Oct 172018
 
 October 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:51 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Pandora’s box 1951

 

They can’t help themselves even as they hurt themselves. Look guys, chill! I saw someone imply on Twitter that Donald Trump is an accomplice in a murder cover-up. This person knows as well as all the ones who liked the tweet that they all just don’t know. They don’t know exactly what Trump knows about the chilling Khashoggi execution.

Just like they don’t know exactly what happened in the consulate. Information from anonymous Turkish sources is dripping through drop by drop, and it looks terrible -and terribly graphic-, but the conclusion that Trump wants to cover up a murder is multiple tokes over the line.

The Saudi attempt at labeling the execution a kidnapping gone wrong is out the window if only a tenth of the Turkish sources’ claims is true. What emerges is a picture of premeditated torture and murder. And one that was ordered by someone in the royal family. Which can really only be one of two people: the King or his son, MbS, and the latter seems more suspect. But what any of it has to do with Trump remains to be seen,

He’s not liking the whole thing one bit, that’s for sure. If only because whatever America does vis a vis the Saudi’s is now ultimately his call. While the strong link between the two countries was established decades ago, and would be very hard to untangle, if it comes to that. See, I can write Ban Saudi Oil, as I did last week, but I also realize how extensive the consequences for the US economy would be if such a thing were considered.

Not a decision you take lightly. Trump for instance knows full well what would happen to his standing and popularity if gas prices were to double or triple overnight. Is that a reason to let the Saudi’s get away with murder? No, but it is a reason to be circumspect, and to demand solid evidence. Doing that doesn’t make anyone an accomplice to a murder cover-up.

Moreover, the dependence on Saudi oil and the petrodollar arrangement is just one facet of what has driven US Middle East policy since WWII -and arguably before-, shaped by governments from both parties in Washington, and driven by very powerful intelligence agencies -both American and foreign- as well as the military-industrial complex.

You can’t blame that all on one man. Not Khashoggi, nor the ‘war’ in Yemen, or any of the bloodshed that has occurred before he became president. And you can’t expect him to end it all on a rainy afternoon either. If he would be inclined to do so. Since no president before him has been, you’d only be criticizing him for continuing established policy.

Every US president for many years has been an accomplice to murder, not just a cover-up, in Saudi Arabia, where women and gays and everyone else the House of Saud didn’t like end up without their heads attached to their torso. It’s how we get cheap oil, how we have built our societies and communities into what they are at present. Good design? Hell no. But it is what it is.

 

Still, allegations like the murder cover-up one keep coming. The reason is, as I’ve written many times now, that it makes the media money. Being anti-Trump sells. It has given us the Russiagate narrative, the Mueller investigation and tons of other stories that don’t go anywhere. Because it doesn’t matter if they are true, what counts is that they sell newspapers and TV commercials.

And there are some in the media, and certainly many in the anti-Trump echochamber, who still dream of impeaching him. But, as I said before, that doesn’t include the owners of papers and TV channels. They’ve never had a single person bring in sales like this, and it has saved many of their assets. All they need to do is twist everything that happens into something Trump can be blamed for.

That the Democratic Party is the main victim of this doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, really. Or maybe only Trump himself. Three weeks before the midterms, his detractors handed him another two main victories, free of charge. And one can’t help thinking: don’t you guys see what you’re doing?

A lawsuit filed by Michael Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels, about a Trump tweet no less, was thrown out by a judge. The Senate a few weeks back refused to even talk to Avenatti’s other client, Julie Swetnick, in the Kavanaugh hearings, who had come up with a story about coordinated gang rape.

Avenatti has proven incredibly toxic to the Democrats, and they don’t appear to realize it. But he’s nothing compared to Elizabeth Warren, who all but folded her political career this week, after media -reluctantly- reported that the DNA test she wanted Trump to pay a million bucks over, showed she’s less Cherokee than 90-odd percent of white Americans. Liz, why, how, what were you thinking?

 

Guys, chill! You have elections coming up. Don’t hand it to the guy on a platter, let him at least exert some effort. The Democrats apparently still think they’re going to win the elections, that their echochamber tactics will turn people against Trump. In reality, they’re only talking, shouting, to themselves, and to people who already see things the same way they do anyway.

How many Democrats have you seen declaring that the US should stop selling weapons to the Saudi’s, should tell them to stop starving millions of Yemeni children, should cut off all communication until the truth about Khashoggi is revealed? Me neither. Their identity is no different from Trump, other than on minor issues, the only identity they have is they’re against him. And that’s the same as having none.

While there are so many issues that people should really go after Trump for, all that we see are fake narratives about Russian collusion, which, as I’ve explained, we now know are false because Mueller hasn’t reported anything, and if he had any proof he would have to reveal it because he couldn’t sit on evidence about a president colluding with a foreign power for even one day.

Which is perhaps why, though the timing is strange with the midterms in less than three weeks, two of the strongest anti-Trump media, the Washington Post and the BBC, came out with pieces in the past 24 hours that hesitantly say a few positive things about Trump, albeit clad in inevitable smears and accusations.

The WaPo:

 

Trump Could Be The Most Honest President In Modern US History

Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history. Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet).

In part, it’s a New York thing – everything is the biggest and the best. But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness – keeping his promises – Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

 

And the BBC:

 

Is This The Most Successful Month Of The Trump Presidency?

These days there seems to be even more of a swagger as Donald Trump strides across the South Lawn to board his green-liveried helicopter, Marine One. Those campaign-style rallies, which have become such a marked feature of his presidency, have even more of a celebratory charge. The president seems more willing to answer reporters’ questions, partly because there is a better story to tell.

Last week he also sat for the first 60 Minutes interview of his presidency, which aired on Sunday night. The veteran CBS presenter Lesley Stahl, who conducted this cross-examination, was struck by his self-assurance. “Right now,” she said afterwards, “he’s so much more confident. He is truly president. And you felt it. I felt it in this interview.”

 

If you didn’t know better, you’d think they’re trying to boost the guy ahead of the elections. Me, I’m wondering why such media don’t harp every single day on the ongoing issue of family separation. And keep at it till every American -and Brit- talks about it. Instead, their biggest story this week has been that Pocahontas was of 1/1024th Native American descent. Or something in that vein.

As for Khashoggi, that story appears to have taken on a life of its own, drip-fed by Erdogan at first, but it seems to have reached a point where even if Erdogan gets what he wanted and cuts the drip, it won’t stop. It’s been a weird dynamic, how one man’s fate is more important than that of millions of others.

Where did that come from? Someone powerful seeing an opportunity to get rid of MbS? Still find it hard to gauge. It doesn’t look as if MbS can be maintained in his position by his father. Too much bad publicity, too much at risk financially. And it would be convenient if Trump and King Salman would agree to push him aside, put all the blame on him, and see if that satisfies the media and public.

But the King may still try and go for broke. And his son may also have usurped too much power for the dad to order him gone. But that would mean a major headache for Trump. How about if either the king or the prince decide to gamble and threaten to end the petrodollar? What would the echochamber suggest Trump does then?

 

 

Oct 152018
 
 October 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Haymaking in Brittany 1889

 

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)
Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)
How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)
Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)
Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)
Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)
The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)
Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)
‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)
The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)
Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)
Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

 

 

The essential discussion of our times.

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)

The late Prof Mick Moran, who taught politics and government at Manchester University for most of his professional life, had, according to his colleagues, once had “a certain residual respect for our governing elites”. That all changed during the 2008 financial crisis, after which he experienced an epiphany “because it convinced him that the officer class in business and in politics did not know what it was doing”. After his epiphany, Moran formed a collective of academics dedicated to exposing the complacency of finance-worship and to replacing it with an idea of running modern economies focused on maximising social good. They called themselves the Foundational Economy Collective, based on the idea that it’s in the everyday economy where there is most potential for true social regeneration: not top-down cash-splashing, but renewal and replenishment from the ground upwards.

Foundational activities are the materials and services without which we cannot live a civilised life: clean, unrationed water; affordable electricity and gas without cuts to supply; collective transport on smooth roads and rails; quality health and social care provided free at the point of use; and reliable, sustainable food supply. Then there’s the “overlooked economy” – everyday services such as hairdressing, veterinary care, catering and hospitality and small-scale manufacturing – which employ far more people, across a wider geographical range, than the “high-skill, hi-tech” economy with which recent governments have been obsessed.

For the Foundational Economy authors, focusing on the fundamental value of invisible and unglamorous jobs “restores the importance of unappreciated and unacknowledged tacit skills of many citizens”. It’s a way of looking at economics from the point of view of people rather than figures, and doing something revolutionary (yet so blindingly obvious) in the process. What is the point of “growth” if the basic elements of a decent life are denied to a large and growing number?

Read more …

A license to kill, then?!

Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusation,” a government source reportedly told the official Saudi Press Agency. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” Hence, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s general manager Turki Aldakhil, in our call of the day, warned we could see an explosive move in oil prices. “If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” he wrote in an op-ed.

“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.” This mess could ultimately throw the entire Muslim world “into the arms of Iran, which will become closer to Riyadh than Washington,” Aldakhil said. “The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh.”

Read more …

Or the end of OPEC?

How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)

Saudi Arabia enjoys a privileged position both in geopolitical and economic terms. It will have a powerful hand to play if tensions with the US and the west escalate and it follows through with Sunday’s warning of retaliation. Its vast oil reserves – it claims to have about 260bn barrels still to extract – afford the most obvious advantage. The kingdom is the world’s largest oil exporter, pumping or shipping about 7m barrels a day, and giving Riyadh huge clout in the global economy because it wields power to push up prices. An editorial in Arab News by Turki Aldhakhil, the general manager of the official Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, offers a hint of what could be in the offing.

He said Riyadh was weighing up 30 measures designed to put pressure on the US if it were to impose sanctions over the disappearance and presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. These would include an oil production cut that could drive prices from around $80 (£60) a barrel to more than $400, more than double the all-time high of $147.27 reached in 2008. This would have profound consequences globally, not just because motorists would pay more at the petrol pump, but because it would force up the cost of all goods that travel by road.

Read more …

Wonder why the UN has acted now. And did it do so after consulting with the US?

Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)

The Ecuadorian government has decided to partly restore communications for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. They were cut in March, denying the Australian access to the internet or phones and limiting visitors to members of his legal team. He has been living inside Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than six years. The Ecuadorian government said in March it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.

WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Ecuador has told WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that it will remove the isolation regime imposed on him following meetings between two senior UN officials and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno on Friday.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, added: “It is positive that through UN intervention Ecuador has partly ended the isolation of Mr Assange although it is of grave concern that his freedom to express his opinions is still limited. “The UN has already declared Mr Assange a victim of arbitrary detention. This unacceptable situation must end. “The UK government must abide by the UN’s ruling and guarantee that he can leave the Ecuadorian embassy without the threat of extradition to the United States.”

Read more …

Thought PropOrNot was done, but the Atlantic Council did not.

Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)

Media outlets removed by Facebook on Thursday, in a massive purge of 800 accounts and pages, had previously been targeted in a blacklist of oppositional sites promoted by the Washington Post in November 2016. The organizations censored by Facebook include The Anti-Media, with 2.1 million followers, The Free Thought Project, with 3.1 million followers, and Counter Current News, with 500,000 followers. All three of these groups had been on the blacklist. In November 2016, the Washington Post published a puff-piece on a shadowy and up to then largely unknown organization called PropOrNot, which had compiled a list of organizations it claimed were part of a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign.”

The Post said the report “identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” The publication of the blacklist drew widespread media condemnation, including from journalists Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, forcing the Post to publish a partial retraction. The newspaper declared that it “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet.” While the individuals behind PropOrNot have not identified themselves, the Washington Post said the group was a “collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

Read more …

Long expected.

Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)

After years of Sears Holdings staying afloat through financial maneuvering and relying on billions of CEO Eddie Lampert’s own money, the 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy. The filing comes more than a decade after Lampert merged Sears and Kmart, hoping that forging together the two struggling discounters would create a more formidable competitor. It comes after Lampert shed assets and spun out real estate, all to pay down the debt the retailer accumulated when that plan went askew. The company still has roughly 700 stores, which have at times been barren, unstocked by vendors who have lost their trust.

Many of the stores have never been visited by a generation of shoppers that can barely recall it was once the the country’s biggest retailer. Lampert, who has a controlling ownership stake in Sears, personally holds some 31 percent of the retailer’s shares outstanding, according to FactSet. His hedge fund ESL Investments owns about 19 percent. Ultimately, it was a $134 million payment that did the company in. The company had a payment due Monday it had not the money to pay.

Read more …

Why does this still need to be explained?

The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)

With great flourish, Theresa May last week announced that she was lifting the borrowing cap which constrains local councils’ ability to finance new housebuilding. “We will only fix this broken market by building more homes,” the prime minister said. “Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that cap.” Nope. In reality, councils – or anyone else for that matter – building more homes will do very little to address the fundamental problem in the housing market, and if you want to understand why, there’s a new book which explains it.

‘Why Can’t You Afford To Buy A Home?’ by Josh Ryan-Collins – a researcher at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose – is about the phenomenon which he dubs ‘residential capitalism’. It follows on from his less snappily-titled volume ‘Rethinking The Economics of Land and Housing’, which was written jointly with fellow economist Laurie Macfarlane and policy wonk Toby Lloyd and published last year. Both books address the question of why a growing number of people are being priced out of the property market, with rising house prices accelerating away from household incomes. The answer is financialisation – and it is not an aberration, according to Ryan-Collins.

The ‘housing crisis’ needs to be understood primarily as a product of the banking system. For starters it’s not just a British problem; this is a trend which has gripped developed economies across the world over the past three decades. “Two of the key ingredients of contemporary capitalist societies, private home ownership and a lightly regulated commercial banking system, are not mutually compatible,” he writes. Instead they “create a self-reinforcing feedback cycle”. [..] In the early 1980s, business lending equated to around 40 per cent of GDP on average in advanced economies, while mortgage lending was around 25 per cent. By the time of the financial crisis, mortgage lending had grown to 75 per cent of GDP while business lending had only grown slightly, to 45 per cent.

Read more …

The Chinese will hold Beijing responsible when their housing bubble bursts.

Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)

Last March, we discussed why few things are as important for China’s wealth effect and economy, as its housing bubble market. Specifically, as Deutsche Bank calculated at the time, “in 2016 the rise of property prices boosted household wealth in 37 tier 1 and tier 2 cities by RMB24 trillion, almost twice their total disposable income of RMB12.9 trillion.” The German lender added that this (rather fleeting) wealth effect “may be helping to sustain consumption in China despite slowing income growth” warning that “a decline of property price would obviously have a large negative impact.” Naturally, as long as the housing bubble keeps inflating and prices keep rising, there is nothing to worry about as the population will keep spending money buoyed by illusory wealth appreciation.

It is when housing starts to drop that Beijing begins to panic. Fast forward to today, when Beijing may be starting to sweat because whereas Chinese property developers usually count on September and October to be their “gold and silver” months for sales, this year has turned out to be different. As the SCMP reports, not only were sales figures grim for September, but the seven-day national holiday last week also brought at least two “fangnao” incidents – when angry, and often violent, homeowners protest against price cuts offered by developers to new buyers.

