Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935

 


I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)
Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)
The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)
US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)
Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)
China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)
Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)
China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)
A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC
Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)
Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)
Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)
Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)
Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)
Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)
In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

 

 

So there.

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)

What’s going on in the US now is a culture clash. The people that live in the so-called “red counties” that voted for Trump—which is the vast majority of the geographical area of the US, flyover country—are aligned against the people that live in the blue counties, the coasts and big cities. They don’t just dislike each other and disagree on politics; they can no longer even have a conversation. They hate each other on a visceral gut level. They have totally different world views. It’s a culture clash. I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

There hasn’t been anything like this since the War Between the States, which shouldn’t be called “The Civil War,” because it wasn’t a civil war. A civil war is where two groups try to take over the same government. It was a war of secession, where one group simply tries to leave. We might have something like that again, hopefully nonviolent this time. I don’t think the US should any longer remain as one political entity. It should break up so that people with one cultural view can join that group and the others join other groups. National unity is an anachronism.

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Credibility.

Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)

The Trump Trade could start looking more like a Trump Tantrum if the new U.S. administration’s healthcare bill stalls in Congress, prompting worries on Wall Street about tax cuts and other measures aimed at promoting economic growth. Investors are dialing back hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump will swiftly enact his agenda, with a Thursday vote on a healthcare bill a litmus test which could give stock investors another reason to sell. “If the vote doesn’t pass, or is postponed, it will cast a lot of doubt on the Trump trades,” said the influential bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive at DoubleLine Capital. U.S. stocks rallied after the November presidential election, with the S&P 500 posting a string of record highs up to earlier this month, on bets that the pro-growth Trump agenda would be quickly pushed by a Republican Party with majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The S&P 500 ended slightly higher on Wednesday, the day before a floor vote on Trump’s healthcare proposal scheduled in the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, stocks had the biggest one-day drop since before Trump won the election, on concerns about opposition to the bill. Investors extrapolated that a stalling bill could mean uphill battles for other Trump proposals. Trump and Republican congressional leaders appeared to be losing the battle to get enough support to pass it. Any hint of further trouble for Trump’s agenda, especially his proposed tax cut, could precipitate a stock market correction, said Byron Wien, veteran investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners. “The fact that they are having trouble with (healthcare repeal) casts a shadow over the tax cut and the tax cut was supposed to be the principal fiscal stimulus for the improvement in real GDP,” Wien said. “Without that improvement in GDP, earnings aren’t going to be there and the market is vulnerable.”

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“This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral.”

The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)

In 1988, a bank called Guardian Savings and Loan made financial history by issuing the first ever “subprime” mortgage bond. The idea was revolutionary. The bank essentially took all the mortgages they had loaned to borrowers with bad credit, and pooled everything together into a giant bond that they could then sell to other banks and investors. The idea caught on, and pretty soon, everyone was doing it. As Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera describe in their excellent history of the financial crisis (All the Devils are Here), the first subprime bubble hit in the 1990s. Early subprime lenders like First Alliance Mortgage Company (FAMCO) had spent years making aggressive loans to people with bad credit, and eventually the consequences caught up with them. FAMCO declared bankruptcy in 2000, and many of its competitors went bust as well.

Wall Street claimed that it had learned its lesson, and the government gave them all a slap on the wrist. But it didn’t take very long for the madness to start again. By 2002, banks were already loaning money to high-risk borrowers. And by 2005, all conservative lending standards had been abandoned. Borrowers with pitiful credit and no job could borrow vast sums of money to buy a house without putting down a single penny. It was madness. By 2007, the total value of these subprime loans hit a whopping $1.3 trillion. Remember that number. And of course, we know what happened the next year: the entire financial system came crashing down. Duh. It turned out that making $1.3 trillion worth of idiotic loans wasn’t such a good idea. By 2009, 50% of those subprime mortgages were “underwater”, meaning that borrowers owed more money on the mortgage than the home was worth.

In fact, delinquency rates for ALL mortgages across the country peaked at 11.5% in 2010, which only extended the crisis. But hey, at least that’s never going to happen again. Except… I was looking at some data the other day in a slightly different market: student loans. Over the last decade or so, there’s been an absolute explosion in student loans, growing from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.31 trillion last year. So, the total value of student loans in America today is LARGER than the total value of subprime loans at the peak of the financial bubble. And just like the subprime mortgages, many student loans are in default. According to the Fed’s most recent Household Debt and Credit Report, the student loan default rate is 11.2%, almost the same as the peak mortgage default rate in 2010. This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral. Lenders make loans to students… but it’s not like the students have to pony up their iPhones as security.

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You have to wonder what exactly is keeping the US economy afloat.

US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)

Auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017, led by the vulnerable subprime sector, Fitch Ratings said in a report released Wednesday. “Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at the credit-ratings agency. Banks are starting to lose market share to captive auto finance companies and credit unions as they begin to tighten underwriting standards in response to deteriorating asset quality, Fitch said. According to the Federal Reserve’s January 2017 senior loan officer survey, 11.6% of respondents (net of those who eased) reported tightening standards, compared with the five-year average of 6.1%.

“This trend is consistent with comments made by several banks on earnings conference calls over the past couple of quarters,” Fitch said in the report. Fitch considers continued tightening by auto lenders as a credit-positive but it’s also paying attention to market nuances. The tightening, to date, primarily relates to pricing and loan-to-value (how much is still owed on the car compared to its resale value), but average loan terms continue to extend into the 72- to 84-month category. “The tightening of underwriting standards is likely a response to expected deterioration in used vehicle prices and the weaker credit performance experienced in the subprime segment,” added Taiano. Used-car price declines have accelerated more recently, which will likely pressure recovery values on defaulted loans and lease residuals, the analysts said.

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Might as well call off the theater.

Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)

The oil price has fallen back below the key $50 a barrel mark for the first time since November after surging US oil supplies dealt a blow to OPEC’s plan to erode the global oversupply of crude. The flagging oil price bounded above $50 a barrel late last year after a historic co-operation deal between OPEC and the world’s largest oil producers outside of the cartel to limit output for the first half of this year. The November deal was the first action taken by the group to limit supply for over eight years but since then the quicker than expected return of fracking rigs across the US has punctured the buoyant market sentiment of recent months. Brent crude prices peaked at $56 a barrel earlier this year and were still above $52 this week.

But by Wednesday the price fell to just above $50 a barrel and briefly broke below the important psychological level to $49.86 on Wednesday afternoon. Market analysts fear that a more sustained period below $50 could trigger a sell-off from hedge funds which would drive even greater losses in the market. The price plunge was sparked by the latest weekly US stockpile data which revealed a bigger than expected increase of 5 million barrels a day compared to a forecast rise of 1.8 million barrels. The flood of US shale emerged a day after Libya announced that would increase its output to take advantage of higher revenues from its oil exports. “The market is increasingly worried that the continued overhang of supply is not being brought down fast enough,” said Ole Hansen, a commodities analyst with SaxoBank.

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Beijing forced to save the shadows.

China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)

During the so-called Chinese Banking Liquidity Crisis of 2013, the relative cost of funds for non-bank institutions spiked to 100bps. So, the fact that the ‘shadow banking’ liquidity premium has exploded to almost 250 points – by far a record – in the last few days should indicate just how stressed Chinese money markets are. While interbank borrowing rates have climbed across the board, the surge has been unusually steep for non-bank institutions, including securities companies and investment firms. They’re now paying what amounts to a record premium for short-term funds relative to large Chinese banks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The premium is reflected in the gap between China’s seven-day repurchase rate fixing and the weighted average rate, which, by Bloomberg notes, widened to as much as 2.47 percentage points on Wednesday after some small lenders were said to miss payments in the interbank market. Non-bank borrowers tend to have a greater influence on the fixing, while large banks have more sway over the weighted average. “It’s more expensive and difficult for non-bank financial institutions to get funding in the market,” said Becky Liu at Standard Chartered. “Bigger lenders who have access to regulatory funding are not lending much of the money out.” Without access to deposits or central bank liquidity facilities, many of China’s non-bank institutions must rely on volatile money markets. As Bloomberg points out, The People’s Bank of China has been guiding those rates higher in recent months to encourage a reduction of leverage, while also stepping in at times to prevent a liquidity crunch.

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State owned zombies.

Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)

China needs to take on its state-owned “zombie companies,” which keep borrowing even though they aren’t earning enough to repay loans or interest, says Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That’s where the real problem is,” Lardy said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “It’s a component of the run-up in debt that they really have to focus on.” While flagging this concern, Lardy, a senior fellow at Peterson in Washington and author of “Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China,” said anxiety over China’s debt growth is overstated. Household deposits will continue to underpin the banking and financial system, which means the situation with zombie firms is unlikely to reach a critical point.

Household savings are “very sticky, they’re not going anywhere, and the central bank can come in to the rescue if there are problems,” he said. Chinese corporate profits will probably continue to recover this year and after-tax earnings needed to service the debt load is improving, Lardy said. Another positive sign is a slowdown in the buildup of debt outstanding to non-financial companies. The combination of that slackening and companies’ increasing earning power “is improving the overall situation,” he said. When it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s negative rhetoric on China, the country’s leaders deserve “very high marks so far” for their cool reaction. “They’ve been waiting to see what Mr. Trump is actually going to do as opposed to what he’s talked about, so they haven’t overreacted,” he said. “They’ve made very careful preparations for the worst case if Trump does move in a very strong protectionist direction.”

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Zombies and junk.

China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)

China’s riskiest corporate borrowers are raising an unprecedented amount of debt overseas, leaving global investors to shoulder more credit risks after onshore defaults quadrupled in 2016. Junk-rated firms, most of which are property developers, have sold $6.1 billion of dollar bonds since Dec. 31, a record quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In contrast, such borrowers have slashed fundraising at home as the central bank pushes up borrowing costs and regulators curb real estate financing. Onshore yuan note offerings by companies with local ratings of AA, considered junk in China, fell this quarter to the least since 2011 at 31.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion). Global investors desperate for yield have lapped up offerings from China. Rates on dollar junk notes from the nation have dropped 81 basis points this year to 6.11%, near a record low, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index.

Some investors have warned of froth. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said last month that it sees little value in the country’s high-yield property bonds. Hedge fund Double Haven Capital (Hong Kong) has said it is betting against Chinese junk securities. “Today’s market valuations are tight and investors are focusing on yields without taking into account credit risks,” said Raja Mukherji at PIMCO. “That’s where I see a lot of risk, where investors are not differentiating on credit quality on a risk-adjusted basis.” Lower-rated issuers turning to dollar debt after scrapping financing at home include Shandong Yuhuang Chemical on China’s east coast. The chemical firm canceled a 500 million yuan local bond sale in January citing “insufficient demand.” It then issued $300 million of three-year bonds at 6.625% this week. Some developers have grown desperate for cash as regulators tighten housing curbs and restrict their domestic fundraising. That’s raising concern among international investors in China’s real estate sector who have been burned before.

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Priceless humor: “Congress has already raised the alarm.” After three decades, that is.

A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC

A few hours after the New York market close on Feb. 1, an obscure Chicago artist by the name of Antonio Lee told the world he had become the world’s richest man. The 32-year-old painter said Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., had bought his art company in exchange for a chunk of stock that made him wealthier than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – combined. Of course, none of it was true. Yet, on that day, Lee managed to issue his fabricated report in the most authoritative of places: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database – the foundation of hundreds of billions of dollars in financial transactions each day. For more than three decades, the SEC has accepted online submissions of regulatory filings – basically, no questions asked.

As many as 800,000 forms are filed each year, or about 3,000 per weekday. But, in a little known vulnerability at the heart of American capitalism, the government doesn’t vet them, and rarely even takes down those known to be shams. “The SEC can’t stop them,” said Lawrence West, a former SEC associate enforcement director. “They can only punish the filer afterward and remove the filing from the system. So, caveat lector – let the reader beware.” Congress has already raised the alarm. For its part, the SEC, which declined to comment, has said those who make filings are responsible for their truthfulness and that only a handful have been reported as bogus. Submitting false information exposes the culprit to SEC civil-fraud charges, or even federal criminal prosecution.

On May 14, 2015, Nedko Nedev, a dual citizen of the United States and Bulgaria, filed an SEC form indicating he was making a tender offer – an outright purchase – for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s shares jumped 20% before trading was halted, and the company denied the news. (A federal grand jury later indicted Nedev on market manipulation and other charges.) After the fraudulent Avon filing, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican and former chairman of the Finance Committee, told the SEC it must review its posting standards. “This pattern of fraudulent conduct is troubling, especially in light of the relative ease in which a fake posting can be made,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the agency. In response, Mary Jo White, who then chaired the SEC, said it wouldn’t be feasible to check information. She noted that there were on average 125 first-time filers daily in 2014, and the agency was studying whether its authentication process could be strengthened without delaying disclosure of key information to investors.

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Only a major reset will do.

Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)

Since the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, institutional economists began each subsequent year outlining their well-paid view of how things will transpire over the course of the coming 12-months. Like a broken record, they have continually over-estimated expectations for growth, inflation, consumer spending and capital expenditures. Their optimistic biases were based on the eventual success of the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) plan to restart the economy by encouraging the assumption of more debt by consumers and corporations alike. But in 2017, something important changed. For the first time since the financial crisis, there will be a new administration in power directing public policy, and the new regime could not be more different from the one that just departed. This is important because of the ubiquitous influence of politics.

The anxiety and uncertainties of those first few years following the worst recession since the Great Depression gradually gave way to an uncomfortable stability. The anxieties of losing jobs and homes subsided but yielded to the frustration of always remaining a step or two behind prosperity. While job prospects slowly improved, wages did not. Business did not boom as is normally the case within a few quarters of a recovery, and the cost of education and health care stole what little ground most Americans thought they were making. Politics was at work in ways with which many were pleased, but many more were not. If that were not the case, then Donald Trump probably would not be the 45th President of the United States. Within hours of Donald Trump’s victory, U.S. markets began to anticipate, for the first time since the financial crisis, an escape hatch out of financial repression and regulatory oppression.

As shown below, an element of economic and financial optimism that had been missing since at least 2008 began to re-emerge. What the Fed struggled to manufacture in eight years of extraordinary monetary policy actions, the election of Donald Trump accomplished quite literally overnight. Expectations for a dramatic change in public policy under a new administration radically improved sentiment. Whether or not these changes are durable will depend upon the economy’s ability to match expectations.

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I find the Trump bashing parade very tiresome, but Matt’s funny.

Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)

There is no other story in the world, no other show to watch. The first and most notable consequence of Trump’s administration is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him. The numbers bear out that we are living through a severely amplified déjà vu of last year’s media-Trump codependent lunacies. TV-news viewership traditionally plummets after a presidential election, but under Trump, it’s soaring. Ratings since November for the major cable news networks are up an astonishing 50% in some cases, with CNN expecting to improve on its record 2016 to make a billion dollars – that’s billion with a “b” – in profits this year.

Even the long-suffering newspaper business is crawling off its deathbed, with The New York Times adding 132,000 subscribers in the first 18 days after the election. If Trump really hates the press, being the first person in decades to reverse the industry’s seemingly inexorable financial decline sure is a funny way of showing it. On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared. But does he? During the election, Trump exploded every idea we ever had about how politics is supposed to work. The easiest marks in his con-artist conquest of the system were the people who kept trying to measure him according to conventional standards of candidate behavior.

You remember the Beltway priests who said no one could ever win the White House by insulting women, the disabled, veterans, Hispanics, “the blacks,” by using a Charlie Chan voice to talk about Asians, etc. Now he’s in office and we’re again facing the trap of conventional assumptions. Surely Trump wants to rule? It couldn’t be that the presidency is just a puppy Trump never intended to care for, could it? Toward the end of his CPAC speech, following a fusillade of anti-media tirades that will dominate the headlines for days, Trump, in an offhand voice, casually mentions what a chore the presidency can be. “I still don’t have my Cabinet approved,” he sighs. In truth, Trump does have much of his team approved. In the early days of his administration, while his Democratic opposition was still reeling from November’s defeat, Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen.

En route to taking this crucial first beachhead in his invasion of the capital, Trump did what he always does: stoked chaos, created hurricanes of misdirection, ignored rules and dared the system of checks and balances to stop him. By conventional standards, the system held up fairly well. But this is not a conventional president. He was a new kind of candidate and now is a new kind of leader: one who stumbles like a drunk up Capitol Hill, but manages even in defeat to continually pull the country in his direction, transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time.

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Tourism is a very big source of income for Turkey. Erdogan’s killing it off with a vengeance.

Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe. Turkey has been embroiled in a dispute with Germany and the Netherlands over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that could boost Erdogan’s powers. Ankara has accused its European allies of using “Nazi methods” by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns. The comments have led to a sharp deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Turkey still aspires to join.

“Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” Erdogan said at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara, in comments broadcast live on national television. “If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” he said. Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president on Wednesday to warn Erdogan that he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years, and that he risked damaging diplomatic ties. “The way we look (at Turkey) is characterized by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role. He called for an end to the “unspeakable Nazi comparisons.”

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Can’t let a little crisis get in the way of your champagne and caviar.

Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)

As leaders celebrate the European Union’s 60th birthday in Rome this weekend, the host nation may be hoping that a pomp-filled ceremony distracts from any probing questions. Overshadowed by the sting of Brexit and elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Italy’s lingering problems have left it as the weak link among Europe’s powerhouse economies. It’s stumbling through a stop-start slow recovery from a record-long recession, unemployment is twice that of Germany’s, and voters, weary of EU institutions, are flirting with the same kind of populism grabbing attention elsewhere. The gathering on Saturday on the city’s Capitol hill is to celebrate the Treaty of Rome, the bedrock agreement signed on March 25, 1957 for what is now the EU.

From its beginnings as the European Economic Community – with Italy among the six founding members – it has since grown to a union of 28 nations stretching 4,000 kilometers from Ireland in the northwest to Cyprus in the southeast. The U.K. is heading toward a lengthy exit from the EU known as Brexit, raising questions among the remaining 27 about the bloc’s long-term future. “Italy was until very recently at the forefront of the European integration process,” Luigi Zingales, professor of finance at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in an interview. “Today it’s undoubtedly Europe’s weakest link.” The economy grew just 0.9% last year, below the euro area’s 1.7%, and unemployment is at 11.9%. A recent EU poll put Italy as the monetary union’s second-most euro-skeptic state after Cyprus with only 41% saying the single currency is “a good thing.” The average in the 19-member euro area is 56%.

That widespread disenchantment may be felt at elections due in about one year. A poll published on Tuesday by Corriere della Sera put support for the Five Star Movement, which calls for a referendum to ditch the euro, at a record 32.3%, well ahead of the ruling Democratic Party. Summit host Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has only been in power since December, when Matteo Renzi resigned after losing a constitutional reform referendum. For Zingales, Italy has problems that European policy makers “would rather not talk about now as they don’t want to scare people.” That’s because across the bloc, politicians are still fighting voter resentment over the loss of wealth since the financial crisis, bitterness about bailouts and anger over a perceived increase in inequality. “Sixty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the risk of political paralysis in Europe has never been greater,” Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told a conference in Rome this month.

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The EU can celebrate only because it’s murdering one of its members. Greece needs stimulus but gets the opposite.

Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)

The year has started with some alarm bells regarding the course of consumer spending, generating concern not only about the impact on the supermarket sector and industry, but also on the economy in general. In the first week of March the year-on-year drop in supermarket turnover amounted to 15%, while in January the decline had come to 10%. Shrinking consumption is a sure sign that the economic contraction will be extended into another year, given its important role in the economy. The new indirect taxes on a number of commodities, the increased social security contributions, the persistently high unemployment and the ongoing uncertainty over the bailout review talks have hurt consumer confidence and eroded disposable incomes.

In this context, it will be exceptionally difficult to achieve the fiscal targets, especially if the uncertainty goes on or is ended with the imposition of additional austerity measures that would only see incomes shrink further. According to projections by IRI market researchers, supermarket sales in 2017 are expected to decline 3.6% from last year, with the worst-case scenario pointing to a 4.4% drop. Supermarket sales turnover dropped at the steepest rate seen in the crisis years in 2016, down 6.5%, after falling 2.1% in 2015, 1.4% in 2014, 3.5% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012.

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“For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever.”

Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)

Greece has had nine different governments since 2009. At least thirteen austerity measures. Multiple bailouts. Severe capital controls. And a full-out debt restructuring in which creditors accepted a 50% loss. Yet despite all these measures GREECE IS STILL IN A DEBT CRISIS. Right now, in fact, Greece is careening towards another major chapter in its never-ending debt drama. Just like the United States, the Greek government is set to run out of money (yet again) in a few months and is in need of a fresh bailout from the IMF and EU. (The EU is code for “Germany”…) Without another bailout, Greece will go bust in July– this is basic arithmetic, not some wild theory. And this matters. If Greece defaults, everyone dumb enough to have loaned them money will take a BIG hit. This includes a multitude of banks across Germany, Austria, France, and the rest of Europe.

Many of those banks already have extremely low levels of capital and simply cannot afford a major loss. (Last year, for example, the IMF specifically singled out Germany’s Deutsche Bank as being the top contributor to systemic risk in the global financial system.) So a Greek default poses as major risk to a number of those banks. More importantly, due to the interconnectedness of the financial system, a Greek default poses a major risk to anyone with exposure to those banks. Think about it like this: if Greece defaults and Bank A goes down, then Bank A will no longer be able to meet its obligations to Bank B. Bank B will suffer a loss as well. A single event can set off a chain reaction, what’s called ‘contagion’ in finance. And it’s possible that Greece could be that event. This is what European officials have been so desperate to prevent for the last nine years, and why they’ve always come to the rescue with a bailout.

