Mar 012018
 
 March 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paramount Theater, Times Square NYC 1956

 

Donald Trump Stuns Allies By Signalling Backing For Tighter Gun Control (G.)
Members of Congress Are Petrified of The NRA, Says Trump (Ind.)
Where Did The Republican Trump-Haters Go? (BBC)
This Has Predicted Every Market Crash in History (Bonner)
US January Pending Home Sales Crash Most Since 2010 (ZH)
Hawk Or Dove? Fed’s Powell Showed Markets Both Sides In Debut (R.)
Trump Says US Will Use “All Available Tools” To Pressure China On Trade (BBG)
South Korea Cuts 68-Hour Working Week (G.)
John Major Tears Into Theresa May’s ‘Grand Folly’ Brexit Strategy (Ind.)
Russia Says US Is Training Europe To Use Nuclear Weapons Against It (CNBC)
American Hellenic Institute Urges Trump To Condemn Turkish Aggression (K.)
Greece Loosens Capital Controls, Raises Cash Withdrawal Limit (R.)
Greek Jan-Feb 2018 Retail Sales Down 8.8% y-o-y (K.)

 

 

I don’t normally like to open Debt Rattles with politics, but this leads the news.

Trump’s stance here should be a huge opening for Democrats, but it can’t be: they‘re too far gone in their demonizing of him. So if nothing happens -again- you’re going to have to wonder whose fault that is.

Note: a first reaction to a school shooting is easy, but you are talking fiddling with about the US constitution here.

Donald Trump Stuns Allies By Signalling Backing For Tighter Gun Control (G.)

Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed a series of gun control proposals that put the Republican president at odds with the National Rifle Association and stunned lawmakers within his own party. The president made the remarks during an extraordinary, hour-long White House meeting on Wednesday with congressional Republicans and Democrats who are under pressure to address gun violence in the aftermath of the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this month. During the meeting, Trump called for a “beautiful” comprehensive bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases, remove guns from the hands of the mentally ill, bolster security on school campuses and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons.

Within hours of the meeting’s conclusion, conservatives and some Republicans turned on Trump, who was elected with broad support from the gun lobby and claimed on Wednesday that the National Rifle Association had “no bigger fan”. Breitbart, the far-right news organization that fanned the flames of Trump’s rise, denounced the president as a “gun grabber” who “cedes” to Democrats. [..] Trump, who ran the meeting like a boardroom CEO, pointing at lawmakers for updates on their legislation, called on Congress to be “very strong” on background checks, repeatedly offering his support for a plan that failed to pass the Senate in April 2013, months after a gunman killed 20 young children and six staff members at Sandy Hook elementary school.

“You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy,” Trump said during the televised session. He added: “I’d rather have you come down on the strong side than the weak side. The weak side is easier to do.” Two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, both of whom attended the meeting, plan to reintroduce their bill that would have imposed universal background checks for commercial gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the internet. 84% of Americans favor such a law [..] In a surprising exchange with Toomey, Trump asked if his measure included a provision to raise the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21. Toomey replied that it did not, and Trump shot back: “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA.”

Trump rejected a demand by conservatives in the House that this so-called Fix Nics bill be paired with controversial concealed carry legislation, which is favoured by the NRA and would loosen restrictions by enabling gun owners with concealed-carry permits in their home states to take their firearms across state lines. “If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed,” Trump told Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, who was last summer by a gunman targeting a congressional baseball practice. “Let it be a separate thing.” Trump repeatedly berated his Republican colleagues, accusing them of being afraid of the NRA, and appeared to take pleasure in stating his willingness to take on the gun lobby. “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified,” he said.

Read more …

And they get their funding there.

Members of Congress Are Petrified of The NRA, Says Trump (Ind.)

President Donald Trump has accused members of Congress of being afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA), as he called for an increase in the minimum age for buying a rifle. “[The NRA] has great power,” Mr Trump said at a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress on school safety. “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it. What do I need? But I’ll tell you, they are well-meaning … We have to do what is right.” Members of Congress have again been anxious to find a solution to prevent mass shootings after an alleged 19-year-old gunman on Valentine’s Day open fired at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, killing 17 people.

On the first day students of the school resumed their lessons following the shooting, several legislators gathered at the White House to discuss school safety and legislation aimed at combatting gun violence. One such proposal, drafted by Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, is primarily focused on expanding background checks for gun purchases. Mr Trump asked Mr Toomey about a proposal to raise the age limit for purchasing assault weapons from 18 to 21, a measure the NRA does not support.

“Now, this is not a popular thing in terms of the NRA, but I’m saying it anyway,” Mr Trump said. “Right now, you have to wait to buy a handgun until you’re 21, but you can buy the type of weapon used in a school shooting at 18. I can say the NRA is opposed to it… These are great patriots, they love our country, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on it.” Mr Toomey said the age issue is not addressed in his bill with Mr Manchin. “You know why, because you’re afraid of the NRA,” the President responded.

Read more …

This fits in nicely with the gun issue. Scott “Dilbert” Adams’ view on Twitter: “Persuasion Phase 1 is complete. He’s coming for Democrats next.”

Where Did The Republican Trump-Haters Go? (BBC)

Once upon a time there was an active, vocal resistance among conservatives to the prospect of Donald Trump’s presidency. One year in, and the signs of dissent are rapidly fading. On Friday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference on the outskirts of Washington, DC, Donald Trump took the stage and reminded the packed hall just how far he’d come. “Remember when I first started running?” the president asked. “People said, ‘Are you sure he’s a conservative?’ I think I proved I’m a conservative.” Mr Trump then launched into nearly an hour and a half of his trademark campaign-style oratory, often acknowledging that he was deviating from his “boring” speech text. On script and off, however, it was clear his intended objective was to drive home the point that he has governed as a true conservative.

He boasted of his tax cuts, right-wing judicial nominations, regulatory rollbacks and defence of religious liberty. Those are the sort of accomplishments attendees of this annual conference of young Republicans, grassroots activists, party functionaries, conservative media pundits, assorted merchants and special interests longed for through eight years of the Obama presidency, and now they’re getting. That’s got to make them thrilled, right? Well, sort of. According to straw poll of conference attendees, 93% approve of the job Mr Trump is doing in the White House. It’s a number not too far from the 80% of Republicans across the US who continue to tell pollsters they support the president. That, as the president acknowledged, was not always the case.

In 2016 – at the beginning of his long march to the Republican nomination and the presidency, Mr Trump abruptly cancelled an appearance at Cpac when faced with the prospect of a walkout from “never-Trump” conservatives. [A 2015] straw poll had Mr Trump as the presidential pick of just 3.5% of attendees, in eighth place, far behind libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul’s 25.7%. Another Republican presidential hopeful at that conference, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, would just a handful of months later describe Mr Trump’s politics as “a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense” and call his candidacy a “cancer on conservatism”. Last week, Mr Perry – now Mr Trump’s energy secretary – was back at Cpac, referring to himself as “footsoldier in the army”. Donald Trump’s army, that is.

Read more …

Should that say “predicted after the fact”? (From Bill Bonner, Mish and Semper Augustus)

This Has Predicted Every Market Crash in History (Bonner)

“Buy the dip” has worked for the last 38 years. And now, investors are more than 100% convinced that it will work again. But they are wrong. Semper Augustus: “Every major stock market decline and every recession in the last 100 years was preceded by the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates by enough to provide the pin to prick the balloon. Note the emphasis on every. Yes, there have been periods where the Fed raised rates and a recession didn’t ensue. Everyone knows the famous saying about the stock market having predicted nine of the past five recessions! That may be true, that rising rates don’t necessarily cause a recession. But as an investor, you must be aware that every major stock market decline occurred on the heels of a tightening phase by the Fed. More importantly, there have been no substantive Fed tightening phases that did not end with a stock market decline”.


Going back to 1950, every U.S. recession (gray shaded area) has been preceded by the Fed hiking interest rates

A little debt may be a good thing; a lot of it is not. At a certain point, you have more than “too much debt,” and it becomes toxic. Where exactly in the cycle we are, we don’t know. But our guess is we are already way beyond the place where we are fully indebted. This is an economy built on debt. The whole capital structure – stocks, bonds, and real estate – now depends on excess debt… and more of it. In a correction, the only way to stop stock prices from falling and the economy from shrinking is to bring in some more debt. But when you do that a few times, you are soon beyond Peak Debt… which is to say, you’re way over the legal limit.

Debt has been growing three to six times faster than income for more than an entire generation. This makes the old 1.5-to-1 ratio of debt to income seem quaint. It is now 3.5-to-1 nationwide. Which is why deficits still matter. Every penny in debt that we add now is a penny that cannot be repaid, not by any plausible combination of economic projections. Because there is no way to “grow your way out of debt” when your income is falling while your debt is still increasing. Instead, you have to suffer the indignities of a correction, including a major reset in the stock market. That’s what happens when stocks that are more than fully priced meet a debt load that is beyond 100% of capacity.

Read more …

As noted earlier, new home sales were down 33.3% in the northeast. Pending home sales feel by 9% there.

US January Pending Home Sales Crash Most Since 2010 (ZH)

After New- and Existing-Home-Sales have already disappointed, Pending Home-Sales just collapsed too (to the lowest since Oct 2014) to confirm January was a bloodbath for the real estate market. Pending Home Sales plunged 4.7% in January (massively below the 0.5% expected rise in sales) – this is the biggest drop since May 2010. Year-over-year Pending home sales are down 1.7%. Purchases fell 9% in the Northeast, 6.6% in the Midwest, 3.9% in the South and 1.2% in the West.

NAR is desperate to convince home-buyers and sellers that this is nothing but an inventory issue, but it is affordability that is the real driver here. “There’s little doubt last month’s retreat in contract signings occurred because of woefully low supply levels and the sudden increase in mortgage rates,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “With the cost of buying a home getting more expensive and not enough inventory, some prospective buyers are either waiting until listings increase come spring or now having to delay their search entirely to save up for a larger down payment.” So, will higher rates break housing market momentum? The following chart suggest ‘yes’ – that surge in rates will have a direct impact on home sales (or prices will be forced to adjust lower) as affordability collapses…

And Homebuilder stocks are starting to look a lot less invincible…

As Bloomberg notes, economists consider pending sales a leading indicator because they track contract signings; purchases of existing homes are tabulated when a deal closes, typically a month or two later.

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Something for everyone. Useless.

Hawk Or Dove? Fed’s Powell Showed Markets Both Sides In Debut (R.)

Financial markets barely batted an eye on Tuesday when Jerome Powell’s first public statement as Federal Reserve chief saw daylight, interpreting it as a steady-handed commitment to the U.S. central bank’s policy of gradual interest rate increases. The calm evaporated about a couple of hours later, at 10:42 a.m. EST, when Powell, testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives committee, struck a bullish, and personal, tone on the strength of the economy. U.S. bond yields jumped as investors raised their bets for four rate increases this year, rather than the three that Fed policymakers projected in late December, and began asking one key question: Is a hawk or a dove now running the Fed?

“The message coming from the written portion of the testimony did not signal any change,” analysts from Barclays wrote on Tuesday, drawing a contrast with Powell’s live remarks that “point to a risk of a steeper policy rate path.” Fed policymakers consider their public statements an important tool in shaping public perceptions and, in doing so, making monetary policy more effective. Fed chiefs try to avoid off-the-cuff remarks that cause impromptu repricing, preferring to hew close to their job of representing the views of the Fed’s rate-setting committee and avoiding disclosing much about their personal opinions. Veteran Fed analysts were split over whether Powell had broken that unwritten rule in his remarks, which came just weeks after he took over from Janet Yellen.

“The tone of the testimony was definitely NOT hawkish,” said Cornerstone Macro economist and former Fed staffer Roberto Perli, who emphasized Powell’s written comments might be read as a willingness to allow the economy to run hot in order to boost inflation to the Fed’s 2% target on a sustained basis. “Powell more confident on growth, putting 2018 dots in play,” is how JP Morgan’s Michael Feroli summed up the day, referring to the quarterly “dot plot” of projected interest rates that Fed policymakers submit. Feroli argued that Powell’s “modestly hawkish” appearance in Congress strengthened the chance that policymakers’ rate outlook would rise when the central bank issues its next set of economic projections next month.

Read more …

Xi advocating against protectionism is a keeper.

Trump Says US Will Use “All Available Tools” To Pressure China On Trade (BBG)

President Donald Trump is warning the U.S. will use “all available tools” to prevent China’s state-driven economic model from undermining global competition, the latest warning to Beijing as America readies a host of trade actions. China hasn’t lived up to the promises of economic reforms it made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and actually appears to be moving further away from “market principles” in recent years, according to the president’s annual report to Congress on his trade-policy agenda. China’s “statist” policies are causing a “dramatic misallocation” of global resources that is leaving all countries poorer than they should be, said the report. Chinese President Xi Jinping has dispatched one of his top economic advisers, Liu He, this week to Washington to meet with senior administration officials amid signs of growing tension between the world’s two biggest economies.

“China is free to pursue whatever trade policy it prefers. But the United States, as a sovereign nation, is free to respond,” according to the report, which is prepared by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Xi has called for countries to avoid protectionism and stick to the current path of globalization. At the same time, Chinese officials are weighing raising tariffs on U.S. soybeans as tensions escalate. Trump’s warning comes as his administration considers a range of actions either directly aimed at China, or that could impact the Asian power. The president is weighing several options for curbing imports of steel and aluminum, and Trump has told confidants he’s considering a global tariff on steel of 24%, the most punitive alternative recommended by his officials. The administration is ready to act unilaterally if necessary to fight unfair trading practices, according to trade report.

Read more …

Well, it did get them the Olympics…

South Korea Cuts 68-Hour Working Week (G.)

