Nov 242018
 
 November 24, 2018  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Joseph Mallord William Turner The Sun Rising over Water 1825-30

 

Britain’s Opposition Labour Party Plots Overthrow Of Capitalism (R.)
This Sell-Off is Just One Step in Methodical Unwind of Stock Prices (WS)
Oil Plunges More Than 6% Despite Potential OPEC Cut (R.)
Bitcoin Loses 25% Of Its Remaining Value During Thanksgiving Week (CNBC)
Trump Dismisses Report He Is Unhappy With Treasury’s Mnuchin (R.)
Holiday Doings and Undoings (Kunstler)
Rising Fuel Price Protests Should Serve As A Red Alert For Macron (I.ie)
Gibraltar Rocks Final Stages Of Brexit Negotiation (AFP)
Ecuador Ousts Its London Ambassador, ‘Last Diplomat Assange Knew’ (RT)
Prosecution of Julian Assange, America’s Betrayal of Its Own Ideals (CD)
Why You Should Care About the Julian Assange Case (Taibbi)
Anonymous Blows Lid Off Huge Psyop In Europe Funded By UK & US (RT)

 

 

You really think you can win an election saying this?

Britain’s Opposition Labour Party Plots Overthrow Of Capitalism (R.)

The British Labour Party’s would-be finance minister, John McDonnell, has a message for the world: he is deadly serious about overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society. McDonnell, 67, who describes Karl Marx as one of his main influences, has been at the vanguard of a left-wing revival in Britain’s main opposition party under fellow socialist Jeremy Corbyn. He has promised sweeping nationalization, higher public spending and an overhaul of the banking system. Asked about his entry in the Who’s Who directory of influential people which lists his passion for “generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism”, McDonnell said it was a joke about beer-making, but he agrees with the principle.

“I believe it. I am serious in my intent. I want to transform this economy,” McDonnell told Reuters in an interview. “That means evolving into a system which can achieve that equality, that democracy, that fairness, and tackles the major challenges that we are facing.” With PM Theresa May’s grip on power looking ever more vulnerable as she faces the most perilous crisis of her premiership struggling to win backing for her Brexit deal, Labour are increasingly confident that they will be the next guardians of the world’s fifth-largest economy. McDonnell’s gambit is that the social discontent in Britain which fueled the shock 2016 Brexit vote runs much deeper, and that voters who feel left behind by decades of unchecked capitalism and wounded by years of public spending cuts will rally to his call.

“(It was) like everyone’s grievance went into one vote,” McDonnell said. The polls show that is only part of the picture: voters are tired of economic austerity and unhappy with May’s Brexit negotiations, but Labour are only marginally ahead of the ruling Conservative Party. Some commentators have suggested they should be polling better against a government in disarray. Nevertheless, the combination of an unsated appetite for change and a Brexit-inspired political crisis which has trashed the centrist orthodoxy of British politics, has left Labour confident they will soon win power. McDonnell said his ambition is create the most radical government in modern British history even as the country is grappling with its exit from the EU, the most complex negotiations in Europe since the end of World War Two.

[..] McDonnell has outlined a program of nationalizing the railways, energy and water companies and the postal service, raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy. This would be combined with increased spending on education, skills training, and health care, and harnessing the financial sector to help fund a huge infrastructure investment. At his party’s annual conference two months ago, McDonnell did little to conceal the scale of his ambition. Businesses were stunned by his plan to force all large companies to hand over a tenth of their equity to their workforce.

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Possible.

This Sell-Off is Just One Step in Methodical Unwind of Stock Prices (WS)

It was an ugly Monday and Tuesday followed by a Wednesday that at first look like a real bounce but ended with the indices giving up their gains. This was followed, mercifully, by Thursday when markets were closed, which was followed unmercifully by Friday, during which the whole schmear came unglued again. The S&P 500 index dropped 0.7% on Friday to 2,632 and 3.8% for Thanksgiving week, though this week is usually – by calendar black-magic – a good week, according to the Wall Street Journal: During Thanksgiving weeks going back a decade, the S&P 500 rose on average 1.3%. This leaves the S&P 500 index 1.5% in the hole year-to-date. It’s now back where it had first been on November 30, 2017:

Clearly, when seen over the longer term, the sell-off for now still belongs to the small-fry among sell-offs, with S&P 500 down just 10.5% from its peak:

The Dow dropped 0.7% on Friday and 4.4% during Thanksgiving week, to 24,286. It’s 1.75% in the hole for the year. Technically speaking, it’s not even in a correction, being down only 9.9% from its peak. And the Nasdaq, dropped 0.5% on Friday and 4.3% during Thanksgiving week. According to the Wall Street Journal, during Thanksgiving week over the past 20 years, the Nasdaq rose on average 1.3%. So this is no good for calendar-black-magic aficionados. Where’s the free-wheeling holiday spirit? The Nasdaq is now down 14.7% from its peak at the end of August but remains up 0.5% year-to-date. The Russell 2000 small-caps index edged down today and is down 14.5% from its peak on August 31. It’s 3% in the hole year-to-date and right back where it had first been on September 27, 2017:

The seven FANGMAN stocks – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google’s parent Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, and NVIDIA – fell 1.3% on Friday in combined market cap. Over Thanksgiving week, they have now plunged 6.7%, or by $259 billion. Those are real dollars gone in four trading days with just seven stocks. Since their combined market-cap peak of $4.63 trillion at the end of August, nearly $1 trillion — $994 billion to be precise – has dissolved into ambient air, as their combined market cap has plunged 21.5% in ca. 12 weeks. But if you look at them as individual stocks, it’s even worse. The saving grace for the group as a whole was Microsoft, the second largest stock by market cap, which is threatening to become the largest stock shortly if Apple continues to fall at this pace. Three of the seven have already plunged by 38% to nearly 50%. Two more have plunged by 26% to 27%.

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What is it, 34% since the high this year?

Oil Plunges More Than 6% Despite Potential OPEC Cut (R.)

Oil prices slumped more than 6 percent on Friday, with Brent set for a 12-percent plunge this week, as fears that supply would overpower demand intensified, even as major producers considered cutting output. Oil supply, led by U.S. producers, is growing faster than demand and to prevent a build-up of unused fuel such as the one that emerged in 2015, OPEC is expected to start trimming output after a meeting on Dec. 6. But this has done little so far to prop up prices, which have dropped more than 20 percent so far in November, in a seven-week streak of losses. Deep trade disputes between the world’s two biggest economies and oil consumers, the United States and China, have weighed upon the market.

“The market is pricing in an economic slowdown – they are anticipating that the Chinese trade talks are not going to go well,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “The market doesn’t believe that OPEC is going to be able to act swiftly enough to offset the coming slowdown in demand.” [..] Market fears over weak demand intensified after China reported its lowest gasoline exports in more than a year amid a glut of the fuel in Asia and globally. Stockpiles of gasoline have surged across Asia, with inventories in Singapore, the regional refining hub, rising to a three-month high while Japanese stockpiles also climbed last week. Inventories in the United States are about 7 percent higher than a year ago.

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Starting to feel serious.

Bitcoin Loses 25% Of Its Remaining Value During Thanksgiving Week (CNBC)

Bitcoin continued its move lower Friday, struggling to find footing after a week of pain for the world’s largest cryptocurrency. The digital asset hit a low of $4,119 Friday, according to data from CoinDesk, bringing its seven-day losses to more than 25 percent. In dollar terms, bitcoin’s value dropped by about $1,400 over that time frame. Other cryptocurrencies didn’t hold up this week either. Not a single one in the top 28 by market capitalization was trading in the green Friday, according to CoinMarketCap.com. XRP, the second-largest by market capitalization, fell 6 percent Friday, bringing its one-week losses to 10 percent. Ether was down 7 percent in 24 hours and lost roughly 30 percent for the week.

