bern, Switzerland, which carried out the tests. The discrepancies researchers found were not small – while all three cars kept comfortably below the European Union’s legal nitric oxide limit (180 milligrams per kilometer) in the lab, they all went well over the standard on the road, where the BMW recorded 428 mg/km (2.8 times its lab result), the Mercedes hit 420 mg/km (2.7 times its lab result), and the VW Passat reached 471 mg/km (3.7 times its lab result).

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Anything for a buck.

Australia Approves Expansion of Barrier Reef Coal Terminal (WSJ)

Australia approved the expansion of a shipping terminal close to the Great Barrier Reef on Tuesday, drawing criticism from environmentalists who say an area of outstanding natural beauty is threatened by the decision. Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he would allow the extension the Abbot Point terminal—used to ship coal to markets in Asia—with 30 conditions to help protect the environment, including a requirement that dredge material be dumped on land instead of in water near the World Heritage-listed reef. The expanded port will serve one of the world’s largest coal mines that is being developed by Adani Group in Queensland, a state in eastern Australia where the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is also located.

The Indian conglomerate aims to use the port to ship as much as 60 million tons of thermal coal annually to its power plants in India. “The port area is at least 20 kilometers from any coral reef and no coral reef will be impacted,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Hunt, adding: “All dredge material will be placed onshore on existing industrial land.” The government of Queensland, which receives an estimated 6 billion Australian dollars (US$4.3 billion) a year from reef tourism, has yet to approve the expansion, but isn’t expected to block it with the government hoping to unlock a new wave of resource projects. The extension of Abbot Point will lead to the dredging of more than 1 million cubic meters of mud and rock nearby to the reef.

Environmentalists have been equally critical of Adani’s plans to build its Carmichael coal mine and associated infrastructure in the region—because of the potential impact on a native Australian lizard and another vulnerable species. Pro-environment groups said the federal government’s approval of the port expansion wouldn’t only harm wildlife, but also run counter to Australia’s pledge at the Paris global climate conference this month to work toward curbing emissions from fossil fuels such as coal, among the country’s top exports. “The Abbot Point area to be dredged is home to dolphins and dugongs which rely on the sea grass there for food,” said Shani Tager, a Greenpeace campaigner. “It’s also a habitat for endangered marine life like turtles and giant manta rays, and is in the path of migrating humpback whales. “It’s reckless and pointless to gouge away at a pristine habitat to build a port for a coal mine nobody needs,” she added.

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One more accident away from civil war.

Japanese Court Clears Way For Restart Of Nuclear Reactors (BBG)

A Japanese court has cleared the way for Kansai Electric Power to restart two of its nuclear reactors early next year. The Fukui District Court on Thursday removed an injunction preventing the operation of Kansai Electric’s Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 nuclear reactors, Tadashi Matsuda, a representative for the citizen’s group that initiated the case, said by phone. The court also rejected a demand by local residents to block the resumption of reactor operations at Kansai Electric’s Ohi plant. The ruling was earlier reported by broadcaster NHK. “We think that today’s decisions are a result of the understanding that safety at Takahama and Ohi is guaranteed,” Kansai Electric said in a statement. Residents of Fukui who oppose the restarts plan to appeal the ruling to a higher court, according to Matsuda.

Kansai Electric, the utility most dependent on nuclear power before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, aims to restart Takahama No. 3 in late January or February, according to a company presentation last month. It is slated to be the third Japanese reactor to restart under post-Fukushima safety rules. Firing up both units will boost Kansai Electric’s profits by as much as 12.5 billion yen ($104 million) a month, according to Syusaku Nishikawa, a Tokyo-based analyst at Daiwa Securities. The two reactors at the Takahama facility, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Kyoto, were commissioned in 1985 and have a combined capacity of 1,740 megawatts.

Operations of the units were suspended in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that caused a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi facility. The units received restart approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority in February, though court challenges stopped them from resuming operation. On Tuesday, Fukui prefecture Governor Issei Nishikawa granted his approval for the restarts. While not enshrined in law, local government approval is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before they return the plants to service.

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Very much worth reading by Dmitry. I can’t copy the whole thing, but do read it.

On the 19th day of Christmas… [Am 19. Tag der Weihnachtszeit…] (Orlov)

You see, the Ukraine produces over half of its electricity using nuclear power plants. 19 nuclear reactors are in operation, with 2 more supposedly under construction. And this is in a country whose economy is in free-fall and is set to approach that of Mali or Burundi! The nuclear fuel for these reactors was being supplied by Russia. An effort to replace the Russian supplier with Westinghouse failed because of quality issues leading to an accident. What is a bankrupt Ukraine, which just stiffed Russia on billions of sovereign debt, going to do when the time comes to refuel those 19 reactors? Good question! But an even better question is, Will they even make it that far? You see, it has become known that these nuclear installations have been skimping on preventive maintenance, due to lack of funds.

Now, you are probably already aware of this, but let me spell it out just in case: a nuclear reactor is not one of those things that you run until it breaks, and then call a mechanic once it does. It’s not a “if it ain’t broke, I can’t fix it” sort of scenario. It’s more of a “you missed a tune-up so I ain’t going near it” scenario. And the way to keep it from breaking is to replace all the bits that are listed on the replacement schedule no later than the dates indicated on that schedule. It’s either that or the thing goes “Ka-boom!” and everyone’s hair falls out. How close is Ukraine to a major nuclear accident? Well, it turns out, very close: just recently one was narrowly avoided when some Ukro-Nazis blew up electric transmission lines supplying Crimea, triggering a blackout that lasted many days.

The Russians scrambled and ran a transmission line from the Russian mainland, so now Crimea is lit up again. But while that was happening, the Southern Ukrainian, with its 4 energy blocks, lost its connection to the grid, and it was only the very swift, expert actions taken by the staff there that averted a nuclear accident. I hope that you know this already, but, just in case, let me spell it out again. One of the worst things that can happen to a nuclear reactor is loss of electricity supply. Yes, nuclear power stations make electricity—some of the time—but they must be supplied with electricity all the time to avoid a meltdown. This is what happened at Fukushima Daiichi, which dusted the ground with radionuclides as far as Tokyo and is still leaking radioactive juice into the Pacific.

And so the nightmare scenario for the Ukraine is a simple one. Temperature drops below freezing and stays there for a couple of weeks. Coal and natural gas supplies run down; thermal power plants shut down; the electric grid fails; circulator pumps at the 19 nuclear reactors (which, by the way, probably haven’t been overhauled as recently as they should have been) stop pumping; meltdown!

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And what is left is being sold to investor funds.

Greek Banking Sector Cut In Half Since 2008 (Kath.)

The unprecedented crisis that has been squeezing the country since 2009 has seen domestic banks shrink to half the size they were seven years ago. According to data compiled by Kathimerini, some 50,000 jobs have been lost in the sector since 2008, of which 25,000 are in Greece and 25,000 abroad. The total number of branches has been reduced by 3,500 to 4,200 from 7,715 at the end of 2008. Local lenders have also halted operations at 1,700 branches in Greece as well as 2,175 cash machines. The number of branches in Greece has dropped by 42.3%, employees by 36% and ATMs by 28.7%. There are 49.3% fewer branches abroad and 51.7% fewer employees.

The storm within the banking system and the domestic economy is best reflected in the level of deposits and loans: The total deposits of €240 billion six years ago have now been cut in half to €120 billion. The sum of outstanding loans may be 35% less than in 2009 in theory, at €204 billion, but in reality the reduction is far greater, as €100 billion of that €204 billion is not being serviced. Therefore the real picture of the banking system shows deposits of 120 billion and serviced loans of less than €110 billion, meaning that the credit sector has halved since end-2008. Bank officials say that contraction was inevitable given the 25% decline of GDP from 2009 to 2015, with forecasts pointing to a greater recession in 2016.

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If the troika wants it, it’ll happen anyway.

No Further Cuts To Greek Pensions, Tsipras Tells Cabinet (Kath.)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pledged there will be no further cuts to pensions adding that social security reform is necessary for the completion of the nation’s bailout program review by foreign creditors. “This red line is non-negotiable: we will not reduce main pensions for a 12th time,” Tsipras told his cabinet on Wednesday. Tsipras said the bailout agreement did not mandate fresh cuts to pensions. “What the agreement calls for is cuts in spending; it does not say that these will come by reducing pensions,” he said.

Previous cuts, Tsipras said, had brought Greek pensions down by an average 45%. However, they had failed to ensure the sustainability of the country’s social security system. The government is trying to build a viable system without disrupting social cohesion, the leftist PM said. Tsipras said that pension reform is the final prerequisite for wrapping up the assessment of the Greek program so that talks on debt relief can proceed. “The goal is to complete the first review as soon as possible while keeping in place a safety net for the weakest,” he said.

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Well written.

Donald Trump: An Evaluation (Paul Craig Roberts)

Donald Trump, judging by polls as of December 21, 2015, is the most likely candidate to be the next president of the US. Trump is popular not so much for his stance on issues as for the fact that he is not another Washington politican, and he is respected for not backing down and apologizing when he makes strong statements for which he is criticized. What people see in Trump is strength and leadership. This is what is unusual about a political candidate, and it is this strength to which voters are responding. The corrupt American political establishment has issued a “get Trump” command to its presstitute media. Media whore George Stephanopoulos, a loyal follower of orders, went after Trump on national television. But Trump made mincemeat of the whore.

Stephanopoulos tried to go after Trump because the world’s favorite leader, President Putin of Russia, said complimentary things about Trump, and Trump replied in kind. According to Stephanopoulos, “Putin has murdered journalists,” and Trump should be ashamed of praising a murderer of journalists. Trump asked Stephanopoulos for evidence, and Stephanopoulos didn’t have any. In other words, Stephanopoulos confirmed Trump’s statement that American politicians just make things up and rely on the presstitutes to support invented “facts” as if they are true. Trump made reference to Washington’s many murders. Stephanopoulos wanted to know what journalists Washington had murdered. Trump responded with Washington’s murders and dislocation of millions of peoples who are now overrunning Europe as refugees from Washington’s wars.

B ut Trumps advisors were not sufficiently competent to have armed him with the story of Washington’s murder of Al Jazerra’s reporters. Here is a report from Al Jazeera, a far more trustworthy news organization than the US print and TV media:

“On April 8, 2003, during the US-led invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayoub was killed when a US warplane bombed Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Baghdad. “The invasion and subsequent nine-year occupation of Iraq claimed the lives of a record number of journalists. It was undisputedly the deadliest war for journalists in recorded history.