Employees in one of the most overworked countries in Asia are about to get a break after South Korea passed a bill to reduce the typical work week in an effort to improve quality of life and boost employment. South Korea’s National Assembly overwhelmingly passed the law which cut the maximum weekly work hours to 52, down from 68. The law comes into force in July and will apply to large companies before being rolled out to smaller businesses. The cut was a campaign promise by President Moon Jae-in, who also secured a 16% increase in the minimum wage this year. The law faced opposition from businesses but was seen as necessary to improve living standards, create more jobs and boost productivity. It is also aimed at increasing the country’s birth rate, which hit record lows last year.

As South Korea’s economy boomed in the 80s and 90s, a workaholic culture took hold and the birth rate plummeted. Chung Hyun-back, the gender equality and family minister, has called the country’s working hours “inhumanely long” and said they were a factor in the South’s rapidly ageing society. South Koreans workers have some of the longest weeks in the developing world, behind only Mexico, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The group of mostly developed economies does not include countries such as China and India, and developing countries tend to work more. But South Koreans still work about 400 more hours a year compared with workers in the UK and Australia, about 10 additional standard work weeks, despite having relatively similar average incomes.

Read more …

Just as she tries to strike a defiant pose…

John Major Tears Into Theresa May’s ‘Grand Folly’ Brexit Strategy (Ind.)

Former Conservative leader John Major has launched a devastating attack on Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, just 48 hours before the Prime Minister sets out her plans for future relations with the EU. In a significant intervention, Mr Major tore into Ms May’s negotiating red lines as “bad politics” and “grand folly” dictated by “ultra Brexiteers”. He demanded MPs be freed from the party whip and allowed to vote with their conscience on her final deal, and said Britain may need a second referendum to avoid years of damaging rows over Brexit. His explosive speech sparked a ferocious backlash from Tories that back hard Brexit, with one saying his arguments were “grubbing around in the weeds”.

The surgically timed intervention comes as Ms May prepares to reveal the final text of her next big Brexit speech to the Cabinet, before meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in Downing Street on Thursday. Mr Major’s intervention also appears to have been choreographed with another speech from ex-prime minister Tony Blair in Brussels on Thursday, in which the ex-Labour leader will address European politicians on Brexit. When the ex-Tory leader stood to make his speech on Wednesday, Ms May had already locked horns with Brussels negotiators who had in the morning published what she called an “unacceptable” draft withdrawal agreement.

Despite Ms May having repeatedly claimed she settled the withdrawal agreement last year, she argued in the Commons that a new draft had crossed her Brexit red lines. It was those very “red lines” that Mr Major took aim at when he began talking in London minutes later, claiming they had “boxed” Ms May in. He said: “They are so tilted to ultra-Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them. “If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.”

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The western press will simply continue to claim that Russia’s the aggressor, not NATO or the US. Case solved.

Russia Says US Is Training Europe To Use Nuclear Weapons Against It (CNBC)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the U.S. was still deploying “strategic arms” in Europe and was training European countries to use nuclear weapons, violating a major nuclear arms agreement called the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Lavrov said that nuclear disarmament was impossible without taking into account factors which destabilize “strategic stability and international security today,” including, he said, “the deployment of a global anti-missile system” and “the deployment of U.S. strategic arms in Europe and the continuing destabilizing practice of ‘joint nuclear missions,’ as they call them.” “As we all know, these nuclear missions violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty and non-nuclear states plan and take part in the U.S. exercises and learn how to use the nuclear weapons,” he said.

For its part, he said Russia had reduced its nuclear arsenal by 85% compared to the Cold War era. The Russian Foreign Ministry has complained about what it calls “joint nuclear missions” and says the U.S. has many nuclear weapons located in Europe. It also says the U.S. is training European countries to use these weapons. Last April, the foreign ministry issued a statement in which it said that “Washington’s approach to compliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is still of great concern. The U.S. and its non-nuclear NATO allies continue their nuclear skill training as part of the so-called “nuclear sharing”,” it said.

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But Merkel wants her refugee treaty. Or she’s done.

American Hellenic Institute Urges Trump To Condemn Turkish Aggression (K.)

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) sent a letter to US President Donald J. Trump in the wake of acts of Turkish provocation and aggression in the eastern Mediterranean and broader region that have dire implications to American security interests. In the February 27 letter, AHI President Nick Larigakis requests President Trump to condemn strongly Turkish aggression and acts of provocations that have been directed at the United States, Greece, Cyprus, and international oil and gas companies – all of which have occurred in the month of February.

Larigakis cites: a Turkish coastguard vessel colliding with a stationary Greek coastguard vessel, the harassment of Italian oil company Eni’s surveying vessel by Turkish warships, which threatened to sink Eni’s surveying vessel because it was on its way to survey for energy resources in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus; and Turkish President Erdogan’s threat of an “Ottoman slap” to United States military forces if they continued to partner with Syrian Kurds in Syria.

In addition, Larigakis raised the concern among NATO allies about Turkey’s purchase of four divisions of S-400 missiles from Russia and how it potentially subjects Turkey to US sanctions. “Turkey’s aggressive and provocative actions directed at the United States and U.S. allies, Greece and Cyprus, are overt, egregious and dangerous. I urge the administration to act to uphold the rule of law and to call on Turkey, the provocateur of these tensions, to cease and desist with its aggressive actions that are a threat to peace and stability and are not in the best interests of the United States,” Larigakis concludes.

Read more …

Just about nobody has that kind of cash to withdraw anymore. Thanks a lot.

Greece Loosens Capital Controls, Raises Cash Withdrawal Limit (R.)

Greece on Wednesday moved to ease capital restrictions imposed since the summer of 2015, raising the monthly limit of cash that can be withdrawn from bank accounts by 28%. Athens first imposed capital controls in July 2015 to stem a flight of cash from its banks at the height of a debt crisis which led to its third financial bailout since 2010. Based on a finance ministry decree published in the government’s gazette, individuals will be allowed to withdraw lump sums of up to 2,300 euros in cash per month from bank accounts from 1,800 euros currently, effective from March 1.

Read more …

Just imagine the added job losses that come with this. And still, as I keep on saying, things can still only get worse from here.

Greek Jan-Feb 2018 Retail Sales Down 8.8% y-o-y, Up To 20% In Cities (K.)

Retail sales in the first two months of the year were down some half a billion euros on the same period in 2017, as households were left with less spending money after their Christmas shopping and purchases made during the Black Friday promotional event at the end of November. According to a survey conducted by the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Enterprises (ESEE), retail turnover declined this past January and February by 8.8% compared to 2017. In absolute figures, this reduction translates into the loss of 484 million euros, with turnover up until Wednesday amounting to 5.02 billion, against 5.5 billion in January-February 2017.

In certain areas of the country the drop in sales turnover in the first two months of the year reached up to 40%, while out of Greece’s 65 traders’ associations, only one reported an increase from last year. In the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, sales declined between 11 and 20% year-on-year. The ESEE survey showed that one in three enterprises offered discounts of between 21 and 40%, while two out of five offered discounts in excess of 40%.

Read more …

Jan 162017
 
 January 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Collier Japanese restaurant, Monday after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco 1941

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)
The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)
Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)
Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)
NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)
Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)
CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)
Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)
Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)
The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)
Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)
“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)
China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)
Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

 

 

If you find this appealing, seek help. These people mean it, which makes them the biggest danger to your future, bar none. We’re not going to fix the world for profit. The sustainable delusion will kill us.

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)

It is an unremittingly bleak vision of the future: over the next decade the world’s economy stagnates, fossil fuels ramp up global warming and the gap between rich and poor widens, fuelling nationalist tensions based on resentment of the ‘global elite’. But, while a major new report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) warns this appears to be humanity’s current path, it also spells out how to create not quite “heaven on Earth” but a world that is wealthier, more peaceful and fair for all. And their call for the world to start living up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals was backed by more than 80 major companies in a joint letter to Theresa May, which urged the UK Government to take this “essential” step to secure “our long-term prosperity and the well-being of generations to come”.

However, Ms May did not respond personally to the letter, with the Department for International Development instead issuing a response on behalf of the Government in an implicit snub to the letter’s call for all departments, “not only” DfID, to get involved. The UN’s ‘Global Goals’, as they are known, seem at first sight to be almost impossibly ambitious. There should be “no poverty” and “zero hunger” in the world, universal health coverage, a decent education for all, gender equality, access to affordable and clean energy, action on climate change, the list goes on. But the BSDC’s report, compiled after a year of research into their effects, says achieving them is actually key to delivering massive growth. The document, called Better Business, Better World, estimates the Global Goals could be worth up to $36,000bn a year in savings and extra revenue by 2030.

They based this on an analysis of four major economic sectors – food and agriculture; energy and materials; cities; and health and wellbeing – which would benefit to the tune of $12,000bn a year. They then estimated the total economic prize would be two to three times higher. Lifting people out of poverty could bring up to a billion people into the consumer economy. And achieving gender equality alone could add at least $12,000bn to the world’s total GDP by 2025, according to one estimate. “The overall prize is enormous,” the report says. “The results will not be heaven on Earth; there will be many practical challenges. “But the world would undoubtedly be on a better, more resilient path. We could be building an economy of abundance.

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Mommy, tell me the story again about how smart we once were.

The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)

That smoked salmon you bought for the New Year’s festivities has a story to tell. The salmon may have been raised in Scotland – but it probably began life as roe in Norway. Harvested at a coastal farm, the fish may have been sent to Poland to be smoked. It may even have travelled halfway around the world to China to be sliced. It eventually arrived, wrapped in that tempting package, in your supermarket. Globalisation has changed the world in many ways, but fish farming is one of the starkest examples of its benefits and hidden costs. The nexus of the world fish-farming trade is China – the biggest exporter of fish products, the biggest producer of farmed fish and a major importer as well.

With battalions of lost-cost workers, linked to markets by a network of ocean-going refrigerated ships, China is the go-to place for labour-intensive fish processing. In just a few clicks on Alibaba, the Chinese online trading hub, you can buy three tonnes of Norwegian filleted mackerel shipped from the port city of Qingdao for delivery within 45 days. “There is a significant amount of bulk frozen fish sent to China just for filleting,” said a source from an association of importers in an EU country. “The temperature of the fish is brought up to enable the filleting but the fish are not completely defrosted.” The practice has helped transform the Chinese coastal provinces of Liaoning and Shandong into global centres for fish processing.

But globalised fish farming leaves a mighty carbon footprint and has other impacts, many of which are unseen for the consumer. Don Staniford, an activist and director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, called the fish industry’s production and transportation chain “madness”. “The iconic image of Scottish salmon – a wild salmon leaping out of the river – has gone. The Scottish salmon farming industry is dominated, 60-70%, by Norwegian companies,” he said. The biggest such company, Marine Harvest, is the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, some 420,000 tonnes in 2015. Scottish salmon farms import eggs from Norway, the fish food from Chile and then send the fish to Poland – “because it’s cheaper” – for smoking, said Staniford.

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Lots of coverage of Trump’s weekend interviews in Europe. Too many details to cover them all in this format. Overall impression: he makes a lot of sense. Likes Brexit, doesn’t like NATO, sees EU as a project to benefit Germany, wants far less nukes, far less US regime change-focused interventionism.

Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)

Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect. Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal. Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade.

For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild. The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government. “They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’ Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.” “It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share. While those comments expanded on doubts Trump expressed about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting in 2016 to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders coming in to “destroy it,” he said. The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a vehicle for Germany,” the Times quoted Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he said. Trump told the Times that he plans to quickly pursue a trade deal with the U.K. after taking office and will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May soon. “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it’ll be, I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”

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ZH has a good summary of the interviews.

Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)

In two separate, and quite striking, interviews with Germany’s Bild (paywall) and London’s Sunday Times (paywall), Donald Trump did what he failed to do in his first US press conference, and covered an extensive amount of policy and strategy, much of which however will likely please neither the pundits, nor the markets. Among the numerous topics covered in the Bild interview, he called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would join the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to a Sunday interview granted to Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations. Furthermore, in his first “exclusive” interview in the UK granted to the Sunday Times, Trump said he will offer Britain a quick and “fair” trade deal with America within weeks of taking office to help make Brexit a “great thing”.

Trump revealed that he was inviting Theresa May to visit him “right after” he gets into the White House and wants a trade agreement between the two countries secured “very quickly”. Trump told the Times that other countries would follow Britain’s lead in leaving the European Union, claiming it had been deeply damaged by the migration crisis. I think it’s very tough, he said. People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. [..] Trump discussed his stance on Russia and suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.” “[NATO] is obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Bild quoted Trump as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.” He further elaborated on this stance in the Times interview, where he said he was willing to lift Russian sanctions in return for a reduction in nuclear weapons. When asked about the prospect of a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, Trump told the newspaper in an interview: “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.” Additionally, Trump said Brexit will turn out to be a “great thing.” Trump said he would work very hard to get a trade deal with the United Kingdom “done quickly and done properly”.

Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

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Goal-seeked ‘reporting’: “Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments..” AFP didn’t stand out so far as having joined the anti-Trump ranks, but there you go.

NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)

NATO is “obsolete”, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” on refugees, Brexit will be “great” and the US could cut a deal with Russia: Donald Trump unleashed a volley of broadsides in interviews with European media. Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments about European allies in interviews with British newspaper The Times and Germany’s Bild. He extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by a string of sanctions under his predecessor Barack Obama over Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election. “Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in remarks carried by The Times.

The US president-elect suggested a deal in which nuclear arsenals would be reduced and sanctions against Moscow would be eased, but gave no details. “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Washington’s European allies imposed sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in 2014. Those measures were renewed on December 19.

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Trump grants an interview to the WaPo? He has a big heart!

Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump aims to replace Obamacare with a plan that would envisage “insurance for everybody,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday night. Trump did not give the newspaper specifics about his proposals to replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law, but said the plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil it alongside the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican president-elect takes office on Friday. “It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles,” without elaborating. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” Trump was also quoted as saying in the interview that he would target pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing and insist they negotiate directly with the Medicare and Medicaid government health plans for the elderly and poor. U.S. House Republicans won passage on Friday of a measure starting the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing the law.