These protests are often directed at sales offices, with varying levels of intensity – from throwing rocks to holding banners and putting up funeral wreaths. The risk, of course, is that as what has gone up (wealth effect) will come down, and as home ownership has remained the most important channel of investment for urban households in China in the past decade, price cuts have become increasingly unacceptable and a cause for social unrest. Just last week, angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.

Read more …

There is no solution that everyone can accept.

‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain’s point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open” in the divorce talks between the European Union and Britain. Barnier and his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, met in Brussels for surprise talks on Sunday. The discussion prompted rumors that a full agreement might be imminent, but Barnier says the future of the border on the island of Ireland remain a serious obstacle. He says the need “to avoid a hard border” between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland is among the unsettled issues. An EU official says no further negotiations are planned before an EU leaders summit on Wednesday.

The “Irish backstop” is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc. After Brexit, the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.’s only land border with an EU nation. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs checks or other infrastructure on the border, but do not agree on how that can be accomplished. The EU’s “backstop” solution — to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc — has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Read more …

Budget was accepted by almost two thirds in Senate and Parliament.

The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)

Over the last three years, net exports shaved 0.5 percent off Italy’s quasi stagnant 1.1 percent GDP growth. And while exports in the first seven months of this year increased 4 percent from the year earlier, that did absolutely nothing to revive the country’s manufacturing output. The industrial production during the January-to-July period dropped at an annual rate of 0.5 percent. That, of course, bodes ill for business investments because the weakness in the manufacturing sector indicates plenty of spare production capacity. In other words, Italian businesses need no new machines and bigger factory floors; they already have what they need to meet the current and expected sales demand.

So, what’s left to support Italy’s jobs and incomes? Nothing — emphatically nothing — keeps screaming the German-run EU: Italy has no independent monetary policy, and, according to the EU Commission, the fiscal stance should remain frozen in a restrictive mode of indefinite duration. Italy knows what that means. Before the onset of the last decade’s financial crisis, and the German-imposed fiscal austerity, Italy’s budget deficit in 2007 was whittled down to 1.5 percent of GDP (compared to nearly 3 percent of GDP in France), the primary budget surplus (budget before interest charges on public debt) was driven up to 1.7 percent of GDP, helping to bring down the public debt to 112 percent of GDP from an annual average of 117 percent in the previous six years.

But then all hell broke loose once the Germans — defiantly rejecting Washington’s call to reason — set out to teach a lesson to “fiscal miscreants” by imposing austerity policies on the euro area’s sinking economies. Italy should never allow that to happen again. What, then, should Italy do? The answer is simple: Exactly what it says it wants to do in the 2019 budget passed last Thursday by an overwhelming majority in the Senate (61 percent of the votes) and in the Parliament’s Lower House (63.4 percent of the votes).

Read more …

Not just conservatives, the SPD is going going gone as well.

Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)

Angela Merkel’s conservative partners in Bavaria have had their worst election performance for more than six decades, in a humiliating state poll result that is likely to further weaken Germany’s embattled coalition government. The Christian Social Union secured 37.3% of the vote, preliminary results showed, losing the absolute majority in the prosperous southern state it had had almost consistently since the second world war. The party’s support fell below 40% for the first time since 1954. Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, called it a “difficult day” for the CSU, but said his party had a clear mandate to form a government.

Among the main victors was the environmental, pro-immigration Green party, which as predicted almost doubled its voter share to 17.8% at the expense of the Social Democratic party (SPD), which lost its position as the second-biggest party, with support halving to 9.5%. Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the Greens, said: “Today Bavaria voted to uphold human rights and humanity.” Andrea Nahles, the leader of the SPD, delivered the briefest of reactions at her party’s headquarters in Berlin, calling the results “bitter” and blaming them on the poor performance of the grand coalition in Berlin.

Read more …

But this suggests that gene editing would be very expensive.

Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays. The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday. “I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.

“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.” In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity. Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”. “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

Read more …

Oct 122018
 
 October 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Eisenstaedt Egyptian Fishing Boats. Suez Canal near Port Said 1935

 

According to Middle East Eye, Richard Branson, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Economist editor-In-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, New York Times, Financial Times, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshah, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and AOL founder Steve Case have all withdrawn from Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held this month in Riyadh. Branson also put a $1 billion investment plan on hold.

Also, on Wednesday, former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz said that he had suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega business zone NEOM, to which he was named on Tuesday. The Harbour Group, a Washington firm that has been advising Saudi Arabia since April 2017, ended its $80,000 a month contract on Thursday. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is still scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, but they won’t risk the damage to their reputations.

All this is due, obviously, to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a former close aquaintance of the Saud family, who moved to the US and wrote for the Washington Post (how’s Amazon’s Saudi business, Jeff Bezos?) after falling out with the House of Saud.

As the what someone actually labeled “unfolding diplomatic crisis” takes shape, there is really only one thing to say about these people and organizations: they the worst group of hypocrites ever. And their reasons to boycott the conference must be questioned.

Because before Khashoggi vanished they all apparently though it was quite okay to go feed at the Saud trough, despite the still ongoing slaughter of millions of people in the ‘war’ in Yemen. Which makes one suspect it’s not so much about their principles but about their public image.

Donald Trump said he won’t stop weapons sales to the Saudi’s because they would just buy their arms from someone else, like Russia (it would be interesting to get Putin’s view on Khashoggi). And while Trump is completely wrong here, at least he’s not hypocritical about it.

Not selling guns and tanks is by no means the most forceful action vs MBS and his dad, and not just because they can buy them elsewhere. What’s much stronger as a protest against what apparently happened to Khashoggi is to hit the Sauds where it hurts: in their wallet. That wallet is being filled by the sale of oil.

Simply stop buying their oil. Tell Shell and Exxon and BP and Total to get the hell out of the country. It’s just that to top off the hypocrisy, the best -only?- replacement for Saudi oil is Russian oil, and the US and Europe are engaged in a long drawn out smear campaign to isolate Russia from their world order.

But as long as Richard Branson flies his planes on Saudi oil, what’s the use of him boycotting a conference? Well, other than he hopes it makes him look good in the eyes of the world and feel good about himself? The carnage in Yemen has been going on for years, and all that time Branson has been silent. And was planning to get into a $1 billion investment as emaciated Yemeni babies are fed leaves.

And the idea is not to single him out, those major media organizations and the World Bank are just as bad. They all just hope that no-one will notice or speak out when they grab the Saudi money, and that when they are caught in the middle they will collect applause for making their ‘heroic’ decision not to attend a conference.

That said, it’s interesting to see the story move through the media. Is it the power of Jeff Bezos that gets it so much -and sustained- attention? Did the Saudi’s know that Turkey had their consulate bugged? Isn’t that against international law? How much Saudi oil does Turkey use? Did US intelligence know what was going to happen? Did Turkey?

Why so much more interest in this case than all the other disappearing journalists? Khashoggi is/was no Christ; he was close to the royal family for years while women and gay people and dissidents were under severe threat.

Just more hypocrisy. And if we want to end that, let’s boycott Saudi oil. Let’s use different oil, or none. And until then let’s not fall for the stage performances of all those who all of a sudden want to be seen as principled actors. That’s just about as bad as sawing a guy into pieces.

 

 

Jan 282018
 
 January 28, 2018  Posted by at 11:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Cezanne Sugar Bowl, Pears and Blue Cup c.1866

 

Trump Moving On to Infrastructure Push (BBG)
Stock Market Setting Records In Levitation (Lyons)
Happy Landings (Jim Kunstler)
The Founding Fathers Worst Nightmare Come True (CH)
Illinois Ponders Pension-Fund Moonshot: a $107 Billion Bond Sale
The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower (BV)
Saudi Frees Billionaires Including Alwaleed as Ritz Jail Empties (BBG)
German Minister Urges Fast Passage Of EU Law On Chinese Takeovers (R.)
Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia (AFP)
British Lords Get Ready to Disrupt Brexit (BBG)
Corbyn Under Pressure To Change Direction On Brexit (G.)
Facebook Doesn’t Care (Atlantic)
In 2017, The Oceans Were By Far The Hottest Ever Recorded (G.)

 

 

State of the Union on Tuesday. Look for grand plans. $1.5 trillion?!

Trump Moving On to Infrastructure Push (BBG)

President Donald Trump plans to use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to build momentum for sweeping legislation on infrastructure and immigration that could buoy the White House and fellow Republicans ahead of crucial midterm elections. Emboldened by a booming economy and victory in his stare-down with Senate Democrats over government funding, Trump will make the case that the Republican tax cuts passed in December and his administration’s efforts to curb regulations are drawing investment to the U.S. and creating jobs, said a White House official who discussed the speech on condition of anonymity. There are few obvious areas for compromise, and little incentive to do so among increasingly polarized lawmakers whose chief concern remains an upcoming election season primed for a wave of votes protesting Trump.

Yet the president also aims to strike a bipartisan tone, the official said – a stark departure from his address to Congress a year ago. That speech delighted supporters, who saw his on-script performance as evidence that Trump, a mercurial political novice, could seize the power of the bully pulpit. This year, aides say, he’ll offer a future-focused vision. His agenda, the official said, includes a long-anticipated plan to rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, continuing efforts to cut regulations, and an overhaul of the immigration system – campaign promises that got set aside last year as the administration focused on efforts to repeal Obamacare and pass the tax overhaul.

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Hell no, no bubble.

Stock Market Setting Records In Levitation (Lyons)

In our habitation within the investment-based social media realm, we have noticed a ongoing discussion between market observers related to the present stock rally. On the one hand, there is a loud chorus from folks (likely many of whom are frustrated non-participants in the rally) pointing out the unusual, and perhaps inorganic, nature of the incessant rally. On the other hand, you have the assured (condescending?) reminders from the other side (i.e., folks “killing it” at the moment) that an upward trajectory is the “normal” course of action for stocks, historically speaking. So which contingent is correct? They both are, to an extent. Yes, it has been far more typical for stocks to rise than fall over the past 100-plus years.

Thus, we should not be surprised by a rally, even in the face of elevated valuations, sentiment, etc. However, an unwillingness to acknowledge the noteworthy, even historic, nature of the current rally, would be an indication of either willful denial or potentially harmful ignorance. This week, we take a look at some of the ways in which our current rally is truly unique from a broad historical basis. Today, we note the torrid pace at which the stock market is racking up new 52-week highs. Specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is in the midst of a historic run of new highs. Over the past 100 days, the index has scored no fewer than 46 new 52-week highs. That is the most new highs the DJIA has ever accumulated over a 100-day stretch.

This new record surpasses the former mark of 45 set in 1954. And looking back over the last 100-plus years, there have now been just 14 unique occasions with even 35 new highs over a 100-year span. So will the new highs continue from here – or is there nowhere to go but down at this point? Well, we’re not going to pretend that a new high is a bad thing. In fact, it’s about the most bullish thing a security or index can do – no resistance at all-time highs, you know. Furthermore, the momentum often generated by moves to new highs can be a powerful and (at least, temporarily) persisting phenomenon. That is, until the final high of the run. Obviously one high will eventually mark the top and the upward momentum will cease. Are we at that point now? Are stocks going to come crashing back to earth – or can the market continue its levitation act a little longer?

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“How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes?”

Happy Landings (Jim Kunstler)

A financial smash-up is really the only thing that will break the awful spell this country is in: the belief that everyday life can go on when nothing really adds up. It seems to me that the moment is close at hand. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told the Davos crowd that the US has “a weak dollar” policy. Is that so? Just as his department is getting ready to borrow another $1.2 trillion to cover government operations in the year to come. I’m sure the world wants nothing more than to buy bucket-loads of sovereign bonds backed by a falling currency — at the same time that the Treasury’s partner-in-crime, the Federal Reserve, is getting ready to dump an additional $600 billion bonds on the market out of its over-stuffed balance sheet. I’d sooner try to sell snow-cones in a polar bomb-cyclone.

When folks don’t want to buy bonds, the interest rates naturally have to go higher. The problem with that is your country’s treasury has to pay the bond-holders more money, but the only thing that has allowed the Treasury to keep borrowing lo these recent decades is the long-term drop of interest rates to the near-zero range. And the Fed’s timid 25-basis-point hikes in the overnight Fed Fund rate have not moved the needle quite far enough so far. But with benchmark ten-year bond rate nosing upward like a mole under the garden toward the 3.00% mark, something is going to give.

How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes? What vaporizes with it is a lot of the collateral backing up the unprecedented margin (extra borrowed money) that this rickety tower of financial Babel is tottering on. A black hole is opening up in some sub-basement of a tower on Wall Street, and it will suck the remaining value from this asset-stripped nation into the vacuum of history like so much silage. Thus will begin the harsh era of America screwing its head back on and commencing the salvage operation. We’ll stop ricocheting from hashtag to hashtag and entertain a few coherent thoughts, such as, “…Gee, it turns out you really can’t get something for nothing….” That’s an important thought to have when you turn around and suddenly discover you’ve got nothing left.

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Founding fathers and inequality.

The Founding Fathers Worst Nightmare Come True (CH)

As the total debt grows (total debt now essentially equals GDP), the denominator is larger and the resultant debt spending must be that much larger to have the same impact. For example, to have the same impact as the ’09 debt binge, a $4+ trillion increase (annually) would be necessary to have the same impact as the $0.2 trillion spent in ’83 or the $2.1 trillion spent in ’09. However, in the next “crisis”, we should expect a $4 trillion jolt (annual) and perhaps as much as $20 trillion in the next episode of this ongoing “crisis” to achieve an ’83 or ’09 like stimuli. But this may not have nearly the impact as previous.

Typically, deficit spending and interest rate cuts have gone hand in hand but with rates having been at zero for nearly a decade before the recent, minor rise…a move to cut rates from anywhere near current levels back to zero will likely have little impact and not be capable of amplifying the deficit spending. Perhaps significantly greater debt creation will be necessary to have a like impact as that of ’83 or ’09. But, of course, the impact on the debt to GDP ratio will be an irrevocable moon shot into Japan style debt to GDP levels. Perhaps the sanity of an economy built on building new homes for a core population that is now shrinking is highly questionable (chart below)?

And to round it out, the annual growth of the 15-64yr/old US core population versus the Wilshire 5000 (representing the value of all publicly traded US stocks).

What should already be clear will be obvious for everyone…the federal “debt” being created isn’t actually “debt” at all. It is being created and spent with no intention of ever repaying it and the move back to zero % interest rates (or more likely NIRP) on that “debt” will make clear that it is simply centrally created and centrally directed monetization. And the resultant wealth is being centrally directed to a shrinking minority of asset holders at the expense of the vast majority. The founding fathers worst nightmare come true.

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Where greed meets despair.

