James McNeill Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket 1875
Dr. D again. And wait, that deal was never even -legally- signed?
Dr. D: I know the U.S. hasn’t followed the law in 100 years, but let’s review the Iran Deal. A “Deal” with a foreign nation is supposed to be, for 200 years has been, and legally must be, a “Treaty”. Treaties under U.S. law are unique, as they are NOT to be brokered by the Congress and are a point of contention if Congressmen get involved, as you can imagine special deals and/or information leaks could damage the negotiating position.
This is one of the few things Congress doesn’t do. However, the deal, brokered by the President, is presented to the Senate and only the Senate, which is supposed to be the older, more stable house, and once upon a time when Americans were adults and the Senate was chosen by the State governments, this was true. Even with a Democratic election of Senators representing the people and not the States, (which is what the House is supposed to be) it’s the best we have.
So when Obama arranged the Iran “Deal”, he knew and did so against 220 years of history exclusively BECAUSE he knew the Senate would never approve an honest-to-God, legal “Treaty.” Worse, it was part of the reason the “Deal” was effectively secret, not overseen by anyone, and even John Kerry when asked what was in it said, “I don’t know.” You don’t know??? You’re the Secretary of State presumably brokering the deal. Who’s above you in the food chain that you’re not allowed to know? That was an interesting disclosure that the media – of course – never followed up on.
He also said, as the deal was never signed, it was “not legally binding.” Okay, yes, if the Senate does not approve it, making it therefore a “Treaty”, then it’s just a gentleman’s handshake verbal agreement and not binding. So…Iran therefore did NOT agree to stop weapons development, and certainly as proven did not agree to continue to use the U.S. petrodollar.
On the other hand, Obama DID send pallets of cash on 3 jumbo jets, and the U.S. prisoners were not released until those planes touched down. So Iran can legally reverse their weapons development, while you’re not going to get that cash back. That sounds like a terrible, terrible deal, a no-deal deal no one read and no one signed. And they’re upset this is cancelled? Why? What’s in it? Can we finally know now? Nope.
My personal theory is that since General Wesley Clark’s reveal that they planned 7 MENA wars, and named them in order back in 2001 and were to culminate in attacking Iran by 2013, they were years behind schedule on this world-domination murder-death play. In order to keep Iran in a holding pattern, still lacking viable nuclear weapons, they had to pay them billions and billions. Iran for their part knew they would win Syria anyway, so they were happy to play along and get a few billion dollars. And a lot of those billions Obama “gave” to Iran were Iran’s money anyway.
What? Yes, the U.S. confiscated and “froze” (actually stole and used) Iran’s western assets in 1979, and by law Iran was almost certainly owed this money plus interest. Then if I’m any judge of world politics, the negotiating parties — U.S., France, Germany, Iran, took these pallets of unmarked bills and used them for slush fund payouts among the various power factions, and about $50 ended up with the people.
This proved to be true, as Iran immediately ignored the U.S., moved into Syria, dumped the dollar, traded in Euros, and arguably continued weapons (missile) development. …But like I said, the important part got through: free cash payoffs, untraceable, back to the “right” people: the “Deep States” of the U.S., Iran, France, etc. You can see this in Macron and Merkel’s top priority and panic to force this deal to continue. And why? Isn’t that money gone? A one-time thing? Hmmm.
Back to the present, the nation is all agog about “ending” the Iran deal. You mean the deal we didn’t have? The one that was neither signed nor (generally) followed? How can Trump end it? He can end it because it was never a deal, it was a side-agreement by a specific President, THAT’S WHY WE HAVE TREATIES. So that they are in law, hard to negate, and much more stable. In fact, the Senate told Iran this outright: “if you sign this, you know that as soon as Obama is out of office, we’ll just reverse it.”
That wasn’t exactly a threat, it was simply a fact. If you don’t enlist the Senate and 220 year-old legal processes, you effectively have nothing but a wink and a smile. Then, yes, it is easy to undo as the wind blows. Now why the Senate and Congress didn’t stop this wink, withhold funds, or impeach the President for subverting law and Congressional authority is another matter: the only thing here is that there was no legal agreement, widely reported by all parties in the public media, so what is Trump really cancelling? Something that never existed except in the news?
We have law for a reason and this is what happens when you don’t follow it, but after not following it for 100 or more years, everyone forgets. This ain’t rocket science, folks. You want an Iran deal? Pass one.
The trouble with inflating asset bubbles is that you have to keep inflating them or they pop. Unfortunately for the bubble-blowing central banks, asset bubbles are a double-bind: you cannot inflate assets forever. At some unpredictable point, the risk and moral hazard that are part and parcel of all asset bubbles trigger an avalanche of selling that pops the bubble. This is another facet of The Fed’s Double-Bind: if you stop pumping asset bubbles, they pop as participants realize the music has stopped, and if you keep pumping them, they expand to super-nova criticality and implode.