“Disturbingly, more journalists were murdered in targeted killings in Iraq than died in combat-related circumstances, according to the group Committee to Protect Journalists. “CPJ research shows that “at least 150 journalists and 54 media support workers were killed in Iraq from the US-led invasion in March 2003 to the declared end of the war in December 2011.” “’The media were not welcome by the US military,’” Soazig Dollet, who runs the Middle East and North Africa desk of Reporters Without Borders told Al Jazeera. ‘That is really obvious.’”

A political candidate with a competent staff would have immediately fired back at Stephanopoulos with the facts of Washington’s murder of journalists and compared these facts with the purely propagandistic accusations against Putin which have no basis whatsoever in fact. The problem with Trump is the issues on which the public is not carefully judging him. I don’t blame the public. It is refreshing to have a billionaire who can’t be bought expose the insubstantialality of all the Democratic and Repulican candidates for president. A collection of total zeros. Unlike Washington, Putin supports the sovereignty of countries. He does not believe that the US or any country has the right to overthrow governments and install a puppet or vassal. Recently Putin said: “I hope no person is insane enough on planet earth who would dare to use nuclear weapons.”

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3700 deaths in the Mediterranean in 2015. We don’t have enough shale or tears left to do them justice. We’re morally gone.

20 Refugees Drown; 2015 Death Rate Over 10 Human Beings Each Day (CNN)

The Turkish coast guard launched a search and rescue mission after at least nine migrants drowned off the nation’s coast. Eleven people remain missing and 21 have been rescued, the coast guard said Thursday. There was no information on their country of origin. The International Organization for Migration released a report this week saying more than a million migrants had entered Europe this year. The figures show that the vast majority – 971,289 – have come by sea over the Mediterranean. Another 34,215 have crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria and Greece by land. Among those traveling by sea, 3,695 are known to have drowned or remain missing as they attempted to cross the sea on unseaworthy boats, according to IOM figures. That’s a rate of more than 10 deaths each day this year.

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Aug 092015
 
 August 9, 2015  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Drift Mouth, Sand Lick Mine, near Grafton, West Virginia 1908

China Producer Price Index Falls For 40th Straight Month (Reuters)
Peak Insanity: Chinese Brokers Now Selling Margin Loan-Backed Securities (ZH)
China Cancels $17.6 Billion Construction Projects ‘To Protect Environment’ (RT)
China’s Stock Crash Is Spurring a Shakeout in Shadow Banks (Bloomberg)
Stocks Are A ‘Disaster Waiting To Happen’: Stockman (CNBC)
The Widening Vortex Of Global Finance (Sampath)
Greece’s Collapse Was a Reversion to the Mean… Who’s Next? (Phoenix)
Greek Shipping Industry Extends Its Dominance (WSJ)
German Trade Surplus To Rise To New Record In 2015 (Reuters)
Finland Could Stay Out Of New Greek Bailout, Says Foreign Minister (Reuters)
How England’s Social Care System Fails The Most Vulnerable (Observer)
Oz FinMin Orders Sale Of Residential Properties Owned By Foreign Nationals (AAP)
Why Europe And The US Are Locked In A Food Fight Over TTIP (Bonadio)
Be Afraid: Japan Is About To Do Something That’s Never Been Done Before (ZH)
Petrobras Oil Scandal Leaves Brazilians Lamenting a Lost Dream (NY Times)
How Russian Energy Giant Gazprom Lost $300 Billion (Eurasia.net)
The Huge Hidden Costs Of Our Fossil-Fueled Economy (Shiller)
Antibiotic Resistance: Zoology To The Rescue (Economist)

“China’s corporate debt stands at 160% of gross domestic product, twice that of the United States..”

China Producer Price Index Falls For 40th Straight Month (Reuters)

China is under growing pressure to further stimulate its economy after disappointing data over the weekend showed another heavy fall in factory-gate prices and a surprise slump in exports. Producer prices in July hit their lowest point since late 2009, during the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and have been sliding continuously for more than three years. Exports tumbled 8.3% in the same month, their biggest fall in four months, as weaker global demand for Chinese goods and a strong yuan policy hurt manufacturers. “Policy focus is definitely the (producer) deflation at this stage,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank. He said China’s central bank would likely need to further cut interest rates again, having already cut four times since November in the most aggressive easing in nearly seven years.

The gloom may only deepen in the coming week with a raft of economic data forecast to show renewed weakness in factories, investment and domestic spending. The world’s second-largest economy is officially targeted to grow at 7% this year, still strong by global standards, but some economists believe it is growing at a much slower pace. Economists expect the central bank to cut rates by another 25 basis points this year, and further reduce the amount of deposits banks must hold as reserves by another 100 basis points, according to a Reuters poll last month. The producer price index fell 5.4% from a year earlier, the National Statistics Bureau said on Sunday, compared with an expected 5.0% drop. It was the worst reading since October 2009 and the 40th straight month of price decline.

Falling producer prices are worrying because they eat into the profits of miners and manufacturers and raise the burden of their debts. China’s corporate debt stands at 160% of gross domestic product, twice that of the United States, according to a Thomson Reuters study of over 1,400 firms. In line with the sluggish economy, annual consumer inflation remained muted at 1.6% despite surging pork prices, in line with forecasts and slightly higher than June’s 1.4%.

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It’s like one of those layered cakes..

Peak Insanity: Chinese Brokers Now Selling Margin Loan-Backed Securities (ZH)

One of the reasons why the Chinese dragon quite often appears to be chasing its own tail is that the country is trying to re-leverage and deleverage at the same time. Take China’s local government debt refi effort for instance. Years of off-balance sheet borrowing left China’s provincial governments to labor under a debt pile that amounts to around 35% of GDP and thanks to the fact that much of the borrowing was done via LGFVs, interest rates average between 7% and 8%, making the debt service payments especially burdensome. In an effort to solve the problem, Beijing decided to allow local governments to issue muni bonds and swap them for the LGFV debt, saving around 400 bps in interest expense in the process.

Of course banks had no incentive to make the swap (especially considering NIM may come under increased pressure as it stands), and so, the PBoC decided to allow the banks to pledge the new muni bonds for central bank cash which could then be re-lent into the real economy. So, China is deleveraging (the local government refi effort) and re-leveraging (banks pledge the newly-issued munis for cash which they then use to make more loans) simultaneously. We can see similar contradictions elsewhere in China’s financial markets. For instance, Beijing has shown a willingness to tolerate defaults – even among state-affiliated companies. This is an effort (if a feeble one so far) to let the invisible hand of the market purge bad debt and flush out failed enterprises.

Meanwhile, Beijing is enacting new policies designed to encourage risky lending. In April for instance, the PBoC indicated it was set to remove a bureaucratic hurdle from the ABS issuance process, which means that suddenly, trillions in loans which had previously sat idle on banks’ books, will now be sliced, packaged, and sold. Specifically, the PBoC said regulatory approval would no longer be required to issue ABS (hilariously, successive RRR cuts have served to reduce banks’ incentive to package loans, but we’ll leave that aside for now). Once again, deleveraging (tolerating defaults) and re-leveraging (making it easier for banks to get balance sheet relief via ABS issuance), all at once.

There’s a parallel between this dynamic and what’s taking place in China’s equity markets. That is, a dramatic unwind in the half dozen or so backdoor margin lending channels (a swift deleveraging) has been met with a government-backed effort to prop up the market via China Securities Finance Corp., which has been transformed into a state-controlled margin lending Frankenstein that could ultimately end up with some CNY5 trillion in dry power (a mammoth attempt at re-leveraging). Now, the PBoC will look to supercharge efforts to re-engineer a stock market bubble via leverage by pushing brokerages to issue ABS backed by margin loans.

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“Even with last year’s 4.5% drop in housing prices, more than 60 million apartments in China remain empty. ”

China Cancels $17.6 Billion Construction Projects ‘To Protect Environment’ (RT)

China has rejected 17 construction projects with a total investment of $17.6 billion, attempting to bolster environmental protection strategies and fight corruption. The projects were among 92 examined by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), involving a total of more than 700 billion yuan ($112.6 billion) in investment, the Xinhua news agency reported on Friday. The projects’ rejection was said to improve the environmental impact assessment system and fix loopholes that allow corruption. The protection ministry has ordered all the environmental impact assessment agencies cut their links to government at all levels by the end of 2016. It has also launched random inspections of agencies and disqualified dozens of agencies and engineers, according to Xinhua.

MEP has speeded up approval of major projects such as railways and irrigation. Construction of major projects in China has been the main tool for boosting investment and sustaining growth since the beginning of 2015. Investment in the railways rose 22.6% year on year by the end of April. Beijing said in the next two years it would boost investment to foster technological progress in six manufacturing industries, including railway equipment, new-energy vehicles and medical equipment. The country is trying to upgrade its manufacturing sector and stimulate sluggish economic growth. China’s real economy cooling and a 30% stock market slump since the middle of June make it a tough task for Beijing to reach the aimed seven-percent growth in 2015.

Another key factor behind the project’s cancelation may be the real estate market, which has to stay healthy for the country’s targeted growth level. The Chinese government has engineered a property boom during the financial crisis to compensate for the weakness in overseas demand. Later it implemented tightening measures to cool the heated property market. Even with last year’s 4.5% drop in housing prices, more than 60 million apartments in China remain empty. While the real estate sector accounts for about 25-30% of China’s GDP, it’s impossible for the country to prop up the economy without reviving this vital industry.

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Something tells me these analysts have as little overview of the shadow banks as Beijing has.

China’s Stock Crash Is Spurring a Shakeout in Shadow Banks (Bloomberg)

China has been struggling to tame its shadow banks for years. Now, a stock market crash has hamstrung some of the fastest growing ones in a matter of weeks. Loans from sources such as online lenders for equity purchases have plunged by at least 700 billion yuan ($113 billion), a drop of 61% from this year’s peak, after authorities banned them from funding stock buying in July, according to a Bloomberg survey conducted last month. Peer-to-peer Internet lending for the purchases had more than tripled to 8 billion yuan in the second quarter, data from research firm Yingcan Group show. The reversal has helped cull riskier lenders in China’s online market, which was surging before the equity rout wiped out more than $4 trillion.