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All these people, CIA, media, who actively attempted to undermine Trump’s campaign and candidacy, are now shocked (I tell you, shocked!) that he doesn’t ignore what they did.

CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)

CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday offered a stern parting message for Donald Trump days before the Republican U.S. president-elect takes office, cautioning him against loosening sanctions on Russia and warning him to watch what he says. Brennan rebuked Trump for comparing U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany in comments by the outgoing CIA chief that reflected the extraordinary friction between the incoming president and the 17 intelligence agencies he will begin to command once he takes office on Friday. In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Brennan questioned the message sent to the world if the president-elect broadcasts that he does not have confidence in the United States’ own intelligence agencies.

“What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany. I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” Brennan said. Brennan’s criticism followed a tumultuous week of finger-pointing between Trump and intelligence agency leaders over an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump. The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump has accused the intelligence community of leaking the dossier information, which its leaders denied. They said it was their responsibility to inform the president-elect that the allegations were being circulated. Later on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to berate Brennan and wrote, “Was this the leaker of Fake News?” In a separate posting, Trump scolded “those intelligence chiefs” for presenting the dossier as part of their briefing. “When people make mistakes, they should APOLOGIZE,” he wrote.

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Excellent. The elite press do not deserve their status.

Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)

The incoming Trump administration is considering moving White House press briefings out of the West Wing to accommodate more than the “Washington media elite,” President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary said. “This is about greater accessibility, more people in the process,” Sean Spicer said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz.” Involving more people, including bloggers and others who aren’t from the mainstream media, “should be seen as a welcome change,” he said. Their comments followed a report Saturday by Esquire, citing unidentified officials from the transition team, that the new administration may move the press corps out of the main White House building altogether because of antagonism between Trump and the media.

Any change would be made for logistical reasons, in response to heavy demand from media organizations, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Sunday. “The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said in a statement Sunday. “We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.” Mason said he was meeting with Spicer “to try to get more clarity on exactly what” the proposal is. “There’s such a tremendous amount of interest in this incoming administration that they’re giving some consideration to finding a larger venue on the 18 acres in the White House complex, to accommodate that extraordinary interest,” Pence said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“The interest of the team is to make sure that we accommodate the broadest number of people who are interested and media from around the country and around the world,” Pence said. On ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said demand for press-conference credentials far exceeds the “49 people” who can fit into the current briefing room. “The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to move the initial press conferences into the Executive Office Building,” Priebus said, adding, “you can fit four times the amount of people.”

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Oh well, with Trump praising Brexit and promising a swift deal, this may reverse.

Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)

Fears of the consequences of a hard Brexit have sent the pound to a fresh 31-year-low against the dollar, excluding last October’s flash crash. The pound hit new lows after reports said that Prime Minister Theresa May will on Tuesday signal plans to quit the EU’s single market to regain control of Britain’s borders, in a speech which is expected to give the most detailed insight yet into her approach to the forthcoming negotiations with Brussels. Sterling fell against all of its major peers, dropping below $1.1985 against the dollar in early Asian trade on Monday, before recovering slightly to just above $1.20. This is a more than three-decade low for the currency, excluding the flash crash on 7 October that sent the pound plunging more than six per cent to $1.18.

Fears among currency traders and investors that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit – in which access to the EU’s single market would be sacrificed in favour of tighter control over immigration – have tended to weaken the pound while suggestions that the UK could retain access to the EU single market have helped it recover. Sterling is down against the dollar by about 19 per cent since the Brexit vote, with declines since mainly sparked by concerns that Mrs May would pursue a so-called hard Brexit. City analysts are anticipating Mrs May’s speech on Tuesday with a sense of gloom.

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I know, I know, we should ignore this drivel. But there’s a few good take downs, this being one. I still wonder how the peeing hookers tale -apparently- ended up in Steele’s report. Because it came from the US, not Russia. Then again, of course, Steele hasn’t been to Russia in decades. If this report says anything, it’s that they can’t find dirt on Trump.

The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)

Some critics have been ungrateful enough to suggest that claims published without the least scintilla of supporting evidence by intelligence agencies which have a rich history of lying to the American people as well as everyone else, and which are in addition led by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, may not be above suspicion. But the latest revelation, a 35-page sequence of linked texts published on January 10 by BuzzFeedNews, gives what simpletons are expected to interpret as unimpeachable evidence of soundness and credibility. The document is authored “by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official,” and its sources, identified by letters of the alphabet, include a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” as well as another “senior Kremlin official.”

(How could one fail to doff one’s cap in acknowledgment of the spy-craft of those Brits, who are able so deftly to penetrate the inner counsels of the wicked Mr. Putin and induce his close associates to sing like canaries?) The texts which make up this document propose that Mr. Trump and his entourage had routine treasonous contacts with Russian state authorities over a long period leading up to the election, and that Mr. Putin was interfering in that election in every way possible—including by exploiting “TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.” The document’s most lurid claim—certified by Sources B, D, E and F—is made on its second page. It’s not clear what form of perverse pleasure Mr. Trump was supposed to have obtained by having “a number of prostitutes” urinate on his bed in the Moscow Ritz Carlton’s presidential suite.

The explanation given for the motivation behind this command performance – that the same bed had previously been slept in, on one of their official visits to Russia, by Barack and Michelle Obama (“whom he hated”) – seems bizarre. After all, on the night in question, whose soggy bed was it now? [..] The most immediate concern raised by this literally filthy story may be humanitarian. It seems well attested that Mr. Trump is not merely fastidious, but germaphobic: where is he supposed to have slept out the rest of the night? On the perhaps undefiled sofa, or on the carpet? And what are we to make of the claim by trolling posters at 4Chan that this “golden showers” story was a hoax they had foisted onto a Republican operative known to despise Trump, who then shopped it around to news media, other politicians, and intelligence agencies? If this story is a fiction, then are the document’s Sources B, D, E and F, who confirmed it, also fictional? And if some of the document’s sources are made up, what kind of fool would want to believe that any of the rest are authentic?

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We call these people success stories. We need to redefine ‘success’.

Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)

The world’s eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam. The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was “far greater than feared”. Oxfam’s report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth. “As an ‘anti-poverty’ charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich,” said the director-general of the free market think tank. For those concerned with “eradicating absolute poverty completely”, the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world’s rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world’s poor, which was improving every year. “Each year we are misled by Oxfam’s wealth statistics. The data is fine – it comes from Credit Suisse – but the interpretation is not.” The annual event in Davos, a Swiss ski resort, attracts many of the world’s top political and business leaders. Katy Wright, Oxfam’s head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to “challenge the political and economic elites”. “We’re under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world’s elite, but we try and use that focus,” she added.

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But that would sink it. A band of 25%?!

“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)

China should stop intervening in the foreign exchange market, devalue the yuan and let it float freely to restore stability, a senior researcher at a government-backed think tank said. Xiao Lisheng, a finance expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, made the remarks in an article on Monday in the official China Securities Journal amid a growing debate among the country’s economists on whether authorities should let the closely-managed currency trade more freely. The yuan lost 6.6% against the dollar last year, the biggest annual loss since 1994. “The more the government delays the release of depreciation pressure, the greater the impact and destructive power of the release of depreciation pressure will be,” Xiao wrote.

The authorities should “let the yuan exchange rate have a one-off adjustment to realize a free float” of the currency, he said. The yuan is allowed to trade in a band of 2% on either side of a daily reference rate managed by the central bank. Authorities have said repeatedly there was no basis for continued depreciation of the unit, but many currency strategists predict a further weakening this year if the U.S. dollar remains strong, spurring further capital outflows from China. Xiao said the current mid-point formation mechanism, adopted in 2015, is still immature and in transition, although it has eased depreciation pressure and curbed sharp declines in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. “But any foreign exchange rate mechanism without a free float cannot fundamentally reach a market clearing (price),” he wrote.

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Much more of that to come, even if -or especially if- their economy tanks.

China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)

Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way. A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows. In China the mountain of discarded TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and small appliances grew by 6.7m tonnes in 2015 alone. That’s an 107% increase in just five years. To get a sense of scale, if every woman, man and child in China had an old LCD monitor and dumped it the pile would not equal the 2015 tonnage. The region’s fast-increasing middle class is the main driver of e-waste increases, not population growth, the report by the United Nations University found.

However, Asia’s 3.7kg per person of waste is still tiny compared to Europe’s 15.6 kg per person, it said. “Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia,” said co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University. Electronics and electrical devices have a big eco footprint, meaning their manufacture consumes a lot of energy and water, along with valuable and sometimes scarce resources, making recycling and recovery very important. The increasing volumes of e-waste combined with a lack of environmentally sound management is a cause for concern, says Kuehr. “We risk future production of these devices and very high costs without recycling the materials,” he said.

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The numbers start to be confusing. It’s good to realize that Kathimerini is not a fan of Tsipras. What we know is the EU prefers to donate millions to NGOs rather than Greece.

But the point stands: where is the money going, what is it being spend on, and why is there no public accounting of this? Why are refugees freezing to death?

Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

Greece is struggling to make use of EU money for migrants and refugees after having absorbed just a fraction of the 509 million euros in funding for up to 2020. So far, Athens has used about 2% of 294.6 million euros from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and around 25% of 214.8 million euros from the Internal Security Fund. Greek authorities blame the slow absorption rate on emergency conditions caused by the migrant influx, whereas Brussels has pointed to technical faults on the other end.

Athens, however, appears more flexible absorbing separate EU emergency funding: From about 350 million euros for 2015-16, some 175 million has gone to state agencies and an equal sum to the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Service. “Were it not for the emergency funds, we would be able to do nothing. Or we would have to spend money from the state budget. Regular funding requires a lot of bureaucracy,” a Labor Ministry official told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity.

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Aug 242016
 
 August 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain Asbury Park, Jersey Shore 1914

British House-Buyers Dance With the Devil (BBG)
How America Accidentally Nationalised Its Mortgage Market (Economist)
Fed Going Out To Jackson Hole To Get Divorce From Markets (MW)
The Real Casualty Of Brexit: Reputations Of Economists Who Predicted Doom (MW)
Companies Must Sort Pension Black Holes Before Paying Out Dividends (Tel.)
Illinois Governor’s Office Warns Of Crippling Pension Payment Hike (R.)
Many Donors To Clinton Foundation Met With Her At State Department (AP)
ECB Secretly Hands Cash to Select Corporations (DQ)
Troika Prompts Greece To Tighten Debt Repayments (Kath.)
Investors Controlling $13 Trillion Want G20 Leaders To Ratify Paris Deal (G.)
A Thousand Balls of Flame (Dmitry Orlov)

 

 

“..people are still very keen to buy and the lenders are keen to lend..”

British House-Buyers Dance With the Devil (BBG)

What will it take to halt the U.K. housing market? Maybe not the Brexit vote. British builder Persimmon became the latest to challenge the “Brexit is bearish for building” thesis on Tuesday when it said home reservation rates are 17% higher since July 1 compared to the same period a year ago. Customer site visits are buoyant too. To outsiders, this property obsession seems a kind of collective madness. Yes, British house prices are expected to fall 1% next year, according to economists at Countrywide, but they believe they’ll restart the upward march in 2018. Brits’ appetite for houses at inflated prices (see chart below) brings to mind former Citigroup boss Chuck Prince’s infamous 2007 assertion that “as long as the music is playing [in terms of liquidity], you’ve got to get up and dance”.

Wavering prospective home-buyers are enticed by ultra-cheap mortgages, bolstered by the Bank of England cutting rates after the Brexit vote. So buying is still often cheaper than renting. And while falling interest rates raise big questions about company pension promises, buying a home at least gives you somewhere to live in retirement. Persimmon CEO Jeff Fairburn told Bloomberg that “people are still very keen to buy and the lenders are keen to lend”.Brits aren’t mad, they’re just trapped: prisoners of a system that conspires to keep prices high and houses in short supply. They know their government will do almost anything to prevent house prices collapsing. Buyers can already obtain loans from the government to help get on the housing ladder, a policy that will further inflate prices for those lucky enough to own property already.

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Desperately trying to keep the bubble afloat.

How America Accidentally Nationalised Its Mortgage Market (Economist)

The most dramatic moment of the global financial crisis of the late 2000s was the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15th 2008. The point at which the drama became inevitable, though—the crossroads on the way to Thebes—came two years earlier, in the summer of 2006. That August house prices in America, which had been rising almost without interruption for as long as anyone could remember, began to fall—a fall that went on for 31 months. In early 2007 mortgage defaults spiked and a mounting panic gripped Wall Street. The money markets dried up as banks became too scared to lend to each other. The lenders with the largest losses and smallest capital buffers began to topple. Thebes fell to the plague.

Ten years on, and America’s banks have been remade to withstand such disasters. When Jamie Dimon, the boss of JPMorgan Chase, talks of its “fortress” balance-sheet, he has a point. The banking industry’s core capital is now $1.2 trillion, more than double its pre-crisis level. In order to grind out enough profits to satisfy their shareholders, banks have slashed costs and increased prices; their return on equity has edged back towards 10%. America’s lenders are still widely despised, but they are now in reasonable shape: highly capitalised, fairly profitable, in private hands and subject to market discipline. The trouble is that, in America, the banks are only part of the picture.

There is a huge, parallel structure that exists outside the banks and which creates almost as much credit as they do: the mortgage system. In stark contrast to the banks it is very badly capitalised (see chart 2). It is also barely profitable, largely nationalised and subject to administrative control. That matters. At $26 trillion America’s housing stock is the largest asset class in the world, worth a little more than the country’s stockmarket. America’s mortgage-finance system, with $11 trillion of debt, is probably the biggest concentration of financial risk to be found anywhere. It is still closely linked to the global financial system, with $1 trillion of mortgage debt owned abroad. It has not gone unreformed in the ten years since it set off the most severe recession of modern times. But it remains fundamentally flawed.