It has nothing to do with community or generosity. They’re hopelessly trying to prevent another 2008-style meltdown of the financial system. But their measures have limits. How much longer do Greek citizens accept being vassals of Germany, suffering through debilitating capital controls and austerity measures? How much longer do German taxpayers continue forking over their hard-earned wages to bail out Greek retirees? After all, they’ve spent nine years trying to ‘fix’ Greece, and the situation has only become worse. For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever. And whether it’s this July or some date in the future, Greece could end up being the catalyst which sets off a chain reaction on both sides of the Atlantic.

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It’s time for lawyers to step in.

In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

EU leaders are celebrating a year since they carved out the agreement with Turkey that stemmed the flood of refugees seeking to escape war and strife on Europe’s doorstep. But the importance of the agreement goes far beyond the fact that it has contributed to deterring refugees from coming to Greece. At the Norwegian Refugee Council, we fear that the system Europe is putting in place in Greece is slowly stripping people of their right to seek international protection. Greece took the positive step to enshrine in law some key checks and balances to protect the vulnerable – a victim of torture, a disabled person, an unaccompanied child – so they could have their asylum case heard on the Greek mainland rather than remaining on the islands.

But a European Commission action plan is putting Greece under pressure to change safeguards enshrined in Greek law. NRC, along with other human rights and humanitarian organizations, wrote an open letter to the Greek Parliament this month urging lawmakers to keep that protection for those most in need. Importantly, this is just another quiet example of how what is happening in Greece is setting precedents that may irrevocably change the 1951 Refugee Convention. Europe is testing things out in Greece. [..] It was Europe and its postwar crisis that led to the 1951 convention that protects those displaced by war. Now that convention risks expiring on the doorstep of the same continent that gave birth to it – Europe is in danger of becoming, as NRC’s Secretary-General Jan Egeland has said, the convention’s “burial agent.”

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Mar 202017
 
 March 20, 2017  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Janine Niepce Paris ca. 1950

 


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Spy Comments Proof Germany Supports Group Behind Attempted Coup: Erdogan (R.)
Erdogan Accused Merkel Of Using Nazi Methods (DW)
Dijsselbloem Calls For ESM To Be Turned Into A European IMF (R.)
Defeat in Victory (Jacobin)
Greece Edges Toward Another Bailout Crisis (BBG)
How Millions In Refugee Funds Were Wasted In Greece (K.)
Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’ (AFP)
3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Libya On Sunday (AFP)

 

 

Great example of why there is a housing bubble everywhere, from a guest writer at Wolfstreet. The second graph is priceless. “The very premise of Swedish society is under attack..”

The Central Bank Shell Game (WS)

Sweden’s welfare state supposedly allows for success while providing a safety net for those unable to keep up with the market. In principle, it is an ideal, utopian-like state. However, Sweden’s touted economic success has come at the expense of its currency, the Krone (SEK), and long-term sustainability. Riksbank, the Swedish Central Bank, like its European contemporaries, has undertaken experimental policy, driving real and nominal interest rates below zero. Since 2014, Swedish deposit rates have been negative. Not only has overall negative real interest rate policy affected housing, but it also drove Swedish consumers deeper into debt. Embarking on the dual mandate policy may have staved off recession, but it created greater problems for the future.

Although current deposit rates are at a record low of -1.25%, the latest GDP print came in at 2.3%, and the growth rate has been tapering since 2015. Sweden’s “hot” GDP growth – hot relative to the region – could be attributed, not to industrial growth, but rather increased government spending, funding social programs. Additionally, with no incentive to save, consumer debt has taken off, along with the housing prices, while disposable income lagged. Swedish household debt is now at a record high. Hence, the Swedish growth story is not organic but rather a borrow-and-spend one.

Swedes, like Norwegians, are victims of the “exchange rate versus housing price shell game.” The SEK received today for the sale of their inflated flats has fallen 30% against the US dollar (average USDSEK in 2014 was 6.86 vs. 8.95 on March 15, 2017). Stockholm housing rose 31% during the same period in SEK terms, negating the recent gains over the same period. The SEK fell 23% against gold in the same period. Hence, the “Swedish Model” is under attack. The egalitarian underpinnings, unwinding with the negative rates, are driving a wedge into Swedish society, creating extremes on both sides of the economic spectrum. The rampant consumerism, encouraged by artificially low rates, continues to widen the wealth gap. Coincidentally, the middle class deteriorated the most between 2014 and 2015: the same time that deposit rates took a dive. Furthermore, the negative savings rates are driving the average person to “gamble” on speculative investments instead of saving and building a future over the long term.

[..] instead of undertaking experimental rate policy, Riksbank and the Swedish government should be engineering a soft-landing or a “controlled crash”, adjusting taxes and policy to ensuring a smooth transition to sustainability for the general population. There is precedent from Iceland that already exists. It is clear that the negative rate experiment is neither sustainable nor helpful to economic growth. It only inflates bubbles while widening the wealth gap in Swedish society. A once prudent and financially conservative people are now getting drunk on debt, wrecking their future. The very premise of Swedish society is under attack.

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Everybody does it. When people start borrowing less from banks for housing, economies will collapse. Superannuation is sort of like Australia’s 401(K).

Using Superannuation For Deposit ‘Irresponsible’ – Keating (Nine)

Former prime minister Paul Keating has labelled as “scandalous” the Turnbull government’s suggestion it might allow young people to raid their superannuation for house deposits. Ahead of the May budget, Mr Keating argues the idea would rob younger Australians of a large block of savings at the end of their working lives. “As an economic idea, this is scandalous. But, of course, for the Liberal Party, this is an ideological proposal,” he writes in Fairfax Media today. Mr Keating, who spearheaded Australia’s superannuation sector in 1992, said if the government were to proceed with this “irresponsible” idea it would put at risk the financial future of generations.

“It would potentially destroy superannuation for those, in the main, under 40 years of age, while at the same time, driving up the cost of the housing they are seeking to purchase,” he said. The federal government earlier this month set up a taskforce to look at new ways to promote millions of dollars of investment in community housing that could benefit one in three Australians. The taskforce will be headed up by Stephen Knight, who has had extensive experience in debt capital markets as CEO of the Treasury Corporation in NSW and as a member of the Australian Office of Financial Management advisory board. The group will report back to the government by the middle of the year. Treasurer Scott Morrison said housing affordability issues were impacting on the 30% of Australians who live in rented homes, and those who relied on affordable and social housing.

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China is caught in the same bind as Sweden, Australia, and just about the entire western world. Without ever more mortgage lending, banking systems are gone.

Chinese Home Prices “Unexpectedly” Rebound (ZH)

“The government intends to pause the surging home prices, and let them walk steadily up later,” said Xia Dan, a Shanghai-based analyst at Bank of Communications Co., adding that if curbs on demand are lifted, prices will rise further. “The government doesn’t want the prices to run all the time and ferment bubbles.” As Bloomberg notes, China’s biggest cities have seen a round of home price surges in the past year. In Beijing, new home prices rose 24% in February from a year earlier, while Shanghai saw a 25% gain. Shenzhen prices increased 14% in the same period. “Beijing’s tightening will have a short-term effect to stabilize the market, but the power of policy has become increasingly weaker,” Zhang Hongwei at Tospur Real Estate Consulting, said Friday, adding more local tightening may follow.

Or maybe not, because one may ask: is the rebound really unexpected. Perhaps not: as the WSJ reported on Sunday, “this year it seemed China was finally going to make headway on an idea familiar to U.S. homeowners: a property tax. For many Chinese families, owning a home is one of few options to build wealth, driving buying frenzies as people rush to purchase before prices soar. Imposing costs on homeowners through a property tax is seen as a way to tame such speculation, while also helping fund local governments. Lu Kehua, China’s vice housing minister, last month said the government needed to “speed up” a property-tax law. Economists and academics have long recommended the move. Yet the annual National People’s Congress came and went this month with no discussion of the topic. An NPC spokeswoman said a property tax wouldn’t be on the legislative agenda for the rest of the year.

In short, China evaluted the risk of a potential housing bubble burst, and deciding that – at least for the time being – it is not worth the threat of losing a third of Chinese GDP in “wealth effect”, got cold feet. Expect the recent dip in home prices to promptly stabilize, with gains in the short-term more likely that not.

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Long predicted. Financial warfare.

The Fed’s Global Dollar Problem (BBG)

The Federal Reserve might be doing the right thing for the U.S. economy by moving to bring interest rates back up to normal. But for foreign companies and governments that have borrowed trillions of U.S. dollars, the adjustment could be painful. Thanks in large part to a prolonged period of extremely low U.S. interest rates, borrowers around the world have gone on a dollar binge over much of the past decade – making them more vulnerable to the Fed’s policy decisions than ever before. As of September, non-bank companies and governments outside the U.S. had some $10.5 trillion in dollar-denominated debt outstanding, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s more than triple the level of September 2004, the last time the Fed was about this far into a cycle of rate increases. Here’s a chart:

If the Fed sticks with its plan of raising rates more than a percentage point by the end of next year, the increased interest costs could stunt growth and weigh on borrowers’ finances in places as far flung as the U.K. and China. It could also mean losses for investors holding the debt, particularly given that the duration of dollar-denominated bonds – a measure of their price sensitivity to changes in interest rates – is close to its highest point in at least two decades. An increase of 1 percentage point, for example, would take $500 billion off the value of the bonds included in the Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. Dollar Global Corporate and High Yield Index. Here’s a chart showing how that number has changed over the years (thanks to a combination of increased dollar debt and increased duration):

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Next up: falling demand.

Oil Drops On Rising Us Drilling, Failing OPEC Cuts (R.)

Oil prices fell on Monday, with already-bloated markets pressured by rising U.S. drilling activity and steady supplies from OPEC countries despite touted production cuts. Prices for benchmark Brent crude futures were 35 cents, or 0.68%, below their last settlement at 0646 GMT, at $51.41 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 46 cents, or 0.94%, at $48.32 a barrel. Traders said that prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies by OPEC despite its pledge to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) together with some other producers like Russia.

“There is good, strong momentum to the downside,” futures brokerage CMC Markets said in a note on Monday. U.S. drillers added 14 oil rigs in the week to March 17, bringing the total count up to 631, the most since September 2015, energy services firm Baker Hughes Inc said on Friday, extending a recovery that is expected to boost shale production by the most in six-months in April. Sukrit Vijayakar of energy consultancy Trifecta said the rising drilling activity was “reinforcing the expectation of higher U.S. production offsetting (OPEC’s) supply cuts”. U.S. oil output has risen to over 9.1 million bpd from below 8.5 million bpd in June last year.

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“..for the likes of Rudd, “Never forget” means “Don’t forget for two weeks” or, if politically expedient, “Don’t forget for three days”.

“The reason they can never answer the question, ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is, ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”

Smile For The Auschwitz Selfie: Why Holocaust Memorials Have Failed (NS)

It is time to say that attempts to memorialise the Holocaust have failed and may even be counterproductive. The dead are still dead; anti-Semitism still exists and sometimes thrives. Myths of Jewish power circulate, now with the added insult of “playing the Holocaust card (that you presumably picked up at a Holocaust memorial gift shop)”. A clutch of these memorials, all counselling kindness to the refugee, could not save Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. In January the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, posted a picture of herself signing a Holocaust remembrance book on Twitter. “We must never forget,” she wrote. It reminded me of my favourite line from the 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters: “The reason they can never answer the question, ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is, ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’”

Two weeks later, Rudd announced that the “Dubs amendment” – which aimed to offer sanctuary to solitary child refugees and was sponsored by Lord Dubs, who came to the UK from Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport in March 1939 – would be discontinued after resettling just 350 children. (Even the Cameron government, no friend to the vulnerable, suggested that it could take about 3,000.) I do not expect Rudd to know that, in response to the Évian Conference on Jewish refugees, held in France in 1938, Adolf Hitler offered German Jews to the world but the world did not want them. Britain took 10,000 children, sponsored privately, and left their parents to die. After 1945, Britain agreed to take another 1,000 Jewish children but it could not find 1,000 still alive. It took 732. I now see that, for the likes of Rudd, “Never forget” means “Don’t forget for two weeks” or, if politically expedient, “Don’t forget for three days”.

But if that’s what you think, you never knew anything to forget. Rudd couldn’t see the connection between the British government of 1938 leaving children to die in far-off lands and the British government of 2016 doing the same. Her signing of a Holocaust remembrance book was so meaningless that it was, at best, hand exercise and, at worst, a cynical PR gesture. This act of Holocaust memorialising was a failure. I hope that Rudd is prevented from approaching any Holocaust-related stationery in future. But that won’t happen. The orthodoxy in these circles is: let them all come to bear witness, no matter what they do with it. Some of them might learn something. This policy led to a friend hearing a young Polish boy, touring Auschwitz, describe a fellow visitor as “a rich Jewish bitch in all that jewellery”. The boy had learned nothing, but the man had. He punched him in the face, and that is the only cheerful anecdote in this article.

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Maybe Germany and the US should make this very clear: “..the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency, who said the Turkish government had failed to convince it that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup attempt.”

Spy Comments Proof Germany Supports Group Behind Attempted Coup: Erdogan (R.)

Doubts expressed by Germany’s spy agency regarding the role of a U.S.-based cleric in last year’s attempted coup in Turkey are proof that Berlin supports the organization behind the attempt, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Sunday. Ibrahim Kalin made the comment in a live interview with broadcaster CNN Turk. On Saturday, German news magazine Der Spiegel published an interview with the head of the BND foreign intelligence agency, who said the Turkish government had failed to convince it that Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup attempt. “Turkey has tried to convince us of that at every level but so far it has not succeeded,” Bruno Kahl was quoted as saying. Kalin said those comments were proof that Berlin supported the coup. Germany and Turkey have been locked in a deepening diplomatic row after Berlin banned some Turkish ministers from speaking to rallies of expatriate Turks ahead of a referendum next month, citing public safety concerns.

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Erdogan needs an enemy to ‘protect’ his people from, or he won’t win the referendum.

Erdogan Accused Merkel Of Using Nazi Methods (DW)

Ankara launched a new wave of anti-German rhetoric on Sunday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling out the German chancellor in a televised speech. “When we call them Nazis, they (Europe) get uncomfortable. They rally together in solidarity. Especially Merkel,” Erdogan said. “But you are right now employing Nazi measures,” he said, addressing Merkel directly and using the unofficial, personal way of saying “you” in Turkish. Erdogan has previously accused both the Netherlands and Germany of acting like Nazis after the two countries prevented Turkish ministers from holding campaign rallies on their territory. In his Sunday speech, Erdogan accused Merkel personally of using Nazi methods against his “Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers.”

The row with Europe “showed that a new page had been opened in the ongoing fight against our country,” he added. Berlin was decidedly not amused, saying that the Turkish president had “gone too far.” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Passauer Neue Presse that he warned Ankara against continuing this “shocking” rhetoric. “We are tolerant but we’re not stupid,” Gabriel said. “That’s why I have let my Turkish counterpart know very clearly that a boundary has been crossed here.” Ankara also responded furiously to a Kurdish rally in Frankfurt yesterday, where participants carried flags and symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and called for a ‘no’ on the upcoming referendum. The Turkish government said the rally showed Berlin’s hypocrisy after halting similar events for the ‘yes’ camp. They also summoned the German ambassador over the incident.

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Someone should shut up Dijsselbloem. When you lose as big as he did in last week’s elections, you need to pipe down, disappear.

Dijsselbloem Calls For ESM To Be Turned Into A European IMF (R.)

The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the euro zone’s bailout fund – should ultimately be turned into a European version of the International Monetary Fund, the head of euro zone finance ministers told a German newspaper. “I think it would make a lot of sense for the euro zone bailout fund ESM to be developed into a European IMF in the medium to long term,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem told Monday’s edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He said that would also mean that Greece’s current “troika” of lenders – the European Commission, ECB and the IMF – would need to be broken up in the longer term. “The ECB feels increasingly uncomfortable in its troika role, and rightly so I think,” Dijsselbloem said, adding that the European Commission had other “important tasks” that it should concentrate on.He said the ESM should “build up the technical expertise that only the IMF has at the moment”.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has also proposed turning the ESM into a European monetary fund to improve the management of crises in Europe. Dijsselbloem said the institutions should maintain their roles for Greece’s current bailout and said he still expected the IMF to decide on a new programme, adding that it would be “most welcome” if this happened by the summer. Germany, which holds elections in September, wants the IMF on board before new money is lent to Athens. But it disagrees with the IMF over debt relief and the fiscal targets that Greece should maintain after the bailout programme ends in 2018. Dijsselbloem said he did not expect the current review of Greece’s bailout programme to be concluded quickly, adding that he did not think the institutions will complete it before a Eurogroup meeting in Malta in April.

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From a Jacobin article on the Dutch elections. Yeah, as I said last week, they’re trying to find ways to allow Dijsselbloem to ‘finish the job’ of finishing off Greece.

Defeat in Victory (Jacobin)

Under the current government, the PvdA’s rightward shift took on a whole new meaning. The party gained significant ground during the 2012 elections by arguing that a vote for Labour was the only way to avoid a VVD-led austerity government. Immediately after the elections, the party turned around and started negotiating the formation of a coalition with those very opponents. This government launched a massive austerity program, entailing almost fifty billion euros in cutbacks. PvdA ministers prided themselves on taking some of the most difficult posts, including social affairs and employment (PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher) and finance (Jeroen Dijsselbloem).

A PvdA minister of the interior loyally executed the VVD’s anti-refugee policies. And Dijsselbloem not only enthusiastically applied the European Union’s fiscal stringency to the Netherlands but, as chairman of the Eurogroup, became its main enforcer against the Syriza government. Nothing could more fully demonstrate the PvdA’s neoliberal drift than the fact that Alexander Pechtold, leader of the liberal-democratic party Democrats 66 (D66), repeatedly suggested Dijsselbloem could continue to represent the Netherlands in Brussels “so that he can finish the job.” [..] The same anger and anxieties that created violent shocks to the political system — of which the PvdA’s collapse is only the latest example — also continue to drive large numbers to vote for allegedly safe parties that they wrongly believe will at least not make things worse.

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Greece spends more on pensions because it is the only fallback the economy has, they play the role that in other countries is played by unemployment benefits. The Troika knows this very well. It’s hard not to conclude that the lenders are trying to create a civil war in Greece.

Greece Edges Toward Another Bailout Crisis (BBG)

Greece is set to miss yet another deadline for unlocking bailout funds this week, edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted state to the edge of economic collapse. Euro-area finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will reiterate that the government of Alexis Tsipras has yet to comply with the terms attached to the emergency loans that have kept the country afloat since 2010. While Tsipras had promised the long delayed review of the latest bailout would be completed by March 20, a European official said last week that reaching an agreement even in April is now considered a long shot. The two sides are still far apart on reforms demanded by creditors in the Greek energy market and the government in Athens is resisting calls for additional pension cuts. And while discussions continue on how to overhaul the labor market, a finance ministry official said in an email to reporters on Friday that the issue can’t be solved in talks with technocrats.

Stalled bailout reviews and acrimony between successive governments and auditors representing creditor institutions are all too familiar themes in the seven-year crisis that has reduced the Greek economy by a quarter. Failure to resolve the latest standoff before the summer could mean that Greece may not be able to meet debt payments due in mid-July. Even as Greek bonds have performed better than most of its euro-area peers this year on expectations that the government will capitulate, uncertainty has weighed on economic activity, raising the risk that an additional bailout may be needed. Unemployment rose in the last quarter of 2016, the economy unexpectedly contracted, and a bleeding of deposits from the nation’s battered lenders resumed.

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Daniel Howden is a senior editor at Refugees Deeply. Good piece, but very incomplete. I’ll get back to that.

How Millions In Refugee Funds Were Wasted In Greece (K.)

For a story of waste and suffering, it’s notable that some of the worst decisions in response to the refugee crisis in Greece were born of good intentions. An archipelago of some 50 small refugee camps was scattered over Greece in preference to concentrating asylum seekers in larger ghettos. As an idea it had merits. In practice it was disastrous. Authorities still struggle to say how many camps there are. The Ministry of Migration Policy lists 39 but the UN says there may be more than 50. Many of these sites, which are in various states of closure, were clearly unfit for human habitation in the first place. The choice to build so many of them multiplied infrastructure costs for things like sewage systems built on private property or remote sites that will serve no public purpose in the future. Meanwhile, the Public Power Corporation is building substations at sites that will likely face closure.

The European Commission and its humanitarian operations agency ECHO are expected to cease support for all but 10 of Greece’s mainland camps in the near future. As the main donor, this will be decisive. There is similar confusion over how many asylum seekers remain in Greece from the 1.03 million who entered in 2015-16. Again the ministry and the UN disagree, with the former saying 62,000 and the latter nearer 50,000. European officials say privately that both numbers are overestimates. This shroud of confusion has contributed to a mess that will be remembered as the most expensive humanitarian response in history. Some $803 million flowed into Greece from the beginning of 2015, according to an investigation by Refugees Deeply, an independent reporting platform. The bulk of these funds were meant to be spent on services for the 57,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece when the borders shut one year ago. That translates to a rough cost per beneficiary of $14,000.

Nobody believes this has been money well spent. One senior aid official admitted that as many as $70 out of every $100 spent had been wasted. As anyone who followed the response in Haiti or Kosovo would affirm, the aid industry is inherently wasteful but this was excessive. The scale of this became obvious from November onward when refugees were pictured in tents in the snow and it sparked a blame game. None of the actors emerge with much credit. The UN refugee agency played mute witness to failures in refugee protection for fear of offending its second largest donor, the EU. The European Commission was content to make grandiose statements that exaggerated the funding it had committed, while doing nothing to correct the mistakes it witnessed on the ground. It also made promises on asylum service assistance that were not kept. The bigger the mess in Greece, the greater the deterrent and the stronger the message to future asylum seekers not to come this way.