The total market capitalization for cryptocurrencies fell to $138.6 billion Friday, according to CoinMarketCap data, its lowest level since September 2017. Since its peak, the market has lost about $700 billion in value, according to the data. The tumble for bitcoin started abruptly last week when it fell below $6,000 and hit a new low for the year. The plunge followed what had been a surprisingly calm few months for bitcoin and a break from the rest of its volatile trading year. Since then, prices have hit new 13-month lows and struggled to move out of the $4,300 range. The price dips are a stark contrast from last Thanksgiving when the cryptocurrency was entering a hot streak thanks to a wave of new retail investors. Since that holiday week last year, prices are down by more than 55 percent.

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“They never like to ask me for a quote b/c it would kill their story..”

Trump Dismisses Report He Is Unhappy With Treasury’s Mnuchin (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Friday that he was quite happy with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s performance, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the president was dissatisfied with Mnuchin. “I am extremely happy and proud of the job being done by @USTreasury Secretary @stevenmnuchin1,” Trump said in a tweet. The Journal reported that Trump blames Mnuchin for the appointment of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has been steadily raising U.S. interest rates. Trump is concerned that higher rates could undercut economic gains ahead of his 2020 reelection bid, the newspaper reported.

Quoting unnamed sources, the Journal said Trump has also expressed displeasure with Mnuchin over stock market turbulence and the Treasury secretary’s skepticism about the White House trade actions against China. “The FAKE NEWS likes to write stories to the contrary, quoting phony sources or jealous people, but they aren’t true. They never like to ask me for a quote b/c it would kill their story,” Trump said on Twitter. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Fed’s rate increases under Powell. In October, he called the Fed “crazy,” “ridiculous” and “my biggest threat.”

A year ago when Trump picked Powell to head the Federal Reserve, Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, was a strong advocate of his nomination. The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the matter, said Trump, in a conversation with someone who praised Mnuchin’s performance, mentioned stock market volatility and said: “If he’s so good, why is this happening?”

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“..Somehow I doubt that this Christmas will win the Bing Crosby star of approval.”

Holiday Doings and Undoings (Kunstler)

Somehow I doubt that this Christmas will win the Bing Crosby star of approval. Rather, we see the financial markets breaking under the strain of sustained institutionalized fraud, and the social fabric tearing from persistent systemic political dishonesty. It adds up to a nation that can’t navigate through reality, a nation too dependent on sure things, safe spaces, and happy outcomes. Every few decades a message comes from the Universe that faking it is not good enough. The main message from the financials is that the global debt barge has run aground, and with it, the global economy. That mighty engine has been chugging along on promises-to-pay and now the faith that sustained those promises is dissolving.

China, Euroland, and the USA can’t possibly meet their tangled obligations, and are running out of tricks for rigging, gaming, and jacking the bond markets, where all those promises are vested. It boils down to a whole lot of people not getting paid, one way or the other — and it’s really bad for business. Our President has taken full credit for the bubblicious markets, of course, and will be Hooverized as they gurgle around the drain. Given his chimerical personality, he may try to put on an FDR mask — perhaps even sit in a wheelchair — and try a few grand-scale policy tricks to escape the vortex. But the net effect will surely be to make matters worse — for instance, if he can hector the Federal Reserve to buy every bond that isn’t nailed to some deadly derivative booby-trap.

But then he’ll only succeed in crashing the dollar. Remember, there are two main ways you can go broke: You can run out of money; or you can have plenty of worthless money.

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Urban vs rural. Just like in America.

Rising Fuel Price Protests Should Serve As A Red Alert For Macron (I.ie)

Within the space of a week, the gilets jaunes have managed to tap into wider discontent with Macron’s presidency and policies, gaining opposition support and momentum as a result. These are not the usual protests or strikes co-ordinated by political parties or unions in France. With no official organisation, no identified leader and no political affiliation, the gilets jaunes phenomenon has been almost completely co-ordinated on social media where it declares “[This] comes about only from the French people”. [..] one thing is certain: their actions have chimed with the public. This despite chaos across France last weekend with roads blocked by protesters at some 2,000 locations. Two people were killed – one when a driver panicked and accidentally accelerated their car into the crowd – in the protests and hundreds reported injured.

Nevertheless, a number of polls have shown that almost three-quarters of French voters approve of the demonstrations, one survey found that more than half of those who voted for Macron support them. The planned tax increases – the price of diesel is due to go up another 6.5 cents per litre and petrol by 2.9 cents – are to come into force in January. They follow a 23pc rise in the cost of diesel and 15pc in petrol in the past year. Internationally, Macron has made much of his commitment to battling climate change and these hikes are part of his domestic policies on that front. His ministers have also argued that the higher price of crude globally also necessitates a rise but protesters complain that fuel taxes have been increasing steadily over the past four years.

One survey this week found that 82pc believe Macron should drop the plans. It also showed that particular demographics – the self-employed and business leaders, plus pensioners and low-income households – were most supportive of the gilets jaunes. The episode also highlights the rift between France’s urban elite and those in its poor rural peripheries. Workers who rely on their cars to get to their jobs in the countryside are particularly aggrieved by the planned tax increases.

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One more topic they try to push into the limitless future.

Gibraltar Rocks Final Stages Of Brexit Negotiation (AFP)

Preparations for a summit to endorse Britain’s deal to quit the European Union risked running aground on the rock of Gibraltar Friday, as Spain defended its veto over the fate of the tiny territory. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders of the other 27 EU member states are to meet Sunday to approve their divorce agreement and set a course for negotiating their future post-Brexit relationship. But Spanish officials emerged from talks Friday warning that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez might not attend unless it is guaranteed that no future accord on EU relations involving Gibraltar will be signed without Madrid’s specific assent.

Visiting Cuba, Sanchez said that if the Gibraltar row is not resolved, he might not go to Brussels on Sunday, warning: “If there’s no agreement, it’s very clear hat will happen, there very probably won’t be a European Council.” In Brussels, Luis Marco Aguiriano Nalda, Spain’s secretary of state for European affairs, said Madrid wanted London to put in writing that it shared Madrid’s interpretation of the negotiated Brexit deal regarding Gibraltar. “We have demanded that it be published by the British authorities before the European Council on Sunday,” he said. In London, however, a Downing Street source said he did not know what document Aguiriano could be referring to and added: “We have negotiated on behalf of the whole of the UK family. That includes Gibraltar and the overseas territories.”

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The torture never stops.

Ecuador Ousts Its London Ambassador, ‘Last Diplomat Assange Knew’ (RT)

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has terminated the credentials of his UK ambassador, who has been at the center of negotiating the fate of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, as concerns mount over the whistleblower’s safety. The decree, with which Moreno effectively sacked Ecuador’s London ambassador Abad Ortiz, was published by WikiLeaks on Wednesday. The document does not offer any explanation as to why Ortiz, who had been his country’s ambassador to the UK since 2015, is now being permanently recalled. Nor does it name a successor for the outgoing diplomat. The decree is effective immediately.

WikiLeaks tweeted that Abad, appointed to the office under President Rafael Correa, was the last diplomat the long-term self-exiled editor knew in the embassy. “All diplomats known to Assange have now been transferred away from the embassy,” the whistleblowing site claimed. This new and sudden twist in the Assange saga has been met with concern by his supporters, with some suggesting that Moreno is doing Washington’s bidding by removing people who might have stood by Assange and opposed his potential handover to the British police – which is expected to bring about a swift extradition to the US. The dismissal has been called “a silent pro-US coup.”

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Best piece on Assange in a while, from Nozomi Hayase.

