Jan 132018
 
 January 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn The flight into Egypt – a night piece 1651

 

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)
The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)
Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)
Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)
Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)
The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)
Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)
Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)
Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)
Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)
The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s your borrowing that will do you in.

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)

I fully expect the Government’s Census Bureau to post a mind-blowing headline retail sales number for December. Hyperbolic headline economic statistics derived from mysterious “seasonal adjustments” based on questionable sampling methodology is part of the official propaganda policy mandated by the Executive Branch of Government. But I also believe that retail sales were likely more robust than saner minds were expecting because it appears that households have become accustomed to the easy credit provided by the banking system to make ends meet. Borrow money to “spend and pretend.” The Fed reported that consumer credit hit an all-time record in November. The primary driver was credit card debt, which hit a new all-time high (previous record was in 2008). Credit debt also increased a record monthly amount in November.

“Speaking of signposts, households have grown increasingly comfortable with leverage to maintain their living standards, which of course economists cheer. That’s worked for 24 straight months as credit card spending growth has outrun that of income growth” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, who was an advisor for nine years to former Dallas Fed President, Richard Fisher. The graph above shows the year over year monthly percentage change in revolving credit – which is primarily credit card debt – and real disposable personal income. Real disposable personal income is after-tax income adjusted for CPI inflation. As you can see, the growth in the use of credit card debt has indeed outstripped the growth in after-tax household income. The credit metric above would not include home equity lines of credit.

At some point, assuming the relationship between the two variables above continues along the same trend, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, credit card debt will collide with reality and there will be a horrifying number of credit card defaults. Worse than 2008-2010. [The next] chart shows household debt service payments as a percentage of after-tax income: “Debt service” is interest + principal payments. With auto loan and credit card debt, most of the debt service payment is interest. This metric climbed to a 5-year high during a period of time when interest rates hit all-time record lows. Currently the average household is unable to make more than the minimum principle payment per the information conveyed by the first graphic. What happens to the debt service:income ratio metric as households continue to pile on debt to make ends meet while interest rates rise?

Household debt service includes mortgage debt service payments. Household mortgage debt outstanding is not quite at the all-time high recorded in Q2 2008. The current number from the Fed is through Q3 2017. At the current quarterly rate of increase, an new all-time high in mortgage debt outstanding should occur during Q2 2018. However, it should be noted that the number of homes sold per quarter during this current housing bubble is below the number of units sold per quarter at the peak of the previous housing bubble. This means that the average size of mortgage per home sold is higher now than during the earlier housing bubble. This is a fact that overlooked by every housing and credit market analyst, either intentionally or from ignorance (I’ll let you decide).

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Until it does.

The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)

The New Year’s rally has pushed the S&P 500 Index to its best start since the administration of George W. Bush. Now it’s bumping against speed barriers that marked the upper limits of bull markets for decades. Up eight times in the first nine days of 2018, the S&P 500 has broken away from a trend line, its 200-day moving average, with a velocity unseen since 2013, the best year for equities in a generation. The benchmark now sits more than 11% above the level, putting it in the 92nd percentile of momentum, data going back 20 years show. Something has changed in equities. If 2017 was a slow but steady slog, 2018 has been off to the races, with shares rising at four times last year’s daily rate on the back of Donald Trump’s tax package and gathering signs of economic strength.

Forty seven companies in the S&P 500 are already up at least 10% this year, compared with just two down as much. “Even if you were the bullest of the bulls, this crazy rally start to the year took you off guard,” said Michael Antonelli at Robert W. Baird & Co. “We’ve completely run out of ways to describe what’s happening. We get asked a lot, are you seeing anything different that could explain the rally? The answer is no.” Fear of missing out is rampant not just on Wall Street but worldwide. Globally, stock funds saw a $24 billion inflow in the five days through Thursday, the sixth largest weekly total ever. Concern the U.S. stocks have jumped too much too fast prompted Morgan Stanley’s Andrew Sheets to cut the U.S. stocks’s exposure in favor of European equities this week.

Sheets isn’t the only one having a hard time keeping up. The average of 23 strategists predictions is for the S&P 500 to reach 2,914 at year-end. If stocks were to maintain the same upward trajectory they’ve exhibited in the last nine days, it would take roughly two more weeks to reach the strategists’ target. At 3.4 times its book value, the S&P 500 trades at the most expensive level since 2002, while its 14-day relative strength index reached a level unseen since 1996. The S&P 500 rose 1.6% to 2,786 this week, pushing the spread between the gauge and its 200-day moving average to 11.5%, the widest in five years.

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Because it can.

Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)

The Federal Reserve’s income from operations in 2017 dropped by $11.7 billion to $80.7 billion, the Fed announced today. Its $4.45-trillion of assets – including $2.45 trillion of US Treasury securities and $1.76 trillion of mortgage-backed securities that it acquired during years of QE – produce a lot of interest income. How much interest income? $113.6 billion. It also made $1.9 billion in foreign currency gains, resulting “from the daily revaluation of foreign currency denominated investments at current exchange rates.” For a total income of about $115.5 billion. Those are just “estimates,” the Fed said. Final “audited” results of the Federal Reserve Banks are due in March. This “audit” is of course the annual financial audit executed by KPMG that the Fed hires to do this.

It’s not the kind of audit that some members in Congress have been clamoring for – an audit that would try to find out what actually is going on at the Fed. No, this is just a financial audit. As the Fed points out in its 2016 audited “Combined Financial Statements,” the audit attempts to make sure that the accounting is in conformity with the accounting principles in the Financial Accounting Manual for Federal Reserve Banks. Given that the Fed prints its own money to invest or manipulate markets with – which makes for some crazy accounting issues – the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that apply to US businesses to do not apply to the Fed. This annual audit by KPMG reveals nothing except that the Fed’s accounting is in conformity with the Fed’s own accounting manual.

The Fed pays the banks interest on their “Required Reserves” and on their “Excess Reserves” at the Fed. Excess Reserves are the biggie: As a result of QE, they jumped from $1.7 billion in July 2008, to $2.7 trillion at the peak in September 2014. They’ve since dwindled, if that’s the right word, to $2.2 trillion:

When the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meets to hash out its monetary policy, it also considers what to do with the interest rates that it pays the banks on “Required Reserves” and on “Excess Reserves.” In this cycle so far, every time the Fed has raised its target range for the federal funds rate (now between 1.25% and 1.50%) it also raised the interest rates it pays the banks on “required reserves” and on “excess reserves,” which went from 0.25% since the Financial Crisis to 1.5% now:

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They’ve been working to achieve it for a decade, and now they manage to fool themselves into thinking they got it, it’s not what they want.

Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)

“I‘m disagreeing with that framework,” Rosengren said at the Global Interdependence Center in San Diego, referring to the Fed’s “balanced” approach to achieving a 2% inflation target and full employment. The Fed adopted this framework six years ago and has reaffirmed it each year since. Now, as Fed Governor Jerome Powell prepares to take the reins as Fed chief from Janet Yellen when her term ends early next month, a growing number of Fed policymakers want to rethink that framework. Rosengren’s comments Friday put the sharpest point to date on the debate, suggesting that a strict 2-percent inflation target could force the Fed to slam the brakes on the economy with aggressive rate hikes if the unemployment rate, now at 4.1%, continues to sink. It is already below the level that many economists think can be sustained without putting upward pressure on inflation.

While inflation running stubbornly below 2% has so far allowed the Fed to lift rates only gradually, that may change, Rosengren warned. “My concern is if we get too far away from where we want to be on a sustainable unemployment rate, and we use this current framework, then we will get to a situation where we have to raise rates fast enough that we will actually find it very difficult to get back to full employment without causing a recession,” Rosengren said. Rosengren suggested replacing the 2% inflation target with a target range for inflation of between 1.5% and 3%, in line with actual experience over the last 20 years. Under current conditions of low productivity and labor force growth, he said, the Fed would target inflation at the upper end of that range, and would be more patient with rate hikes.

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“Marketable borrowings..”

Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)

During yesterday’s surprisingly candid remarks by Bill Dudley, the second most important person in the Federal Reserve – the organization that is responsible for the third consecutive and largest ever yet asset bubble in history – said that one risk he was increasingly worried about was, drumroll, elevated asset prices. Because, supposedly, the Fed has little to input in how asset prices came to be where they are… Just as ominous was Dudley’s admission that the second risk he was concerned about is “the long-term fiscal position of the United States” i.e. US debt. Specifically, Dudley said that the Trump tax cut “will increase the nation’s longer-term fiscal burden, which is already facing other pressures, such as higher debt service costs and entitlement spending as the baby-boom generation retires.”

Oddly there was no mention of which administration doubled US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in under a decade, and which organization enabled this to happen by keeping rates at record low levels, while crushing savers, and bailing out habitual gamblers. In any case, now that the narrative has shifted, and Donald Trump will be scapegoated not only for the upcoming “tremendous” market crash – something he has made especially easy by taking credit for every single uptick in the S&P – but also for the inevitable fiscal collapse of the United States, it is time to provide the backing for this particular strawman, and to do that, this morning Dudley’s former employer, Goldman Sachs released a report in which the bank’s chief economist said the he is updating his Treasury issuance forecast to account for recent revised deficit projections.

As a result, US marketable borrowings will more than double from below $500 billion in 2018 to over $1 trillion in 2019 as the debt tsunami finally get going. To build up the strawman, Goldman explains that US borrowing needs will rise for three reasons: First, recently enacted tax reform legislation is estimated to raise the deficit by more than $200bn, on average, each of the next four years, and Congress looks likely approve substantial new spending as well. Second, Fed portfolio runoff will increase the amount of debt the Treasury must issue to the public. Third, the Treasury’s cash balance is likely to rise by around $200bn once a longer-term debt limit suspension is enacted, which will also necessitate additional borrowing.

Goldman expects that the “substantial increase” in borrowing needs will be announced by the Treasury when it lays out its plans at the February quarterly refunding. What Goldman has left unsaid is what happens to interest rates at a time when on one hand US debt supply is set to double and on the other the Fed is set to continue shrinking its balance sheets, the ECB and BOJ are set to accelerate (and begin) tapering their own QEs and when global inflation is expected to keep rising. What is also unsaid is just who will be the marginal buyer of this debt tsunami when central banks increasingly shift away from debt monetization.

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2018 will show us just what bad shape Britain is in.

The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)

You may never have heard of Carillion. There’s no reason you should have. Its lack of glamour is neatly summed up by the name it sported in the 90s: Tarmac. But since then it has grown and grown to become the UK’s second-largest building firm – and one of the biggest contractors to the British government. Name an infrastructure pie in the UK and the chances are Carillion has its fingers in it: the HS2 rail link, broadband rollout, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, the Library of Birmingham. It maintains army barracks, builds PFI schools, lays down roads in Aberdeen. The lot. There’s just one snag. For over a year now, Carillion has been in meltdown. Its shares have dropped 90%, it’s issued profit warnings, and it’s on to its third chief executive within six months. And this week, the government moved into emergency mode.