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Wonderful. There is still hope. There are still people, even in governments, who are still people.

Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’ (AFP)

Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.

[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.

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Beware better weather conditions.

3,000 Migrants Rescued Off Libya On Sunday (AFP)

Around 3,000 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on Sunday as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the Italian coast guard told AFP. “After some calm days, migrants are arriving in large numbers, taking advantage of a window of favorable weather,” said a coast guard official. The rescue was undertaken in 22 separate operations coordinated by the Italian coast guard. One participant was the Aquarius, a humanitarian ship run by the NGO SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which said it saved 946 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors. An MSF video showed three young children smiling and dancing on the ship to the sound of drumming. The migrants rescued by the Aquarius had been found drifting on nine wooden and rubber boats. According to the Italian government, 16,206 people have been rescued in the sea by Friday — compared to 11,911 by the same time last year.

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Mar 092017
 
 March 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Marjory Collins “Crowds at Pennsylvania Station, New York” 1942

 


WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)
US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)
Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)
US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)
Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)
Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)
Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)
The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)
Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)
French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)
Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)
Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)
Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)
Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)
It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

 

 

How is this going to affect Apple and Microsoft sales in China?

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)

WikiLeaks’ data dump on Tuesday accounted for less than 1% of ‘Vault 7’, a collection of leaked CIA documents which revealed the extent of its hacking capabilities, the whistleblowing organization has claimed on Twitter. ‘Year Zero’, comprising 8,761 documents and files, was released unexpectedly by WikiLeaks. The organization had initially announced that it was part of a larger series, known as ‘Vault 7.’ However, it did not give further information on when more leaks would occur or on how many series would comprise ‘Vault 7’. The leaks have revealed the CIA’s covert hacking targets, with smart TVs infiltrated for the purpose of collecting audio, even when the device is powered off. The Google Android Operating System, used in 85% of the world’s smartphones, was also exposed as having severe vulnerabilities, allowing the CIA to “weaponize” the devices.

The CIA would not confirm the authenticity of the leak. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.” Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, is cited as saying in The Washington Post. WikiLeaks claims the leak originated from within the CIA before being “lost” and circulated amongst “former U.S. government hackers and contractors.” From there the classified information was passed to WikiLeaks. End-to-end encryption used by applications such as WhatsApp was revealed to be futile against the CIA’s hacking techniques, dubbed ‘zero days’, which were capable of accessing messages before encryption was applied. The leak also revealed the CIA’s ability to hide its own hacking fingerprint and attribute it to others, including Russia. An archive of fingerprints – digital traces which give a clue about the hacker’s identity – was collected by the CIA and left behind to make others appear responsible.

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The Trump bull is alive for now.

US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)

U.S. private employers added 298,000 jobs in February, well above economists’ expectations, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 190,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 247,000. Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised up to 261,000 from an originally reported 246,000 increase. The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment. Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 193,000 jobs in February, down from 237,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have changed by 190,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to tick down to 4.7% from the 4.8% recorded a month earlier.

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How much of it will be put to good use, and how much merely siphoned off?

Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)

President Donald Trump pushed his White House team on Wednesday to craft a plan for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that would pressure states to streamline local permitting, favor renovation of existing roads and highways over new construction and prioritize projects that can quickly begin construction. “We’re not going to give the money to states unless they can prove that they can be ready, willing and able to start the project,” Mr. Trump said at a private meeting with aides and executives that The WSJ was invited to. “We don’t want to give them money if they’re all tied up for seven years with state bureaucracy.” Mr. Trump said he would was inclined to give states 90 days to start projects, and asked Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, to provide a recommendation.

He expressed interest in building new high-speed railroads, inquired about the possibility of auctioning the broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers, and asked for more details about the Hyperloop, a project envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would rapidly transport passengers in pods through low-pressure tubes. “America has always been a nation of great promise, because we dream big,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to really dream big now.” The president called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan last month in his address to a joint session of Congress and added that the projects would be financed through public and private capital. The White House was considering a repatriation tax holiday to generate about $200 billion in funding, but other sources also were being considered, a senior administration aide said.

In the meeting, the president said he aimed to win approval for an infrastructure plan once Congress finishes deliberations on health care and a reform of tax laws. Mr. Trump suggested that an infrastructure plan may be part of the tax-reform debate. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Vice President Mike Pence, who sat across from the president during the meeting, said that Congress is “committed to the president’s vision.” “There’s a great of interest in Congress in doing this,” Mr. Pence said. “But there’s also just as much interest in listening to leaders in the private sector to identify the capital and identify the needs to be able to finance this in a way that really captures the energy of the American economy.”

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Time to acknowledge demand isn’t coming back?

US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)

Oil is on track to break through the key psychological level of $50 a barrel after a ninth straight rise in U.S. crude stockpiles came at exactly the wrong moment, analysts said Wednesday. The amount of crude oil in U.S. storage rose to another record high on Wednesday, jumping 8.2 million barrels from the previous week, the Energy Information Administration reported. The increase was more than four times what analysts expected. Weekly figures also showed U.S. oil production continuing to tick up toward 9.1 million barrels a day, the highest level in more than a year. That provided further evidence that rising American output is confounding efforts by OPEC, Russia and 10 other exporters to reduce global oil inventories by curbing their own output. The data sent U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude prices plunging more than 5% to a nearly three-month low.

The plunge through a number of lows on Wednesday puts oil on a path to test the December low of $49.95 a barrel, said John Kilduff at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “From there you could accelerate,” he told CNBC, adding that $50 “was the fail-safe.” Kilduff’s downside target, once oil breaks below $50 a barrel, is $42. For the last three months, oil has traded in a range between $49.61 and $55.24. According to Kilduff, all the elements are in place for oil to break below its three-month range: lack of cohesion among OPEC members, bearish statements from oil ministers at CERAWeek conference by IHS Markit and subdued refinery activity as operators perform seasonal maintenance in the United States. On Tuesday, Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih warned at CERAWeek that the kingdom would only support OPEC’s intervention in markets for a “restricted period of time” and would not “underwrite the investments of others at our own expense and long-term interests.”

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Snippets from an interview. The euro was doomed from the start because of conditions put on it.

Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)

But the trouble is, you see, they didn’t have to have a single currency combined with the 60% limit on government debt and the 3% limit on government deficits. If they simply had a currency and made no rules whatsoever about that, then it would have been feasible, potentially, to say okay, well it’s not working as well as we would like it to, but not imposing austerity on economies in a downturn, which is what they ended up doing courtesy of those rules. Maybe we need a treasury to make it work better, but it wasn’t just the fact that it was only the central bank, it was also the rules on government spending.

[..] another part of it, which is quite intriguing, I heard in Berlin just recently, is that also, one of the other rules they agreed to, or one of the other objectives they agreed to, not a rule, was to target a 2% rate of inflation. Now what you actually had happen was that Germany hit about 1%, France actually hit about 2%, Italy hit about 3%, the three major trading partners of course on the block. Well, that means, as a result, over every year, German manufacturers were gaining a 2% cost advantage over Italian manufacturers. Which ultimately means of course that people don’t buy Lamborghinis and Fiats anymore, they buy Mercedes, because for the same features they’re cheaper.

It’s not about labour productivity alone, it’s about the rate of inflation, which comes down to the rate of wage change, because the Germans suppressed the rate of wage change, the rate of inflation was lower, and that was 1% below the level they agreed to. Now, if they’d agreed to 2%, and France did 2%, and Italy maybe suppressed its wage change and they hit 2%, you wouldn’t have these imbalances. But they’ve built up over 15 – going on close to 20 years now – and those level of imbalances mean that, fundamentally, Italian industry can’t compete with German industry, not because of productivity differences so much but wage costs combined with that.

[..] That’s why Trump’s complaining about Germany having an undervalued currency, and he’s bloody right on that front. If you can run a 9% of GDP trade surplus, which is the level Germany’s now hit, a lot of that is with the rest of the world, the EU itself overall is balanced, so there’s a huge imbalance – Germany’s got a huge trade surplus with the rest of Europe, but it’s also got it with the rest of the world, and on that scale I think Germany’s trade balance now is the same scale as China’s. Now that’s ludicrous.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with Europe is that transparency and the EU don’t mix. In this case it’s clear why: the ECB was used as a -very blunt- tool for political pressure. Their defense is basically: if we become transparent, we’re no longer independent. And people buy that?!

Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has joined forces with the German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi in a bid to clarify whether the ECB had a legal right to limit the liquidity of Greece’s banks in 2015. The duo told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (8 March) that they were collecting signatures for a petition to ECB president Mario Draghi, asking him to disclose two legal opinions commissioned by the bank. The first study was ordered in February, before the ECB decided to limit the access of Greek banks to ECB funding and opted instead to open access to the emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) – a fund with more restrictive access conditions. The decision was taken a few days after the radical left-wing Syriza party came to power, with Varoufakis as finance minister.

The second study, in June 2015, was about the ECB’s decision to freeze the amount of money available through the ELA after the Greek government’s decision to hold a referendum on the bailout conditions required by the country’s creditors. The measure was taken over concerns that Greek banks would become insolvent because of the deadlock in bailout talks. It also put more pressure on the Greek government to accept the lenders’ conditions. To avoid a bank run, where large numbers of people withdraw money from their deposit accounts at the same time, the government introduced capital controls. This meant that Greek people were only able to withdraw a maximum of €60 per day. The measure prevented a capital run, but also put pressure on Athens to agree to creditors’ terms for a third bailout.

Varoufakis, who was finance minister at the time, said this was a breach of the independence of the bank. “The ECB has the capacity to close down all the banks of a member state. At the same time, it has a charter which grants it – supposedly – complete independence from politics. And yet, there is no central bank, at least in the West, which has less independence of the political process,” Varoufakis said. He said Draghi was “completely reliant” on the decisions of an “informal group of finance ministers”, referring to the fact that the Eurogroup, which gathers the finance ministers of the 19 eurozone countries, isn’t enshrined in EU treaties. “It is apparent that Draghi didn’t feel that the was on solid legal ground when proceeding with the closing of Greek banks,” Varoufakis said.

[..] In September 2015, Fabio De Masi already asked Draghi for the opinions. But the ECB chief, in a letter made public by the MEP, said the bank does not plan to publish the legal opinions because this would “undermine the ECB’s ability to obtain uncensored, objective and comprehensive legal advice, which is essential for well-informed and comprehensive deliberations of its decision-making bodies”. “Legal opinions provided by external lawyers and related legal advice are protected by legal professional privilege (the so-called ‘attorney-client privilege’) in accordance with European Union case law,” Draghi said. “Those opinions were drafted in full independence, on the understanding that they can only be disclosed by the addressee and only shared with people who need to know in order to take reasoned decisions on the issues at stake,” he added.

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No cashless society there.

Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)

As worries over the future of the euro zone heat up, the union’s biggest member is doubling down on the single currency in an underappreciated way. Germany’s central bank is by far the biggest issuer of cash in the bloc, with the Bundesbank the source of more euro banknotes in circulation than all of its peers combined. The size of the imbalance is underscored by new data from the ECB, showing nations’ contributions towards the Eurosystem’s consolidated financial statement. Each national central bank, or NCB, has a notional banknote allocation that’s tied to its share of Eurosystem capital. At the end of last year, there were €1.1 trillion euros ($1.25 trillion) in circulation, breaking down like this:

That accounts for how euro cash would be distributed in theory. In order to find out how much cash is actually issued you have to make adjustments that take into account variations in demand, which push the number higher in some countries and lower in others. The adjustments look like this:

The Bundesbank has, since the introduction of the euro in 2002, put a net €327 billion into circulation above its on-paper allocation. By combining the figures in the two charts, we arrive at a true picture of the origin of banknotes in the European economy:

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“The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks.”

The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)

The bias of the press is getting so bad, they are undermining everything they were supposed to stand for. This is a critical aspect in the decline and fall of an empire, nation, or city state. Once the news is compromised, confidence not just in the press, but in everything crumbles. The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks. They lobby for their special deals and the support the status quo. The New York Times at least admitted their coverage of the election was biased. They apologized, but nothing has really changed. “As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly.”

Even if Trump met with Putin, exactly what does that infer? Did it alter the election? No. Even Obama admitted that no hack altered the vote count. So what is the issue? The press aids the Democrats in trying to blame Putin for Hillary’s loss. But there is not a single shred of evidence that ANY of the leaked emails from the Democrats was ever altered or was fake. The Democrats simply got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and blame Putin. So what is all this Russia thing about? It seems to be just a diversion to discredit Trump and stop the agenda of any reform. A simple technical analysis of Democrat v Republican shows that the former is in a major decline and their agenda has been dying. In fact, look out for 2018-2019. Sheer chaos is coming.

In Europe, political forces are also in a state of denial. The EU is collapsing and the politicians refuse to surrender their goals. Instead, they lash out at what they are calling “populism” as with the election of Trump, BREXIT, and the developments in France. The will of the people is not worth anything when it goes against their dreams. So in both cases, we are witnessing the demise of the West. All of this political fighting is setting the stage for the shift from the West to the East of financial power. The wheel of fortune spins. We lost. What is accomplished by overthrowing Trump? What is accomplished by forcing Europe to remain in the EU with unelected people controlling everything from Brussels? If the press succeeds in overturning Trump, what is accomplished? Do they really think everything can go back to the way it was before?

[..] the media in the USA has degenerated to fake news, but in Europe the very same trend has emerged. This is a serious nail in our coffin and mainstream media has indeed become the sword of our own destruction. Can we prevent this outcome? No. All we can do is hopefully learn from our mistakes and this time try to create a system that prevents such an oligarchy from rising. All Republics historically collapse into oligarchies. As we head into 2018, this is going to get really bad. This is going to be a turning point of great importance in the political world.

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A president without a party. Or a program. Doesn’t seem to add up.

Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)

Currently riding high in the polls, Emmanuel Macron, the self-styled “beyond left and right” candidate for the French election, has been tipped to become the next president in May. But if he does, will he actually run the country? This question might sound odd but the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister. The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded.

So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly. So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

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This is what happens everywhere, in varying ways. In France, both establishment blocks look to be cast aside.

French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)

The old order is fading in France. Every election since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic more than half a century ago has seen at least one of the major parties in the presidential runoff and most have featured both. With Republicans and Socialists consumed by infighting and voters thoroughly fed up, polls suggest that neither will make it this year. For the past month, survey after survey has projected a decider between Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old rookie who doesn’t even have a party behind him, and Marine Le Pen, who’s been ostracized throughout her career because of her party’s history of racism. “We’ve gone as far as we can go with a certain way of doing politics,” said Brice Teinturier, head of the Ipsos polling company and author of a book on voters’ disillusionment. “Everyone feels the system is blocked.”

Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, said in an interview with Le Monde Tuesday he may back Macron because he doesn’t “identify” with the more extreme platform put forward by his party’s candidate Benoit Hamon. De Gaulle’s latest standard-bearer Francois Fillon has spent the past week facing down rebellions in his party triggered by a criminal probe of his finances. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls hasn’t campaigned for Hamon since losing to him in the primary and Socialist President Francois Hollande hasn’t even endorsed his party’s candidate either. Instead, senior figures from the Socialist camp are endorsing Macron, with former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe the latest to offer his backing on Wednesday. “There’s a breakdown of parties in France,” Francois Bayrou, a two-time centrist candidate who is now backing Macron, said Tuesday on RMC Radio. “There are hostile battles between factions within each party, which has ruined the parties and ruined the image of politics.”

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Crazy that such differences still persist.

Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)

On International Women’s Day, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies to prove they pay all employees the same regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality, The country’s government announced a new law that will require every company with 25 or more staff to gain a certificate demonstrating pay equality. Iceland is not the first country to introduce a scheme like this – Switzerland has one, as does the US state of Minnesota – but Iceland is thought to be the first to make it a mandatory requirement. Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said that “the time is right to do something radical about this issue.” “Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that,” he said.

The move comes as part of a drive by the Nordic nation to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022. In October, thousands of female employees across Iceland walked out of workplaces at 2.38pm to protest against earning less than men. After this time in a typical eight-hour day, women are essentially working without pay, according to unions and women’s organisations. Iceland has been at the forefront of establishing pay equality, having already introduced a minimum 40% quota for women on boards of companies with more than 50 employees. The country has been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running, but despite this, Icelandic women still earn 14 to 18% less than men, on average.

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“Cleaning up the plant [..] is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).” Uh, no, it will cost far more than $189 billion, and it’s to NOT clean up the plant. They have no idea how to do it. It’s all just fantasy.

Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)

Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week. As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel. Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.

The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”. Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn). The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago. The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.

[..] Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”. The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government. “The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”

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And it will remain in recession for a long time.

Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)

Household consumption and a rebound in investment drove economic growth in the euro zone in the last three months of last year, the latest data from EU statistics office Eurostat shows. Eurostat confirmed its earlier estimate that the economy of the 19 countries sharing the euro grew 0.4% quarter-on-quarter and 1.7% year-on-year. It said household consumption added 0.2 % points to the final quarterly growth number and capital investment added another 0.1 points, rebounding from a 0.1 point negative contribution in the third quarter. Growing inventories added another 0.1 points and government spending another 0.1 points while net trade subtracted 0.1 points.

Greece was the only country that was in negative territory, with GDP declining by 1.1% compared with the last quarter of 2015 and by 1.2% compared to the third quarter of 2016. Combined, the eurozone continued steady recovery, with the economy growing by 1.7% year on year and 0.4% on a quarterly basis. Messages were positive in the eurozone core. Germany grew by 1.8% and France by 1.2%, while the third largest economy of the euro, Italy, increasing by 1%. Impressive was the growth of Spain as it reached 3%. Social protection spending in Greece represented 20.5 % of the country’s GDP in 2015.

This is slightly higher than both the Eurozone average ratio (20.1% of GDP) and the EU28 average ratio (19.2% of GDP). Social protection expenditure in EU member-states ranged from 9.6% of GDP in Ireland to 25.6% of GDP in Finland in that year. Eight member-states (Finland, France, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Greece and Belgium) spent more than 20% of GDP on social protection while Ireland, the Baltic states, Romania, Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic spend less than 13%.

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“Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022.”

Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)

Farmers who travelled to Athens from Crete have clashed with riot police in the latest unrest on the streets of the Greek capital, prompted by the government’s austerity policies. The confrontation occurred outside the agriculture ministry, where farmers wielding staffs engaged with police firing teargas to prevent them from entering the building. More than 1,100 stockbreeders and farmers arrived on overnight ferries in the early hours of Wednesday, to protest against increases in tax and social security contributions demanded by the creditors keeping Greece afloat. Footage showed the farmers, many wearing black bandanas, smashing the windows of riot vans with shepherds’ staffs, setting fire to rubbish bins and hurling rocks and stones.

When the agriculture minister, Evangelos Apostolou, initially refused to meet a 45-member delegation representing protesters, anger peaked. “Dialogue is one thing, thuggery quite another,” the minister said, before attempts at further talks also foundered. Greek farmers, long perceived to be the privileged recipients of generous EU funds, have historically been exempt from taxation. However, the barrage of cuts and increases in the price of everything from fuel to fertilisers will hit them hard. Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022. Prof George Pagoulatos, who teaches European politics and economy at the University of Athens, said: “Farmers, in many ways, are a classic example of one of Greece’s protected groups. “In certain rural constituencies, like Crete, they are also electorally very influential.”

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Wages have become too low to pay for pensions. 23% unemployment. Almost half of Greeks depend on pensions to stay alive. More cuts are inevitable. The only way is down.

It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

The constant decline in salaries and the rise of flexible forms of employment are undermining the sustainability of the country’s social security system despite the numerous interventions in terms of pensions. According to social security experts, the slide in the average salary means that it now takes the contributions of 10 workers to pay one pension; before the crisis it required the contributions of four workers. The deterioration of that ratio highlights the system’s viability problem. The main feature of that problem is that the contributions of today’s workers go in their entirety toward covering the pensions of today’s pensioners.

According to data from the new Single Social Security Entity (EFKA), the analysis of employers’ declarations from May 2016 showed that the average salary of 1.4 million workers with full employment amounted to €1,176 per month. The average monthly gross earnings of the 588,000 part-time workers amounted to just €394; their number increased by about 11% from a year earlier. The same data show that bigger enterprises pay higher salaries: Businesses with fewer than 10 employees have an average full-employment salary that amounts to just 58.9% of that paid to employees of companies with more than 10 workers.

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Feb 282017
 
 February 28, 2017  Posted by at 2:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  19 Responses »
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Willem de Kooning Gotham News 1955

 

You could perhaps say that this is part 4 in a series on -America’s- peak wealth, even if it was never intended to be such a series; it just happened. First, in a February 18 essay about declining economic growth, “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, I said “..the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s”.

That prompted a reply from long-time Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, which he turned into an article a few days later which I published on February 23 as “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?” Ken reasoned that America’s peak wealth was sometime in the late ’50s to early 60’s.

Then yesterday, I posted “Peak American Wealth – Revisited”, which contains Ken’s responses to what various readers had written in the Comments section of the second piece. I remarked that many of the commenters seemed, like Ken, to be in their 70s. All this led to an even livelier and more personal Comments section for that article, including quite a few by younger readers.

Not that I ever had the impression that the Automatic Earth had become an old folks home, I just figured ‘older’ people are more likely to be triggered by talking about the 1960s, a period the younger only know from second-hand accounts. Still, it’s good to see, also in private emails, that there are quite few in their 20s and 30s who’ve been reading us for many years, and who do understand quite a bit about the crisis we’re in.