There are several dynamics at play in this double-bind.
1. The process of inflating a bubble (for example, the current bubbles in stocks and real estate) requires pushing investors and speculators alike into risky asset classes. This puts the market at increasing risk as everyone is pushed to one side of the boat.
2. Those on the other side of the boat (i.e. shorts) are slowly but surely eradicated as the pumping keeps inflating the bubble. When the bubble finally bursts, there are no shorts left to cover, i.e. buy stocks at lower prices to reap their profits.
3. As the bubble continues to expand, the money available to enter the market and keep prices rising declines. The very success of the pumping process strips the markets of new sources of new money, leading to a point where normal selling exceeds new-money buying and the bubble collapses.
4. Money pumping by central banks and governments follows a curve of diminishing return. One analogy is insulin insensitivity: as the systemic distortions build, markets become increasingly insensitive to money pumping. Authorities respond to this intrinsic process of increasing insensitivity by pumping even more money into the system. But as with insulin insensitivity, at some point the system loses all sensitivity to money pumping: no matter how much money central authorities inject, the markets refuse to go higher. At this point, the stick-slip nature of bubbles manifests and modest selling triggers a collapse as participants all rush for the exits. Buyers have vanished and there is no longer a bid at any price.
5. Having pumped the assets higher with ever-greater injections of speculative risk and pumping, central banks and states have exhausted their ability to re-inflate assets as they collapse.
Systems cannot be controlled once risk and moral hazard have been raised to levels where instability is an intrinsic feature of the system. Those who actually believe the Fed can keep asset bubbles inflated at a permanently high plateau will discover their error in dramatic fashion, as the bigger the bubble, the more violent the implosion. This is the super-nova nature of asset bubbles: if you try to deflate the bubble slowly, it implodes, but if you keep inflating the bubble it eventually implodes from its internal extremes.
Bitcoin tumbled the most since July after China’s central bank said initial coin offerings are illegal and asked all related fundraising activity to be halted immediately, issuing the strongest regulatory challenge so far to the burgeoning market for digital token sales. The People’s Bank of China said on its website Monday that it had completed investigations into ICOs, and will strictly punish offerings in the future while penalizing legal violations in ones already completed. The regulator said that those who have already raised money must provide refunds, though it didn’t specify how the money would be paid back to investors. It also said digital token financing and trading platforms are prohibited from doing conversions of coins with fiat currencies. Digital tokens can’t be used as currency on the market and banks are forbidden from offering services to initial coin offerings.
“This is somewhat in step with, maybe not to the same extent, what we’re starting to see in other jurisdictions – the short story is we all know regulations are coming,” said Jehan Chu at Kenetic Capital in Hong Kong, which invests in and advises on token sales. “China, due to its size and as one of the most speculative IPO markets, needed to take a firmer action.” Bitcoin tumbled as much as 11.4%, the most since July, to $4,326.75. The ethereum cryptocurrency was down more than 16% Monday, according to data from Coindesk. ICOs are digital token sales that have seen unchecked growth over the past year, raising $1.6 billion. They have been deemed a threat to China’s financial market stability as authorities struggle to tame financing channels that sprawl beyond the traditional banking system. Widely seen as a way to sidestep venture capital funds and investment banks, they have also increasingly captured the attention of central banks that see in the fledgling trend a threat to their reign.
China is poised to further tighten rules on virtual currencies after regulators on Monday banned virtual coin fundraising schemes, Chinese financial news outlet Yicai reported, citing sources. China banned and deemed illegal the practice of raising funds through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting so-called initial coin offerings (ICO) in a market that has exploded since the start of the year. Yicai’s report late Monday cited a source close to decision-makers as saying the announcement on the ban was just the start of further follow-up regulations of virtual currencies. In total, $2.32 billion has been raised through ICOs globally, with $2.16 billion of that being raised since the start of 2017, according to cryptocurrency analysis website Cryptocompare.
Bitcoin rival ethereum, which token-issuers usually ask to be paid in and which has seen dramatic growth this year, fell sharply on the news. It was down almost 20% on Monday at $283, according to trade publication Coindesk. Bitcoin was also down 8%, while the total value of all cryptocurrencies was down around 10% after China’s ban was announced, according to industry website Coinmarketcap.com.
Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a powerful category four storm as warnings have been issued for several Caribbean islands. The hurricane had sustained winds of up to 220km/h (140mph) and was likely to strengthen in the next 48 hours, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Irma was projected to hit the Leeward Islands, causing storm surges, life-threatening winds and torrential rain. The US state of Florida has declared a state of emergency. It comes as residents in Texas and Louisiana are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which struck as a category four storm, causing heavy rain and destroying thousands of homes. However the NHC warned that it was too early to forecast Irma’s exact path or effects on the continental US. Irma was set to reach the Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, by late Tuesday or early Wednesday (local time), the centre added.