A group of ministers held a crisis meeting on Thursday to discuss the firm. Around the table, reports the FT, were business secretary Greg Clark, as well as ministers from the Cabinet Office, health, transport, justice, education and local government. Even the Foreign Office sent a representative. Why did Chris Grayling give the HS2 contract to a company that was already in existential difficulties? That roll call says all you need to know about the public significance of what happens next at Carillion. This is a firm that employs just under 20,000 workers in Britain – and the same again abroad. It has a huge chain of suppliers – and its habit of going in for joint ventures with other construction businesses means that a collapse at Carillion would send shockwaves through the industry and through the government’s public works programme.

To see what this means, take the HS2 rail link, where Carillion this summer was part of a consortium that won a £1.4bn contract to knock tunnels through the Chilterns. If Carillion goes under, what happens to the largest infrastructure project in Europe? What happens to its partners on the deal, British firm Kier, and France’s Eiffage? The project will need to be put back and the taxpayer will almost certainly have to step in. Imagine that same catastrophe befalling dozens of other projects across the UK and you get a sense of what’s at stake. Jobs will be cut, schools will go unbuilt (just a couple of months ago, Oxfordshire county council pulled the plug on a 10-year schools project) – and the government’s entire private finance initiative (PFI) model for building this country’s essential services will be shaken to the core.

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Good cop bad cop.

Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)

Spanish and Dutch finance ministers have agreed to push for a Brexit deal that keeps Britain as close to the European Union as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra met earlier this week and discussed their common interests in Brexit, according to the person, who declined to be identified. Both have close trade and investment ties and are concerned about the impact of tariffs. They are also worried about losing U.K. contributions to the EU budget, the person said. The pound jumped to the strongest level since the referendum in 2016, trading 1.2% higher at $1.3690.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish Economy Ministry stressed that both ministers support chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s efforts, and said they’re not working together toward a soft Brexit deal. Earlier, a Spanish economy ministry official said that the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. A spokesman for Hoekstra declined to comment. The 27 remaining EU nations maintained a united front in the first phase of divorce talks, though the solidarity is already showing signs of strain as national interests diverge in the face of future trade discussions. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned countries to be disciplined and stick together to protect all their interests, in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. EU countries have delegated the job of negotiations to Barnier.

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Steve reply to the one-dimensional Oxford Review of Economic Policy’s latest issue.

Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)

Modern Economics is as conformist, and bland, as country and western music. This leaves radical thinkers singing the Blues as their voices go unheard. I’ve had an epiphany about my place in the Universe, and I owe it to the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and its special issue on “Rebuilding Macroeconomic Theory.” I am Elwood Blues, and the Universe (the part I inhabit anyway) is Bob’s Country Bunker. Halfway through the classic movie The Blues Brothers, Jake Blues cons the band into performing at a bar called Bob’s Country Bunker. When his incredulous brother Elwood asks the bar owner’s wife “What kind of music do you usually have here?” she cheerily replies “Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country and Western”.

So that’s it. I’m a Blues singer, and I’m surrounded by Country and Western fans—otherwise known as Mainstream Economists. Their musical spectrum ranges from Hank Williams to Dolly Parton, and if I play anything outside it — say, some Otis Redding or Muddy Waters — they’ll throw beer bottles at me. Sometimes, even full ones. Suddenly, it all makes sense. This epiphany arrived, not as a Divine revelation, but as a tweet (as they would, were Moses alive today; so much more convenient than stone tablets) on January 1, as the Review touted its soon-to-be-released special issue.

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“..how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?”

Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)

The moral panic of “the Resistance” is back in DefCon 1 mode overnight just as the righteousness orgasm of the Golden Globe Awards was wearing off. Mr. Trump’s casual question to a couple of Senators vis-à-vis immigration policy — “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” — pushed the “racism” button at Resistance Central and CNN staged yet another of the orchestrated anxiety attacks it has perfected over the past year. The spotlight in this three-ring circus of perpetual offense, indignation, and alarm shifts back from the alleged sufferings of movie actresses to another intersectional victim group from the Dem/Prog pantheon of oppressed minorities: would-be immigrants-of-color. The President’s vulgar animus proves the charge that at least half the country is a lynch mob.

Of course, the most interesting feature of this neurotic zeitgeist is the displacement dynamic among the political Left as its frantic virtue-signaling attempts to distract everybody else in the room from its own dark and shameful emotions about the composition of American culture. As a born-and-bred Boomer (ex-)liberal from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I can assure you from direct experience that this group has, at best, ambiguous feelings about the lower orders of mankind — my Gawd, did he actually say that? — and, at worst, a certain unmanageable contempt that stirs deep fears of moral failure. Mr. Trump’s remark raises another interesting question that has not received much analysis amidst the latest panic: namely, how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?

I would avouch, contrary to the limp narrative of boom times, that the USA is visibly whirling around the drain in just about every way that matters. Except for the centers of financialization — New York, Washington, San Francisco — most of our cities are hollowed-out wrecks, and visitors to San Francisco will tell you that the place is literally a shithole, from the army of homeless people who, by definition, have no bathrooms. Our ghastly suburbs, where so many formerly middle-class Americans are now marooned in debt, despair, and civic alienation, have no prospects for serving as a plausible living arrangement anymore, and were so badly built in the first place that their journey to ruin is destined to be an epically short leap that will amaze historians of the future roasting ‘possums around their campfires.

All of the important activities in this land have been converted into odious rackets, by which I mean nakedly dishonest money-grubbing scams, especially the two sectors that used to be characterized by first, doing no harm (medicine), and seeking the truth (education). But everything else we do is infected by engineered falsehood and mendacity, including the news media, the law, banking, government, retail commerce, you name it. We’re living in a culture of pervasive control fraud, in which authorities set up looting and asset-stripping operations without any restraint.

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They should be testing us, not the other way around.

Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)

Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Not to worry. Scientists are talking about species-wide abilities, not the fact that one’s father or mother makes unpredictable appearances in the looking glass. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old.

But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans. Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings in the journal PLoS One. Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development.

Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses. Dr. Reiss said dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence. They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.” Foster, the male, was almost 14 months when the study started. He had a particular fondness for turning upside down and blowing bubbles in front of the one-way mirror in the aquarium wall through which the researchers observed and recorded what the dolphins were doing.

The animals also passed a test in which the researchers drew a mark on some part of the dolphin’s body it could not see without a mirror. In this so-called mark test, the animal must notice and pay attention to the mark. Animals with hands point at the mark and may touch it. The dolphins passed that test at 24 months, which was the earliest researchers were allowed to draw on the young animals. Rules for animal care prohibited the test at an earlier age because of a desire to have the animals develop unimpeded. During testing, the young animals were always with the group of adults they live with, and only approached a one-way mirror in the aquarium wall when they felt like it.

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A loss of 2% oxygen is all it takes.

The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

The ocean is losing its oxygen. Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union. The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution. Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms. The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization. In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the first time just how much oxygen human civilization has already drained from the oceans.

Compiling more than 50 years of disparate data, gathered on research cruises, from floating palaces of ice in the arctic to twilit coral reefs in the South Pacific, Schmidtko’s team calculated that the Earth’s oceans had lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960. Two% might not sound that dramatic, but small changes in the oxygen content of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in the ancient past are thought to be responsible for some of the most profound events in the history of life. Some paleontologists have pointed to rising oxygen as the fuse for the supernova of biology at the Cambrian explosion 543 million years ago. Similarly, the fever-dream world of the later Carboniferous period is thought to be the product of an oxygen spike, which subsidized the lifestyles of preposterous animals, like dragonflies the size of seagulls.

On the other hand, dramatically declining oxygen in the oceans like we see today is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in earth history. “[Two%] is pretty significant,” says Sune Nielsen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “That’s actually pretty scary.” Nielsen is one of a group of scientists probing a series of strange ancient catastrophes when the ocean lost much of its oxygen for insight into our possible future in a suffocating world. He has studied one such biotic crisis in particular that might yet prove drearily relevant. Though little known outside the halls of university labs, it was one of the most severe crises of the past 100 million years. It’s known as Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.

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Apr 262015
 
 April 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Streamlined street car passing Washington Monument 1938

The ECB Needs to Know Its Place (Philippe Legrain)
Will Greece Run Out Of Cash? – No! – (Bruegel)
Isolated In Debt Talks, Greek Finance Rebel Gets The Cold Shoulder (Reuters)
Migrant Influx Strains Greece As Economy Suffers (Reuters)
Greeks’ View Of Crisis: ‘What Lies Ahead Is Great, Great Hardship’ (Guardian)
Euro Ministers Alarmed as Bloc Shuts Down Greece Plan B (Bloomberg)
Greece Not Playing A Game Of Chicken On Debt (Reuters)
Is Greece About To “Lose” Its Gold Again? (Zero Hedge)
The Migrants Who Took Over A Sicilian Palace (BBC)
Petrobras’s Next Steps May Be Tougher Than $17 Billion Loss (Bloomberg)
What A $1.5 Million Home In Sydney Looks Like (News.com.au)
7th-Largest Economy At $24 Trillion? Our Oceans, Says WWF (CNBC)
US Thinktank Seeks To Change Pope Francis’s Mind On Climate Change (Guardian)
Trillion-Dollar Questions, The Flash Crash And The Hound Of Hounslow (Guardian)
The Story Of The Greek Hero On The Beach (Guardian)

Must read. “Irrespective of the merits of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms, it is not the role of unelected central bankers to demand them — let alone dictate them.”

The ECB Needs to Know Its Place (Philippe Legrain)

The rot began under Draghi’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Trichet. The former governor of the Banque de France fought tooth and nail to prevent a restructuring of an insolvent Greece’s debt in 2010, which would have imposed hefty losses on French banks. To give credence to the spurious claim that Greece was merely going through temporary funding difficulties, the ECB then started buying Greek government bonds. That gave Frankfurt a further reason to oppose the subsequent restructuring of Greece’s market-issued debt in 2012 — and the ECB’s threat to inflict chaos on the eurozone if it was disobeyed greatly limited the debt relief that Athens obtained, as I explain at length in my book European Spring. Both Trichet and Draghi have threatened, in effect, to force Greece out of the euro if it defaulted.

Now, the ECB’s ownership of Greek bonds is a further obstacle to the debt relief that Greece needs. Frankfurt is also squeezing Greek banks to pressure the government to comply with its eurozone creditors’ demands in a nakedly political manner. Trichet’s treatment of another crisis victim, Ireland, was equally outrageous. In November 2010, he threatened to cut off Irish banks’ access to ECB funding — which would have forced Ireland out of the euro — unless the government applied for an EU-IMF loan, bailed out the banks’ (often German) creditors, and implemented austerity and structural reforms. That abuse of power lumbered Irish taxpayers with some €64 billion in bank debt — €14,000 for every person in Ireland. Irrespective of the merits of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms, it is not the role of unelected central bankers to demand them — let alone dictate them.