One of the mails I received was from long time acquaintance (for lack of a better word, I don’t think we ever met) Charles A. Hall. I’ve been familiar with Charlie’s work as systems ecologist on energy -in a very broad sense- for a long time, and have always held him in high esteem. That he reads the Automatic Earth on a regular basis is of course a privilege for us. That what he sees as my mistakes urge him to write an article is an even greater honor.

I’ll let Charlie do his own PR line: “Dr. Hall is Emeritus Professor at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. Author of 13 books and nearly 300 scientific papers on these topics including Energy and the wealth of Nature (with Kent Klitgaard) and his new Energy Return on Investment: a Unifying Principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainabiity (both from Springer Press).”

And I do agree with the honorable professor that discussing peak US wealth without giving energy a prominent position in that discussion is far from ideal. At the same time, economic systems can fall apart of their own accord and/or through human hubris. Even with equal or growing energy availability, no everlasting growth is guaranteed -or even possible.

Interesting detail is that Dr. Hall puts the ‘peak wealth time’ in the late 70s to early 80s. That’s quite a bit later than either Ken Latta or I did, and than most of our commenters seem to do. But point taken: absent energy no wealth can be created. Here’s Charlie:

 

 

Charles A. Hall: I keep being amazed at the inability of economists, commentators and most regular citizens to fail to understand the importance of resources in general and petroleum (oil and gas) in particular to the material well being of society. This is exemplified by the recent posts of Latta and Meijer. I provide a few simple graphs to make my point, and then below add some excerpts lifted and slightly modified from our book (Hall and Klitgaard, Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Springer).

John Hickenlooper, when he was Mayor of Denver, understood the importance of oil and its restrictions. He said: “This land was originally settled by the Sioux. Everything that the Sioux depended upon, their food, clothing, shelter, implements and so on, came from the bison. They had many ceremonies giving thanks and appreciation to the Bison. We today are as dependent upon oil as the Sioux were on the bison, but not only do we not acknowledge or celebrate that, but most people do not have a clue”. Since 2010 global oil production is no longer increasing and may indeed be decreasing. Almost certainly it will decrease substantially in the future as we enter, in the words of geologist Colin Campbell, “the second half of the age of oil”.

The American dream was the product of industrious and clever people working hard within a relatively benign political system that encouraged business in various ways, but that all of these things also required a large resource base relative to the number of people using it. A key issue was the abundance of oil and gas in the United States, which was the world’s largest producer in 1970. But in 1970 (and 1973 for there was a clear peak in US oil production, and while the continued increase in oil production worldwide buffered the United States (and other countries) from the local peak it seems clear by 2017 that global oil production has reached its own peak while demand from around the world continues to grow.

This mismatch between supply and demand resulted in a sharp increase in the price of oil and many economic problems that we believe it caused, at least in part, including the stock market decline of 2008, the sub-prime real estate bust, the failure of many financial corporations, the fact that some 40 odd of 50 states are officially broke and that there is a substantial decrease in discretionary income for many average Americans. As developed later …. all of these economic problems are a direct consequence of the beginning of real shortages of petroleum in a petroleum-dependent society.

 

 

The historical ability to achieve wealth in the United States is in large part a consequence of the incredible resource base once found on the North American continent. These include initial endowments of huge forests, immense energy and other geological resources, fish, grass and, perhaps of greatest importance, rich deep soils where rain falls during the growing season.

While many other regions of the world also have, or had, a similarly huge resource base the United States has several other somewhat unique important attributes. The fact that these resources have been exploited intensely for only a few hundred years (vs. many thousand as in Europe or Asia), the presence of large oceans separate us from others who might want our resources; results in resources per capita that is relatively large, an extremely low human population density in the past and even now, so that the resources per capita is still relatively high.

A critical component of these patterns was the large increase in labor productivity during the first two thirds of the 20th century. This allowed both industry owners and labor, especially of the largest corporations, to do better and better. What was less emphasized but enormously clear in retrospect was that to allow the economy to expand it was possible to massively increase the production from oil, gas and coal fields, some new, and some old but barely tapped previously, so that once the economic engine was started there was a great deal of high quality energy available. The United States began using many times as much energy per person as had been the case relatively few decades before or was the case in Europe.

But in 1973 the United States experienced the first of several “oil shocks” that seemed, for the first time, to inject a harsh note of vulnerability into the united chorus of the American Dream for all. Before the 1970s nearly all segments of American society – including labor, capital, government, and civil rights groups – were united behind the agenda of continuous economic growth. The idea that growth could be limited by resource or environmental constraints, or, more specifically, that we could run short of energy-providing fossil fuels was simply not part of the understanding or dialog of most of this country’s citizens. But this was to change in the 1970s.

 

 

In retrospect, we can now say that the pillars of post-war prosperity began to erode in the 1970s and early 1980s, and that changes in the social sphere also began to complicate and add to the biophysical changes derived from the decline in the availability of cheap oil. Even though the oil market had stabilized and cheap energy returned to the United States in the late 1980’s, the changes in the structure of the economy were long lasting. The economy ceased growing exponentially, although it continued to grow linearly but at a decreasing rate, from 4.4 percent per year in the 1960s to 3.3, 3.0, 3.2 to 2.4 percent to close to one percent in the following decades.

Many formerly “American” companies became international and moved production facilities overseas where labor was cheaper and oil, no longer cheaper in the US compared to elsewhere, was the same price, although cheap enough to pay for the additional transport required. The decrease in labor costs when production facilities were moved to other countries outweighed the costs and the process of globalization accelerated. Productivity growth (formerly strongly linked to increasing energy used per worker hour) in manufacturing industries began to slow, falling from 3.3% per year in the 1966-1973 period to 1.5% from 1973-1979 to essentially zero in the early 1980s.

 

 

Mainstream economists seemed at a loss to explain this phenomenon. Their statistical models, which relied on the amount of equipment per worker, education levels and workforce experience left more factors unexplained than explained. Even the profession’s productivity guru, Edward Denison, had to admit that the seventeen best models explained only a fraction of the problem, leaving half of the increase in wealth unexplained. But Denison’s model did not include energy, but only capital and labor. When Reiner Kummel and his colleagues included energy in the same model they found that the unexplained residual disappeared and that energy was even more important than either Capital or Labor.

My point, and this could be emphasized with many more citations and analyses, is that humans for some peculiar reason are unable or unwilling to give natural resources, the biophysical basis of real economies, their proper due. The days of abundant, cheap, exponentially growing availability and use of many resources, including especially high quality fossil fuels, is forever behind us. Fracked oil is expensive and already declining, we still import about half our oil, and consequently our economy cannot physically grow as readily as in the past. While there are many reasons beyond resources (such as concentration of wealth) for the failure of our economy to grow, we must first start with biophysical reality.

 

See also my new book “Energy Return on Investment: A unifying principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainability (Springer)

 

 

Jan 262017
 
 January 26, 2017  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »
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Arthur Siegel Zoot suit, business district, Detroit, Michigan 1942


Trump Loves Debt, But It Won’t Love Him Back (BBG)
US Tax Reforms Could ‘Transform’ Global Oil Market (R.)
Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties, UN (NYT)
Trump Starts A ‘Sanctuary City’ War With Liberal America (BBC)
Kyle Bass Calls Trump ‘Gasoline’ on Smoldering Fire in China (BBG)
China Keeps 3% Budget Deficit Goal For 2017 As Debt Risks Grow (R.)
China Is Becoming ‘Increasingly Risky’ Because Of Its Economy (CNBC)
Dutch Respond To Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’ With International Safe Abortion Fund (G.)
Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged (Bill Black)
Pippa Malmgren: The Social Contract In The West Is Broken (SLD)
Seymour Hersh Blasts Media For Promoting Russian Hacking Story (IC)
Austerity Economics Has Just Been Smashed. By The IMF. (GDB)
The Super Rich Are Preparing For The End Of The World (CNBC)
Rome Mayor Raggi Says She Received Summons From Prosecutors (BBG)
Deal On Greek Bailout’s Second Review Possible At February Eurogroup (R.)
“INAUGURATION DAY” (Bad Lip Reading)

 

 

Catch 20-something.

Trump Loves Debt, But It Won’t Love Him Back (BBG)

President Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed king of debt, may end up with a revolt on his hands.He wants to spend billions of dollars to rebuild American highways and bridges to double economic growth to about 4% a year. He wants to preserve medical benefits for the poor and elderly. And he’s selected someone to oversee the national budget who’s fundamentally opposed to huge piles of debt and pledges to reduce the nation’s deficit.This recipe doesn’t add up, either in theory or practice. Even if Trump finances his promised infrastructure plans entirely by cutting other government services, the nation’s debt load is forecast to surge by trillions of dollars over the next decade.

Trump faces two big problems when grappling with the U.S. debt load: an aging population that’s becoming sicker and inauspicious bond math. If Trump succeeds in fostering substantially higher growth rates, as he’s promised, then interest rates will most likely rise much more than forecast. That’ll make it materially more expensive for the nation to service its debt.Even without much more growth, the U.S. deficit will likely increase as interest rates rise. That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group that analyzes the U.S. economy, which just released its forecast for the nation’s deficit and debt load over the next decade.

Its baseline scenario calls for gradually rising benchmark borrowing costs, with 10-year Treasury yields leveling out at about 3.6% by 2022 from about 2.5% today. Even with that relatively modest projection, CBO analysts wrote that “the government’s interest payments on that debt rise sharply over the next 10 years — nearly tripling in nominal terms and almost doubling relative to GDP.”Interest expense will rise to $768 billion in 2027 from $270 billion in 2017 under the CBO’s base-case scenario.But let’s say Trump succeeds in his attempt to foster more economic growth. That’ll mean that inflation will rise, prompting investors to demand higher U.S. Treasury yields to offset steadily rising consumer prices. Jeffrey Gundlach, the bond guru who runs DoubleLine Capital, said after the election that U.S. 10-year government bond yields could reach 6% in five years. In that case, the interest expense would balloon much more than expected, substantially eating into the nation’s budget.

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“We expect WTI could move to a $10 per barrel premium to Brent from a $3 discount – a $13 (+25%) relative move immediately.”

US Tax Reforms Could ‘Transform’ Global Oil Market (R.)

The push by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for a shift to border-adjusted corporate tax (BTA) could push U.S. crude prices higher than the global benchmark Brent, triggering large-scale domestic production, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs on Tuesday. The measure, known as border adjustment, intends to boost U.S. manufacturing by taxing imports while exempting U.S. business export revenues from corporate taxation. Goldman said it anticipates a 25% jump in the prices of U.S. crude futures, also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), and refined products in comparison to the global prices if the switch is implemented.

The investment bank, however, said that uncertainty on whether such a policy will go ahead is high due to concerns about WTO-non compliance and transition issues and oil futures currently only imply a 9% probability for such a shift. “If implemented, the impacts on the oil market would be significant,” Goldman said. “We expect WTI could move to a $10 per barrel premium to Brent from a $3 discount – a $13 (+25%) relative move immediately.” Brent crude futures were trading on Tuesday at a $2.40 per barrel premium to WTI. The appreciation in prices could be an incentive for producers to sharply increase activity, the bank said warning, that the ramp up in U.S. production in a market only starting to rebalance would create a renewed large oil surplus in 2018, which could lead to an immediate sharp decline in global oil prices.

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The UN is dysfunctional, but this risks cutting the few parts that do actually work.

Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties, UN (NYT)

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would clear the way to drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as begin a process to review and potentially abrogate certain forms of multilateral treaties. The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” and obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any United Nations agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria. Those criteria include organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea.

The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization that “is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or is blamed for the persecution of marginalized groups or any other systematic violation of human rights. The order calls for then enacting “at least a 40% overall decrease” in remaining United States funding toward international organizations. The order establishes a committee to recommend where those funding cuts should be made. It asks the committee to look specifically at United States funding for peacekeeping operations; the International Criminal Court; development aid to countries that “oppose important United States policies”; and the United Nations Population Fund, which oversees maternal and reproductive health programs.

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Interesting power fight. But there are laws.

Trump Starts A ‘Sanctuary City’ War With Liberal America (BBC)

Mr Trump’s border wall announcement will make most of the headlines today, given that it was a central focus of his presidential campaign and has increased diplomatic tension with the Mexican government. His plan to target US “sanctuary cities”, however, likely sets the stage for a much tougher, uglier domestic political fight. More than 400 jurisdictions across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle – major cities in left-leaning states that did not vote for Mr Trump – have enacted policies protecting undocumented immigrants within their boundaries. Officials in these designated areas, including local law enforcement, are not allowed to enquire as to an individual’s immigration status in the course of their duties.

Candidate Trump pledged to end this practice, and on Wednesday he put some teeth into his promise – authorising the federal government to withhold funds from cities that do not co-operate with immigration officials or comply with federal law. His executive order frames the issue as one of national security. “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States wilfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” it reads. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”

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Speeding up decline. Or exposing it, rather.

Kyle Bass Calls Trump ‘Gasoline’ on Smoldering Fire in China (BBG)

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass likened President Donald Trump’s trade and tax policies to gasoline — hastening an economic restructuring in China while stimulating capital investment and growth in the U.S. China has “recklessly built a system that’s going to need to restructure and that just so happens to be metastasizing right when Trump becomes elected,” Bass told Bloomberg TV. “This is a fire that’s been smoldering and it’s now starting to burn, and Trump is just more gasoline.” Imposing tariffs on Chinese imports could have “profound consequences” for the nation’s economy, where credit over the last 18 months has grown by $6.5 trillion while deposits expanded just $3 trillion, said Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management.

Early last year, Bass called for a 30% devaluation in the yuan against the dollar, and he’s since opened two Asia-focused funds to wager on the imbalances in the region, which he said could extend to Hong Kong and Taiwan. “The idea that China is now the driving economic power in the world, I think, is illusory or somewhat of a fallacy,” he said. “It’s safe to say that the Asian theater is where we’ve been focused.” In the U.S., Bass said, border tax adjustments will help finance a lower corporate tax rate that Trump has proposed, which in combination with the repatriation of capital offshore will be “extremely stimulative.” He said Trump’s accelerated policies would lead to real capital investment, competitiveness and an improvement in productivity.

The impact will be “positive for the United States and slightly negative for the rest of the world,” he said. “But it’s not the globalist nightmare, in my opinion.” Inflation, set to increase in the U.S., will also spike in Germany, which will prompt a tapering of the ECB’s bond-buying program and possibly an increase in interest rates, he said. The move to do so will be sped up by Trump, he said.

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“Total fixed-asset investment rose 8.1% in 2016, the slowest pace since 1999, despite an 18.7% increase in investment by state entities..”

China Keeps 3% Budget Deficit Goal For 2017 As Debt Risks Grow (R.)

China’s policymakers plan to keep their budget deficit target for 2017 at the same level as last year to underscore a focus on debt reduction and reform, though they have wiggle room to increase fiscal stimulus if the economy needs support again. A budget deficit target of 3% of GDP, unchanged from 2016, was endorsed by top leaders at the Central Economic Work Conference in December, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting’s outcome. After government investment propped up activity for much of 2016, policymakers are looking for a recovery in private investment through public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure projects to drive growth this year. “Fiscal policy is clear. It’s necessary to maintain last year’s 3% deficit ratio, although there is room to increase it slightly,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Preliminary finance ministry data this week implied an actual deficit of 3.8% of GDP in 2016. However, China’s budget accounting allows it to use unspent money from previous years and funds from a Central Budget Stabilization Fund so it can report a final deficit in line with the target. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.7% last year, supported by higher government spending and record bank lending, though it was still the slowest growth in 26 years. Reuters reported last week that sources said the 2017 economic growth target would be around 6.5%, down from last year’s 6.5-7%. “If this year’s growth goal is not that high, there will be less pressure on the strength of policy support,” said a second policy source. [..] Total fixed-asset investment rose 8.1% in 2016, the slowest pace since 1999, despite an 18.7% increase in investment by state entities, as private investment grew just 3.2%, the weakest on record.

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A risk to the west, that is.

China Is Becoming ‘Increasingly Risky’ Because Of Its Economy (CNBC)

A major risk to U.S. markets is looming, and it’s bigger than headlines and President Donald Trump’s tweets, Goldman Sachs’ Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani told CNBC on Wednesday. The threat is the Chinese economy, the Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management chief investment officer told “Squawk on the Street.” “We use the term that China could ‘submerge’ under the burden of its own debt,” Mossavar-Rahmani said. “If you look at any of the debt measures in China, they’re tremendously high.” Mossavar-Rahmani focused on the credit-to-GDP number from the BIS as a key measure of China’s accumulating debt. As of the second quarter of 2016, China’s ratio was 28.8%.

“China is about 30, the U.S. was at 12.4% just before the crisis. And if the U.S. didn’t avoid a financial crisis with all its strength, how can we assume that China will?” the wealth manager asked. China is still awaiting its 19th gathering of the National Congress of the Communist Party in the fall, which Mossavar-Rahmani said would weigh on the country’s economic position in 2018. The meeting will determine 370 of China’s Central Committee members for the next five years. “Then we have to see, in 2018, will they put structural reforms on the front burner or does it stay on the back burner?” Mossavar-Rahmani asked.

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The US has a large block of religious zealots. The rest of the west, not so much.

Dutch Respond To Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’ With International Safe Abortion Fund (G.)

Up to 20 countries have indicated support for the Netherlands’ plan to set up an international safe abortion fund to plug a $600m funding gap caused by Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule”, the Dutch international development minister, Lilianne Ploumen, said on Wednesday. Ploumen took soundings from a number of her colleagues around the world on Tuesday evening after the Netherlands said it would act to mitigate the impact on hundreds of charities around the world. The “global gag rule”, also known as the Mexico City policy, was reimposed by Trump on Monday, and bans US federal funding for NGOs in foreign countries that provide abortion services or abortion advocacy. ‘We’re in talks with 15 to 20 countries and we’ve also spoken to foundations,” Ploumen told the Guardian.

“As well as contacting a number of European countries that we work with on these issues, we’re also in touch with countries in South America and Africa, as well as the foundations. It’s important to have the broadest possible support for the fund.” Ploumen did not identify which countries had been approached or how much money the Dutch government might commit to the scheme. She said the aim would be to continue support for existing programmes being run by organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), the International Planned Parenting Federation and Marie Stopes International. “These are successful and effective programmes: direct support, distributing condoms, making sure women are accompanied at the birth, and making sure abortion is safe if they have no other choice,” she said.

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Damning. DO read.

Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged (Bill Black)

This article explains three critical reasons why the Democratic Party’s leaders are far more insane than all but a few Democrats understand. It focuses on the leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the New Democrats. The DNC leadership is composed of New Democrats. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to resign in disgrace when the leaks proved that she was putting the DNC’s thumbs on the scale to favor Hillary Clinton (a New Democrat) in the presidential nomination contest against Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz also took large contributions from big finance and, until she faced the prospect of a serious primary challenger, she supported efforts by predatory lenders to use Congress to bar the regulators from stopping their abuses.

Donna Brazile, a New Democrat, now runs the DNC. In this article, I show that Brazile denounced Democrats who refused to cheer President Bush’s invasion of Iraq (and his “Mission Accomplished” declaration) as so disloyal that when their country needed them they went “AWOL.” Not satisfied with that libel, she added the homophobic smear that voters would view Democrats who failed to cheer Bush’s lies and invasion as “effete.” Best of all, she said that Democrats should take as their role models Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Frank Gaffney – Bush’s “chicken hawks” that devised the campaign of lies that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Gaffney is now spreading hate of Muslims – and advising President Trump.

The DNC is also in the news because it has just accepted a $20 million “donation” funded by Third Way, a Wall Street front group, to study why the white working class “abandoned” Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a leader of the New Democrats. Wall Street has long been the largest single funder of the New Democrats various institutions. The New Democrats, at the behest of Wall Street, have waged the “long war” against the working class since their formation in 1984. The New Democrats did not simply abandon the working class – they targeted it for scorn and assaulted it with policies that harmed many Americans, but caused the greatest harm to the working class.

Particularly in light of the Trump’s election, the logical reaction of the DNC would have been to refuse to take the Wall Street buyout and announce that the New Democrats would never again do Wall Street’s bidding. They would return to the Democratic Party’s historic role as the party that championed the rights of workers. Brazile, of course, ensured that the DNC eagerly took the $20 million Wall Street buyout. The New Democrats not only continue to be for sale (or rent) by Wall Street – they continue to show that they continue to for sale for chump change. The DNC does not need $20 million to figure out why the white working class “abandoned” the New Democrats. They can check out from their local library Tom Frank’s books warning that this would happen and explaining in detail why the New Democrats’ long war against the working class was making it happen.

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When growth could not be delivered. “There is always a deal between citizens and their governments. But now governments are defaulting on their citizens because of the debt problem. They can’t deliver retirement at 65.”

Pippa Malmgren: The Social Contract In The West Is Broken (SLD)

Question: The inability of continental Europe to grow has been a clear part of the concern in Britain about Europe. What role has this played?

Malmgren: The British received more Foreign Direct Investment than any other locartion in the EU before Brexit. It was assumed this flow would fall after Brexit. But, I hear from my clients that they are even more interested in the UK now. That’s because money is like water. It flows to wherever it faces the least resistance – the lowest tax rates and least regulatory burden. I would challenge the British to end up with more regulation and higher taxes that the EU after Brexit. Frankly, that would take a huge effort! But the problems on the Continent are deeper than this; The real issue is that the social contract between citizens and governments in the West are being broken. There is always a deal between citizens and their governments. But now governments are defaulting on their citizens because of the debt problem. They can’t deliver retirement at 65. Now everybody has to work longer.