The storm was moving at a speed of 20km/h (13mph). It may cause rainfall of up to 25cm (10in) in some northern areas and raise water levels by up to 3m (9ft) above normal levels, the NHC said. Puerto Rico also declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. Governor Ricardo Rossello announced the opening of emergency shelters able to house up to 62,000 people, and schools would be closed on Tuesday. Long queues of people formed in shops, with residents stocking water, food, batteries, generators and other supplies. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin, Sint Maarten, St Barthelemy, Saba, St Eustatius, Puerto Rico, British Virgin Islands and US Virgin Islands. It means that hurricane conditions are expected in the next 36 hours.
An acute housing crisis is starting to grip thousands of other families in south-east Texas as the floodwaters ebb away, with a death toll put at 60 on Monday. More than 180,000 houses in the Houston area have been badly damaged, with only a fraction of occupants owning any flood insurance. And under Texas law, rent must still be paid on damaged dwellings, unless they are deemed completely uninhabitable. A spokeswoman for the city of Houston’s housing department said city officials “are aware these problems exist” but said that state law deals with the situation. She said the city was still assessing the total number of people in need of housing assistance. Under the Texas property code, if a rental premises is “totally unusable” due to an external disaster then either the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease through written notice.
But if the property is “partially unusable” because of a disaster, a tenant may only get a reduction in rent determined by a county or district court. “There are a lot of property owners who aren’t conscious of what has gone on; they are being rude and kicking people out,” said Isela Bezada, an unemployed woman who lived with 10 family members in a Houston house until her landlord took her to court to evict her after the hurricane hit. Bezada, like Fuentes, has had almost every area of her life touched by the flood. Her relatives, who work in home renovations, have little opportunity to bring in money until the full gutting of sodden houses – piles of torn up carpet, broken chairs and children’s toys have become a common adornment to the front of Houston homes – and she worries about other family members stranded in Port Arthur by a flooded highway.
Germany should consider paying Poland as much as $1 trillion in World War II reparations, according to the Polish foreign minister. Poland’s foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski told local radio station RMF that “serious talks” were needed with Germany to “find a way to deal with the fact that German-Polish relations are overshadowed by the German aggression of 1939 and unresolved post-war issues.” He said Poland’s material losses were about $1 trillion, or higher. Polish defense minister Antoni Macierewicz also accused European critics of trying to “erase” the fate of the Poles at German hands during the war “from the historical memory of Europe”.
The country’s right-wing government has dismissed a 1953 resolution by Poland’s former communist government which dropped any claim to reparations from Germany, and are instead claiming that Germany is “shirking” its moral responsibility. Critics of the government say they are talking about reparations to divert attention from their nationalistic agenda. Around six million Polish citizens, including about three million Jews, were killed during the war and much of Warsaw was destroyed. Mr Waszczykowski did not say when Poland would make public its formal position on repatriations.
Populist would-be premier Luigi Di Maio had an awkward introduction to the Italian elite. The Five Star Movement’s most likely candidate for next year’s election was ignored by Italy’s business and financial establishment when he arrived at an exclusive networking event by Lake Como on Sunday. Di Maio, 31, was reduced to posing for photographers, while a passing banking executive muttered that he hoped the populist might learn something from his visit. His group, which wants a referendum on Italy’s euro membership, is virtually tied in opinion polls with the Democratic party of ex-premier Matteo Renzi, and with a possible center-right alliance including the Forza Italia party of Silvio Berlusconi. Di Maio sought to reassure.
Those opinion polls – as well as the possibility of a hung parliament – are prompting fears of political instability and financial turbulence with elections due by late May, even as the third-biggest economy in the euro area recovers from its worst recession since World War II. “We don’t want a populist, extremist or anti-European Italy,” he told the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, in a bid to win round his skeptical audience. The euro referendum plan is simply “a last resort,” he added, to force reforms of the European Union and “a currency tailor-made for the German economy.”
The proposals of Five Star, co-founded by ex-comic Beppe Grillo, also include a monthly €780 “citizen’s income” for the poor and the jobless, purging private lenders from control of the Bank of Italy, and tougher penalties for managers of bankrupt banks. “We want to stay in the EU and discuss some of the rules which are suffocating and damaging our economy,” Di Maio said. “And the money we’re giving the EU budget every year must be one of the themes to put forward to the other countries.” Many of those ideas were anathema to those debating world affairs at the luxury Villa D’Este hotel – a five-star institution with which the assembled ruling class was altogether more comfortable.