Illinois Ponders Pension-Fund Moonshot: a $107 Billion Bond Sale

Lawmakers in Illinois are so desperate to shore up the state’s massively underfunded retirement system that they’re willing to entertain an eye-popping wager: Borrowing $107 billion and letting it ride in the financial markets. The legislature’s personnel and pensions committee plans to meet on Jan. 30 to hear more about a proposal advanced by the State Universities Annuitants Association, according to Representative Robert Martwick. The group wants Illinois to issue the bonds this year to get its retirement system nearly fully funded, assuming that the state can make more on its investments than it will pay in interest. It would be by far the biggest debt sale in the history of the municipal market, and in one fell swoop would be more than Puerto Rico amassed in the run up to its record-setting bankruptcy.

“We’re in a situation in Illinois where our pension debt is just crushing,” Martwick, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a telephone interview. “When you have the largest pension debt in the world, you probably ought to be thinking big.” Illinois owes $129 billion to its five retirement systems after years of failing to make adequate annual contributions. Because the state’s constitution bans any reduction in worker retirement benefits, the government’s pension costs will continue to rise as it faces pressure to pay down that debt, a squeeze that has pushed Illinois’s bond rating to the precipice of junk. Many American governments have sold bonds for their pensions, albeit on a much smaller scale. Illinois did so in 2003, when it issued a record $10 billion of them.

New Jersey also tried it, only to see its pension shortfall soar again after the state failed to make adequate payments into the system for years. Detroit’s pension-fund borrowing in 2005 and 2006 helped push it into bankruptcy. On the whole, the track record has been mixed, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Much hinges on timing the stock market: While most pension bonds have been profitable because of equity gains since the recession, those sold after the late 1990s rally or before the 2008 crash lost money, the study found. The S&P 500 Index climbed 19 percent last year and has continued to hit new highs.

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Oil is power.

The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower (BV)

The last time U.S. drillers pumped 10 million barrels of crude a day, Richard Nixon was in the White House. The first oil crisis hadn’t yet scared Americans into buying Toyotas, and fracking was an experimental technique a handful of engineers were trying, with meager success, to popularize. It was 1970, and oil sold for $1.80 a barrel. Almost five decades later, with oil hovering near $65 a barrel, daily U.S. crude output is about to hit the eight-digit mark again. It’s a significant milestone on the way to fulfilling a dream that a generation ago seemed far-fetched: By the end of the year, the U.S. may well be the world’s biggest oil producer. With that, America takes a big step toward energy independence. The U.S. crowing from the top of a hill long occupied by Saudi Arabia or Russia would scramble geopolitics. A new world energy order could emerge.

That shuffling will be good for America but not so much for the planet. For one, the influence of one of the most powerful forces of the past half-century, the modern petrostate, would be diminished. No longer would “America First” diplomats need to tiptoe around oil-supplying nations such as Saudi Arabia. OPEC would find it tougher to agree on production guidelines, and lower prices could result, reopening old wounds in the cartel. That would take some muscle out of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, while Russia’s oligarchs would find it more difficult to maintain the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. President Donald Trump, sensing an opportunity, is looking past independence to what he calls energy dominance. His administration plans to open vast ocean acreage to offshore exploration and for the first time in 40 years allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It may take years to tap, but the Alaska payoff alone is eye-popping—an estimated 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude. It sounds good, but be careful what you wish for. The last three years have been the hottest since recordkeeping began in the 19th century, and there’s little room in Trump’s plan for energy sources that treat the planet kindly. Governors of coastal states have already pointed out that an offshore spill could devastate tourism—another trillion-dollar industry—not to mention wreck fragile littoral environments. Florida has already applied for a waiver from such drilling. More supply could lower prices, in turn discouraging investments in renewables such as solar and wind. Those tend to spike when oil prices rise, so enthusiasm for nonpolluting, nonwarming energies of the future could wane. For now, though, the petroleum train is chugging. And you can thank the resilience of the U.S. shale industry for it.

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Oil is power. Twitter shares are not. They’re just money.

Saudi Frees Billionaires Including Alwaleed as Ritz Jail Empties (BBG)

Saudi Arabia freed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen from detention, clearing out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail for the country’s elite during a controversial crackdown on corruption. Prince Alwaleed, the billionaire chairman of Riyadh’s Kingdom Holding Co. who owns stakes in Citigroup and Twitter, returned home on Saturday after reaching a settlement with authorities, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. He will remain at the helm of his company, the official said, declining to provide the other terms of the deal. Waleed al-Ibrahim, head of a major media firm, and retail billionaire Fawaz Al Hokair were also freed after agreeing to deals, another government official said.

The prince’s release came just hours after Alwaleed told Reuters in an interview that he expected to go home soon and retain control of his company, calling his detention a “misunderstanding” and expressing support for the kingdom’s rulers. With the suspects’ names and evidence against them never officially announced, the detentions had raised concerns about transparency among foreign investors – vital to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to diversify the economy away from oil. The departures from the hotel mark the end of the first phase of Prince Mohammed’s anti-corruption campaign, which shook the kingdom when it was launched in November. Hundreds of suspects were arrested, including some of the country’s richest men and its top economic policymaker.

Officials say the government expects to reap more than $100 billion from settlements with detainees in exchange for their freedom. Others have been transferred to prison to face trial, the Wall Street Journal reported. Also released after agreeing to settlements were Khalid al-Tuwaijri, head of the royal court under the late King Abdullah, and Prince Turki bin Nasser, who was involved in a massive arms sale that led to corruption probes in the U.K. and the U.S., one of the government officials said. Several of those released from detention earlier appear to be returning to their lives as usual. Among them is former finance minister and minister of state, Ibrahim al-Assaf, who recently led Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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While taking over and buying up southern Europe, Germans protect their own economy from the very same.

German Minister Urges Fast Passage Of EU Law On Chinese Takeovers (R.)

Germany wants to acquire the legal means to take a closer look at bids from Chinese companies to acquire German and European companies in order better to protect technologies, a German minister told newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Matthias Machnig, state secretary in Germany’s economics ministry, said it was urgent that proposed Europe-wide measures to police surging Chinese investment be adopted by the end of this year. “It is essential that we get a tougher law in the European Union this year to resist takeover fantasies or outflows of technology or know-how,” he said in an interview, excerpts of which were made available on Saturday.

The paper cited a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research that showed the volume of known Chinese investments in Germany had risen to €12.1 billion ($15.03 billion) in 2017 from around €11 billion the year before and just €100 million seven years ago. Concern has been growing across Europe at China’s buying spree on the continent, with investors snapping up often iconic businesses in a way many fear could threaten Europe’s position as a high-value economy. “With its innovative companies, the EU is attractive for many around the world,” Machnig said. “Takeovers are becoming more frequent, often under market-distorting conditions.”

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Rajoy lost two elections, one of which he himself called. This is very much how democracy is viewed in Europe.

Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia (AFP)

Spain’s constitutional court on Saturday announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action. The court said in a statement that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”. Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was earlier this week chosen as candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote on the issue in Barcelona on Tuesday . This despite the fact that he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.

He has said he could be sworn in to office remotely, via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes. The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture. The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency. Puigdemont has said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest. “The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.

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It’s getting hard to predict where Brexit will be by the end of 2018. Not where it is now, that’s for sure.

British Lords Get Ready to Disrupt Brexit (BBG)

The bumpy journey toward Brexit reaches another fork in the road this week as the upper chamber of the British parliament plans to rewrite a key piece of Prime Minister Theresa May’s legislation. What happens to the European Union Withdrawal Bill in the predominantly pro-EU House of Lords could lead to a smoother divorce, a showdown with the government or even a constitutional crisis. It makes planned changes by the peers more than just a perfunctory stage in the sometimes complex democratic machinery of Westminster. The law aims to replicate thousands of existing EU regulations so there’s no legal black hole on the day Britain’s membership ceases, currently set for March 29 next year. That process could go awry if the lords halt or, more likely, demand changes that might include delaying the exit date or increasing the chance of second public vote on the issue.

“Drama is not a word usually associated with the House of Lords,” said Tom Strathclyde, a Conservative peer who used to guide legislation through the upper house. “On this occasion, there really could be high drama.” Already the passage of the law has been far from smooth as opponents of May’s vision for Brexit – taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union – try to tear it up. She suffered a serious defeat in the House of Commons last month at the hands of mutineers from her own Conservative party who are opposed to Brexit in its current form. She slapped down Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond last week after he said Brexit would only herald modest changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU. Now more rebels are set to vent their frustration in the Lords.

The role of the unelected lords is supposed to be to revise rather than block legislation that the elected members of parliament have passed. In the case of Brexit, a majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons also opposed it, although most cite the need to uphold the result of the referendum in 2016 that kicked off the whole Brexit process dominating U.K. politics. The key Commons amendment last month was that parliament will now get a final vote on the Brexit deal after an agreement with the EU on the cost of the divorce and future trading relationship. The lords can start proposing more changes on Jan. 31. A list of them will be published two days later and the government will decide how to proceed. “There is a large majority of people in the Lords who feel that Brexit is a national disaster, and we will be trying to mobilize that majority as we go through,” said Dick Newby, who leads the Liberal Democrat peers.

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But Corbyn was never a fan of the EU.

Corbyn Under Pressure To Change Direction On Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has called key members of his shadow cabinet to an “away day” to re-examine the party’s policy and strategy on Brexit amid growing frustration in Labour ranks that it is failing to exploit mounting Tory turmoil over Europe. Party sources confirmed to the Observer that the meeting, scheduled for early February, would look at adapting and developing Labour’s approach during “phase two” of the Brexit process. The gathering – which will be seen as a response to unrest and the threat of rebellions by dozens of Labour MPs – will be held at a location “away from Westminster”, and will involve senior shadow cabinet members in policy areas most affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.

The news suggests Labour may soon announce a major shift in policy that would see it back permanent membership of some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit – opening a potentially decisive dividing line with Theresa’s May’s increasingly fractured government. A senior figure aware of the meeting said: “There are several among those who will attend who want the party to move on the single market and customs union. But Jeremy is a lifelong eurosceptic and there is still opposition to doing so. “The greatest pressure for change is from those who insist we must back permanent membership of a customs union with the EU after Brexit, not just a fudge position of backing it during a transition and leaving open what happens after, which we have at present.”

Those who have been asked to attend are understood to include members of the shadow cabinet Brexit subcommittee. They include the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, the shadow home secretary Emily Thornberry, and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. Shadow ministers responsible for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also attend. With Theresa May’s government increasingly split over Brexit, and the EU withdrawal bill heading into the House of Lords on Tuesday, where it is expected to be savaged by pro-Remain peers of all parties as well as crossbenchers, a growing number of Labour MPs and peers are pressing the leadership to open up clearer dividing lines with the Tories.

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“People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices.”

Facebook Doesn’t Care (Atlantic)

Facebook’s crushing blow to independent media arrived last fall in Slovakia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and three other nations. The social giant removed stories by these publishers from users’ news feeds, hiding them in a new, hard-to-find stream. These independent publishers reported that they lost as much as 80% of their audience during this experiment. Facebook doesn’t care. At least, it usually seems that way. Despite angry pushback in the six countries affected by Facebook’s algorithmic tinkering, the company is now going ahead with similar changes to its news feed globally. These changes will likely de-prioritize stories from professional publishers, and instead favor dispatches published by a user’s friends and family. Many American news organizations will see the sharp traffic declines their brethren in other nations experienced last year—unless they pay Facebook to include their stories in readers’ feeds.

At the heart of this change is Facebook’s attempt to be seen not as a news publisher, but as a neutral platform for interactions between friends. Facing sharp criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, and possibly in tipping elections in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Facebook is anxious to limit its exposure by limiting its role. It has long been this way. This rebalancing means different things for the company’s many stakeholders—for publishers, it means they’re almost certainly going to be punished for their reliance on a platform that’s never been a wholly reliable partner. Facebook didn’t talk to publishers in Slovakia because publishers are less important than other stakeholders in this next incarnation of Facebook. But more broadly, Facebook doesn’t talk to you because Facebook already knows what you want.

Facebook collects information on a person’s every interaction with the site—and many other actions online—so Facebook knows a great deal about what we pay attention to. People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices. Publishers in Slovakia and in the United States may warn of damage to democracy if Facebook readers receive less news, but Facebook knows people will be perfectly happy—perfectly engaged—with more posts from friends and families instead. For Facebook, our revealed preferences—discovered by analyzing our behavior—speak volumes. The words we say, on the other hand, are often best ignored.

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Lots of Joules.

In 2017, The Oceans Were By Far The Hottest Ever Recorded (G.)

Among scientists who work on climate change, perhaps the most anticipated information each year is how much the Earth has warmed. That information can only come from the oceans, because almost all heat is stored there. If you want to understand global warming, you need to first understand ocean warming. This isn’t to say other measurements are not also important. For instance, measurements of the air temperature just above the Earth are really important. We live in this air; it affects us directly. A great commentary on 2017 air temperatures is provided by my colleague Dana Nuccitelli. Another measurement that is important is sea level rise; so too is ocean acidification. We could go on and on identifying the markers of climate change.

But in terms of understanding how fast the Earth is warming, the key is the oceans. This important ocean information was just released today by a world-class team of researchers from China. The researchers (Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu) found that the upper 2000 meters (more than 6000 feet) of ocean waters were far warmer in 2017 than the previous hottest year. We measure heat energy in Joules. It turns out that 2017 was a record-breaking year, 151×1022 Joules hotter than any other year. For comparison, the annual electrical generation in China is 600 times smaller than the heat increase in the ocean. The authors provide a long history of ocean heat, going back to the late 1950s.

By then there were enough ocean temperature sensors to get an accurate assessment of the oceans’ warmth. Their results are shown in the figure below. This graph shows ocean heat as an “anomaly,” which means a change from their baseline of 1981–2010. Columns in blue are cooler than the 1981-2010 period, while columns in red are warmer than that period. The best way to interpret this graph is to notice the steady rise in ocean heat over this long time period.

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Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

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“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

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Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

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Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

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Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

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France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

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And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

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There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

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Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

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It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

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The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

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Nov 082017
 
 November 8, 2017  Posted by at 1:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí The oecumenial council 1960

 

Trying to figure out what on earth is happening in the Middle East appears to have gotten a lot harder. Perhaps (because) it’s become more dangerous too. There are so many players, and connections between players, involved now that even making one of those schematic representations would never get it right. Too many unknown unknowns.

A short and incomplete list of the actors: Sunni, Shiite, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kurds, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, Qatar, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Houthis, perhaps even Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I know I know, add your favorites. So what have we got, or what do we know we’ve got? We seem to have the US lining up with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. Broadly. But that’s just a -pun intended- crude start.

Putin has been getting closer to the Saudis because of the OPEC production cuts, trying to jack up the price of oil. Which ironically has now been achieved on the heels of the arrests of 11 princes and scores of other wealthy and powerful in the kingdom. But Putin also recently signed a $30 billion oil -infrastructure- deal with Iran. And he’s been cuddling up to Israel as well.

In fact, Putin may well be the most powerful force in the Middle East today. Well played?! He prevented the demise of Assad in Syria, which however you look at it at least saved the country from becoming another Iraq and Libya style failed state. If there’s one thing you can say about the Middle East/North Africa it’s that the US succeeded in creating chaos there to such an extent that it has zero control left over any of it. Well played?!