They can’t deliver the healthcare that had been expected. Frankly they can’t deliver police, fire departments or roads without potholes. The social contract in the EU is under even greater stress because growth has been so very poor. The night of the victory of Brexit, the markets attacked Italian banks, not British banks. What did the state in Italy do? They said they’d find 5b Euros to bail out the oldest bank which had lost 98% of its shareholder value. Meanwhile, they can’t find 5 cents for the young who are experiencing over 30% unemployment rates. This breaks the social contract and helps explain the new anti-EU sentiment. The Europeans are also increasingly uneasy about immigration issues. It was not part of the original deal in the European contract to have completely open borders. In my view, the British are not xenophobic, but want more process around immigration. They want a more secure movement of people within Europe.

The media talks all the time about the proposed Wall by Trump in the US with Mexico, but the reality is there a wall-building spree going on in Europe. Look at the new walls being constructed between Hungry and Serbia, between Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as new walls in Estonia, Poland and Lithuania are constructing one around Kaliningrad with watchtowers, etc. Frankly new walls will increasingly be digital. Processing of people will begin well before you get anywhere near what you think the border is. We will pass through borders without realizing we’ve already been assessed. We are in a period of history where the Europeans are fundamentally rethinking what they want Europe to stand for, the European Union to do, and how to generate economic growth again. As everywhere else, the public are questioning the establishment because they have failed to deliver on their promises.

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“I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

The ‘media’ have lost so much credibility, and permamently. That is dangerous.

Seymour Hersh Blasts Media For Promoting Russian Hacking Story (IC)

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts. Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public. “The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous,” Hersh said when I sat down with him at his home in Washington, D.C., two days after Trump was inaugurated.

“They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done,” they reported it as fact. Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story: “the extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.” Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.

The declassified version of the report, which was released January 7 and dominated the news for days, charged that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election” and “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” According to the report, the NSA was said to have had a lower confidence level than James Clapper and the CIA about the conclusion that Russia intended to influence the election. Hersh characterized the report as full of assertions and thin on evidence.

“It’s high camp stuff,” Hersh told The Intercept. “What does an assessment mean? It’s not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate, you would have five or six dissents. One time they said 17 agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force — they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story. An assessment is simply an opinion. If they had a fact, they’d give it to you. An assessment is just that. It’s a belief. And they’ve done it many times.”

[..] While expressing fears about Trump’s agenda, Hersh also called Trump a potential “circuit breaker” of the two-party political system in the U.S. “The idea of somebody breaking things away, and raising grave doubts about the viability of the party system, particularly the Democratic Party, is not a bad idea,” Hersh said. “That’s something we could build on in the future. But we have to figure out what to do in the next few years.” He added: “I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

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But it will just continue. Wanna bet?

Austerity Economics Has Just Been Smashed. By The IMF. (GDB)

A powerful new report finally kills off any remaining intellectual veil for a broken economics that is breaking society. Sometimes an ideology is so brilliantly propagated that observers might not even notice it’s an ideology. In the corridors of power and in mainstream discussion, it ceases to be questioned. Then it goes catastrophically wrong. And it begins to seen again for the ideology it is. It becomes questioned again. And, if they are smart, leaders hear this and start to self-correct. This is where we’ve got to with neoliberalism, austerity, and rising inequality. Except for the self-correct part. Right now, instead of self-correction, we’re seeing many mainstream politicians unable to shift away from dead economics, and what seems in too many countries like the start of social breakdown.

Change is well overdue. Who can prompt leaders to drop the old economic nostrums are causing so much harm? Enter the IMF with a sledgehammer. Progressives duck in case in the sledgehammer is meant for them. But then the IMF demolishes the case for neoliberalism and austerity. It sounds extraordinary, and it is. Today the IMF will launch a new report, “Macro-Structural Policies and Income Inequality in Low-Income Developing Countries”, the latest in series that mark the intellectual journey the IMF research department has been travelling in recent years. Packed with detailed quantitative analysis it demonstrates that much of what elites have been advancing as unquestioned economics is demonstrably harmful both to economic growth and to public wellbeing.

Of course what makes this surprising, and what may make some progressives unenthusiastic about welcoming this, is also what makes it so powerful: an institution that has been, for far too long, a defender of the free market story and the Washington Consensus – the idea that liberalizing trade, privatizing everything possible and cutting down public spending was a one-size-fits-all solution to any government in trouble – has now refuted it. This paper is not the first by the IMF to take a stand on inequality, but it is notable because it claims in no uncertain terms that public spending – i.e. the opposite of the budget cuts that it once advocated for – decreases income inequality. They even have a formula – a 1% increase in public spending, they report, leads to a 2.3% decrease in inequality after 5 years. The paper also takes a strong stand against prioritizing indirect taxes, such as VAT, showing that they increase inequality.

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Bit sensationalist, perhaps?

The Super Rich Are Preparing For The End Of The World (CNBC)

The Dow has hit 20,000 for the first time ever, but rather than celebrating, some of the richest of the rich are building bunkers to prepare for a potential apocalypse. These “preppers” are making other investments too. They’re buying houses in New Zealand, which has become a popular spot in case of calamity. Billionaire Peter Thiel just secured property and citizenship there. And they’re getting elective surgery. Steve Huffman, the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of the online community Reddit, got Lasik so that he’d be able to be more independent in case of emergency. “If the world ends — and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble — getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” the San Francisco resident tells Evan Osnos as part of The New Yorker’s chronicle of the elite’s end-of-the-world preparations. “Without them, I’m f—ed.”

In addition to the eye surgery, Huffman has accumulated guns, ammunition and motorcycles so that he won’t get caught in traffic jams during an evacuation. The notion of “doomsday prepping” was popularized in the mainstream by the National Geographic channel’s show by the same name. The show’s website offers a quiz titled “How prepped are you?” so you can test your own likelihood of surviving an apocalypse. Former Facebook product manager Antonio García Martínez bought wooded land in the Pacific Northwest that he has stocked with generators, solar panels and ammo, The New Yorker reports. “You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse,” García Martínez says. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

In particular, the political climate has made many coastal elites anxious about the future. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power — that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work,” says Huffman. “While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”

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The war on Grillo will intensify.

Rome Mayor Raggi Says She Received Summons From Prosecutors (BBG)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said she has received a summons from city prosecutors over a staff appointment. Raggi, a lawyer who was elected mayor last year, wrote in a post on Facebook that the summons concerns her nomination of Renato Marra as head of the tourism department, which she has revoked. She said she had informed Five Star co-founder Beppe Grillo and the city council of the summons. “I am very serene; I have full confidence in the judiciary, as ever,” Raggi wrote. “We are ready to give every clarification.” Raggi’s city hall administration has been plagued by resignations. Five Star, which wants a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro area, has remained neck and neck with the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his predecessor Matteo Renzi in national opinion polls.

Five Star has made denunciations of political corruption one of its main themes, often calling for elected officials to resign if they are placed under investigation, long before a case comes to court. But under new rules posted on Grillo’s blog earlier this month, Five Star officials do not have to resign automatically if they are investigated. Italian newswire Ansa said Raggi was under investigation for alleged abuse of office in the personnel matter. [..] Alessandro Di Battista, a senior Five Star lawmaker, told La 7 television that Raggi had a duty to explain why she had made the appointment. “This isn’t about public money, or decisions which affect a right of citizens,” Di Battista said. “This would involve mistaken signatures, a mistaken nomination which was immediately revoked.”

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If not in February, forget 2017.

Deal On Greek Bailout’s Second Review Possible At February Eurogroup (R.)

Euro zone creditors could approve the completion of the second set of Greek bailout reforms at the next meeting of finance ministers in February, an euro zone official said on Wednesday. The approval of the outstanding reforms, mainly concerning Greek fiscal targets, the labor market and liberalization of the energy sector, would pave the way for further euro zone loans to Athens, which faces large repayments in the third quarter. Finance ministers of the 19 countries of the euro zone will meet on Thursday in Brussels but there hasn’t been sufficient progress in Greek reforms yet for them to sign off on a deal now, the senior official said, confirming what the EU economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Tuesday.

Still, the ministers are likely to produce an agreement to continue talks with a view to concluding them at the next Eurogroup meeting on Feb. 20, according to the official. “There is a good chance” that an agreement will be reached on Thursday to send euro zone negotiators back to Athens so that a deal can be reached in February, the official said. “February is the last month in which there is no politically significant election in relevant member states,” the official said, and this meant “February is not formally but realistically the time when we need to reach a political agreement”. The Netherlands go to the polls in March, and the French will vote in presidential elections in April and likely also in May. Germany, the biggest economy in the euro zone, will hold a general election in September. A comprehensive deal for Greece will also have to involve the IMF, the official said.

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Pretty brilliant.

“INAUGURATION DAY” (Bad Lip Reading)

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Jan 212017
 
 January 21, 2017  Posted by at 4:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Workmen next to the screws of the RMS Titanic at Belfast shipyard, 1911

 

The people at Conflicts Forum, which is directed by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, sent me an unpublished article by Alastair and asked if the Automatic Earth would publish it. Since I like his work and I (re-)published two of his articles last year already, ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent in October 2016 and Obstacles to Trump’s ‘Growth’ Plans in November 2016, I’m happy to.

His arguments here are very close to much of what the Automatic Earth has been advocating for years, both when it comes to our financial crisis and to our energy crisis. Our Primers section is full of articles on these issues written through the years. It’s a good thing other people pick up too on topics like EROEI, and understand you can’t run our modern, complex society on ‘net energy’ as low as what we get from any of our ‘new’ energy sources. It’s just not going to happen.

Here’s Alastair:

 

 

Alastair Crooke: We have an economic crisis – centred on the persistent elusiveness of real growth, rather than just monetised debt masquerading as ‘growth’ – and a political crisis, in which even ‘Davos man’, it seems, according to their own World Economic Forum polls,is anxious; losing his faith in ‘the system’ itself, and casting around for an explanation for what is occurring, or what exactly to do about it. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF at Davos remarked  before this year’s session, “People have become very emotionalized, this silent fear of what the new world will bring, we have populists here and we want to listen …”.

Dmitry Orlov, a Russian who was taken by his parents to the US at an early age, but who has returned regularly to his birthplace, draws on the Russian experience for his book, The Five Stages of Collapse. Orlov suggests that we not just entering a transient moment of multiple political discontents, but rather that we are already in the early stages of something rather more profound. From his perspective that fuses his American experience with that of post Cold War Russia, he argues, that the five stages would tend to play out in sequence based on the breaching of particular boundaries of consensual faith and trust that groups of human beings vest in the institutions and systems they depend on for daily life. These boundaries run from the least personal (e.g. trust in banks and governments) to the most personal (faith in your local community, neighbours, and kin). It would be hard to avoid the thought – so evident at Davos – that even the elites now accept that Orlov’s first boundary has been breached.

But what is it? What is the deeper economic root to this malaise? The general thrust of Davos was that it was prosperity spread too unfairly that is at the core of the problem. Of course, causality is seldom unitary, or so simple. And no one answer suffices. In earlier Commentaries, I have suggested that global growth is so maddeningly elusive for the elites because the debt-driven ‘growth’ model (if it deserves the name ‘growth’) simply is not working.  Not only is monetary expansion not working, it is actually aggravating the situation: Printing money simply has diluted down the stock of general purchasing power – through the creation of additional new, ‘empty’ money – with the latter being intermediated (i.e. whisked away) into the financial sector, to pump up asset values.

It is time to put away the Keynesian presumed ‘wealth effect’ of high asset prices. It belonged to an earlier era. In fact, high asset prices do trickle down. It is just that they trickle down into into higher cost of living expenditures (through return on capital dictates) for the majority of the population. A population which has seen no increase in their real incomes since 2005 – but which has witnessed higher rents, higher transport costs, higher education costs, higher medical costs; in short, higher prices for everything that has a capital overhead component. QE is eating into peoples’ discretionary income by inflating asset balloons, and is thus depressing growth – not raising it. And zero, and negative interest rates, may be keeping the huge avalanche overhang of debt on ‘life support’, but it is eviscerating savings income, and will do the same to pensions, unless concluded sharpish.

But beyond the spent force of monetary policy, we have noted that developed economies face separate, but equally formidable ‘headwinds’, of a (non-policy and secular) nature, impeding growth – from aging populations in China and the OECD, the winding down of China’s industrial revolution,  and from technical innovation turning job-destructive, rather than job creative as a whole. Connected with this is shrinking world trade.

But why is the economy failing to generate prosperity as in earlier decades?  Is it mainly down to Greenspan and Bernanke’s monetary excesses?  Certainly, the latter has contributed to our contemporary stagnation, but perhaps if we look a little deeper, we might find an additional explanation. As I noted in a Comment of 6 January 2017, the golden era of US economic expansion was the ‘50s and ‘60s – but that era had begun to unravel somewhat, already, with the economic turbulence of the 70s. However, it was not so much Reagan’s fiscal or monetary policies that rescued a deteriorating situation in that earlier moment, but rather, it was plain old good fortune. The last giant oil fields with greater than 30-to-one, ‘energy-return’ on ‘energy-cost’ of exploitation, came on line in the 1980s: Alaska’s North Slope, Britain and Norway’s North Sea fields, and Siberia. Those events allowed the USA and the West generally to extend their growth another twenty years.

And, as that bounty tapered down around the year 2000, the system wobbled again, “and the viziers of the Fed ramped up their magical operations, led by the Grand Vizier (or “Maestro”) Alan Greenspan.”  Some other key things happened though, at this point: firstly the cost of crude, which had been remarkably stable, in real terms, over many years, suddenly started its inexorable real-terms ascent.  And from 2001, in the wake of the dot.com ‘bust’, government and other debt began to soar in a sharp trajectory upwards (now reaching $20 trillion). Also, around this time the US abandoned the gold standard, and the petro-dollar was born.

 


Source: Get It. Got It. Good, by Grant Williams

 

Well, the Hill’s Group, who are seasoned US oil industry engineers, led by B.W. Hill, tell us – following their last two years, or so, of research – that for purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel, by the oil industry (the IOCs) is rapidly trending to zero. Note that we are talking energy-cost of exploration, extraction and transport for the energy-return at final destination. We are not speaking of dollar costs, and we are speaking in aggregate. So why should this be important at all; and what has this to do with spiraling debt creation by the western Central Banks from around 2001?

The importance? Though we sometimes forget it, for we now are so habituated to it, is that energy is the economy.  All of modernity, from industrial output and transportation, to how we live, derives from energy – and oil remains a key element to it.  What we (the globalized industrial world) experienced in that golden era until the 70s, was economic growth fueled by an unprecedented 321% increase in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973 was actually of the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, which is to say, the industrialised fraction of the global population. The Hill’s Group research  can be summarized visually as below (recall that these are costs expressed in energy, rather than dollars):

 


Source: http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.it/2016/07/some-reflections-on-twilight-of-oil-age.html 

 

But as Steve St Angelo in the SRSrocco Reports states, the important thing to understand from these energy return on energy cost ratios or EROI, is that a minimum ratio value for a modern society is 20:1 (i.e. the net energy surplus available for GDP growth should be twenty times its cost of extraction). For citizens of an advanced society to enjoy a prosperous living, the EROI of energy needs to be much higher, closer to the 30:1 ratio. Well, if we look at the chart below, the U.S. oil and gas industry EROI fell below 30:1 some 46 years ago (after 1970):

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/the-coming-breakdown-of-u-s-global-markets-explained-what-most-analysts-missed/ 

 

“You will notice two important trends in the chart above. When the U.S. EROI ratio was higher than 30:1, prior to 1970, U.S. public debt did not increase all that much.  However, this changed after 1970, as the EROI continued to decline, public debt increased in an exponential fashion”. (St Angelo).

In short, the question begged by the Hill’s Group research is whether the reason for the explosion of government debt since 1970 is that central bankers (unconsciously), were trying to compensate for the lack of GDP stimulus deriving from the earlier net energy surplus.  In effect, they switched from flagging energy-driven growth, to the new debt-driven growth model.

From a peak net surplus of around 40 GJ  (in 1973), by 2012, the IOCs were beginning to consume more energy per barrel, in their own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations), than that which the barrel would deliver net to the globalized industrial world, in aggregate.  We are now down below 4GJ per head, and dropping fast. (The Hill’s Group)

Is this analysis by the Hill’s Group too reductionist in attributing so much of the era of earlier western material prosperity to the big discoveries of ‘cheap’ oil, and the subsequent elusiveness of growth to the decline in net energy per barrel available for GDP growth?  Are we in deep trouble now that the IOCs use more energy in their own processes, than they are able to deliver net to industrialised world? Maybe so. It is a controversial view, but we can see – in plain dollar terms – some tangible evidence fo rthe Hill’s Groups’ assertions:  

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Top-3-U.S.-Oil-Companies-Free-Cash-Flow-Minus-Dividends.png 

(The top three U.S. oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron andConocoPhillips: Cash from operations less Capex and dividends)

 

 
Briefly, what does this all mean? Well, the business model for the big three US IOCs does not look that great: Energy costs of course, are financial costs, too.  In 2016, according to Yahoo Finance, the U.S. Energy Sector paid 86% of their operating income just to service the interest on the debt (i.e. to pay for those extraction costs). We have not run out of oil. This is not what the Hill’s Group is saying. Quite the reverse. What they are saying is the surplus energy (at a ratio of now less than 10:1) that derives from the oil that we have been using (after the energy-costs expended in retrieving it) – is now at a point that it can barely support our energy-driven ‘modernity’.  Implicit in this analysis, is that our era of plenty was a one time, once off, event.

They are also saying that this implies that as modernity enters on a more severe energy ‘diet’, less surplus calories for their dollars – barely enough to keep the growth engine idling – then global demand for oil will decline, and the price will fall (quite the opposite of mainstream analysis which sees demand for oil growing. It is a vicious circle. If Hills are correct, a key balance has tipped. We may soon be spending more energy on getting the energy that is required to keep the cogs and wheels of modernity turning, than that same energy delivers in terms of calorie-equivalence.  There is not much that either Mr Trump or the Europeans can do about this – other than seize the entire Persian Gulf.  Transiting to renewables now, is perhaps too little, too late.

And America and Europe, no longer have the balance sheet ‘room’, for much further fiscal or monetary stimulus; and, in any event, the efficacy of such measures as drivers of ‘real economy’ growth, is open to question. It may mitigate the problem, but not solve it. No, the headwinds of net energy per barrel trending to zero, plus the other ‘secular’ dynamics mentioned above (demography, China slowing and technology turning job-destructive), form a formidable impediment – and therefore a huge political time bomb.

Back to Davos, and the question of ‘what to do’. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of  JPMorgan Chase, warned  that Europe needs to address disagreements spurring the rise of nationalist leaders. Dimon said he hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region, “the euro zone may not survive”. “The bottom line is the region must become more competitive, Dimon said, which in simple economic terms means accept even lower wages. It also means major political overhauls: “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

A race to the bottom in pay levels?  Italy should undercut Romanian salaries?  Maybe Chinese pay scales, too? This is politically naïve, and the globalist Establishment has only itself to blame for their conviction that there are no real options – save to divert more of the diminished prosperity towards the middle classes (Christine Lagarde), and to impose further austerity (Dimon). As we have tried to show, the era of prosperity for all, began to waver in the 70s in America, and started its more serious stall from 2001 onwards. The Establishment approach to this faltering of growth has been to kick the can down the road: ‘extend and pretend’ – monetised debt, zero, or negative, interest rates and the unceasing refrain that ‘recovery’ is around the corner.

It is precisely their ‘kicking the can’ of inflated asset values, reaching into every corner of life, hiking the cost of living, that has contributed to making Europe the leveraged, ‘high cost’, uncompetitive environment, that it now is.  There is no practical way for Italians, for example, to compete with ‘low cost’ East Europe, or  Asia, through a devaluation of the internal Italian price level without provoking major political push-back.  This is the price of ‘extend and pretend’.

It has been claimed at Davos that the much derided ‘populists’ provide no real solutions. But, crucially, they do offer, firstly, the hope for ‘regime change’ – and, who knows, enough Europeans may be willing to take a punt on leaving the Euro, and accepting the consequences, whatever they may be. Would they be worse off? No one really knows. But at least the ‘populists’ can claim, secondly, that such a dramatic act would serve to escape from the suffocation of the status quo. ‘Davos man’ and woman disdain this particular appeal of ‘the populists’ at their peril.
 

 

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

 

 

Dec 262016
 
 December 26, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Paul Gauguin Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen) , 1902-1903


One Industry Will Keep Holding North America Together (CNBC)
China Bank Calls Documents ‘Fake’ After Bond Default Linked To Alibaba (R.)
The Trump Rally Is Young (CNBC)
What Is Productivity And Why Is The UK’s So Poor? (G.)
What’s Behind Obama’s Attacks On Putin (Carley)
British Councils Admit Massive Use Of Spying Powers On Public (G.)
Humankind Has Created 30 Trillion Tons Of Stuff (F.)
Being Busy Is Not Cool (Awl)
The Man Who Saved 200 Syrian Refugees (TL)

 

 

Brilliant headline.

One Industry Will Keep Holding North America Together (CNBC)

Texas-refined gasoline fuels Mexican cars. Natural gas from Canada helps heat the Midwest and cool California. Electricity flows over the northern and southern U.S. borders in both directions. The interconnections in the North American energy industry are huge and growing — and could grow even closer during the Trump administration unless it decides to alter the flow of a key U.S. export (and import) — at the border. The U.S., Canada and Mexico have intentionally worked to combine the advantages of their energy resources. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would renegotiate NAFTA between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. While the new administration seems to be very friendly to the energy sector, there are still questions about whether there could be changes that affect the intricate web of energy connections between the three countries.