President Xi Jinping has already curbed traditional forms of unregulated funding – such as trust loans – as part of his effort to wean the economy from debt-fueled growth after corporate defaults mounted. “The new regulations are making the industry more disciplined and transparent,” said Wei Hou at Sanford C. Bernstein. “There may be short-term pain of a number of small players closing down. But it’s good for the industry in the long term.” Peer-to-peer lending was pioneered in the U.S. by companies such as LendingClub Corp., but China is where it’s really taking off. Origination of such loans totaled the equivalent of $41 billion in 2014 and will exceed $332 billion by 2017, according to Maybank Kim Eng. That compares with only $6 billion in the U.S. last year.

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“The point that I’m making is that it’s over.”

Stocks Are A ‘Disaster Waiting To Happen’: Stockman (CNBC)

David Stockman has long warned that the stock market is on the verge of a massive collapse, and the recent price action has him even more convinced than ever that the bottom is about to fall out. “I think it’s pretty obvious that the top is in,” the Reagan administration’s OMB director said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” The S&P 500 has traded in a historically narrow range for the better part of 2015, having moved just 1% higher year to date. “It’s just waiting for the knee-jerk bulls, robo traders and dip buyers to finally capitulate.”

Stockman, whose past claims have yet to come to fruition, still believes that the excessive monetary policy from central banks around the world has created a “debt supernova,” and all the signs point to “the end of the central bank enabled bubble,” which could cause a worldwide recession. “The larger picture has nothing to do with the jobs report [Friday] or even the September decision by the Fed,” said Stockman. “It has to do with the the fact that the world economy, including the U.S., is heading into what is clearly going to be an epochal deflation to the likes of what we have never experienced in modern time.” According to Stockman, it’s only a matter of time before the collapse in China trickles down to other markets.

“The whole global economy since 2008 has been driven forward by this massive investment and construction and borrowing spree in China,” said Stockman. “The point that I’m making is that it’s over.” For Stockman, there’s no reversing the artificially inflated bubbles created by the Federal Reserve. “I think what we are seeing is the beginning evidence that the central bank-driven credit economy is over and we are in a new era,” said Stockman. “It’s a huge disaster waiting to happen.”

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How risk got financialized.

The Widening Vortex Of Global Finance (Sampath)

[..] .. rising inequality and sky-rocketing financial profits have paralleled the rise of neo-liberalism — a term used to refer to a cluster of economic policies that includes privatisation, cuts in welfare spending, loosening of labour laws, and deregulation of finance. If there is one common factor that undergirds all these economic policies — it is the rise of global finance, or “financialization”, which also denotes the growing penetration of real economic activity (to do with generating surplus value) by finance capital. In his book, The Everyday Life of Global Finance, the economic geographer, Paul Langley, explains how the common view of global finance as something “out there somewhere” — timeless, spaceless, identified with 24X7 global markets — is fallacious.

It is simply not true that finance operates primarily in a rarefied realm of super-specialists far removed from the world of everyday economic activity such as earning, saving and borrowing. On the contrary, Langley argues, global finance has fundamentally reengineered the ordinary ways we think about and manage money. Till the generation say right up to the 1980s, the future was conceived as a realm of uncertainty, one that held possible harm, for which one provisioned through thrift — specifically, savings and insurance. Financialisation is born when uncertainty is quantified into risk. How we frame risk, calculate it, and manage it, decides what we do with our money. In Langley’s formulation, if risk is calculated and managed as a future harm that requires prudence in the present, it makes for an approach of thrift and savings.

But if it is framed as an opportunity that holds the possibility of immense rewards, it mandates an approach where the most rational form of saving becomes investment. Therefore, at the ideological level, financialisation entails two basic manoeuvres: one, the transformation of nebulous uncertainty into quantifiable risk, which is then managed through an array of calculative technologies; two, a shift in the common sense understanding of risk as something potentially harmful, to something potentially rewarding. Given that risk is essentially a financial category, the current civilisational obsession with data is another testament to the growing supremacy of finance capital (in alliance with technology), which wants every piece of the world’s data on anything and everything in order to be able to manage risk optimally for maximum returns.

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Lest we forget… We must, however, be careful where we put the blame for this.

Greece’s Collapse Was a Reversion to the Mean… Who’s Next? (Phoenix)

Because of the rampant fraud and money printing in the financial system, the real “bottom” or level of “price discovery” is far lower than anyone expects due to the fact that the run up to 2008 was so rife with accounting gimmicks and fraud. The Greek debt crisis, like all crises in the financial system today, can be traced to derivatives via the large investment banks. Indeed, we now know that Greece actually used derivatives (via Goldman Sachs) to hide the true state of its debt problems in order to join the Euro. Spiegel:

Creative accounting took priority when it came to totting up government debt. Since 1999, the Maastricht rules threaten to slap hefty fines on euro member countries that exceed the budget deficit limit of three% of gross domestic product. Total government debt mustn’t exceed 60%. The Greeks have never managed to stick to the 60% debt limit, and they only adhered to the three% deficit ceiling with the help of blatant balance sheet cosmetics… “Around 2002 in particular, various investment banks offered complex financial products with which governments could push part of their liabilities into the future,” one insider recalled, adding that Mediterranean countries had snapped up such products.

Greece’s debt managers agreed a huge deal with the savvy bankers of US investment bank Goldman Sachs at the start of 2002. The deal involved so-called cross-currency swaps in which government debt issued in dollars and yen was swapped for euro debt for a certain period – to be exchanged back into the original currencies at a later date.

The above story for Greece is illustrative of the story for all “emerging markets” starting in 2003: tons of easy money, rampant use of derivatives for accounting gimmick, and the inevitable collapse. From a big picture scenario, in 2003, the global Central Banks abandoned a focus on inflation and began to pump trillions in loose money into the economy. Because large banks could loan well in excess of $10 for every $1 in capital on their balance sheets, global credit went exponential. The effect was sharply elevated asset prices that greatly benefitted tourism-centric economies such as Greece. As I stated in our issue Price Discovery:

If the foundation of the financial system is debt… and that debt is backstopped by assets that the Big Banks can value well above their true values (remember, the banks want their collateral to maintain or increase in value)… then the “pricing” of the financial system will be elevated significantly above reality. Put simply, a false “floor” was put under asset prices via fraud and funny money. Take a look at the impact this had on Greece’s economy. Below is Greek GDP dating back to the 1960s. Having maintained a long-term trendline of growth the country suddenly saw its GDP MORE THAN DOUBLE in less than 10 years after joining the EU?

In many regards, this “growth” was just a credit binge, much like housing prices, stock prices, etc. By joining the Euro, Greece was able to borrow money at much lower rates (2%-3% vs. 10%-20%). Rather than using these lower rates to pay off its substantial debts, Greece funneled as much money as possible towards Government employees (nearly one in three Greek workers). As a result, Government wages nearly doubled to the point that your typical Government employee was paid 150% more than his or her private sector counterpart. Add to this a pension system in which retirees are paid 92% of their former salaries and you have a debt bomb of epic proportions.

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Yes, there are still rich Greeks.

Greek Shipping Industry Extends Its Dominance (WSJ)

Greece’s shipping magnates, having emerged largely unscathed from both the country’s ravaging financial crisis and one the industry’s longest-ever downturns, are now extending their dominance by snapping up vessels from competitors who haven’t fared as well. The Greek owners, who operate almost 20% of the global fleet of merchant ships, are paying rock-bottom prices because assets once owned by bankrupt shipping lines are now in the hands of creditors, including German banks, who want to clear nonperforming loans from their portfolios. For years, Greece and Germany have been Europe’s shipping powerhouses.

But while the Greeks stuck to a hands-on approach in which the owner arranged everything from financing to chartering and operations, the so-called German KG system largely depended on scores of investors ranging from banks to the country’s wealthy middle class. Many of them put their money into shipping at the peak of the market, before the 2008 economic downturn. “As the global financial crisis took hold and the freight market gradually collapsed, the Greeks stayed above water as they were not overly leveraged and stood on cash generated during the boom years before 2008,” said Basil Karatzas, a New York-based maritime adviser. In Germany, by contrast, a single vessel often had up to 1,000 investors and the system wasn’t strong enough to absorb the market stress, Mr. Karatzas said.

“There were too many conflicts of interest, lopsided market concentration on container ships—which were among the hardest hit—and scores of loans by German banks, which poured billions into new vessels believing that demand will continue to grow,” he said. Analysts say that at the end of 2012, German lenders including HSH Nordbank, Commerzbank and Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale controlled about a third of the $475 billion global ship-finance market. In the past four years, the three banks have set aside more than €3.6 billion in provisions for nonperforming shipping loans as they desperately try to sell vessels once owned by bankrupt shipping lines.

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Illegal under EU treaties.

German Trade Surplus To Rise To New Record In 2015 (Reuters)

Germany’s trade surplus is expected to rise to a new record in 2015 thanks to falls in the prices of imported oil and gas, Der Spiegel reported on Saturday. The Finance Ministry is estimating a trade surplus of 8.1% of economic output after 7.6% last year, the magazine said, citing an internal ministry document. The lower cost of imports of oil and gas is expected to boost the trade balance by around 1.2% alone, the document said. Without the decline in oil and gas prices, the trade surplus would have fallen compared with the previous year. Germany has come under international pressure to reduce its trade surplus, which critics say contributes to imbalances in the world economy.

In a report published last month, the IMF said Berlin should focus on bolstering medium–term growth and reducing external imbalances. The European Commission considers trade surpluses that are repeatedly over 6% of economic output as dangerous for stability and has urged Germany to undertake more investment to stimulate imports. Despite a fall in exports in June, the larger net balance between exports and imports meant that the trade surplus widened to a record €24.0 billion, data published on Friday showed.

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Let Finland be the one to blow up the edifice.

Finland Could Stay Out Of New Greek Bailout, Says Foreign Minister (Reuters)

Finland could stay out of a planned third bailout deal for Greece, the Nordic country’s Eurosceptic foreign minister said on Saturday, amid calls from his nationalist party, The Finns, for a more critical stance toward the EU. Finland has taken one of the hardest lines against bailouts among euro zone members, and got even tougher in May when The Finns joined a new center-right coalition. “Of course we can stay out of (the third bailout), that is possible,” Timo Soini told Reuters on the sidelines of his party’s congress. “We’re really out of patience … Our government has a very tight policy on this. We will not accept increasing Finland’s liabilities, or cuts in Greece’s debts.”

