Jean Metzinger Soldier playing chess 1915
Crunch time starts tomorrow. The backstop is the big issue. EU cannot ‘budge’, because it would mean leaving Ireland out in the cold. It’s called the Irish backstop for a reason.
Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”. The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels. Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.
All they have left is finance. Austerity ate the rest.
More than 275 financial firms are moving a combined $1.2 trillion in assets and funds and thousands of staff from Britain to the European Union in readiness for Brexit at a cost of up to $4 billion, a report from a think tank said on Monday. UK lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on an EU divorce settlement. But with less than three weeks to go before Brexit day on March 29, it is still unclear whether the deal will be approved, whether departure from the EU will be delayed, or whether it will happen without agreement. The report by the New Financial think tank, one of the most detailed yet on the impact of Brexit on financial services, said Dublin alone accounted for 100 relocations, ahead of Luxembourg with 60, Paris 41, Frankfurt 40, and Amsterdam 32.
The independent think tank said half of the affected asset management firms, such as Goldman Sachs Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Vanguard, had chosen Dublin, with Luxembourg the next port of call, attracting firms like Schroders, JP Morgan Wealth Management and Aviva Investors. Nearly 90 percent of all firms moving to Frankfurt are banks, while two-thirds of those going to Amsterdam are trading platforms or brokers. Paris is carving out a niche for markets and trading operations of banks and attracting a broad spread of firms.
This still needs to be explained, apparently.
We humans are a social lot. We just love being part of a pack, a member of a team. We crave acceptance, to the point where isolation or banishment ranks among the worst forms of punishment. Even when it comes to the dodgy art of forecasting, everyone seems to cluster around a central position, which kind of defeats the point of forecasting. And so, in July two years ago, when the groundswell of opinion began to shift — that the Reserve Bank would be raising interest rates — arguing otherwise was a fairly lonely position. As time went on, almost everyone shifted position as we dug in here, here and here.
To be fair, most of the highly paid, well-heeled professional market economists were being egged on by the authorities, and particularly the Reserve Bank, which was spinning the line that the next rate move was up. In the past fortnight, however, the pack suddenly has turned on its tail as fears about the global economy and a sudden slowdown in our own growth forced a rethink. The switch to a rate cut has turned into a stampede. Put aside all the complex formula. Forget the high-level macro-economic analysis. There’s a very simple reason the Reserve Bank couldn’t and can’t raise interest rates. There’s too much debt. Australian households are among the world’s most indebted when compared with their income.
And we’ve spent most of it on real estate. What these two graphs show is how the Reserve Bank, effectively, snookered itself. Back in 2012, when debt and housing prices already were elevated, it fired up the east coast housing market, and construction, to take up the employment slack as the mining boom unwound. But it created a monster. As housing went on a tear, the short-term sugar hit turned toxic. Employment took off. But housing became unaffordable to almost everyone under 35. And our household debt levels reached for the stars. The end result? It couldn’t cut rates if it needed. That would add heat to a dangerously inflated housing bubble. And it could never raise rates, because that would kill household spending.
Nomi Prins: “Number of times the word “bubble” appeared in the 60 Minutes interview with Fed. Chair Jerome Powell. Zero.”
A central bank can have benefits, but not when it only serves the rich. If we don’t get rid of Fed and ECB, there’ll be very steep prices to pay.
Note: there’s a video at the link, but it started itself so I threw it out.
A decade after Ben Bernanke appeared on “60 Minutes”, vowing that the Fed could easily crush inflation, as it could “raise interest rates in 15 minutes”, of course with the occasional “pause” along the way should the S&P dip by 20% or so, current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will follow in his footsteps on Sunday night, when surrounded by former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen, he will try to reach beyond the Fed’s traditional audience of markets, journalists and lawmakers to counter the attacks from President Trump, even after the Fed’s paused on raising interest rates, said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, quoted by MarketWatch.