Yet ECB officials routinely do. Trichet repeatedly espoused austerity, claiming (falsely) that it would be expansionary. Until he changed his tune in Jackson Hole last August, Draghi, too, demanded that eurozone governments tighten their belts. The president of Germany’s Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, regularly lectures foreign governments, notably France’s, on what they ought to do. Yet were French officials to give the Bundesbank advice, Weidmann would scream bloody murder. It’s not just inappropriate jawboning. In the summer of 2011, Trichet and Draghi wrote to Italy’s then-prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, demanding that he embark on austerity and reforms as a condition for the ECB buying Italian government bonds to limit the panic that threatened to force it to default.

When Berlusconi failed to comply, the ECB, in effect, forced the elected prime minister out of office, by letting it be known that it would only buy Italian bonds if he was replaced with a more pliable technocrat. In December 2011, when it seemed as if panic could cause the euro to collapse within weeks, Draghi demanded that eurozone governments agree to a “fiscal compact” that would entrench much tighter discipline, hinting that this might prompt the ECB to step in to quell the panic. Eurozone governments duly complied and are now locked into this new fiscal straitjacket through treaty obligations transposed into national constitutions. The ECB has also had a direct hand in setting fiscal policy and economy-wide reforms as part of the Troika (which also includes the IMF and the European Commission), which has run countries that have received EU-IMF loans — Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus — as quasi-colonies.

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Make that a ‘no’.

Will Greece Run Out Of Cash? – No! – (Bruegel)

For many weeks now it has been regularly reported that Greece will run out of money if an agreement is not reached with the official lenders in the next few days. So far this has not happened. Given the huge stock of financial assets the Greek government has, I am always cautious about reports that it will soon run out of cash. At the end of September 2014, the Greek government had assets worth €86.6 billion. The data is unfortunately outdated, and assets have most likely been depleted significantly during the past six months. Some of the deposits are earmarked for banking issues. It may be difficult to sell some of the equity holdings, in particular bank shares.

Still, even if the €86.6 billion has declined by a dozen or two, and even if not all of the remaining assets could be easily used to pay for obligations, there is still a lot, and much more than the €30 billion assets the Greek general government had at the end of 1997. As a share of financial assets in GDP, Greece ranked seventh among the 28 EU countries in September 2014, so asset holdings were relatively high in a European comparison too. Greece has looming repayment deadlines: as Silvia Merler recently showed, Greece has to repay €6.7 billion to the ECB and €9.8 billion to the IMF in 2015. (There are also maturing treasury bills, but these are rolled over by the largely state-owned Greek banks).

Greece also has to pay some interest on its liabilities, though not that much, because interest payments on EFSF loans (the largest creditor of the country) are deferred (see my earlier post on Greek interest payments here). The question is therefore whether the primary budget surplus and the possible liquidation of some financial assets would be sufficient for the Greek government to carry on paying financial obligations until an agreement is reached with the creditors in the coming weeks or months. My guess is yes, at least perhaps till the summer, when large repayment will become due.

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“..his eurozone peers insist only painful changes can lift Greece out of one of the deepest economic depressions in Europe since the 1950s.”

Isolated In Debt Talks, Greek Finance Rebel Gets The Cold Shoulder (Reuters)

As the buses carrying European finance ministers left for a gala dinner in the Latvian capital on Friday night, one of the party hung back at the hotel and then wandered off alone into the dusk.Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis had other dinner plans, he said, after a bruising first day of meetings in Riga that underlined his isolation as he tries to avert national bankruptcy. While other ministers were feted by their entourages with food and warm clothing during the meeting in Riga, Varoufakis was seen alone at almost every turn, eschewing aides or any security detail. “He is completely isolated,” a senior euro zone official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He didn’t even come to the dinner to represent his country,” the official said of the event where ministers, serenaded by a Latvian choir, ate salmon and sea bass.

At breakfast before the meeting, Varoufakis and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi avoided eye contact as they picked up food at the buffet, Reuters reporters observed. The hardening of the mood against Varoufakis risks deepening the divide that Greece must bridge with its creditors if Athens is to avert default. After three months of largely fruitless negotiations, euro zone ministers warned him on Friday that the radical leftist Greek government will get no more aid until it agrees a complete economic reform plan, before the end of June. Some countries are so frustrated by what they see as Greece’s failure to compromise that one minister said it may be time to prepare for a Greek default.

Varoufakis, the only male minister at the meeting without a tie, said he was unfazed by the tone of Friday’s meeting – which Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of the euro zone finance ministers, described as “very critical” of Athens. In a sign of the coolness creeping in, Dijsselbloem referred to Varoufakis as “the Greek colleague” to reporters in Riga, although he addresses him by his first name in meetings. “I’m not surprised,” Varoufakis told reporters. “When you are approaching the end of negotiations, the stance hardens.”He denied reports that he had been insulted by ministers in Riga. “All these are false.”

While his economic demands have fallen on deaf ears, Varoufakis has become an improbable heartthrob in Germany. ZDF public television lampooned its own news anchor for enthusiastically comparing the minister with Hollywood tough guy Bruce Willis, while Stern magazine published a gushing article on Varoufakis’s “classical masculinity”. But some ministers say they resent being lectured by an academic who has studied in Britain, taught in Australia and the United States and challenged the theoretical basis of European policymaking.

While Varoufakis criticizes the spending cuts demanded by international creditors, his euro zone peers insist only painful changes can lift Greece out of one of the deepest economic depressions in Europe since the 1950s. According to people present in the room, several ministers rolled their eyes, closed their eyes or put their hands over their ears during Varoufakis’ interventions at Friday’s meeting. “Eurogroup ministers don’t like the fact that he is giving a small lecture when he is speaking to them,” one euro zone official said. “And for that reason (chairman) Dijsselbloem stopped him yesterday, saying: ‘Yanis, you don’t tell us what we want to hear.'”

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”It’s true the infrastructure [to house the migrants elsewhere] does not exist, but it’s not the fault of those being held.”

Migrant Influx Strains Greece As Economy Suffers (Reuters)

Shortly after taking power in January, Greece’s new government opened the gates of one of the main detention centers where thousands of undocumented migrants had been held against their will after arriving on the country’s Mediterranean shores. Many of the inmates, including refugees and children, were driven to Athens and released, in what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government hailed as the beginning of the end of inhumane migrant policies of the past. Now the move has created other problems. With the influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East rising this year, hundreds have ended up like 40-year-old Syrian Dia Qasem and her three sons: stuck in the Greek capital’s public squares with nowhere to sleep and little eat.

“The only help is from God,” sobbed Qasem, a neat hazel-eyed woman with chipped red nail varnish, one afternoon this week. Qasem and her sons fled Damascus last year and, after a dangerous voyage from Turkey, they landed on the island of Kos. They have enough money to stay in a hotel on occasion. But most nights Qasem settles down to sleep with her sons, other Syrians and migrants from other nationalities, under a tree in a central Athens’ square. Above her hung a billboard with a photo of the Acropolis and the slogan “Welcome to Greece!!!” The migrant crisis came into focus this week after the death of hundreds in a shipwreck off Libya. In Greece, the influx is testing the social and economic limits of a country already crippled by financial crisis.

Greek reaction to foreigners pouring into city centers, lining up at food banks and shelters already crowded with impoverished Greeks, is turning hostile. “Where are all these people going to stay? Where will all these people go? Where will they find a place to rest? asked Babis Karagianidis, an Athens resident. “With all the internal problems that we have? We can’t solve our own problems.” For Tsipras, an open-door policy on detention centers that was meant to help migrants is turning into a big political problem — largely because Greece doesn’t have the money to find alternative housing for the foreigners. According to a survey by the University of Macedonia, Greeks see the government’s response to the migrant crisis as barely passable. “Immigration is up there with finances as the government’s priorities,” said Theodore Couloumbis, an Athens political analyst. “And the government hasn’t got the luxury to add fronts to the problems it’s fighting.”

Greece is one of the main routes into the European Union for tens of thousands of Asian and African migrants fleeing war and poverty every year. The state of the country’s detention centers — seven in all still holding 2,000 people — received much international scrutiny. Greece was fined €1 million by the EU because of their poor conditions, which include intense crowding and no heating or hot water, says Tasia Christodoulopoulou, Greece’s minister for immigration.She says the government’s policy, and the emptying out of the Amygdaleza detention center near Athens, was a necessity. Other centers still house detainees and it is unclear what the government plans to do. “People that were there were living an indescribable barbarity,” she said in an interview. ”It’s true the infrastructure [to house the migrants elsewhere] does not exist, but it’s not the fault of those being held.”

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“Anyone who can is taking their money abroad. Nothing is moving; the market is dead.”

Greeks’ View Of Crisis: ‘What Lies Ahead Is Great, Great Hardship’ (Guardian)

Another week. Another crisis. Another make-or-break meeting that may, or may not, throw Greece into the unchartered waters of default, eurozone exit, destitution and despair. It is a sliding scale of drama, of high-octane intensity that Greeks have learned to watch with a mixture of shock, angst, bewilderment and dismay. Today dismay predominates. Five years on – Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the debt-stricken nation’s request for a bailout – there is an overriding sense of worse to come. “All I see is worried faces,” sighs Giorgos Pappas, who has a bird’s-eye view of central Athens from his appropriately named Cosmos café. “Anyone who can is taking their money abroad. Nothing is moving; the market is dead.”

Riding high on the promise of hope, Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity government initially enjoyed unparalleled support. But three months later, with a life-saving deal no nearer with its creditors – the EU, ECB and IMF – hope is ebbing. Greece desperately needs to find €7.2bn in funds under its €240bn bailout, but Athens’ inability to agree reforms in exchange for the money is pushing it to the brink of default. Last week, surveys showed the Syriza party-led coalition haemorrhaging the popular backing that has kept it buoyant. Support for the leftists and their hard-line stance in negotiations has dropped precipitously. Only 45.5 % told pollsters at the University of Macedonia that they endorsed the government’s stance, compared with 72% in February.

After an unusually long, wet winter, the sun has come out, which has helped lift the mood. Tourists are pouring in and with them comes the feelgood spirit of spring. But no amount of coping can hide the exhaustion of a nation with no idea of what tomorrow will bring. What everyone does know, thanks to regular newspaper headlines, is that time is running out. The endgame is here because cash reserves are perilously close to running dry. The light at the end of the tunnel remains cutbacks and reforms: that is to say more misery for a country that has seen its economy contract by a quarter since 2010.

On the street foreboding grows. The sight of the government now scrambling to find funds, which included ordering local authorities and state organisations to hand over cash reserves last week, has sparked panic that bank deposits could be next. Amid talk of a parallel currency being introduced and civil servants being paid in IOUs, anxious savers have rushed to clear out their accounts. “Everyone thinks their savings will be next,” said an official at the Bank of Greece.