The strange path the mortgage machine has taken has implications for ordinary people, as well as for financiers. The supply of mortgages in America has an air of distinctly socialist command-and-control about it. Some 65-80% of all new home loans are repackaged by organs of the state. The structure of these loans, their volume and the risks they entail are controlled not by markets but by administrative fiat. No one is keen to make transparent the subsidies and dangers involved, the risks of which are in effect borne by taxpayers. But an analysis by The Economist suggests that the subsidy for housing debt is running at about $150 billion a year, or roughly 1% of GDP. A crisis as bad as last time would cost taxpayers 2-4% of GDP, not far off the bail-out of the banks in 2008-12.

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My bet is they’re too scared.

Fed Going Out To Jackson Hole To Get Divorce From Markets (MW)

Like celebrities who went to Las Vegas in the 1950s to get quick divorces, the Federal Reserve could be going to Jackson Hole this week to prepare to divorce policy from financial markets. In a way, the Fed’s relationship with the markets can be boiled down to a simple rule: the U.S. central bank is happy to surprise markets when it is easing policy but has never surprised the market with a rate hike. But the Fed may be preparing to end this relationship, especially given the recent behavior of financial markets with interest rates so low. Despite some fairly clear warnings that September is a “live” meeting. the market continues to see only a 24% probability of a rate hike in September, according to the CME’s Fed Watch tool.

New York Fed President William Dudley, San Francisco Fed President John Williams, and Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart have pointed to a possible September move. Even Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer chimed in with some broadly hawkish comments. In the wake of these developments, Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago, said he did not understand why rate hike probabilities remain so low. “I am mystified at what the short-term futures market is looking at,” he said. One thing the financial markets are clearly not looking at is a mirror. If they did they might see that their behavior is a big reason the Fed wants to hike rates in the first place.

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Funny how that goes.

The Real Casualty Of Brexit: Reputations Of Economists Who Predicted Doom (MW)

Did you hear the one about the economist who drove into a swimming pool and broke his neck? He forgot to seasonally adjust. Have you seen the version of Trivial Pursuit designed by an economist? It has 3,000 questions and 10,000 answers. There has always been a thriving, if niche, market in jokes about the dismal science, and its equally gloomy practitioners. And no doubt, there will soon be plenty to add to the list about Brexit. What‘s the difference between an economist predicting a Brexit-triggered recession and a confused and senile old man? The economist is the one with a calculator. And so on.

Over the spring, there were a lot of predictions about who would suffer the most damage if the British decided to vote to leave the European Union. The U.K. economy would be plunged into recession, we were told. The banking system would go down. The eurozone would take a terrible hit. And yet the real casualty turns out to be something quite different: The reputation of professional economists. With a very few exceptions, they forecast the U.K. would go straight into recession as a result of Brexit. As it turns out, however, Britain is doing just fine, and so is the rest of Europe. That is surely a calamity for which the profession deserves a beating – and at the very least should start asking itself some serious questions.

If you rewind a few weeks, and listened seriously to some of the predictions made about the likely consequences of Brexit, you would imagine that the U.K., and indeed the rest of the world, would be sliding into recession by now. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, number-crunchers from all the main investment banks, and from the policy and regulatory authorities, were unanimous in forecasting that the slowdown in economic activity would be sharp and sudden.

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Dividends are why people hold stocks. Yeah, that’s short-termism.

Companies Must Sort Pension Black Holes Before Paying Out Dividends (Tel.)

British companies are slashing their dividends, which, if you own their shares, either directly or through your pension scheme, is bad news. With companies like Wm Morrison, Anglo American and Standard Chartered cutting their payouts, underlying UK dividends fell 3.3pc year-on-year in the second quarter – the worst performance among the world’s seven richest economies. But here is another, possibly more staggering, statistic: UK companies threw five times as much cash at their shareholders as they did at their pension deficits last year. I would wager that the first stat (which comes courtesy of Henderson Global Investors) will be more worrisome to most investors, especially at a time of evaporating yield in the fixed income market and question marks hovering over property.

But I would argue that the second (from the actuarial consultants Lane Clark & Peacock) should give them greater pause for thought. Because, although the search for yield (and the lack thereof) has become one of the defining issues in the investment landscape, the pensions crisis is posing an almost existential question for corporate Britain. Many of the big corporate stories over the summer – BHS, Tata Steel, BT and Openreach – have been united by a single theme: pensions. And, with negative yields on many government (and some corporate) bonds blowing blackholes in schemes, expect the pain to get worse before it gets better. And yet many companies are still hosing their shareholders down with dividends.

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Even if you know damn well you can’t make anywhere near 7.5%, please keep pretending.

Illinois Governor’s Office Warns Of Crippling Pension Payment Hike (R.)

Potential action this week by Illinois’ biggest public pension fund could put a big dent in the state’s already fragile finances, Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration warned. A Monday memo from a top Rauner aide said the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) board could decide at its meeting this week to lower the assumed investment return rate, a move that would automatically boost Illinois’ annual pension payment. “If the (TRS) board were to approve a lower assumed rate of return taxpayers will be automatically and immediately on the hook for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in higher taxes or reduced services,” Michael Mahoney, Rauner’s senior advisor for revenue and pensions, wrote to the governor’s chief of staff, Richard Goldberg.

When TRS lowered the investment return rate to 7.5% from 8% in 2014 the state’s pension payment increased by more than $200 million, according to the memo. Illinois’ fiscal 2017 pension payment to its five retirement systems was estimated at $7.9 billion, up from $7.617 billion in fiscal 2016 and $6.9 billion in fiscal 2015, according to a March report by a bipartisan legislative commission. The country’s fifth-largest state’s unfunded pension liability stood at $111 billion at the end of fiscal 2015, with TRS accounting for more than 55% of that gap. The funded ratio was a weak 41.9%.

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85 donors contributed $156 million. Plus 16 foreign governments donated another $170 million.

Many Donors To Clinton Foundation Met With Her At State Department (AP)

More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation. It’s an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president. At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.

Donors who were granted time with Clinton included an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran; a Wall Street executive who sought Clinton’s help with a visa problem; and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Clinton while her department worked with the firm’s corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa. The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009.

But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton. Her calendars and emails released as recently as this week describe scores of contacts she and her top aides had with foundation donors. The AP’s findings represent the first systematic effort to calculate the scope of the intersecting interests of Clinton Foundation donors and people who met personally with Clinton or spoke to her by phone about their needs. The 154 did not include U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives. Clinton met with representatives of at least 16 foreign governments that donated as much as $170 million to the Clinton charity, but they were not included in AP’s calculations because such meetings would presumably have been part of her diplomatic duties.

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Don’t act surprised!

ECB Secretly Hands Cash to Select Corporations (DQ)

In June, the ECB began buying the bonds of some of the most powerful companies in Europe as well as the European subsidiaries of foreign multinationals. This pushed the average yield on euro investment-grade corporate debt to 0.65%. Large quantities of highly rated corporate debt with shorter maturities are trading at negative yields, where brainwashed investors engage in the absurdity of paying for the privilege of lending money to corporations. By August 12, the ECB had handed out over €16 billion in freshly printed money in exchange for corporate bonds. Throughout, the public was given to understand that the ECB was buying already-issued bonds trading in secondary markets. But the public has been fooled.

Now it has been revealed by The Wall Street Journal that the ECB has also secretly been buying bonds directly from companies, thus handing them directly its freshly printed money. It has been doing so via “private placements.” These debt sales are not open to the broader market. There’s no need for a prospectus. Only a small number of institutional investors participate. It allows companies to raise cash quickly, without jumping through the normal hoops. Private placements are not unusual. What’s new is that the ECB used them to buy bonds. There have been two of these secretive private placements. And Morgan Stanley arranged them. The Wall Street Journal determined this by analyzing data from Dealogic and national central banks.

The two companies involved were the Spanish energy giants Repsol and Iberdrola. The Bank of Spain, now no more than a local branch of the ECB, was among the select buyers of a €500 million bond issued by Repsol. It is also the owner of part of a €200 million bond issued by Iberdrola. Among the advantages of issuing debt in a private placement is that it allows companies to raise cash quickly. According to Apostolos Gkoutzinis, head of European capital markets at law firm Shearman & Sterling, cited by The Wall Street Journal: because there is no prospectus or the other formalities required in a normal bond offering, “there won’t be any transparency, there won’t be a press release. It’s all done discreetly.”

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Stone. Squeeze. “Plans [..] that will see foreclosures and auctions for 55% of debtors are already in progress.”

Troika Prompts Greece To Tighten Debt Repayments (Kath.)

The Greek government’s plans for allowing taxpayers to make debt repayments to the state in 100 installments has been halted by the country’s lenders, who are refusing to consent to the scheme on the grounds that it will inflate debts to the state coffers. Alternate Finance Minister Tryfon Alexiadis told Skai there will be no new regulation for the reypayments, and called on debtors either to service their debts or make use of the existing framework of 12 or 24 installments. Greece’s lenders had been increasing the pressure recently to make the debt repayment process for those who owe money to the state more rigorous.

As of July 1, the legal framework was tightened for those with debts to the state. As a result, those who were already in the 100-installment scheme learned they would have to pay any debts incurred after that date no later than 15 days after the deadline. If they have not paid after 15 days, they are thrown out of the 100-installment scheme and will face the same penalties as anyone else. From January 1, 2018, the precondition for the continuation of the arrangement will be that they have repaid any new debts by the date they were due. According to figures from the Ministry of Finance, debts to the state are growing at a rate of €1 billion per month. In the first half of the year, the amount of new taxpayer debt to the state came to €6.8 billion.

In order to reduce the growth rate of the debt and increase state revenues, the government, in agreement with its creditors, has moved to coercive measures against state debtors. Plans by the General Secretariat of Public Revenue that will see foreclosures and auctions for 55% of debtors are already in progress.

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What if complying is prohibitively expensive?

Investors Controlling $13 Trillion Want G20 Leaders To Ratify Paris Deal (G.)

A group of 130 institutions that control US$13tn of investments have called on G20 nations to ratify the Paris agreement this year and accelerate investment in clean energy and forced disclosure of climate-related financial risk. Countries that ratified the Paris agreement early would benefit from better policy certainty and would attract investment in low-carbon technology, the signatories said in a letter before the G20 heads of government meeting in September. They called for strong carbon pricing to be implemented, as well as regulations that encouraged energy efficiency and renewable energy. Plans for how to phase out fossil fuels also needed to be developed, they said.

Financial regulators needed to force companies to disclose how climate change, and climate-related policies, would impact their bottom line, the group said. “So investors are asking companies: tell us what the implementation of the Paris agreement means for your business so that we can price that risk and invest accordingly,” said Emma Herd, the chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC) – one of the six organisations that represent the 130 investors on the letter. Herd said that required not only mandatory reporting but also for that reporting to be standardised so that investors can compare between companies and between industries.

The signatories of the letter wrote: “The Paris agreement on climate change provides a clear signal to investors that the transition to the low-carbon, clean energy economy is inevitable and already under way. “Governments have a responsibility to work with the private sector to ensure that this transition happens fast enough to catalyse the significant investment required to achieve the Paris agreement’s goals.”

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“..the US has squandered a fantastic sum of money fattening up its notoriously corrupt defense establishment ..”

A Thousand Balls of Flame (Dmitry Orlov)

“Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war. And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear.”

[..] There is exactly one nation in the world that nukes other countries, and that would be the United States. It gratuitously nuked Japan, which was ready to surrender anyway, just because it could. It prepared to nuke Russia at the start of the Cold War, but was prevented from doing so by a lack of a sufficiently large number of nuclear bombs at the time. And it attempted to render Russia defenseless against nuclear attack, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, but has been prevented from doing so by Russia’s new weapons. These include, among others, long-range supersonic cruise missiles (Kalibr), and suborbital intercontinental missiles carrying multiple nuclear payloads capable of evasive maneuvers as they approach their targets (Sarmat).

All of these new weapons are impossible to intercept using any conceivable defensive technology. At the same time, Russia has also developed its own defensive capabilities, and its latest S-500 system will effectively seal off Russia’s airspace, being able to intercept targets both close to the ground and in low Earth orbit.mIn the meantime, the US has squandered a fantastic sum of money fattening up its notoriously corrupt defense establishment with various versions of “Star Wars,” but none of that money has been particularly well spent. The two installations in Europe of Aegis Ashore (completed in Romania, planned in Poland) won’t help against Kalibr missiles launched from submarines or small ships in the Pacific or the Atlantic, close to US shores, or against intercontinental missiles that can fly around them. The THAAD installation currently going into South Korea (which the locals are currently protesting by shaving their heads) won’t change the picture either.

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Aug 182016
 
 August 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC George W. Cochran & Co., 709 14th Street NW, Washington DC 1920

Japanese Imports Drop -24.7%, Exports Crash -14.1% (ZH)
A Physics Lesson for Central Bankers (BBG)
The Idea Of The Fed Raising The Inflation Target Is Outrageous (Boockvar)
On The Impossibility Of Helicopter Money And Why The Casino Will Crash (DS)
US Buyback Announcements Tumble to a 2012 Low (BBG)
Oil Drillers Have Slashed Spending For 2015-2020 By $1 Trillion
Only 37% Of Borrowers Are Paying Down Their Student Loans (WSJ)
Chinese Airlines Need To Hire 100 Pilots A Week For The Next 20 Years (BBG)
Hillary Clinton Picks TPP and Fracking Advocate To Set Up Her White House (IC)
Is US Moving Nuclear Weapons From Turkey to Romania? (EurA)
America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen (NYT Editorial Board)
California Slaughter: The State-Sanctioned Genocide of Native Americans (NW)
Uncovering The Brutal Truth About The British Empire (G.)
Greek Villagers Rescued Refugees. Now They Are the Ones Suffering. (NYT)

 

 

Apparently Kuroda doesn’t buy enough yet.