North Korea’s escalating nuclear provocations are putting putative ally China in an increasing bind, and may be part of a strategy to twist Beijing’s arm into orchestrating direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington, analysts said. The North’s Kim dynasty has repeatedly used nuclear brinkmanship over the years in a push to be taken seriously by the United States but traditionally avoided causing major embarrassment to China, its sole major ally and economic lifeline. But leader Kim Jong-Un’s detonation Sunday of what he called a hydrogen bomb marked the second time this year that the 33-year-old family scion upstaged Chinese President Xi Jinping just as he was hosting a carefully choreographed international gathering.
Communist propaganda deifies Xi as an infallible father figure, but Kim’s actions are puncturing the facade and exposing the Chinese leader’s impotence toward the nuclear crisis on his doorstep. “North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests have put China in a more and more difficult position,” said Shi Yinhong, Director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. Shi said Kim – who has never met Xi – had become “more and more hostile towards China” after Beijing signed on to tougher new international sanctions against Pyongyang. That has apparently made Kim more willing to bring pressure on Xi, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. Kim may be using Xi “like a cue ball in billiards,” Cabestan said, “in order to get negotiations with the United States.” “But he has to be careful not to infuriate Xi as China is his only lifeline.”
Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, by far its most powerful to date, came just as leaders of the five BRICS emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – gathered for a summit. The meeting in the southeastern city of Xiamen was intended to be the typical China-hosted event — micromanaged to the smallest detail to portray Xi at home as a wise and benevolent world leader. But Kim stole the spotlight, just as he did in May when the North conducted a missile test that embarrassed Xi as he hosted a large international summit on trade.
North Korea’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, dramatised by last weekend’s powerful underground test and a recent long-range ballistic missile launch over Japan, has been almost universally condemned as posing a grave, unilateral threat to international peace and security. The growing North Korean menace also reflects the chronic failure of multilateral counter-proliferation efforts and, in particular, the longstanding refusal of acknowledged nuclear-armed states such as the US and Britain to honour a legal commitment to reduce and eventually eliminate their arsenals. In other words, the past and present leaders of the US, Russia, China, France and the UK, whose governments signed but have not fulfilled the terms of the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), have to some degree brought the North Korea crisis on themselves.
Kim Jong-un’s recklessness and bad faith is a product of their own. The NPT, signed by 191 countries, is probably the most successful arms control treaty ever. When conceived in 1968, at the height of the cold war, the mass proliferation of nuclear weapons was considered a real possibility. Since its inception and prior to North Korea, only India, Pakistan and Israel are known to have joined the nuclear “club” in almost half a century. To work fully, the NPT relies on keeping a crucial bargain: non-nuclear-armed states agree never to acquire the weapons, while nuclear-armed states agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and pursue nuclear disarmament with the ultimate aim of eliminating them. This, in effect, was the guarantee offered to vulnerable, insecure outlier states such as North Korea. The guarantee was a dud, however, and the bargain has never been truly honoured.
Rather than reducing their nuclear arsenals, the US, Russia and China have modernised and expanded them. Britain has eliminated some of its capability, but it is nevertheless renewing and updating Trident. France clings fiercely to its “force de frappe”. Altogether, the main nuclear-weapon states have an estimated 22,000 nuclear bombs. A report by the non-governmental British-American Security Information Council in May said nuclear security was getting worse. “The need for nuclear disarmament through multilateral diplomacy is greater now than it has been at any stage since the end of the cold war. Trust and confidence in the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime is fraying, tensions are high, goals are misaligned and dialogue is irregular,” the report said.
A new kind of black hole has been found at the centre of the Milky Way – a find that may help explain the evolution of the phenomena. In research conducted by Japanese astronomers using the ALMA Observatory in northern Chile, a black hole 100,000 times the size of our sun was found within a molecular gas cloud. Its relatively small size means that it is the first to be identified as an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH). Professor Tomoharu Oka of Japan’s Keio University believes that black holes with masses greater than a million solar masses are at the centre of all galaxies and are essential to their growth. The origins of supermassive black hole, however, remain a mystery. “One possible scenario is IMBHs – which are formed by the runaway coalescence of stars in young compact star clusters – merge at the centre of a galaxy to form a supermassive black hole,” said Prof Oka.
Using the ALMA telescope, the team observed the cloud more than 195 light years from the centre of the Milky Way. In findings published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Prof Oka then used computer simulations to show the high speed motion of the gas cloud, which the team concluded was a sign that it is surrounding a black hole. “Based on the careful analysis of gas kinematics, we concluded a compact object with a mass of about 100,000 solar masses is lurking in this cloud,” Prof Oka added. The IMBH is the second-largest black hole discovered in the Milky Way next to Sagittarius A*, which is 400 million times the size of our sun. According to theories, the Milky Way should be home to about 100 million smaller black holes, but only 60 have been found.