Prosecution of Julian Assange, America’s Betrayal of Its Own Ideals (CD)

Just as the Founding Fathers of the United States, by revolting against the autocratic rule of King George were regarded as traitors, by aiding ordinary people expose and defy unjust secret law, WikiLeaks too has been branded as an enemy of the state. Trump’s Secretary of State and the former CIA director, Mike Pompeo calls WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency, claiming that the organization threatens American values and needs to be shut down. Members of the US Congress urged the Ecuadorian President to persecute Assange, calling him a “dangerous criminal” and a “threat to global security”. While all these vicious verbal attacks are thrown at him, Assange remains in confinement, over the past months, being completely shut out from the outside, being continually deprived of fresh air, access to medical care and sunlight by the UK government in violation of UN rulings.

All wars start and are fueled by lies and propaganda. Once it was the Vietnam War, where under the command of the US President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Gulf of Tonkin lies unleashed military forces into Southeast Asia. Then came the invasion of Iraq with the former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech at the UN, falsely claiming Iraq had ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. This battle against free speech is another secret war of this empire. It now has become a fog of war, where with the hype of Russia Gate that was created out of thin air, the public was prevented from seeing who the real enemies are.

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Taibbi’s piece is okay, and he says some good things, but he doesn’t appear to like Assange, and fails to hide that.

Valid point he makes: The -secret- charges vs Assange have nothing to do with Trump, they pre-date his presidency by years.

Why You Should Care About the Julian Assange Case (Taibbi)

It always seemed that Assange viewed his primary role as being a pain in the ass to this increasingly illegitimate system of secrets, a pure iconoclast who took satisfaction in sticking it to the very powerful. I didn’t always agree with its decisions, but Wikileaks was an understandable human response to an increasingly arbitrary, intractable, bureaucratic political system. That it even had to exist spoke to a fundamental flaw in modern Western democracies — i.e. that our world is now so complex and choked with secrets that even releasing hundreds of thousands of documents at a time, we can never be truly informed about the nature of our own societies. Moreover, as the Snowden episode showed, it isn’t clear that knowing unpleasant secrets is the same as being able to change them.

In any case, the institutions Wikileaks perhaps naively took on once upon a time are getting ready to hit back. Frankly it’s surprising it’s taken this long. I’m surprised Assange is still alive, to be honest. If Assange ends up on trial, he’ll be villainized by most of the press, which stopped seeing the “lulz” in his behavior for good once Donald Trump was elected. The perception that Assange worked with Vladimir Putin to achieve his ends has further hardened responses among his former media allies. As to the latter, Assange denies cooperating with the Russians, insisting his source for the DNC leak was not a “state actor.” It doesn’t matter. That PR battle has already been decided.

Courts have held reporters cannot be held liable for illegal behavior of sources. [..] It’s always been the source’s responsibility to deal with that civil or criminal risk. The press traditionally had to decide whether or not leaked material was newsworthy, and make sure it was true. The government has been searching for a way to change that equation. The Holy Grail would be a precedent that forces reporters to share risk of jail with sources. Separate from Assange, prosecutions of leakers have sharply escalated in the last decade. The government has steadily tiptoed toward describing publishers as criminal conspirators.

It’s impossible to know exactly what recent news about an indictment means until we see it (the Reporters’ Committee for the Freedom of the Press has already filed a motion to unseal the charges). If there is a case, it could be anything in the federal criminal code, perhaps even unrelated to leaks. Who knows? But the more likely eventuality is a prosecution that uses the unpopularity of Assange to shut one of the last loopholes in our expanding secrecy bureaucracy. Americans seem not to grasp what might be at stake. Wikileaks briefly opened a window into the uglier side of our society, and if publication of such leaks is criminalized, it probably won’t open again.

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Europe needs an enemy. Or rather, NATO does.

Anonymous Blows Lid Off Huge Psyop In Europe Funded By UK & US (RT)

Anonymous has published documents which it claims have unearthed a massive UK-led psyop to create a “large-scale information secret service” in Europe – all under the guise of countering “Russian propaganda.” In a document dump on November 5, the group exposed the UK-based ‘Integrity Initiative’, said to have been established by the ominously titled Institute for Statecraft in 2015. The main objective is “to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.” The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ program, so objectivity is, of course, at the forefront of their work.

Operating on a budget of £1.9 million (US$2.4 million), the secretive Integrity Initiative consists of “clusters” of local politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics. The team is dedicated to searching for and publishing “evidence” of Russian interference in European affairs, while themselves influencing leadership behind the scenes, the documents claim. The UK establishment appears to be conducting the very activities of which it and its allies have long-accused the Kremlin, with little or no corroborating evidence. The program also aims to “change attitudes in Russia itself” as well as influencing Russian speakers in the EU and North America, one of the leaked documents states.

At present, the vast network allegedly has clusters for Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Norway, Serbia, and Montenegro… but there’s more! According to the Anonymous leak, major plans to expand the sphere of influence throughout eastern Europe, the US, and Canada, as well as the MENA region, are allegedly underway. The clusters’ work is apparently done under absolute secrecy via concealed contacts embedded throughout British embassies, the leak claims, some of which are listed as part of the documentation.

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Nov 142018
 
 November 14, 2018  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Still life 1917

 

Britiain, EU Agree on Brexit Plan (G.)
France and Facebook Announce Partnership Against Online Hate Speech (Pol.eu)
Oil’s Unprecedented Slide Accelerates, Capitulates To Darkening Outlook (BBG)
Major Markets Are All Flashing Warning Signs (Roberts)
Trump’s Tariff Battle With China Spurs Record Dollar-Yuan Trading (CNBC)
Goldman Sachs Is Implicated In History’s Largest Financial Con (Ind.)
IMF Says Governments Could Set Up Their Own Cryptocurrencies (G.)
Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ Headquarters Will Cost US Taxpayers $2 Billion (R.)
Decoding The Hypersonic Putin On A Day Of Remembrance (Escobar)
Angela Merkel Calls For Creation Of ‘Real, True’ EU Army (Ind.)
Saudi ‘Kill Team’s’ Luggage Contained Syringes, Defibrillators, Scissors (AFP)
Who Gets to Live in Victimville? (Monics Lewinsky)
Social Media Increases Depression And Loneliness (TI)
Heatwaves Can ‘Wipe Out’ Male Insect Fertility (G.)

 

 

At sort of the last moment, the long awaited deal is announced. Alas, all it really does is push forward any awkward decisions- and there are many. And even that can be voted down by the Cabinet, or parliament, or some other party involved, like the DUP. One thing seems certain: Theresa May will no longer be in charge when actual decisions are made. So why would she care? It’s about saving face by now.

Britiain, EU Agree on Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May summoned her cabinet to an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon to sign off her long awaited final Brexit deal, prompting hard-Brexit Tories to call for senior ministers to stand up and block it. The critical meeting is the culmination of months of negotiations and will see May’s senior ministers consider whether they can personally endorse the agreement that the prime minister has been able to reach. Ministers were summoned to No 10 in the early evening and some met individually with May or her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell. They were given the chance to read the key documents, although they were not trusted to take any papers home.

Further one-on-one meetings were expected to take place on Wednesday. “Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps,” a No 10 spokesman confirmed. “Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.” Key elements of the deal began to leak in the early evening. The UK was understood to have agreed that an independent arbitration committee will judge when a UK-wide customs backstop could be terminated, comprising an equal number of British and EU representatives plus an independent element.

There will be a review in July 2020, Brussels sources added, six months before the end of the transition period, at which it will be determined if the UK is ready to move to a free trade deal; transfer to the backstop; or extend the transition period, possibly by a year to 2021.

