Oct 112016
 
 October 11, 2016  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 11 2016


NPC Grand Palace shoe shining parlor, Washington DC 1921

“How Do You Have Capitalism Without Any Cost Of Capital?” (BBG)
7 in 10 Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MF)
After Becoming Debt Slaves, Millennials Get Blamed for Lousy Economy (WS)
S&P 500 Triangle Chart Pattern ‘Warns Of A Big Selloff’ (MW)
The Bank of Mom and Dad is Australia’s Fastest-Growing Housing Lender (BBG)
Goldman Warns China’s Outflows May Be Worse Than They Look (BBG)
‘Why Do They Hate Us So?’-A Western Scholar’s Reply to a Russian Student (SC)
Remainers, Brexit, Racism and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Hannan)
Greece Gets Fresh Loan Payout as Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt (BBG)
Brazil Votes To Amend Constitution, Ban Spending Increases For 20 Years (BBG)
Global Clean Energy Investment Dropped 43% in Worst Quarter Since 2013 (BBG)
Russia’s Rosneft Boss Sechin Says No To OPEC Oil Cut/Freeze (R.)
Britain’s Nuclear Cover-Up (NYT)

 

 

Titans of finance gather and sulk.

“How Do You Have Capitalism Without Any Cost Of Capital?” (BBG)

Mary Callahan Erdoes, one of JPMorgan Chase’s most senior executives, summed up her industry’s mood like this: “There is no excitement,” she told throngs of bankers gathered in Washington. “There is a lot of handwringing.” Again and again, speakers at the Institute of International Finance’s three-day meeting in Washington, which wrapped up Saturday, bemoaned the inability of central banks to rev up economic growth, as well as the drag of tougher regulations and the looming impact of Brexit. Concerns over Deutsche Bank’s mounting legal costs deepened the gloom. Slow growth is leaving companies little reason to expand, fueling the public’s frustration and giving rise to extreme political views and nationalism, said Erdoes, 49, who runs JPMorgan’s asset-management operations.

Low interest rates – instead of better fiscal stimulus – are taking a toll on the entire system, she said. “We had a very smart economist at JPMorgan ask me the following question: How do you have capitalism without any cost of capital? And therein lies the problem.” [..] Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn called the world’s central banks an “ineffective cartel,” as actions in Europe and Japan lead to negative rates and hamstring other policy makers. The outlook for low growth is long-term, he said. “I don’t see this changing,” Cohn said Friday. “We keep saying we’re getting closer to the end, but I don’t think we’re getting closer to the end.”

Read more …

I’m not sure how one writes an article like this and completely fails to mention that for millions of Americans, it’s not a matter of bad saving habits, but of spending everything on the basics.

7 in 10 Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MF)

The U.S. is often referred to as the land of economic opportunity. Apparently, it’s also the land of consumption and “spend everything you’ve got.” We don’t have to look far for confirmation that Americans are generally poor savers. Every month the St. Louis Federal Reserve releases data on personal household savings rates. In July 2016, the personal savings rate was just 5.7%. Comparatively, personal savings rates in the U.S. 50 years ago were double where they are today, and nearly all developed countries have a higher personal savings rate than the United States. In other words, Americans are saving less of their income than they should be — the recommendation is to save between 10% and 15% of your annual income — and they’re being forced to do more with less in terms of investing.

However, new data emerged this week from personal-finance news website GoBankingRates that shows just how dire Americans’ savings habits really are. Last year, GoBankingRates surveyed more than 5,000 Americans only to uncover that 62% of them had less than $1,000 in savings. Last month GoBankingRates again posed the question to Americans of how much they had in their savings account, only this time it asked 7,052 people. The result? Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. Breaking the survey data down a bit further, we find that 34% of Americans don’t have a dime in their savings account, while another 35% have less than $1,000. Of the remaining survey-takers, 11% have between $1,000 and $4,999, 4% have between $5,000 and $9,999, and 15% have more than $10,000.

Furthermore, even though lower-income adults struggle with saving money more than middle- and upper-income folks, no income group did particularly well. Some 29% of adults earning more than $150,000 a year, and 44% making between $100,000 and $149,999, had less than $1,000 in savings. Comparatively, 73% of the lowest income adults (those earnings $24,999 or less annually) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. There was even minimal difference between multiple generations of Americans. From seniors aged 65 and up to young millennials aged 18 to 24, between 62% and 72% of Americans had less than $1,000 in a savings account.

Read more …

Great little piece by Wolf Richter.

After Becoming Debt Slaves, Millennials Get Blamed for Lousy Economy (WS)

Over the past few days, the Diamond Producers Association launched its first new ad campaign in five years after watching retail sales of diamond jewelry slow down, as Millennials built on the habit pioneered by prior generations of delaying or not even thinking about marriage, and thus not being sufficiently enthusiastic about buying diamond engagement rings. The campaign, according to Adweek, is designed to motivate Millennials “to commemorate their ‘real,’ honest relationships with diamonds, even if marriage isn’t part of the equation.” Mother New York, the agency behind the campaign, spent months interviewing millennials, according to Quartz, and learned that they associated diamonds with a “fairytale love story that wasn’t relevant to them.”

So the premium jewelry industry, seeing future profits at risk, needs to do something about that. A year ago, it was Wall Street – specifically Goldman Sachs – that did a lot of hand-wringing about millennials. “They don’t trust the stock market,” Goldman Sachs determined in a survey. Only 18% thought that the stock market was “the best way to save for the future.” It’s a big deal for Wall Street because millennials are now the largest US generation. There are 75 million of them. They’re supposed to be the future source of big bonuses. Wall Street needs to figure out how to get to their money. The older ones have seen the market soar, collapse, re-soar, re-collapse, re-soar…. They’ve seen the Fed’s gyrations to re-inflate stocks. They grew up with scandals and manipulations, high-frequency trading, dark pools, and spoofing.

They’ve seen hard-working people get wiped out and wealthy people get bailed out. Maybe they’d rather not mess with that infernal machine. And today, the Los Angeles Times added more fuel. “They’re known for bouncing around jobs, delaying marriage, and holing up in their parents’ basements,” it mused. Everyone wants to know why millennials don’t follow the script. Brick-and-mortar retailers have been complaining about them for years, with increasing intensity, and a slew of specialty chains have gone bankrupt, a true fiasco for the industry, even as online retailers are laughing all the way to the bank. “For starters, millennials are not big spenders, at least not in the traditional sense,” the Times said. Yet most of them spend every dime they earn, those that have decent jobs. But much of that spending goes toward their student-loan burden and housing.

Read more …

Trying to fit human behavior into triangles.

S&P 500 Triangle Chart Pattern ‘Warns Of A Big Selloff’ (MW)

The S&P 500 is moving fast toward an impending breakout that could be bad news for investors. “And it’s gonna be big, by all accounts,” said Carter Braxton Worth, a technical analyst at research firm Cornerstone Macro. The S&P 500 has been trading within a “symmetrical triangle” on a number of time scales, as the index traced out a pattern of rising lows and falling highs. Since the upper and lower boundary lines are narrowing to a point, it’s just a matter of time before the S&P 500 breaks above or below one of them. “It is a circumstance where buyers and sellers are matched off so evenly that purchases being made by those who like a particular security are in the same order of magnitude as the selling being done by those who dislike the security,” Worth wrote in a note to clients.

His research suggests that the resolution of these standoffs is usually “aggressive,” with the index moving past the declining or rising trendlines “in a meaningful way.” Many technicians believe triangles represent continuation patterns, or periods of pause in a bigger trend, which means they should eventually be resolved in the direction of the preceding trend. In the S&P 500’s case, that would mean a big rally is coming. But Worth said that based on his interpretation of the charts, the S&P 500’s triangle looks more like a reversal pattern. “We believe the current formation is a setup for a move lower,” Worth said.

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Hoping that just this once it’s different.

The Bank of Mom and Dad is Australia’s Fastest-Growing Housing Lender (BBG)

Beset by lending curbs and bubble-esque prices, first-time home buyers in Australia are turning to a rapidly growing source of finance: The Bank of Mom and Dad. More parents are taking advantage of record-low interest rates to refinance their properties and help their grown-up kids onto the housing ladder amid sky-rocketing house values. Digital Finance Analytics estimates the number of Aussies getting help from their parents has soared to more than half of first-home buyers from just 3% six years ago. Australia’s housing rally has favored baby-boomers and locked out youth, compounding an inter-generational shift of wealth.