“It’s not so simple to say we’re going to renegotiate the trade deals. We set up the system to create those inter-linkages. You just can’t overnight legislate or executive order that away. If you try to do that, it’s going to have negative economic impacts, not just for the economies on the border but for these specific industries, like energy,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West. Trump’s selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as energy secretary, is seen as a positive for the oil and gas industry. Perry has spoken favorably about North America as an energy power house, including Mexico and Canada. Perhaps one of the most surprising recent developments is the boom in U.S. natural gas that’s flowing across the southern border, and the ambitious plans by the Mexican government to build more pipelines to take U.S. natural gas throughout Mexico and as far as Mexico City.

[..] The energy picture changed dramatically for North America in the last decade. The push by the U.S. energy industry into hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling unleashed an energy boom, making the U.S. the world’s biggest producer of natural gas and placing it firmly among the top three oil producers. That has changed the situation for all of North America, at a time when Mexico’s oil and gas output was in decline and Canada found some of its potential oil output landlocked. The ties between the three countries go way back. In the early 1900s, the U.S. began sharing electricity with its neighbors, and Canada is now a significant net exporter of electricity to the U.S.

One catalyst has been Mexico’s program of energy reform, intended to break the hold of state-owned Pemex on its industry and bring new private investment to Mexico’s energy industry. The decline in big part was due to a lack of investment by the government in Petroleos Mexicanos, and its increasing reliance on Pemex revenue stream for its own budget. “Before shale, the U.S. was importing a lot more gas from Canada,” said Anthony Yuen, global energy analyst at Citigroup. The U.S. was also worried not that long ago that it would need to import LNG, liquefied natural gas. But the shale boom changed everything.

Read more …

Fraud and shadow banking. Makes you wonder how pervasive this is. I have an idea.

China Bank Calls Documents ‘Fake’ After Bond Default Linked To Alibaba (R.)

The fate of a defaulted $45 million Chinese corporate bond sold through an Alibaba-backed online wealth management platform was thrown into doubt on Monday, after a bank said letters of guarantee for the bonds were counterfeit. China Guangfa Bank said guarantee documents, official seals and personal seals presented by the insurer of the bonds “are all fake” and that it has reported the matter to the police. The dispute highlights challenges in China’s loosely regulated online finance industry, where retail investors often buy high-yielding bonds and other assets, expecting them to be “risk-free” due to guarantees provided by various parties. At the center of the latest dispute are 312 million yuan ($45 million) worth of high-yielding bonds issued by southern Chinese phone maker Cosun Group that defaulted this month.

The bonds were sold through Zhao Cai Bao, an online platform run by Ant Financial Services Group, the payment affiliate of e-commerce firm Alibaba. Ant Financial has asked Zheshang Property and Casualty Insurance, which wrote insurance on the bonds, to repay investors. On Sunday, Zheshang Insurance published two documents on its website that it said were from CGB carrying the bank’s official seals, and that guaranteed Zheshang Insurance policies for the Consun bonds. The letters were issued at CGB’s Huizhou branch in December 2014, when the Cosun bonds were sold, Zheshang Insurance said.On Monday, CGB said the documents were fake and that it had reported the incident to police as “suspected financial fraud.” The dispute follows instances of financial fraud this year including forged bond agreements that led to brokerage Sealand Securities sharing potential losses of up to $2.4 billion. In May, the government advised banks to be vigilant after several cases of bill fraud.

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Well, yeah, that too.

The Trump Rally Is Young (CNBC)

A trade war with China – a country with a $473 billion of bilateral trade with America in the first ten months of this year – is an implausible assumption. But a serious conversation about the fact that Chinese exports to America represent three-quarters of that business is long overdue and entirely appropriate. The President-elect Donald Trump is seeking a better deal for America. That should be easy to understand and support for any fair- and free-trader. And, rest assured, Washington’s intent to correct its huge trade imbalance with China is not coming as a surprise to Beijing. The Zhongnanhai mandarins know that their trade surpluses with the U.S. – $366 billion in 2015 and $289 billion in the first ten months of this year – are difficult issues that must be addressed. That is the substance of the problem.The rest is rhetoric.

Mr. Trump’s opening salvo used legitimate trade remedies,such as import tariffs, anti-dumping investigations, and possibly other measures if China was recognized as an exchange-rate manipulator. China has announced that it would respond with unspecified retaliatory measures, but President Xi Jinping talked about the need for Sino-American cooperation in his congratulatory phone call to Mr. Trump. The Chinese also liked the appointment of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as an envoy to Beijing. They called him a “friend of China” and noted that he has known Mr.Xi since 1985. Difficult trade negotiating rounds are quite common. In this particular case, Washington also has the option of using non-confrontational measures to reduce the existing trade imbalance.

A change in the corporate taxation is one of them. That could bring back American manufacturing producing Chinese exports to the U.S. Some leaders of the U.S. Business Roundtable – a forum of 192 companies that account for most of investment activity in the United States – doubt that a large amount of that business can be quickly repatriated. They feel confident, however, that appropriate corporate tax cuts would keep firms producing and reinvesting their profits in the U.S. The corporate tax reform is at the top of Mr. Trump’s agenda, and that is perhaps one of the most effective trade signals he can send to China. Indeed, reducing the incentive for the exodus of American manufacturing, and bringing some of it back, would also stop large technology transfers that are part of mandatory Sino-American joint ventures for American firms doing business in China.

Read more …

Lazy?

What Is Productivity And Why Is The UK’s So Poor? (G.)

Productivity is a guide to how good a country is at delivering the goods and services that are bought and sold. Technically, it is the rate of output per unit of input, measured per worker or by the number of hours worked. In layman’s terms, it is a measure of what goes in and what comes out. In some sectors, productivity is easy to measure. A factory that makes 1,000 cars a day with 50 workers is twice as productive as a factory that requires 100 workers to do the same job. In other parts of the economy, assessing whether productivity has improved is harder and less objective. At face value a fast-food joint that employed the same number of chefs to cook the same number of hamburgers as they did a year earlier would not be showing any increase in productivity.

But if the quality of the hamburgers improved, that would be a productivity gain and statisticians would try to capture the improvement in the official figures. There are a number of ways in which a firm can make itself more productive. It can invest in new machinery that makes the production process more efficient. It can employ more highly skilled staff. It can train workers so that they can fully exploit the equipment they are using. It is through productivity improvements that living standards rise. For many years, the annual increase in productivity in the UK averaged around 2%, although there were periods when it was lower and periods when it was higher. Each year since the early 1990s, the Office for National Statistics has published an international comparison of productivity.

This showed that UK productivity was 9% lower than the average of the other six members of the G7 (the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada) but this gap narrowed to 4% by the time of the 2007 financial crisis. Since then, however, productivity in the UK has barely grown and the gap with the rest of the G7 has widened to 18%. The gap with Germany is 35% and with the US 30%. There have been a number of explanations for the dramatic deterioration in productivity: the availability of unskilled cheap labour has deterred firms from investment; the poor quality of UK roads, railways and broadband network; the shrinkage of the financial sector, which had been a source of high-productivity jobs in the boom before the 2007 crisis; and the misallocation of capital to “zombie” firms kept alive by ultra-low interest rates rather than to dynamic new enterprises.

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“Maybe the Americans [..] can use high tech trampolines to get into space and do without Russian technology.”

What’s Behind Obama’s Attacks On Putin (Carley)

Relations between Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama are poisoned and irretrievably damaged. It’s therefore a good thing that Obama is leaving office on 20 January. Bad US-Russian relations are of course nothing new. Since the Anglo-American war against Iraq in 2003, the US-Russian relationship has been headed downhill. For Obama, it appears that everything has gotten personal. The US president often acts like a petulant adolescent, jealous of a high school rival. You know, the kid who does everything better than he does. The lad takes it badly and won’t let it go. He challenges his nemesis to some new contest at every opportunity only to lose again and again. That’s got to be hard on the ego. Between Obama and Putin there have been many such encounters. Nor can it help that western cartoonists so often ridicule Obama as out of his depth in comparison to Putin.

Let’s consider Obama’s remarks at his last press conference on Friday, 16 December. «The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us», said Obama: «They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate». This was insulting both Putin and his country, but not enough apparently for Obama. «They [the Russians] can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values. Mr. Putin can weaken us, just like he’s trying to weaken Europe, if we start buying into notions that it’s okay to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like».

What on earth is Mr. Obama talking about? Intimidate the press? The Moscow newspapers and television media are loaded with «liberals». Many Russians call them «fifth columnists». They are «people with ‘more advanced’ worldview[s] who do not tolerate ‘Russian propaganda’ themselves», according to one colleague in Moscow. But Mr. Putin tolerates them and pays them no mind. «Lock up dissidents… discriminate against people»? What alternate reality does Mr. Obama live in? Doesn’t produce anything people want to buy? The United States buys rocket engines that it does not now produce at home. Maybe the Americans, a Russian commentator joked, can use high tech trampolines to get into space and do without Russian technology.

[..] You have to give credit to Obama; he was ambitious, aiming for a big prize and the humiliation of Russia and its president. Again, he was thwarted not so much by President Putin but by the Russian people of the Crimea who immediately mobilised their local self-defence units backed by «polite people», Russian marines stationed in Sevastopol, to kick out the Ukrainians with scarcely a shot fired. They organised a referendum to approve entry into the Russian Federation. Reunification was quickly approved by a huge majority and celebrated in Moscow. Putin gave a remarkably candid speech, explaining the Russian position. «NATO remains a military alliance,’ he said, «and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round».

Read more …

And why not?

British Councils Admit Massive Use Of Spying Powers On Public (G.)

Councils were given permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and fly-tipping, the Guardian can reveal. A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities – two-thirds of the 283 that responded – used the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives. Among the detailed examples provided were Midlothian council using the powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council gathering evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons. Wolverhampton used covert surveillance to check on the sale of dangerous toys and car clocking; Slough to aid an investigation into an illegal puppy farm; and Westminster to crack down on the selling of fireworks to children.

Meanwhile, Lancaster city council used the act, in 2012, for “targeted dog fouling enforcement” in two hotspots over 11 days. A spokeswoman pointed out that the law had since changed and Ripa could only now be used if criminal activity was suspected. The permissions for tens of thousands of days were revealed in a huge freedom of information exercise, carried out by the Liberal Democrats. It found that councils then launched 2,800 separate surveillance operations lasting up to 90 days each. Critics of the spying legislation say the government said it would only be used when absolutely necessary to protect British people from extreme threats. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem peer who represents the party on home affairs, said: “It is absurd that local authorities are using measures primarily intended for combating terrorism for issues as trivial as a dog barking or the sale of theatre tickets. Spying on the public should be a last resort not an everyday tool.”

Read more …

Masters of destruction. Who think they’re creators.

Humankind Has Created 30 Trillion Tons Of Stuff (F.)

Over the course of history, humans have made a lot of stuff — buildings, bottles, oil tankers, iPhones. Some of it is useful; a lot of it ends up being junk. It’s more than enough to leave behind a fossil legacy, were humanity to disappear. And as a species, our collection of stuff is only getting bigger. Researchers publishing in the peer-reviewed journal The Anthropocene Review now estimate that the sum material output of humankind exceeds 30 trillion tons. Spread evenly, that would amount to 110 lbs of human-made stuff for every square meter of Earth’s surface, as FORBES contributor Eric Mack pointed out. That’s a huge number. Here are some other, totally massive ways to conceive of our collective output: That’s about 16.8% of the weight of Mount Everest.

Now let’s visualize that number in terms of human-made things. It takes 5.9 billion Type D GVWR school buses at 10,000 lbs each to match all of humanity’s creations on Earth. If you’d prefer to view it in terms of larger objects such as Boeing 747-8 jet liners or International Space Stations, you’ll be looking at totals of 123 million and 66 million, respectively. If doomed cruise liners are your preferred unit of measurement, you would need over 647,ooo Titanics to come close to the immense weight of humanity’s creations. Increasing the size of your vessel to a 102-thousand ton Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and you cut down the number of boats you’ll need to 293 thousand.

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“Oh you’re in a hurry? Now we’re definitely not crossing the river.”

Being Busy Is Not Cool (Awl)

Because I personally only understand the world through different types of animals, I’m going to use an animal analogy to describe what I think. Let’s say you’re leading a horse and a donkey toward a river. When you reach the little slope that dips down to the riverbank, both of them are gonna pause and be like, “Hey, is this a good idea?” Typically, with a horse, maybe you tug the rope a little and, even though he’s still skeptical, a lot of the time he’ll defer to your logic. “I must be missing something here, it must be safe if you’re saying it is.” He’ll walk down the bank to investigate. The donkey is the opposite. If he has stopped to assess a situation and you try to force his hand before he’s ready, he digs in even deeper. “Oh you’re in a hurry? Now we’re definitely not crossing the river.”

Convincing behavior can be a signal of emotional bias, which can be a signal of poor judgment. In other words, if you need me to cross this river so badly, you’re probably not thinking of my best interest too closely, so let me look over your work. And if you want to rush me along? Seems like a tally mark in the “scam” column tbh. Busyness is the river our culture is trying to get us to cross. To use another example, let’s say someone bursts into the office on Monday morning announcing that everyone has to see the new Star Wars movie because it’s amazing and they’ve never seen anything like it. I’d immediately assume, “This person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Why? Because I am a donkey. I know anyone who’s seen a movie that moved them emotionally or made them them think some new thoughts doesn’t automatically burst through a door like a manic sitcom character evangelizing everyone they encounter. That’s not how that feeling acts. And it’s the same with being busy: signifying is not the same as being.

Read more …

“When we think of Italians or Irish, we don’t think of them as immigrants. They’re just people.”

The Man Who Saved 200 Syrian Refugees (TL)

When Jim Estill decided to sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families, he didn’t tell anyone about it at first—not his accountant, not his friends, not even his wife. It was the summer of 2015, and the death toll in Syria had reached a quarter of a million people, while another four million had fled the country. All summer long, the news reported horror stories of Syrians drowning in the Mediterranean. Humanitarian aid programs were being cut across the Middle East. As he watched the news, Estill got worked up. “I didn’t want to be 80 years old and know that I did nothing during the greatest humanitarian crisis of my time,” he says. Estill was disturbed by the wave of xenophobia that had emerged during the Harper administration.

He wanted to demonstrate how refugees could help enrich our society. One of his best friends, Franz Hasenfratz, was a refugee who fled Communist Hungary. Hasenfratz went on to establish Linamar, a car-parts manufacturer, which is Guelph’s largest employer, with nearly 10,000 employees. “I was trying to drown out the xenophobes,” Estill says. “When we think of Italians or Irish, we don’t think of them as immigrants. They’re just people.” So he did some math. He checked Kijiji to find out how much apartments in Guelph were renting for, googled child tax benefits and GST/HST rebates in Ontario, and formulated a monthly food budget. He estimated that $30,000 could support a family of five for one year. He multiplied that number by 50 and realized the total cost—$1.5 million—was one he could easily afford.

[..] After Labour Day, Estill called a slew of local religious organizations—including three churches, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a synagogue—and aid agencies like the Salvation Army. On September 29, 10 civic leaders sat down in Estill’s boardroom at Danby. He’d made a PowerPoint presentation titled Refugees: The Right Thing to Do. Muhammed Sayyed, the president of the Muslim Society of Guelph, was amazed that so many faith groups were participating, even though most of the refugees would be Muslim. When he met Estill, he was filled with gratitude. “I thought, Wow, there are still people like him,” he said. An hour after the group sat down, the project was launched. The Muslim Society of Guelph would create the infrastructure, handle the paperwork and lead the volunteers. Estill would sustain the program with monthly donations. The group partnered with the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, which was a sponsorship agreement holder. This meant Estill could choose which refugees he wanted to sponsor.

Read more …


Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 5:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Parisians duck down to evade German sniper fire following Nazi surrender of Paris, 1945

 

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?

Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.

 

The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.

Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?

The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.

That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.

 

None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.

Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.

The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?

 

The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.

“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.

We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.

This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.

 

 

We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.

Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?

The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.

To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).

 

An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.

It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.

It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.

But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.

 

Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.

We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.

Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.

 

 

I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.

The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.

 

 

It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.

One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.

Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.

Dec 082016
 
 December 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Jack Delano Cafe at truck drivers’ service station on U.S. 1, Washington DC 1940


Trump Bull Market Bounty Tops $1 Trillion (BBG)
Trump Win Set Off $2 Trillion Shock Rotation to Stocks From Debt (BBG)
Wall Street’s Calling the Sheep to the Slaughter – Again! (Stockman)
The Fed Shouldn’t Be Driving US Economy – Trump Advisor Judy Shelton (CNBC)
China’s Banks Are Hiding More Than $2 Trillion in Loans (WSJ)
China’s Foreign Reserves Down 25% Since 2014 (BBG)
China: World’s Top Oil Market Is Starting to Lose Its Sheen (BBG)
The Great ‘Living Within Our Means’ Con (Abc.au)
Australia Inexorably Marching Towards Recession (Mitchell)
Federal Judge Effectively Ends Recount In Michigan (BBG)
Boris Johnson: Saudi Arabia, Iran ‘Puppeteers’ In Middle East Proxy Wars (G.)
General Strike Shuts Down Greece on Thursday (R.)
EU To Set Greece Deadline For Forced Return Of Asylum Seekers (Pol.)
Greenland’s Ice-Free Past Exposes Sea Level Rise Danger (AFP)
Giraffes Face ‘Silent Extinction’ (BBC)

 

 

Don’t be fooled. It’s just keystrokes slushing around. Nobody produced anything.

Trump Bull Market Bounty Tops $1 Trillion (BBG)

Donald Trump is doing to U.S. equity bears what seven years of economic stimulus rarely could: shut them up. Two years of paralysis has for now ended in stocks, with more than $1 trillion added to shares values since Election Day and the DJIA looking bound for 20,000. Both the Dow and S&P 500 Index jumped to fresh records Wednesday, joined by transportation companies and small caps, while banks traded at eight-year highs. Wall Street stock forecasters, more pessimistic than any time since 2013 as recently as September, are suddenly falling over themselves to push up targets and explain a market where measures of anxiety are near five-year lows. The average call of bank prognosticators is for the S&P 500 to rally 3.4% next year, with strategists at JPMorgan and Bank of Montreal calling for even bigger gains.

For investors, the question is how much credence to put in analysts whose futility in sussing out Trump’s impact on share prices was rivaled only by the inaccuracy of political polls prior to his victory. Not only has he not been the disaster many of them warned about, the rally since he defeated Hillary Clinton is now the biggest for any new president since Ronald Reagan. “What we didn’t expect was the speed and the magnitude of the so-called ‘Trump Trade,’” Doug Ramsey at Leuthold Group wrote. “The consensus hope, which we share, is that tax reform and regulatory roll-back will extend and maybe enliven an economic recovery that’s already long in the tooth.” To be sure, pinpointing Trump’s role in the rally is an inexact science, and a case could be made that his election is coinciding with the consummation of the Fed’s efforts. Among other things, annualized GDP rose 3.2% in the third quarter, the most in two years, while unemployment hit a nine-year low in November.

Read more …

“..the great reflationary rotation trade..”

Trump Win Set Off $2 Trillion Shock Rotation to Stocks From Debt (BBG)

Donald Trump’s election win sent a $2 trillion shock wave through global markets over the past month. That’s how much equities’ global market value has jumped. And that’s about the size of the loss in worth of the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index of bonds, over the worst month for global bonds in dollar terms on record. Other assets were roiled, too: the yen plunged the most in 21 years against the dollar. It all amounted to a complete reversal of the playbooks mapped out by a bevy of analysts and investors who had anticipated a Brexit-style rush for havens in the event of a surprise Republican presidential victory. Those projections did pan out – for about eight hours, when the yen and Treasuries advanced as the vote-count momentum favored Trump.

Then the great reflationary rotation trade started, as Carl Icahn started snapping up S&P 500 futures and other investors decided that the likely new U.S. leader’s promises to cut taxes, boost spending and slash regulation would revive inflation and economic growth. Oh, and potentially force more aggressive interest-rate increases from the Fed. How lasting a pattern the new market dynamics will be is an open question, with more than a month to go before Trump takes office and plenty of potential roadblocks to his fiscal and regulatory proposals in a fractious U.S. Congress. For now, eyes turn toward next week’s Fed meeting to set the tone for the outlook as far as monetary policy goes. “It’s astounding how big the move has been,” said James Audiss at Shaw and Partners. “It’s been incredible. Now it all hinges on the Fed and the pace of those rate hikes, but for now the markets are happy to be risk-on.”

Read more …

Stockman slams the whole thing. Not looking for (another) Washington job?

Wall Street’s Calling the Sheep to the Slaughter – Again! (Stockman)

I believe the shock of Donald Trump’s election will soon be vastly exceeded by an even more shocking shutdown of Washington governance within days of the inauguration. For the first time since the 1930s there will be a crash on Wall Street and a recession on main street, but the Imperial City will be powerless to remedy either. That’s because financial history is not circular; it’s cumulative and all the fiscal and monetary artifices, expedients and frauds that can be deployed by the state to maintain the illusion of prosperity and soaring financial asset prices will have finally been exhausted. With the Fed pitifully impaled on the zero bound for 96-months running, it has become evident to even the bubble vision cheerleaders that the massive monetary stimulus of the last two decades is over and done.

The only thing left in the Fed’s arsenal is sub-zero interest rates, and that option does not have even a remote prospect of getting off the ground. Donald Trump won the election against all odds, and that he did so on the back of a populist uprising that is unmitigated bad news for Wall Street. Brandishing whatever the present day equivalent of torches and pitchforks might be, the people will surely descend en masse on the Eccles Building if the Fed even hints at the possibility of imposing negative rates on savers and retirees. Nor can the market be rescued through the backdoor of some kind of antiseptic QE that showers gamblers with unspeakable windfalls and stir the populist political pot to a full boil. The obvious dead-end of monetary policy, in fact, is why there has been such frenzied rotation to the Trump reflation trade after the election.