 

One thing seems obvious: the House of Saud needs money. The cash flowing out to the princes is simply not available anymore. The oil price is a major factor in that. Miraculously, the weekend crackdown on dozens of princes et al, managed to do what all the OPEC meetings could not for the price of oil: push it up. But the shrinkage of foreign reserves shows a long term problem, not some momentary blip:

 

 

Another sign that money has become a real problem in Riyadh is the ever-postponed IPO of Saudi Aramco, the flagship oil company supposedly worth $2 trillion. Trump this week called on the Saudi’s to list it in New York, but despite the upsurge in oil prices you still have to wonder which part of that $2 trillion is real, and which is just fantasy.

But yeah, I know, there’s a million different stocks you can ask the same question about. Then again, seeing the wealth of some of the kingdom’s richest parties confiscated overnight can’t be a buy buy buy signal, can it? Looks like the IPO delay tells us something.

And then you have the 15,000 princes and princesses who all live off of the Kingdom’s supposed riches (‘only 2,000’ profit directly). All of them live in -relative- wealth. Some more than others, but there’s no hunger in the royal family. Thing is, overall population growth outdoes even that in the royal family. Which means, since the country produces nothing except for oil, that there are 1000s upon 1000s of young people with nothing to do but spend money that’s no longer there. Cue mayhem.

 

 

And things are not getting better, Saudi Arabia loses money on every barrel it produces. There are stories about them lowering their break-even price, but let’s take that with a few spoonfuls of salt. A 25% drop in break-even prices in just one year sounds a bit too good. Moreover, main competitors like Iran would still have a much lower break-even price. So even if prices would rise further, the Saudi’s might only break even while Iran gets much richer. Running vs standing still.

 

Saudi Arabia Leads Gulf Nations in Cutting Break-Even Oil Price

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, is also a leader when it comes to slashing the crude price the country needs to balance its budget. The kingdom will need oil to trade at $70 a barrel next year to break even, the IMF said Tuesday in its Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia. That’s down from a break-even of $96.60 a barrel in 2016, the biggest drop of eight crude producers in the Persian Gulf. The break-even is a measure of the crude price needed to meet spending plans and balance the budget.

 

 

Gulf oil producers are cutting spending and eliminating subsidies after crude plunged from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to average just over half that this year. The need to curb spending is more urgent with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cutting output to reduce a global glut. Oil will trade at $50 to $60 a barrel for the “medium term,” the IMF said.

 

 

So a thorough cleansing job of the royal family is perhaps inevitable, albeit very risky. King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are up against a very large group of rich people. But there’s no way back now.

 

Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge

Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers said on Tuesday. They added that the number is continuing to rise. Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain. Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis…

Much more will have to follow that. Doing a half way job is far too risky once the job has started. Not even $800 billion sounds like all that much. Separate families and factions within the royal family have had decades to accumulate wealth.

 

Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others. The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

The most visible – and perhaps richest- of all those arrested -in western eyes- is Al-Waleed. The Bloomberg estimate of his wealth that came out this week is $19 billion. But their own article seems to indicate a much higher number. He owns 5% of Apple -says Bloomberg-, and that share alone would be worth $45 billion.

 

Alwaleed, Caught in Saudi Purge, Has Assets Across the World

Apple – Alwaleed bought 6.23 million shares, or 5 percent, of the computer and mobile-device maker for $115.4 million in 1997. He made these purchases between mid-March and April of that year while the company was still struggling to turn itself around. He has since continued to hold the stake while Apple’s valuation has soared to as high as $900 billion.

 

Going through all these numbers, you can imagine why the ruling family, or rather the rulers within that family, are getting nervous. And that’s where we get to an interesting piece by Ryan Grim at the Intercept, who says it’s not even 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, or King Salman, 81, who control the kingdom these days, it’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -and maybe Washington-.

The coup has already been perpetrated.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge – And How Washington Corruption Enabled It

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it.

MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain.

As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately.

The kingdom’s broke. Not today, or tomorrow morning, but crown prince MBS is able to look at the numbers and go: Oh Shit! And if he doesn’t see it, he has Kushner (re: Israel) and Al-Otaiba to fill him in. All three relative youngsters -MBS is 32, Kushner is 36, Otaiba is 43- are exceedingly nervous by now.

And then you get war, or the threat of war. War in Yemen, a blockade of Qatar, and now ‘mingling’ in Lebanon with the somewhat mysterious removal of billionaire PM Hariri -allegedly on an Iran/Hezbollah assassination plot-, and outright threats against Iran and Hezbollah:

 

Lebanon’s Hariri Visits UAE As Home Crisis Escalates

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday despite a deepening crisis back home and a rise in regional tensions triggered by his surprise resignation. Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday during a visit to his ally Saudi Arabia and has not yet returned to Lebanon. He said he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accused Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation has thrust Lebanon back into the frontline of the regional rivalry that pits a mostly Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia and allied Gulf monarchies against Shi‘ite Iran and its allies. Hariri’s office said he had flown to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and then returned to Riyadh, but it gave no reason for the trip. It also did not say when he would return home. Hariri’s Future TV channel said he would also visit Bahrain but gave no reason.

In short: billionaire PM Hariri is a puppet. Just perhaps not of Saudi Arabia, but of Abu Dhabi. Whether he’s under house arrest in Riyadh, as has been suggested, is still unclear. But it’s a safe bet that he didn’t fly to Abu Dhabi -and back- alone, or of his own accord. He went to receive instructions.

 

Saudi Arabia Accuses Iran Of ‘Direct Military Aggression’ Over Yemen Missile

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, raising the stakes in an already tense standoff between the two regional rivals. Mohammed bin Salman linked Tehran to the launch of a ballistic missile fired from Yemen towards the international airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday. The missile was intercepted and destroyed.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the prince said on Tuesday during a phone conversation with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. He added that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom”. Iran has called Riyadh’s accusations as baseless and provocative.

We have way of knowing what is true or not about this. We do know that Saudi Arabia have been executing a barbaric war in Yemen. With weapons from the US, UK, et al. So someone firing back wouldn’t be that far-fetched.

 

Regardless, Pepe Escobar, a journalist who knows much more than his peers, or at least doesn’t hold back as much as them, doesn’t see this end well for MBS, UAE, Israel, US, and whoever else is in their corner. Another losing war for the US in the Middle East? We’re losing count.

 

The Inside Story Of The Saudi Night Of Long Knives

A top Middle East business/investment source who has been doing deals for decades with the opaque House of Saud offers much-needed perspective: “This is more serious than it appears. The arrest of the two sons of previous King Abdullah, Princes Miteb and Turki, was a fatal mistake. This now endangers the King himself. It was only the regard for the King that protected MBS. There are many left in the army against MBS and they are enraged at the arrest of their commanders.” To say the Saudi Arabian Army is in uproar is an understatement. “He’d have to arrest the whole army before he could feel secure.”

[..] The story starts with secret deliberations in 2014 about a possible “removal” of then King Abdullah. But “the dissolution of the royal family would lead to the breaking apart of tribal loyalties and the country splitting into three parts. It would be more difficult to secure the oil, and the broken institutions whatever they were should be maintained to avoid chaos.” Instead, a decision was reached to get rid of Prince Bandar bin Sultan – then actively coddling Salafi-jihadis in Syria – and replace the control of the security apparatus with Mohammed bin Nayef. The succession of Abdullah proceeded smoothly.

Power was shared between three main clans: King Salman (and his beloved son Prince Mohammed); the son of Prince Nayef (the other Prince Mohammed), and finally the son of the dead king (Prince Miteb, commander of the National Guard). In practice, Salman let MBS run the show. And, in practice, blunders also followed. The House of Saud lost its lethal regime-change drive in Syria and is bogged down in an unwinnable war on Yemen, which on top of it prevents MBS from exploiting the Empty Quarter – the desert straddling both nations. The Saudi Treasury was forced to borrow on the international markets. Austerity ruled …

[..] aversion to MBS never ceased to grow; “There are three major royal family groups aligning against the present rulers: the family of former King Abdullah, the family of former King Fahd, and the family of former Crown Prince Nayef.” Nayef – who replaced Bandar – is close to Washington and extremely popular in Langley due to his counter-terrorism activities. His arrest earlier this year angered the CIA and quite a few factions of the House of Saud – as it was interpreted as MBS forcing his hand in the power struggle. According to the source, “he might have gotten away with the arrest of CIA favorite Mohammed bin Nayef if he smoothed it over but MBS has now crossed the Rubicon though he is no Caesar. The CIA regards him as totally worthless.”

[..] The source, though, is adamant; “There will be regime change in the near future, and the only reason that it has not happened already is because the old King is liked among his family. It is possible that there may be a struggle emanating from the military as during the days of King Farouk, and we may have a ruler arise that is not friendly to the United States.”

In the end, it all comes down to a familiar theme: follow the money. And we need to seriously question the economic reality of Saudi Arabia. That graph above of their foreign reserves looks downright grim.

With money comes power. Who loses money loses power. Saudi Arabia is bleeding money. The population surge is uncanny, and there are no jobs for all these young people. Perhaps the best they can do is be a US/Israel puppet in an attempt to ‘redo’ the map of the Middle East, but that has not been a very successful project off late -like the past 100 years-.

Then again, when you’re desperate you do desperate things. And when you’re a 32-year-old crown prince with more enemies than you can keep track of, you use what money is left to 1) keep up appearances, 2) steal what others have gathered, 3) buy weapons up the wazoo, and 4) go to war.

It all paints a very dark picture for the world. Russia won’t stand for attacks on Iran. And Iran won’t let attacks on Lebanon/Hezbollah go unanswered. All that is set to push up oil prices further, and all parties involved are just fine with that. Because they can buy more weapons with the additional profits.

I’ll leave you with Nassim Taleb’s comments on the situation. After all, Nassim’s from Lebanon, and knows that part of the world like the back of his hand:

 

 

 

Nov 072017
 
 November 7, 2017  Posted by at 10:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward S. Curtis Zuni Girl with Jar c. 1903

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It (IC)
Saudi Arabia Accuses Lebanon Of ‘Declaring War,’ Egypt Calls For Calm (CNBC)
Oil Prices Surge On Saudi Purge (CNBC)
The Black Swan In Plain Sight – Debt Out The Wazoo (Stockman)
What Could Go Wrong? (Jim Kunstler)
Growing Homeless Camps Contrast With West Coast Tech Wealth (AP)
Profiting from Puerto Rico’s Pain (New Yorker)
Sacked Catalan President Condemns ‘Brutal Judicial Offensive’ (G.)
Bernie Sanders Warns Of ‘International Oligarchy’ – Paradise Papers (G.)
End These Offshore Games Or Our Democracy Will Die (G.)
Four False Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in One Week (GG)
Growing Number of Greeks Unable To Pay Taxes (K.)
Greek Notaries Refuse To Carry Out Foreclosures (K.)
Hawking: AI Could Be ‘Worst Event In The History Of Our Civilization’ (CNBC)
The Charter of the Forest (Standing)

 

 

Reading a lot on Saudi. This is good by Ryan Grim. ” And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries.”

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It (IC)

Whatever the official explanation, it is being read around the world as a power grab by the kingdom’s rising crown prince. “The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman,” as the New York Times put it. “The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests. The men are being held in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh. “There is no jail for royals,” a Saudi source noted. The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington.

The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it. MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain. As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries.

“Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately. For the past two years, Otaiba has introduced MBS around Washington and offered assurances of his commitment to modernizing and reforming Saudi Arabia, according to people who’ve spoken with him, confirmed by emails leaked by the group, Global Leaks. When confronted with damning headlines, Otaiba tends to acknowledge the reform project is a work in progress, but insists that it is progress nonetheless, and in MBS resides the best chance of the region.

Read more …

“The region cannot support more turmoil..”

Saudi Arabia Accuses Lebanon Of ‘Declaring War,’ Egypt Calls For Calm (CNBC)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Middle Eastern nations to maintain stability just as tensions were suddenly spiking between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. “The stability of the region is very important and we all have to protect it … I am talking to all the parties in the region to preserve it,” Al-Sisi said in an interview with CNBC over the weekend that aired Tuesday morning. On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri shocked the political establishment in Beirut by announcing his resignation. The leader said he was stepping down amid concerns of a potential assassination plot against him. Speaking from Riyadh, Hariri criticized Iran, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, for igniting conflict in the region.

Following the CNBC interview, Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia sharply escalated rhetoric in the region by declaring that Lebanon had — figuratively at least — declared “war” against it because of aggression from Hezbollah. Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the government of Lebanon “would be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia,” Reuters reported. When asked whether the time had come for Egypt to consider its own measures against Hezbollah, Al-Sisi replied, “The subject is not about taking on or not taking on, the subject is about the status of the fragile stability in the region in light of the unrest facing the region.” “The region cannot support more turmoil,” he said.

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What OPEC couldn’t do.

Oil Prices Surge On Saudi Purge (CNBC)

Oil prices surged to their highest levels since the summer of 2015 on Monday as a major political shakeup in Saudi Arabia underpinned a rally fueled by geopolitical risk, analysts said. Crude futures hit the new highs overnight after the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman coordinated the arrest of several princes and ministers, ostensibly as part of crackdown on corruption. Prices pulled back in morning trade as the market digested a wealth of analysis on the Saudi purge, but futures suddenly shot higher at midday. International benchmark Brent crude oil topped $64 a barrel for the first time since June 2015. Meanwhile U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude broke above $57, a level the market has not seen since July 2015.

WTI finished Monday’s session $1.71 or 3.1 percent, higher at $57.35. Brent was trading up $2.04, or 3.3 percent, at $64.11 by 2:27 p.m. ET. Analysts cautioned against pinning the surge on any one headline, or even the Saudi arrests alone. Instead, they said a growing cloud of geopolitical uncertainty was unleashing animal spirits in an already bullish market. “You can grab all sorts of different headlines when you have a runaway market, and this is a runaway market right now,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service. In this kind of environment, “people throw caution to the wind, and this is like the grand finale of fireworks,” he said.

Read more …

More debt, fast.

The Black Swan In Plain Sight – Debt Out The Wazoo (Stockman)

The black swan in plain sight does emit the Donald’s orangish glow, but at the end of the day its true color is actually red. That is, monumental towers of rapidly rising debt loom everywhere on the planet. For the moment, the artificial cash flow from this unsustainable borrowing spree is keeping a simulacrum of growth and prosperity alive. Yet this whole outbreak of debt madness – represented by $225 trillion outstanding on a global basis – is careening toward a financial and economic dead end that will soon crush today’s fiscally profligate politicians and heedless financial punters, alike, in a devastating reset of bond yields. For our first case in point, the always excellent Wolf Richter published a great chart over the weekend on the exploding US public debt.

To say the least, it constitutes a clanging wake-up call amidst the absolute fantasy world that prevails on both ends of the Acela Corridor. That’s because during the mere 8 weeks since the public debt ceiling was suspended by the Donald’s end-run with Nancy and Chuckles in September, the national debt has spiked by $640 billion. That’s about $16 billion per Federal business day, and they are not done yet. The US Treasury will continue to borrow heavily until the current debt ceiling “suspension” expires on December 8 – at which time it will repair to the old game of divesting trusting funds and employing other gimmicks which circumvent the ceiling, while waiting for Congress to blink and raise the ceiling or authorize a new “temporary” suspension.