The belief that humans came out of Africa millions of years ago is widely believed. But it might be about to be entirely re-written, according to the authors of a new study. They claim to have found a footprint in Crete that could change the narrative of early human evolution, suggesting that our ancestors were in modern Europe far earlier than we ever thought. The accepted story of the human lineage has been largely set since researchers found fossils of our early ancestors in South and East Africa, in the middle of the 20th century. Later discoveries appeared to suggest that those that followed remained isolated in Africa for millions of years before finally moving out and into Europe and Asia. But the new discovery of a footprint that appears to have belonged to a human that trod down in Crete 5.7 million years ago challenges that story.
Humans may have left and been exploring other continents including Europe far earlier than we knew. “This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate,” said Professor Per Ahlberg, who was an author on the study. “Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen.” The study looked at the characteristics of the footprint, in particular examining its toes. It found that the footprint didn’t have claws, walked on two feet and had inner toes that went out further than its outer ones. All of that led them to conclude that the foot appeared to belong to our early human ancestors, who could have been walking around Europe at an early time than we ever knew.
They also make clear that the owner of the footprint and their species could have developed the same traits separately from those in Africa. At the time the footprint was made, the Sahara Desert didn’t exist and lush, savannah-like environments went all the way from North Africa to the eastern Mediterranean, and Crete hadn’t yet detached from the Greek mainland. All of that makes it easier to see how those early hominins made their way to the island. But the journey might not run into problems. Mark Maslin from University College London told The Times that while the discovery supports the idea that our ancestors used their new found bipedalism to walk into modern Europe, the absence of evidence for later humans could suggest that the journey “may not have ended well”.
The perfect recipe for strangling an economy: “..as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.”
Here’s a story about the U.S. economy that more people are telling these days. Since the 1980s, antitrust enforcement has gotten weaker. As a result, a few big companies have managed to capture a much bigger share of the market in various industries. Technology may have helped too, by letting big companies spread their geographic reach, and by creating network effects that keep customers locked in to platforms like Facebook. Anyway, as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.
Like all big, sweeping theses about the economy, this story can’t be proven or disproven with a single research paper, or even a dozen papers. But like detectives, economists can probe various pieces and see how each one checks out. In the past few years, researchers have found that industrial concentration – measured by the market share of the four biggest companies in an industry – has indeed been increasing in most parts of the U.S. economy. They’ve documented a correlation between industrial concentration and a decline in labor’s share of national income. They’ve confirmed that profits have risen substantially. They’ve documented a slackening in the enforcement of antitrust law. And they’ve found some evidence that after mergers, prices go up while productivity doesn’t improve.
Now, a series of new papers provides even more support for key aspects of the story. The first, a paper by economists Jan de Loecker and Jan Eeckhout, has caused quite a stir in the economics press and on the blogs. De Loecker and Eeckhout find that markups – the amount that companies charge over and above their costs – have been on the rise since about 1980. Back then, according to the authors’ estimates, the average company charged a price that was about 18% above costs – now, the number is 67%.
The authors then use some very simple econ models to link a rise in markups to declines in labor’s share of national income, low-skilled workers’ wages, reduced labor force participation and a slowdown in the broader economy. It all fits with basic economic theory – less competition leads to increased market power, leading in turn to all sorts of bad economic outcomes. The second paper, by German Gutierrez and Thomas Philippon, looks at declining levels of business investment. Basic theory suggests that when top companies get more market power, they invest less in their businesses as they restrict output and raise prices. Market power could therefore be one big reason for the decline in U.S. business investment:
Funding thinktanks is just one of the ways that America’s most powerful industries exert their influence over policymakers. Much of the work takes place a quarter of a mile from the White House, in a lesser-known political power base: Washington’s K Street corridor, the epicenter of the lobbying industry. In addition to thinktanks, K Street is packed with slick corporate representatives, hired guns, and advocacy groups. The lobbyists spend their days swarming over members of Congress to ensure their private interests are reflected in legislation and regulation. While the big banks and pharma giants have flexed their economic muscle in the country’s capital for decades, there’s one relative newcomer that has leapfrogged them all: Silicon Valley. Over the last 10 years, America’s five largest tech firms have flooded Washington with lobbying money to the point where they now outspend Wall Street two to one.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon spent $49m on Washington lobbying last year, and there is a well-oiled revolving door of Silicon Valley executives to and from senior government positions. Tech companies weren’t always so cozy with Capitol Hill. During its 1990s heyday, Microsoft accumulated enormous wealth and market share. Despite being one of the world’s largest companies, the PC software pioneer mostly kept away from Washington, spending just $2m on lobbying in 1997. However, the company’s size and anticompetitive business practices attracted the scrutiny of regulators in Clinton’s administration, whipped up by the lobbying of disgruntled competitors including Sun Microsystems, IBM and a company called Novell. The following year, the Department of Justice sued Microsoft, accusing it of using a Windows operating system monopoly to push its Internet Explorer browser to the disadvantage of rivals.