Japanese Imports Drop -24.7%, Exports Crash -14.1% (ZH)

For the 19th month in a row, Japanese Imports plunged – dropping 24.7% YoY (worse than expected), the biggest drop since Oct 2009. Exports were just as dismal, also missing expectations, plunging 14.1% YoY – worst since Oct 2009. The biggest driver of the collapse of Japanese trade was a 44% crash in the Chinese trade balance. There’s no lipstick to put on this pig… it’s a disaster.. and worse still Yen is strengthening back below 100 against the USD.

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Why not simply admit that central bankers and economists alike have no idea what they’re doing?! Even if they ever had a clue, we’re now 8 years into ‘uncharted territory’, and it’s all anyone‘s guess. That’s what ‘uncharted territory’ means.

Moreover, central bankers and economists come in with dogmatic school book theories that don’t apply in ‘uncharted territory’, and those school book educations make sure they’re the very last candidates for finding creative solutions. Comparing economics to actual science does not help one bit.

A Physics Lesson for Central Bankers (BBG)

The world is braced for the discovery of a fifth fundamental forces of nature – the four known ones being electromagnetism, gravity, and strong and weak nuclear forces – that subverts the so-called standard model of particle physics. Given the lackluster outlook for global growth, maybe economics needs a similar revolution. Quantitative easing’s failure to quash the threat of deflation is finance’s equivalent of the bump in the data that alerted physicists to the possibility of a new boson. The mismatch between economic theory and the real-world outcome of zero interest rates poses a direct challenge to the current orthodoxy that puts a 2% inflation target at the heart of monetary policy in most of the developed world.

Figures earlier this week showed inflation running at an annual pace of just 0.8% in the U.S. and 0.6% in the U.K. Consumer prices in the euro zone are rising by about 0.2% a year; in Japan, prices dropped by 0.4% in June. The consensus forecast among economists surveyed by Bloomberg News is for none of the four central banks in those regions to meet their targets in 2016, and for the ECB and the BOJ to continue falling short for at least the next year:

Years of pumping trillions of dollars, euros, yen and pounds into the economy by buying government debt and other securities hasn’t produced the rebound in inflation that economics textbooks predicted. Record low borrowing costs haven’t led to a surge in investment and spending that would lead to higher prices. That’s the kind of empirical evidence that should produce a reconsideration of what Rothschild Investment Trust Chairman Jacob Rothschild this week called “the greatest experiment in monetary policy in the history of the world.” Neil Grossman, director of Florida-based bank C1 Financial and former chief investment officer at TKNG Capital Partners, likens the need to abandon the current economic orthodoxy with the impact of quantum physics on science in the last century.

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“There is no science to this 2% number, it is all art.”

The Idea Of The Fed Raising The Inflation Target Is Outrageous (Boockvar)

I can’t let an opportunity go by without criticizing a Fed official. I believe their feet should be held to the fire after creating a huge asset price bubble and culture of debt that is dragging down economic growth. Fed President John Williams comments yesterday really got me angry. First, he suggested possibly raising the Fed’s 2% inflation target. This reflects an amazing cluelessness of the damage this would do if realized. We are in an epic bond bubble globally where higher inflation would be kryptonite. With the bond monster central bankers have created, the last thing they should want is higher inflation. Also, many U.S. citizens are literally living paycheck to paycheck and a higher cost of living without a corresponding increase in wages or any interest income would damage the largest component of the U.S. economy and the lives of millions.

Second, he said, “Conventional monetary policy has less room to stimulate the economy during an economic downturn.” This we know is true. But he then added, “This will necessitate a greater reliance on unconventional tools like central bank balance sheets, forward guidance, and potentially even negative policy rates.” This last sentence proves he’s blind to the negative consequences of what unconventional tools have wrought and he believes in negative rates even in the face of all the evidence of how damaging the idea is. Let me expand on the first issue of inflation. Central banks in the U.S., Eurozone, UK and in Japan have tethered their monetary policy decisions on growth certainly but also the desire for 2% annual inflation. There is no science to this 2% number, it is all art.

The reason for this target and desire for this level of inflation is a matter of control. While they like to keep interest rates artificially low, they also understand the need to have them higher than they are in order to respond to any economic challenges. The fallacy with this theory that higher inflation is good and deflation is bad, is inflation is just a symptom of underlying supply and demand and technological improvements, and thus shouldn’t be manipulated.

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Stockman: “..earnings had fallen by 19% since then, even as the stock market moved from 1950 to nearly 2200 or 13% higher..”

On The Impossibility Of Helicopter Money And Why The Casino Will Crash (DS)

[..] .. the S&P 500 companies posted Q2 2016 earnings for the latest 12 month period at $86.66 per share. So at the August bubble high the market was being valued at a lunatic 25.1X. Even in a healthy, growing economy that valuation level is on the extreme end of sanity. But actual circumstances are currently more nearly the opposite. That is, earnings have now been falling for six straight quarters in line with GDP growth that has slumped to what amounts to stall speed. In fact, reported earnings for the S&P 500 peaked at $106 per share in the 12 months ended in September 2014. That means that earnings had fallen by 19% since then, even as the stock market moved from 1950 to nearly 2200 or 13% higher.

This is called multiple expansion in the parlance of Wall Street, but it’s hard to find a more bubblicious example. Two years ago the market was trading at just 18.4X, meaning that on the back of sharply falling earnings the PE multiple had risen by 36%! Valuation multiples are supposed to go up only when the economic and profits outlook is improving, not when it’s unmistakably deteriorating as at present. But during the spring-summer melt-up these faltering fundamentals were blithely ignored on the hopes of a second half growth spurt and, failing the latter, that the Fed would again pull the market’s chestnuts out of the fire.

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Time for Yellen to buy those stocks? Buybacks were the no. 1 reason the S&P looked good till now. Better find something to replace them, or else…

US Buyback Announcements Tumble to a 2012 Low (BBG)

Stock buybacks appear to be slowing down, suggesting either corporate America’s outlook has dimmed, stock valuations have become prohibitively high or, most optimistically, that companies are starting to listen to investors and put funds toward other uses. Buybacks announced for the second quarter’s earnings season between July 8 and August 15 totaled an average of $1.8 billion a day, the lowest volume in an earnings season since the summer of 2012, according to TrimTabs Investment Research.
Share repurchases have been a key driver of this year’s stock market rally, despite a notable deceleration relative to to the same period in 2015. In the first seven months of 2016, buybacks totaled $376.5 billion, according to TrimTabs.

That’s down 21% from $478.4 billion in the first seven months of last year. Equity buybacks last week totaled just $2.6 billion, while record highs in U.S. stocks triggered an increase in new equity offerings. “The reluctance to pull the trigger on share repurchases suggests corporate leaders are becoming less enthusiastic about what they see ahead,” David Santschi, chief executive officer of TrimTabs, said in a press release on Tuesday. That means “buybacks aren’t likely to provide as much fuel for the stock market as they have in the recent past.” According to TrimTabs, just five companies have announced buybacks of more-than $3 billion this earnings season: Biogen ($5 billion), Visa ($5 billion), CBS ($5 billion), AIG ($3 billion), and 21st Century Fox ($3 billion).

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Hard to admit to something that will cost you your livelihood. They all keep hoping for rising prices.

Oil Drillers Have Slashed Spending For 2015-2020 By $1 Trillion

Mad Dog, BP’s drilling project deep in the Gulf of Mexico, could be Exhibit A in the oil industry’s war on cost. When the British oil giant announced the project’s second phase in 2011, it put the price at $20 billion. Last month, after simplifying plans and benefiting from a sharp drop in everything from steel to drilling services, Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said he could do the job for $9 billion.

Across the industry, companies have taken a chainsaw to expenses, slashing spending for the 2015-to-2020 period by $1 trillion through cutting staff, delaying projects, changing drilling techniques and squeezing outside contractors, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. That’s cushioned businesses as oil prices plunged 60% since 2014. Now producers seek to show they can make the savings stick, while service providers try to reverse their losses. Industry costs “may be the defining issue of the next six to 12 months,” said J. David Anderson, a Barclays analyst in New York. “As you start ramping up, the fact is you’re going to need more services and they’re going to have to come in at a higher price.”

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Someone will come with an across the board forgiveness plan. But it’ll be contentious.

Only 37% Of Borrowers Are Paying Down Their Student Loans (WSJ)

A largely overlooked report released in February by the Government Accountability Office suggests that the Obama administration’s policies have exacerbated student debt, which equals nearly a quarter of annual federal borrowing. With only 37% of borrowers actually paying down their loans, the federal student-loan program more closely resembles the payday-lending industry than a benevolent source of funds for college. As this newspaper reported in April, “43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1,” and a staggering “1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt.”

If student debt continues to skyrocket, the federal government may have to deal with as much as a $500 billion write-down when future defaults and loan-forgiveness programs are factored in. In 2010, the Obama administration dispensed with the private intermediaries that had administered federal loans since the 1960s. It put in their place Direct Lending, a program administered by the Education Department. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Direct Lending would save $62 billion from 2010 to 2020. That didn’t happen. The program’s advocates failed to anticipate how two other Obama-backed college affordability initiatives—Income-Driven Repayment and loan forgiveness—would create a cataclysmic hit to the federal student-loan program’s finances.

There are more than 20 Income-Driven Repayment programs, but they all work essentially the same way. Students struggling financially can defer their payments. When no or limited payments are made, their balances grow. Today, over 20 million borrowers are watching their loan balances increase thanks to these programs. The average balance ballooned to approximately $25,000 in 2014 from $15,000 in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and has grown still larger since then.

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In their dreams.

Chinese Airlines Need To Hire 100 Pilots A Week For The Next 20 Years (BBG)

Chinese airlines need to hire almost 100 pilots a week for the next 20 years to meet skyrocketing travel demand. Facing a shortage of candidates at home, carriers are dangling lucrative pay packages at foreigners with cockpit experience. Giacomo Palombo, a former United Airlines pilot, said he’s being bombarded every week with offers to fly Airbus A320s in China. Regional carrier Qingdao Airlines promises as much as $318,000 a year. Sichuan Airlines, which flies to Canada and Australia, is pitching $302,000. Both airlines say they’ll also cover his income tax bill in China. “When the time to go back to flying comes, I’ll definitely have the Chinese airlines on my radar,” said Palombo, 32, now an Atlanta-based consultant for McKinsey. “The financials are attractive.”

Air traffic over China is set to almost quadruple in the next two decades, making it the world’s busiest market, according to Airbus Group SE. Startup carriers barely known abroad are paying about 50% more than what some senior captains earn at Delta Air Lines, and they’re giving recruiters from the U.S. to New Zealand free rein to fill their captains’ chairs. With some offers reaching $26,000 a month in net pay, pilots from emerging markets including Brazil and Russia can quadruple their salaries in China, said Dave Ross, Las Vegas-based president of Wasinc International. Wasinc is recruiting for more than a dozen mainland carriers, including Chengdu Airlines, Qingdao Airlines and Ruili Airlines. “When we ask an airline, ‘How many pilots do you need?,’ they say, ‘Oh, we can take as many as you bring,”’ Ross said. “It’s almost unlimited.”

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Incredible, but he really said it: “..there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone..”

Hillary Clinton Picks TPP and Fracking Advocate To Set Up Her White House (IC)

Two big issues dogged Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) and fracking. She had a long history of supporting both. Under fire from Bernie Sanders, she came out against the TPP and took a more critical position on fracking. But critics wondered if this was a sincere conversion or simply campaign rhetoric. Now, in two of the most significant personnel moves she will ever make, she has signaled a lack of sincerity. She chose as her vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine, who voted to authorize fast-track powers for the TPP and praised the agreement just two days before he was chosen.

And now she has named former Colorado Democratic Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to be the chair of her presidential transition team — the group tasked with helping set up the new administration should she win in November. That includes identifying, selecting, and vetting candidates for over 4,000 presidential appointments. As a senator, Salazar was widely considered a reliable friend to the oil, gas, ranching and mining industries. As interior secretary, he opened the Arctic Ocean for oil drilling, and oversaw the botched response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning to the private sector, he has been an ardent supporter of the TPP, while pushing back against curbs on fracking.

The TPP would enhance the ability of corporations to sue to overturn environmental regulations, but Salazar helped a pro-TPP front group, the “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs,” argue the opposite. In a November 2015 USA Today op-ed that Salazar co-wrote with Bruce Babbitt, the two men argued that the TPP would be the “the greenest trade deal ever” by promoting sustainable energy. Both Salazar and Babbitt cited their former positions as interior secretaries to boost their credibility. The following month, Salazar authored a Denver Post op-ed with two former Colorado governors also affiliated with PCAJ, arguing that the agreement would protect the state’s scenic beauty: “And as a state rich with natural wonder and a long history of conservation, Colorado can be proud that the TPP includes the highest environmental standards of any trade agreement in history.”

Shortly after leaving his post at the Obama administration, Salazar appeared at an oil and gas industry conference to argue in favor of fracking. “We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone,” Salazar told the attendees, who included the vice president of BP America, another keynote speaker at the conference. “We need to make sure that story is told.”

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Not confirmed. But moving them out of Turkey seems logical. Not exactly a safe third country these days.

Is US Moving Nuclear Weapons From Turkey to Romania? (EurA)

Two independent sources told EurActiv.com that the US has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, against the background of worsening relations between Washington and Ankara. According to one of the sources, the transfer has been very challenging in technical and political terms. “It’s not easy to move 20+ nukes,” said the source, on conditions of anonymity. According to a recent report by the Simson Center, since the Cold War, some 50 US tactical nuclear weapons have been stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, approximately 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.

During the failed coup in Turkey in July, Incirlik’s power was cut, and the Turkish government prohibited US aircraft from flying in or out. Eventually, the base commander was arrested and implicated in the coup. Whether the US could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question, the report says. Another source told EurActiv.com that the US-Turkey relations had deteriorated so much following the coup that Washington no longer trusted Ankara to host the weapons. The American weapons are being moved to the Deveselu air base in Romania, the source said. Deveselu, near the city of Caracal, is the new home of the US missile shield, which has infuriated Russia.

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It doesn’t sit well with me at all that the NYT editors are saying this. Far too much blood on those hands. It doesn’t feel right one bit.