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“Any mention of a plan B is profoundly anti-European..”

Euro Ministers Alarmed as Bloc Shuts Down Greece Plan B (Bloomberg)

Europe’s refusal to draw up contingency plans to prepare for the failure of negotiations with Greece is alarming some euro-area finance ministers. Slovenian finance chief Dusan Mramor led the calls at a meeting of the bloc’s 19 finance chiefs on Friday to consider a “plan B” to mitigate the fallout if negotiations with Greece fail. Several others raised similar concerns during official talks and in private conversations at a meeting in Riga, Latvia, on Friday, two people with knowledge of the discussions said. “What my discussion was about was what we will do if no new program will be achieved in time for Greece to be able to refinance itself or improve liquidity,” Mramor told reporters on Saturday. “A plan B can be anything.”

As Greece struggles to pay pensions and salaries, its government has failed to present a plan to revamp its economy that passes muster with euro-area officials who are withholding further aid. In February, finance ministers gave the Greek government until the end of June to complete the deal and said they expected a list of reforms by the end of April. Friday’s meeting, which European Union officials had for weeks identified as the moment when the list would be considered, instead descended into attacks on Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis for his failure to deliver. “Some countries have said, because of their concern on the lack of progress and the attitude on the Greek side, ‘if it continues like this, we will really get into trouble,’” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who led Friday’s meeting, told reporters on Saturday. “In that context plan B has been mentioned.”

Still, ministers were left frustrated that European Economic Commissioner Pierre Moscovici clamped down on discussions of a backup plan. They went on to air their concerns without him, one of the people said. Finance chiefs aren’t saying in public that they’re contemplating alternative outcomes because that would send the message to markets that it’s game over, the person said “The central scenario is that in the Greece case we’re going to reach an agreement,” Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told reporters on Saturday. “That’s the only one that we’re considering.” Varoufakis joined Moscovici’s effort to prevent others in the group taking precautions in case the talks fail. “Any mention of a plan B is profoundly anti-European,” Varoufakis told Euronews on Friday. “My immediate response was to say there is no such plan B, there cannot be such plan B.”

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“So you are not giving a solution to Greece, you press the Greek government? What can be the solution? Golden Dawn is coming. Nobody has an interest in that..”

Greece Not Playing A Game Of Chicken On Debt (Reuters)

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said on Friday he respects Germany just not German politics, nor the way Berlin views Greece’s economy, which faces the prospect of running out of money if it cannot agree to new bailout terms with creditors. Kotzias is part of the leftist government that took over in January after an anti-austerity campaign promising to roll back reforms and cutbacks agreed by the prior government to improve Greece’s finances. Kotzias said Greece and its euro zone partners need to compromise on creating political policies that will foster growth and allow the country to pay its debts. Asked if he is simply asking the rest of Europe to trust Greece, he said: “No. To be pragmatic. Trust is a very important thing but they have to be pragmatic.”

“Do they want to support us to have growth… or do they decide to have Greece struggle, to punish Greece and to create an example of what happens to a country that has a left government,” Kotzias said at the end a four-day visit to Washington and New York. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Brussels on Thursday that everything must be done to prevent Greece from going into bankruptcy. However, Friday’s meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Riga brought a stark warning to Athens that its leftist government will get no more aid until a complete economic reform plan is agreed. Greece has scraped up enough cash to meet its obligations, but faces a big test on May 12 when it is due to pay a €750 million payment to the IMF. Now the question is how long could it last without fresh funds.

He further dismissed talk the 19-nation euro zone currency area could better handle a Greek default now versus the financial crisis that resulted in a Greek bailout of 240 billion euros. “It is like a game of chicken, but not the kind of game you know. What our friends are forgetting is that we don’t have gas to move… We like to come back to compromising and at the end we will do it,” said Kotzias, a fluent German speaker. “So you are not giving a solution to Greece, you press the Greek government? What can be the solution? Golden Dawn is coming. Nobody has an interest in that, so that is why they will find a solution,” said Kotzias, highlighting the far-right political party that is the third largest in parliament.

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“Ms. Katseli was also upset that Greece’s lenders will have the right to seize the gold reserves in the Bank of Greece under the terms of the new deal.

Is Greece About To “Lose” Its Gold Again? (Zero Hedge)

When it comes to the topic of Greece, most pundits focus on two items: i) when will Greece finally run out of confiscated cash, and ii) will Greece fold to the Troika (and agree to another bailout(s) with even more austerity) or to Russia (and agree to the passage of the Russian Turkish Stream pipeline, potentially exiting NATO and becoming the most important European satellite of the USSR 2.0) once that moment arrives. And yet what everyone appears to be forgetting is a nuanced clause buried deep in the term sheet of the second Greek bailout: a bailout whose terms will be ultimately reneged upon if and when Greece defaults on its debt to the Troika (either in or out of the Eurozone). Recall that as per our report from February 2012, in addition to losing its sovereignty years ago, Greece also lost something far more important. It’s gold: To wit:

Ms. Katseli, an economist who was labor minister in the government of George Papandreou until she left in a cabinet reshuffle last June, was also upset that Greece’s lenders will have the right to seize the gold reserves in the Bank of Greece under the terms of the new deal.

The “new deal” referred to is the Second Greek Bailout, which either will be extended and lead to a third (and fourth, and fifth bailout, each with every more draconian terms until finally Greece does default), or will collapse at which point the Troika will indeed have the right to seize the Greek gold reserves. What makes this case particularly curious, however, is that it won’t be the first time Greece will have “lost” its gold. In The Tower of Basel, citing the BIS archive from Febriary 9, 1931, Adam LeBor writes:

In February 1931, Gates McGarrah, the [BIS’s] American president, wrote to H. C. F. Finlayson, in Athens, asking about the Bank of Greece’s gold. Finlayson, a former British financial attaché in Berlin, was now an adviser to the Bank of Greece. Some of the Greek bank’s gold may have gone missing. Rather like nowadays, it seemed the accounting at the Bank of Greece left something to be desired. “What has ever happened to the gold of the Bank of Greece, some of which you thought might be left in our custody in Paris or elsewhere?” inquired McGarrah, who, as the president of the BIS might have been expected to know what it held and where. It might, McGarrah suggested, be a good time to find the Greek gold and place it with the BIS.

The BIS, wrote McGarrah, could give the Bank of Greece “all sorts of facilities, rather greater than those of a local Central Bank.” For example, if the Bank of Greece held gold at the Bank of France and wanted to buy another currency, it first had to buy francs from the Bank of France. The Bank of Greece then converted the francs to the second currency, with all the usual losses of exchange rates and commissions. However, if the Bank of Greece held gold at the Bank of France in the name of the BIS, the BIS could “give the Bank of Greece any currency it desires at any time and can fix an agreed rate without going through the actual exchange operation.” And, the BIS did not charge any commission.

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After I published the article, I was thinking perhaps I should have called it “Europe, The Lost Continent”.

But then again, something tells me I may yet have time to use that title sometime soon.

They should take over the new ECB buiding in Frankfurt.

The Migrants Who Took Over A Sicilian Palace (BBC)

As thousands of desperate African migrants arrive on Sicily’s shores, they must suddenly find their footing in a country in the grip of recession. They have something in common, though, with the island’s own homeless and unemployed – and in fact, working together with Sicilians, a group of migrants recently moved into a palace sitting empty in Palermo. When I visited, the elegant building appeared empty, its windows shuttered against the sun. I rang the buzzer and waited. Unsure if anyone had heard me, I banged on the heavy wooden door, but there was no answer. At last, a woman opened the door. Behind her, several of her housemates looked on nervously. They had been reluctant to come to the door, she explained, in case I was from the police. Some of the residents knew I was coming but my knocking had scared them.

We stood in a long, dimly lit corridor, lined with several ornately carved doors. The woman introduced herself. “My name is Wubelem Aklilu,” she told me. She had three rooms and shared the palace with 18 other people from Ethiopia and Eritrea, and one from Sicily. Wubelem means “Beauty” in Amharic, so that’s the English name the Italians have given her. Her housemates call her Mommy. Beauty agreed to show me around. One of the first rooms we entered was pitch black. When she hit the lights I found myself standing in front of an altar, below a vivid religious oil painting. This impressive mansion, which Italians call a palazzo, was built in the 19th Century by one of the most important families in Palermo – the Florios – whose name still adorns a brand of Marsala wine.

The Florios eventually gave the building to an order of nuns, the Daughters of St Joseph. After their numbers dwindled over the years, the nuns tried to sell it – but without success. For a decade the palace stood empty. It was also 10 years ago that Beauty left Ethiopia. She had been running a shop near the university in Addis Ababa. But as well as selling food she handed out pamphlets and sold T-shirts in support of a political party – a party in opposition to the government. It was a dangerous thing to do. One day, she saw police waiting for her as she approached the shop, so she turned round and walked quickly away.

Afraid for her life, she crossed over the border to Sudan, leaving behind her mother and children. She trekked across the Sahara to Libya, and eventually decided to attempt the sea crossing to Europe. The number of migrants making this perilous journey has rapidly increased since Libya descended into civil war. More than 1,727 have died on the route this year, and the death toll could be as high as 30,000 by the end of 2015, it’s estimated, if current trends continue. More than 85% of those making the journey come from sub-Saharan Africa.

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“It was Mantega’s concern about inflation that led Petrobras to buy fuel abroad to sell to Brazilians at a loss..”

Petrobras’s Next Steps May Be Tougher Than $17 Billion Loss (Bloomberg)

Petrobras’s massive writedowns this week answer the question about the cost of its corruption and pose a much bigger one: whether the state-run driller can restore its role as Brazil’s economic anchor and source of national pride. The problem is not just graft. The writedown for its executives’ transgressions represents less than one-eighth of Petrobras’s $17 billion in charges reported for 2014. The bulk of the impairment was due to mismanagement of two refinery projects. It was enough to give Petrobras its first annual operating loss since 1991. The former state bankers now running the world’s most indebted oil company averted disaster by getting long-delayed 2014 earnings audited, thus removing grounds for creditors to accelerate repayment of part of Petrobras’s $135 billion debt.

What remains to be seen is how well they can insulate the oil giant from decisions that make sense politically but turn out to be calamitous in a business context, while reducing debt and delivering projects on time and budget. “The biggest lesson to understand is that Petrobras’s management structure, built from political appointments, doesn’t work,” said Alvaro Marangoni at Quadrante Investimentos in Sao Paulo. The first sign of a new direction at Petroleo Brasileiro is the absence of government ministers on the new board of directors, said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director for Washington-based consultant Eurasia Group. The previous board was chaired by former Finance Minister Guido Mantega, and before him Dilma Rousseff, who was chief of staff to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the time and is now the country’s president herself.

It was Mantega’s concern about inflation that led Petrobras to buy fuel abroad to sell to Brazilians at a loss, keeping prices low for consumers but running up Petrobras’s debt. Other instances of government meddling, from letting political allies appoint executives to investing in far-flung refineries that were never finished, were just as costly.