Google faces a multibillion-euro fine by the European Commission for using its Android smartphone software to stifle competition. The record-breaking penalty could be imposed as soon as this month, according to industry and legal sources in Brussels. Other insiders said the commission may wait until later in the year before sanctioning Google. Brussels has accused the world’s second-biggest company of breaking anti-trust laws by forcing mobile phone manufacturers to pre-load Google apps on their devices. The fine will escalate the company’s regulatory woes in Europe, where the commission has waged a long-running campaign to try to ensure competition flourishes in the digital economy. In June, the competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager fined Google €2.4bn (£2.2bn) for doctoring search results to favour its price-comparison shopping service.
Vestager also ordered the company to change how it presents search results. It has until the end of the month to comply with the demand, or face daily fines of 5% of its global turnover. Sources expect the Android fine to be substantially higher than the shopping penalty. The software is a central pillar of the $650bn (£502bn) empire of Alphabet, Google’s owner. It powers an estimated 80% of smartphones. About half of all internet traffic is through phones. Last year Vestager, 49, accused Google of using Android as a tool to “protect and expand its dominant position in internet search”. The company allows handset makers to use the software without paying a fee, but they must pre-install Google’s Chrome browser, search bar and other apps. This stipulation “harms consumers” and prevents digital rivals “from competing on their own merits”, according to Vestager.
In addition to fining Google, she is expected to demand a fundamental overhaul of its relationship with smartphone makers, such as Samsung. That could undermine the big profits Google earns through Android. It monetises the software platform by analysing the mountains of data generated by its apps and selling targeted adverts to clients. [..] the company has strenuously denied breaking competition laws. Last year it said giving away Android “keeps manufacturers’ costs low, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices”.
North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb with “unprecedentedly big power” on Sunday that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile, in its first nuclear test under U.S. President Donald Trump’s watch. The test, ordered by Kim Jong Un, was a “perfect success” and confirmed the precision and technology of the hydrogen bomb, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Kim’s regime has defied Trump’s warnings as it seeks the capability to strike America with an atomic weapon. “The creditability of the operation of the nuclear warhead is fully guaranteed,” KCNA said. South Korea’s weather agency said it detected a magnitude 5.7 earthquake around 12:29 p.m. local time near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeast North Korea. Energy from Sunday’s explosion was about six times stronger in force than the nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang last September, the weather agency said.
“All options are on the table,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on public broadcaster NHK. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a North Korea nuclear test would be “absolutely unacceptable and we must protest it strongly.” Pyongyang’s actions are set to further increase tensions in Northeast Asia, where concerns have grown this year that a war of words between Trump and Kim could set off a military conflict. It was the sixth nuclear test by Pyongyang since 2006 and the first since the U.S. and South Korea elected new leaders. Trump had no immediate response to the nuclear test, though he sent a tweet thanking relief workers after Hurricane Harvey devastated states in the southern U.S. He has repeatedly lashed out at North Korea since taking office, warning last month of “fire and fury” if Kim’s regime continues to threaten the U.S.
Shortly after topping $5,000 (according to several exchanges), Bitcoin began to tumble dramatically – now down almost $500 – erasing all the post-North-Korea missile anxiety gains.
Ethereum has crashed even more.
Meanwhile, one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Shanghai-based BTC China, announced it had suspended ICOCoin deposits as well as trading and withdrawals, starting 6pm on Sunday, while Caixin reports that authorities shut down a blockchain conference over the weekend on concerns unregulated Initial Coin Offerings were being used to raise funds illegally, adding that Chinese market regulators have begun cracking down on ICOs as “illegal fundraising vehicles” in disguise, and in taking a page out of the SEC playbook, will soon issue official rules on ICOs. As CoinTelegraph adds, the self-regulatory group National Internet Finance Association of China warned its members about the dangers in participating in initial coin offerings (ICO).
The group claimed that ICOs could be using misleading information as part of fundraising campaigns. In a statement in late August 2017, the online finance organization further warned its member companies to exercise extreme caution when dealing with the new fundraising mechanism. Part of the statement reads: “China Internet Finance Association members should take the initiative to strengthen self-discipline, to resist illegal financial behavior.” [..] an official for Russia’s national legislature said that new laws regulating the exchange of cryptocurrencies will be complete by the end of the fall. Anatoly Aksakov, who leads the State Duma’s financial markets committee, told Russian media this week that next steps involve the formation of a dedicated working group to address the issue.
Sounds overcooked. But yes, US sanctions are not helping. Still, physical delivery in gold is not what anyone wants, far too clumsy for real trade. And who trusts paper gold? Even better: no-one trusts the yuan.