America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen (NYT Editorial Board)

A hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders. A school. A potato chip factory. Under international law, those facilities in Yemen are not legitimate military targets. Yet all were bombed in recent days by warplanes belonging to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killing more than 40 civilians. The United States is complicit in this carnage. It has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace.

The airstrikes are further evidence that the Saudis have escalated their bombing campaign against Houthi militias, which control the capital, Sana, since peace talks were suspended on Aug. 6, ending a cease-fire that was declared more than four months ago. They also suggest one of two unpleasant possibilities. One is that the Saudis and their coalition of mostly Sunni Arab partners have yet to learn how to identify permissible military targets. The other is that they simply do not care about killing innocent civilians. The bombing of the hospital, which alone killed 15 people, was the fourth attack on a facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the past year even though all parties to the conflict were told exactly where the hospitals were located.

In all, the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60% of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed.

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Today Yemen, yesterday California. Maybe if we stop trying to hide the past, we’re less likely to repeat it?!

California Slaughter: The State-Sanctioned Genocide of Native Americans (NW)

The tally is relentlessly grim: a whole settlement wiped out in Trinity County “excepting a few children”; an Indian girl raped and left to die somewhere near Mendocino; as many as 50 killed at Goose Lake; and, two months later, as many as 257 murdered at Grouse Creek, scores of them women and children. There were the four white ranchers who tracked down a band of Yana to a cave, butchering 30. “In the cave with the meat were some Indian children,” reported a chronicle published later. One of the whites “could not bear to kill these children with his 56-calibre Spencer rifle. ‘It tore them up so bad.’ So he did it with his 38-calibre Smith and Wesson revolver.”

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We might as well stop speaking about western ‘civilization’.

Uncovering The Brutal Truth About The British Empire (G.)

Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse. Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages.

It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies. By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work.

To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mau work. That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”

She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.” What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy.

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But not everyone has lost it: “If it happens again, everyone will do the exact same thing: We will help.”

Greek Villagers Rescued Refugees. Now They Are the Ones Suffering. (NYT)

Stratis Valamios revved the motor on his small white boat and steered under a thumbnail moon out of the harbor of this fishing village, perched on the northern tip of Lesbos, Greece’s third-largest island. Skies were clear enough to see the purple mountains of Turkey a short distance across the Aegean Sea. It would be easy on this tranquil evening to catch calamari. These days, he needed a good haul to make ends meet. A year ago, he and other fishermen in the tiny village, Skala Sikaminias, were making a more unusual catch: thousands of sea-drenched asylum seekers who streamed across the Aegean to escape conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

As one of the landfalls in Greece that is closest to Turkey, Skala Sikaminias, with its 100 residents, fast became ground zero for the crisis, the first stop in Europe for people trying to reach Germany in a desperate bid to start new lives. “I’d be in the middle of the sea, and I would see 50 boats zigzagging toward me,” Mr. Valamios said, gazing across the narrow channel. “I would speed toward them, and they would throw their children into my boat to be saved.” Today the migrants have mostly stopped coming. The coastline, once littered with orange life vests and wrecked boats, has been cleaned to a near-spotless white. But the human drama has left an imprint here, and across all of Lesbos, in ways that have only begun to play out.

The village is nearly empty of tourists this year as Germans, Swedes and other visitors who had long flocked to the crystalline waters of Lesbos go elsewhere, wary of spending their vacations in a place now associated with human desperation. Business at the island’s hotels and tavernas has slumped around 80%, especially along the 7.5-mile stretch between Skala Sikaminias and the vacation town of Molyvos, where many of the more than 800,000 migrants who survived the crossing last year washed ashore. Mr. Valamios used to supplement his income as a fisherman by working five months of the year at Myrivilis’ Mulberry taverna, facing the bucolic port where fishermen mend yellow nets beneath oleanders and village cats prowl for fish. This year, he was asked to work just one month amid a dearth of customers. Nearly 1,000 Greeks in the area have lost seasonal employment.

[..] The villagers no longer experience the sea in the same way. When they look at the horizon, some say they think for a split second that another refugee boat is coming. “We have to be ready,” Mr. Valamios said. “If it happens again, everyone will do the exact same thing: We will help.”

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Mar 162015
 
 March 16, 2015  Posted by at 7:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC People’s Drug Store, 11th & G streets, Washington DC 1920

After Six Years, U.S. Stocks are Back to Normal: Chaos (Bloomberg)
Indeed This Time Is Different: Because It’s Far Worse (Mark St.Cyr)
It’s Time For A Criminal Probe Into Tim Geithner’s Leaks As Fed Vice Chair (ZH)
Germany And Greece Should Look To Goethe To Resolve Their Standoff (Guardian)
Greek Currency Crisis Calls For Controlled Exit (Münchau)
If Greece Leaves Eurozone, Spain And Italy Would Be Next – Minister (ToM)
Greece To Use Nazi Army Archives For Reparation Claim (AFP)
Varoufakis: Greece Has Things Under Control (Deutsche Welle)
Germans Tired of Greek Demands Want Country to Exit Euro (Bloomberg)
Russia Was Ready for Crimea Nuclear Standoff, Putin Says (Bloomberg)
More Than a Million Hit Brazil Streets to Protest Rousseff (Bloomberg)
Beware the $300 Billion Shift Into Treasuries Coming From Japan (Bloomberg)
The Austrian Black Swan Claims Its First Foreign Casualty (Zero Hedge)
The Full Explanation Of How The ECB Broke Europe’s Bond Market (Zero Hedge)
Krugman Is Told to Read More, Write Less, by Swedish Riksbanker (Bloomberg)
A Green Light for the American Empire (Ron Paul)
How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 that Doesn’t Fly (Fiscal Times)

Anyone who still calls himself an investor doesn’t understand what goes on.

After Six Years, U.S. Stocks are Back to Normal: Chaos (Bloomberg)

Nobody said waking up from six years of Federal Reserve-induced slumber would be easy In stocks, volatility is back. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which never went more than three days without a gain in 2014, has twice fallen five straight times since January. Daily equity moves exceeding 1% have jumped 50% from last year and shares tumbled 3% or more over four different stretches in the first quarter. What seems like chaos is a return to normalcy for 70-year-old investor Chris Bertelsen, who says the end of Fed stimulus is long overdue in a market that has tripled since 2009. Volatility indicators bear a resemblance to 2007, the final year of the previous bull market – which this one now exceeds by 12 months.

“We are so skewed by the readily available quantitative easing and that was the abnormal,” said Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial. “For many investors, particularly those that haven’t seen a period of time like this, it does create queasiness.” The market hasn’t been this turbulent since the European debt crisis three years ago as volatility in currency and energy markets spill over to equities and Fed policy makers signal a rate increase by mid-year.

Less than three months into 2015, the market has seen 15 days when the S&P 500 rose or fell 1% or more, compared with 10 days a quarter in 2014. While the index is little changed for the year and has gone 41 months without a 10% tumble, it’s had more retreats of at least 3% than any time since 2011, data compiled by Bloomberg show. After swinging 0.53% a day in 2014 in the calmest year since 2006, the S&P 500’s daily move has widened to 0.71%, versus the average of 0.76% since 1928. “What we’re seeing in the market today is a preview that this is going to a more volatile year and investors should be positioned,” said Jim McDonald at Northern Trust.

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Amen, brother.

Indeed This Time Is Different: Because It’s Far Worse (Mark St.Cyr)

Suddenly the narrative that “everything is awesome” is showing to not be as “awesome” as it was first proclaimed. Merely a few months have passed since the ending of QE and praises of awesomeness everywhere are morphing into questions more akin to “Oh no: not again!” And with that we are now watching those who pushed, pulled, and levitated that narrative scramble desperately to push another narrative back onto the stage that worked so many times before: “Every sell off over the last 6 years has shown to be a profitable buying opportunity.” i.e., Just buy the dip (JBTFD). Yet it would seem these dips; are far different.

Just for context, over the past week, if you were one of the few remaining “home-gamers” still watching CNBC™, you would have been delighted to see once again their host Jim Cramer go through great pains to explain why he discounts the idea that we’re in a bubble to once again like ringing a bell (he uses buzzers and gongs I believe) the indexes sell off in dramatic fashion bringing back memories of Bear Sterns. As of today any gains for the year have been quelled. But not too worry, for he also contends you should have “dry powder” at the ready. i.e., Be ready to “JBTFD.” My thoughts? “Investing” isn’t going to be so easy this time. Why? Let me be so bold to use the same meme touted by the likes of those who sold it: Because, it truly is – different this time. Without QE, not only is there no one buying.

What’s far, far, far, (did I say far?) worse is: There’s no one to sell too! Effectively through the interventionist policies over the last 6 years via the QE program what the Fed. has accomplished, whether intentionally, or merely complicit in the results were: to systematically exterminate the dreaded “Short sellers.” Today everybody is currently on one side of the market. And that side is: long. The dreaded “Bears” that would even out the markets taking positions on the other side are all about gone. Every empirical statistics, every indicator measured whether it be Investor Intelligence™ data and the like shows, historically – they’ve never been so lopsided. Ever! But that’s only the beginning.

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Great rundown.

It’s Time For A Criminal Probe Into Tim Geithner’s Leaks As Fed Vice Chair (ZH)

Back in January 2013, when looking at the Fed’s 2007 transcripts we stumbled upon something which in a non-banana republic would be the basis of a criminal investigation. What happened, in a nutshell, is that at precisely 8:00 am on August 17, shortly after the infamous Goldman (and other) quant fund blow ups of the summer of 2007 shook the markets, in an attempt to halt the panic selloff in stocks, the Fed announced the following:

To promote the restoration of orderly conditions in financial markets, the Federal Reserve Board approved temporary changes to its primary credit discount window facility. The Board approved a 50 basis point reduction in the primary credit rate to 5-3/4%, to narrow the spread between the primary credit rate and the Federal Open Market Committee’s target federal funds rate to 50 basis points. The Board is also announcing a change to the Reserve Banks’ usual practices to allow the provision of term financing for as long as 30 days, renewable by the borrower. These changes will remain in place until the Federal Reserve determines that market liquidity has improved materially. These changes are designed to provide depositories with greater assurance about the cost and availability of funding. The Federal Reserve will continue to accept a broad range of collateral for discount window loans, including home mortgages and related assets. Existing collateral margins will be maintained. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and San Francisco.

Why was this abnormal, and why should it be the basis for a criminal inquiry? Simple. As we also wrote previously, hours before the Fed officially announced its primary credit rate cut, the market soared by a whopping 40 points just after 2 pm without any actual public news crossing the tape.

In other words, someone leaked the Fed’s decision to a select few just around 2 pm on Thursday, August 16, which can be further confirmed by the continuation of the market’s exuberance in the moments following the Fed’s announcement. This is a bold accusation, and one we wouldn’t make if none other than the Fed subsequently had confirmed that a member of the FOMC had indeed leaked the news of the upcoming rate cut. The leaker in question: the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and then-head of the NY Fed, Tim Geithner himself. From the August 16, 2007 transcript (page 13 of 37) of the conference call preceding this announcement:

MR. LACKER. If I could just follow up on that, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Yes, go ahead.
MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, did you say that [the banks] are unaware of what we’re considering or what we might be doing with the discount rate?
VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Yes.
MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, I spoke with Ken Lewis, President and CEO of Bank of America, this afternoon, and he said that he appreciated what Tim Geithner was arranging by way of changes in the discount facility. So my information is different from that.
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Okay. Thank you. Go ahead, Vice Chairman Geithner.
VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Well, I cannot speak for Ken Lewis, but I think they have sought to see whether they could understand a little more clearly the scope of their rights and our current policy with respect to the window. The only thing I’ve done is to try to help them understand—and I’m sure that’s been true across the System—what the scope of that is because these people generally don’t use the window and they don’t really understand in some sense what it’s about.

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“..the words “our boys didn’t die on the beaches of Normandy for this” have been used in conversations between the State Department and the German foreign ministry.”

Germany And Greece Should Look To Goethe To Resolve Their Standoff (Guardian)

The Greek rebellion against Turkish rule, which began in 1821, threatened to upset the entire diplomatic balance of the western world. It flew in the face of the treaty signed by the so-called Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria and Prussia) to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe. Plus it violated the German enlightenment’s ideal of freedom, which was understood as deriving from the rule of law. Under the influence of the philosopher Kant, the Germans who built central Berlin as an off-white replica of Athens believed all freedom came from obeying authority.

The Greeks fighting the Turks in a dirty war, revelling in their image as brigands and urging revolt across Europe, were seen in the Germany of the 1820s much as the German electorate views hordes of radical Greek youth punching the air and singing Katyusha – with distaste. So Goethe, initially, opposed the Greek revolt. He feared Russian power would fill the vacuum if the Turks were beaten. And beyond that he feared it would spark further outbreak of revolution in Europe. What changed Goethe’s mind was the death of Lord Byron, fighing on the Greek side in 1824. In a sudden surge of creativity Goethe set to work on his unfinished drama Faust, modelling the central character now on Byron himself, and turning the second half of the work into a meditation on the nature of freedom.

His U-turn reframed the Greek “rulebreaking” problem within a broader set of rules: the Christian west versus the Ottoman Empire. Goethe declared his support for the Greeks, in opposition to the will of his political masters in Germany. Today, there are a growing number of diplomats in the Anglo-Saxon world who wish Angela Merkel would do a similar volte-face. The Germans’ intransigence on the Greek debt crisis is rooted in the same philosophical stance that initially guided Goethe’s generation: namely, that freedom derives from conformity to authority and the rules. But there was always another idea of freedom in the west – the one espoused by republican France, radical Britain and revolutionary America: that freedom exists in opposition to authority, and that the ultimate human right is to destroy the established order.

It’s strange to see a 200-year-old philosophical debate played out in the diplomatic backchannels of Nato, but that’s what is happening. If Germany’s cultural centre in Athens does end up draped in the banners of the anarchist left, then – in a way – it will be a fine testimony to the relevance of Goethe himself. And yet another example of the troubled psyche of this place called Europe.