Athens is racing to wrap up agreement on a bailout worth up to €86 billion within days, hoping to receive a first disbursement in time to make a debt repayment to the European Central Bank. Finland has said it could accept a deal under which the EU’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, would be used only within its current capacity. At a meeting of euro zone finance ministers last month, Finland supported the idea of a temporary ‘Grexit’ – Greece leaving the bloc – but eventually accepted that new loan talks could begin. “If we vote against a deal, it goes to the emergency procedure, and a package is implemented regardless of us,” Soini said, referring to a clause in the fund that allows measures to be passed without unanimous approval if stability is deemed to be at risk.

“I don’t believe that this (bailout) policy will provide solutions, and I think that, in the longer term, ‘Grexit’ is the most likely scenario.” Soini’s party, formerly known as True Finns, has risen from obscurity within just a few years to become the second-biggest parliament group in an election last April. Its criticisms of the EU and its calls for tougher restrictions on immigration have resonated among many citizens as Finland struggles with recession and rising unemployment. But the party had to make compromises as it agreed for the first time to enter government, teaming up with millionaire prime minister Juha Sipila’s Centre party and the pro-EU National Coalition party.

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All care systems do.

How England’s Social Care System Fails The Most Vulnerable (Observer)

It is written in the dry language of the bureaucrat. But an inspector’s report published just last week into the red-brick Birdsgrove Nursing Home, near Bracknell in Berkshire, accommodating the elderly and frail, as well as people stricken by dementia still makes for uncomfortable reading. “We spoke with a person who was still in bed in night clothes,” the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspector writes. “It was mid-morning and the person told the inspector they had been awake since 7am and were waiting for two staff to help move them from their bed to their chair, wash them and help them get dressed. The person said they were unsure if they were going to be washed today as they had not been told. They said: ‘You have to get used to it here, it’s a routine.’

“We left the person’s room and shortly afterwards heard them shouting for help. They were shouting: ‘Please help me’ and ‘Help me, please’. The person was in very obvious distress and their shouts for help were loud enough for any staff nearby to hear them. No staff responded to the person’s calls for help. “We went into their room and reassured the person and they became calm. We said we would get a member of staff to come and help them. One inspector spoke with a care worker on the corridor outside the person’s room and told them the person needed help. The care worker said they were helping another person adding: ‘I’m doing her, I don’t want this one wandering off as well.’

“We left the room as the person remained calm. Shortly after we left the room they began shouting for help again in the same manner. A registered nurse was observed standing in the corridor near to the person’s room not reacting to their cries for help. We had to find another member of staff and ask them to come to help the person. A few minutes later a care worker arrived to assist the person. The person’s cries for help were repeatedly ignored.”

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New Zealand and Canada next?

Oz FinMin Orders Sale Of Residential Properties Owned By Foreign Nationals (AAP)

Joe Hockey has ordered the sale of six residential properties owned by foreign nationals. The owners live in four countries, with one investor having two in a Perth suburb, the treasurer told reporters in Sydney on Saturday. Some purchased the properties with Foreign Investment Review Board approval but their circumstances have changed, while others have simply broken the rules, he said. Hockey said the purchase price of the properties – in Sydney, on the outskirts of Brisbane and in Perth – ranged from $152,000 to $1.86 million. The investors voluntarily came forward following the amnesty the federal government announced in May. “They now have 12 months to sell the properties, rather than the normal three-month period, and they will not be referred for criminal prosecution,” he said.

There are 462 other cases under investigation, with the treasurer predicting more divestment orders being made in the future. “I expect more divestment orders will be announced in the not too distant future,” he said. The treasurer urged others to come forward before the November 30 cut off, saying he will introduce tighter rules into parliament during the next two weeks. They will include tougher civil penalties, which will see investors lose the capital gain made on the property, 25% of the purchase price or 25% of the market value of the property. “Australia’s foreign investment policy for residential real estate is designed to increase our housing stock, but those who break the rules and purchase established property illegally are doing so to the detriment of all Australians,” he said.

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TPP looks dead, TTIP up next?!

Why Europe And The US Are Locked In A Food Fight Over TTIP (Bonadio)

Black Forest ham, Asiago, Gorgonzola, Gouda, and many other European geographical indications for foodstuffs are at the centre of a TTIP food fight. They are all protected from imitation by other companies in many countries of the world. Not in the US though. And as the details of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are negotiated, the EU wants to stop American manufacturers from being able to falsely label their products with their protected names. Part of the EU’s legal framework for protecting regional food products is that they have acquired a strong reputation among consumers the world over. Favourable climates and centuries-old manufacturing techniques rooted in their protected areas have contributed to build up this renown. They are intellectual property rights that identify “products with a story”.

The US plays by different rules, however. There are numerous American companies that use European geographical and traditional names (including Parmesan, Asiago and feta for cheese) to identify products that have not been produced in the relevant European locations – and often do not have the same quality as the originals. This lack of protection – European negotiators stress – allows an unacceptable exploitation of Europe’s cultural heritage, as well as costing EU manufacturers large amounts of revenue. The US is, however, resisting these claims. Its negotiators maintain that their food producers have been using and trademarking European geographical names for many decades, and it would now be unfair to ask them to stop.

The US also claims that many of the geographical terms, such as Parmesan, Fontina, feta, Gouda and Edam, have become the generic names of the relevant products, and cannot be monopolised by anyone, including the European producers located in those areas. Indeed, most US consumers don’t even know that these terms are actually geographical names. To them they just describe the characteristics of a product. EU-style legal protection – the US argument goes – would basically allow rent-seeking by European food producers. It would amount to a trade barrier, which would force many US producers to go through an expensive re-brand, and would increase final prices for consumers. It would take a heavy toll on the US cheese market in light of the US$21 billion in US cheese production that uses European-origin names.

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How fitting. In the week that we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Be Afraid: Japan Is About To Do Something That’s Never Been Done Before (ZH)

When the words “mothballed”, “nuclear”, and “never been done before” are seen together with Japan in a sentence, the world should be paying attention… As TEPCO officials face criminal charges over the lack of preparedness with regard Fukushima, and The IAEA Report assigns considerable blame to the Japanese culture of “over-confidence & complacency,” Bloomberg reports,

Japan is about to do something that’s never been done before: Restart a fleet of mothballed nuclear reactors. The first reactor to meet new safety standards could come online as early as next week. Japan is reviving its nuclear industry four years after all its plants were shut for safety checks following the earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station north of Tokyo, causing radiation leaks that forced the evacuation of 160,000 people.

Mothballed reactors have been turned back on in other parts of the world, though not on this scale – 25 of Japan’s 43 reactors have applied for restart permits. One lesson learned elsewhere is that the process rarely goes smoothly. Of 14 reactors that resumed operations after four years offline, all had emergency shutdowns and technical failures, according to data from the World Nuclear Association, an industry group. “If reactors have been offline for a long time, there can be issues with long-dormant equipment and with ‘rusty’ operators,” Allison Macfarlane, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said by e-mail.

In case you are not worried enough yet…

As problems can arise with long-dormant reactors, the NRA “should be testing all the equipment as well as the operator beforehand in preparation,” Macfarlane of the U.S. said by e-mail. Although the NRA “is a new agency, many of the staff there have long experience in nuclear issues,” she said. Kyushu Electric has performed regular checks since the reactor was shut to ensure it restarts and operates safely, said a company spokesman, who asked not to be identified because of company policy.

“If a car isn’t used for a while, and you suddenly use it, then there is usually a problem. There is definitely this type of worry with Sendai,” said Ken Nakajima, a professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute. “Kyushu Electric is probably thinking about this as well and preparing for it.”

It’s not the first time a nation has tried this..

In Sweden, E.ON Sverige AB closed the No. 1 unit at its Oskarshamn plant in 1992 and restarted it in 1996. It had six emergency shutdowns in the following year and a refueling that should have taken 38 days lasted more than four months after cracks were found in equipment.

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“..if I speak, the republic is going to fall.” They could triple the health care budget if they get rid of corruption.

Petrobras Oil Scandal Leaves Brazilians Lamenting a Lost Dream (NY Times)

Alberto Youssef, a convicted money launderer and former bon vivant, sat in a Brazilian jail cell in March of last year, getting ready to tell his lawyers a story. It was about an elaborate bribery scheme involving Petrobras, the government-controlled oil giant. He opened with a dire prediction. “Guys,” Mr. Youssef said, “if I speak, the republic is going to fall.” To those lawyers, Tracy Reinaldet and Adriano Bretas, who recently recounted the conversation, this sounded a tad melodramatic. But then Mr. Youssef took a piece of paper and started writing the names of participants in what would soon become known as the Petrobras scandal. Mr. Reinaldet looked at the names and asked, not for the last time that day, “Are you serious?”

[..] Oil was central to Brazil’s strategy, and that gave Petrobras a leading role in the nation’s growing influence — and pride of place. At one time it was the sixth-largest company in the world by market capitalization and accounted for roughly 10% of Brazil’s gross domestic product. For perspective, Apple, which has twice Petrobras’s peak market cap, represents 0.5% of the United States’ gross domestic product. The company has lost more than half its value in the last year, about $70 billion in market cap. Part of that stems from the worldwide decline in oil prices, but none of the company’s rivals have been punished as severely. That plunge has had repercussions for investors worldwide. Petrobras had been a favorite investment for big emerging-market bond funds sold to United States investors, for instance.

In Brazil, Petrobras’s plunge is so cataclysmic, according to analysts, that it is a major reason the economy is expected to contract by more than one%age point this year. Unemployment is up, and Standard & Poor’s has cut the nation’s long-term debt rating to one notch above junk status. All of this has provoked something that transcends outrage. Brazilians are in the midst of an identity crisis. Much of Brazil’s recently acquired cachet looks as if it was the product of fraud, and for an added touch of humiliation, a fraud cooked up at a company long regarded as an emblem of Brazil’s success and aspirations. “I’ve never seen my countrymen so angry,” said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “We have this sense that the dream is over.”

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As always when western media address Russia: beware of hidden political themes.

How Russian Energy Giant Gazprom Lost $300 Billion (Eurasia.net)

It was not too long ago that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, was one of the Kremlin’s most powerful weapons. But those days now seem like a distant memory. Today, Gazprom is a financial shadow of its former self. The speed of Gazprom’s decline is breathtaking. At its peak in May 2008, the company’s market capitalisation reached $367bn, making it one of world’s most valuable companies, according to a survey compiled by the Financial Times. Only fellow Exxonmobile and PetroChina were worth more. Gazprom’s deputy chair Alexander Medvedev repeatedly predicted that within a decade the Russian energy giant could be worth $1 trillion.