China is expected shortly to launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold in what analysts say could be a game-changer for the industry. The contract could become the most important Asia-based crude oil benchmark, given that China is the world’s biggest oil importer. Crude oil is usually priced in relation to Brent or West Texas Intermediate futures, both denominated in U.S. dollars. China’s move will allow exporters such as Russia and Iran to circumvent U.S. sanctions by trading in yuan. To further entice trade, China says the yuan will be fully convertible into gold on exchanges in Shanghai and Hong Kong. “The rules of the global oil game may begin to change enormously,” said Luke Gromen, founder of U.S.-based macroeconomic research company FFTT.
The Shanghai International Energy Exchange has started to train potential users and is carrying out systems tests following substantial preparations in June and July. This will be China’s first commodities futures contract open to foreign companies such as investment funds, trading houses and petroleum companies. Most of China’s crude imports, which averaged around 7.6 million barrels a day in 2016, are bought on long-term contracts between China’s major oil companies and foreign national oil companies. Deals also take place between Chinese majors and independent Chinese refiners, and between foreign oil majors and global trading companies. Alan Bannister, Asia director of S&P Global Platts, an energy information provider, said that the active involvement of Chinese independent refiners over the last few years “has created a more diverse marketplace of participants domestically in China, creating an environment in which a crude futures contract is more likely to succeed.”
China has long wanted to reduce the dominance of the U.S. dollar in the commodities markets. Yuan-denominated gold futures have been traded on the Shanghai Gold Exchange since April 2016, and the exchange is planning to launch the product in Budapest later this year. Yuan-denominated gold contracts were also launched in Hong Kong in July – after two unsuccessful earlier attempts – as China seeks to internationalize its currency. The contracts have been moderately successful. The existence of yuan-backed oil and gold futures means that users will have the option of being paid in physical gold, said Alasdair Macleod, head of research at Goldmoney, a gold-based financial services company based in Toronto. “It is a mechanism which is likely to appeal to oil producers that prefer to avoid using dollars, and are not ready to accept that being paid in yuan for oil sales to China is a good idea either,” Macleod said.
In his article today, Christopher Westley noted that Texas’s economy — when measured by GDP — is larger than Canada’s. In other words: If Texas were an independent country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy (totaling $1.6 trillion), and its citizens would be more than capable of addressing natural disasters of the magnitude of a major flood. Texas’s economy is also larger than those of Russia and Australia. By why stop our analysis at the state of Texas? Indeed, if we look at the GDP of the Houston metropolitan area, we find it comes in at $503 billion. This total is similar to the GDPs of Poland, Belgium, and Austria. It’s significantly larger than the GDPs of Norway and Denmark. Nor is Texas’s GDP largely driven by federal spending — so we can’t say that Texas’s economy depends on federal spending to stay afloat.
When we look at federal spending in Texas compared to the federal taxes paid by Texans, we find it’s nearly a one-for-one relationship. So, if the Federal government stopped spending in Texas — but allowed Texans to keep their money, Texas would be fine. [..] Of course, we’ll be told that federal disaster relief programs are all about “sharing” and “cooperation” and “kindness.” In reality, it’s all just about forcing one group of people to hand over money to another group of people. There is no doubt that Texas and Houston now face significant challenges in rebuilding after the flood. But, when we demand that other regions and states pay for the rebuilding of Texas, we’re acting as if those other states and communities don’t have problems of their own. Needs related to poverty, infrastructure, and education in, say, Michigan did not magically disappear because Texas experienced a flood.
The only reason it now seems right to take money from people in Michigan, and hand it over to Houstonians, is because Houston’s problems are in the headlines, and Michigans mundane daily problems are not. The central planners have decided that Houstonians deserve Michigan’s money. But the rationale for this decision is purely political, and thus arbitrary. This isn’t to say real sharing and kindness are a bad thing. It’s excellent that private charities have already been hard at work helping with the cleanup in Houston. If one wants to insist that governments be involved, there’s nothing stopping other states from handing over funds to Texas directly. The federal government need not be involved at all.
Hurricane Harvey may solve the auto industry’s inventory problem. But right now, it’s about to create a giant headache for the federal government. Based on the latest estimates from Irvine, California-based CoreLogic, insured flood losses for homes in the affected areas of Texas and Louisiana could total between $6.5 billion to $9.5 billion. Since private insurers typically don’t provide personal flood insurance, all but $500 million of that will fall to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. According to the Street, if insured damages reach the high end of this range, it would totally deplete the $7.5 billion of cash and available credit available to the 49-year-old government program, which provides about 98% of residential flood insurance. The program is already about $25 billion in debt to the US Treasury Department and would need Congressional authorization for additional funding.