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“The conclusion is inevitable: the best way to avoid a Grexident is to prepare for a Grexit.”

Greek Currency Crisis Calls For Controlled Exit (Münchau)

When German economic illiteracy meets with Greek diplomatic illiteracy, nothing good will come of it. Last week, a Greek minister threatened to swamp Germany with Islamic refugees. The Germans are again debating an accidental Greek exit from the eurozone: Grexident. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, linked a claim about Second World War reparation payments against Germany to present discussions on the extension of a loan agreement. The reparations claim itself is not frivolous. There are even German lawyers who believe Athens has a case. But it is politically mad to link the two. What we are hearing is not the usual noise: there is a loss of trust. The conclusion I draw from this is that the odds of a Greek exit from the eurozone have shortened dramatically in the past two weeks.

The two sides may tone down their rhetoric in the coming days but I cannot see the creditor countries relenting on the conditions of last month’s debt rollover agreement. Nor can I see the Greek government fulfilling them. Since nobody knows how many days or weeks Athens is from insolvency, the risk of a sudden exit is clear and present. Grexit may never happen – but it is time to get ready. Grexit is not an outcome any rational person would wish for. It will undermine the EU’s geostrategic influence. Economically, it will unmask a hidden truth: that the monetary union is just a beefed-up fixed-exchange system. A large number of financial contracts would instantly default. It is unclear how the global financial system would cope. The eurozone’s fledgling economic recovery would be at risk.

For Greece, an exit may well work in the long run if it is well managed, but it will bring economic misery in the short term. The country is still running a current account deficit, meaning it is reliant on external funding to support domestic consumption. That funding may disappear from one day to the next, should Greece default on its creditors. A preparation for Grexit is not about a Plan B in the top drawer. It means a pre-agreed sequence of actions ready to be implemented. A changeover of a currency regime within a short period of time constitutes an organisational and logistical challenge that goes beyond anything normal states ever do. I would advise against a cold turkey switch into a new currency regime – one that would replace the euro with a new drachma. I doubt this is logically feasible or economically desirable. I would opt for a transitory regime, a smoke-and-mirrors version where nobody knows precisely whether Greece is in or out.

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Crystal clear.

If Greece Leaves Eurozone, Spain And Italy Would Be Next – Minister (ToM)

If Greece were to leave the eurozone, Spain and Italy would also end up quitting the common currency bloc, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told German newspaper Bild in an interview published yesterday. “If Greece explodes, Spain and Italy will be next and then at some point, Germany. We therefore need to find a way within the eurozone, but this way cannot be that the Greeks keep on having to pay,” he said, according to an advance extract of the broad-ranging interview. He also said Greece did not need a third bailout but rather “a haircut like the one Germany also got in 1953 at the London debt conference”. Athens and Berlin have become engaged in a war of words and Greece has submitted a formal protest to the German Foreign Ministry, accusing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of having insulted his Greek counterpart, Yanis Varoufakis.

Schaeuble denies having called Varoufakis “foolishly naive”, as reported by some Greek media. On Schaeuble, Kammenos was quoted as saying: “I don’t understand why he turns against Greece every day in new statements. It’s like a psychological war and Schaeuble is poisoning the relationship between the two countries through that.” The relationship has already been strained by Berlin’s tough stance on Greece’s debt crisis. Kammenos said Schaeuble needed to put up with the new Greek government because it had been elected by the Greek people. He accused Berlin of interfering in Greek domestic affairs, adding: “I get the feeling that the German government is out to get us and some really want to push us out of the eurozone.”

Last week Greece renewed its campaign to seek compensation for the Nazis’ brutal occupation in World War II, an issue Berlin says was settled decades ago. Kammenos called for reparations in the interview, saying, “The gold that the Nazis took to Berlin from Athens was worth a lot of money. We expect compensation for that and also for the forced loan and the destruction of archaeological statues.” Kammenos also suggested Greece would stop taking refugees in the case of a “forced” Greek exit from the eurozone. “Then no agreements would be valid anymore, no treaties, nothing. We would no longer be obliged to take in refugees as a country of arrival. Whoever wants to push us out of the eurozone should know that.”

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Quite a find.

Greece To Use Nazi Army Archives For Reparation Claim (AFP)

Greece will use a trove of Nazi army papers to press its claim for German reparation payments, the defence ministry said on Friday. “This archive contains over 400,000 pages…it will be used toward supporting Greek demands over German obligations in 1941-1944,” the ministry said. “These documents do not just substantiate a historic truth – they are the documents of the Wehrmacht itself, the occupation forces,” said junior defence minister Kostas Isichos. The ministry said it had obtained the papers from US archives. “They are diaries, reports by officers to their superiors…these were not written for publicity, they were mainly secret documents,” he said.

Facing resistance from EU paymaster Germany to its claims for a renegotiation to its bailout, the new radical Greek government has stepped up pressure on Berlin over the controversial issue of war reparations. The Greek justice minister this week said he would activate a 15-year-old Greek Supreme Court ruling allowing the seizure of German assets to pay for war damages. Greece’s parliament also approved a motion to reactivate a special committee to look into war reparations, reimbursement of a forced war loan and the return of archaeological relics seized by German occupation forces.

Berlin argues that the issue of reparations to Greece was settled in 1960 as part of an agreement with several European governments. Isichos said Athens hoped the Wehrmact papers would shed further light on aspects of the occupation period, such as illegal archaeological excavation and looting, “in order to strengthen, not poison” Greek-German relations. “German universities, intellectuals and the German people are invited to join us in discovering this historic treasure…and close this open wound,” he said.

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“Small, insignificant problems of liquidity should not divide Europe..”

Varoufakis: Greece Has Things Under Control (Deutsche Welle)

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told ARD presenter Günther Jauch that Greece would repay its debts while still managing to cover civic needs, social security and a public workforce. In March, Greece is expected to pay €900 million to the IMF. “Small, insignificant problems of liquidity should not divide Europe,” Varoufakis told Jauch. Varoufakis said creditors did not have the right to interfere in Greece’s affairs. The finance minister also repeated a call for Germany to pay 11 billion euros in reparations for Nazi atrocities to Greece. German officials have said that the matter is settled. Varoufakis also addressed a recent video in which he appears to be showing his middle finger at hypothetical German officials at a 2013 speech in Zagreb, two years before he became finance minister. He called it a fake.

Earlier, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also said his country was not facing a cash shortage. The denial came as Greece prepares to issue €1 billion in three-month treasury bills on Wednesday to meet debt repayments. “There is absolutely no problem with liquidity,” Tsipras told reporters after meeting with Varoufakis. Negotiations are continuing with creditors on a revised reform plan for Greece. On Sunday, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that, with €6 billion in debt bills in March overall on Greece’s books, civil servants should brace themselves for downsized salaries and pensions this month. “Tsipras urgently needs money,” said European Parliament President Martin Schulz in the article. The German parliamentarian, who met Tsipras last week, said Greece would have to convince eurozone nations and the ECB of its determination to carry out reforms.

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Stuffed with propaganda. Not a great idea in Germany.

Germans Tired of Greek Demands Want Country to Exit Euro (Bloomberg)

Berlin cabdriver Jens Mueller says he’s had it with the Greek government and he doesn’t want Germany to send any more of his tax money to be squandered in Athens. “They’ve got a lot of hubris and arrogance, being in the situation they’re in and making all these demands,” said Mueller, 49, waiting for fares near the Brandenburg Gate. “Maybe it’s better for Greece to just leave the euro.” Mueller’s sentiment is shared by a majority of Germans. A poll published March 13 by public broadcaster ZDF found 52% of his countrymen no longer want Greece to remain in Europe’s common currency, up from 41% last month. The shift is due to a view held by 80% of Germans that Greece’s government “isn’t behaving seriously toward its European partners.”

The hardening of German opinion is significant because the country is the biggest contributor to Greece’s €240 billion twin bailouts and the chief proponent of budget cuts and reforms in return for aid. Tensions have been escalating between the two governments since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took office in January, promising to end an austerity drive that he blames on Chancellor Angela Merkel. The shift in sentiment comes as Greece, at risk of running out of cash this month, battles with European officials over the release of more bailout funds. Tspipras has also stepped up calls for war reparations from Germany for the Nazi occupation during World War II and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been locked in a war of words with his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Last week, the Greek government officially complained about Schaeuble’s conduct, to which Schaeuble replied that the whole matter was “absurd.” “The way the Greeks have been behaving has been impossible. Now they’re making their own demands with these reparations,” said Dorli Schneider, an interpreter waiting for a train at Munich’s central station. “Greece should pay back what they owe. We can’t forever give them more money.” German voters’ growing umbrage may make it harder for Merkel to sell any possible deal down the road to the German public and Budestag, which would have to vote on it. She also has to be wary of the anti-euro AfD party trying to peel off her voters, said Juergen Falter, a political scientist at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.

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That’s not what he said.

Russia Was Ready for Crimea Nuclear Standoff, Putin Says (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready to put his country’s nuclear forces on alert when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year in case of intervention by the U.S. and its allies. “We were ready to do that,” Putin said when asked in a documentary film about Russia’s takeover of Crimea aired Sunday on state television if the Kremlin had been prepared to place its nuclear forces on alert. The Russian leader said he warned the U.S. and Europe not to get involved, accusing them of engineering the ouster of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. “That’s why I think no one wanted to start a world conflict.”

In the film, called “Crimea: the Road to the Motherland,” broadcast by Rossiya-1, Putin said he sent military intelligence and elite navy marines to spearhead the disarmament of 20,000 Ukrainian troops in the territory. No date was given for the Putin interview. The film was made over eight months. Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March last year provoked the worst geo-political confrontation with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War. Tensions have escalated during a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine that’s killed more than 6,000 people over the past year. Despite a European-brokered cease-fire, the U.S. is considering arming Ukrainian forces.

Putin, 62, whose country has been hit by U.S. and European Union sanctions that have helped to drive the Russian economy toward recession, branded President Barack Obama’s administration as “puppet-masters.” He said the U.S. directed the months of mass protests that overthrew Yanukovych in February last year. The Russian president said he decided to seize Crimea after a crisis all-night meeting with security chiefs from Feb. 22-23 to save the majority-ethnic Russian territory from the “nationalists” in Kiev who would have killed Yanukovych if Russia hadn’t given him refuge. He said the annexation of Crimea wasn’t planned before the overthrow of Yanukovych.

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She needs to go.

More Than a Million Hit Brazil Streets to Protest Rousseff (Bloomberg)

More than 1 million Brazilians, some of them calling for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, took to the nation’s streets Sunday to protest a government beset by scandal and the rising cost of living. The largest protest occurred in Sao Paulo, with 1 million people as of 3:40 p.m. local time, according to its military police. Protests occurred in cites of 16 states and the federal capital, according to O Globo website. Its TV network reported 100,000 protesters in Porto Alegre and 45,000 in Brasilia, citing the military police of those cities. While no violence or vandalism was reported, Sao Paulo police apprehended firework rockets from a group of attendees. Higher taxes and increased prices for government-regulated items like gasoline are rankling Brazilians as the biggest corruption scandal in the nation’s history ensnares elected and appointed officials.

The approval rating of Rousseff’s government has plummeted since she won a close re-election last October. Today’s protests may be bigger than the June 2013 demonstrations in which more than a million people decried deficient public services and demanded an end to corruption. Today’s protest will force the government to present anti-corruption legislation it has already prepared, according to Thiago de Aragao at Arko Advice, a political risk company. Doing so will allow the government to deflect some fire and argue that protests targeted corruption rather than Rousseff or her party, he said. “The government needs to make some response and since, because of the magnitude, they can’t disqualify the size and pressure of the protest, they have to address one of the issues,” De Aragao said by phone.

“The anti-corruption package will be more fluff than anything real, but at this moment it’s one of the main things that the government has to respond with. They don’t have much more than that.” [..] Today marks the 30th anniversary of Brazil’s return to democracy after a 21-year military dictatorship. March 15 will henceforth be remembered as the Day of Democracy, Aecio Neves, who Rousseff bested in the election last year, said in a video posted on his Facebook page, showing him wearing the yellow jersey of the Brazilian national soccer squad. “I’m here to protest against corruption,” said Eliana Batista do Norte, a 55-year-old publicist who marched in Sao Paulo. “It’s not just about throwing the Workers’ Party out. We have to get rid of all the corrupt people. There is already enough information to remove Dilma.”

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They want to buy $300 billion worth of US Treasuries AND purchase all of their own bonds? Wow…

Beware the $300 Billion Shift Into Treasuries Coming From Japan (Bloomberg)

Back in the 1980s, the billions of dollars that the Japanese plowed into U.S. government debt reflected the Asian nation’s burgeoning economic might. Now, they’re at it again, only this time it’s to eke out any return they can. Yields on Japanese debt have been pinned near zero ever since the Bank of Japan embarked on its latest attempt, in April 2013, to end the two decades of stagnation that followed those go-go years. Europe isn’t much of an option, as yields turned negative this year on the region’s own quantitative easing. So why the U.S.? For one, with the Federal Reserve poised to raise interest rates, Treasuries offer the highest yields among debt from the world’s most-industrialized economies.

Then there’s the dollar, whose meteoric rise against virtually every currency has made U.S. assets even more appealing. HSBC says Japanese investors may funnel $300 billion into Treasuries over the next two to three years, double the pace of the nation’s purchases since 2012. “The BOJ is crowding out private investors,” said Yusuke Ito at Mizuho. “They have to find alternatives.” Mizuho’s overseas bond unit, which stepped up buying of Treasuries in mid-2014, has signed up more clients looking for higher-yielding alternatives to Japanese debt, he said. Japan first began to exert its influence in the U.S. government bond market more than three decades ago, when its booming export-driven economy produced trade surpluses that it then plowed into Treasuries year after year.