As the number of bank loans to first-time buyers dwindles, the average slice of cash handed to them by parents has almost quadrupled in the past six years, DFA says. The downside: a market that the Reserve Bank of Australia is already wary of may get further inflated. First-time buyers are “being infected by the notion that property is about wealth building, rather than somewhere to live,” said Martin North, Principal at DFA. That “may be tested if interest rates rise later, or property prices fall from their current illogical stratospheric levels.” [..] The boom is turning some homes into cash dispensers. More than two thirds of owners that refinanced houses worth more than A$750,000 did so to extract capital for reasons including helping their kids. Near the start of 2010, the average helping hand from parents was about A$23,000; today, it’s more than A$80,000.

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“..they don’t have a strong willingness to hold the yuan due to depreciation expectations..” Does that rhyme with the SDR basket thing?

Goldman Warns China’s Outflows May Be Worse Than They Look (BBG)

China’s currency outflows may be bigger than they look, with Goldman Sachs warning that a rising amount of capital is exiting the country in yuan rather than in dollars. While the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves have stabilized and lenders’ net foreign-exchange purchases for clients have fallen close to a one-year low, official data show that $27.7 billion in yuan payments left China in August. That’s compared with a monthly average of $4.4 billion in the five years through 2014. Such large cross-border moves can’t be explained by market-driven factors and need to be taken into account when measuring currency outflows, according to MK Tang, Hong Kong-based senior China economist at Goldman Sachs.

Any sign of increased capital outflows could disturb a recent calm in China’s foreign-exchange market, adding to pressure from a potential Federal Reserve interest-rate increase and denting the yuan’s image as the world’s newest global reserve currency. The yuan fell to a six-year low on Monday, adding to outflow pressures. “There is some window guidance from the central bank that limits companies’ dollar conversion onshore, so they need to move the money overseas in yuan,” said Harrison Hu, chief Greater China economist at RBS in Singapore. “But they don’t have a strong willingness to hold the yuan due to depreciation expectations, so they sell it to offshore banks. This pressures the offshore yuan’s exchange rate.”

[..] Goldman Sachs started including yuan funds in its analysis of outflows in July, after noting that cross-border movement of the currency masked actual pressures. The bank estimates that 56% and 87% of outflows took place through the offshore yuan market in July and August, respectively.

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Do read the whole thing for a good history lesson.

‘Why Do They Hate Us So?’-A Western Scholar’s Reply to a Russian Student (SC)

In 2000 when Putin was elected president, he publically promoted security and economic cooperation with Europe and the United States. After 9/11, he offered real assistance to Washington. The United States accepted the Russian help, but continued its anti-Russian policies. Putin extended his hand to the west, but on the basis of five kopeks for five kopeks. This was a Soviet policy of the interwar years. It did not work then and it does not work now. In 2007 Putin spoke frankly at the Munich conference on Security Policy about overbearing US behaviour. The “colour revolutions” in Georgia and the Ukraine, for example, and the Anglo-American war of aggression against Iraq raised Russian concerns. US government officials did not appreciate Putin’s truth-telling which went against their standard narrative about «exceptionalist» America and altruistic foreign policies to promote «democracy».

Then in 2008 came the Georgian attack on South Ossetia and the successful Russian riposte which crushed the Georgian army. It’s been all down-hill since then. Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen are all victims of US aggression or that of its vassals. The United States engineered and bankrolled a fascist coup d’état in Kiev and has attempted to do the same in Syria reverting to their “Afghan policy” of bankrolling, supplying and supporting a Wahhabi proxy war of aggression against Syria. Backing fascists on the one hand and Islamist terrorists on the other, the United States has plumbed the depths of malevolence. President Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have made important concessions, to persuade the US government to avert catastrophe in the Middle East and Europe.

To no avail, five kopeks for five kopeks is not an offer the United States understands. Assymetrical advantages is what Washington expects. One cannot reproach the Russian government for trying to negotiate with the United States, but this policy has not worked in the Ukraine or Syria. Russian support of the legitimate government in Damascus has exposed the US-led war of aggression and exposed its strategy of supporting Al-Qaeda, Daesh, and their various Wahhabi iterations against the Syrian government. US Russophobia is redoubled by Putin’s exposure of American support for Islamist fundamentalists and by Russia’s successful, up to now, thwarting of US aggression. Who does Putin think he is? From my observations, I would reply that President Putin is a plain-spoken Russian statesman, with the support of the Russian people behind him.

For five kopeks against five kopeks, he will work with the United States and its vassals, no matter how malevolent they have been, if they adopt less destructive policies. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that the United States has no intention of doing so. After one hundred years of almost uninterrupted western hostility, no one should be under any illusions. So then, the question is “Why do they hate us so?” Because President Putin wants to build a strong, prosperous, independent Russian state in a multi-polar world. Because the Russian people cannot be bullied and will defend their country tenaciously. “Go tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives!» Prince Aleksandr Nevskii declared in the 13th century: «Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as a guest. But those who come to us sword in hand will die by the sword! On that Russia stands and forever will we stand!”

Read more …

Yeah, Daniel Hannan has lots of stuff wrong with him. But Britain must have this conversation regardless of that. I picked this piece up on Twitter, with this accompanying comment: “No aspect of Brexit is Remain voters’ fault in any way, or to any extent at all.” I don’t know if that was meant sarcastically, but I would certainly hope so. Without that conversation things can only get worse. Remainers must try harder to understand why Brexit happened. If nothing else, I would think they’re at least ‘guilty’ of not seeing it coming. And perhaps also of seeing Brexit as the problem, not a mere symptom.

Remainers, Brexit, Racism and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Hannan)

Shortly after the EU referendum, several thousand young people marched through London demanding a rerun. I happened to be sitting next to three of them on a train as I travelled into the capital that morning. They evidently recognised me right away as an Evil Tory Leaver, but we were past Clapham Junction before one of them plucked up the courage to talk to me. “Are you Daniel Hannan? I just wanted to say that what you’ve done is terrible. We’re not a racist country. You’ve taken away our future.” “Is that so? Out of interest, can you tell me who the President of the European Commission is?” “No. What’s that got to do with it?” “Can you name a single European Commissioner, come to that? Do you know what our budget contribution will be this year? Or what the difference is between a Directive and a Regulation?”

She was affronted by the questions. So were her two friends with their “I [heart] EU” placards. They weren’t interested in details. For them, it was about values. Are you a decent, internationalist, compassionate person? Or are you a selfish bigot? Let’s leave aside the fact that no one would ever vote on any ballot paper for a “selfish bigot” option. Their determination to approach the issue in terms of character, rather than cost-benefit, explains why they were so upset – and why, even now, some Remain voters struggle to accept the outcome. In my experience, the 48% who voted Remain fall into two categories. There are those who were making a judgement as to where Britain’s best options lay. They could see that the is EU flawed.

They were well aware of the corruption, the lack of democracy, the slow growth. But they took the view that, on balance, the disruption of leaving would outweigh the gains. These people, by and large, now want to make a success of things, and are keen to maximise our opportunities. Then there were those like my companions on South West Trains, for whom the issue was not financial but somehow moral. For them, the EU wasn’t the grubby and self-interested body that exists in reality; rather, it was a symbol of something better and purer, an embodiment of the dream of peace among nations. They never heard, because they never wanted to hear, the democratic or economic arguments against membership. As far as they were concerned, the only possible reason for voting Leave was chauvinism.

Read more …

“Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt” sounds like the epitomy of cynicism. The Eurogroup withheld €1.7 billion, to Greece’s surprise, because it wanted to assess A) whether a June payment was fully used to pay off third parties, and B) whether the government had squeezed its people enough (reforms). The delay is convenient for Brussels because it also delays debt restructuring talks once again, for the umpteenth time. And without those talks, the IMF won’t commit. Rinse and repeat.

Greece Gets Fresh Loan Payout as Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt (BBG)

The euro area authorized a €1.1 billion payment to Greece and signaled a further €1.7 billion would follow this month, saying the region’s most indebted nation has made progress in overhauling its economy. The green light, given by euro-area finance ministers on Monday in Luxembourg, removes a hurdle on Greece’s path to debt relief on which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has staked part of his political future. The country had to fulfill 15 conditions on matters such as selling state assets and improving bank governance to get the first payout.