To be sure, final totals could be much, much higher given the severity of the the “1-in-1000-year” flood. The potential funding shortfall could create problems if Congress doesn’t act quickly this month to shore up the financially-troubled flood-insurance program. As we’ve reported, Congress already has a full agenda in September – a month where lawmakers must pass a funding bill to keep the government open, and another to raise the debt limit and stave off a technical default on US debt. Initially, President Trump said he would force a government shutdown if Congress didn’t approve funding for his border wall in its next budget. However, it appears that he has backed away from this, as the Washington Post reported today that the administration has quietly notified Congress that the $1.6 billion in wall funding would not need to be included in the September continuing resolution.
Furthermore, Congress must explicitly pass legislation to keep the NFIP intact. Without it, the entire program will lapse. To be sure, there are some signs that Republicans are taking steps to ensure that emergency disaster-relief funding is approved as quickly as possible. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, some Republican lawmakers are raising the possibility that funding for the cleanup effort could be attached to the debt-ceiling bill, giving both measures a strong chance of passing. But it didn’t say if funding for the flood-insurance program would be included. Thanks, in part, to the hurricane, and the perceived political consequences of failing to aid the disaster victims (though Texas has proven to be a reliably red state), Goldman has cut its odds of a government shutdown to 15%.
Hurricane Harvey has devastated the Gulf Coast, and its impact is now spreading out to the rest of the U.S., chiefly at gas pumps. But America’s resurgent role in the global energy trade means the ripples extend far beyond its own shores. One place they are lapping onto is Saudi Arabia.In theory, the de-facto leader of efforts by OPEC, Russia and other members of the so-called Vienna Group stands to gain from disruption at the nerve center of the shale boom that has helped to suppress oil prices. In practice, things are a bit more complicated.
The shale boom has moved a lot of U.S. oil production inland and contributed to a glut of barrels building up in storage. So Harvey’s biggest impact on the region’s energy industry has been the closure of ports, refineries and pipelines – and keeping many drivers off highways that have turned into lakes and streams.The net result is depressed demand for crude oil due to absent refiners and panic buying of refined products such as gasoline for the same reason. So even as Saudi Arabia sees prices of the end products of its industry spiking, by and large it is not capturing that windfall for itself:
The disruption should cause U.S. inventories of refined products to fall as they are used to cover shortages and stocks of crude oil and products to drop elsewhere as, for example, European refiners run flat-out to send fuel to the U.S. to capture higher prices. This ultimately helps Saudi Arabia.Again, though, there’s a complicating factor.Saudi Arabia has explicitly targeted the U.S. in its strategy to drain the glut; shipments of its oil to America have dropped noticeably this summer:
High exposure to pesticides as a result of living near farmers’ fields appears to increase the risk of giving birth to a baby with “abnormalities” by about 9%, according to new research. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, compared 500,000 birth records for people born in the San Joaquin Valley between 1997 and 2011 and levels of pesticides used in the area. The average use of pesticides over that period was about 975kg for each 2.6sq km area per year. But, for pregnant women in areas where 4,000kg of pesticides was used, the chance of giving birth prematurely rose by about 8% and the chance of having a birth abnormality by about 9%. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers compared this to the 5 to 10% increase adverse birth outcomes that can result from air pollution or extreme heat events.
“Concerns about the effects of harmful environmental exposure on birth outcomes have existed for decades,” they wrote. “Great advances have been made in understanding the effects of smoking and air pollution, among others, yet research on the effects of pesticides has remained inconclusive. “While environmental contaminants generally share the ethical and legal problems of evaluating the health consequences of exposure in a controlled setting and the difficulties associated with rare outcomes, pesticides present an additional challenge. “Unlike smoking, which is observable, or even air pollution, for which there exists a robust network of monitors, publicly available pesticide use data are lacking for most of the world.”
The French government has voted against the renewal of an EU Commission license for the pesticide glyphosate. The decision by the French government comes as evidence emerges of the risk of birth defects caused by exposure to pesticides. Monsanto is the major supplier of products containing glyphosate, with ‘Roundup’ being the best-known product. The product is widely used by farmers, gardeners and local authorities to control weeds. In 2015 the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. But in March, the EU’s chemicals agency said glyphosate should not be classed as a carcinogen. And a survey has shown that a ban on glyphosate in the UK could force one in five wheat farms into ‘serious financial difficulty’. More than half of British farmers say they are concerned that a ban could cost them more than £10,000 every year.
Speaking at Cereals 2017, NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “This year looks like being a watershed year for classical chemistry for arable farms with these three decisions on the horizon from Europe. “A poor decision on endocrine disruptor definition could see an end to the availability of around 26 active ingredients; the European Commission is proposing a ban on the use of neonicotinoids on all outdoor crops; and a decision on the reauthorisation of glyphosate is due by the end of the year. “The NFU will continue to make the case for evidence-based decisions to be made in all three of these areas, and we will continue to work with our members to help them make the case to politicians and other decision makers about the importance of these products and to demonstrate the damage that bad decisions will have on farming and our food supply.”
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.”
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%).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 …'”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.”
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.