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Scary. The leader of one political party seeks to decide with Silicon Valley, what constitutes hate speech. The main potential target of this is Marine le Pen, who’s already had her share of hate accusations. Thing is, Macron has fallen behind her in the -EU election- polls, his popularity has fallen to 23%. And now Zuckerberg gives him the tools to get rid of Le Pen.

France and Facebook Announce Partnership Against Online Hate Speech (Pol.eu)

Emmanuel Macron just “friended” Mark Zuckerberg. The French president announced on Monday a six-month partnership with Facebook aimed at figuring out how the European country should police hate speech on the social network. As part of the cooperation — the first time that Facebook has teamed up with national politicians to hammer out such a contentious issue — both sides plan to meet regularly between now and May, when the European election is due to be held. They will focus on how the French government and Facebook can work together to remove harmful content from across the digital platform, without specifying the outcome of their work or if it would result in binding regulation.

The partnership, which will involve meetings in Paris, Dublin and California, may be broadened out to cover other as yet unnamed areas after six months. A French official who asked not to be named called the partnership an “unprecedented experiment” that would grant authorities insight into Facebook’s processes to formulate recommendations that are “concrete and operational.” The social networking giant is now trying to lobby national lawmakers on the perceived dangers of regulating the internet. “We are giving blind faith to our daily digital tools,” Macron told an audience in Paris. “Today, when I see our democracy, internet is much better used by the extremes … or by terrorist groups.”

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Feeding on itself by now?!

Oil’s Unprecedented Slide Accelerates, Capitulates To Darkening Outlook (BBG)

Oil’s unprecedented decline deepened as investors fled a market hammered by swelling excess supplies, a darkening demand outlook and U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter critique of the world’s biggest crude exporter. Futures plunged 7.1 per cent in New York on Tuesday for the biggest one-day drop in three years. OPEC’s dire forecast for 2019 demand came at a time of steadily rising American production and stockpiles. Trump admonished Saudi Arabia for planning to curb output and lamented prices that settled below US$56 a barrel for the first time in a year. “This tweet certainly did not help prices,” said Warren Patterson, a senior commodities strategist at ING Bank.

“Given the growing global surplus over the first half of 2019, OPEC will likely try to ignore President Trump’s call as much as possible.” West Texas Intermediate futures have fallen for a record 12 sessions on fears that a supply glut similar to the price-killing surplus of 2014 is redeveloping. In London, Brent futures have declined in 11 of the past 12 sessions. Money managers’ combined bullish positions in WTI and Brent sank to the lowest in 14 months as of Nov. 6, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show, as long positions shrank and shorts increased.

“Today’s move is just capitulation,” said Nick Gentile, managing partner of commodity trading advisor NickJen Capital Management & Consulting LLC in New York. “You’re getting a combination of the systematic CTAs, the trend following guys, adding to the shorts and global macro guys liquidating longs.” WTI for December delivery dropped US$4.24 to end the session at US$55.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Total volume traded Tuesday was about 90 per cent above the 100-day average.

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Master graphmaker Lance Roberts has some more. I picked a few.

Major Markets Are All Flashing Warning Signs (Roberts)

[..] the failure of the market to hold the 200-dma also increases the downside risk of the market currently. There is an important point here to be made about “bull markets” and “bear markets. While there is no “official” definition of what constitutes a “bull” or “bear” market, the generally accepted definition is a decline of 20% in the market. However, since I really don’t want to subject my clients to a loss of 20% in their portfolios, I would suggest a different definition based on the “trend” of the market as a whole. As shown in the chart below: • If prices are generally “trending higher” then such is considered a “bull market.” • A “bear market” is when the “trend” changes from positive to negative.

[..] what is happening domestically should not be a surprise. The rest of the world markets have already confirmed bear market trends and continue to trade below their long-term moving averages. (The very definition of a bear market.) While it has been believed the U.S. can “decouple” from the rest of the world, such is not likely the case. The pressure on global markets is a reflection of a slowing global economy which will ultimately find its way back to the U.S.

(Note: we closed all international and emerging market positions in our portfolios at the beginning of this year.) Just as a side note, China has been in a massive bear market trend since 2015 and is down nearly 50% from its previous highs.

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China’s foreign reserves are under severe pressure.

Trump’s Tariff Battle With China Spurs Record Dollar-Yuan Trading (CNBC)

Market uncertainty tied to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war has spurred more transactions than ever before between the American dollar and the Chinese yuan in recent months. Much of that volume comes as businesses and investors with exposure to the Chinese market are looking to hedge their foreign exchange risk. Many of them are looking to buy into the strengthening dollar, and that’s stoked speculation that Chinese authorities are intervening in the market to defend their currency, boosting trading volumes to new highs in the process. On Tuesday, currency traders told Reuters major state-owned banks were selling dollars to defend the Chinese yuan, as the greenback climbed to a 16-month peak against a basket for currencies.

Most trading between the two currencies takes place on the spot market, where dollars and yuan change hands as soon as a deal is done. That sort of market has seen volumes surge this year for the currency pair. But futures trading — where the transaction is agreed to take place at a later date at a certain price — is also increasingly catching dollar-yuan traders’ interests, according to Benjamin Lu, an investment analyst with Singapore brokerage Phillip Futures. [..] ups-and-downs in the foreign exchange market have prompted a Singapore-based privately backed Chinese exchange to launch a new dollar-offshore yuan futures contract. “Nobody knows how the trade war will end. There’s a lot of fear and panic in the financial market and worries about trade,” said Eugene Zhu, CEO of the Chinese-backed Asia Pacific Exchange.

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Malaysia should call Blankfein to testify in court. He knew, he was there. But Goldman is far more likely to just pay some huge fine.

Goldman Sachs Is Implicated In History’s Largest Financial Con (Ind.)

Even by Wall Street standards of gouging customers this was one hell of a skim. In 2012 and 2013, the Malaysian government was raising $6.5bn (£5bn) from investors to establish a sovereign wealth fund and finance various domestic infrastructure investment projects. And the cut for Goldman Sachs – the most prestigious investment bank in the world – for arranging the fundraising from the global capital markets? Ten per cent, or $600m. Now we can have a guess as to why the Malaysian authorities were so insouciant about those extortionate fundraising costs: because they themselves were, apparently, going to loot the pot in one of the biggest frauds in history. Around half of the fund has gone missing.

According to the US Justice Department a fair amount has been pumped into luxury American real estate and shady art auction bids. Appropriately, some went into investing in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. At one stage $680m mysteriously appeared in the bank account of the former Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, who chaired the 1MDB advisory board, and who is now charged in his own country with corruption. Malaysian politicians, officials and financiers had effectively bought Goldman Sachs’ blue chip reputation to pull in naive investors to the “1MDB” state investment fund. Ten per cent probably seemed a reasonable cut in the circumstances. The question is: what did Goldman know about the theft?

The bank claims today that it was completely oblivious. But the senior Goldman banker on the ground in Malaysia, Tim Leissner, certainly knew. He pleaded guilty in New York to financial crimes related to 1MDB last week, including bribery of officials to ensure Goldman was the sole fundraiser. What’s even more problematic for the bank is that Leissner told the court there was a “culture” at Goldman Sachs of bypassing internal compliance. That’s backed up by US prosecutors, who say Goldman’s business culture in the region was “highly focused on consummating deals, at times prioritising this goal ahead of the proper operation of its compliance functions”.

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And then let the IMF control them all.

IMF Says Governments Could Set Up Their Own Cryptocurrencies (G.)

Governments should consider offering their own cryptocurrencies to prevent the systems becoming havens for fraudsters and money launderers, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund said referring to the fast-growing fintech industry. Lagarde said central banks had to work quickly to establish digital cash for burgeoning networks of private financial transactions or risk their mushrooming into trading networks that were inherently unstable. A system regulated by central banks could become the basis for a rapid expansion of financial services to developing world countries and the poorest people in western societies without the risks associated with privately managed digital currencies, she said.