It “was unanimously decided that Greece had completed the 15 milestones, so we can proceed to the €1.1 billion disbursement,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told reporters after the meeting, saying the talks produced a “very good” outcome for his country. The delay in getting an endorsement for the remaining sum, which is tied to the clearing of arrears, is merely “technical,” he said. Greece, in its third bailout since 2010, is struggling to right an economy that is poised to undergo its eighth annual contraction in the past nine years. A second review of the country’s rescue program will pave the way for a possible restructuring of Greece’s debt, which the IMF says is a necessary condition for its future involvement.

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This feels like a military coup, a chapter straight out of the Shock Doctrine. Stocks go up because people’s lives go down.

Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: “Brazil’s lower House- in the face of negative growth- just voted to amend the Constitution to ban spending increases for 20 years..” “This extreme austerity in Brazil – enabled by impeachment- is being imposed in world’s 7th largest economy, 5th most populous country (200m). ”

Nomi Prins on Twitter: “Brazil’s coup was about advancing western speculative market access & squashing domestic population needs – for decades…bastards.”

Brazil Votes To Amend Constitution, Ban Spending Increases For 20 Years (BBG)

The Ibovespa rose to a two-year high and the real gained as commodities advanced and as expectations mounted that lawmakers will approve a bill to cap spending, a key measure in President Michel Temer’s plan to trim a budget deficit and rebuild confidence in Brazil. The benchmark equity index rose 0.9% and the currency climbed 0.5% Monday in Sao Paulo. [..] Brazilian stocks have gained 75% in dollar terms this year and the real has strengthened 24%, the best performances in the world, on bets that a new government would be able to pull the country out of its worst recession in a century.

Temer, who formally replaced impeached former President Dilma Rousseff in August, said the administration should have enough votes to drive through a budget bill Monday that’s seen as a vital first step toward his economic reforms. The proposal to amend the Constitution to set limits on government spending for as long as 20 years must be approved by at least three-fifths of both chambers of Congress. “The market is very optimistic over this legislation,” said Paulo Figueiredo, an economist at FN Capital in Petropolis, Brazil. “New bets on local assets depend a lot on the signals that will come from this vote.”

Read more …

Bubble?!

Global Clean Energy Investment Dropped 43% in Worst Quarter Since 2013 (BBG)

Global investment in clean energy fell to the lowest in more than three years as demand for new renewable energy sources slumped in China, Japan and Europe. Third-quarter spending was $42.4 billion, down 43% from the same period last year and the lowest since the $41.8 billion reported in the first quarter of 2013, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in a report Monday. Financing for large solar and wind energy plants sank as governments cut incentives for clean energy and costs declined, said Michael Liebreich at the London-based research company. Total investment for this year is on track to be “well below” last year’s record of $348.5 billion, according to New Energy Finance.

The third-quarter numbers “are worryingly low even compared to the subdued trend we saw” in the first two quarters, Liebreich said in a statement. “Key markets such as China and Japan are pausing for a deep breath.” Part of the reason for the steep decline in the quarter was a slowdown following strong spending in the first half of the year on offshore wind. Investors poured $20.1 billion into European offshore wind farms in the first and second quarters, “a runaway record,” according to Abraham Louw, an analyst for energy economics with New Energy Finance. That was followed by a “summer lull,” with $2.4 billion in spending in the third quarter.

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So much for that.

Russia’s Rosneft Boss Sechin Says No To OPEC Oil Cut/Freeze (R.)

Igor Sechin, Russia’s most influential oil executive and the head of Kremlin energy champion Rosneft, said his company will not cut or freeze oil production as part of a possible agreement with OPEC. His comments underline how difficult it is for Russia to get its oil companies to freeze or cut output as part of a potential deal with OPEC designed to support oil prices. President Vladimir Putin told an energy congress on Monday that Russia was ready to join the proposed OPEC cap, but did not provide any details. “Why should we do it?” Sechin, known for his anti-OPEC position, told Reuters in Istanbul on Monday evening, when asked if Rosneft, which accounts for 40% of Russia’s total crude oil output, might cap its own output.

Sechin said he doubted that some OPEC countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela would cut their output either, saying that an increase in oil prices above $50 per barrel would make shale oil projects in the United States profitable. There have been several attempts in the past for Russia and OPEC to join forces to stabilize oil markets. Those efforts have never come to pass however. Oil prices surged on Monday after Putin’s comments amid hopes that a two-year price slide could be halted.

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Uglee!!!

Britain’s Nuclear Cover-Up (NYT)

Last month, the British government signed off on what might be the most controversial and least promising plan for a nuclear power station in a generation. Why did it do this? Because the project isn’t just about energy: It’s also a stealth initiative to bolster Britain’s nuclear deterrent. For years, the British government has been promoting a plan to build two so-called European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) at Hinkley Point C, in southwest England. It estimates that the facility will produce about 7% of the nation’s total electricity from 2025, the year it is expected to be completed. The EPR’s designer, Areva, claims that the reactor is reliable, efficient and so safe that it could withstand a collision with an airliner.

But the project is staggeringly expensive: It will cost more than $22 billion to build and bring online. And it isn’t clear that the EPR technology is viable. No working version of the reactor exists. The two EPR projects that are furthest along — one in Finland, the other in France — are many years behind schedule, have hemorrhaged billions of dollars and are beset by major safety issues. The first casting of certain components for the Hinkley Point C reactors left serious metallurgical flaws in the pressure vessel that holds the reactor core. In 2014, the Cambridge University nuclear engineer Tony Roulstone declared the EPR design “unconstructable.”

The lead builder of the EPR, the French utility company Electricité de France, faced a mutiny this year: Its unions fought the Hinkley Point project, fearing it might bring down the company. E.D.F.’s chief financial officer has resigned, arguing that it would put too much strain on the company’s balance sheet. But the British government continues to act as though it wants the Hinkley project to proceed at almost any price. In return for covering about one-third of the costs, the Chinese state-run company China General Nuclear Power Corporation will take about one-third ownership in the project. (A subsidiary of E.D.F. owns the rest.) The British government has also provisionally agreed to let China build a yet-untested Chinese-designed reactor in Bradwell-on-Sea, northeast of London, later.

[..] The British government has [..] guaranteed that investors in the Hinkley project will get $115 per megawatt-hour over 35 years. This is approximately twice the price of electricity today [..]. If the market price of electricity falls below that rate, a government company is contractually bound to cover the difference — with the extra cost passed on to consumers. Price forecasts have dropped since the deal was struck: This summer the government, revising estimates, said differential payments owed under the contract could reach nearly $37 billion. If the Hinkley plan seems outrageous, that’s because it only makes sense if one considers its connection to Britain’s military projects — especially Trident, a roving fleet of armed nuclear submarines, which is outdated and needs upgrading.

Read more …

Sep 292016
 
 September 29, 2016  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 29 2016


DPC “Wood Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” 1905

OPEC Agrees Modest Oil Output Curbs In First Deal Since 2008 (R.)
Congress Rejects Obama Veto, Saudi 9/11 Bill Becomes Law (R.)
Desperate Central Bankers (Stephen Roach)
Disturbing Facts About The Fed’s Phony Housing “Recovery” (Adler)
China’s Richest Man: Country’s Real Estate Is ‘Biggest Bubble In History’ (CNN)
Beige Book Sounds Warning Over Chinese Economy (WSJ)
China Property Bubble In Global Perspective (BBG)
‘Radioactive’ Deutsche Bank Could Go Nuclear At Any Time (Exp.)
Europe’s Banks ‘Not Investable’ Says Credit Suisse CEO (G.)
Rep. Gowdy Questions FBI Director Comey (USHouseJudiciary)
Varoufakis: UK Should Activate Article 50 Now, Create Space And Time (CityAM)
Hard Brexit Looms As 28 Red Lines Turn Deeper Shade Of Scarlet (BBG)
Greece Approves Plan To Transfer State Utilities To New Asset Fund (DW)
The Planned Destruction Of Greece Continues … (Mitchell)
Brussels Pushes Greece For Action On Migrants Before Dublin Pact Reboot (Kath.)

 

 

Entirely meaningless. No-one’s committed to any specific cuts. In the end it’s all about market share and nobody wants to lose any.

OPEC Agrees Modest Oil Output Curbs In First Deal Since 2008 (R.)

OPEC agreed on Wednesday modest oil output cuts in the first such deal since 2008, with the group’s leader Saudi Arabia softening its stance on arch-rival Iran amid mounting pressure from low oil prices. “OPEC made an exceptional decision today … After two and a half years, OPEC reached consensus to manage the market,” said Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, who had repeatedly clashed with Saudi Arabia during previous meetings. He and other ministers said the OPEC would reduce output to a range of 32.5-33.0 million barrels per day. OPEC estimates its current output at 33.24 million bpd.