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We saw the same in Vancouver a few years ago. Million dollar crackshacks.

What A $1.5 Million Home In Sydney Looks Like (News.com.au)

Would you pay 1.5 million dollars for a house you couldn’t live in? That is exactly what you would be expected to cough up for this dilapidated, mould-infested home in the inner Sydney suburb of Annandale. The house comes complete with holes in the floor, ceilings that are nearly rusted through, decaying walls and a backyard that requires more than a little TLC. It is the first time the house, located on Johnson street, has gone on the market since 1953 and the real estate agent in charge of the sale is under no illusions as to its run down state. “It needs so much work,” says James Bourke, from Callagher. With housing prices steadily growing in major cities, the “Australian dream” of owning your own house appears to be a distant reality for many young Australians.

Sydney has seen the highest rate of growth in housing prices leading some to speculate that the country’s biggest city is leading a nationwide housing bubble. Earlier in the month real estate group PRDnationwide tipped Sydney to be “minutes” away from its property price growth peak. But if you ever needed prooof that a million dollars doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, this is it. Despite its run-down state, the property has had a lot of interest since going on the market. Last Saturday, Mr Bourke had 31 groups “come through” to see the house and is frequently giving private viewings. However the reactions have been mixed. “A lot of people have come in and said this is well beyond what we can do,” Mr Bourke says.

But others are prepared for the challenge, which, given the level of work required, could take quite some time. “It might even take a year to get any changes through the council,” he said. The high price tag shouldn’t come as a surprise given the growing popularity of the inner west suburb. “There is a premium in this area because there’s so much demand. You don’t see bargains around here,” says Mr Bourke.

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The very attempt to express the value of the oceans in monetary terms shows how deep we’ve sunk.

7th-Largest Economy At $24 Trillion? Our Oceans, Says WWF (CNBC)

If our oceans were considered a country, their worth would outshine the likes of Russia and Brazil’s economies, according to a new report. The world’s oceans are worth $24 trillion and generate $2.5 trillion in goods and services annually, making it technically the seventh-largest economy worldwide, according to the “Reviving the Ocean Economy” report, commissioned by the WWF, this week. This eye-watering asset value was determined by four components: direct output of resources ($6.9 trillion), productive coastline ($7.8 trillion), trade/transport ($5.2 trillion) and carbon absorption ($4.3 trillion). World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) admits, however, that this trillion-dollar figure is an “underestimate,” as wind energy and offshore oil and gas drilling weren’t factored in, due to the difficulty in calculating their exact amounts.

So if the oceans are worth so much, this should be good, right? Wrong. With enviable value and precious assets come several threats, and the WWF suggest that with not enough being done it is becoming a “matter of global urgency” for governments to combat the man-made and natural factors impacting the oceans. In light of the report, WWF is calling upon governments and individuals worldwide with eight action proposals, asking those such as the U.K. government to progress the development of marine conservation zones and sustainable goals. Threats impacting the functioning of this system include pollution and destruction of marine habitats, yet one of the most destructive is climate change, which contributes to ocean acidity and impacts how marine animals live.

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The Koch brothers team up against the Vatican.

US Thinktank Seeks To Change Pope Francis’s Mind On Climate Change (Guardian)

A US activist group that has received funding from energy companies and the foundation controlled by conservative activist Charles Koch is trying to persuade the Vatican that “there is no global warming crisis” ahead of an environmental statement by Pope Francis this summer that is expected to call for strong action to combat climate change. The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative thinktank that seeks to discredit established science on climate change, said it was sending a team of climate scientists to Rome “to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science”. “Though Pope Francis’s heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president, said.

Jim Lakely, a Heartland spokesman, said the thinktank was “working on” securing a meeting with the Vatican. “I think Catholics should examine the evidence for themselves, and understand that the Holy Father is an authority on spiritual matters, not scientific ones,” he said. A 2013 survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals found that 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity. The lobbying push underlines the sensitivity surrounding Pope Francis’s highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, whose aim will be to frame the climate change issue as a moral imperative.

While it is not yet clear exactly what the encyclical will say, Pope Francis has been an outspoken advocate for action on the issue. In a speech in March, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has played a key role in drafting the document, said Pope Francis was not attempting a “greening of the church”, but instead would emphasise that “for the Christian, to care for God’s ongoing work of creation is a duty, irrespective of the causes of climate change”.

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“HFT is now reckoned to account for three-quarters of trading on US stock markets..”

Trillion-Dollar Questions, The Flash Crash And The Hound Of Hounslow (Guardian)

High-frequency trading may sound like a minority, and rather frowned-upon, sport, but it’s not. HFT is now reckoned to account for three-quarters of trading on US stock markets, and regulators have done nothing to halt its rise. More trading in more places, runs their thinking, creates more activity, which leads to keener pricing that benefits everybody. So where does Sarao fit in? According to the allegations, he was illegally “spoofing” these constantly churning markets – trying to trick other investors’ computers into making false moves from which he could profit. He was trading contracts called e-minis, whose price rises and falls with movements in the S&P500 index, on the largest US futures market, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The US department of Justice alleges that he used a system called “layering” – for example sending out a series of “sell” orders he intended to cancel but which created the illusion of downward pressure on the market. As other computers reacted to that artificial pressure, he would profit by buying at a lower price and then selling when prices returned. All faster than a blink of an eye. On the day of the flash crash, the DoJ alleges Sarao used layering “extensively and with particular intensity”, and made a net profit of $879,018 on that day alone. Overall, the DoJ claims Sarao fraudulently made $40m in five years. We’ll have to wait and see how the prosecutors make their case, if it goes to trial. But many have pointed out that the idea of Sarao helping cause the flash crash seems far-fetched.

First, Sarao was running his algorithm on several occasions from June 2009 and the market did not plunge. Second, he’d turned off his computer two minutes before the big fall started. Third, if he merely “contributed” to the crash, were others more to blame? If so, why single out Sarao? There’s another oddity, too. The Chicago Mercantile Board questioned Sarao about his suspicious trading before the flash crash. Indeed, on the very day, it wrote to him to say that all orders “are expected to be entered in good faith for the purpose of executing bona fide transactions”. He was hardly unknown to authorities, so why did they let him continue trading after May 2010, and wait almost five years to demand his extradition?

One school of thought has it that Sarao, whatever the legality of his techniques, should be hailed as a hero. Hedge fund manager John Hempton of Bronte Capital regards conventional HFT firms as the real villains because their goal is to “rip off” regular investors by “front running” their orders – using computers to spot trading patterns and getting in ahead. “I would prefer the front running computers to go away,” says Hempton. “And the way to make that happen is to allow spoofing. Spoofing makes the world unsafe for front-running high-frequency traders.” He calls the DoJ’s case “plain silly”.

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“I’ve never seen anything like it, the terror that can haunt a human’s eyes: Babis Manias, fisherman”

The Story Of The Greek Hero On The Beach (Guardian)

It was an image that came to symbolise desperation and valour: the desperation of those who will take on the sea – and the men who ferry human cargo across it – to flee the ills that cannot keep them in their own countries. And the valour of those on Europe’s southern shores who rush to save them when tragedy strikes. Last week on the island of Rhodes, war, repression, dictatorship in distant Eritrea were far from the mind of army sergeant Antonis Deligiorgis. The world inhabited by Wegasi Nebiat, a 24-year-old Eritrean in the cabin of a yacht sailing towards the isle, was still far away. At 8am on Monday there was nothing that indicated the two would meet. Stationed in Rhodes, the burly soldier accompanied his wife, Theodora, on the school run. “Then we thought we’d grab a coffee; We stopped by a cafe on the seafront.”

Deligiorgis had his back to the sea when the vessel carrying Nebiat struck the jagged rocks fishermen on Rhodes grow up learning to avoid. Within seconds the rickety boat packed with Syrians and Eritreans was listing. The odyssey that had originated six hours earlier at the Turkish port of Marmaris – where thousands of Europe-bound migrants are now said to be amassed – was about to end in the strong currents off Zefyros Beach. For Nebiat, whose journey to Europe began in early March – her parents paid $10,000 for a voyage that would see her walk, bus and fly her way to “freedom” – the reef was her first contact with the continent she had prayed to reach. Soon she was in the water clinging to a rubber buoy.

“The boat disintegrated in a matter of minutes,” the father-of-two recalled. “It was as if it was made of paper. By the time I left the café at 10 past 10, a lot of people had rushed to the scene. The coastguard was there, a Super Puma [helicopter] was in the air, the ambulance brigade had come, fishermen had gathered in their caiques. Without really giving it a second’s thought, I did what I had to do. By 10:15 I had taken off my shirt and was in the water.” Deligiorgis brought 20 of the 93 migrants to shore singlehandedly. “At first I wore my shoes but soon had to take them off,” he said, speaking by telephone from Rhodes. “The water was full of oil from the boat and was very bitter and the rocks were slippery and very sharp. I cut myself quite badly on my hands and feet, but all I could think of was saving those poor people.”

In the chaos of the rescue, the 34-year-old cannot remember if he saved three or four men, or three or four children, or five or six women: “What I do remember was seeing a man who was around 40 die. He was flailing about, he couldn’t breathe, he was choking, and though I tried was impossible to reach. Anyone who could was hanging on to the wreckage.” Deligiorgis says he was helped by the survival skills and techniques learned in the army: “But the waves were so big, so relentless. They kept coming and coming.” He had been in the water for about 20 minutes when he saw Nebiat gripping the buoy. “She was having great problems breathing,” he said. “There were some guys from the coastguard around me who had jumped in with all their clothes on. I was having trouble lifting her out of the sea. They helped and then, instinctively, I put her over my shoulder.”

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Dec 122014
 
 December 12, 2014  Posted by at 11:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 12 2014


Jack Delano Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train at Emporia, Kansas Mar 1943

IEA Warns On Social Unrest As It Cuts 2015 Oil Demand Growth Forecast (CNBC)
Oil Drops Below $60 After Saudis Question Need to Cut (Bloomberg)
Oil Pressure Could Sock It To Stocks (CNBC)
Fed Bubble Bursts in $550 Billion of Energy Debt (Bloomberg)
Oil Bust Contagion Spreads to Wall Street and the Banks (WolfStreet)
Ruble Consolation Gets Putin Record Oil Income (Bloomberg)
This Has Never Happened Before Without A Drop In Stock Prices (Napier via ZH)
France Drifts Into Deflation As ECB ‘Pea-Shooter’ Falls Short (AEP)
WTF Chart Of The Day: Explaining The Surge In US Retail Sales (Zero Hedge)
China’s Slowdown Deepens as Factory Output Growth Wanes (Bloomberg)
China Tells Banks To Step Up Lending To Lift Flagging Growth (Reuters)
Skepticism Jumps in Options as VIX Rises 70% in Four Days (Bloomberg)
NY Regulator Probing Barclays And Deutsche Over Forex Algorithms (FT)
US House Narrowly Passes Spending Bill, Averts Government Shutdown (Reuters)
US Prosecutors Face New Fallout From Insider Trading Ruling (Reuters)
Welcome To The UK: DIY Burials And Payday Loans For Kids (CNBC)
Crystal Ball: Top 10 Economic Predictions For 2015 (CNBC)
These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You To Believe About Russia (Salon)
Full Scale Of Plastic In The World’s Oceans Revealed For First Time (Guardian)

“Venezuela needs to fill a capital shortfall of around $29 billion next year ..” “.. a currency devaluation would not do much to alleviate the pain. “This is a country really facing a perfect storm.”