[..] Speaking at a fintech conference in Singapore, Lagarde said central banks would take over the processing of transactions while private-sector providers offered innovative services to customers. “The advantage is clear. Your payment would be immediate, safe, cheap, and potentially semi-anonymous. And central banks would retain a sure footing in payments. In addition, they would offer a more level playing field for competition, and a platform for innovation. Meanwhile your bank or fellow entrepreneurs would have ensured a friendly user experience based on the latest technologies,. “Putting it another way. The central bank focuses on its comparative advantage – back-end settlement – and financial institutions and start-ups are free to focus on what they do best – client interface and innovation. This is public-private partnership at its best.”

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Because Bezos is barely scraping by. Everywhere you look, Amazon gets rewarded for destroying communities.

Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ Headquarters Will Cost US Taxpayers $2 Billion (R.)

Amazon.com picked America’s financial and political capitals for massive new offices on Tuesday, branching out from its home base in Seattle with plans to create more than 25,000 jobs in both New York City and an area just outside Washington, D.C. The world’s largest online retailer plans to spend $5 billion on the two new developments in Long Island City and Arlington, Virginia, and expects to get more than $2 billion in tax credits and incentives with plans to apply for more. The prize, which Amazon called HQ2, attracted hundreds of proposals from across North America in a year-long bidding war that garnered widespread publicity for the company. Amazon ended the frenzy by dividing the spoils between the two most powerful East Coast U.S. cities and offering a consolation prize of a 5,000-person center in Nashville, Tennessee, focused on technology and management for retail operations.

[..] At the outset of its search last year, Amazon said it was looking for a business-friendly environment. The company said it will receive performance-based incentives of $1.525 billion from the state of New York, including an average $48,000 for each job it creates. It can also apply for other tax incentives, such as New York City’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program that offers tax breaks potentially worth $900 million over 12 years. What benefit the company would actually get was unclear. In Virginia, Amazon will receive performance-based incentives of $573 million, including an average $22,000 for each job it creates. These rewards come on top of $1.6 billion in subsidies Amazon has received across the United States since 2000, according to a database from watchdog Good Jobs First.

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“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”

Decoding The Hypersonic Putin On A Day Of Remembrance (Escobar)

A battle of ideas now rages across Europe, epitomized by the clash between the globalist Macron and populism icon Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister. Salvini abhors the Brussels system. Macron is stepping up his defense of a “sovereign Europe.” And much to the horror of the US establishment, Macron proposes a real “European army” capable of autonomous self-defense side by side with a “real security dialogue with Russia.” Yet all these “strategic autonomy” ideals collapse when you must share the stage, live, with the undisputed stars of the global show: President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

So the optics in Paris were not exactly of a Yalta 2.0 conference. There were no holds barred to keep Trump and Putin apart. Seating arrangements featured, from left to right, Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron, his wife Brigitte and Putin. Neither Trump nor Putin, for different reasons, took part in a “walking in the rain” stunt evoking peace. And yet they connected. Sir Peter Cosgrove, the governor general of Australia, confirmed that Trump and Putin, at a working lunch, had a “lively and friendly” conversation for at least half an hour. No one better than Putin himself to reveal, even indirectly, what they really talked about. Three themes are absolutely key.

[..] Vast sectors of the US Deep State are in denial, but Putin may have been able to impress on Trump the necessity of serious dialogue due to an absolutely key vector: the Avangard. The Avangard is a Russian hypersonic glide vehicle capable of flying over Mach 20 – 24,700km/h, or 4 miles per second – and one of the game-changing Russian weapons Putin announced at his ground-breaking March 1 speech. The Avangard has been in the production assembly line since the summer of 2018, and is due to become operational in the southern Urals by the end of next year or early 2019.

In the near future, the Avangard may be launched by the formidable Sarmat RS-28 intercontinental ballistic missile and reach Washington in a mere 15 minutes, flying in a cloud of plasma “like a meteorite” – even if the launch is from Russian territory. Serial production of Sarmat ICBMs starts in 2021. The Avangard simply cannot be intercepted by any existing system on the planet – and the US knows it. Here is General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”

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“This is one of the scariest speeches I have heard as an MEP in my nine years. Merkel is an out-and-out European federalist and we should not be pandering to her as if she is on our side. She is on the side of the superstate.”

Angela Merkel Calls For Creation Of ‘Real, True’ EU Army (Ind.)

Angela Merkel has called for the creation of a “real, true” European army, echoing a similar call by her French counterpart. The German chancellor’s backing for the force comes amid a spat with US president Donald Trump, who took offence to a suggestion by Emmanuel Macron that such an army could ensure Europe’s security in the shadow of the United States. Ms Merkel endorsed the creation of the army while addressing MEPs at the European parliament in Strasbourg. “We should work on a vision of one day establishing a real, true European army,” Ms Merkel said. The French president made his call during a radio interview last week: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army.” He added: “When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security.” [..] Ms Merkel’s intervention is significant because France has historically been the strongest and most vocal proponent of an EU army, with its neighbour tentatively endorsing proposals for a joint command structure for military interventions. Eurosceptics reacted angrily to the speech. Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman said: “This is one of the scariest speeches I have heard as an MEP in my nine years. Merkel is an out-and-out European federalist and we should not be pandering to her as if she is on our side. She is on the side of the superstate.”

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Bone saw was a local purchase. As was the acid.

Saudi ‘Kill Team’s’ Luggage Contained Syringes, Defibrillators, Scissors (AFP)

Luggage carried by a 15-member Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul included scissors, defibrillators and syringes that may have been used against journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate, a pro-government Turkish daily said Tuesday. X-ray images of the luggage were published in the Sabah newspaper as the New York Times reported that a member of the team at the consulate had told a superior by phone to “tell your boss”, suspected to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that the operation was accomplished. Turkish media has published gruesome details of the murder of 59-year-old Khashoggi who according to a Turkish prosecutor was strangled and dismembered soon after he entered the Istanbul consulate on October 2.

After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Riyadh critic, had been murdered at the mission in a “rogue” operation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the 15-member Saudi team travelled from Riyadh to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. The luggage carried by the team was loaded into two planes that left for Riyadh at 1520 GMT and 1946 GMT on October 2, Sabah newspaper said. The luggage contained 10 phones, five walkie-talkies, intercoms, two syringes, two defibrillators, a jamming device, staplers, and scissors, the paper reported. [..] Khashoggi’s body has never been found, but Sabah reported on Saturday that his killers poured his remains down the drain after dissolving them in acid.

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“..with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire”

Who Gets to Live in Victimville? (Monics Lewinsky)

The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.)

Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole. The process became meta. As the project re-examined the narratives, both personal and political, surrounding the events of 1998, so did I. I revisited then-President Bill Clinton’s famous finger-wagging Oval Office interview from early 1998, in which I was anointed “That Woman,” and was transported to my apartment in the Watergate apartment complex.

Sitting on the edge of my grandma’s bed and watching it unfold on TV, 24-year-old me was scared and hurt, but also happy that he was denying our relationship, because I didn’t want him to have to resign. (“I didn’t want to be responsible for that,” I thought at the time, absolving anyone else of responsibility.) Forty-five-year-old me sees that footage very differently. I see a sports coach signposting the playbook for the big game. Instead of backing down amid the swirling scandal and telling the truth, Bill instead threw down the gauntlet that day in the Oval Office: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.

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Just like alcohol and cocaine do.