“He wants to counter the president’s message that policy is all wrong,” Binder said. Binder said she was struck by the still photo of the “60 Minutes” interview that shows Powell alongside his two predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. “This puts a human face on the central bank. It says, ‘we’re the Fed and we’re here to help,’” Binder said. Bernanke also faced criticism when he went on “60 Minutes” in March 2009. The Fed was facing concerted attacks by lawmakers and populist “End the Fed” groups, who considering the record wealth divide in the US created by the central bank, were spot on.
I’m going with Xiang Songzuo: “..China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative..”
If China’s bad debts were written down, its economic growth rate would be half the recorded number, a US economist at a prominent Chinese university has warned. In a speech in Shanghai this week, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, warned that China’s debt is closely linked to the government’s perceived overstatement of its GDP. The government is accused of perpetuating the existence of “zombie companies”, by granting loss-making companies loans. Banks in turn treat these companies as creditworthy, whereas in reality they should be written off as bad debt, Pettis said. “If you believe there is bad debt that has not been sufficiently written down, you must believe that China’s GDP is overstated, relative to what it would be in any other country. That must be true,” Pettis said.
“If we are able to calculate GDP correctly, it would probably be half of the recorded number.” Pettis is not alone seeing troubles with China’s official growth number. In December, Xiang Songzuo, an outspoken professor from the Renmin University of China, who previously served as chief economist for Agricultural Bank of China, cited unidentified internal reports as saying that said China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative, a far cry from the official figures. Furthermore, a group of four economists published a paper this week arguing that China might have overstated its annual growth rate by 2 percentage points on average from 2008 to 2016. China’s official statistics agency said the country’s economic growth rate was 6.6 per cent in 2018.
The Chinese government said it would try to achieve an economic growth rate between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent in 2019, a moderate slowdown from previous years, but nevertheless a much faster rate compared with other major economies. Pettis is a renowned expert on China’s economy. For decades, he has been commenting on financial affairs in China and was among the early observers of the imbalances in the Chinese economy. He said in his speech on Wednesday that China’s growth will significantly decelerate as the country’s debt level rises.
Brookings is many years late.
Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its “official” GDP figures, playing “guess the real growth rate” has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US).
But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country’s GDP figures, while estimating that China’s economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.
Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it’s the latest evidence that China’s economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year – China’s worst since the early 1990s – might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as “a legacy of Maoist state planning”, authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. “China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level,” the study’s authors said.
Two staggering drunks lean on each other so they can make it to the bar and continue drinking.
Deutsche Bank has begun tentative merger talks with rival Commerzbank, which would create Europe’s second biggest bank behind HSBC and fend off unwanted potential bidders such as French giant BNP Paribas. Reports in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag suggest that the banks have come under political pressure to consider a merger and avert a foreign takeover of Commerzbank, much the smaller partner in any deal. Deutsche is regarded as a bank of global importance, but has been plagued by three years of losses, boardroom battles, money laundering issues and its role as the biggest lender to the Trump business empire.
Despite Germany’s industrial dominance in Europe, it has only one bank in the continent’s top 20, and Berlin is understood to be keen to create a larger national champion. The combination of the two banks mean that Deutsche, currently fifth biggest, and Commerzbank, currently 23rd, will become Europe’s second biggest bank and only marginally behind HSBC. Deutsche Bank’s chief executive Christian Sewing was seen to be the main opponent of a merger, but investor pressure – Deutsche’ shares are trading at around €7.68 compared with €32 five years ago – is understood to have forced his hand. The talks are believed to be at a very early stage – “unofficial contacts in a very small group” according to Welt am Sonntag – but are likely to be welcomed by major shareholders.
This is getting too stupid. But who’s going to investigate the DOJ and FBI?
Steele was cut off by the FBI for revealing his relationship with the Bureau to the media – but Ohr continued to pass information from Steele to his colleagues, regularly spoke to him via email and phone, and met up with him face-to-face on several occasions. Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele’s status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016.
“These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it’s clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view – for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his “sympathy and support”. “If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks,” Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could “certainly” give him an FBI contact “if it becomes necessary”.