The idea of a massive Trump stimulus was literally invented on the spot late on election night by Wall Street operators in order to attract gullible homegamers into the casino one last time. But the smart money will soon be done selling and the unvarnished Washington disaster looming dead ahead will come screaming back into view. Even if Donald Trump had a semi-coherent economic program, which he clearly doesn’t, there is not a chance that he could get it through the Congress.

Read more …

But it’s all that’s left! Shelton is another option for next Fed head.

The Fed Shouldn’t Be Driving US Economy – Trump Advisor Judy Shelton (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve shouldn’t be driving the United States economy because monetary stimulus is quite limited, Trump economic advisor Judy Shelton told CNBC on Wednesday. “What you want is productive growth and the kind of growth that is truly stimulated by tax reform, by regulatory reform, trade reform and important infrastructure projects to upgrade our ability to be more productive as a nation,” she said in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” That’s what President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to do when he takes office, and the market apparently likes what it’s hearing. It has been rallying since Trump’s surprising win on Nov. 8, and on Wednesday the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 hit all-time highs.

However, the Fed meets next week and it is widely believed it will hike interest rates. Shelton, though, doesn’t believe a small rate increase is going to derail the rally because it is already priced in. If there is turmoil, then “things are a lot more fragile than we thought,” she said. Shelton, co-director of the Sound Money Project at Atlas Network, is known to favor the gold standard and calls the U.S. monetary system an “anti-system.” She’s also been touted by some as a good candidate to fill empty Fed spots. Jim Grant, founder and editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, told CNBC recently he likes Shelton as a replacement for Chair Janet Yellen when she retires in early 2018.

Read more …

It’s time someone takes a look at who’s behind the shadow banks.

China’s Banks Are Hiding More Than $2 Trillion in Loans (WSJ)

In 2014, the Chinese city of Haimen on the mouth of the Yangtze River set out to build a large apartment complex and turned to Bank of Nanjing for about $29 million in financing. The bank was happy to oblige but it didn’t call the money a loan, according to people familiar with the matter. It was added to Bank of Nanjing’s balance sheet as an “investment receivable,” a loosely regulated category of assets that allows bank officials to set aside little or nothing for potential losses. Bank officials aren’t shy about the accounting sleight of hand, which is rampant across China. The bank had about $39 billion in investment receivables in the third quarter, nearly as big as its loan portfolio, and profits have climbed by more than 20% a year.

As of June, 32 publicly traded Chinese banks had a total of $2 trillion in investment receivables as of June, up from $334 billion at the end of 2011, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of the latest available information from data provider Wind. The investments are equivalent to 20% of the same banks’ total loans in dollar terms, up from 6% at the end of 2011. The 32 banks have about 70% of all the banking assets in China. The surge shows how Chinese banks are trying to keep the credit spigot open to support the country’s slowing economy. Structuring financing deals as investments instead of loans frees up bank capital and makes it easier to extend loan deadlines or new credit to borrowers. The strategy has been especially popular at small and midsize banks, said executives and analysts.

The epidemic of investment receivables has created a parallel buildup of debt in addition to China’s rising official debt levels, now 2.5 times GDP. “The rapid growth in banks’ off-balance-sheet and investment activities, in essence, means hidden credit risks and could threaten financial safety,” said Shang Fulin, China’s top banking regulator, in an unusually blunt speech in September. Economists at Swiss bank UBS estimate as much as $2.4 trillion (16.5 trillion yuan) was “missing” from the broadest measurement of credit disclosed by China’s central bank last year, up from $712 billion (4.9 trillion yuan) in 2014. The discrepancy is largely because Chinese commercial banks use so-called shadow lenders to mask loans as investments, the economists said.

Read more …

That’s a lot.

China’s Foreign Reserves Down 25% Since 2014 (BBG)

China’s foreign currency reserves, the world’s largest, fell the most since January after the yuan declined to an eight-year low. • Reserves decreased $69.1 billion to $3.05 trillion in November, the People’s Bank of China said in a statement Wednesday • That compares with the median forecast of $3.06 trillion in a Bloomberg survey of economists • Decline was biggest since reserves tumbled $99.5 billion in January • The fifth-straight monthly decline brings the reduction in the stockpile to almost $1 trillion from a record $4 trillion in June 2014. While authorities have begun tightening capital controls, a $50,000 limit that Chinese citizens are allowed to convert from yuan annually will reset at the start of the new year, potentially adding depreciation pressure on the currency.

“Containing capital outflows is the key to keeping China’s systematic risk in check,” Harrison Hu, chief greater China economist at RBS in Singapore, wrote in a note. “Market turmoil one year earlier showed the strong feedback loop between capital flight and currency depreciation can destabilize China’s financial system and lead to escalating systemic risk.” “A combination of yuan weakness and a peak in the mainland property sector is conspiring to increase capital outflows,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a report. “Another month of falling reserves does little to inspire confidence, especially as households await the renewal of their FX quota at the start of 2017. Even so, with the yuan steady so far in December and capital controls in place, there’s reason to hope China’s reserve buffer will end the year on a more stable note.”

Read more …

The teapots are full. Also, at some point capital flight and foreign reserves will become part of this.

China: World’s Top Oil Market Is Starting to Lose Its Sheen (BBG)

One of the biggest engines soaking up the world’s oil is starting to sputter. Growth in crude imports by China, the second largest consumer after the U.S., will probably slow by more than 60% in 2017, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts including FGE and Energy Aspects. Private refiners that helped boost purchases to record levels are expected to be constrained by tighter licenses and increased scrutiny on their taxes. At the same time, the current space available for stockpiles may run out. While OPEC’s deal to curb output may help erode a glut and lift prices, Chinese imports remain key for any sustained recovery. It’s the biggest buyer in Asia, the world’s top oil market, and its insatiable appetite was a significant driver for crude’s climb to more than $100 a barrel in the past decade.

[..] Concern about teapots’ creditworthiness and lack of experience in international trade are challenges, while the implementation of higher fuel-quality standards could force some to shut. The Chinese government has signaled its intention to slow new quota approvals as it assesses whether the teapots made good on their pledges to close outdated refining units or build storage facilities, according to JPMorgan, which predicts the Asian nation’s oil imports may stop expanding in 2017. Stockpiling may also slow. In 2016, a lot of China’s imports went into oil storage, said Amy Sun, an analyst with ICIS-China. “Going into next year, due to the slow construction of new capacity and already full tanks in current facilities, there will be limited space for further growth.”

Read more …

“..the Government cannot run out of money, and at times like this — when it saves instead of spending — the only thing that can make the economy grow is if we do the borrowing. And, unlike the Government, we as individuals can — and will — run out of cash.”

The Great ‘Living Within Our Means’ Con (Abc.au)

The greatest lie ever sold is that the Australian Government can run out of Australian dollars. This is exactly the lie Treasurer Scott Morrison wants you to believe as he rolls out the same old deception — deficit bad, surplus good — ahead of next year’s budget. Social Services Minister Christian Porter is relying on this myth as he tries to sell more cuts to the dole and other welfare benefits: by giving voters the impression that welfare bludgers are sending the country broke and that they have to be made to suffer in the cause of “budget repair”. If you feel like there is a disconnect between your bank balance and what you see and hear on television, you are not taking crazy pills.

“Smashed avo” commentators like Bernard Salt paint everyone from Generation X through to “The Millennials” as ingrates who are incapable of saving, while the Government takes a victory lap claiming 25 years of “unprecedented economic growth”. In reality, Australia is experiencing its first quarter of negative economic growth in five years and the weakest wage growth since the last recession. Official figures released yesterday by the ABS showed a 0.5% contraction in seasonally-adjusted GDP growth for the September quarter, dragging the yearly growth number down to 1.8%. The figures fell well shy of market expectations, with Bloomberg having forecasted a 0.1% contraction over the third quarter down from its previous forecast of 0.2% growth. For its part, the RBA has kept the official cash rate on hold again this week.


The ratio of disposable income to debt for households (released November 2, 2016). (ABS, RBA)

Meanwhile, homes are less affordable, jobs are less secure, a growing number of people are forced into part-time work, and more and more people are struggling to pay their bills and must therefore cope with a greater burden of debt. “There are more than 15% of willing labourers not working in one form or another,” economist Professor Bill Mitchell said. Saying things like “we have to live within our means” is telling voters the Government — which issues the dollar — can run out of its own money. But this is literally impossible. Our means as a country are limited to what we can produce using our effort, our skills and our technology. The Government cannot spend without limit, or it will cause inflation. But the Government cannot run out of money, and at times like this — when it saves instead of spending — the only thing that can make the economy grow is if we do the borrowing. And, unlike the Government, we as individuals can — and will — run out of cash.

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Not enough space here to do Bill Mitchell justice. Thorough.

Australia Inexorably Marching Towards Recession (Mitchell)

The following graph shows the quarterly percentage growth in real GDP over the last five years to the September-quarter 2016 (blue columns) and the ABS trend series (red line) superimposed. Growth was negative in the September-quarter 2016 – minus 0.5% (annualised minus 2%). The annual growth figure of 1.8% is down from 3.1% in the June-quarter and shows how far the economy has slipped. It is now well below trend growth and well below the figure required to maintain stable unemployment (much less reduce it). The annualised growth from this quarter (if continued) means Australia will enter a deep and totally unnecessary recession that has been chosen by the Federal Government, which claims it is intent on pursuing a fiscal surplus.

The automatic stabilisers are already working against that and the ABS announced yesterday that Taxation revenue fell a further 15.3% in the September-quarter against a very small increase in spending. In the June-quarter, it was the large boost in public sector infrastructure spending that saved the economy from negative growth such was the overall weakness of non-government spending. As we will see soon, that contribution turned negative and so went the aggregate growth position. While exports continued to grow (with an uptick in the terms of trade), the external sector overall subtracted from growth. Add to that the fact that domestic wages growth is flat and household indebtedness is at record levels and you have a fairly sober outlook.

If the government sector persists in implementing its planned spending cuts then recession looms for the Australian economy. The graph clearly shows that the trend has been downwards for 4-quarters now and will hit zero by the time we learn about the current December-quarter data unless there is a dramatic shift in government policy. It must announce renewed stimulus or face recession.

The following graph presents quarterly growth rates in trend GDP and hours worked using the National Accounts data for the last five years to the September-quarter 2016. You can see the major dislocation between the two measures that appeared in the middle of 2011 persisted throughout 2013 and has reasserted itself in recent quarters. The GDP growth has driven by capital-intensive exports and more recently, capital infrastructure growth, which is one reason why labour productivity growth had been strong and employment growth weak. Just in case you think the labour force data is suspect, the hours worked computed from that data is very similar to that computed from the National Accounts.

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Hard to keep track of this circus.

Federal Judge Effectively Ends Recount In Michigan (BBG)

A recount of presidential election ballots in Michigan was effectively halted after a federal judge deferred to a state court finding that losing Green Party candidate Jill Stein wasn’t an “aggrieved person.” U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith in Detroit ruled Monday that the recount could proceed, then reversed himself Wednesday after Republican backers of President-elect Donald Trump persuaded a state appeals panel that Stein wasn’t qualified to initiate the process because she had no chance of winning the election. Stein’s lawsuit was based on claims of potential hacking of electronic voting machines and reports of foreign interference in the election, particularly by Russia.

Stein has “not presented evidence of tampering or mistake,” Goldsmith wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. Instead, she has made “speculative claims going to the vulnerability of the voting machinery – but not actual injury,” he said. Stein’s attorneys had argued the Michigan Court of Appeals misinterpreted state law when it accepted a claim by state Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, that Stein couldn’t petition for a recount because she wasn’t an “aggrieved person.” Goldsmith wrote that he was obligated to follow Michigan law, which permits a recount to an “aggrieved” candidate who stands a reasonable chance of winning an election “but for mistake or fraud.”

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Someone has to say it.

Boris Johnson: Saudi Arabia, Iran ‘Puppeteers’ In Middle East Proxy Wars (G.)

Boris Johnson accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, in remarks that flout a longstanding Foreign Office convention not to criticise the UK’s allies in public. The foreign secretary told a conference in Rome last week that the behaviour of Saudi Arabia, and also Iran, was a tragedy, adding that there was an absence of visionary leadership in the region that was willing to reach out across the Sunni-Shia divide. At the event, Johnson said: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.”

The foreign secretary then identified Saudi Arabia and Iran specifically, saying: “That’s why you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in, and puppeteering and playing proxy wars.” Johnson’s criticism of Saudi Arabia came as Theresa May returned from a prestigious two-day visit to the Gulf in which she lauded both the Saudi royal family for its visionary leadership, and the value of the 100-year-old alliance with the UK. Foreign Office ministers, aware of Saudi sensitivity to criticism and the strategic importance of the Gulf relationship, usually soft-pedal and focus on their path to reform. [..] The British defence industry is also heavily dependent on arms contracts with the Gulf states, and the Royal Navy has established a major naval base in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Johnson is due to visit the region this weekend, when he will have to explain why he thinks the Gulf states are abusing Islam for political ends.

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It just goes on. And then one day this will not end well.

General Strike Shuts Down Greece on Thursday (R.)

Greeks went on strike on Thursday to protest planned labor reforms and painful austerity cuts demanded by the country’s EU and IMF lenders as part of a crucial bailout review. Passenger ships remained docked at ports, city transport was disrupted and local administration offices shut down as workers joined the 24-hour nationwide walkout called by the country’s largest private and public sector unions, GSEE and ADEDY. “The burden we carry is already unbearable,” said GSEE in a statement, calling lenders’ demands “irrational”. “The downturn must finally end,” its rally poster read. Workers and pensioners will march in central Athens later in the day. Turnout in street protests has been low since Greece signed up to a third international bailout in July 2015 after tough negotiations that almost forced it out of the eurozone.

Eurozone finance ministers said on Monday that Athens and its lenders needed to speed up the review which has hit a snag on labour reforms, including liberalising mass layoffs and reviving collective bargaining between employers and unions. Energy reforms and measures to plug a projected fiscal gap in 2018, when Greece’s bailout program expires, are also among thorny issues in the review which may resume next week. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes a deal can be reached by the end of the year for the country’s bonds to be included in the ECB’s bond buying program by March 2017. [..] In parliament, lawmakers debated more tax hikes and spending cuts as part of next year’s budget, which projects the economy will grow by 2.7% and attain a 2% of GDP primary surplus – excluding debt servicing costs.

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The peaks of NIMBY.

EU To Set Greece Deadline For Forced Return Of Asylum Seekers (Pol.)

The European Commission will set Greece a deadline on Thursday to fix its migration system and resume taking in asylum seekers from March next year, which would put an end to its six year-long exemption from the EU’s “Dublin rules” on asylum. Under an agreement signed in the Irish capital in 1990, member countries which are the first point of entry for people seeking asylum in the EU have an obligation to process their application, and take them back if they have travelled on to other EU countries without authorization. Transfers from other EU countries to Greece were suspended in 2011, however, after the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that conditions in Greek facilities for asylum seekers were unacceptable.

A new 17-page proposal from the Commission, set to be adopted on Thursday and obtained by POLITICO, says: “It is recommended that the transfer of asylum applicants to Greece … should be resumed.” Forcing Greece to assume its responsibilities is part of a wider effort to reduce controls at many of the EU’s internal borders that were reintroduced in response to the refugee crisis, causing the temporary suspension of Schengen, the passport-free travel zone. Countries that reimposed border controls, such as Austria, Germany and Denmark, are likely to only remove them if they can send back asylum seekers to the country where they first set foot in the EU. The current state of the Dublin system will be on EU leaders’ agenda at their summit in Brussels next week.

Prior to that, their interior ministers meet on Friday to discuss arrangements for dealing with asylum seekers, as well as a controversial Commission proposal for a permanent relocation system in the event of unusually high levels of refugee arrivals. The Greek government has its work cut out if it is to respond to the Commission’s request for a report by mid-February on improvements in the standard of accommodation for asylum seekers and the management of the asylum process. “In terms of quality, many of the reception facilities in Greece still fall short of the requirements,” says the Commission document, adding that there are particular problems on the Aegean islands, where reception centers “are not only overcrowded but have substandard material conditions in terms of sanitation and hygiene.”

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Instability is the key word.

Greenland’s Ice-Free Past Exposes Sea Level Rise Danger (AFP)

The massive Greenland ice sheet has melted away at least once during the last 1.4 million years, according to a study published on Wednesday, raising fears that manmade climate change could provoke dangerous sea levels. Bedrock samples retrieved through more than three kilometres (two miles) of ice reveal for the first time that the island’s surface was exposed directly to the atmosphere in the not-so-distant past. It may have been a single period of up to 280,000 years, or several shorter ones, researchers reported in the journal Nature. But either way the evidence shows that the island was largely ice-free. “Unfortunately, this makes the Greenland ice sheet look highly unstable,” said lead author Joerg Schaefer, a palaeoclimatologist at Columbia University in New York.

Covering an area larger than France, Spain and Germany combined, the northern hemisphere’s largest ice block on land is kilometres thick and holds enough frozen water to lift the world’s oceans by more than seven metres (24 feet). Even a couple of metres would swamp cities that are home to hundreds of millions of people and planted with many of the crops that feed them. Hence the sense of urgency among climate scientists trying to figure out just how sensitive the ice sheet is to global warming, which has already pushed temperatures in the Arctic region 2ºC (3.6ºF) above pre-industrial era levels – twice the global average. The rate of Greenland’s ice loss has doubled since the 1990s. In the last four years alone, the ice sheet has shed more than a trillion tonnes of mass, according to earlier research.

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“..giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people..”

Giraffes Face ‘Silent Extinction’ (BBC)

A dramatic drop in giraffe populations over the past 30 years has seen the world’s tallest land mammal classified as vulnerable to extinction. Numbers have gone from around 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015 according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The iconic animal has declined because of habitat loss, poaching and civil unrest in many parts of Africa. Some populations are growing, mainly in southern parts of the continent. Until now, the conservation status of giraffes was considered of “least concern” by the IUCN. However in their latest global Red List of threatened species, the ungainly animal is now said to be “vulnerable”, meaning that over three generations, the population has declined by more that 30%.

According to Dr Julian Fennessy, who co-chairs the IUCN giraffe specialist group, the creatures are undergoing a “silent extinction”. “If you go on a safari, giraffes are everywhere,” he told BBC News. “While there have been great concern about elephants and rhinos, giraffes have gone under the radar but, unfortunately, their numbers have been plummeting, and this is something that we were a little shocked about, that they have declined by so much in so little time.” The rapid growth of human populations has seen the expansion of farming and other forms of development that has resulted in the fragmentation of the giraffe’s range in many parts of Africa. But civil unrest in parts of the continent has also taken its toll. “In these war torn areas, in northern Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia in the border area with South Sudan, essentially the giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people,” said Dr Fennessy.

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Dec 022016
 
 December 2, 2016  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Washington, DC, Storm damage..” Between 1913 and 1918


Global Bonds Suffer Worst Monthly Meltdown as $1.7 Trillion Lost (BBG)
What’s Causing The Fire Sale In The Bond Market (CNBC)
Donald Trump Promises to Usher In New ‘Industrial Revolution’ (WSJ)
Trump Will End Growth-Zapping Fiscal Austerity – McCulley (CNBC)
China’s Central Bank Is Facing a Major New Headache (BBG)
Rural China Banks With $4 Trillion Assets Face Debt Test (BBG)
Obama Set To Block Chinese Takeover Of German Semiconductor Supplier (BBG)
QE Infinity Eyed In Europe If Renzi Loses Crucial Italian Referendum (CNBC)
December 4 Could Trigger the “Most Violent Economic Shock in History” (IM)
How Putin, Khamenei And Saudi Prince Got OPEC Deal Done (R.)
Russian Oil Output Near Post-Soviet Record as It Prepares to Cut (BBG)
US Veterans Arrive At Pipeline Protest Camp In North Dakota (R.)
Joy As China Shelves Plans To Dam ‘Angry River’ (G.)
World’s Growing Inequality Is ‘Ticking Time Bomb’: Nobel Laureate Yunus (R.)
This Is The Most Dangerous Time For Our Planet (Stephen Hawking)

 

 

Things get crowded, it’s inevitable. And much more so in manipulated markets.

Global Bonds Suffer Worst Monthly Meltdown as $1.7 Trillion Lost (BBG)

The 30-year-old bull market in bonds looks to be ending with a bang. The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Total Return Index lost 4% in November, the deepest slump since the gauge’s inception in 1990. Treasuries extended declines Thursday along with European bonds on speculation that the ECB will consider sending a signal that stimulus will eventually end. The reflation trade has been driving markets since Donald Trump’s election victory due to his promises of tax cuts and $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. Calling an end to the three-decade bond bull market is no longer looking like a fool’s errand: the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again – and do so more often than once a year, inflationary expectations are climbing and there are hints global central banks may buy less sovereign debt going forward.

Investors pulled $10.7 billion from U.S. bond funds in the two weeks after Trump’s victory, the biggest exodus since 2013’s “taper tantrum,” while American stock indexes jumped to records. “The market has moved with remarkable swiftness to price in the anticipated reflationary impact of a Trump administration,” said Matthew Cairns, a strategist at Rabobank International in London. “This has, in turn, prompted a notable rotation out of fixed income and into equities.” Still, Cairns cautioned the moves are “remarkable given the distinct lack of clarity as regards what policies the president-elect will actually pursue.” November’s rout wiped a record $1.7 trillion from the global index’s value in a month that saw world equity markets’ capitalization climb $635 billion.

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Eevrybody’s been on the same side of the boat for too long.