Social Media Increases Depression And Loneliness (TI)

Ever since sites like Facebook and Instagram became part of daily life, scientists have wondered whether they contribute to mental health problems. In fact, research has hinted at a connection between social media use and depression for several years. A new study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, has added more evidence to the theory. [..] “Here’s the bottom line,” said Melissa G. Hunt, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study. “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

She added 18-to-22-year-olds shouldn’t stop using social media altogether, but cutting down might be beneficial. “It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” she said. “Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”

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Mammals too. Semen is temperature sensitive.

Heatwaves Can ‘Wipe Out’ Male Insect Fertility (G.)

Heatwaves severely damage the fertility of male beetles and consecutive hot spells leave them virtually sterilised, according to research. Global warming is making heatwaves more common and wildlife is being annihilated, and the study may reveal a way in which these two trends are linked. The scientists behind the findings said there could also be some relevance for humans: the sperm counts of western men have halved in the last 40 years. Researchers studied beetles because their 400,000 species represent about a quarter of all known species. Insect populations are plunging worldwide as temperatures rise, falling by about 80% in 30 years in Puerto Rico’s rainforest and by 75% in German nature reserves.

Insects are such an integral part of life, as pollinators and prey, that scientists say their decline could lead to “ecological Armageddon”. Little is known about the precise causes of the decline, though climate change, habitat destruction and global use of pesticides are considered probable factors. The research, published in the Nature Communications journal, found that exposing beetles to a five-day heatwave in the laboratory reduced sperm production by three-quarters; females were unaffected. “Beetles are thought to constitute a quarter of biodiversity, so these results are very important for understanding how species react to climate change,” said Kris Sales, at the University of East Anglia, who led the work.

Other research has shown that heat can damage male reproduction in humans as well as cows, sheep and other mammals. “There could be relevance for human fertility,” said Prof Matt Gage, co-leader of the UEA research group. “The paradox is that one of the reasons the climate is warming up and we are having more heatwaves is there are too many humans. So maybe this is a leveller.” Stuart Wigby, of the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study, said: “Given what we already know about the generality of the sensitivity of sperm to heat, there is every reason to expect that similar effects would be seen in other insects and also in mammals including humans.”

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Nov 052018
 
 November 5, 2018  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Francois Millet The Young Shepherdess 1870-73

 

Iran Vows To ‘Proudly Bypass’ US Sanctions (AFP)
China Says Its Lawful Trade With Iran Should Be Respected (R.)
Iran Hardline Cleric: We’ll “Instantly” Create $400 Oil By Seizing Tankers (ZH)
The Global US Squeeze On Iran Has Started (EM)
Trump’s War on the Fed (Ellen Brown)
David Stockman: Epic Downturn Is Here, Brace For 40% Market Plunge (CNBC)
The Challenge for Deutsche Bank (Whalen)
The Real Economic Gamble Is Too Little Government Borrowing (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Chances Of Striking Irish Border Deal ’50-50′ – EU (G.)
1,400 UK Top Lawyers Call On May To Give Voters Final Say On Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Saudi Sent ‘Cover-Up Team’ To Dispose Of Khashoggi Body (AFP)
Khashoggi’s Sons Appeal For Return Of His Body (R.)
2nd Kavanaugh Accuser Admits She Lied (ZH)
Senate Judiciary Republicans Say No Evidence Found Against Kavanaugh (Hill)

 

 

Iran remembers the sjah, and US involvement in his reign, and the Savak. Americans forget at their own peril. Painting Iran as the aggressor while siding with the Saudi’s against it is not 100% credible, to say the least.

Iran Vows To ‘Proudly Bypass’ US Sanctions (AFP)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic republic “will proudly bypass sanctions” by the United States that took effect on Monday targeting the country’s oil and financial sectors. “I announce that we will proudly bypass your illegal, unjust sanctions because it’s against international regulations,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “We are in a situation of economic war, confronting a bullying power. I don’t think that in the history of America, someone has entered the White House who is so against law and international conventions,” he added. The measures described by Washington as “the toughest sanctions ever” follow US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in May to abandon the multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran.

The latest tranche aim to significantly cut Iran’s oil exports – which have already fallen by around one million barrels a day since May – and cut it off from international finance. The United States has given temporary exemptions to eight countries – including India, Japan and Turkey – to continue buying oil in a bid to avoid disturbing their economies and global markets. But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to push Iran’s oil sales to zero. “Watch what we do. Watch as we’ve already taken more crude oil off the market than any time in previous history,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.


Iranian General Qasem Soleimani posted this

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Clear and concise.

China Says Its Lawful Trade With Iran Should Be Respected (R.)

China said on Monday its lawful trade cooperation with Iran should be respected and expressed regret that the United States re-imposed sanctions on the Middle Eastern country. Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not directly comment on whether China had been granted exemption from the Iran sanctions by the United States. The restoration of U.S. sanctions on Monday targeting Iran’s oil sales and banking sector is part of an effort by U.S. President Donald Trump to force Iran to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes outright, as well as its support for proxy forces in conflicts across the Middle East.

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“The UAE and Saudi Arabia will be destroyed in 60 minutes. After 90 minutes the U.S. will have nothing in this country. And we haven’t even started with Israel. Beware of the day we go after Israel, too.”

Iran Hardline Cleric: We’ll “Instantly” Create $400 Oil By Seizing Tankers (ZH)

Powerful Shia cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda is the Friday Prayer leader in Mashhad, considered Iran’s spiritual capital and among the holiest places in Shia Islam, and sits on the government’s “Assembly of Experts” but has no formal government role or decision-making ability. However, he’s a powerful leader and chief spiritual force behind Iran’s conservative faction who has long been at odds with President Hassan Rouhani. Iranian opposition sources report that Alamolhoda told his followers during his Friday prayer sermon: “If we reach a point that our oil is not exported, the Strait of Hormuz will be mined. Saudi oil tankers will be seized and regional countries will be leveled with Iranian missiles.”

The cleric is further reported to have declared that Iran has the power to “instantly” create conditions for $400 a barrel oil prices if it decides to act in the Persian Gulf. He said as reported in regional opposition media: “If Iran decides, a single drop of this region’s oil will not be exported and in 90 minutes all Persian Gulf countries will be destroyed. The UAE and Saudi Arabia will be destroyed in 60 minutes. After 90 minutes the U.S. will have nothing in this country. And we haven’t even started with Israel. Beware of the day we go after Israel, too. That’s why they want us to round up our missiles.”

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“General Qassem Soleimani has said to President Hassan Rouhani: “You walk and we stand ahead of you. Don’t respond to Trump’s provocations because he is insolent and not at your level. I shall face him myself“

The Global US Squeeze On Iran Has Started (EM)

Today the harshest and highest level economic and energy sanctions that can be imposed on any country are being imposed unilaterally on Iran. The US establishment will try its best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees and Tehran will do its best to cross the US minefield. Whatever the outcome, Iran will never submit to Washington’s twelve conditions.Iran is not a fledgeling country ready to collapse at the imposition of the first tight sanctions, nor will Iran allow its oil exports to be frozen without reacting. In fact, US and UN sanctions against Iran date to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution and the fall of the Shah in 1979.No doubt the Iranian economy will be affected. Nevertheless, Iranian unity today has reached new heights.

President Trump has managed to bring reformists and radicals together under the same umbrella! Iranian General Qassem Soleimani has said to President Hassan Rouhani: “You walk and we stand ahead of you. Don’t respond to Trump’s provocations because he is insolent and not at your level. I shall face him myself”. Rouhani believes “US policy and its new conspiracy will fail”. All responsible figures in the Iranian regime are now united under the leadership of Imam Ali Khamenei against the US policy whose aim is to curb the regime. Under the previous worldwide sanctions regime, Iran began developing missile technology and precision weapons. Iran has never yielded in support of its allies because these alliances are an integral part of its ideology.