That prediction now seems foolhardy. Since 2008, Gazprom’s value has plummeted. In early August it had a market capitalisation of $51bn – losing more than $300bn. No company among the world’s top 5,000 has suffered a bigger collapse, Bloomberg Business News reported in April 2014, and by the end of the year net income had fallen by an astonishing 86%. Though share prices have rallied slightly since, indicators suggest Gazprom has further to fall. Lingering uncertainty raises questions about whether it can survive, with production continuing to tumble downward. So what happened? Why is a company with the world’s largest gas reserves, operating in a country bordering China and the European Union – two of the world’s top energy consumers, performing so badly?

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“..costs of the coal companies range mostly from about $40 to $100 for every dollar in profit”

The Huge Hidden Costs Of Our Fossil-Fueled Economy (Shiller)

Extracting fossil fuels is a lucrative business. Last year, ExxonMobil made $32.5 billion in profits. But, arguably, it’s a business built on shaky foundations. If we were to account for the full cost of fossil fuels to the environment, it might completely wipe out the industry’s profitability. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis from the University of Cambridge that tallies up the social cost of producing oil, gas and coal products. Across 20 leading companies, it finds “hidden economic costs” that is, costs that aren’t currently paid of $755 billion in 2008, and $883 billion in 2012. Which is several times what the companies reported in earned income in those years. “The 20 companies as a group are highly profitable, with after tax profits of about 8.2 % of revenues in 2008 and 8.6 % in 2012.

However this does not take account of the hidden economic cost to society that is caused when their products are burned and CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere,” says the paper by Chris Hope, Paul Gilding, and Jimena Alvarez. The researchers studied the accounts of major oil and gas groups like BP, Shell, Statoil, and Petrobras as well as several coal producers like Peabody and Coal India. The calculations are based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency model that says each ton of CO2 costs society $105 (in 2008 dollars). That’s higher than the working EPA figure of $37 per ton, but below what some other researchers have calculated it should be. The analysis doesn’t include some major state-owned producers such as Saudi Aramco, which don’t publish open public accounts.

Most of the oil and gas companies have hidden costs of $1.5 to $3 for every dollar is post-tax profit, while costs of the coal companies range mostly from about $40 to $100 for every dollar in profit, the paper says. The coal companies are also the most “unprofitable” with economic costs ranging from two to nine times annual revenues (let alone their profits). The point of the paper is to warn investors that they face risks if society ever wants to account for its losses (which doesn’t look likely at the moment, but still). “These results will be a useful starting point for investors seeking to manage their exposure to climate change risk, and for policy makers interested in fossil fuel companies net contribution to society,” the authors say.

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Love this sort of thinking.

Antibiotic Resistance: Zoology To The Rescue (Economist)

Much is made, in academic circles, of the virtues of interdisciplinary research. Its practice is somewhat rarer. But fresh thinking and an outsider’s perspective often do work wonders, and that may just have happened in the field of antibiotic resistance. Adin Ross-Gillespie of Zurich University is a zoologist, not a physician. But his study of co-operative animals such as meerkats and naked mole rats has led him to think about the behaviour of another highly collaborative group, bacteria. He and his colleagues have just presented, at a conference on evolutionary medicine in Zurich, a way of subverting this collaboration to create a new class of drug that seems immune to the processes which cause resistance to evolve.

Antibiotic resistance happens because, when a population of bacteria is attacked with those drugs, the few bugs that, by chance, have a genetic protection against their effects survive and multiply. As in most cases of natural selection, it is the survival of these, the fittest individuals, that spurs the process on. But Dr Ross-Gillespie realised that, in the case of bacteria, there are circumstances when the survival of the fittest cannot easily occur. One of these is related to the way many bacteria scavenge a crucial nutrient, iron, from the environment. They do it by releasing molecules called siderophores that pick up iron ions and are then, themselves, picked up by bacterial cells. In a colony of bacteria, siderophore production and use is necessarily communal, since the molecule works outside the boundaries of individual cells.

All colony members contribute and all benefit. In theory, that should encourage free riders—bacteria which use siderophores made by others without contributing their own. In practice, perhaps because the bacteria in a colony are close kin, this does not seem to happen. But inverting free riding’s logic makes the system vulnerable to attack, for a bug that contributes more than its share does not prosper. Following this line of thought Dr Ross-Gillespie turned to gallium, ions of which behave a lot like those of iron and can substitute for them in a siderophore, making it useless to a bacterium. In fact, siderophores bind more effectively with gallium than with iron, hijacking the whole process. A judicious dose of gallium nitrate can thus take out an entire bacterial colony, by depriving it of the iron it needs to thrive.

The crucial point is that, because siderophores are a resource in common, a mutated siderophore that did not bind preferentially to gallium would be swamped by the others, would fail to benefit the bug that produced it, and therefore would not be selected for and spread. At least, that was Dr Ross-Gillespie’s theory.

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May 262015
 
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Walker Evans Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Vicksburg Negroes and shop front.” 1936

We Must Protect Our Children From Austerity (Guardian)
Greek Hospitals Out Of Painkillers, Scissors And Sheets Due To Austerity (RT)
The Key To A Greek Economic Revival Has To Be An End To Austerity (Münchau)
Austerity Is the Only Deal-Breaker (Yanis Varoufakis)
Greece Is All But Bankrupt (NY Times)
The World Is Drowning In Debt, Warns Goldman Sachs (Telegraph)
Investors Are Playing A ‘Greater Fool’ Game (George Magnus)
Weak Productivity Turns Into A Problem Of Global Proportions (FT)
Greece, the EU and the IMF Are Dancing With Death (Coppola)
Greek PM Convenes Emergency Meeting Of His Bailout Team (Guardian)
Greece’s Governing Left Divided Over Debt Terms (WSJ)
IMF’s Blanchard Says Greek Budget Proposals Will Not Provide (Reuters)
Germany And France Agree Closer Eurozone Ties Without Treaty Change (Guardian)
UK’s Cameron Tells EC President That Europe Must Change (Reuters)
Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite (NY Times)
China Warned Over ‘Insane’ Plans For New Nuclear Power Plants (Guardian)
Yesterday’s Tomorrowland (Jim Kunstler)
Flawed Science Triggers U-Turn On Cholesterol Fears (Daily Mail)
EU Dropped Pesticide Laws Due To US Pressure Over TTIP (Guardian)

I think it’s more that we need to protect them from our own greed.

We Must Protect Our Children From Austerity (Guardian)

The definition of a decadent society is one that destroys its own future, knowing full well the terrible consequences. On that basis, Britain is truly degenerate. Just look at how it trashes its children and teenagers. Our young are the very people on whom the rest of us will one day come to depend – to care for us, and to earn the country’s income. Rather than mere lifestyle accessories, to be slotted in alongside handbags and cars, they represent our best hope. This human truth has sustained societies around the world and down the ages. Yet in austerity Britain, children have been chucked to the bottom of the pile. They have been robbed of their rightful benefits. And the support they could once draw upon – everything from Sure Start centres to youth clubs to mental-health workers – has been hacked back.

Hyperbole? I really wish it were. Instead, I am merely repeating what professionals in field after field, from social care to mental health, are saying – and what the expert analysis shows. The landmark study of the social effects of David Cameron’s austerity was produced at the start of this year by a team of academics led by Professor John Hills at the London School of Economics. They found that the biggest victims of the spending cuts made since 2010 were children, and their parents: “Tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type. Those with a baby were especially affected.” None of this was accidental. Treasury officials stick each prospective change in tax and benefits under a Whitehall microscope – which is why so few budgets are an omnishambles.

When making their cuts, Cameron and George Osborne would have known that children and babies would suffer most – and proceeded regardless. Remember that next time you catch some commentator talking with great gravitas but little policy detail about the new compassionate Conservatism. Two things stand out in Cameron’s assault on children: it is precisely the opposite of what he promised, and exactly the reverse of what he himself knows any prime minister should be doing. Before coming to office, the Conservative leader unveiled a poster of a handsome tot: “Dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, Gordon Brown’s debt.” The whole point of cuts was “because we believe children like this deserve better”. One parliament later, the Trussell Trust reports that more than a third of the one million food parcels it gave out last year were for children.

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Due to our own lack of morals?!

Greek Hospitals Out Of Painkillers, Scissors And Sheets Due To Austerity (RT)

Hospitals across Greece are lacking the most essential supplies, including painkillers, scissors and sheets, as years of economic meltdown have left the country’s healthcare system in a desperate state. The number of uninsured Greeks has reached 2.5 million compared to 500,000 in the pre-crisis year of 2008, the Times reported. Healthcare spending has dropped by 25% since 2009, leading to shortages of medical equipment and a lack of funds to pay nurses’ salaries. The country spends around €11 billion annually on its public healthcare system, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU.

According to media reports, some Greek patients have had to undergo painful medical procedures without anesthetics. People have also been turned away from hospitals, as they didn’t even have the equipment to measure their blood pressure, the newspaper learned. On one occasion, a patient was even asked to bring his own sheets to the infirmary from home. A trainee surgeon at KAT state hospital in Athens described the situation at his hospital as being at the “breaking point”. “There is no money to repair medical equipment, no money for ambulances to use for petrol, no money to hire nurses and no money to buy modern surgical supplies,” he told the Times.

In April, the new Syriza government vowed to battle the “barbaric conditions” in public hospitals, as well as corruption in the healthcare sector. Despite money shortages, Greek authorities abolished the €5 fee to visit state hospitals and have pledged to hire an additional 4,500 healthcare workers. “We want to turn the health sector from a victim of the bailouts, a victim of austerity, into a fundamental right for every resident of this country and we commit to do so at any cost,” Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, said. “We will not tolerate the exploitation of human pain,” Tsipras stressed.

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“..the creditors are responsible for the current mess by insisting on an economically illiterate adjustment programme.”