“We have decided to decrease the production around 700,000 bpd,” Zanganeh said. The move would effectively re-establish OPEC production ceilings abandoned a year ago. However, how much each country will produce is to be decided at the next formal OPEC meeting in November, when an invitation to join cuts could also be extended to non-OPEC countries such as Russia. Oil prices jumped more than 5% to trade above $48 per barrel as of 2015 GMT. Many traders said they were impressed OPEC had managed to reach a compromise after years of wrangling but others said they wanted to see the details.

Read more …

Wonder how this plays into the OPEC ‘agreement’.

Congress Rejects Obama Veto, Saudi 9/11 Bill Becomes Law (R.)

Congress on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, the first veto override of his presidency, just four months before it ends. The House of Representatives voted 348-77 against the veto, hours after the Senate rejected it 97-1, meaning the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” will become law. The vote was a blow to Obama as well as to Saudi Arabia, one of the United States’ longest-standing allies in the Arab world, and some lawmakers who supported the override already plan to revisit the issue. Obama said he thought the Congress had made a mistake, reiterating his belief that the legislation set a dangerous precedent and indicating that he thought political considerations were behind the vote.

“If you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do,” he said on CNN. Obama’s 11 previous vetoes were all sustained. But this time almost all his strongest Democratic supporters in Congress joined Republicans to oppose him in one of their last actions before leaving Washington to campaign for the Nov. 8 election. “Overriding a presidential veto is something we don’t take lightly, but it was important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic discomforts,” Senator Charles Schumer, a top Senate Democrat, said in a statement.

Schumer represents New York, site of the World Trade Center and home to many of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks, survivors and families of victims. The law, known as JASTA, passed the House and Senate without objections earlier this year. Support was fueled by impatience in Congress with Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, promotion of a severe form of Islam tied to militancy and failure to do more to ease the international refugee crisis. The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S. soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government.

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“..it is strikingly reminiscent of the so-called liquidity trap of the 1930s, when central banks were also “pushing on a string.”

Desperate Central Bankers (Stephen Roach)

As in Japan, America’s subpar recovery has been largely unresponsive to the Fed’s aggressive strain of unconventional stimulus – zero interest rates, three doses of balance-sheet expansion (QE1, QE2, and QE3), and a yield curve twist operation that seems to be the antecedent of the BOJ’s latest move. (The BOJ has just announced that it is targeting zero interest rates for ten-year Japanese government bonds.) Notwithstanding the persistent growth shortfall, central bankers remain steadfast that their approach is working, by delivering what they call “mandate-compliant” outcomes. The Fed points to the sharp reduction of the US unemployment rate – from 10% in October 2009 to 4.9% today – as prima facie evidence of an economy that is nearing one of the targets of the Fed’s so-called dual mandate.

But when seemingly solid employment growth is juxtaposed against weak output, the story unravels, revealing a major productivity slowdown that raises serious questions about America’s long-term growth potential and an eventual buildup of cost and inflationary pressures. The Fed can’t be faulted for trying, argue the counter-factualists who insist that only unconventional monetary policies stood between the Great Recession and another Great Depression. That, however, is more an assertion than a verifiable conclusion. While policy traction has been notably absent in the real economies of both Japan and the US, asset markets are a different story. Equities and bonds have soared on the back of monetary policies that have led to rock-bottom interest rates and massive liquidity injections.

The new unconventional monetary policies in both countries are obviously missing the disconnect between asset markets and real economic activity. This reflects the aftermath of wrenching balance-sheet recessions, in which aggregate demand, artificially propped up by asset-price bubbles, collapsed when the bubbles burst, leading to chronic impairment of overleveraged, asset-dependent consumers (America) and businesses (Japan). Under such circumstances, the lack of response at the zero bound of policy interest rates is hardly surprising. In fact, it is strikingly reminiscent of the so-called liquidity trap of the 1930s, when central banks were also “pushing on a string.”

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The Fed kills the American homeownership dream.

Disturbing Facts About The Fed’s Phony Housing “Recovery” (Adler)

But the Fed got the result it intended. It wanted to inflate prices to save the banks from their stupidity and criminality. Decisions were made at the highest levels of the Fed and the Federal Government to not only let the banks off the hook, but to rescue them. The only way to do that was to forego prosecution of massive criminal wrongdoing, and to engineer price inflation, so that the criminal perpetrators of the fraud that drove the Great Bubble would be free to re-offend. The Fed’s claim of trying to help the typical consumer is hogwash. The benefits of the low interest rate policy have flowed only to the upper income strata. In our monthly updates of our “Thanks Fed For Helping the Average Guy” we see that the chance of the “average guy” to buy a new home remains virtually nil.

Not only has there been no recovery in homes priced under $200,000, sales in that price range have essentially disappeared in spite of the world’s major central banks pushing mortgage rates down. Builders no longer have any interest in producing product in that price range because demand has weakened so much at that level. People at the reported median US household income simply can’t afford to buy houses regardless of the fact that they may be borderline qualified. Prior to the housing crash, most new homes sold were in the under $200,000 price range.Since 2007, mortgage rates have been cut nearly in half. Yet production and sales of homes in the under $200,000 range have continued falling, now down 61% since 2007.

Builders have shifted their efforts to the $200-$400k range, where they still have some margin, and can move enough inventory to earn a profit. The higher the price of the home, the more profitable it is for a builder. Unfortunately, homes priced above $230,000 are beyond the reach of households earning the reported median household income of $56,000, a figure which itself we believe is overstated. Because of central bank driven housing inflation, and suppression of household income growth (also partly attributable to ZIRP) home ownership is increasingly out of reach for an ever growing percentage of US households If monetary policy were helping the housing market, the rate of homeownership should be at least stable. Instead, as mortgage rates have been consistently suppressed since 2007, homeownership has fallen concurrently.

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The bubble made him a billionaire.

China’s Richest Man: Country’s Real Estate Is ‘Biggest Bubble In History’ (CNN)

Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin made his fortune in the country’s real estate market – and now he’s warning that it’s spiraling out of control. It’s the “biggest bubble in history,” he told CNNMoney in an exclusive interview Wednesday. Bubble is a sensitive word in China after the dramatic rise and spectacular crash in the country’s stock market last year, which wiped out the savings of millions of small investors who thought Beijing wouldn’t allow the market to drop. After struggling to contain the fallout from the stock market debacle, China’s leaders could face a similar headache in the real estate sector. The big problem, according to Wang, is that prices keep rising in major Chinese metropolises like Shanghai but are falling in thousands of smaller cities where huge numbers of properties lie empty.

“I don’t see a good solution to this problem,” he said. “The government has come up with all sorts of measures – limiting purchase or credit – but none have worked.” It’s a serious worry in China, where the economy is slowing at the same time as high debt levels continue to increase rapidly. There are massive sums at stake in the real estate market: direct loans to the sector stood at roughly 24 trillion yuan ($3.6 trillion) at the end of June, according to Capital Economics.

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“Deteriorating corporate finances and a rebalancing reversal seem a high price to pay for a quarter’s worth of stability..”

Beige Book Sounds Warning Over Chinese Economy (WSJ)

Recent stability in the Chinese economy masks deep-seated problems that threaten to rattle global markets in advance of a leadership change next year, according to a survey. Ignoring these risks is shortsighted, said authors of the China Beige Book International, a quarterly survey that tracks the world’s second-largest economy. Data from the group’s third-quarter survey of 3,100 Chinese firms and 160 bankers point to some potential problems. New growth engines intended to shift the economy away from investment toward consumption-led growth are increasingly wobbly as corporate cash flow is squeezed and Beijing doubles down on traditional engines to stabilize output, the China Beige Book says.

“I’d find it earth-shatteringly surprising if we don’t have a significant problem between now and China’s leadership change” in the fall of 2017 when the 19th Party Congress convenes, said Leland Miller, China Beige Book’s president. “This is not a stable economy. It’s one that twists and turns and happens to end up at the same spot. There are real problems below the surface.” Growth in China’s service industry, a cornerstone of its planned transition to a new and more sustainable economic model, weakened during the third quarter as financial services, private healthcare, telecommunications, media and other subsectors flagged, the group’s data showed. In retail, the apparel, luxury goods and food sectors slowed, it said, as online retailers continued to cannibalize brick-and-mortar sales.