As Wolf pointed out, this pattern played out during the debt showdowns of 2013 and 2015, as well, when the resulting “temporary” suspension resulted in borrowing spikes of $464 billion and $650 billion, respectively. Accordingly, Washington has suspended it way into a $5.7 trillion increase in the public debt in just six years since October 2011. That is, during a period which supposedly constitutes the third longest business expansion in US history.

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“The “narrative” is firmest before its falseness is proved by the turn of events, and there are an awful lot of events out there waiting to present, like debutantes dressing for a winter ball.”

What Could Go Wrong? (Jim Kunstler)

The economy isn’t growing and can’t grow. The economy is a revenant of something that used to exist, an industrial economy that has rolled over and died and come back as a moldy ghoul feeding on the ghostly memories of itself. Stocks go up because the unprecedented low interest rates established by the Fed allow company CEOs to “lever-up” issuing bonds (i.e. borrow “money” from, cough cough, “investors”) and then use the borrowed “money” to buy back their own stock to raise the share value, so they can justify their companies’ boards-of-directors jacking up their salaries and bonuses — based on the ghost of the idea that higher stock prices represent the creation of more actual things of value (front-end-loaders, pepperoni sticks, oil drilling rigs).

The economy is actually contracting because we can’t afford the energy it takes to run the things we do — mostly just driving around — and unemployment is not historically low, it’s simply mis-represented by not including the tens of millions of people who have dropped out of the work force. And an epic wickedness combined with cowardice drives the old legacy news business to look the other way and concoct its good times “narrative.” If any of the reporters at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal really understand the legerdemain at work in these “mysteries” of finance, they’re afraid to say. The companies they work for are dying, like so many other enterprises in the non-financial realm of the used-to-be economy, and they don’t want to be out of paycheck until the lights finally go out.

The “narrative” is firmest before its falseness is proved by the turn of events, and there are an awful lot of events out there waiting to present, like debutantes dressing for a winter ball. The debt ceiling… North Korea… Mueller… Hillarygate….the state pension funds….That so many agree the USA has entered a permanent plateau of exquisite prosperity is a sure sign of its imminent implosion. What could go wrong?

Read more …

All bubbles disrupt.

Growing Homeless Camps Contrast With West Coast Tech Wealth (AP)

SEATTLE — Housing prices are soaring here thanks to the tech industry, but the boom comes with a consequence: A surge in homelessness marked by 400 unauthorized tent camps in parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks. The liberal city is trying to figure out what to do. “I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. “There’s nowhere for these folks to move to.” That struggle is not Seattle’s alone. A homeless crisis is rocking the entire West Coast, pushing abject poverty into the open like never before. Public health is at risk, several cities have declared states of emergency, and cities and counties are spending millions – in some cases billions – in a search for solutions.

San Diego now scrubs its sidewalks with bleach to counter a deadly hepatitis A outbreak. In Anaheim, 400 people sleep along a bike path in the shadow of Angel Stadium. Organizers in Portland lit incense at an outdoor food festival to cover up the stench of urine in a parking lot where vendors set up shop. Homelessness is not new on the West Coast. But interviews with local officials and those who serve the homeless in California, Oregon and Washington — coupled with an Associated Press review of preliminary homeless data — confirm it’s getting worse. People who were once able to get by, even if they suffered a setback, are now pushed to the streets because housing has become so expensive. All it takes is a prolonged illness, a lost job, a broken limb, a family crisis. What was once a blip in fortunes now seems a life sentence.

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“There is no European Union standing ready to bail out Puerto Rico.”

Profiting from Puerto Rico’s Pain (New Yorker)

In 2012, Cate Long was working at the news service Reuters, where she wrote a daily column on the municipal-bond market. Municipal bonds are typically a sleepy corner of investing. They are forms of debt issued by states, counties, or cities, usually to fund infrastructure projects, such as airports and highways, and they are generally considered a safe investment, paying relatively low levels of interest. Finding a compelling story about the municipal-bond market is not an easy task, so when Long came across a document related to an $800 million bond sale that Puerto Rico would be undertaking that spring, she decided to look at the numbers more closely. What she found was startling. “I sat down and read it for a couple of hours, and I said, ‘These people are going to default,’ ” she told me recently. “It was pretty obvious.”

In the column she wrote about her analysis, titled “Puerto Rico Is America’s Greece,” Long expressed concern about the island’s economic health, calling it “America’s own Third World country.” At the time, Puerto Rico’s per-capita income was just $15,203 (less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest of the fifty states), and 45% of its residents were living below the poverty line. Puerto Rico also had a “massive” amount of debt, and was issuing even more bonds, which mutual funds and individuals were eagerly buying up, in spite of the warning signs. In her article, Long seemed to charge almost everyone involved, borrowers and creditors alike, with disingenuousness, incompetence, or both. “As happened with Greece, bond investors continue to buy the debt assuming at some point the government will be bailed out by somebody, somewhere,” she wrote.

“Caution, bond investors: There is no European Union standing ready to bail out Puerto Rico.” The article sent shock waves through the investment community. Moody’s Investors Service, which provides credit ratings, asked Long to come to its offices and defend her findings. (Her defense was, essentially, “I’m looking at the numbers.”) Nevertheless, the island continued its unsustainable borrowing for years—and Wall Street investors kept lending it money. By 2017, five years after Long’s warning, Puerto Rico’s bond debt had soared to $74 billion, almost a third of which was held by hedge funds. Meanwhile, the government was struggling to provide basic services to residents.

Read more …

Guess: he won’t be back in Catalonia in time for the Dec 21 elections.

Sacked Catalan President Condemns ‘Brutal Judicial Offensive’ (G.)

The deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has accused the Spanish authorities of conducting a “brutal judicial offensive” against members of his ousted government and said he was afraid they would not receive an unbiased hearing in Spanish courts. Writing in the Guardian, Puigdemont said it was a “colossal outrage” that he and 13 colleagues were being investigated over possible charges including sedition and rebellion in relation to their roles in last month’s declaration of independence. “Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code; the same as for cases of terrorism and murder: 30 years in prison,” he said.

Puigdemont said he doubted that he and his colleagues would get a “fair and independent hearing” and called for “scrutiny from abroad” to help bring the Catalan crisis to a political, rather than judicial, conclusion. He added: “The Spanish state must honour what was said so many times in the years of terrorism: end violence and we can talk about everything. We, the supporters of Catalan independence, have never opted for violence, on the contrary. But now we find it was all a lie that everything is up for discussion.” The former Catalan leader fled to Brussels with a handful of cabinet colleagues last week, hours before Spain’s attorney general announced he would be seeking to bring charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against them.

On Thursday, a national court judge ordered the jailing of the eight Catalan politicians and, a day later, issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his allies. Late on Sunday, a Belgian judge granted the five conditional release. They will make their first appearance in court on 17 November when a judge will decide on whether to execute the arrest warrant. The conditions of release include a ban on them leaving Belgium until their appearance in the court of first instance in Brussels later this month. With the extradition process likely to take months rather than weeks, there is growing scope for Puigdemont’s presence in Belgium to cause the country’s coalition government serious difficulties.

Read more …

No kidding.

Bernie Sanders Warns Of ‘International Oligarchy’ – Paradise Papers (G.)

Bernie Sanders has warned that the world is rapidly becoming an “international oligarchy” controlled by a tiny number of billionaires, highlighted by the revelations in the Paradise Papers. In a statement to the Guardian in the wake of the massive leak of documents exposing the secrets of offshore investors, Sanders said that the enrichment of wealthy individuals and companies in tax havens was “the major issue of our time”. He said the Paradise Papers opened the door on a “major problem not just for the US but for governments throughout the world”. “The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy. The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” the US senator from Vermont said.

Sanders, who came in a close second to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, pointed the finger of blame for the flourishing of offshore holdings on both Congress and the Trump administration. He told the Guardian that Republicans in Congress were responsible for providing “even more tax breaks to profitable corporations like Apple and Nike”. The same tax breaks, he said, were being seized upon by super-wealthy members of Trump’s cabinet “who avoid billions in US taxes by shifting American jobs and profits to offshore tax havens. We need to close these loopholes and demand a fair and progressive tax system.”

Read more …

“We must accept that Big Finance and runaway inequality are incompatible with either a functioning democracy or a sustainable economy.”

End These Offshore Games Or Our Democracy Will Die (G.)

Tax avoidance is now so systemic that the Queen’s own wealth managers apparently see nothing wrong with her receiving £82m a year from taxpayers while shunting £10m into the Caymans and elsewhere. Shuttling between tax havens is so commonplace that economist Gabriel Zucman describes it as an “elite sport” – a sport in which the loser each time is the rest of society, which sees its taxbase shrink. These papers are aptly named: they outline a model that is paradise for the super-rich and purgatory for the rest of us. The second myth of British politics is that austerity was the only correct response to the high-living of the New Labour boom. That was always opposed by some of us – now it is exploded with each new tax investigation.

Drawing in part on data from last year’s Panama Papers and the HSBC files leaked in 2015, Zucman recently co-published a study that found wealthy Britons have stashed about £300bn – equivalent to 15% of our GDP – in offshore tax havens. Three hundred billion quid would more than cover our entire education budget for the rest of this decade and into the 2020s. Or, if you prefer, it is the equivalent of £350m being paid into the NHS every week for the next 16 years. Instead, it is funnelled offshore and used to buy yachts and mansions and other baubles – tax efficiently, of course. The economics of David Cameron and George Osborne can be summed up simply: punish the poor, but reward the rich for fear they will flee offshore. To that end, they scrapped the 50p tax rate for millionaires, they drove down corporation tax to a record low, and cut sweetheart deals with companies such as Google who couldn’t be bothered to pay even that much.

The result is that London has more super-rich residents than any other city – yet however soft the kid gloves with which they are treated, our wealthiest 0.01% stick 30-40% of their wealth offshore. In high-tax Sweden, by contrast, the rich do not use havens half as much. The logic that has underpinned our tax system over this entire decade is rubbish. [..] Add the City of London to Britain’s crown dependencies such as Jersey and the Isle of Man, and overseas territories such as the Caymans, and Britain’s tax havens account for nearly a quarter of the entire offshore financial industry. According to Deutsche Bank, London itself receives about £1bn a month in what it calls “hidden capital flows”, much of it Russian. It ends up in Stucco-fronted houses and fine art.

Much of this could be changed, and quickly. Britain has previously ordered the Caymans and other overseas territories to decriminalise homosexuality and abolish the death penalty. It could do the same with tax transparency, in an Order of Council that, a Mayfair tax lawyer recently told me, need be no longer than two sides of A4. We could change the rules on Lords and Commons’ members’ interests so that all offshore holdings would have to be registered. These are the fixes, but a real solution is ultimately political. We must accept that Big Finance and runaway inequality are incompatible with either a functioning democracy or a sustainable economy. Britain either shrinks the City of London, or the City of London will swallow Britain.

Read more …

Lots of talk about this, with widely differing views.

Four False Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in One Week (GG)

There is ample talk, particularly of late, about the threats posed by social media to democracy and political discourse. Yet one of the primary ways that democracy is degraded by platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is, for obvious reasons, typically ignored in such discussions: the way they are used by American journalists to endorse factually false claims that quickly spread and become viral, entrenched into narratives, and thus can never be adequately corrected. The design of Twitter, where many political journalists spend their time, is in large part responsible for this damage. Its space constraints mean that tweeted headlines or tiny summaries of reporting are often assumed to be true with no critical analysis of their accuracy, and are easily spread.

Claims from journalists that people want to believe are shared like wildfire, while less popular, subsequent corrections or nuanced debunking are easily ignored. Whatever one’s views are on the actual impact of Twitter Russian bots, surely the propensity of journalistic falsehoods to spread far and wide is at least as significant. Just in the last week alone, there have been four major factually false claims that have gone viral because journalists on Twitter endorsed and spread them: three about the controversy involving Donna Brazile and the DNC, and one about documents and emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. It’s well worth examining them, both to document what the actual truth is as well as to understand how often and easily this online journalistic misleading occurs:

Viral Falsehood #1: The Clinton/DNC agreement cited by Brazile only applied to the General Election, not the primary.

Viral Falsehood #2: Sanders signed the same agreement with the DNC that Clinton did.

Viral Falsehood #3: Brazile stupidly thought she could unilaterally remove Clinton as the nominee.

Viral Falsehood #4: Evidence has emerged proving that the content of WikiLeaks documents and emails was doctored.

Read more …

Deep deep deeper and down.

Growing Number of Greeks Unable To Pay Taxes (K.)

Almost half a million taxpayers were added to the long list of debtors to the state in the month of September, according to the latest data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. The authority’s figures are a reflection of citizens’ increasing inability to pay their taxes, with 410,000 not paying their second income tax installment and the ENFIA property tax in September. More specifically, 4,267,408 taxpayers owed money to the Greek state in September, up from 3,857,086 in August. Moreover, by the end of September, the amount of unpaid taxes since the beginning of the year came to 9.25 billion euros. What concerns the government is whether the 410,000 that couldn’t pay their taxes in September will join the Finance Ministry’s 12-month installment program, as the hole in tax revenues will only grow if they don’t.

Read more …

What good will kicking people out do?

Greek Notaries Refuse To Carry Out Foreclosures (K.)

The outlook for property foreclosures in Greece is unclear after notaries announced a boycott on auctions until the end of the year, citing abuse by protesters, though foreign creditors expect the first online auctions to take place this month. According to sources, Greece’s lenders have suggested that the responsibility for foreclosures be shifted from notaries to Greek courts or possibly to Justice Ministry officials. The latter model, which has been tried and tested in Germany and Spain, was first mooted last month during a visit to Athens by bailout monitors. The auditors made it clear that the resumption of foreclosures on the homes of overindebted Greeks, which have dragged during the crisis years due to strikes by lawyers and notaries and more recently due to anti-austerity protesters, is a prerequisite for the successful conclusion of Greece’s current bailout review.

In comments at Monday’s summit of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, ECB President Mario Draghi indicated that the resumption of property auctions would help banks by reducing the large proportion of bad loans that they hold. Commenting, Greek Finance Ministry sources said Athens was committed to “not taking our foot off the gas in the implementation of reforms for the review.” One of the many conditions of the latest review is that Greece launch electronic foreclosures. The first is supposed to take place on November 29. However, it is unclear how that procedure will be carried out in view of the protracted walkout by Greek notaries.

In a joint statement on Monday, the associations representing notaries in Athens, Piraeus and the islands of the Aegean and the Dodecanese said they will not be conducting any property auctions through December 31. The decision was reached during a meeting on Saturday with a vote of 134 in favor and 132 against. The associations said the decision was aimed at initiating talks with the Justice Ministry in order to provide protection to notaries who have come under attack – often violent – by anti-establishment groups and protesters opposed to foreclosures. Notaries also want the Justice Ministry to be made responsible for electronic auctions, as well as to address any disputes that may arise from them.