The Key To A Greek Economic Revival Has To Be An End To Austerity (Münchau)

It is all up to Alexis Tsipras now. The Greek prime minister will decide soon whether or not he wants a deal with his creditors that would allow Athens to service its debt. If he says “no”, Greece will default. At that point, it is possible the country will have to leave the eurozone. What should he do? He will know his own political constraints. I will focus on the economics. The short answer is: if the deal is reasonable, he should accept. So where is the line between reasonable and unreasonable? The rough answer is whatever it takes to end the uncertainty. No investor is going to put their money into Greece so long as there is a threat of Grexit – a Greek exit from the eurozone. For an agreement to be viable, it would need to reduce the probability of Grexit to zero.

The same applies to the policies needed if Mr Tsipras says “no”. On that day he would need a brilliant economic plan. So what economic criteria should he apply to evaluate any offer? The single most important part of the agreement concerns the fiscal adjustment that Greece’s creditors are asking Athens to undertake. The variable to look out for is the primary surplus – the fiscal balance before payment of interest on debt: essentially the money a country has for debt servicing. There is no such thing as an objectively right or wrong number. But experience shows that large primary surpluses are politically unsustainable. It was the unsustainability of the previous agreement between Greece, its European creditors and the IMF that brought Syriza to power.

I heard a respected expert on this issue recently proclaim that a primary surplus of 2.5% of gross domestic product would probably work. The Greeks have demanded 1.5%, which is a reasonable opening bid. One of the so-called “non-papers” – the documents officials leak without leaving fingerprints – that are circulating among the negotiators had mentioned a figure of 3.5%, which strikes me as too high. A primary surplus of 4.5%, as was demanded from 2016 onwards by the previous loan agreement, is plainly ludicrous.

Greek economic mismanagement brought about the crisis in 2010, but the creditors are responsible for the current mess by insisting on an economically illiterate adjustment programme. They had not taken into account the fact that Greece is a relatively closed economy. This means that most of its GDP is produced and consumed at home. If you force such an economy into extreme austerity during a recession, it stays trapped. The key to a Greek economic revival has to be an end to austerity. This is why Grexit is not necessarily a solution, either, since it might bring even more fiscal consolidation. Greece would be cut off from international capital markets and unable to run a deficit.

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” Relative to the rest of the countries on the eurozone periphery, Greece was subjected to at least twice the austerity. There is nothing more to it than that.”

Austerity Is the Only Deal-Breaker (Yanis Varoufakis)

A common fallacy pervades coverage in the world’s media of the negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors. The fallacy, exemplified in a recent commentary by Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, is that, “Athens is unable or unwilling – or both – to implement an economic reform program.” Once this fallacy is presented as fact, it is only natural that coverage highlights how our government is, in Stephens’s words, “squandering the trust and goodwill of its eurozone partners.” But the reality of the talks is very different. Our government is keen to implement an agenda that includes all of the economic reforms emphasized by European economic think tanks.

Moreover, we are uniquely able to maintain the Greek public’s support for a sound economic program. Consider what that means: an independent tax agency; reasonable primary fiscal surpluses forever; a sensible and ambitious privatization program, combined with a development agency that harnesses public assets to create investment flows; genuine pension reform that ensures the social-security system’s long-term sustainability; liberalization of markets for goods and services, etc. So, if our government is willing to embrace the reforms that our partners expect, why have the negotiations not produced an agreement? Where is the sticking point?

The problem is simple: Greece’s creditors insist on even greater austerity for this year and beyond – an approach that would impede recovery, obstruct growth, worsen the debt-deflationary cycle, and, in the end, erode Greeks’ willingness and ability to see through the reform agenda that the country so desperately needs. Our government cannot – and will not – accept a cure that has proven itself over five long years to be worse than the disease. Our creditors’ insistence on greater austerity is subtle yet steadfast. It can be found in their demand that Greece maintain unsustainably high primary surpluses (more than 2% of GDP in 2016 and exceeding 2.5%, or even 3%, for every year thereafter).

To achieve this, we are supposed to increase the overall burden of value-added tax on the private sector, cut already diminished pensions across the board; and compensate for low privatization proceeds (owing to depressed asset prices) with “equivalent” fiscal consolidation measures. The view that Greece has not achieved sufficient fiscal consolidation is not just false; it is patently absurd. The accompanying figure not only illustrates this; it also succinctly addresses the question of why Greece has not done as well as, say, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, or Cyprus in the years since the 2008 financial crisis. Relative to the rest of the countries on the eurozone periphery, Greece was subjected to at least twice the austerity. There is nothing more to it than that.

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Heart rendering. “Maybe the crisis makes us better people — but these better people will die if the crisis continues.” “They can take their money,” he said, using an expletive. “I feel ashamed to be a European.”

Greece Is All But Bankrupt (NY Times)

Bulldozers lie abandoned on city streets. Exhausted surgeons operate through the night. And the wealthy bail out broke police departments. A nearly bankrupt Greece is taking desperate measures to preserve cash. Absent a last-minute deal with its creditors, the nation will run out of money early next month. Two weeks ago, Greece nearly defaulted on a debt payment of €750 million to the IMF. For the rest of this month, Greece should be able to cover daily cash deficits of around €100 million, government ministers say. Starting June 5, however, these shortfalls will rise sharply, to around €400 million as another I.M.F. obligation comes due. They will then double in size on June 8 and 9. “At that point it is all over,” said a senior Greek finance official.

On Sunday, the interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, said that there would not be enough money to pay the I.M.F. if there was no deal by June 5. In a society that has lived off the generosity of the government for decades, the cash crisis has already had a shattering impact. Universities, hospitals and municipalities are struggling to provide basic services, and the country’s underfunded security apparatus is losing its battle against an influx of illegal immigrants. In effect, analysts say, Greece is already operating as a bankrupt state. The government’s call to conserve funds has been far-reaching. All embassies and consulates — as well as municipalities throughout the country — have been told to forward surplus funds to Athens. Hospitals and schools face strict orders not to hire doctors and teachers.

And national security officials complain they are under intense pressure to keep air and sea missions to a minimum, at a time when migrants from Africa and the Middle East are rushing to Greece’s shores. Even the swelling ranks of investment bankers, lawyers and consultants advising the Finance Ministry have been told that, for now at least, their work is to be considered pro bono. Since its first bailout in 2010, Greece has been forced by its creditors to cut spending by €28 billion — quite a sum in a €179 billion economy. A proportional dose of austerity applied to the United States, for example, would come to $2.6 trillion.

=============

Sitting at his desk at the start of yet another 20-hour-plus workday, Theodoros Giannaros, the head of Elpis Hospital in Athens, chain-smoked cigarettes and signed off on a pile of spending requests that he said he knew would not be fulfilled. Since he started work at the hospital in 2010, Mr. Giannaros has seen his salary shrink to €1,200 a month, from €7,400. His annual budget, once €20 million, is now €6 million, and the number of practicing doctors has been reduced to 200 from 250. Like almost everyone in Greece, he is making do with less. The hospital recycles instruments; buys the cheapest surgical gloves on the market (they occasionally rip in the middle of operations, he says); and uses primarily generic drugs. “We have learned that we can live with a lot of money and survive with nothing,” he said.

“Maybe the crisis makes us better people — but these better people will die if the crisis continues.” Mr. Giannaros, who is 58, says he recently suffered a heart attack from the constant stress. But he says it is his surgeons he worries about most. In aging, depression-ridden Greece, treating the 150 or so patients that come to his hospital each day has put an extraordinary strain on his shrinking corps of doctors. The fact that many have begun to strike because they are not getting paid for overtime makes matters worse. Striding across the hospital grounds, Mr. Giannaros waved over his star surgeon, Dimitris Tsantzalos. How many operations did you do last year, he asked. “About 1,500,” said Dr. Tsantzalos, who, with his strapping build, seems younger than his 63 years. Recently he says he put in a month of consecutive 20-hour days and, not surprisingly, confesses to exhaustion. “I am burnt out,” he said. “It’s very dangerous for the patients.”

A week later, a tragedy struck Mr. Giannaros: His 26-year-old son, Patrick, committed suicide by jumping in front of an Athens subway train. “There was just an emptiness in front of him,” Mr. Giannaros said between wrenching sobs in a brief telephone conversation. “The emptiness of the future they have taken away from us.” His son had finished university studies and, unable to find work in a country where more than half the young are jobless, was helping Mr. Giannaros at the hospital. “He saw no future, no way to help his family,” Mr. Giannaros said. “Now God has found him a job — as an angel.” While Mr. Giannaros said he understood the importance of staying current with important creditors like the I.M.F., he said enough was enough. “They can take their money,” he said, using an expletive. “I feel ashamed to be a European.”

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Nothing new.

The World Is Drowning In Debt, Warns Goldman Sachs (Telegraph)

The world is sinking under too much debt and an ageing global population means countries’ debt piles are in danger of growing out of control, the European chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management has warned. Andrew Wilson, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said growing debt piles around the world posed one of the biggest threats to the global economy. “There is too much debt and this represents a risk to economies. Consequently, there is a clear need to generate growth to work that debt off but, as demographics change, new ways of thinking at a policy level are required to do this,” he said.

“The demographics in most major economies – including the US, in Europe and Japan – are a major issue – and present us with the question of how we are going to pay down the huge debt burden. With life expectancy increasing rapidly, we no longer have the young, working populations required to sustain a debt-driven economic model in the same way as we’ve managed to do in the past.” Mr Wilson used Japan, where gross government debt has climbed above 200pc of gross domestic product (GDP), as an example of where the ageing population could demographics were working against them. “[This] is evidently not sustainable over the long term,” he said.

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also sounded out a warning about Japan’s growing debt pile. The think-tank said gross government debt was on course to balloon to more than 400pc by 2040 if the government did not carry out reforms. Angel Gurria, the OECD’s secretary-general, said monetary stimulus and stronger growth alone would not be enough to haul the economy out of its two-decade malaise. “Japan’s future prospects depend on ensuring fiscal sustainability over the long term. With a budget deficit of around 8pc of GDP, the debt ratio is set to rise further into uncharted territory,” he said.

Others have warned privately that Japan’s debt mountain is unsustainable. “The crunch point is when it starts to run a current account deficit,” said one senior banker. “When they stop running a current account surplus and they need our money to survive, we’re not going to lend to them at 30 or 40 basis points.”

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Why insist on calling them investors?