Despite Beijing’s pledge to reduce excess Industrial capacity and pare debt, China remains heavily dependent on government spending to power traditional debt-fueled growth engines, the group said. Much of the economic momentum during the third quarter came from infrastructure, manufacturing, commodities and real estate and many of these sectors are in danger of losing momentum, it said. While property sales remained strong in major cities, cash flow in the sector tightened and borrowing increased, a sign that investors should “think about getting off this train sooner rather than later,” the China Beige Book said. “Deteriorating corporate finances and a rebalancing reversal seem a high price to pay for a quarter’s worth of stability,” the group added.

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“..the real-estate boom is leading couples to divorce, as a move to pay less property-related taxes..”

China Property Bubble In Global Perspective (BBG)

China is turning Japanese. That’s the increasingly held view of observers comparing China’s frenzied real-estate market with the epic bust that more than two decades ago hobbled one of its biggest economic rivals. While the two scenarios aren’t a carbon copy, similarities between China’s record credit boom in recent years and Japan’s bubble era have been made at various times by a number of economists and investors. Now, those voices are being heard more often – even within China. Huang Yiping, a Peking University professor who advises China’s central bank, warned Saturday about leverage that continues to climb, saying that the top risk is more and more investment generates less growth. “That’s exactly the story that unfolded in Japan.”

[..] Hardly a week goes by without a warning that China is stoking a new bubble only a year after a $5 trillion stock market crash that rocked policy makers. Curbs to cool demand have struggled for traction, and Chinese media outlets carry reports of panic buying. A commentary published by a WeChat account affiliated to the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, on Monday said the real-estate boom is leading couples to divorce, as a move to pay less property-related taxes. It also said companies risk losing competitiveness as they focus on gaining from real estate rather than focusing on their own industry.

One example of a company benefiting from property: Nanjing Putian Telecommunication-B, a loss-making telecommunication equipment manufacturer, which is selling two apartments in the heart of Beijing’s school district to shore up its balance sheet. The value of the residences is estimated to have risen more than 10-fold since the firm bought them in 2004. At least 73 listed companies said they’re planning to sell or have sold properties to shore up cash. “I am big on the parallels,” said Roy Smith, the New York University academic who as a banker in 1990 anticipated Japan’s decline. Japan’s market crash “led to a financial crisis that they never recovered from. China probably faces a debt-led financial crisis too, which could have significant consequences,” he said.

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“..it’s the interconnectedness with the rest of the system that is the problem.”

‘Radioactive’ Deutsche Bank Could Go Nuclear At Any Time (Exp.)

Germany’s biggest bank reportedly has a $45 TRILLION portfolio of underlying assets that its clients are taking a position in – which equates to more than 10 times Germany’s entire GDP. And the problem is that no one really knows what’s makes up Deutsche’s book of exposure and so-called derivatives book because it’s so opaque and complicated, according to Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK. He told Express.co.uk: “Deutsche has the biggest derivatives book in the world, and people will say that its hedged to a greater or lesser extent, but it’s the interconnectedness with the rest of the system that is the problem. “There doesn’t seem to be transparency about what’s in its book. No one really knows what the ripple-out effects would be.”

“That makes Deutsche radioactive about whether or not I would want to invest in it. “A bank becomes a risk to the financial system as a whole when the degree to which it is interconnected with other institutions increases. Deutsche Bank is currently a counterparty to virtually every major bank in the world, in virtually all asset classes. Deutsche Bank denies it has the biggest derivatives exposure – its portfolio of financial contracts based on the value of other assets – and insists that 85% of its exposure is to investment grade counter-parties. Investor confidence in Deustsche has been shaken over the last two days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would not step in to rescue the bank if needed. But experts claim Berlin could be left with little choice but to intervene.

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“..there was doubt that European banks still had a viable business model…”

Europe’s Banks ‘Not Investable’ Says Credit Suisse CEO (G.)

One of Europe’s most senior bankers has said the embattled sector is “not really investable”, in remarks that underline the difficulties the continent’s big banks could face if they have to raise new funds. Tidjane Thiam, chief executive of Credit Suisse, issued the warning about the problems the sector faces as the focus remained on Deutsche Bank and its battle to reduce a $14bn (£10.5bn) penalty from the US authorities for mis-selling mortgage bonds. On Wednesday the German government raced to deny a report that it was preparing a bailout plan under which it might take a 25% stake in Deutsche Bank, which is the country’s biggest bank. With assets half the size of the German economy it is regarded as the bank that poses the biggest risk to global financial stability.

Shares in Deutsche Bank have plunged to near-30-year lows this week amid reports – which were then denied – that it had asked for German government intervention to help reduce the punishment from the US Department of Justice (DoJ). Their decline was arrested on Wednesday, when the bank sold a UK insurance company for €1bn; they closed 2% higher at €10.76. Thiam told a Bloomberg conference that Europe’s banks were in a “very fragile situation” and said there was doubt that European banks still had a viable business model. Concerns about rock-bottom interest rates and how much capital banks should hold meant returns to investors were too low, making banks “not really investable”.

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Comey’s back in the Senate. A few painful minutes of that here. He’ll either have to come clean or resign.

Rep. Gowdy Questions FBI Director Comey (USHouseJudiciary)

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Get out of the EU while you can!

Varoufakis: UK Should Activate Article 50 Now, Create Space And Time (CityAM)

Academic, EU-tormenter, former Greek finance minister and leather-jacket-wearing big thinker Yanis Varoufakis has blasted George Osborne and told the UK to get a move on with triggering Article 50. In an interview with the Today programme, Varoufakis, who resigned from the Syriza-led government last summer after he helped prime minister Alexis Tsipras take Greece to the edge of leaving the single currency, also outlined his latest thinking on what he sees as the doomed European project. Echoing statements made to the Institute of Directors yesterday, Varoufakis said the UK was about to travel into unchartered waters, and would discover just how difficult and inflexible the European institutions can be.

You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can’t really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It’s like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones’ castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear.

On what strategy the UK should adopt, Varoufakis, who was an academic before entering parliament for the first time in 2015 and diverting his considerable attention to anti-austerity campaigning, said: “My advice is simple: Activate Article 50, use those years as best you can and then strike a deal for the three or four years after Britain should be associated in a Norway-style agreement, and then use that period to have a robust debate on what’s to become later. “You need to create space and time during which to prepare yourself as a nation and a government. “The discussion before Brexit was very low quality, verging between scare-mongering on the one side and xenophobia on the other. There was no debate about a post-Brexit Britian.”

Varoufakis also suggested the Eurozone was on the brink of a breaking up and, despite calls from academics, politicians, economists and people on both the left and right that the European project is unsustainable, he believes not enough people are aware of its failures. He added: “Given these centrifugal forces, Brexit inspires several forces within the Eurozone to go it alone. The trouble with the euro … given it was very very badly constructed, is that it was always going to lead to a rupture which would make the EU totally and utterly unsustainable. “My great fear is that if the Eurozone goes, the EU goes. The repercussions are going to be dire.”

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An entire list of threats.

Hard Brexit Looms As 28 Red Lines Turn Deeper Shade Of Scarlet (BBG)

EU governments are refusing to grant the U.K. any leeway on the link between immigration and trade as it prepares to leave the bloc, raising the likelihood of a “hard Brexit.” Almost 100 days since a referendum signaled the end of Britain’s four decades of EU membership, a Bloomberg News analysis has identified a hardening of positions with even the U.K.’s traditional allies such as Ireland insisting it cannot “cherry pick” in the looming divorce talks. The U.K. “cannot have the advantages of the EU without carrying out the obligations,” Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said. Such intransigence may mean PM Theresa May ends up favoring a clean break from the EU to secure her goal of tougher immigration controls even if that costs the country access to the single market, a scenario dreaded by bankers and business executives.

“The dynamics within the government give the upper hand at the moment to the hard Brexit supporters,” former Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Bloomberg TV. The analysis is based on interviews and public comments from officials in all 28 EU governments. Among the other demands listed is that Britain must have “inferior” terms to what it currently enjoys as an EU member for fear that too many concessions will fan calls to leave from elsewhere in the region. Some want the U.K. to keep contributing to the EU budget in return for what benefits it does secure. Central eastern European countries are particularly animated on ensuring that the rights of their citizens to work in the U.K. are protected, with some threatening to veto any Brexit deal that doesn’t allow for that. Others are worried the U.K. will seek to slash corporate taxes.

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Treason. “We think this is a crime because it involves basic public services.”