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I don’t share his optimism.

Hawking: AI Could Be ‘Worst Event In The History Of Our Civilization’ (CNBC)

The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) could be the “worst event in the history of our civilization” unless society finds a way to control its development, high-profile physicist Stephen Hawking said Monday. He made the comments during a talk at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in which he said, “computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it.” Hawking talked up the potential of AI to help undo damage done to the natural world, or eradicate poverty and disease, with every aspect of society being “transformed.” But he admitted the future was uncertain. “Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” Hawking said during the speech.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.” Hawking explained that to avoid this potential reality, creators of AI need to “employ best practice and effective management.” The scientist highlighted some of the legislative work being carried out in Europe, particularly proposals put forward by lawmakers earlier this year to establish new rules around AI and robotics. Members of the European Parliament said European Union-wide rules were needed on the matter. Such developments are giving Hawking hope.

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” Hawking said.

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We want one!

The Charter of the Forest (Standing)

Eight hundred years ago this month, after the death of a detested king and the defeat of a French invasion in the Battle of Lincoln, one of the foundation stones of the British constitution was laid down. It was the Charter of the Forest, sealed in St Paul’s on November 6, 1217, alongside a shortened Charter of Liberties from 2 years earlier (which became the Magna Carta). The Charter of the Forest was the first environmental charter forced on any government. It was the first to assert the rights of the property-less, of the commoners, and of the commons. It also made a modest advance for feminism, as it coincided with recognition of the rights of widows to have access to means of subsistence and to refuse to be remarried. The Charter has the distinction of having been on the statute books for longer than any other piece of legislation.

It was repealed 754 years later, in 1971, by a Tory government. In 2015, while spending lavishly on celebrating the Magna Carta anniversary, the government was asked in a written question in the House of Lords whether it would be celebrating the Charter this year. A Minister of Justice, Lord Faulks, airily dismissed the idea, stating that it was unimportant, without international significance. Yet earlier this year the American Bar Association suggested the Charter of the Forest had been a foundation of the American Constitution and that it was more important now than ever before. They were right. It is scarcely surprising that the political Right want to ignore the Charter. It is about the economic rights of the property-less, limiting private property rights and rolling back the enclosure of land, returning vast expanses to the commons.

It was remarkably subversive Sadly, whereas every school child is taught about the Magna Carta, few hear of the Charter. Yet for hundreds of years the Charter led the Magna Carta. It had to be read out in every church in England four times a year. It inspired struggles against enclosure and the plunder of the commons by the monarchy, aristocracy and emerging capitalist class, famously influencing the Diggers and Levellers in the 17th century, and protests against enclosure in the 18th and 19th. At the heart of the Charter, which is hard to understand unless words that have faded from use are interpreted, is the concept of the commons and the need to protect them and to compensate commoners for their loss. It is scarcely surprising that a government that is privatising and commercialising the remaining commons should wish to ignore it.

In 1066, William the Conqueror not only distributed parts of the commons to his bandits but also turned large tracts of them into ‘royal forests’ – ie, his own hunting grounds. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were 25 such forests. William’s successors expanded and turned them into revenue-raising zones to help pay for their wars. By 1217, there were 143 royal forests. The Charter achieved a reversal, and forced the monarchy to recognise the right of free men and women to pursue their livelihoods in forests. The notion of forest was much broader than it is today, and included villages and areas with few trees, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor. The forest was where commoners lived and worked collaboratively.

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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Jun 262017
 
 June 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Ghost of a Genius 1922

 

The Automatic Earth has written many articles on the topic of EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) through the years, there’s a whole chapter on it in the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017 that Nicole assembled recently, which contains 17 different articles.

Still, since EROEI is the most important energy issue there is at present, and not the price of oil or some new gas find or a set of windmills or solar panels or thorium, it can’t hurt to repeat it once again, in someone else’s words and from someone else’s angle. This one comes from Brian Davey on his site CredoEconomics, part of his book “Credo”.

It can’t hurt to repeat it because not nearly enough people understand that in the end everything, the survival of our world, our way of life, is all about the ‘quality’ of energy, about what we get in return when we drill and pump and build infrastructure, what remains when we subtract all the energy used to ‘generate’ energy, from (or at) the bottom line.

Anno 2017, our overall ‘net energy’ is nowhere near where it was for the first 100 years or so after we started using oil. And there’s no energy source that comes close to -conventional- oil (and gas) when it comes to what we are left with once our efforts are discounted, in calories or Joules.

The upshot of this is that even if we can ‘gain’ 10 times more than we put in, in energy terms, that won’t save our complex societies. To achieve that, we would need at least a 15:1 ratio, a number straight from our friend Charlie Hall, which is probably still quite optimistic. And we simply don’t have it. Not anymore.

Also, not nearly enough people understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with money. That you can’t go out and buy more or better energy sources. Which is why we use EROEI instead of EROI (Energy Return on Investment), because the latter leaves some sort of financial interpretation open that doesn’t actually exist, it suggests that a financial price of energy plays a role.

First, here’s Nicole from the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017. Below that, Brian Davey’s article.

 

 

Nicole Foss: Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing.

We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

 

 

Using Energy to Extract Energy – The Dynamics of Depletion

 

Brian Davey: The “Limits to Growth Study” of 1972 was deeply controversial and criticised by many economists. Over 40 years later, it seems remarkably prophetic and on track in its predictions. The crucial concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is explained and the flaws in neoclassical reasoning which EROI highlights.

The continued functioning of the energy system is a “hub interdependency” that has become essential to the management of the increasing complexity of our society. The energy input into the UK economy is about 50 to 70 times as great as what the labour force could generate if working full time only with the power of their muscles, fuelled up with food. It is fossil fuels, refined to be used in vehicles and motors or converted into electricity that have created power inputs that makes possible the multiple round- about arrangements in a high complex economy. The other “hub interdependency” is a money and transaction system for exchange which has to continue to function to make vast production and trade networks viable. Without payment systems nothing functions.

Yet, as I will show, both types of hub interdependencies could conceivably fail. The smooth running of the energy system is dependent on ample supplies of cheaply available fossil fuels. However, there has been a rising cost of extracting and refining oil, gas and coal. Quite soon there is likely to be an absolute decline in their availability. To this should be added the climatic consequences of burning more carbon based fuels. To make the situation even worse, if the economy gets into difficulty because of rising energy costs then so too will the financial system – which can then have a knock-on consequence for the money system. The two hub interdependencies could break down together.

“Solutions” put forward by the techno optimists almost always assume growing complexity and new uses for energy with an increased energy cost. But this begs the question- because the problem is the growing cost of energy and its polluting and climate changing consequences.

 

The “Limits to Growth” study of 1972 – and its 40 year after evaluation

It was a view similar to this that underpinned the methodology of a famous study from the early 1970s. A group called the Club of Rome decided to commission a group of system scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore how far economic growth would continue to be possible. Their research used a series of computer model runs based on various scenarios of the future. It was published in 1972 and produced an instant storm. Most economists were up in arms that their shibboleth, economic growth, had been challenged. (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & BehrensIII, 1972)

This was because its message was that growth could continue for some time by running down “natural capital” (depletion) and degrading “ecological system services” (pollution) but that it could not go on forever. An analogy would be spending more than one earns. This is possible as long as one has savings to run down, or by running up debts payable in the future. However, a day of reckoning inevitably occurs. The MIT scientists ran a number of computer generated scenarios of the future including a “business as usual” projection, called the “standard run” which hit a global crisis in 2030.

It is now over 40 years since the original Limits to Growth study was published so it is legitimate to compare what was predicted in 1972 against what actually happened. This has now been done twice by Graham Turner who works at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Turner did this with data for the rst 30 years and then for 40 years of data. His conclusion is as follows:

The Limits to Growth standard run scenario produced 40 years ago continues to align well with historical data that has been updated in this paper following a 30-year comparison by the author. The scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment and subsequently, the population. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030 – with death rates reversing contemporary trends and rising from 2020 onward – the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. (Turner, 2012)

So what brings about the collapse? In the Limits to Growth model there are essentially two kinds of limiting restraints. On the one hand, limitations on resource inputs (materials and energy). On the other hand, waste/pollution restraints which degrade the ecological system and human society (particularly climate change).

Turner finds that, so far it, is the former rather than the latter that is the more important. What happens is that, as resources like fossil fuels deplete, they become more expensive to extract. More industrial output has to be set aside for the extraction process and less industrial output is available for other purposes.

With signficant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run (figure 1 to figure 3) shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.(Turner, 2012, p. 121)

 

Energy Return on Energy Invested

A similar analysis has been made by Hall and Klitgaard. They argue that to run a modern society it is necessary that the energy return on energy invested must be at least 15 to 1. To understand why this should be so consider the following diagram from a lecture by Hall. (Hall, 2012)

eroei

The diagram illustrates the idea of the energy return on energy invested. For every 100 Mega Joules of energy tapped in an oil flow from a well, 10 MJ are needed to tap the well, leaving 90 MJ. A narrow measure of energy returned on energy invested at the wellhead in this example would therefore be 100 to 10 or 10 to 1.

However, to get a fuller picture we have to extend this kind of analysis. Of the net energy at the wellhead, 90 MJ, some energy has to be used to refine the oil and produce the by-products, leaving only 63 MJ.

Then, to transport the refined product to its point of use takes another 5 MJ leaving 58MJ. But of course, the infrastructure of roads and transport also requires energy for construction and maintenance before any of the refined oil can be used to power a vehicle to go from A to B. By this final stage there is only 20.5 MJ of the original 100MJ left.

We now have to take into account that depletion means that, at well heads around the world, the energy to produce energy is increasing. It takes energy to prospect for oil and gas and if the wells are smaller and more difficult to tap because, for example, they are out at sea under a huge amount of rock. Then it will take more energy to get the oil out in the first place.

So, instead of requiring 10MJ to produce the 100 MJ, let us imagine that it now takes 20 MJ. At the other end of the chain there would thus, only be 10.5MJ – a dramatic reduction in petroleum available to society.

The concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is a ratio in physical quantities and it helps us to understand the flaw in neoclassical economic reasoning that draws on the idea of “the invisible hand” and the price mechanism. In simplistic economic thinking, markets should have no problems coping with depletion because a depleting resource will become more expensive. As its price rises, so the argument goes, the search for new sources of energy and substitutes will be incentivised while people and companies will adapt their purchases to rising prices. For example, if it is the price of energy that is rising then this will incentivise greater energy efficiency. Basta! Problem solved…

Except the problem is not solved… there are two flaws in the reasoning. Firstly, if the price of energy rises then so too does the cost of extracting energy – because energy is needed to extract energy. There will be gas and oil wells in favourable locations which are relatively cheap to tap, and the rising energy price will mean that the companies that own these wells will make a lot of money. This is what economists call “rent”. However, there will be some wells that are “marginal” because the underlying geology and location are not so favourable. If energy prices rise at these locations then rising energy prices will also put up the energy costs of production. Indeed, when the energy returned on energy invested falls as low as 1 to 1, the increase in the costs of energy inputs will cancel out any gains in revenues from higher priced energy outputs. As is clear when the EROI is less than one, energy extraction will not be profitable at any price.

Secondly, energy prices cannot in any case rise beyond a certain point without crashing the economy. The market for energy is not like the market for cans of baked beans. Energy is necessary for virtually every activity in the economy, for all production and all services. The price of energy is a big deal – energy prices going up and down have a similar significance to interest rates going up or down. There are “macro-economic” consequences for the level of activity in the economy. Thus, in the words of one analyst, Chris Skrebowski, there is a rise in the price of oil, gas and coal at which:

the cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without destroying growth at a given point in time.(Skrebowski, 2011)

This kind of analysis has been further developed by Steven Kopits of the Douglas-Westwood consultancy. In a lecture to the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy in February of 2014, he explained how conventional “legacy” oil production peaked in 2005 and has not increased since. All the increase in oil production since that date has been from unconventional sources like the Alberta Tar sands, from shale oil or natural gas liquids that are a by-product of shale gas production. This is despite a massive increase in investment by the oil industry that has not yielded any increase in “conventional oil” production but has merely served to slow what would otherwise have been a faster decline.

More specifically, the total spend on upstream oil and gas exploration and production from 2005 to 2013 was $4 trillion. Of that amount, $3.5 trillion was spent on the “legacy” oil and gas system. This is a sum of money equal to the GDP of Germany. Despite all that investment in conventional oil production, it fell by 1 million barrels a day. By way of comparison, investment of $1.5 trillion between 1998 and 2005 yielded an increase in oil production of 8.6 million barrels a day.

Further to this, unfortunately for the oil industry, it has not been possible for oil prices to rise high enough to cover the increasing capital expenditure and operating costs. This is because high oil prices lead to recessionary conditions and slow or no growth in the economy. Because prices are not rising fast enough and costs are increasing, the costs of the independent oil majors are rising at 2 to 3% a year more than their revenues. Overall profitability is falling and some oil majors have had to borrow and sell assets to pay dividends. The next stage in this crisis has then been that investment projects are being cancelled – which suggests that oil production will soon begin to fall more rapidly.

The situation can be understood by reference to the nursery story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks tries three kinds of porridge – some that is too hot, some that is too cold and some where the temperature is somewhere in the middle and therefore just right. The working assumption of mainstream economists is that there is an oil price that is not too high to undermine economic growth but also not too low so that the oil companies cannot cover their extraction costs – a price that is just right. The problem is that the Goldilocks situation no longer describes what is happening. Another story provides a better metaphor – that story is “Catch 22”. According to Kopits, the vast majority of the publically quoted oil majors require oil prices of over $100 a barrel to achieve positive cash flow and nearly a half need more than $120 a barrel.

But it is these oil prices that drag down the economies of the OECD economies. For several years, however, there have been some countries that have been able to afford the higher prices. The countries that have coped with the high energy prices best are the so called “emerging non OECD countries” and above all China. China has been bidding away an increasing part of the oil production and continuing to grow while higher energy prices have led to stagnation in the OECD economies. (Kopits, 2014)

Since the oil price is never “just right” it follows that it must oscillate between a price that is too high for macro-economic stability or too low to make it a paying proposition for high cost producers of oil (or gas) to invest in expanding production. In late 2014 we can see this drama at work. The faltering global economy has a lower demand for oil but OPEC, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, have decided not to reduce oil production in order to keep oil prices from falling. On the contrary they want prices to fall. This is because they want to drive US shale oil and gas producers out of business.

The shale industry is described elsewhere in this book – suffice it here to refer to the claim of many commentators that the shale oil and gas boom in the United States is a bubble. A lot of money borrowed from Wall Street has been invested in the industry in anticipation of high profits but given the speed at which wells deplete it is doubtful whether many of the companies will be able to cover their debts. What has been possible so far has been largely because quantitative easing means capital for this industry has been made available with very low interest rates. There is a range of extraction production costs for different oil and gas wells and fields depending on the differing geology in different places. In some “sweet spots” the yield compared to cost is high but in a large number of cases the costs of production have been high and it is being said that it will be impossible to make money at the price to which oil has fallen ($65 in late 2014). This in turn could mean that companies funding their operations with junk bonds could find it difficult to service their debt. If interest rates rise the difficulty would become greater. Because the shale oil and gas sector has been so crucial to expansion in the USA then a large number of bankruptcies could have wider repercussions throughout the wider US and world economy.