Investors Are Playing A ‘Greater Fool’ Game (George Magnus)

Speculative euphoria, even when encouraged by central banks, is defined by the way it ends — not with a whimper but with a bang. In this context, the so-called Bund “tantrum” may be no more than a hiccup in the context of deeply anomalous financial market conditions. Investors are still chasing low or negative yields in bond markets, fairly or fully valued equity markets, and rising property markets. Yet, it seems increasingly that, long-term investors aside, they are playing a greater fool game. One of the biggest anomalies in global financial markets is the persistence of zero real, or inflation-adjusted, policy rates in most advanced economies and zero or negative real bond yields alongside a surge in the volume of public and private debt that shows no sign of subsiding.

The Bank for International Settlements has mapped a 50% rise in debt outstanding in the world’s 12 largest economies since 2007 to more than $125tn at the end of 2014. A recently published McKinsey report on debt, covering 47 countries, highlighted an increase over the same period of $57tn to about $200bn, or a rise of about 20% of GDP to just under 290% of GDP. While developed markets accounted for the lion’s share of the build-up in debt up to the financial crisis and still dominate the aggregate debt-to-GDP league table, it is in emerging countries, least affected by the financial crisis, that debt has erupted since 2008. The most significant shift has occurred in Asia ex Japan, especially China, where aggregate debt to GDP has quadrupled over the past decade and the limits to debt capacity are fast approaching.

While domestic credit rises at twice the rate of money GDP growth, the toxic combination of rising leverage and slowing growth will continue to erode the nation’s ability to sustain debt accumulation. Eventually the authorities will have to clamp down on credit expansion. Global bond and equity markets remain largely oblivious to the relentless rise in indebtedness. The commonly accepted but also questionable narrative is that the Fed is severely constrained when it comes to raising policy rates, the ECB and the Bank of Japan remain committed to quantitative easing, and China is accelerating the pace of monetary accommodation. Cheap money, therefore, is around for the foreseeable future, and asset price inflation, even with occasional wobbles, is a given.

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A problem only for the perpetual growth crowd. Why should productivity always grow? That just leads to tinkering with things like our food.

Weak Productivity Turns Into A Problem Of Global Proportions (FT)

Output per worker grew last year at its slowest rate since the millennium, with a slowdown evident in almost all regions, underscoring how the problem of lower productivity growth is now taking on global proportions. The Conference Board, a think-tank, said that based on official data on output and employment from most countries, only India and sub-Saharan Africa enjoyed faster labour productivity growth last year. Globally, the rate of growth decelerated to 2.1% in 2014, compared with an annual average of 2.6% between 1999 and 2006, it said.

Bart van Ark, the Conference Board’s chief economist, said total factor productivity, which takes account of skill levels and investment as well as the number of workers, fell 0.2% in 2014. “This is a global phenomenon and so we have to take it very seriously,” he said. Economists are increasingly identifying the problem of low global productivity as one of the greatest threats to improved living standards, in rich and poor countries alike. The fact that companies have become less efficient at converting labour, buildings and machines into goods and services is beginning to trouble policy makers around the world.

Janet Yellen cited weak US productivity as a cause of “the tepid pace of wage gains in recent years” on Friday. Also last week, George Osborne, UK chancellor, set higher productivity as the most important economic priority of the new government. “Our future prosperity depends on it,” he said. Raising productivity is seen as one of the only ways to improve living standards, at a time when advanced and some emerging economies are seeing ageing populations and a rapidly increasing retirement rate. Without stronger productivity growth, the world may have to get used to much lower rates of economic expansion.

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“Two years later, debt restructuring was on the table. And there it remains.”

Greece, The EU And The IMF Are Dancing With Death (Coppola)

Over the last few months, the world has been watching with interest and growing concern the intricate moves in the deadly dance of Greece, the EU and the IMF. The latest move in the dance comes from Greece itself. The Interior Minister has announced that Greece cannot meet scheduled debt repayments to the IMF in June. This does not mean that Greece intends not to pay. Rather, it is warning that intransigence by the EU may force it into an IMF default. It is not the first time Greece has used the “IMF default” tactic. At the beginning of May, Greece said it couldn’t pay an IMF loan repayment. Then, in a surprising move, it drained its SDR reserve account at the IMF to make the payment.

This is effectively a short-term loan at a low interest rate from the IMF to Greece. And it is Ponzi finance – lending to a borrower so that he can service existing debts to the same lender. Using the SDR account solved Greece’s immediate cash shortfall, buying time for further negotiations. But it stores up further problems in the future. The SDR account will have to be topped up at some point. Interestingly, the IMF appears to have advised Greece to use the SDR account for the payment. And this makes me wonder what strategy the IMF is playing. It seems to have decided to cooperate with Greece. Superficially, the IMF’s aim is to recover the money it has already lent to Greece. But it has another, much larger concern. The Greek crisis is threatening the IMF’s own credibility.

The IMF’s involvement in the Greek bailout was controversial from the start. It broke its own rules in order to lend to Greece in 2010, arguing that systemic risks justified lending to a country whose debt was not by any stretch of the imagination sustainable over the medium-term. It was severely criticized by members of its own board of directors, notably by emerging-market representatives who were understandably miffed at what appeared to be special treatment accorded to Greece, or more accurately, to the Eurozone’s banks. The Brazilian representative, Paulo Nogueiro Batista, observed that the program: …may be seen not as a rescue of Greece, which will have to undergo a wrenching adjustment, but as a bailout of Greece’s private debtholders, mainly European financial institutions.

And the Swiss representative tellingly asked why debt restructuring with losses for creditors was not on the table. Two years later, debt restructuring was on the table. And there it remains. The 2012 “private sector involvement” (PSI) restructuring wrote down up to 80% of the net present value of Greece’s private sector debts. But much of the debt had already been transferred to the public sector, not only as a result of the 2010 bailout but also through subsequent IMF and EU loans and ECB support of Greece’s banks. The PSI restructuring reduced Greece’s debt to just over 150% of its GDP. Everyone knew that this was inadequate. Everyone knew that the official sector would have to suffer a haircut as well, and the longer it was delayed, the more costly it would be.

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One every day.

Greek PM Convenes Emergency Meeting Of His Bailout Team (Guardian)

The high-stakes game of brinkmanship between Greece and its creditors intensified on Monday after the Greek prime minister convened an emergency meeting of his political negotiating team to avert a looming financial crisis. Amid mounting fears that Athens is close to running out of money, Alexis Tsipras said technical talks would resume to find a deal. To defuse tensions, he announced that Greece would honour its debts, though he failed to give details about how he would find the €1.6bn (£1.14bn) needed in two weeks’ time to repay an IMF loan. “We are very close to a deal,” the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, told reporters in Athens.

“There are many different Germans, just as there are many different Greeks,” Varoufakis added, responding to reports that Berlin would not be prepared to retreat in what has become an all-out tug of war between the two governments. Technical teams tasked with negotiating the framework of a cash-for-reform deal to keep the debt-stricken nation afloat, are now scrambling to break the deadlock of almost four months of fruitless talks. Both sides have signalled they will focus on VAT increases, expected to raise as much as €1bn for the Greek economy, when they reconvene in Brussels on Tuesday. Also on the table are pension reform, labour deregulation and the ever-incendiary topic of the primary surplus. Tsipras’s anti-austerity administration has argued vociferously that demands for a budget surplus higher than 1.5% will exacerbate the country’s economic death spiral.

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The ‘hard left’ already almost won the day. Tsipras’ room to move is shrinking.

Greece’s Governing Left Divided Over Debt Terms (WSJ)

As financial pressure mounts on Greece to sign a deal with its foreign lenders, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is facing what may be his biggest problem yet: the struggle within the ruling Syriza party over whether to swallow creditors’ tough terms or default. Dissent is spreading within left-wing Syriza against the economic policies Greece is likely to have to enact in return for fresh bailout funding from other eurozone governments and the IMF. The Syriza-led coalition government holds only a thin majority of 12 seats in Greece’s 300-seat Parliament, so a rebellion against a deal could easily cost Mr. Tsipras his governing majority.

Greece’s lenders are particularly worried about vocal threats by Syriza’s Left Platform, a hard-line leftist faction within the party, to reject any deal that crosses ideological “red lines” by cutting pensions or workers’ rights. Mr. Tsipras’s difficulty in selling a painful compromise to Syriza’s hard left, as well as to other parts of his ideologically diverse party, has become the largest obstacle to a deal. European officials and analysts -and privately even Greek government officials- say they don’t know whether the roughly 30 lawmakers who make up Left Platform will vote as defiantly as they talk if creditors’ terms are put before the Athens Parliament. Greece needs to agree on a list of economic policies with lenders in time to avoid defaulting on a series of loan repayments to the IMF in mid-June.

Although the government probably has enough cash to repay a €300 million loan due June 5, it almost certainly can’t meet three further payments totaling about €1.25 billion on June 12, 16 and 19, European officials say. Greece needs a deal as soon as possible so it can service its IMF debts, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters on Monday. “To the extent that we are in a position to pay our obligations, we will pay our obligations,” he said, adding: “It’s the government’s responsibility to be in a position to pay its obligations.” The European Central Bank has told eurozone governments it would allow Greek banks to buy more short-term Greek government debt if an economic-overhaul agreement between Athens and creditors is imminent. That would allow Greece to survive until July, when further debts fall due and fresh bailout loans will be needed.

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That’s just lip service. We all know by now it’s about politics only.

IMF’s Blanchard Says Greek Budget Proposals Will Not Provide (Reuters)

Greece’s budget proposals are not enough to ensure a surplus this year, the IMF’s chief economist was quoted as saying on Monday. Greece was supposed to have a 3% budget surplus in 2015, but that looks unrealistic now, Olivier Blanchard told the French financial newspaper Les Echos in an interview. Lowering that surplus would lead to new financing needs, for which Greece would again need European help. That could work only if, in exchange, Greece presented a coherent programme, he said. “Considering that the most recent estimates mention a substantial budget deficit, we need credible measures to transform this into a surplus and maintain this surplus in the future,” Blanchard was quoted as saying. “This is far from being the case at the moment.”

Three weeks ago, the European Commission slashed Greek growth and surplus projections and said it expected Greece’s primary surplus – the budget balance before debt servicing costs – would be only 2.1% this year, rather than the 4.8% projected just three months earlier. It also expects the 2015 headline budget balance will deteriorate from a 1.1% surplus to a 2.1% deficit and expects the 1.6% surplus forecast for 2016 will turn into a 2.2% deficit unless policies change. “What is obvious is that the (Greek) pension system is often too generous and that there are still too many civil servants,” Blanchard told the newspaper at a central bankers’ meeting in Sintra, Portugal.