Japan has since built a stake of $1.23 trillion, making it America’s second-largest overseas creditor, just behind China’s $1.24 trillion. For the U.S. government, maintaining Japanese demand in the $12.6 trillion market for Treasuries is more important than ever, particularly after China pared its own holdings last year by the most on record and as the Fed prepares to raise rates. The good news is that Japanese purchases are poised to accelerate. Of the $500 billion that investors will pull from Japan’s debt market to put abroad through 2017, about 60% will flow into Treasuries, said Andre de Silva, HSBC’s Hong Kong-based head of global emerging-markets rates research.

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“..if a 1.5% write down in the assets of a supposedly well-capitalized German bank can lead to almost overnight insolvency, one can almost imagine what will happen when the Austrian black swan wave reaches Europe’s actually “undercapitalized” banks…”

The Austrian Black Swan Claims Its First Foreign Casualty (Zero Hedge)

Precisely one week ago in “A Black Swan Lands In Southern Austria: The Ripple Effects Of “Mini-Greece Going Off In The Heartland Of Europe”, when analyzing the consequences of the collapse of Austria’s bad bank, we noted perhaps the biggest paradox of Europe’s emergency preparedness response to the Greek collapse and imminent expulsion from the Eurozone: namely that the biggest threat to German banks was no longer in some Mediterranean nation, but in its very own back yard. To wit:

Irony #2, and the biggest one of all: while German banks had spent the past 3 years preparing for the inevitable Grexit and offloading all their exposure to the now insolvent Greek state, it was a waterfall chain of events which started in Germany’s own “back yard”, courtesy of auditors who decided it was unnecessary to mark losses to market until it was far too late, and the immediate outcome is that one ninth of until recently Aaa/AAA-rated Austria is now also insolvent. And that is just the beginning. One can only imagine how many such other “0% risk-weighted” Pandora boxes lie in wait across what are otherwise considered Europe’s safest banks, provinces and nations.

Indeed, it was just the beginning, and moments ago we got confirmation that the next domino has tipped over, following a Reuters report that Germany’s deposit protection fund will take over the property lender Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank AG (DuesselHyp), which has “run into problems” due to its exposure to Austrian lender Hypo Alpe Adria’s “bad bank” Heta. And while in the US FDIC Failure Fridays works like a well-greased machine, Germany has yet to get the hang of the whole “save the bad news for Friday after market close” thing and has for now has stopped on “Shocker Sundays.” Then again, this being Europe, denial persists even after the moment of failure, and according to Reuters, “the German banking association BdB, which runs the fund, is, however, not planning to wind down the bank, but wants to continue its operations.”

“The deposit protection fund is granting a guarantee for the Heta bonds to eliminate the immediate risks. The goal is a complete takeover of Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank,” the BdB said in a statement on Sunday.

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It’s starting to feel like the last gasps of a fatally distorted system.

The Full Explanation Of How The ECB Broke Europe’s Bond Market (Zero Hedge)

[..]..it is not just the topic of swapping one asset with a higher collateral velocity for another with a far lower, if not zero, velocity, but also the issue of effective supply. As JPM notes, “another important aspect in Coeuré’s speech regarding market liquidity was the notion of “effective supply”. What matters more for market liquidity and depth is indeed not the overall stock or supply of euro government bonds, but the size of the effective supply as some asset holders may not be willing to sell. And it is effective supply that would determine whether the Eurosystem be able to meet its quantitative targets. While it is inherently difficult to calculate effective supply we believe we can make some reasonable assumptions to proxy it.” But before JPM’s analysis of effective supply in Europe (or lack thereof), it takes one more swipe at just how clueless the Goldman-advised ECB has become:

… we disagree with Coeuré’s view that, similar to their Japanese counterparts, “euro area banks will be more willing to sell euro government bonds to the ECB as they will receive central bank reserves, which in the current low interest rate environment can be viewed by banks as close substitutes for government bonds, and which count towards fulfilling e.g. the required liquidity ratios”. The problem with this argument, in our view, is that the ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets for commercial banks remains low for European banks vs. those in the US or Japan. Euro area and UK banks, in particular, have a ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets of 7% vs. 30% for their US and Japanese counterparts.

If Euro area banks sell no bonds at all to the ECB and at the same time the ECB injects €1.1tr into the Euro area banking system, the ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets would rise to 11%. This will still be well below the 30% for their US and Japanese counterparts. In addition, as we argued above, government bonds are worth more to banks from a collateral point of view given rehypothecation. And this is perhaps one of the reasons that banks are currently willing to hold euro government bonds with yields that are below -20bp. In all, we continue to believe that banks in the Euro area could end up selling bonds to the ECB, but to a much smaller extent than their Japanese counterparts given their much higher need for liquid assets.

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He doesn’t get paid to read…

Krugman Is Told to Read More, Write Less, by Swedish Riksbanker (Bloomberg)

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is way off when he accuses the Swedish central bank of being guilty of “sadomonetarism,” according to the target of his criticism. Deputy Governor Per Jansson says the U.S. economist’s analysis suggests he hasn’t read enough about Sweden. Krugman has criticized the bank for raising rates at the height of Europe’s debt crisis in 2010 and 2011, and then for not cutting fast enough to fight disinflation. The moves made sense at the time, Jansson said, given a consensus among forecasters that prices were rebounding and as the economy was expanding faster than much of Europe, driving up credit growth and house prices.

“When he described Sweden as sort of a deflationary economy, and makes these parallels to Japan, you wonder, has he ever had a look at the data?” Jansson said in a March 12 interview in Stockholm. “Has he seen how Swedish GDP recovered over these crisis years? It completely outperformed the euro area, of course, but even the U.K. It’s close to the U.S.’s performance.” Krugman and other critics say the Riksbank’s policies drove Sweden into a deflationary trap that could have been avoided. The Riksbank, which in the mid-1990s became one of the first to target inflation, last reached its 2% target in 2011. Annual consumer prices have fallen for 11 of the past 14 months.

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“Unfortunately history has shown that even using humanitarian rhetoric as a justification for telling others what to do has never worked.”

A Green Light for the American Empire (Ron Paul)

The American Empire has been long in the making. A green light was given in 1990 to finalize that goal. Dramatic events occurred that year that allowed the promoters of the American Empire to cheer. It also ushered in the current 25-year war to solidify the power necessary to manage a world empire. Most people in the world now recognize this fact and assume that the empire is here to stay for a long time. That remains to be seen. Empires come and go. Some pop up quickly and disappear in the same manner. Others take many years to develop and sometimes many years to totally disintegrate. The old empires, like the Greek, Roman, Spanish and many others took many years to build and many years to disappear. The Soviet Empire was one that came rather quickly and dissipated swiftly after a relatively short period of time. The communist ideology took many decades to foment the agitation necessary for the people to tolerate that system.

Since 1990 the United States has had to fight many battles to convince the world that it was the only military and economic force to contend with. Most people are now convinced and are easily intimidated by our domination worldwide with the use of military force and economic sanctions on which we generously rely. Though on the short term this seems to many, and especially for the neoconservatives, that our power cannot be challenged. What is so often forgotten is that while most countries will yield to our threats and intimidation, along the way many enemies were created.

The seeds of the American Empire were sown early in our history. Natural resources, river transportation, and geographic location all lent itself to the development of an empire. An attitude of “Manifest Destiny” was something most Americans had no trouble accepting. Although in our early history there were those who believed in a powerful central government, with central banking and foreign intervention, these views were nothing like they are today as a consequence of many years of formalizing the power and determination necessary for us to be the policeman of the world and justify violence as a means for spreading a particular message. Many now endorse the idea that using force to spread American exceptionalism is moral and a force for good. Unfortunately history has shown that even using humanitarian rhetoric as a justification for telling others what to do has never worked.

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Why do I keep thinking this is no accident?

How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 that Doesn’t Fly (Fiscal Times)

The Pentagon’s embattled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter continues to be plagued with so many problems that it can’t even pass the most basic requirements needed to fly in combat, despite soaring roughly $170 billion over budget. As the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history, the $400 billion and counting F-35 is supposed to be unlike any other fighter jet—with high-tech computer capabilities that can identify a combatant plane at warp speed. However, major design flaws and test failures have placed the program under serious scrutiny for years–with auditors constantly questioning whether the jet will ever actually get off the ground, no matter how much money is thrown at it. Last year, military officials faulted contractors for all of the mistakes.

Contractors claimed they had corrected the issues and that there wouldn’t be more costly problems down the road. During an interview on 60 Minutes, Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is in charge of the program said, “Long gone is the time when we will continue to pay for mistake after mistake after mistake. Lockheed Martin doesn’t get paid their profit unless each and every airplane meets each station on time with the right quality.” However, a new progress report from the Defense Department casts serious doubts on the progress of the program. The DoD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation cites everything from computer system malfunctions to flaws with its basic design—it even found that the jet is vulnerable to engine fires because of the way it’s built.

A separate report from Military.com unearthed another embarrassing issue with the jet that suggests it won’t take off on time. The “precision-guided Small Diameter Bomb II doesn’t even fit on the Marine’s version of the jet, according to Military.com. On top of that, the software needed to operate the top close-air support bomb won’t even be operational until 2022, inspectors said. The Defense Department’s report also suggested that the program’s office isn’t accurately recording the jet’s problems. “Not all failures are counted in the calculation of mean flight hours between reliability events, but all flight hours are counted, and hence component and aircraft reliability are reported higher than if all of the failures were counted,” the report said.

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Dec 142014
 
 December 14, 2014  Posted by at 9:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


DPC Mott Street, Chinatown, New York 1900

Where are you going, America?

I don’t like to discuss politics too much. There are not enough smart, kind and honest people in politics wherever I look in the world for me to want to have anything to do with that game. I’d just spend all my time wondering what kind of mindset it takes to want to tell other people what to do, and be in control of the millions, billions and trillions of dollars that are taken from these people on a daily, yearly, basis.

Not that all of them politicians are bad, but those who have genuinely good intentions get drowned out, within seconds, by the ones for whom the need to have power over others is more important than anything else. And as I said, on the whole they’re not very smart. It’s for instance a very bad idea to let you countries’ economic policies be decided by the very people who make the decisions today.

They have no clue what they’re talking about. So they get advisors who they feel do know, and these advisors all come from the same small niche of society that steer everybody’s hard-earned cash towards that same small niche of society. 99% of economists are religious nuts who do even the Roman Catholic church one better because they chart graphs to ‘prove’ their beliefs are true -or even provable-.

They adapt the world to their theories, not the other way around, as physicists do. They pretend their field is a science, but, other than the graphs, it has none of the characteristics of a science. Falsifiability is not a term one can let loose on economics; within minutes, there’d be nothing left.

The other advisors politicians have when it comes to economic policies are bankers, who are convinced banks are the most important institutions and edifices in the world, just like priests and vicars would have described their churches and cathedrals not long ago. That is why last week we saw a spending bill being shoved through US Congress and Senate that includes parts openly written by Citigroup lobbyists, and which puts the risk of over $300 trillion in derivatives on American taxpayers’ shoulders.

America is a democracy in name only. And I often ask myself why Americans take that lying down. Why they think they don’t have to fight for their rights and their freedoms the way the founders did. Do they think they’re special, are they so full of themselves, and full of ‘it’, that they think it’s okay to let their rights being taken away from them, and their children, the same rights so many Americans died for in earlier days?

When you try and see things that way, what else do present day US citizens deserve than what’s coming to them? You can’t have freedom, and you can’t have rights, if you’re not willing to fight for them. And that doesn’t mean sending a bunch of your low-down poorest young people to some faraway desert, it means keeping in touch with what’s happening in your own town and county and state and country. And raising your voice if you don’t like what you see.

There’s a Senate report – many years too late – that confirms the CIA and other parties tortured often innocent people in the name of the United States, and that means you, in incredibly cruel ways reminiscent perhaps most of Medieval times or even before that, before man allegedly became civilized, but for which, by the looks of it, nobody will to be prosecuted in the US.

Letting people die of torture, and then afterwards finding out it was just another case of mistaken identity, has become acceptable in America. Congratulations. We’ve come a long way.

There’s the incredible story of the Ukraine, in which the Senate just days ago called for more economic sanctions vs Russia, and full-blown lethal military aid for Ukraine, where US patsies have taken over even more government positions by being handed hundreds of millions of dollars and fresh Kiev passports, and where now Russia will be forced to counteract, against its will.

Why do Americans allow for that to happen in their name? Don’t they care what other people in the world, in which they’re hugely outnumbered, since less than 1 in 20 is American, think about them? Don’t they care about the effect of harassing others incessantly for the purpose of enriching US companies?

Or do Americans think their superior weaponry allows them to do whatever they want to whoever they want to do it to? Somehow, that, too, is reminiscent of the Middle Ages. America hasn’t won an actual war since 1945, because bigger armies don’t win wars anymore. Having the biggest guns doesn’t either. Nuclear weapons are too destructive for that.

Ron Paul seems to be the only US politician who has any idea of what the US should stand for, who understands that empire building is a really bad idea with all the nukes around, and that coalition building and friendship with other peoples and nations is a much better way to keep Americans safe and -relatively – prosperous. And Ron Paul is getting on; who’ll stand up in his place?

But the biggest issues for Americans are not abroad, they’re right at home. As evidenced by Ferguson, by Eric Garner, and by the mass demonstrations in the past days. The problem is, since the 1960s people have turned their focus so much towards money and so far away from their personal rights and freedoms, and those of others, that one or two or ten demonstrations won’t make a difference anymore.

I was watching something on the 1964 Klan killing of three civil rights workers in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi the other day, of Dr. King’s role, of how the entire town knew who was guilty but shut up. And I wondered what exactly America has achieved since then, what has changed and what is better 50 years on.

And sure enough I found my answer, in a graph of all places. It this doesn’t hurt your sense of justice, and your sense of pride to be an American, I don’t know what would. Nor do I understand, if you choose to keep silent, where you think this will lead in the future. What can you possibly say when you let these numbers sink in?