Today, Tehran is not standing alone against the US and is waiting to see what course global sanctions will take before reacting. Officials in Tehran, convinced that Trump will win a second term, are preparing for a long siege. Sayyed Ali Khamenei said his country will never strike any deal with the US and won’t be a party to any future agreement because the US is fundamentally untrustworthy. Iran relies on the unity of its own citizens and on the support of its partners in the Middle East, Europe (a crucial strategic ally), and Asia.

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End the Fed. Is that Trump’s endgame?

Trump’s War on the Fed (Ellen Brown)

[..] perhaps the president’s goal is not to subtly affect Fed behavior so much as to make it patently obvious who is to blame when the next Great Recession hits. And recession is fairly certain to hit, because higher interest rates almost always trigger recessions. The Fed’s current policy of “quantitative tightening”—tightening or contracting the money supply—is the very definition of recession, a term Wikipedia defines as “a business cycle contraction which results in a general slowdown in economic activity.” This “business cycle” is not something inevitable, like the weather. It is triggered by the central bank. When the Fed drops interest rates, banks flood the market with “easy money,” allowing speculators to snatch up homes and other assets.

When the central bank then raises interest rates, it contracts the amount of money available to spend and to pay down debt. Borrowers go into default and foreclosed homes go on the market at fire-sale prices, again to be snatched up by the monied class. But it is a game of Monopoly that cannot go on forever. According to Elga Bartsch, chief European economist at Morgan Stanley, one more financial cataclysm could be all that it takes for central bank independence to end. “Having been overburdened for a long time, many central banks might just be one more economic downturn or financial crisis away from a full-on political backlash,” she wrote in a note to clients in 2017. “Such a political backlash could call into question one of the long-standing tenets of modern monetary policy making—central bank independence.”

And that may be the president’s endgame. When higher rates trigger another recession, Trump can point an accusing finger at the central bank, absolving his own policies of liability and underscoring the need for a major overhaul of the Fed. Trump has not overtly joined the End the Fed campaign, but he has had the ear of several advocates of that approach. One is John Allison, whom the president evidently considered for both Fed chairman and treasury secretary. Allison has proposed ending the Fed altogether and returning to the gold standard, and Trump suggested on the campaign trail that he approved of a gold-backed currency.

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At some point David will be right.

David Stockman: Epic Downturn Is Here, Brace For 40% Market Plunge (CNBC)

David Stockman warns a 40 percent stock market plunge is closing in on Wall Street. Stockman, who served as President Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget director, has long warned of a deep downturn that would shake Wall Street’s most bullish investors. He believes the early rumblings of that epic downturn is finally here. It comes as the S&P 500 Index tries to rebound from its worst month since 2011. “No one has outlawed recessions. We’re within a year or two of one,” he said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” He added that: “fair value of the S&P going into the next recession is well below 2000, 1500 — way below where we are today.” This is far from the first time he’s issued a dire warning. But this time, he suggests the latest leg down is an early tremor of the pain that lies ahead.

“If you’re a rational investor, you need only two words in your vocabulary: Trump and sell,” said Stockman, in a reference to President Donald Trump. “He’s playing with fire at the very top of an aging expansion.” According to Stockman, Trump’s efforts to get the Federal Reserve to put the brakes on hiking interest rates from historical lows is misdirected. “He’s attacking the Fed for going too quick when it’s been dithering for eight years. The funds rate at 2.13 percent is still below inflation,” he said. Stockman cited the trade war as another major reason why investors should brace for a prolonged sell-off. “The trade war is not remotely rational,” he said. If the dispute worsens, it “is going to hit the whole goods economy with inflation like you’ve never seen before because China supplies about 30 percent of the goods in the categories we import.”

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The world’s fattest zombie?!

The Challenge for Deutsche Bank (Whalen)

When we first heard news reports about a new investor in Deutsche Bank (DB), we of course assumed that this meant the purchase of new shares and thus an increase in capital. But no, it was merely an “activist investor” taking a stake in existing shares. Is this really news or merely a sign of a top in large bank stocks? The DB common is trading a hair over $10 or just 0.3x book value and has a beta of 1.5. Douglas Braunstein, founder and managing partner of Hudson Executive Capital and J.P. Morgan’s former CFO, said in an interview with CNBC that the firm has taken on the stake over the last few months after studying the stock for a year. We’ve been following DB for a lot longer than that and have great difficulty constructing a bull case for the name. But let’s take a look anyway.

First on the list of concerns is profitability. DB has been struggling for years to find a business strategy to deliver consistent profitability, the key measure of stability for any bank. Through the first nine months of the year, DB delivered net income of less than a €1 billion compared with €1.6 billion a year ago. For the full year 2017 the bank lost €750 million. As yet, no one on the management team – if we may so dignify DB’s executives – have been able to articulate a coherent plan to move forward. Second is capital. DB has just €61 billion or 4% capital to total assets of €1.5 trillion, one of the lowest simple leverage ratios of any major bank worldwide. The bank tries to hide this capital deficiency behind calculations that exclusively use “risk weighted “assets” of just €354 billion. In the bank’s non-GAPP disclosure, there is just €54 billion in tangible capital disclosed for a leverage ratio closer to 3%.

In the Q3 ’18 earnings call, when CEO Christian Sewing said that “we committed to conservative balance sheet management and maintaining a CET1 ratio above 13%,” he was referring to risk weighted assets, not total assets. If one assumes that the entire Basel III/IV framework is a confused mess when it comes to describing risk, then the leverage ratio is what matters. Risk weighted assets is a way to pretend that the rest of the banks in Europe and Asia are solvent. To be fair to DB, most European banks play the game of only referring to “risk weighted assets” in their financial disclosure to investors. The EU bank regulators are entirely complicit in this charade. Indeed, since the end of 2017 DB’s total capital has actually fallen 4%.

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Italy knows. Austerity is under justified pressure. With Merkel leaving, and Juncker too.

The Real Economic Gamble Is Too Little Government Borrowing (Ind.)

With his dad jokes and fetish for spreadsheets, Philip Hammond does not fit the stereotype of a “gambler”. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) nevertheless argues that the chancellor rolled the dice in last week’s Budget and took a rather risky wager. Instead of using his lower borrowing projection “windfall” from the official independent forecaster to reduce the deficit more rapidly, Hammond essentially spent it all on the health service, while leaving the overall path of government borrowing more or less unchanged. He could have had a projected budget surplus in five years’ time, but instead there’s still set to be around £20bn of borrowing in 2023-24.

Virtually the entire UK news media took up this “gambler” theme in their headline coverage of the aftermath of the Budget. Yet we should be extremely wary of this framing. Because it obscures the crucial truth that, in economics, the gamble is sometimes borrowing too little, not too much. The IFS, to be fair, was using the phrase in a narrow sense of the chancellor jeopardising his chances of meeting his own self-imposed fiscal rules. Those Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) borrowing downgrades – whose origins remain mysterious given the official forecaster hasn’t upgraded its nominal GDP or growth forecasts which would be the most obvious explanations for higher than expected tax receipts lately – could very well be reversed in future budgets.

Since 2010, most underlying borrowing revisions have been negative (implying more borrowing than previously expected) rather than positive for the public finances. What the lord of forecasting (in this case OBR director Robert Chote) giveth, he can also taketh away. He even warned as much last week. And what would happen then?

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if only she gives in she can have a deal yesterday.

Theresa May’s Chances Of Striking Irish Border Deal ’50-50′ – EU (G.)