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“..French and German leaders do not have much in common with David Cameron”.

Germany And France Agree Closer Eurozone Ties Without Treaty Change (Guardian)

Germany and France have forged a pact to integrate the eurozone without reopening the EU’s treaties, in a blow to David Cameron’s referendum campaign. Sidestepping Britain’s demands to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty and Britain’s place in the EU, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, François Hollande, have sealed an agreement aimed at fashioning a tighter political union among the single-currency countries while operating within the confines of the existing treaty. The Franco-German proposals are to be put to an EU summit in Brussels next month, where Cameron is also to unveil his shopping list of changes needed if he is to win support for keeping Britain in the EU.

The Franco-German accord, disclosed by Le Monde newspaper, calls for eurozone reforms in four areas “developed in the framework of the current treaties in the years ahead”. Cameron has persistently called for a reopening of the treaties to enable the eurozone to integrate more closely while providing the British with a chance to reshape the UK’s relations with the EU and repatriate powers from Brussels. EU members and senior officials in Brussels have repeatedly voiced their reluctance to reopen the Lisbon treaty – the EU’s fundamental constitutional document. The Franco-German initiative, likely to be endorsed by the 25 June summit, would definitively close the door on treaty renegotiation.[..]

The Franco-German pact, agreed as the Greek debt crisis comes to a head, was finalised last week on the fringes of the EU summit in Latvia and sent to Juncker at the weekend, Le Monde reported. The summit in Riga last Friday was Cameron’s first opportunity since re-election to present his ideas to fellow EU leaders. But it appeared that Merkel and Hollande had bigger fish to fry. Juncker is preparing policy options for the June summit on how to integrate the eurozone fiscally and politically as it struggles to emerge from more than five years of crisis. The Franco-German proposals are likely to settle the direction of policy.

They talk of economic, fiscal and social convergence, combining German insistence on monetary stability with French demands for greater investment. “Additional steps are necessary to examine the political and institutional framework, common instruments and the legal basis” (of the eurozone) by the end of next year, said the document, according to Le Monde. The following year, 2017, Germany and France have general elections, narrowing the scope for negotiations with Britain. The Franco-German policy proposal, said Le Monde, “shows that French and German leaders do not have much in common with David Cameron”.

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Brexit gets closer.

UK’s Cameron Tells EC President That Europe Must Change (Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron told the president of the European Commission that the country needed a new deal on Europe, before he presses his case for reforms to the bloc with other national leaders this week. Talks between Cameron and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker over dinner on Monday focused on reforming the European Union and renegotiating the UK’s ties with Brussels, a government spokeswoman said. “The prime minister underlined that the British people are not happy with the status quo and believe that the EU needs to change in order to better address their concerns,” she said. Juncker reiterated he wanted to find a “fair deal for the UK and would seek to help”, she said, and they agreed more discussions would be needed to find a way forward.

Cameron promised before the British national election earlier this month he would renegotiate Britain’s role in Europe, and hold a referendum on the country’s continuing membership of the bloc by the end of 2017. He launched his reform drive at a summit of EU and ex-Soviet states in Latvia last week, saying he was confident of winning concessions although it would not be easy. Cameron has said changes to rules on welfare benefits were an absolute requirement in any renegotiation. He wants to force EU migrants to wait four years before accessing a range of welfare benefits in Britain, and to win the power to deport out of work EU jobseekers after six months.

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“..bringing criminal charges against individuals and even sending some of them to jail would not disrupt the economy.”

Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite (NY Times)

As of this week, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are felons, having pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges of conspiring to rig the value of the world’s currencies. According to the Justice Department, the lengthy and lucrative conspiracy enabled the banks to pad their profits without regard to fairness, the law or the public good. Besides the criminal label, however, nothing much has changed for the banks. And that means nothing much has changed for the public. There is no meaningful accountability in the plea deals and, by extension, no meaningful deterrence from future wrongdoing.

In a memo to employees this week, the chief executive of Citi, Michael Corbat, called the criminal behavior “an embarrassment” — not the word most people would use to describe a felony but an apt one in light of the fact that the plea deals are essentially a spanking, nothing more. As a rule, a felony plea carries more painful consequences. For example, a publicly traded company that is guilty of a crime is supposed to lose privileges granted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to quickly raise and trade money in the capital markets. But in this instance, the plea deals were not completed until the S.E.C. gave official assurance that the banks could keep operating the same as always, despite their criminal misconduct. (One S.E.C. commissioner, Kara Stein, issued a scathing dissent from the agency’s decision to excuse the banks.)

Also, a guilty plea is usually a prelude to further action, not the “resolution” of a case, as the Justice Department has called the plea deals with the banks. To properly determine accountability for criminal conspiracy in the currency cases, prosecutors should now investigate low-level employees in the crime — traders, say — and then use information gleaned from them to push the investigation up as far as the evidence leads. No one has thus far been named or charged. Nor has there been any explanation of how such lengthy and lucrative criminal conduct could have gone unsuspected and undetected by supervisors, managers and executives. The plea deals leave open the possibility of further investigation, but the prosecutors’ light touch with the banks makes it doubtful they will follow through.

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By their own main scientist.

China Warned Over ‘Insane’ Plans For New Nuclear Power Plants (Guardian)

China’s plans for a rapid expansion of nuclear power plants are “insane” because the country is not investing enough in safety controls, a leading Chinese scientist has warned. Proposals to build plants inland, as China ends a moratorium on new generators imposed after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, are particularly risky, the physicist He Zuoxiu said, because if there was an accident it could contaminate rivers that hundreds of millions of people rely on for water and taint groundwater supplies to vast swathes of important farmlands.

China halted the approval of new reactors in 2011 in order to review its safety standards, but gave the go-ahead in March for two new units, part of an attempt to surpass Japan’s nuclear generating capacity by 2020 and become the world’s biggest user of nuclear power a decade later. Barack Obama, the US president, recently announced plans to renew a nuclear cooperation deal with Beijing that would allow it to buy more US-designed reactors, and potentially pursue the technology to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel. The government is keen to expand nuclear generation as part of a wider effort to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and cut dependence on imported oil and gas.

He, who worked on China’s nuclear weapons programme, said the planned rollout is going far too fast to ensure it has the safety and monitoring expertise needed to avert an accident. “There are currently two voices on nuclear energy in China. One prioritises safety while the other prioritises development,” He told the Guardian in an interview at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he is still working aged 88. He spoke of risks including “corruption, poor management abilities and decision-making capabilities”. He said: “They want to build 58 (gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity) by 2020 and eventually 120 to 200. This is insane.”

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“These are the only choices for the masses: whether to be a “doomer” or a “wisher.”

Yesterday’s Tomorrowland (Jim Kunstler)

America takes pause on a big holiday weekend requiring little in the way of real devotions beyond the barbeque deck with two profoundly stupid movie entertainments that epitomize our estrangement from the troubles of the present day. First there’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which depicts the collapse of civilization as a monster car rally. They managed to get it exactly wrong. The present is the monster car show. Houston. Los Angeles. New Jersey, Beijing, Mumbai, etc. In the future, there will be no cars, gasoline-powered, electric, driverless, or otherwise. Mad Max: Fury Road is actually a perverse exercise in nostalgia, as if we’re going to miss being a nation of savages in the driver’s seat, acting out an endless and pointless competition for our little place on the highway.

The other holiday blockbuster is Disney’s Tomorrowland, another exercise in nostalgia for the present, where the idealized human life is a matrix of phone apps, robots, and holograms. Of course, anybody who had been to Disneyland back in the day remembers the old Tomorrowland installation, which eventually had to be dismantled because its vision of the future had become such a joke — starting with the idea that the human project’s most pressing task was space travel. Now, at this late date, the monster Disney corporation — a truly evil empire — sees that more money can be winkled out of the sore-beset public by persuading them that techno-utopia is at hand, if only we click our heels hard enough.

Another theme running through both films is the idea that girls can be what boys used to be, that it’s “their turn” to be masters-of-the-universe, that men are past their sell-by date and only exist to defile and humiliate females. That this message is really only a mendacious effort to rake in more money by enlarging the teen “audience share” for the reigning wishful fantasy du jour is surely lost on the culture commentators, who are so busy these days celebrating the triumph and wonder of transgender life. The reviewers are weighing these two movies on the popular pessimism / optimism scale. These are the only choices for the masses: whether to be a “doomer” or a “wisher.” Both positions are cartoon world-views that don’t provide much guidance for continuing the project of civilization, in case anyone is actually interested in that.

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“We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades.”

Flawed Science Triggers U-Turn On Cholesterol Fears (Daily Mail)

For decades they have been blacklisted as foods to avoid, the cause of deadly thickening of the arteries, heart disease and strokes. But the science which warned us off eating eggs – along with other high-cholesterol foods such as butter, shellfish, bacon and liver – could have been flawed, a key report in the US has found. Foods high in cholesterol have been branded a danger to human health since the 1970s – a warning that has long divided the medical establishment. A growing number of experts have been arguing there is no link between high cholesterol in food and dangerous levels of the fatty substance in the blood. Now, in a move signalling a dramatic change of stance on the issue, the US government is to accept advice to drop cholesterol from its list of ‘nutrients of concern’.

The US Department of Agriculture panel, which has been given the task of overhauling the guidelines every five years, has indicated it will bow to new research undermining the role dietary cholesterol plays in people’s heart health. Its Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee plans to no longer warn people to avoid eggs, shellfish and other cholesterol-laden foods. The U-turn, based on a report by the committee, will undo almost 40 years of public health warnings about eating food laden with cholesterol. US cardiologist Dr Steven Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic, said: ‘It’s the right decision. We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades.’ Doctors are now shifting away from warnings about cholesterol and saturated fat and focusing concern on sugar as the biggest dietary threat.

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Regard: your future.

EU Dropped Pesticide Laws Due To US Pressure Over TTIP (Guardian)

EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show. Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show. On 26 June 2013, a high-level delegation from the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited EU trade officials to insist that the bloc drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favour of a new impact study.

Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that “although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards”. The TTIP is a trade deal being agreed by the EU and US to remove barriers to commerce and promote free trade. Responding to the EU officials, AmCham representatives “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances, the minutes show. The US trade representatives insisted that a risk-based approach be taken to regulation, and “emphasised the need for an impact assessment” instead.

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