On 6 March that year, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to then-FBI Director James Comey, seeking clarity on the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. The next day, Steele texted Ohr to say he was “very concerned” by the letter, and its “possible implications for our operations and sources…We need some reassurance…Really fundamental issues at stake here”. Days later, with Comey scheduled to testify before Congress, Steele told Ohr he was “a bit apprehensive” and hoped “important firewalls will hold”. On 24 March, Ohr and Steele discussed their “response” to the testimony, as he understood “an approach from the Senate Intelligence Committee” to Orbis was imminent.
On 26 October, Steele said he’s “very concerned” about documents the FBI intended to turn over to Congress about his work and “relationship with them”. “Can we have a word tomorrow please? Just seen a story in the media about the Bureau handing over docs to Congress…Peoples live may be engangered [sic],” he despaired.
Same as it ever was.
[..] on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces. [..] on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie.
The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie. [..] While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.
On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grayzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote: “I did not see any Venezuelan government forces set fire to US aid trucks on the Colombian side of the border. And neither did you. Actually, the evidence so far is pointing in the other direction.”
Is this going to have the neocons clamor for war today, before everyone understands it?
In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday. RAND’s wargames show how US Armed Forces – colored blue on wargame maps – experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can’t thwart Russia or China – which predictably is red – from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces. “We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he warned.
In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts. The simulated war games showed, the “red” aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. “In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with years of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”
So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.” “That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question,” said Breaking Defense.
Love Robert, but talking about shale is interesting only when you include industry debt.
Many people are unaware about California’s importance in the U.S. oil industry. In fact, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. California oil production rose throughout most of the 20th century, briefly eclipsing one million barrels per day in the early 1980s. Oil production began to decline there after peaking in 1985. The same pattern took place in many other states, and in fact was the case for the entire U.S., where oil production peaked in 1970, and then declined over the next 35 years. But the shale boom changed the trajectory of U.S. oil production.
Oil production that had fallen for decades reversed direction and began to surge about a decade ago. Almost every state with shale oil resources saw a similar surge in production. Since 2010, U.S. oil production has increased by 131%, with huge gains in oil production in the following states (among others): • North Dakota – up 634% • Colorado – up 508% • New Mexico – up 377% •Texas – up 330% • Oklahoma – up 238%. In fact, only three major oil-producing states have seen a decline in oil production since 2010: California, Louisiana, and Alaska. One of the graphics I created for my presentation shows the stark contrast between oil production in Texas and California as the shale boom unfolded.
During the 1980s and 1990s, oil production in Texas was declining faster than it was in California. Had that trajectory been maintained, Texas oil production may have fallen below California’s in about 2010. Instead, the shale boom has added nearly four million BPD of oil production in Texas. Millions of barrels were added in other states as well, and California began to slide down the ranks of leading oil producers. Just a few years ago California was still in 2nd place, but now it has slipped to 6th, behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska.
“.. And They’re Hot Happy About It”. Not the Onion, but Newsweek.
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly coming to an end, elderly and sick Americans are trying to hold on to their lives so they can read the highly-anticipated report that has been nearly two years in the making. World War II veteran Mitchell Tendler—a man who survived numerous historic milestones, including the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate and President BIll Clinton’s impeachment—fell sick on Dec. 29, at 93 years old, reported NPR. “I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well—he really can’t stand,'” Tendler’s son, Walter, recalled. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”
Tendler survived two implantable defibrillators throughout his life. But while on his third, he started to fade. After he was provided painkillers by doctors, Tendler voiced his final thoughts. “It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler told the news outlet, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.” Richard Armstrong, a 94-year-old currently in hospice care in New Jersey, related to Tendler’s sentiments. “I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way. I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Armstrong told NPR.
“I was hoping to live to see the outcome of what I think it should be—justice. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t.” After seeing Tendler’s words—shared on Twitter by Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—Kristina Makansi, who lives in Arizona, thought about her mother who passed away at the age of 94 in January. “When I saw that tweet about the Mueller report and the old man on his deathbed, I thought, Oh my gosh, that’s the kind of thing that my mother would say,” she said. “I think she really wanted to see that justice was done… and that the investigation was allowed to proceed without any shenanigans and obstruction.”