The chances of Theresa May striking a deal with Brussels on the Irish border that she can sell to the cabinet and parliament are said by EU officials to be “50-50” as the fraught talks enter their final stretch. The British negotiating team and the European commission’s taskforce, led by Michel Barnier, are to enter a secretive phase known as the “tunnel” this week, but senior EU figures involved in the talks warned the competing redlines remain “incompatible” in key areas. The British government has set out its stall to make “decisive progress” on the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop by Friday, in the hope that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, could then call an extraordinary Brexit summit for the end of the month to seal the deal.

One Whitehall source said, should sufficient ground be made in the coming days, a tentative new date of 22 November is being floated for a meeting of the EU’s heads of state and government. Downing Street has insisted it does not have a deal ready for signoff, in response to reports over the weekend of there being an agreement in the making. “We are not sitting on powder keg knowledge that we have signed a secret deal,” the No 10 source said. “We are not on the cusp of some seismic shift.” Some at the highest levels of government fear that, unless progress is agreed by Tuesday when May sees her senior ministers and parliament breaks for recess, the cabinet may not have a direct input before a summit announcement is made.

“The reality is that we need a November summit more than the EU do,” a government source said. They suggested that a December deal would mean not only a later parliamentary vote but would require spending on no-deal planning and changes to the roles of hundreds of civil service.

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Hard to see how May can avoid a Final Say.

1,400 UK Top Lawyers Call On May To Give Voters Final Say On Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Fourteen hundred of the UK’s top lawyers have urged Theresa May and MPs to back a second Brexit referendum, saying that democratic government “is not frozen in time”. Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC, former Court of Appeal judge Konrad Schiemann and David Edward, a former judge of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, are among those who have called for a people’s vote on EU membership. In a letter to Mrs May, they say parliament should not be bound by the 2016 vote any more than it should be by the 1975 referendum that took Britain into the EU, especially when there are question marks over its validity.

They wrote that voters are entitled to know what they are voting for, and said: “There was a key difference between 1975 and 2016. The earlier referendum was held after negotiations were complete, so voters knew what they were voting for. “In 2016, the nature of the negotiation process and its outcome were unknown. Voters faced a choice between a known reality and an unknown alternative. “In the campaign, untestable claims took the place of facts and reality.” Human rights specialist Jonathan Cooper, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said: “The current state of the Brexit negotiations is worrying people throughout the UK and the legal profession is no exception to that. “We represent people from across industry and society and we see every day the way the prospect of a catastrophic Brexit deal is already causing real harm.

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First team of 15 to kill him, 2nd team of 11 to get rid of the body 9 days later. Question: what happened during those 9 days? The Turkish probably know.

Saudi Sent ‘Cover-Up Team’ To Dispose Of Khashoggi Body (AFP)

Saudi Arabia deployed a chemist and toxicology expert to Istanbul after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in an attempt to cover up evidence of the killing, a Turkish newspaper reported on Monday. The murder of the Saudi royal-insider-turned critic inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul has provoked widespread international outrage. Turkish authorities have released gruesome details of a killing that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said was a targeted hit. While Riyadh officials have admitted the murder was planned, they have so far declined to release details of the whereabouts of the 59-year-old journalist’s missing body.

According to Turkey’s pro-government Sabah daily, Saudi Arabia sent an 11-member “cover-up team” to Istanbul on October 11, nine days after the Washington Post contributor vanished after entering the diplomatic compound to obtain paperwork for his marriage. The paper said chemist Ahmad Abdulaziz Aljanobi and toxicology expert Khaled Yahya Al Zahrani were among “the so-called investigative team”, which visited the consulate every day until October 17, before leaving Turkey on October 20. Saudi Arabia finally allowed Turkish police to search the consulate for the first time on October 15.

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That might be a tad difficult. you know, between the bone saw and the acid…

Khashoggi’s Sons Appeal For Return Of His Body (R.)

The sons of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Sunday issued an appeal for the return of their father’s body and said they wanted to return to Saudi Arabia to bury him. In an interview with CNN, Salah and Abdullah Khashoggi said that without their father’s body, their family is unable to grieve and deal with the emotional burden of their father’s death. “It’s not a normal situation, it’s not a normal death at all. All what we want right now is to bury him in Al-Baqi (cemetery) in Medina (Saudi Arabia) with the rest of his family,” Salah Khashoggi said. “I talked about that with the Saudi authorities and I just hope that it happens soon.”

[..] Khashoggi’s body has not been recovered, and Saudi authorities are conducting an official investigation. Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an international businessman, said on Sunday that the probe will exonerate the country’s leader. Salah Khashoggi on Oct. 24 met in Riyadh with the crown prince and King Salman to receive condolences along with other Khashoggi family members. Salah departed for Washington a day later, and his CNN interview was his first public comments since then. He said King Salman assured him that those involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder would be brought to justice.

“We just need to make sure that he rests in peace,” Salah Khashoggi said of his father. “Until now, I still can’t believe that he’s dead. It’s not sinking in with me emotionally,” he said, adding that there has been a lot of “misinformation” about the circumstances of the death.

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At some point we must ask ourselves: what have we been watching?

2nd Kavanaugh Accuser Admits She Lied (ZH)

A Kentucky woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of rape has been referred to the Department of Justice after she admitted that she lied. The woman, Judy Munro-Leighton, took credit for contacting the office of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as “Jane Doe” from Oceanside, California. Jane Doe claimed – without naming a time or place – that Kavanaugh and a friend raped her “several times each” in the backseat of a car. Harris referred the letter to the committee for investigation. “They forced me to go into the backseat and took 2 turns raping me several times each. They dropped me off 3 two blocks from my home,” wrote Munro-Leighton, claiming that the pair told her “No one will believe if you tell. Be a good girl.”

Kavanaugh was questioned on September 26 about the allegation, to which he unequivocally stated: “[T]he whole thing is ridiculous. Nothing ever – anything like that, nothing… [T]he whole thing is just a crock, farce, wrong, didn’t happen, not anything close.” The next week, Munro-Leighton sent an email to the Judiciary committee claiming to be Jane Doe from Oceanside, California – reiterating her claims of a “vicious assault” which she said she knew “will get no media attention.” Upon investigation, the Judiciary Committee investigators found that Munro-Leighton was a left wing activist who is decades older than Judge Kavanaugh, who lives in Kentucky. When Committee investigators contacted her, she backpedaled on her claim of being the original Jane Doe – and said she emailed the committee “as a way to grab attention.”

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“The witnesses that Dr. Ford identified as individuals who could corroborate her allegations failed to do so, and in fact, contradicted her..”

Senate Judiciary Republicans Say No Evidence Found Against Kavanaugh (Hill)

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee late Saturday released a 414-page report in which the panel members say they found no supporting evidence for any of the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation. “Committee investigators spoke with 45 individuals and took 25 written statements relating to the various allegations made in the course of the #SCOTUS confirmation process,” the Senate Judiciary Committee tweeted Saturday. “In neither the committee’s investigation nor in the supplemental background investigation conducted by the FBI was there ANY evidence to substantiate or corroborate any of the allegations.”

The committee investigators “found no verifiable evidence that supported” Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed in the early 1980s and attempted to remove her clothes while covering her mouth with one hand. “The witnesses that Dr. Ford identified as individuals who could corroborate her allegations failed to do so, and in fact, contradicted her,” the report notes. It also states that committee investigators “found no verifiable evidence” to support Deborah Ramirez’s claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they were both at Yale. The report additionally dismisses allegations from Julie Swetnick, forwarded by lawyer Michael Avenatti.

“Indeed, the evidence appears to support the position that Julie Swetnick and Mr. Avenatti criminally conspired to make materially false statements to the Committee and obstruct the Committee’s investigation,” the report writes. Avenatti and Swetnick have both been referred to the Department of Justice for potential criminal investigations into their behavior during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. Avenatti has been referred a second time.

Read more …

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

“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.

Read more …

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.’

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.”

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

“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.

Read more …

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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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