Greece Approves Plan To Transfer State Utilities To New Asset Fund (DW)

Greece’s parliament passed new reforms on Tuesday night to cut pension expenditure and transfer control of public utilities to a new asset fund. The reforms seek to unlock €2.8 billion in financial loans as part of the country’s latest bailout program. The reforms were passed by a narrow 152-141 majority vote in Greece’s 300-seat parliament, after 152 parliamentary members of the ruling Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition approved the reform bill. Only one member of the coalition voted against the bill, along with all opposition members. The reforms will see public assets transferred to a new asset fund created by Greece’s creditors. Assets include airports and motorways, as well as water and electricity utilities.

The holding company groups together these state entities with the country’s privatization agency, the bank stability fund and state real estate. It will be led by an official chosen by Greece’s creditors, although Greece’s Finance Ministry will retain overall control. The reforms sparked significant backlash among demonstrators and public sector workers. Ahead of the vote, protestors outside of the parliament in Athens chanted, “Next you’ll sell the Acropolis!” Greece’s public sector union criticized the reforms, saying that the transfer of public assets paved the way for a fire-sale to private investors. “Health, education, electricity and water are not commodities. They belong to the people,” the union said in a statement.

Workers at Greece’s public water utility companies in Athens and Thessaloniki walked out on Tuesday to protest the reforms. “They are handing over the nation’s wealth and sovereignty,” George Sinioris, head of the water company workers association said. “We think this is a crime because it involves basic public services. We will respond with court challenges, strikes, building occupations and other forms of protest.”

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” If an organisation can exhibit psychopathy then the IMF has it!”

The Planned Destruction Of Greece Continues … (Mitchell)

After all the hoopla last year with the rise and fall of Syriza one’s attention span strays from what is happening in Greece at present and how it demonstrates the continued (and permanent) failure of the Eurozone. We also become inured to badness after badness is normalised. I was reminded of the depth of the malaise in that nation last week when I was in Kansas City. I won’t disclose confidences but an influential person (in the Greek context) I spoke to now regard their previous support for remaining within the Eurozone as a mistake and they consider my assessment of the situation (which they opposed at the time) to be closer to reality.

That was an interesting conversation and credit to them for being able to recognise an error of judgement. I was also reminded of the absurdity of the Eurozone when the IMF released its latest – Greece: Staff Concluding Statement of the 2016 Article IV Mission (September 23, 2016). This is normalisation of badness in bold! The current thinking is that the Greek unemployment rate will remain in double figures until at least 2050, that business investment has collapsed, real GDP is around 27% below its pre-GFC level – and – more significant and accelerated austerity is required. If an organisation can exhibit psychopathy then the IMF has it!

Conclusion: I haven’t written about Greece (or the Eurozone) for a while – it is depressing thinking about it really and I cannot imagine how the citizens in Greece are dealing with the planned destruction of their prosperity by highly paid officials in Brussels, Frankfurt and, particularly Washington. The scale of the destruction is beyond belief really and constitutes in my non-legal brain a crime against humanity. Someone in the IMF and Brussels should be paying for the professional incompetence that has created this human disaster.

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The world on its head. We all understand that it’s Brussels that has failed to live up to its commitments. Not Greece. But let them try out that Dublin reboot on Italy, see what happens.

Brussels Pushes Greece For Action On Migrants Before Dublin Pact Reboot (Kath.)

European officials are calling on Athens to take action by the end of this year ahead of the review and reactivation of the Dublin Regulation, which would lead to EU member-states returning migrants to Greece. The European Commission on Wednesday asked Athens to improve reception facilities, accelerate the processing of asylum claims and create separate facilities for unaccompanied minors. European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there will be no returns to Greece in the months leading up to the review of the pact, which stipulates that migrants lodge their asylum appeals in the first EU country they enter.

He said the goal remains a “gradual resumption” of migrant transfers to Greece but that “we need to avoid that an unsustainable burden be put on Greece.” Meanwhile the Commission aims to relocate 30,000 migrants from Greece to other EU countries by the end of next year. The presense of migrants in Greece has fuelled tensions with protests on Chios and in Rethymno on Wednesday.

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Sep 282016
 
 September 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


DPC Heart of Chinatown, San Francisco, after earthquake and fire 1906

Small Army Of Fed Speakers, OPEC On Tap For Wednesday (CNBC)
“Negative Growth” of Real Wages is Normal for Much of the Workforce (WS)
Grocery Prices Are Plunging (BBG)
EU Banking Mayhem, One Bank at a Time, then All at Once (WS)
Deutsche Bank Troubles Cast Long Shadow Over European Banking (BBG)
IMF Warns Central Banks Could Lose Deflation Fight (AFP)
A Legal Barrier to Higher US Interest Rates (WSJ)
Global Container Volume on Track for Worst Year Since 2009 (WSJ)
Wells Fargo Executives Forfeit Millions, CEO To Forgo Salary (G.)
Worries Grow Over Greek Economic Forecast (WSJ)
Germany’s Hypocrisy Over Greece Water Privatisation (G.)
China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t. (BBG)
Single Clothes Wash May Release 700,000 Microplastic Fibres (G.)

 

 

And the MH17 report that lost all credibility long ago. Got to keep the customer entertained.

Small Army Of Fed Speakers, OPEC On Tap For Wednesday (CNBC)

A flurry of Fed speakers, including the Fed chair, will keep markets busy Wednesday. There are also mortgage applications at 7 a.m. EDT, durable goods data at 8:30 a.m. EDT and oil inventory data at 10:30 a.m. EDT. OPEC, meanwhile, is meeting in Algeria and could continue to create volatility in oil prices after headlines from there triggered a near 3% plunge Tuesday. Fed Chair Janet Yellen appears before the House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m. on supervision and regulation. The Fed chair was personally criticized in the presidential debate Monday night by GOP candidate Donald Trump, who said the Fed’s decision to keep rates low was political and that it’s creating a bubble in the stock market.

“It has to worry the markets that potentially you could have a president getting into a nasty dispute with the chairman of the Fed in early 2017. That’s something the market would not like to see. I think the Fed has not done a very good job communicating. It’s a cacophony of confusing comments. There’s reason to criticize the Fed, but the personal attack on Yellen is unprecedented,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments. Traders are watching to see if Yellen is in the political hot seat on banking regulation and supervision when she appears before the committee.

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One side of US deflation is falling wages…

“Negative Growth” of Real Wages is Normal for Much of the Workforce (WS)

The chart below shows the%age change of real wages (left, y-axis) as these men aged (horizontal, x-axis). As young adults, their wages soared by up to 10% a year. Then the rate of growth fell off sharply. When the men in this cohort turned 40 in the 1990s, wage growth disappeared. By around the year 2000, the real wage peak in the US, when the oldest men in this cohort turned 50, wages had begun to decline for most of them. By the time these men were in the mid-50s, their wages across the board were heading south – and for many of them, rapidly. Hence this colorful, drooping spaghetti:

This “negative real wage growth” – devastating as it may be for those experiencing it – is nothing special, according to the New York Fed. And it crushes not just white men, but everyone: “Real wages tend to rise early in a worker’s career, flatten out mid-career, and then decline as the worker approaches retirement. This inverted U-shape pattern is a well-established feature in the labor economics literature.” The report explained it further: “Labor economists explain the rapid real wage growth early in a worker’s career as a combination of on-the-job learning and better matching of workers to jobs. A large portion is due to job matching as workers change jobs in search of a position that better utilizes their skills. As workers age, the decline in the pace of their real wage growth reflects a diminished incentive to invest in new skills (because their remaining work life is shorter) and fewer job changes (because they have found a good job match).”

The report divides life for its purposes into three phases, terms of wage growth: • Fast growth, up to age 40, • Flat growth, ages 41-54, • “Negative growth,” age 55 and older. Now there’s another problem mucking up the overall and ever-elusive real-wage growth miracle everyone has been counting on: demographics. The US population is aging. There are more people aged 40 and over in the workforce, and their incomes are now flat or declining. The portion of the population in the first phase when wages are growing fast has plunged from close to 60% in the 1980s to the mid-40% range currently. And the portion of workers with wages in the “negative growth” phase has ballooned. Given the demographics, real wage declines among workers over 50 will continue to hammer the national averages.

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…and when wages are falling, so must prices.