IEA Warns On Social Unrest As It Cuts 2015 Oil Demand Growth Forecast (CNBC)

Weak demand and oversupply in oil markets raise the risk of global social instability and the potential for financial defaults, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Friday, as it cut its forecasts for global oil demand growth in 2015. The report came as oil prices slid to new multi-year lows, with Brent crude hitting a 5.5-year low of $63.33 a barrel on Friday. “Continued price declines would for some countries and companies make an already difficult situation even worse,” the IEA said in its new monthly report. Global oil inventories are projected to build by around 300 million barrels in the first half of 2015 in the absence of any disruption, the group said. It estimated that stocks in major global economies could start to “bump” against storage capacity limits.

“The resulting downward price pressure would raise the risk of social instability or financial difficulties if producers found it difficult to pay back debt,” it said. Singling out Russia and Venezuela, the IEA said that further price drops would heighten the financial risks to “highly leveraged” producers, and countries that are heavily dependent on oil revenues. It warned on the threat to international financial stability should the situation in Russia deteriorate to the point of a default. Bond yields and the cost of insuring Russia against a default have risen in recent weeks amid fears over falling oil prices and intensifying sanctions from the West. Oil the country’s biggest export – is crucial for its economy, and influence in the world.

“Lower oil prices significantly dent potential export revenues in net oil exporting countries, slashing their income streams and in turn denting demand,” it said. “In particularly cash strapped economies, such as Venezuela and Russia, this impact is likely to be magnified as the risk of default escalates,” it said, adding that Venezuela’s capital Caracas was currently struggling to make bond payments, fund social programs and pay debts to oil partners. Venezuela needs to fill a capital shortfall of around $29 billion next year, according to Bradford Jones at hedge fund Sagil Capital. He told CNBC Friday that the country was facing a number of very tough decisions and believed a currency devaluation would not do much to alleviate the pain. “This is a country really facing a perfect storm,” he said.

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“When you see a persistent trend like this you can be sure there are a lot of investors caught on the wrong side ..”

Oil Drops Below $60 After Saudis Question Need to Cut (Bloomberg)

Benchmark U.S. oil prices dropped below $60 a barrel for the first time since July 2009 as Saudi Arabia questioned the need to cut output, signaling its priority is defending market share. West Texas Intermediate crude slid 1.6% in New York. The market will correct itself, according to Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi. Global demand for crude from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will drop next year by about 300,000 barrels a day to 28.9 million, the least since 2003, the group predicted yesterday. Oil’s collapse into a bear market has been exacerbated as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, OPEC’s three largest members, offered the deepest discounts on exports to Asia in at least six years. The group decided against reducing its output quota at a meeting last month, letting prices drop to a level that may slow U.S. production that’s surged to the highest level in more than three decades.

“The path of least resistance is lower,” Mike Wittner, head of oil research at Societe Generale in New York, said by phone. “This week we’ve had the Saudis cut prices to Asia, OPEC reduced the call on its crude and al-Naimi reiterated that they aren’t cutting output and letting the market do its work. They all reinforce the bearish message.” WTI for January delivery dropped 99 cents to close at $59.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the lowest settlement since July 14, 2009. Total volume was 14% above the 100-day average for the time of day. The U.S. benchmark is down 39% this year. [..] “When you see a persistent trend like this you can be sure there are a lot of investors caught on the wrong side,” Bill O’Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis, which oversees $2.4 billion, said by phone. “They are looking for any glimmer of green as an opportunity to get out of positions. Any moves higher will be of short duration.”

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“It’s (oil) actually much weaker than the futures markets indicate. [..] The Canadian crude, if you go into the oil sands, is in the $30s, and you talk about Western Canadian Select heavy crude upgrade that comes out of Canada, it’s at $41/$42 a barrel. Bakken is probably about $54.” Kloza said there’s some talk that Venezuelan heavy crude is seeing prices $20 to $22 less than Brent ..”

Oil Pressure Could Sock It To Stocks (CNBC)

With crude sliding through the key $60 level, oil pressure could stay on stocks Friday. West Texas Intermediate futures for January closed at $59.95 per barrel, the first sub-$60 settle since July 2009. The $60 level, however, opens the door to the much bigger, $50-per-barrel level. Besides oil, traders will be watching the producer price index Friday morning, and it’s expected to be off 0.1% with the fall in energy. Consumer sentiment is also expected at 10 a.m. EST. Consumers stepped up and spent in November, as evidenced in the 0.7% gain in that month’s retail sales Thursday. That better mood should show up in consumer sentiment. Stocks on Thursday gave up sizeable gains after oil reversed course and fell through $60. Traders also were nervously watching the progress of a spending bill in Washington, which was delayed. The Dow was up 63 at 17,596, wiping out much of a 225-point intraday gain.

“Oil has pretty much spooked people,” said Daniel Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. “There just isn’t a bid. With everything in energy and the oil price collapsing as it is, who is going to step in and be a buyer now? The answer is nobody.” Oil continued to slide in after-hours trading. “The selling appears to have accelerated a little bit after the close with really no bullish news in sight,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Associates. WTI futures temporarily fell below $59 in late trading. “The big level is going to be $50 now in terms of psychological support. Much as $100 is on the upside,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. Oil stands a good chance of getting there too. Tom Kloza, founder and analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said the market could bottom for the winter in about 30 days, but then it will be up to whatever OPEC does. The cartel in November voted to keep its production unchanged in an effort to hold market share.

“It’s (oil) actually much weaker than the futures markets indicate. This is true for crude oil, and it’s true for gasoline. There’s a little bit of a desperation in the crude market,” said Kloza. “The Canadian crude, if you go into the oil sands, is in the $30s, and you talk about Western Canadian Select heavy crude upgrade that comes out of Canada, it’s at $41/$42 a barrel. Bakken is probably about $54.” Kloza said there’s some talk that Venezuelan heavy crude is seeing prices $20 to $22 less than Brent, the international benchmark. Brent futures were at $63.20 per barrel late Thursday. “In the actual physical market, it’s fallen by even more than the futures market. That’s a telling sign, and it’s telling me that this isn’t over yet. This isn’t the bottoming process. The physical market turns before the futures,” he said.

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A portrait of a bloodbath.

Fed Bubble Bursts in $550 Billion of Energy Debt (Bloomberg)

The danger of stimulus-induced bubbles is starting to play out in the market for energy-company debt. Since early 2010, energy producers have raised $550 billion of new bonds and loans as the Federal Reserve held borrowing costs near zero, according to Deutsche Bank AG. With oil prices plunging, investors are questioning the ability of some issuers to meet their debt obligations. Research firm CreditSights Inc. predicts the default rate for energy junk bonds will double to 8% next year. “Anything that becomes a mania – it ends badly,” said Tim Gramatovich, chief investment officer of Peritus Asset Management. “And this is a mania.”

The Fed’s decision to keep benchmark interest rates at record lows for six years has encouraged investors to funnel cash into speculative-grade securities to generate returns, raising concern that risks were being overlooked. A report from Moody’s Investors Service this week found that investor protections in corporate debt are at an all-time low, while average yields on junk bonds were recently lower than what investment-grade companies were paying before the credit crisis. Borrowing costs for energy companies have skyrocketed in the past six months as West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, has dropped 44% to $60.46 a barrel since reaching this year’s peak of $107.26 in June.

Yields on junk-rated energy bonds climbed to a more-than-five-year high of 9.5% this week from 5.7% in June, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data. At least three energy-related borrowers, including C&J Energy Services, postponed financings this month as sentiment soured. “It’s been super cheap” for energy companies to obtain financing over the past five years, said Brian Gibbons, a senior analyst for oil and gas at CreditSights in New York. Now, companies with ratings of B or below are “virtually shut out of the market” and will have to “rely on a combination of asset sales” and their credit lines, he said.

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“Six years of the Fed’s easy money policies purposefully forced even conservative investors to either lose money to inflation or venture way out on the risk curve. So they ventured out, many of them without knowing it because it happened out of view inside their bond funds. And they funded the fracking boom and the offshore drilling boom, and the entire oil revolution in America ..”

Oil Bust Contagion Spreads to Wall Street and the Banks (WolfStreet)

Oil swooned again on Wednesday, with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate closing at $60.94. And on Thursday, WTI dropped below $60, currently trading at $59.18. It’s down 43% since June. Yesterday, OPEC forecast that demand for its oil would further decline to 28.9 million barrels a day next year, after having decided over Thanksgiving to stick to its 30 million barrel a day production ceiling, rather than cutting it. It thus forecast that there would be on OPEC’s side alone 1.1 million barrels a day in excess supply. Hours later, the US Energy Information Administration reported that oil inventories in the US had risen by 1.5 million barrels in the latest week, while analysts had expected a decline of about 3 million barrels. So the bloodletting continues: the Energy Select Sector ETF is down 26% since June; S&P International Energy Sector ETF is down 34% since July; and the Oil & Gas Equipment & Services ETF is down 46% since July.

Goodrich Petroleum, in its desperation, announced it is exploring strategic options for its Eagle Ford Shale assets in the first half next year. It would also slash capital expenditures to less than $200 million for 2015, from $375 million for 2014. Liquidity for Goodrich is drying up. Its stock is down 88% since June. They all got hit. And in the junk-bond market, investors are grappling with the real meaning of “junk.” Sabine Oil & Gas’ $350 million in junk bonds still traded above par in September before going into an epic collapse starting on November 25 that culminated on Wednesday, when they lost nearly a third of their remaining value to land at 49 cents on the dollar. In early May, when the price of oil could still only rise, Sabine agreed to acquire troubled Forest Oil Corporation, now a penny stock. The deal is expected to close in December.

But just before Thanksgiving, when no one in the US was supposed to pay attention, Sabine’s bonds began to collapse as it seeped out that Wells Fargo and Barclays could lose a big chunk of money on a $850-million “bridge loan” they’d issued to Sabine to help fund the merger. A bridge loan to nowhere: investors interested in buying it have evaporated. The banks are either stuck with this thing, or they’ll have to take a huge loss selling it. Bankers have told the Financial Times that the loan might sell for 60 cents on the dollar. But that was back in November before the bottom fell out entirely. As so many times in these deals, there is a private equity angle to the story: PE firm First Reserve owns nearly all of Sabine and leveraged it up to the hilt. [..]