What’s Causing The Fire Sale In The Bond Market (CNBC)

There’s a fire sale in the bond market, and the November jobs report could make it burn even hotter. The wild move came amid speculation that Friday’s employment report could be better-than-expected and drive interest rates even higher. Interest rates surged Thursday, with the 10-year yield spiking as much as 12 basis points at its peak, to 2.49%, the highest yield since June 2015. Yields move inversely to prices and rates snapped higher across the whole yield curve. The 2-year pressed up against 1.17% and the 30-year rose to as high as 3.15%. In afternoon trading, some of the selling subsided, and the 10-year yield slipped back to just under 2.44%, but 2.50 is being watched as the next psychological line in the sand.

“In order to stay above 2.50, it’s got to be a really good number. The way we’re going, it’s like an unhinged market. It’s also going to be counterproductive for things down the road. This is not a healthy adjustment in rates. There’s going to be some losses on this,” said George Goncalves at Nomura. The 10-year yield affects consumer loans especially home mortgage rates, which have already risen near 4%, slowing borrowing activity. The 2-year is the rate most closely watched as a signal about the market’s expectation for Fed rate activity. The Fed is expected to hike rates Dec. 14 but traders have been speculating a stronger economy could force it into a faster hiking cycle next year.

Strategists say Thursday’s rate spike was driven by a combination of factors and at the same time inexplicable in its scope. The overriding themes are that the world is moving to a higher interest rate environment and for the first time in years, there could be inflation. OPEC’s deal to cut production Wednesday, drove oil prices 15% higher in just two days, ramping up inflation expectations that already had been on the rise.

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“There is no global anthem, no global currency..”

Donald Trump Promises to Usher In New ‘Industrial Revolution’ (WSJ)

President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday said his administration would usher in a new “Industrial Revolution,” one of numerous promises he made in Cincinnati as he began a nationwide “Thank You” tour following his Nov. 8 election. Mr. Trump used the 53-minute speech, the first of its kind since he became president-elect, to reflect on his victory but also to outline a number of goals, many of them lofty, for his term as president. The speech was more than just thematic, however. He said for the first time that on Monday he would announce that he was nominating Ret. Gen. James Mattis as his first secretary of defense. Mr. Trump promised sweeping changes to trade policy, national security, infrastructure, military spending and immigration. He said he wanted to work with Democrats but said he could get the work done without them, even without his supporters.

“Now that you put me in this position, even if you don’t help me one bit, I’m going to get it done,” he said. “Don’t worry.” The Cincinnati rally resembled, in some ways, the campaign rallies he held for months as his candidacy gained steam during the year. There were chants of “U.S.A.,” and vendors sold Trump campaign memorabilia. But there was one notable difference: with the election over, the crowd was far smaller[..] During his speech, he stuck to many of his campaign promises. He said a wall would be built along the U.S.-Mexico border. He said his administration would “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. He said the Trump administration would seek plans and deals that benefited Americans first and not get duped into deals with other countries. “There is no global anthem, no global currency,” he said. “We pledge allegiance to one flag, and that flag is the American flag.”

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It’ll fail. You can’t ‘make’ growth.

Trump Will End Growth-Zapping Fiscal Austerity – McCulley (CNBC)

Economist Paul McCulley told CNBC on Thursday he’s had a “big ax to grind” with Washington for years over the need for more deficit spending, and it appears Republican Donald Trump may actually be the one to deliver. The stock market rally since Trump won the presidential election has been reflecting that notion, argued McCulley, who said he voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. “The market is essentially celebrating the end of fiscal austerity. And it just happens to be a vehicle of Mr. Trump. But the end of fiscal austerity is the key economic issue.” “My big ax to grind in recent years — not months but years — is that we needed to have more fiscal policy expansion, because we’re in a liquidity trap,” said McCulley, former chief economist at Pimco. He said too much responsibility has fallen on the Federal Reserve for growing the economy.

“We needed some help with larger budget deficits.” “I’ve never had an issue with increasing the size of the budget deficit. I think it’s been too small. I have zero problem with increased public investment and funding it with deficits,” he said. “To the extent that Mr. Trump wants to do that, I think that is the right Keynesian policy.” McCulley was referring to the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who is often credited with the concept of deficit spending as a means of fiscal policy. “My biggest complaints for the person I voted for, Mrs. Clinton, is that she said, ‘I will not add a penny to the national debt.’ That was basically putting you in a straightjacket of fiscal austerity forever,” said McCulley, senior fellow in financial macroeconomics at Cornell Law School.

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Mundell: “..nations can’t sustain a fixed exchange rate, independent monetary policy, and open capital borders all at the same time..”

China’s Central Bank Is Facing a Major New Headache (BBG)

People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan already has one policy headache with the currency falling to near an eight-year low. He could have an even bigger one next month. That’s when a $50,000 cap on how much foreign currency individuals are allowed to convert each year resets, potentially aggravating capital outflow pressures that are already on the rise. If just 1% of China’s almost 1.4 billion people max out those limits, that’s an outflow of about $700 billion – more than the estimated $620 billion that Bloomberg Intelligence estimates indicate has already flowed out in the first 10 months of this year. Middle class and wealthy Chinese have been converting money into other currencies to protect themselves from devaluation, exacerbating downward pressure on the yuan.

Outflows could intensify if Federal Reserve interest-rate hikes fuel further dollar appreciation. That leaves Zhou in a bind identified by Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Mundell as the “impossible trinity” – a principle that dictates nations can’t sustain a fixed exchange rate, independent monetary policy, and open capital borders all at the same time. “At a moment like this, you have to compare two evils and pick the less-worse one,” said George Wu, who worked as a PBOC monetary policy official for 12 years. “Capital free flow may have to be abandoned in order to maintain a relatively stable currency rate.” China is moving further away from balance among trinity variables, at least temporarily, and “it may take a while before the situation stabilizes” for the yuan and capital outflows, said Wu, who’s now chief economist at Huarong Securities in Beijing.

[..] rather than raise borrowing costs to try to make domestic returns more attractive – China has added new restrictions on the flow of money across its borders. They include a pause on some foreign acquisitions and bigger administrative hurdles to taking yuan overseas, people familiar with the steps have told Bloomberg News. China should cut intervention in foreign exchange markets while stepping up capital control, Yu Yongding, a former academic member of the PBOC’s monetary policy committee, said Friday at a conference in Beijing. Yuan internationalization shouldn’t be promoted too aggressively, said Yu, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

About $1.5 trillion has exited the country since the beginning of 2015. While China still has the world’s largest foreign exchange stockpile, the hoard shrank in October to a five-year low of $3.12 trillion, PBOC data show. That means there’s less in the armory to battle depreciation if China’s famously frugal savers park more cash abroad. The outflow pressure rose in January as individuals socked away a record amount in domestic bank accounts denominated in other currencies. Household foreign deposits surged 8.1% to $97.4 billion, according to the central bank, for the biggest jump since it began tracking the data in 2011. Those holdings stood at $113.1 billion in October.

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The correct way to write this is: “Assets”.

Rural China Banks With $4 Trillion Assets Face Debt Test (BBG)

Bond investors are weighing rising risks that smaller Chinese banks will fail against growing signs the government will do anything to avoid a financial meltdown. A lender called Guiyang Rural Commercial Bank in the southwestern province of Guizhou sparked concern that risks among smaller lenders are spreading after its rating outlook was cut last month following a jump in overdue loans to 30% of the total. That compares with just 3% at the nation’s biggest lender. Short-term borrowing costs surged for the riskiest lenders including rural commercial banks, which hold 29 trillion yuan ($4.2 trillion) of assets, 13.4% of the total amount in China’s banking system.

Yet confidence in the government’s readiness to step in and offer support to struggling borrowers is rising as authorities allow a credit-fueled recovery of manufacturing activity, helping an official factory gauge match a post-2012 high last month. While 17 onshore public bonds defaulted in the first half of the year, there have since been only seven. The combination of government support and desperation for yield helps explain why Guiyang Rural was able to sell a junior bond at 4.7% last month, 1.7 %age points less than a similar offering last year. “Investors have yet to suffer losses from any bank capital securities, which adds to their confidence,” said He Xuanlai at Commerzbank.

“Smaller banks have a less diversified business profile and will likely get less support from the central government compared with bigger banks. Still, the base case is the government is still not ready to let any bank fail in a disorderly way.” That assumption has helped cut the extra yield investors demand to hold AA- rated five-year bank subordinated notes over AAA rated peers to a record low of 81 basis points, from 113 at the start of the year. There are some positive fundamentals. Rural banks are tied with the big five state-owned banks for the best Tier 1 capital ratio at 12%, according to an analysis by Natixis.

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And Germany says what?

Obama Set To Block Chinese Takeover Of German Semiconductor Supplier (BBG)

U.S. President Barack Obama is poised to block a Chinese company from buying Germany’s Aixtron, people familiar with the matter said, which would mark only the third time in more than a quarter century that the White House has rejected an investment by an overseas buyer as a national security risk. The president is expected Friday to uphold a recommendation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. that the sale of the semiconductor-equipment supplier to China’s Grand Chip Investment should be stopped, according to the people, who asked not to be identified as the details aren’t public. Blocking the €670 million ($714 million) acquisition would mark the second time Obama has rejected a deal on national security grounds. The first was in 2012 when he stopped Chinese-owned Ralls Corp. from developing a wind farm near a Navy base in Oregon.

Before that, in 1990 then-president George H.W. Bush stopped a Chinese acquisition of MAMCO, an aircraft-parts maker. CFIUS reviews purchases of U.S. companies by foreign buyers and pays particular attention to purchases of technology, especially when it has defense applications. It has a say in the Aixtron deal because the company has a subsidiary in California and employs about 100 people in the U.S., where it generates about 20% of its sales. Aixtron technology can be used to produce light-emitting diodes, lasers, transistors, solar cells, among other products, and can have military applications in satellite communications and radar. Northrop Grumman, a major U.S. defense contractor, is among its customers, according to a Bloomberg supply chain analysis. “It will be extremely difficult for China’s state owned enterprises to do deals in the semiconductor industry looking forward,” said He Weiwen at the Center for China and Globalization.

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A No vote is also a vote against the ECB.

QE Infinity Eyed In Europe If Renzi Loses Crucial Italian Referendum (CNBC)

Dovish words from the ECB this week have fueled speculation of more accommodative monetary policy if Italians reject constitutional reforms this weekend, but one economist has told CNBC that it might not be that simple. “The market believes that we are basically in for QE infinity in Europe and that might be a stretch of the imagination,” said Elga Bartsch, Morgan Stanley’s global co-head of economics. While the Morgan Stanley economist acknowledged the rhetoric emanating from ECB President Mario Draghi this week arguably did imply there could be a so-called “Draghi put” in the case of a “no” vote in the referendum, she also posited that this view was somewhat simplistic.

“There was strong communication from him (Draghi) and a number of executive board members at the ECB, but at the same time, the views of the broader council and among the national central bank governors seem to be a little bit more mixed,” she explained. “For instance, the debate as to whether instead of extending by six months at €80 billion, just to do nine months of €60 billion doesn’t really want to go away,” Bartsch noted.

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“December 4 referendum fails >> M5S comes to power >> Italians vote to leave the euro currency >> European Union collapses.”

December 4 Could Trigger the “Most Violent Economic Shock in History” (IM)

The Five Star Movement (M5S) is Italy’s new populist political party. It’s anti-globalist, anti-euro, and vehemently anti-establishment. It doesn’t neatly fall into the left–right political paradigm. M5S has become the most popular political party in Italy. It blames the country’s chronic lack of growth on the euro currency. A large plurality of Italians agrees. M5S has promised to hold a vote to leave the euro and reinstate Italy’s old currency, the lira, as soon as it’s in power. That could be very soon. Given the chance, Italians probably would vote to return to the lira. If that happens, it would awaken a monetary volcano. The Financial Times recently put it this way: “An Italian exit from the single currency would trigger the total collapse of the eurozone within a very short period. It would probably lead to the most violent economic shock in history, dwarfing the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008 and the 1929 Wall Street crash.”

If the FT is even partially right, it means a stock market crash of historic proportions could be imminent. It could devastate anyone with a brokerage account. Here’s how it could all happen… On December 4, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s current pro-EU government is holding a referendum on changing Italy’s constitution. In effect, a “Yes” vote is a vote of approval for Renzi’s government. A “No” vote is a chance for the average Italian to give the finger to EU bureaucrats in Brussels. Given the intense anger Italians feel right now, it’s very likely they’ll do just that. According to the latest polls, the “No” camp has 54% support and all of the momentum. Even prominent members of Renzi’s own party are defecting to the “No” side.

If the December 4 referendum fails, Renzi has promised to resign. Even if he doesn’t, the loss would politically castrate him. In all likelihood his government would collapse. (Italian governments have a short shelf life. There have been 63 since 1945. That’s almost a rate of a new government each year.) One way or another, M5S will come to power. It’s just a matter of when. If Renzi’s December 4 referendum fails—and it looks like it will—M5S will likely take over within months. Once it’s in power, M5S will hold a referendum on leaving the euro and returning to the lira. Italians will likely vote to leave. [..] December 4 referendum fails >> M5S comes to power >> Italians vote to leave the euro currency >> European Union collapses.

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Don’t be fooled: it’s all Putin, the one non-OPEC voice. And he’s playing the rest like so many fiddles.

How Putin, Khamenei And Saudi Prince Got OPEC Deal Done (R.)

[..] Heading into the meeting, the signs were not good. Oil markets went into reverse. Saudi Prince Mohammed had repeatedly demanded Iran participate in supply cuts. Saudi and Iranian OPEC negotiators had argued in circles in the run-up to the meeting. And, then, just a few days beforehand, Riyadh appeared back away from a deal, threatening to boost production if Iran failed to contribute cuts. But Putin established that the Saudis would shoulder the lion’s share of cuts, as long as Riyadh wasn’t seen to be making too large a concession to Iran. A deal was possible if Iran didn’t celebrate victory over the Saudis. A phone call between Putin and Iranian President Rouhani smoothed the way.

After the call, Rouhani and oil minister Bijan Zanganeh went to their supreme leader for approval, a source close to the Ayatollah said. “During the meeting, the leader Khamenei underlined the importance of sticking to Iran’s red line, which was not yielding to political pressures and not to accept any cut in Vienna,” the source said. “Zanganeh thoroughly explained his strategy … and got the leader’s approval. Also it was agreed that political lobbying was important, especially with Mr. Putin, and again the Leader approved it,” said the source. On Wednesday, the Saudis agreed to cut production heavily, taking “a big hit” in the words of energy minister Khalid al-Falih – while Iran was allowed to slightly boost output. Iran’s Zanganeh kept a low profile during the meeting, OPEC delegates said.

Zanganeh had already agreed the deal the night before, with Algeria helping mediate, and he was careful not to make a fuss about it. After the meeting, the usually combative Zanganeh avoided any comment that might be read as claiming victory over Riyadh. “We were firm,” he told state television. “The call between Rouhani and Putin played a major role … After the call, Russia backed the cut.”

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As you can see here, Putin even prepared for the cuts: all Russia needs to cut is that 2016 production surge. Which may have been untenable to begin with. And it catches out those who haven’t created a surge, but will have to cut anyway.

Russian Oil Output Near Post-Soviet Record as It Prepares to Cut (BBG)

Russia, the world’s largest energy exporter, held November output near a post-Soviet record , which is likely to remain a high-water mark in the near term after a pledge to cut production. Russian crude and condensate production averaged 11.21 million barrels a day in November, compared with a record 11.23 million barrels a day in October, according to the Energy Ministry’s CDU-TEK statistics unit. Russia promised to support a push by OPEC to reduce a global oil oversupply after the group agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels a day on Wednesday.

Energy Minister Alexander Novak pledged Russia would cut its own output by as much as 300,000 barrels a day, a stronger move than the previously preferred position of a freeze. Russia will make a gradual reduction over the first half of the year starting in January, Novak said Thursday. The reduction, supported by Russian oil producers, would be spread proportionally among companies, he said without providing further detail. Gazprom Neft and Novatek led Russian output growth in November compared with a year earlier, although both companies posted lower oil production than October, according to the data.

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“I bought a one-way ticket [..] Hopefully we can shut this down before Christmas.”

US Veterans Arrive At Pipeline Protest Camp In North Dakota (R.)

U.S. military veterans were arriving on Thursday at a camp to join thousands of activists braving snow and freezing temperatures to protest a pipeline project near a Native American reservation in North Dakota. However, other veterans in the state took exception to the efforts of the group organizing veterans to act as human shields for the protesters, saying the nature of the protests reflected poorly on the participants. Protesters have spent months rallying against plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying it poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites.

State officials on Monday ordered activists to vacate the Oceti Sakowin camp, located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, citing harsh weather conditions. Officials said on Wednesday however that they will not actively enforce the order. Matthew Crane, a 32-year-old Navy veteran who arrived three days ago, said the veterans joining the protest were “standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi” with the their plans to shield protesters. “I bought a one-way ticket,” he told Reuters as he worked to build a wooden shelter at the main camp. “Hopefully we can shut this down before Christmas.”

[..]Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, a contingent of more than 2,000 U.S. military veterans, intends to reach North Dakota by this weekend and form a human wall in front of police, protest organizers said on a Facebook page. The commissioner of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, who appeared at the West Fargo event, said he was worried about the involvement of individuals who have been in war situations. “We’re going to have veterans that we don’t know anything about coming to the state, war time veterans possibly with PTSD and other issues,” Lonnie Wangen told Reuters. “They’re going to be standing on the other side of concertina fence looking at our law enforcement and our (National) Guard, many of whom have served in war zones also,” he added. “We don’t want to see veterans facing down veterans.”

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“Thirty years ago there were 50,000 rivers in China; today there are less than 23,000.”

Joy As China Shelves Plans To Dam ‘Angry River’ (G.)

Environmentalists in China are celebrating after controversial plans to build a series of giant hydroelectric dams on the country’s last free-flowing river were shelved. Activists have spent more than a decade campaigning to protect the Nujiang, or “angry river”, from a cascade of dams, fearing they would displace tens of thousands of people and irreparably damage one of China’s most spectacular and bio-diverse regions. Since the start of this year, hopes had been building that Beijing would finally abandon plans to dam the 1,750-mile waterway, which snakes down from the Tibetan plateau through some of China’s most breathtaking scenery before entering Myanmar, Thailand and eventually flowing into the Andaman Sea.

On Friday, campaigners said that appears to have happened after China’s State Energy Administration published a policy roadmap for the next five years that contained no mention of building any hydroelectric dams on the Nu. “I am absolutely thrilled,” said Wang Yongchen, a Chinese conservationist and one of the most vocal opponents of the plans, which first surfaced in 2003. Wang, who has made 17 trips to the Nu region as part of her crusade to protect the river, said geologists, ecologists, sociologists and members of the public who had been part of the campaign could all take credit for halting the dams. “I think this is a triumph for Chinese civil society,” the Beijing-based activist said. Stephanie Jensen-Cormier, the China programme director for International Rivers, said environmentalists were “very happy and very excited” at what was a rare piece of good news for China’s notoriously stressed waterways.

“The state of rivers in China is so dismal. Thirty years ago there were 50,000 rivers in China; today there are less than 23,000. Rivers have completely disappeared. They have become polluted, they have become overused for agriculture and manufacturing,” she said. “So it is so exciting when a major river – which is a major river for Asia – is protected, at least where it flows in China.” Jensen-Cormier said the shelving of plans to dam the Nu – which is known as the Salween in Thailand and the Thanlwin in parts of Myanmar – represented “a great turning point for the efforts to preserve China’s rivers”. “It is a really good indication that China is starting to look at other ways of developing energy, and renewable energies especially, that mean they don’t have to sacrifice their remaining healthy river.”

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I don’t know, I think perhaps many people are born followers: “People are not born to be job seekers – they are entrepreneurs by nature..”

World’s Growing Inequality Is ‘Ticking Time Bomb’: Nobel Laureate Yunus (R.)

The widening gap between rich and poor around the world is a “ticking time bomb” threatening to explode into social and economic unrest if left unchecked, Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus said on Thursday. The banking and financial system has created a world of “the more money you have, the more I give you” while depriving the majority of the world’s population of wealth and an adequate standard of living, Yunus told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Wealth has become concentrated in just a few places in the world … It’s a ticking time bomb and a great danger to the world,” said the founder of the microfinance movement that provides small loans to people unable to access mainstream finance.

Yunus cited Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 and Britain’s vote to leave the EU on June 23 as expressions of popular anger with ruling elites who have failed to stem the widening global wealth gap. A 2016 report by charity Oxfam showed that the wealth of the world’s richest 62 people has risen by 44% since 2010, with almost half of the super-rich living in the United States, while the wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion fell 41%. “This creates tension among people at the bottom (of the income ladder). They blame refugees and minorities – and unscrupulous politicians exploit this,” said Yunus [..]

To break free from an unequal financial system that disadvantages the poor, people should use their creative energy to become entrepreneurs themselves and spread wealth among a broader base of citizens, said Yunus. “People are not born to be job seekers – they are entrepreneurs by nature,” he said, adding that businesses that are focused more on doing social good than generating maximum profit can help to rectify economic and gender inequality. “If wealth comes to billions of people, this wealth will not come to the top one percent (of rich people), and it will not be easy to concentrate all the wealth in a few hands,” he said.

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It’s a little painful to see Hawking lose himself in a field of logic that is not his. He claims we should go to Mars, but then he says earth is our only planet. Isn’t it true that the time and energy dispensed in efforts to get to Mars might be better used in saving earth? Or are we going to claim we can do both?

This Is The Most Dangerous Time For Our Planet (Stephen Hawking)

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied. And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller. So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone.

Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the EU and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders. It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere. I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate – or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it – took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country. What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react.

Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake. The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining. This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.

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