Grocery Prices Are Plunging (BBG)

Call it the Great Grocery-Store Giveaway of 2016. In Austin, Texas, Randalls slashed prices for boneless beef ribs by 40%, to $3.99 a pound. Not to be outdone, the H-E-B grocer down the street charged $1 a pound less. Not long ago, Albertsons advertised a deal you don’t normally see on your finer cuts of meat: “buy 1 get 1 free” specials on “USDA Choice Petite Sirloin Steak.” And what does $1 buy these days? In North Bergen, New Jersey, you could pick up a dozen eggs at Wal-Mart. OK, the price was actually $1.14. A mile away, check out Aldi, the German supermarket discounter, which can actually break the buck – 12 eggs for 99 cents. A year ago, you would have paid, on average, three times that price.

In a startling development, almost unheard of outside a recession, food prices have fallen for nine straight months in the U.S. It’s the longest streak of food deflation since 1960 – with the exception of 2009, when the financial crisis was winding down. Analysts credit low oil and grain prices, as well as cutthroat competition from discounters. Consumers are winning out; grocery chains, not so much. Their margins and, in some cases, their stock prices, are taking a hit. Eggs and beef have have grown especially inexpensive, and it isn’t only an American phenomenon: In England, Aldi recently offered its prized 8-ounce wagyu steaks from New Zealand for about $6.50 – a little more than the price of a pint of beer. “The severity of what we’re seeing is completely unprecedented,” said Scott Mushkin at Wolfe Research, who has studied grocery prices around the country for more than ten years. “We’ve never seen deflation this sharp.”

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“The can has been kicked down the road for years. Now negative interest rates appear to have inadvertently crushed the can.”

EU Banking Mayhem, One Bank at a Time, then All at Once (WS)

Here are the 29 banks in the ESTX Banks Index of Eurozone banks (so Swiss and UK banks, for example are not included). It shows the percentage drop from their 52-week high. But for some of these banks, particularly for Italian and Portuguese banks, that 52-week high was just about last year’s 52-week low, so relentless has their decline been over the years. Some of them had already been reduced to penny stocks years ago, and for them, in euro terms, the biggest losses occurred back then. So these mayhem banks, color coded by country:

If a bank stock plunges from €0.04 to €0.01 over the 52-week period, such as Banco Comercial Português in Portugal, it has been toast for longer than 52 weeks, and the percentage plunge is essentially meaningless because shares were worthless to begin with. The shares of five of these banks trade under €1. Another 8 banks trade under €3. These 29 banks form a big part of the European financial system. It includes some of the world’s largest banks, such as Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale, and BNP Paribas. It includes a slew of other “systemically important financial institutions,” such as Unicredit, ING, and Santander. They’re troubled at the same time. The can has been kicked down the road for years. Now negative interest rates appear to have inadvertently crushed the can.

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Deutsche won’t go alone. Just like saving only Deutsche is far from enough. The dominoes suppart each other.

Deutsche Bank Troubles Cast Long Shadow Over European Banking (BBG)

The turmoil swirling around Deutsche Bank has brought simmering concerns about the health of Europe’s banks back to a boil. Germany’s largest lender extended losses to a record low this week, dragging down European financial stocks, after the U.S. Department of Justice requested $14 billion to settle claims tied to fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. While the bank said it won’t pay anywhere close to that amount, the dust-up fueled doubts over its capital levels and refocused investors on the industry’s faults. “One word – Deutsche,” David Moss at BMO Global Asset Management in London, said when asked to sum up the recent slump in European banks. “That’s the biggest thing – it’s reignited the risk around regulation, fines and litigation.”

Dismissing concern about the bank’s finances, Chief Executive Officer John Cryan told Bild in an interview published late Tuesday that capital “is currently not an issue,” and accepting government support is “out of the question for us.” Deutsche Bank has tumbled almost 20% this month, while Royal Bank of Scotland – which also faces a looming Justice Department fine – fell 13%, and Italy’s UniCredit slumped 12%. The Bloomberg Europe 500 Banks and Financial Services Index has declined 4.2% in September, making it the worst month since June, when Britain’s vote to exit the European Union roiled markets and sent bank shares plunging.

[..] European banks are grappling with tougher regulatory requirements, sputtering economic growth and negative interest rates, which squeeze lending margins and crimp investment returns. In Italy, where banks are burdened with some €360 billion of soured loans, UniCredit is working on a plan to boost capital that may include asset sales and a stock offering, according to people familiar with the matter. In Germany, Commerzbank scaled back its full-year profit goals and may announce thousands of job cuts this week,

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They already have.

IMF Warns Central Banks Could Lose Deflation Fight (AFP)

The IMF warned Tuesday that central banks are struggling to beat back deflationary forces and that governments need to spend to help them succeed. In a new assessment of global economic conditions, the IMF said many countries worldwide are battling disinflation – low and slowing inflation – due to weak global economic growth.If central banks around the world cannot halt this stall, and if companies and people increasingly believe they can’t halt it, their economies risk sinking into a deflationary spiral – where prices generally start to fall and companies and consumers hold back spending and investment, stalling the economy. In this case, “countries can’t afford to be complacent,” the Fund warned. The report said deflationary pressures in many countries are coming from abroad, in the form of sinking prices of both commodities and manufactured goods.

“The breadth of the decline in inflation across countries and the fact that it is stronger in the tradable goods sectors underscore the global nature of disinflationary forces,” the IMF said. Weak inflation challenges central banks’ ability to use monetary policy to stimulate demand, the IMF notes, because interest rates are likely to already be very low, giving them little room to cut further. That has been the case with top central banks including the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ, with the latter two already having taken some interest rates negative. “Eventually, ‘persistent’ disinflation can lead to costly deflationary cycles – as we have seen in Japan – where weak demand and deflation reinforce each other, and end up increasing debt burdens and hindering economic activity and job creation.”

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How to politicize the Fed?!

A Legal Barrier to Higher US Interest Rates (WSJ)

Defending the Fed’s recent decision to put off raising interest rates again, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters last week that she and other Fed governors wanted “to see some continued progress” before taking that step. Politics, she insisted, had nothing to do with it. What Ms. Yellen didn’t say is that the Fed couldn’t raise its rates without breaking the law. Since when are Fed rate increases illegal? Since the 2007-08 subprime meltdown and financial disaster, actually. Until then the Fed could set any target it liked for the federal-funds rate—the interest rate banks pay for overnight loans of cash reserves. To keep the fed-funds rate from rising above target, the Fed pumped more reserves into the banking system. To keep it from dropping below, it took reserves away.

But after Lehman Brothers failed in 2008, the Fed’s efforts to keep the fed-funds rate from dropping below its target proved futile. To set a floor on how far the rate could go, the Fed started paying interest on banks’ reserve balances with the Fed, taking advantage of the 2006 Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act giving it permission to do so. Alas, it didn’t work. Government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks, which also kept deposit balances at the Fed but weren’t eligible for interest on reserves (IOR), started making overnight loans to banks at rates below the IOR rate. In effect, this turned what the Fed hoped would be a floor on the fed-funds rate into a ceiling. To raise rates now, the Fed increases the rate on reserves.

So what’s to keep the Fed from raising rates this way again? The 2006 Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act is what. For that law only allows the central bank to pay interest on reserves “at a rate or rates not to exceed the general level of short-term interest rates.” The rub is that the Fed’s IOR rate of 50 basis points (0.5%) already exceeds the closest comparable market rates: those on shorter-term Treasury bills. At the start of this month, the four-week T-bill rate was just 26 basis points; since then it has slid even lower, all the way down to 10 basis points. Judging by these numbers, the Fed is already flouting the law. Another hike would mean flouting it all the more flagrantly. Lawmakers will be duty-bound to object. The law can only be stretched so far. Unless “general short-term rates” rise markedly, Congress can be expected to question the legality of any Fed rate increase. If it comes to that, Ms. Yellen will find it very hard to dissemble her way out of it.

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2016 will be known as the good old days.

Global Container Volume on Track for Worst Year Since 2009 (WSJ)

Global container volumes are on track for zero growth this year, which would mark the sector’s worst performance since the 2009 economic crisis and a sure catalyst for further bankruptcies and possible acquisitions in the beleaguered shipping industry, shipping executives said. Freight rates, the predominant source of income for shipping companies, fell 20% in the benchmark Asia to Europe trade route this week compared with last week to $767 per container. Rates have mostly stayed well below $1,000 since the start of the year and operators say anything below $1,400 is unsustainable. They aren’t expected to turn around soon.