Six years of the Fed’s easy money policies purposefully forced even conservative investors to either lose money to inflation or venture way out on the risk curve. So they ventured out, many of them without knowing it because it happened out of view inside their bond funds. And they funded the fracking boom and the offshore drilling boom, and the entire oil revolution in America, no questions asked.

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Makes it look less awful.

Ruble Consolation Gets Putin Record Oil Income (Bloomberg)

While Russia’s plunging currency is becoming a growing concern for policy makers in Moscow, the benefits for the Treasury are swelling as it receives more and more rubles for each dollar of oil export revenue. The CHART OF THE DAY shows that Brent crude sold for an average 3,759 rubles a barrel this year, the most on record, even after the mean dollar price of $101.74 dropped to the lowest since 2010. Russia’s fiscal accounts are benefiting from this year’s more than 40% decline in the ruble as it kept pace with a similar slide in oil, which is priced in dollars.

The government’s budget surplus is 1.27 trillion rubles ($23 billion) through November, compared with 600 billion rubles in the same period last year and 789 billion rubles in 2012, according to Finance Ministry data. It was 1.34 trillion in 2011. “A weak ruble is good for the government budget,” Dmitry Postolenko, a money manager at Kapital Asset Management in Moscow, said Dec. 10 by e-mail. “It’s in the government’s interest to let the ruble devalue but it should do it in a way that will not lead to a panic among Russians who keep money in rubles.”

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” The consensus, it would seem, views this deflationary move as one without tears. With US equities trading at 27X CAPE , that’s one hell of a bet!!”

This Has Never Happened Before Without A Drop In Stock Prices (Napier via ZH)

The Solid Ground has long flagged the importance of falling inflation expectations when nominal interest rates are so low. The Fed cannot lower nominal rates, so its control over real rates of interest rests entirely with its ability to create actual inflation or manage inflation. After five and a half years of QE, inflation expectations are very near their lows. Over the next five years investors now expect inflation to average just below 1.3%. This level of expected inflation has always previously been associated with a decline in US equity prices. There have been no exceptions until today.

THE PROWLER: Which force is currently depressing the corporations share of GDP? It is a question worth asking, because if such suppression lifts then the corporates share of GDP can go higher and, the likelihood is, share prices will go with it. While most questions in finance are difficult to answer this one is really easy because nobody and nothing is depressing the corporations share of GDP. The usual suspects for depriving the corporation of higher profits — labour, creditors and the state — are all “quiescent”, to use a word favoured by the man formerly known as ‘The Maestro’. Indeed, these forces are so quiescent that most equity investors consider them to be demons which have been slain.

THE SLEEPING TIGER: There is nothing in the historical record to equate dormancy with death when it comes to the future path of wages, interest rates or corporate taxation. For the equity bulls who choose to believe in the prolonged dormancy of labour, creditors and the state, all at the same time, history has a very clear warning that there is another potent force which can drive mean reversion of corporate profits and equity valuations – deflation. [..]

BOOM! Ultimately, just such a shock would come to many places if China tired of the monetary tightening implicit in its link to the world’s strongest currency, the USD. At some stage China will need to relax the monetary reins and this will be virtually impossible if it is tethered to a rising USD. The 1994 devaluation of the RMB wreaked havoc with the finances of China’s competitors and a similar, in fact even more powerful, dynamic is evident today. A devaluation of the RMB would thus be another trigger for a credit crisis. The consensus, it would seem, views this deflationary move as one without tears. With US equities trading at 27X CAPE , that’s one hell of a bet!!

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“The ECB is presiding over a deflationary disaster. They need to act fast and aggressively or else markets will start to attack Italian debt.” Well, and Greece, and Spain etc. Perhaps even France this time. The vigilantes played European whack-a-mole before.

France Drifts Into Deflation As ECB ‘Pea-Shooter’ Falls Short (AEP)

France is sliding into a deflationary vortex as manufacturers slash prices to keep market share, intensifying pressure on the European Central Bank to take drastic action before it is too late. The French statistics agency INSEE said core inflation fell to -0.2pc in November from a year earlier, the first time it has turned negative since modern data began. The measure strips out energy costs and is designed to “observe deeper trends” in the economy. The price goes far beyond falling oil costs and is the clearest evidence to date that the eurozone’s second biggest economy is succumbing to powerful deflationary forces. Headline inflation is still 0.3pc but is expected to plummet over the next three months. French broker Natixis said all key measures were likely to be negative by early next year.

Eurostat data show prices have fallen since April in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Greece and the Baltic states, as well as in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria outside the EMU bloc. Marchel Alexandrovich, from Jefferies, said the number of goods in the eurozone’s price basket now falling has reached a record 34pc. “Eurozone deflation is now inevitable. There is no way around it,” said Andrew Roberts, at RBS. “We think yields on German 10-year Bunds will fall to 0.42pc next year.” “The ECB is presiding over a deflationary disaster. They need to act fast and aggressively or else markets will start to attack Italian debt. Italy’s nominal GDP is falling faster than their borrowing costs and that is pushing them towards a debt spiral,” he added. The Bank of Italy’s governor, Ignazio Visco, said any further falls in prices at this stage could have “extremely grave consequences for economies with very high public debt levels, such as Italy”.

The trade-weighted exchange rate of the euro has risen by 2pc over the past two months as the rouble plummets and currencies buckle across the emerging market nexus, despite the ECB’s efforts to talk it down. This is a form of monetary tightening. The German-led hawks at the ECB are running out of excuses for opposing quantitative easing after demand for the ECB’s second auction of cheap four-year loans (TLTROs) fell short of expectations. “The TLTRO is a peashooter rather than a bazooka,” said Nick Kounis, at ABN Amro.
Lenders took up just €129.8bn of fresh credit, far less than €270bn of old loans due to be repaid. This means that the ECB’s balance will continue to contract – rather than expanding by €1 trillion as intended – unless it embraces full-blown QE.

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Holiday seasonal adjustment?!

WTF Chart Of The Day: Explaining The Surge In US Retail Sales (Zero Hedge)

Confused at how such awesome retail sales headlines can lead to the kind of weakness we are seeing in stocks now that Lending Club’s IPO has started trading? Wondering why bonds are now lower in yield on the day in the face of ‘proof’ that the US consumer is back? Wonder no more, as STA Wealth Management’s Lance Roberts points out, November’s seasonal adjustment for retail sales was – drum roll please – the 3rd largest on record… so maybe, just maybe, the ‘market’ is seeing through that pure riggedness, wondering about the huge surge in continuing claims, and agog at the blowout in credit spreads and collapse in crude… Seriously?!! The 3rd largest November seasonal adjustment on record… why? and remember retail sales only beat by 0.1ppt!

Speechless, yet? Well look at this…

Rigged much?

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“.. factory production will continue to slow in the first quarter of next year, while a gauge of manufacturing activity will fall below the 50 expansion-contraction line ..”

China’s Slowdown Deepens as Factory Output Growth Wanes (Bloomberg)

China’s economy slowed in November as factory shutdowns exacerbated weaker demand, raising pressure on the central bank to add further stimulus. Bloomberg’s gross domestic product tracker came in at 6.78% year-on-year in November, down from 6.91% in October and a fourth month below 7%, according to a preliminary reading. Factory production rose 7.2% from a year earlier, retail sales gained 11.7%, and investment in fixed assets expanded 15.8% in January through November from a year earlier, official data showed. The government ordered some factories to close in Beijing and surrounding provinces during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in early November to curb pollution. China’s central bank cut benchmark interest rates last month as a property slump weighs on the world’s second-biggest economy.

“The major reason for the slowdown is weak demand,” said Ding Shuang, senior China economist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong. “Both external and internal demand are relatively weak.” Ding said he expects factory production will continue to slow in the first quarter of next year, while a gauge of manufacturing activity will fall below the 50 expansion-contraction line, prompting the central bank to cut banks’ required reserve ratios. “The data adds to evidence of weakness in China’s economy,” Bloomberg’s Beijing-based economist Tom Orlik wrote in a note. “The People’s Bank of China’s hands may be tied by the speculative surge on the mainland’s equity markets. Fear of adding further fuel to the fire appears to have constrained the PB0C to return to targeted measures, at least temporarily.”

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“The amount of new loans issued by Chinese banks fell by more than a third in October.”

China Tells Banks To Step Up Lending To Lift Flagging Growth (Reuters)

China has told its banks to lend more in the final months of 2014 and relaxed enforcement of loan-to-deposit ratios to expand credit, sources told Reuters, as Beijing prepares to release data that could confirm the relentless slowing of its economy. Figures on inflation, imports and fiscal spending in November have already undershot expectations since the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) sprang a surprise interest rate cut on Nov. 21, raising fears that the bid to boost lending could foreshadow more weak figures on industrial activity for the month, due on Friday, and on lending, due in the next few days. “I wouldn’t be surprised by that at all,” said Andrew Polk, resident economist for the Conference Board in Beijing. “It seems pretty clear activity is continuing to weaken throughout this fourth quarter.” Two sources with knowledge of the matter said China’s central bank increased the annual new loan target to 10 trillion yuan($1.62 trillion) for 2014, up from what Chinese media have said was a previous target of 9.5 trillion yuan.

Banks have disbursed 8.23 trillion yuan of loans between January and October, so they will have to quicken the pace in the last two months if they are to meet the new target. If upcoming data also proves worse than expected, some analysts say the PBOC could cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) as soon as this weekend, allowing them to further increase lending. Bank lending is a crucial part of China’s monetary policy as the government instructs commercial banks, most of which are directly or indirectly controlled by the state, how much to lend and when to lend each year. The amount of new loans issued by Chinese banks fell by more than a third in October. “If credit supply is increased, it will certainly help economic growth in the first quarter,” said Chang Chun Hua, an economist at Nomura in Hong Kong. “If this is true, it shows that the government is quite concerned about growth.”

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Inevitable.

Skepticism Jumps in Options as VIX Rises 70% in Four Days (Bloomberg)

Options traders aren’t buying the stock market’s message. While the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index posted its first gain of the week on Dec. 11, rising 0.5%, the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index also jumped, climbing 8.4% to cap its biggest four-day advance since 2011. The two gauges, one measuring share prices and the other anxiety among traders, only move in unison about 20% of the time. Investors watching oil plunge day after day are growing concerned the decline will destabilize financial markets and that’s boosting demand for hedges, according to Bob Doll, the chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management. Gains in the VIX picked up after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans lack the votes to pass a $1.1 trillion U.S. spending bill and urged fellow Democrats to force removal of some banking and campaign-finance provisions.