 

Renewable Energy systems to the rescue?

Although it seems obvious that the depletion of fossil fuels can and should lead to the expansion of renewable energy systems like wind and solar power, we should beware of believing that renewable energy systems are a panacea that can rescue consumer society and its continued growth path. A very similar net energy analysis can, and ought to be done for the potential of renewable energy to match that already done for fossil fuels.

eroei-renewables

Before we get over-enthusiastic about the potential for renewable energy, we have to be aware of the need to subtract the energy costs particular to renewable energy systems from the gross energy that renewable energy systems generate. Not only must energy be used to manufacture and install the wind turbines, the solar panels and so on, but for a renewable based economy to be able to function, it must also devote energy to the creation of energy storage. This would allow for the fact that, when the wind and the sun are generating energy, is not necessarily the time when it is wanted.

Furthermore, the places where, for example, solar and wind potential are at this best – offshore for wind or in deserts without dust storms near the equator for solar – are usually a long distance from centres of use. Once again, a great deal of energy, materials and money must be spent getting the energy from where it is generated to where it will be used. For example, the “Energie Wende” (Energy Transformation) in Germany is involving huge effort, financial and energy costs, creating a transmission corridor to carry electricity from North Sea wind turbines down to Bavaria where the demand is greatest. Similarly, plans to develop concentrated solar power in North Africa for use in northern Europe which, if they ever come to anything, will require major investments in energy transmission. A further issue, connected to the requirement for energy storage, is the need for energy carriers which are not based on electricity. As before, conversions to put a current energy flux into a stored form, involve an energy cost.

Just as with fossil fuels, sources of renewable energy are of variable yield depending on local conditions: offshore wind is better than onshore for wind speed and wind reliability; there is more solar energy nearer the equator; some areas have less cloud cover; wave energy on the Atlantic coasts of the UK are much better than on other coastlines like those of the Irish Sea or North Sea. If we make a Ricardian assumption that best net yielding resources are developed first, then subsequent yields will be progressively inferior. In more conventional jargon – just as there are diminishing returns for fossil energy as fossil energy resources deplete, so there will eventually be diminishing returns for renewable energy systems. No doubt new technologies will partly buck this trend but the trend is there nonetheless. It is for reasons such as these that some energy experts are sceptical about the global potential of renewable energy to meet the energy demand of a growing economy. For example, two Australian academics at Monash University argue that world energy demand would grow to 1,000 EJ (EJ = 10 18 J) or more by 2050 if growth continued on the course of recent decades. Their analysis then looks at each renewable energy resource in turn, bearing in mind the energy costs of developing wind, solar, hydropower, biomass etc., taking into account diminishing returns, and bearing in mind too that climate change may limit the potential of renewable energy. (For example, river flow rates may change affecting hydropower). Their conclusion: “We nd that when the energy costs of energy are considered, it is unlikely that renewable energy can provide anywhere near a 1000 EJ by 2050.” (Moriarty & Honnery, 2012)

Now let’s put these insights back into a bigger picture of the future of the economy. In a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, Charles Hall showed a number of diagrams to express the consequences of depletion and rising energy costs of energy. I have taken just two of these diagrams here – comparing 1970 with what might be the case in 2030. (Hall C. , 2012) What they show is how the economy produces different sorts of stuff. Some of the production is consumer goods, either staples (essentials) or discretionary (luxury) goods. The rest of production is devoted to goods that are used in production i.e. investment goods in the form of machinery, equipment, buildings, roads, infrastracture and their maintenance. Some of these investment goods must take the form of energy acquisition equipment. As a society runs up against energy depletion and other problems, more and more production must go into energy acquisition, infrastructure and maintenance. Less and less is available for consumption, and particularly for discretionary consumption.

hall

Whether the economy would evolve in this way can be questioned. As we have seen, the increasing needs of the oil and gas sector implies a transfer of resources from elsewhere through rising prices. However, the rest of the economy cannot actually pay this extra without crashing. That is what the above diagrams show – a transfer of resources from discretionary consumption to investment in energy infrastructure. But such a transfer would be crushing for the other sectors and their decline would likely drag down the whole economy.

Over the last few years, central banks have had a policy of quantitative easing to try to keep interest rates low. The economy cannot pay high energy prices AND high interest rates so, in effect, the policy has been to try to bring down interest rates as low as possible to counter the stagnation. However, this has not really created production growth, it has instead created a succession of asset price bubbles. The underlying trend continues to be one of stagnation, decline and crisis and it will get a lot worse when oil production starts to fall more rapidly as a result of investment cut backs. The severity of the recessions may be variable in different countries because competitive strength in this model goes to those countries where energy is used most efficiently and which can afford to pay somewhat higher prices for energy. Such countries are likely to do better but will not escape the general decline if they stay wedded to the conventional growth model. Whatever the variability, this is still a dead end and, at some point, people will see that entirely different ways of thinking about economy and ecology are needed – unless they get drawn into conflicts and wars over energy by psychopathic policy idiots. There is no way out of the Catch 22 within the growth economy model. That’s why degrowth is needed.

Further ideas can be extrapolated from Hall’s way of presenting the end of the road for the growth economy. The only real option as a source for extra resources to be ploughed into changing the energy sector is from what Hall calls “discretionary consumption” aka luxury consumption. It would not be possible to take from “staples” without undermining the ability of ordinary people to survive day to day. Implicit here is a social justice agenda for the post growth – post carbon economy. Transferring resources out of the luxury consumption of the rich is a necessary part of the process of finding the wherewithal for energy conservation work and for developing renewable energy resources. These will be expensive and the resources cannot come from anywhere else than out of the consumption of the rich. It should be remembered too that the problems of depletion do not just apply to fossil energy extraction coal, oil and gas) but apply across all forms of mineral extraction. All minerals are depleted by use and that means the grade or ore declines over time. Projecting the consequences into the future ought to frighten the growth enthusiasts. To take in how industrial production can hit a brick wall of steeply rising costs, consider the following graph which shows the declining quality of ore grades mined in Australia.

mining-australia

As ores deplete there is a deterioration of ore grades. That means that more rock has to be shifted and processed to refine and extract the desired raw material, requiring more energy and leaving more wastes. This is occurring in parallel to the depletion in energy sources which means that more energy has to be used to extract a given quantity of energy and therefore, in turn, to extract from a given quantity of ore. Thus, the energy requirements to extract energy are rising at the very same time as the amount of energy required to extract given quantities of minerals are rising. More energy is needed just at the time that energy is itself becoming more expensive.

Now, on top of that, add to the picture the growing demand for minerals and materials if the economy is to grow.

At least there has been a recognition and acknowledgement in recent years that environmental problems exist. The problem is now somewhat different – the problem is the incredibly naive faith that markets and technology can solve all problems and keep on going. The main criticism of the limits to growth study was the claim that problems would be anticipated in forward markets and would then be made the subject of high tech innovation. In the next chapter, the destructive effects of these innovations are examined in more depth.

 

 

Jun 222017
 
 June 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Analysis of Various Perversities 1922

 

The Little Putsch That Could Beget a Great Big Coup (Stockman)
US Should Mind Its Own Business; It Shouldn’t Be In Syria (Ron Paul)
US Is A “Second Tier” Country (ZH)
America Grows Older And More Ethnically Diverse (BBG)
The Wheels Come Off Uber (Yves Smith)
Oil Prices ‘Like A Falling Knife’ (CNBC)
The Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction (BBG)
Canada’s Housing Bubble Will Burst (BBG)
Rehousing Of Grenfell Tower Families In Luxury Block Gets Mixed Response (G.)
China NPL Prices Up 30% as New Gold Rush Gets Under Way (BBG)
Strong Interest, Low Price For NPLs of Greece’s Eurobank (K.)
Greeks Skeptical About Benefits, Prospects of EU (K.)
Greek Tourism Minister Says Arrivals Will Top 30 Million This Year (K.)

 

 

Davis is getting upset. He’s offering a free copy of his Trump book to every American at the link.

The Little Putsch That Could Beget a Great Big Coup (Stockman)

Let’s start with two obvious points about the whole Russia fiasco… Namely, there is no “there, there.” First off, the president has the power to declassify secret documents at will. But in this instance he could also do that without compromising intelligence community (IC) “sources and methods” in the slightest. That’s because after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, the whole world was put on notice — and most especially Washington’s adversaries — that it collects every single electronic digit that passes through the worldwide web and related communications grids. Washington essentially has universal and omniscient SIGINT (signals intelligence). Acknowledging that fact by publishing the Russia-Trump intercepts would provide new knowledge to exactly no one. Nor would it jeopardize the lives of any American spy or agent (HUMINT).

It would just document the unconstitutional interference in the election process that had been committed by the U.S. intelligence agencies and political operatives in the Obama White House. That pales compared to whatever noise comes out of Langley (CIA) and Ft. Meade (NSA). And I do mean noise. Yes, I can hear the boxes on the CNN screen harrumphing that declassifying the “evidence” would amount to obstruction of justice! That is, since Trump’s “crime” is a given (i.e. his occupancy of the Oval Office), anything that gets in the way of his conviction and removal therefrom amounts to “obstruction.” Given that he is up against a Deep State/Democratic/Neoconservative/mainstream media prosecution, the Donald has no chance of survival short of an aggressive offensive of the type I just described. But that’s not happening because the man is clueless about what he is doing in the White House.

And he’s being advised by a cacophonous coterie of amateurs and nincompoops. So he has no action plan except to impulsively reach for his Twitter account. That became more than evident — and more than pathetic, too — when he tweeted out an attack on his own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. At least Nixon fired Elliot Richardson (his Attorney General) and Bill Ruckelshaus (Deputy AG): “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” Alone with his Twitter account, clueless advisors and pulsating rage, the Donald is instead laying the groundwork for his own demise. Were this not the White House, this would normally be the point at which they send in the men in white coats with a straight jacket.

[..] Even Senator John Thune, an ostensible Swamp-hating conservative, had nothing but praise for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that he would fairly and thoroughly get to the bottom of the matter. No he won’t! Mueller is a card-carrying member of the Deep State who was there at the founding of today’s surveillance monster as FBI Director following 9/11. Since the whole $75 billion apparatus that eventually emerged was based on an exaggerated threat of global Islamic terrorism, Russia had to be demonized into order to keep the game going — a transition that Mueller fully subscribed to.

Read more …

“One thing that I am concerned about – because I’ve seen it happen so often over the years, are false flags.”

US Should Mind Its Own Business; It Shouldn’t Be In Syria (Ron Paul)

RT: Australia halted its cooperation. How significant is this development? Why did they do it? Ron Paul: I think that is good. Maybe wise enough, I wish we could do the same thing – just come home. It just makes no sense; there’s a mess over there. So many people are involved, the neighborhood ought to take care of it, and we have gone too far away from our home. It has been going on for too long, and it all started when Obama in 2011 said: “Assad has to go.” And now as the conditions deteriorate …it looks like Assad and his allies are winning, and the US don’t want them to take Raqqa. This just goes on and on. I think it is really still the same thing that Obama set up – “Get rid of Assad” and there is a lot of frustration because Assad is still around and now it is getting very dangerous, it is dangerous on both sides.

One thing that I am concerned about – because I’ve seen it happen so often over the years, are false flags. Some accidents happen. Even if it is an honest accident or it is deliberate by one side or the other to blame somebody. And before they stop and think about it, then there is more escalation. When our planes are flying over there and into airspace where we shouldn’t be, and we are setting up boundaries and say “don’t cross these lines or you will be crossing our territory.” We have no right to do this. We should mind our own business; we shouldn’t be over there, when we go over there and decide that we are going to take over, it is an act of aggression, and I am positively opposed to that. And I think most Americans are too if they get all the information they need.

Read more …

“..the US received its lowest marks in the categories of “tolerance and inclusion” and “health and wellness.“

US Is A “Second Tier” Country (ZH)

Most Americans’ idea of happiness involves lounging by the water or on a beach somewhere. But it turns out, human happiness can flourish even in freezing climates far from the equator. To wit, the Social Progress Imperative, a US-based nonprofit, released the results of its annual Social Progress Index report, which purports to rank countries based on the overall wellbeing of their citizens. Four Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway claimed the top spots, while the US placed 18th out of 128, leaving it in what the SPI defines as the “second-tier” of countries based on citizens’ wellbeing, according to Bloomberg. Luckily, being “second-tier” doesn’t seem that bad, according to a definition found in the report. “Second-tier countries demonstrate “high social progress” on core issues, such as nutrition, water, and sanitation.

However, they lag the first-tier, “very high social progress” nations when it comes to social unity and civic issues. That more or less reflects the U.S. performance. (There are six tiers in the study.)” “We want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended, nor how much the country spends on healthcare,” the report states. In a nod to the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as his efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, the report noted that the US received its lowest marks in the categories of “tolerance and inclusion” and “health and wellness.” America’s “tolerance” score has been sliding since 2014, around the time that several high-profile shootings of unarmed black men ignited the “Black Lives Matter” movement, sparking a national conversation about the prevalence of racism in US society.

Read more …

Just very slowly.

America Grows Older And More Ethnically Diverse (BBG)

The United States is growing older and more ethnically diverse, a trend that could put strains on government programs from Medicare to education, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. Every ethnic and racial group grew between 2015 and 2016, but the number of whites increased at the slowest rate — less than one hundredth of 1% or 5,000 people, the Census estimate shows. That’s a fraction of the rates of growth for non-white Hispanics, Asians and people who said they are multi-racial, according to the government’s annual estimates of population. President Donald Trump’s core support in the racially divisive 2016 election came from white voters, and polls showed that it was especially strong among those who said they felt left behind in an increasingly racially diverse country.

In fact, the Census Bureau projects whites will remain in the majority in the U.S. until after 2040. “Even then, (whites) will still represent the nation’s largest plurality of people, and even then they will still inherit the structural advantages and legacies that benefit people on the basis of having white skin,” said Justin Gest, author of “The New Minority,” a book about the 2016 election. The Census Bureau reported that the median age of Americans — the age at which half are older and half are younger — rose nationally from just over 35 years to nearly 38 years in the years between 2000 and 2016, driven by the aging of the “baby boom” generation. The number of residents age 65 and older grew from 35 million to 49.2 million during those 16 years, jumping from 12% of the total population to 15%.

That’s a costly leap for taxpayers as those residents move to Medicare, government health care for seniors and younger people with disabilities, which accounted for $1 out of every $7 in federal spending last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. By 2027, it will cost $1 out of every $6 of federal money spent. Net Medicare spending is expected to nearly double over the next decade, from $592 billion to $1.2 trillion, the KFF reported.

Read more …

Excellent take-down from Yves.

The Wheels Come Off Uber (Yves Smith)

Not surprisingly, the financial press has been all ago about the drama of Travis Kalanick’s forced departure from Uber’s CEO position yesterday, and has focused on getting salacious insider details of his ouster. That means journalists largely ignored what ought to be the real story, which is whether Uber has any future. I anticipate that Hubert Horan will offer a longer-form treatment of this topic. Hubert had already documented, in considerable detail in his ten-part series, how Uber has no conceivable path to profitability. Its business model has been based on a massive internal contradiction: using a ginormous war chest to try to achieve a near-monopoly position in a low-margin, mature business that is fragmented geographically and locally.

Monopolies and oligopolies are sustainable only when certain factors are operative: the ability to attain a superior cost position through scale economies, which include network effects, or barriers to entry, such as regulations, very high skill levels, or high minimum investment requirements. Neither of these apply in the local car ride business. Even if Uber were able to drive literally every competing cab operator in the world out of business due to its ability to continue its predatory pricing, once Uber raised prices to a level where it achieved profits, new entrants (or revived old entrants) would come in. Uber will thus never be able to charge the premium prices (in excess of the level for a traditional taxi operator to be profitable) for the very long period necessary for Uber to merely be able to recoup the billions of dollars it has burned, mainly in subsidizing the cost of rides, let alone to achieve an adequate return on capital.

And that’s before you get to the fact that systematically much higher prices would mean fewer fares. The developments of the last few months mean Uber’s decay path is sure to accelerate. I’ve been following the business press for over 30 years. I can’t think of a single case where even an established, profitable business with an established franchise has had so many top level positions vacant, and for such bad reasons. As reader vidimi quipped, “With no CEO, CFO, COO, and CIO, uber is coming very close to becoming a self-driving company.” And that’s not even a full list. World-class communications expert Rachel Whetstone, who is recognized as a key force in rebuilding the Tories’ brand in the UK, quit in April.

The heads of engineering departed for failing to disclose a previous sexual investigation; the head of product and growth was forced out over a sexual impropriety at a company function. And in a scandal that will have a much longer tail, Uber’s former head of its Waymo driverless car unit, Anthony Levandowski, has had his case involving alleged theft of intellectual property from Google referred to the Department of Justice. Kalanick was deeply involved in Levandowski sudden exodus. It seems implausible that Kalanick didn’t know Levandowski was making off with Google files. If the case does lead to a criminal prosecution, it is hard to see how Kalanick could escape scrutiny as a potential criminal co-conspirator.

Read more …

Just in case you were wondering why King Salman named a new crown prince…

Oil Prices ‘Like A Falling Knife’ (CNBC)

Oil prices could be poised to fall below $40 a barrel before too long, according to an analyst at Energy Aspects, as the commodity appeared set to post its largest price slide in the first half of the year for the past two decades. “This is like a falling knife right now, I genuinely haven’t seen sentiment this bad ever,” Amrita Sen, the co-founder and chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, told CNBC on Wednesday. “We have had clients emailing saying they have been trading this for 20 or 30 years and they have never seen something like this,” she added. Oil prices have tumbled more than 20% his year, marking its worst performance for the first six months of the year since 1997 and putting the commodity in bear market territory.

The ongoing decline in prices appears to have stemmed from investors discounting evidence of robust compliance by OPEC and non-OPEC producers with a deal to curtail a global supply overhang. Prices took a fresh leg lower in the previous session – dipping 2% – as new signs of rising output from Nigeria and Libya, the two OPEC members exempt from a deal to cut production. Output from the 14-member exporter group ticked higher in May due to rising production in Nigeria, Libya and Iraq, raising concerns about OPEC’s effort to shrink global stockpiles of crude oil. OPEC and other producers have committed to keeping 1.8 million barrels a day off the market through March. Libya’s oil production rose more than 50,000 barrels per day to 885,000 bpd. Meanwhile, exports of Nigeria’s benchmark Bonny Light crude oil are set to rise by 62,000 barrels per day in August.

Read more …

Absolutely. He’s the War Prince.

The Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction (BBG)

With the anointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the Saudi throne, any doubts over the continuation of policies that have shaken up the Middle East have gone. Western diplomats already referred to the 31-year-old as “Mr. Everything,” because of his control over most aspects of domestic, foreign and defense affairs. His elevation ends a behind-the-scenes struggle for power and answers the question of what would happen to his plans for Saudi Arabia when King Salman, now 81, dies or steps aside. The most ambitious of these, Vision 2030, seeks to recalibrate the economy to end the country’s near-total dependence on oil revenue. But internationally, there are also ramifications. Last month, the prince again raised the stakes in the regional rivalry with Iran, saying that dialog was “impossible” as they fight a proxy war in Yemen.

He also led a multi-nation effort to isolate neighboring Qatar, causing a rift among fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. That also looks set to turn into another long and potentially fruitless test of wills as Iran and Turkey come to Qatar’s aid. “The switch offers him the legitimacy and consensus of becoming the next king and that will validate his vision, his plans and his policies,” said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “There were a lot of question marks about the future of Saudi Arabia and the transition. Now this debate has ended.” Widely known as MBS, he was made crown prince just after dawn in Riyadh, displacing his older cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, who was also stripped of his post as interior minister in charge of domestic security forces and counter-terrorism policy.

The move was neither a shock nor a coup, and it means he could be running the kingdom for decades to come. What’s more, his tough approach to the intractable problems of the Middle East would appear to mesh well with U.S. President Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia last month. Trump called the new crown prince Wednesday to offer congratulations on his elevation, the White House said in a statement. Trump and the prince “committed to close cooperation to advance our shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond,” according to the statement. The problem is what comes next. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State questioned Saudi Arabia’s justification at striking out at Qatar by cutting it off from diplomatic and transport links.

The bombing campaign in Yemen aimed at destroying the rebel Houthi forces that Saudi Arabia sees as proxies for Iran, meanwhile, appears to have no end in sight. Two years later, it has become bogged down, bloody and increasingly unpopular. “On the foreign policy side he’s also embroiled Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Qatar without an exit strategy,” said James Dorsey at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. These aren’t changes of direction for Saudi Arabia, but “what he has done is to stretch up a notch and put some very sharp edges on it, and at this point those are backfiring.”

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Any Canadian with a substantial mortgage who’s not actively trying to sell right now…..

Canada’s Housing Bubble Will Burst (BBG)

Canadian home sales fell the most in five years last month. That didn’t stop an increase in prices, which were up 18% nationwide from a year earlier. When you consider that most houses are leveraged assets, this represents huge gains for homeowners. While leverage can help boost performance on the way up, it becomes very dangerous on the way down. Leverage can turn even the best investments into poor ones when things go wrong, as losses are amplified. Equity can get wiped out pretty quickly on an overleveraged asset. Canadian real estate has been on fire for years. The housing price data there has made the U.S. real estate market during the boom of the mid-2000s look mild. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas puts out a global housing price index for more than 20 countries every quarter. Using this data, I looked at the real house price index data for Canada and compared it with the same data in the U.S. going back to 1975. Here’s this relationship from 1975 through the end of 2005:

Although there were some divergences in the early and late 1980s, both housing markets essentially ended up in the same place after 30 years. Now let’s add in the most recent data to see how things have unfolded since:

An enormous divergence occurred in 2006, when U.S. housing prices really began to soften, while Canadian price barely skipped a beat. This makes any differences in the past look like blips. The rise in Canadian real estate prices has been relentless. The U.S. housing market peaked in late 2006. Since then, based on this index, U.S. housing prices are still down almost 13% from their peak through the end of 2016. In that same time frame, Canadian housing prices are up 56%. From the 2006 peak, it took until late 2012 for real estate in the U.S. to bottom. We’ve since witnessed a 19% recovery from what was a 27% decline nationwide, on average. While the U.S. real estate downturn lasted almost six years, Canada’s housing market experienced just a 7% drawdown that lasted less than a year. And house prices in Canada reclaimed those losses in about a year and a half. Canadian housing has also outpaced its neighbors to the south since the 2012 bottom in U.S. real estate, with a 30% gain in that time.

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You can’t even blame these people. It’s the whole crazy idea of cities and governments blowing housing bubbles on purpose, that’s what’s wrong here.

Rehousing Of Grenfell Tower Families In Luxury Block Gets Mixed Response (G.)

Two miles south of the charred skeleton of Grenfell Tower is a large complex of sleek new apartments that some of those displaced by last week’s inferno will soon be able to call home. Kensington Row’s manicured lawns, clipped trees and burbling fountains are a haven from the rumbling traffic of two busy London thoroughfares, and its spacious, air-conditioned foyers a relief from June’s oppressive heatwave. Four unfinished blocks house the 68 flats purchased by the Corporation of London for families who lost their homes in Grenfell Tower. Workmen had been instructed not to talk to the media, but one said there was now a rush to complete the building work. “It’s a brilliant idea,” he said of the resettlement plan. Among those exercising dogs and small children, the views were more mixed. “It’s so unfair,” said Maria, who was reading the news in the Evening Standard with two neighbours.

She bought her flat two years ago for a sum she was unwilling to disclose. “We paid a lot of money to live here, and we worked hard for it. Now these people are going to come along, and they won’t even be paying the service charge.” Nick, who pays £2,500 a month rent for a one-bedroom flat in the complex, also expressed doubts about the plan. “Who are the real tenants of Grenfell Tower?” he asked. “It seems as though a lot of flats there were sublet. Now the people whose names are on the tenancies will get rehoused here, and then they’ll rent the flats out on the private market. And the people who were actually living unofficially in the tower at the time of the fire won’t get rehoused. “I’m very sad that people have lost their homes, but there are a lot of people here who have bought flats and will now see the values drop. It will degrade things. And it opens up a can of worms in the housing market.”

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When your bad debt is in a bubble, I guess you got it made?! Or should that be: you should be afraid?

China NPL Prices Up 30% as New Gold Rush Gets Under Way (BBG)

Bad loans are rapidly becoming the latest hot commodity in China as more domestic and foreign investors rush into the market and bid up prices. Non-performing loan prices have risen more than 30% this year, according to distressed investor Belos Capital Asia. The average selling price of NPLs has climbed to around 50 cents on the dollar in the past two years, from 30 cents, said Victor Jong, a partner in the deals and business recovery services unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Shanghai. Such a high level is “very rare” in international markets, Jong said. “There are just too many buyers grabbing a limited supply of NPLs,” said Hanson Wong, CEO of Belos Capital in Hong Kong. “At these prices, it’s pretty hard for these NPLs to be profitable.” Distressed investors are increasing as Chinese authorities encourage market-oriented ways to resolve lenders’ mounting piles of non-performing debt amid slowing economic growth.

A jump in valuations of real estate, which often act as underlying assets for secured loans, has boosted the debt’s recovery prospects. Combined with a surge in money supply, this has lifted bad-loan prices even in some less-developed regions of China, according to domestic distressed debt investor Bald Eagle Asset Management. Foreign investors including Oaktree Capital, Lone Star, Goldman Sachs and PAG have bought China NPLs in the current cycle that began in 2014, according to a March report from PwC. Non-performing loans at the country’s lenders jumped 61% in the past two years to 1.58 trillion yuan ($231 billion) at the end of March. In the previous NPL cleanup in China, between 2001 and 2008, secured debt was typically sold at 20 cents on the dollar, and unsecured creditors got back only 5 cents, said Wang Yingyi, a partner at Bald Eagle in Beijing.

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Looks like Greece should try China’s bad debt recipe.

Strong Interest, Low Price For NPLs of Greece’s Eurobank (K.)

The loans portfolio put up for sale by Eurobank is attracting strong investment interest but low offers as the lender begins the process for the transfer of nonperforming loans. This is a portfolio valued at €2.8 billion which has attracted the interest of about 20 investment funds in the data room, illustrating the strong leverage the NPL market commands, partly due to the banks’ commitment to reducing their bad loans by 40% by the end of 2019. The portfolio that Eurobank is selling includes debt from consumer loans and credit cards that have gone unpaid for years, most for at least a decade – i.e. since before the financial crisis broke.

Eurobank has made all the necessary moves for the collection of part of the €2.8 billion, without getting a great response. Therefore the prices in the market are expected to be particularly low for the portfolio, with estimates speaking of just 5% of the original value. Market professionals note that Eurobank’s effort to recover part of the dues just before the opening of the portfolio’s sale, offering debtors a haircut of up to 95% without any significant results, means that the price will likely drop below 5% too.

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Greeks are still stuck in the mindset of being proud to be deemed worthy of being a full member of the EU. So much so that they can’t see they’re not.

Greeks Skeptical About Benefits, Prospects of EU (K.)

As the European Union’s cohesion faces being sorely test by the upcoming Brexit negotiations and other challenges, Greeks appear increasingly skeptical about the benefits and prospects of the EU, according to a new study by London-based international policy institute Chatham House and research company Kantar. 74% of Greeks are worried about the outlook for the EU, according to the survey which was carried out on a sample of 1,000 people in 10 European countries: Britain, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland.

The Greek figure was almost double the research average of 38%. Greeks were also significantly more downbeat than their counterparts, with 60% declaring themselves to be pessimistic compared to a research average of 40%. An even larger proportion of Greeks, 80%, said they believed more members of the bloc would follow Britain’s lead and decide to break away from the Union in the next 10 years. Predictably, following seven years of belt-tightening imposed by foreign creditors, a significant proportion of Greeks (67%) said that austerity was the EU’s biggest failure. 73% of Greeks believe that the decision of Britain to leave the EU will weaken the Union.

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A debt colony AND a tourist colony. With most of the best assets sold off to foreigners.

BTW, both Greeks and tourists would be much better off if Greece had its own currency and could lower daily prices.

Greek Tourism Minister Says Arrivals Will Top 30 Million This Year (K.)

The tourism sector is showing genuine signs of growth this year that suggest it will be the main driver of the Greek recovery, as it will help state revenues, the private economy, the country’s current accounts and employment. The government is for the first time speaking of 30 million arrivals in 2017. Bank of Greece data show that in the first four months of the year travel receipts increased by 2.4% or 23 million euros year-on-year, reaching 997 million euros. This increase was thanks to the 3.2% rise in arrivals and not average spending per trip, which posted a 0.8% decline. This means the 4.8% drop in travel receipts during the first quarter was offset in April, when arrivals rose 12% and receipts 11.3% annually. This positive picture is expected to have continued in May.

Retail sector representatives are looking forward to cashing in on the increase in arrivals, to offset the losses resulting from Greek households’ ever shrinking disposable incomes. Based on the bookings picture, turnover in retail commerce could rise by up to 5% this year. Addressing a conference organized by the Panhellenic Exporters Federation, Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said that the data of the first five months point to an increase in arrivals, revenues, nights stayed and occupancy rates. They also show an increase in bookings for the summer ranging between 15 and 70%, depending on area, which led to her conclusion that Greece will have more then 30 million tourists this year after welcoming 28 million in 2016 and 26 million in 2015. The growth in tourism is also reflected in employment and commerce. The number of unemployed registered last month dropped by 56,820 people from April to 913,518, mainly thanks to the rise in seasonal employment in tourism and commerce.

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