“I’d put oil front and center,” Doll said by phone. “We’ve had a move from $100 to $60, and if that had happened over a year or two that’s one thing, but this has been so much so fast that it creates higher uncertainty, which creates higher volatility, and that’s the reason you’re seeing people buy protection.” The S&P 500 and VIX haven’t posted a bigger lockstep advance since at least 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They’ve both gained on the same day on only 22 other times this year, the data show.

U.S. stocks rebounded from the worst day in eight weeks as an improvement in retail sales helped overshadow a drop in West Texas Intermediate crude below $60. The S&P 500 rose 0.5% at 4 p.m. in New York, paring an earlier rally of 1.5%. “It is unusual to see stocks rally like they did and premiums rise on the same day,” Jared Woodard, a New York-based equity derivatives strategist at BGC Partners LP, said by phone. “When the index gave back a lot of these gains you saw more demand for put protection. As stocks reversed a bit, people thought there may be another leg down.”

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“The probe into the possible use of algorithms is one of the reasons why DFS, led by Benjamin Lawsky, declined to participate in a broad forex settlement with banks.”

NY Regulator Probing Barclays And Deutsche Over Forex Algorithms (FT)

New York’s top banking regulator is investigating whether Barclays and Deutsche Bank used algorithms to manipulate foreign exchange rates, which could increase the penalties they face, a person familiar with the probe said. The state’s Department of Financial Services is reviewing whether the use of computer algorithms in bank currency trading platforms suggests a systemic problem at the lenders, as opposed to wrongdoing by several rogue traders, the person said. If the algorithms are seen as a bank-wide issue, DFS could seek to impose bigger penalties, the person added. The probe into the possible use of algorithms is one of the reasons why DFS, led by Benjamin Lawsky, declined to participate in a broad forex settlement with banks.

In November, UBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of America were fined more than $4bn for their role in a forex rate-rigging scandal. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the US’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission were part of that settlement. But the US Department of Justice and DFS did not participate and their investigations are ongoing. The DOJ’s probe includes the six banks that were part of the broad settlement, and the investigation is expected to result in large penalties and criminal findings. DFS is investigating about a dozen banks in its forex probe. Deutsche said it had “received requests for information from regulatory authorities that are investigating trading in the foreign exchange market. The bank is co-operating with those investigations, and will take disciplinary action with regards to individuals if merited.”

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“.. both Obama and JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon were calling Democrats to support it. “It is very strange, very strange that the two of them would be working for the support of this bill ..”

US House Narrowly Passes Spending Bill, Averts Government Shutdown (Reuters)

The U.S. House of Representatives averted a government shutdown on Thursday, narrowly passing a $1.1 trillion spending bill despite strenuous Democratic objections to controversial financial provisions. The vote followed a long day of drama and discord on Capitol Hill that highlighted fraying Democratic unity and featured an uneasy alliance between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, enemies in past budget battles but on the same side this time in pushing for passage. A vote on the measure was delayed for hours after Democrats revolted against provisions to roll back part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and allow more big money political donations, while conservative Republicans objected because the measure did not block funds for Obama’s immigration order.

Democrats said Republican leaders, flexing their new political muscle after big wins in the midterm elections that will give them control of both chambers of Congress next year, had gone too far in trying to roll back Dodd-Frank. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again,” Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi told members of her party, behind closed doors, according to a source in the room. Some Democrats also demanded the removal of a provision that allows a massive increase in individual contributions to national political parties for federal elections, potentially up to $777,600 a year.

The debate pitted Obama against Pelosi, one of his most loyal allies in Congress, as Obama and his administration waged a last-ditch campaign to persuade Democrats to set aside their objections, arguing that if it failed, the party would get a worse spending deal next year under Republican control. The effort to save the bill angered some Democrats, who complained that both Obama and JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon were calling Democrats to support it. “It is very strange, very strange that the two of them would be working for the support of this bill,” said Representative Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. In the 219-206 vote, 67 Republicans rejected the spending bill, largely because it failed to take action to stop Obama’s executive immigration order. But that was offset by 57 Democrats who voted in favor.

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“The three-judge panel not only found that prosecutors needed to prove a trader knew that the original source of non-public information has received a benefit in exchange for the tip, but also narrowed what actually constituted such a benefit.”

US Prosecutors Face New Fallout From Insider Trading Ruling (Reuters)

U.S. prosecutors, already smarting from an appeals court ruling that weakens their ability to crack down on future insider trading, on Thursday faced widening fallout from the decision as some existing cases threatened to unravel. Lawyers for some defendants hinted they might seek to withdraw guilty pleas, and a Manhattan federal judge questioned if four such pleas were affected. The moves were the latest repercussions from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding that prosecutors presented insufficient evidence to convict Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, and Anthony Chiasson, co-founder of Level Global Investors. Speaking at a conference, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White said Thursday “there is no question it’s a significant decision,” adding her agency was reviewing the Wednesday ruling, which she called “overly narrow.”

Some defendants who cooperated and pleaded guilty in the prosecution of Newman and Chiasson are now considering taking the extraordinary step of withdrawing their pleas, two lawyers said Thursday. The three-judge panel not only found that prosecutors needed to prove a trader knew that the original source of non-public information has received a benefit in exchange for the tip, but also narrowed what actually constituted such a benefit. In several such cases, the defendants were tipped based on information they received third- or fourth-hand, rather than straight from the source, which made it tougher to prove their awareness that source had obtained something tangible in return. The ruling threatens to challenge a broad insider trading crackdown underway since 2009 under Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office during his tenure has secured 82 other convictions.

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As another headline today at the Guardian says: “UK standard of living rises to fourth highest in EU”.

Welcome To The UK: DIY Burials And Payday Loans For Kids (CNBC)

The tight financial conditions faced by Brits were highlighted again this week with reports on how cash-strapped young people are using payday loans and impoverished relatives are burying their loved ones at home. One in eight young people say they have borrowed money from lending firms, according to a new report released Thursday by the U.K. children’s charity Action for Children. The report interviewed 1,058 people in focus groups between the ages of 12 and 18 and found that 41% of those that had borrowed had done so with payday loan providers. The charity also found that store cards are also be used more and more, with over a third of the young people saying they had used them. Its anecdotal evidence suggested that young people were using the debt to replace household goods, set up their first home or to keep up with their friends.

“Baffling financial jargon and a lack of knowledge will dramatically create a vicious circle of debt, increasing the risk of mental health problems and unemployment,” said Tony Hawkhead, the chief executive of Action for Children, in Thursday’s report. Payday loan companies have been heavily criticized by policymakers in the U.K. for the four-figure interest rates they tie to cash advances. Regulators have moved to introduce new rules to cap charges and these firms have made changes to their lending criteria in response. The companies stress they have strict rules on who can receive loans, with the minimum age being 18 years. However the breakdown within Thursday’s study shows that minors are receiving these loans with 46% of the 12-year-old respondents saying they had borrowed money from a payday lender.

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Take your pick. Much more of this to come in the weeks ahead.

Crystal Ball: Top 10 Economic Predictions For 2015 (CNBC)

The global economy muddled along this year, with the resurgence in the U.S. economy helping to offset slowing growth in Europe, Japan and China. So, where does this leave the world economy in 2015? “Positive fundamentals are in place for the momentum in the global economy to improve during 2015,” said Nariman Behraves, Chief Economist at IHS, which expects global growth to pick up to 3% from an estimated 2.7% this year.

IHS outlined its top 10 economic predictions that make up its global outlook:
1. U.S. economy will power ahead
2. Euro zone’s struggle to continue
3. Japan to emerge from recession
4. China will keep slowing
5. EMs: a mixed bag
6. Commodities slide to extend
7. Disinflation threat
8. Fed will be the first to hike rates
9. Dollar will remain king
10. Perennial downside risks easing

The global recovery has been plagued by a multitude of “curses” during the past few years, including high public- and private-sector debt levels that have necessitated deleveraging by households corporates and governments, says IHS. But these obstacles to growth are easing in some countries, notably the U.S and U.K., which explains their better-than-average performance.

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Strong piece from Patrick Smith, former Asia bureau chief of the Herald Tribune.

These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You To Believe About Russia (Salon)

You can look at the Russian economy two ways now and you should. So let’s: It is an important moment in the destruction of something and the construction of something else, and we had better be clear just what in both cases. The world we live in changes shape as we speak. Truth No. 1: Russians are besieged. Sanctions the West has insisted on prosecuting in response to the Ukraine crisis — Washington in the lead, the Europeans reluctant followers — are hitting hard, let there be no question. Oil prices are at astonishing lows, probably if not yet provably manipulated by top operatives in the diplomatic and political spheres.

Truth No. 2: Russians are hot. With an energetic activism just as astonishing as the oil prices, Russian officials, President Putin in the very visible lead but with platoons of technocrats behind him, are forging an extensive network of South-South relationships — East-East, if you prefer — that are something very new under the sun. Some of us were banging on about South-South trade and diplomatic unity as far back as the 1970s; I have anticipated the arriving reality since the early years of this century. But I would never have predicted the pace of events as we have them before us. Stunning. Holiday surprise: There is a Truth No. 3 and it is this: Truth No. 1, the siege of the Russian economy, is proving a significant catalyst in the advance of Truth No. 2, the creative response of a nation under ever-mounting pressure.

Timothy Snyder, the Yale professor whose nitwittery on the Ukraine crisis is simply nonpareil (and praise heaven he has gone quiet), exclaimed some months ago that Putin is threatening to undermine the entire postwar order. I replied in this space the following week, Gee, if only it were so. Already it seems to be. But miss this not: Russia is advancing this world-historical turn with a considerable assist from its adversaries in the West, not alone. For all the pseuds who pretend to know Schumpeter but know only one thing, the creative destruction bit, how is this as a prime example of the phenom? Details in a sec, but this thought first: We are all bound to pay close attention to these events because they matter to everyone, whether this is yet obvious or not. Probably in our lifetimes — and I had it further out until recently — we will begin to inhabit a different planet.

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We deserve all we’ve got coming.

Full Scale Of Plastic In The World’s Oceans Revealed For First Time (Guardian)

More than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain, new research has found. Data collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand suggests a minimum of 5.25tn plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm. The volume of plastic pieces, largely deriving from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing, was calculated from data taken from 24 expeditions over a six-year period to 2013. The research, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first study to look at plastics of all sizes in the world’s oceans.

Large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish and then fed up the food chain, all the way to humans. This is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment. “We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants. “Bigger fish eat the little fish and then they end up on our plates. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested but certainly plastics are providing some of it.”

The researchers collected small plastic fragments in nets, while larger pieces were observed from boats. The northern and southern sections of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were surveyed, as well as the Indian ocean, the coast of Australia and the Bay of Bengal. The vast amount of plastic, weighing 268,940 tonnes, includes everything from plastic bags to fishing gear debris. While spread out around the globe, much of this rubbish accumulates in five large ocean gyres, which are circular currents that churn up plastics in a set area. Each of the major oceans have plastic-filled gyres, including the well-known ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ that covers an area roughly equivalent to Texas.

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