China’s Golden Week holiday starts at the beginning of October, marking the slow season for operators as many Chinese factories cut production levels after an output frenzy in the summer months when western importers stack up products for the year-end holidays. “The industry faces its worst year since the Lehman Brothers collapse,” said Jonathan Roach, an analyst at London based Braemar ACM. “Demand is around zero and any moves to increase freight rates will likely fail.” Hanjin, South Korea’s biggest operator and the world’s seventh largest in terms of capacity, filed for bankruptcy protection last month and is under court order to sell its own ships and returning chartered ships to their owners. Container operators, which move everything from clothes and shoes to electronics and furniture, are burdened by 30% more capacity in the water than demand.

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And they’ll keep their jobs?

Wells Fargo Executives Forfeit Millions, CEO To Forgo Salary (G.)

Wells Fargo executives will forfeit millions of dollars in the wake of revelations that the bank’s sales quotas led to the creation of more than 2m unauthorized accounts. The bank’s chief executive John Stumpf will forgo his salary for the coming months as independent directors launch a new investigation into Wells Fargo’s retail banking and sales practices. Last year, Stumpf made about $19.3m. Stumpf will also forfeit unvested equity awards worth about $41m. Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the retail banking at Wells Fargo while the unauthorized accounts were opened, was slated to receive as much as $124.6m after retiring this summer, according to Fortune. The bank said on Tuesday that she would not receive an undisclosed severance and would forfeit about $19m in unvested awards.

Less than three weeks ago, Wells Fargo announced that it had agreed to pay $185m in penalties after an audit found that its employees opened as many as 1.5m deposit accounts and 565,000 credit card accounts without customers’ consent. The accounts were opened by the bank’s staff in hopes of meeting their monthly sales quota and earning their incentive bonuses. Wells Fargo workers have tried to draw attention to the “unreasonable” quotas before – some even staged a protest in front of the bank’s headquarters last year. When Stumpf testified in front of the US Senate last week, he drew ire from US lawmakers. Many of them called for the bank to recoup pay from Stumpf and Tolstedt and hold them accountable.

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The EU has made Greek recovery impossible. Spending power has been murdered, and a whole generation of younger people is 50-60% long-term unemployed. It makes no difference what anyone forecasts.

Worries Grow Over Greek Economic Forecast (WSJ)

Greece’s economic recovery is proving elusive, challenging the forecasts of the country’s government and foreign creditors still counting on growth reviving this year. The IMF said last week that the economy is stagnating, in the first admission from creditors that Greece’s recovery is off track again. Growth will only restart next year, the head of the IMF’s team in Greece said on a conference call with reporters, without offering details. Of particular concern is that exports, which are supposed to lead Greece out of trouble, are on a slow downward trajectory, hampered by capital controls, taxes and a lack of credit. “There is no chance we will see a rebound unless we see some bold political decisions that would introduce a more stable business environment,” said Dimitris Tsakonitis, general manager at mining company Grecian Magnesite.

The bailout agreement between Greece and its German-led creditors assumes rapid growth from late 2016 onward, including an official forecast of 2.7% growth in 2017. Private-sector economists believe next year’s growth could be closer to 0.6%. Weaker growth would undermine the budget, likely leading to fresh arguments with lenders about extra austerity measures. Greece is still grappling with the measures it has already agreed to. Late on Tuesday the country’s parliament approved pension overhauls and other policy changes that have been delayed for months, holding up bailout funding.

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Good to note. Berlin buys back its water, and forces Athens to sell it. “It’s not any more a democracy or equality in the EU. It’s a kind of business..”

No society should ever agree to sell its basic needs to foreigners. Leaders who do that anyway should be fired.

Germany’s Hypocrisy Over Greece Water Privatisation (G.)

Greek activists are warning that the privatisation of state water companies would be a backward step for the country. Under the terms of the bailout agreement approved by the Greek parliament today, Greece has pledged to support an existing programme of privatisation, which includes large chunks of the water utilities of Greece’s two largest cities – Athens and Thessaloniki. There is ongoing debate about water privatisation and the role of business. Across Europe a wave of austerity-driven privatisation proposals has led to protests in Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. At the same time, some of northern Europe’s largest cities, including Paris and Berlin, are buying back utilities they sold just last decade.

President of the Thessaloniki water company trade union George Argovtopoulos said a move to a for-profit model would raise prices for consumers and degrade services. “It’s not any more a democracy or equality in the EU. It’s a kind of business,” he said, adding that austerity measures that require water privatisation smacked of a “do as I say, but not as I do” approach from Germany. “We know that in Berlin, just two years ago they remunicipalised the water there, although they paid just under €600m to Veolia [to buy back its stake]. It’s clear that the model of privatisation of water has failed all around the world,” he said. The German finance ministry refused to comment ahead of a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels on Friday where the third bailout deal looked set to be signed.

[..] Austerity-led changes to water supply have been fiercely resisted across Europe’s most indebted countries. In Dublin this year, huge protests erupted over plans to directly charge water users who previously paid for water through their taxes. This was seen as a first step towards selling off Ireland’s water supply. A water privatisation push by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was crushed by a 95% referendum vote in 2011. A similar referendum in Thessaloniki last year delivered a 98% vote against. A 2014 report by the Transnational Institute’s Satoko Kishimoto found that across the world 180 cities had bought back (or remunicipalised) their water supply. She said this was a response to almost universally higher water prices and the loss of control over a fundamental resource.

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Another author claiming that “..the scientific consensus within and outside of China is that GMOs are safe..”

China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t. (BBG)

The latest food safety scandal in China might be its most damaging. Earlier this week, a former doctoral student at one of the country’s national testing centers for genetically modified organisms went public with allegations of scientific fraud, including claims that records were doctored extensively, that unqualified personnel were employed under illegal contracts and – most seriously – that authorities refused to take action when his concerns were aired privately. On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Agriculture responded to a social media storm by suspending operations at the center. That might take care of the current scandal, but the Chinese public’s hostility toward GMOs won’t go away so easily.

Those concerns have only grown over the past decade as the government has increased its support of GMOs, including approval of the state-owned ChinaChem Group’s $43 billion takeover offer for the Swiss seed giant Syngenta. These efforts have galvanized a very public opposition that transcends China’s typical political fault lines, and created one of the government’s most intractable headaches. Feeding China’s huge population has never been easy. But over the last three decades, the challenges have become considerably greater as urbanization devoured farmland, and pollution made even more of it unusable. Today, the government is faced with the task of feeding 21% of the world’s population with 9% of its arable land. Its reliance on foreign goods has made China the world leader in imports since 2011.

Officials now fear the country could become dependent on foreigners for its food supply and the government remains committed to maintaining self-sufficiency in rice, wheat, and other key grains. As a result, the political pressure to increase yields is considerable. In fact, this pressure is centuries-old. Domesticated rice first appeared in the Yangtze River Valley at least 8,000 years ago, and Chinese farmers and scientists have been innovating ever since. In 1992, China became the first country to introduce a GMO crop into commercial production, when it sowed a virus-resistant tobacco plant on 100 acres. Since then, the government has issued safety certificates for a wide range of GMO crops, ranging from chili peppers to petunias. Yet, so far at least, only cotton has gone into wide cultivation. Other GMOs – especially rice, a staple of the Chinese diet – are still awaiting approval to be domestically cultivated.

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The blessings of plastic.

Single Clothes Wash May Release 700,000 Microplastic Fibres (G.)

Each cycle of a washing machine could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment, according to a study. A team at Plymouth University in the UK spent 12 months analysing what happened when a number of synthetic materials were washed at different temperatures in domestic washing machines, using different combinations of detergents, to quantify the microfibres shed. They found that acrylic was the worst offender, releasing nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash, five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric, and nearly 1.5 times as many as polyester. “Different types of fabrics can have very different levels of emissions,” said Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, who conducted the investigation with a PhD student, Imogen Napper.

“We need to understand why is it that some types of [fabric] are releasing substantially more fibres [ than others].” These microfibres track through domestic wastewater into sewage treatment plants where some of the tiny plastic fragments are captured as part of sewage sludge. The rest pass through into rivers and eventually, oceans. A paper published in 2011 found that microfibres made up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. The impact of microplastic pollution is not fully understood but studies have suggested that it has the potential to poison the food chain, build up in animals’ digestive tracts, reduce the ability of some organisms to absorb energy from foods in the normal way and even to change the behaviour of crabs.

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Sep 262016
 
 September 26, 2016  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


NPC Fire at Thomas Somerville plant, Washington DC 1926

Asian Markets Drop As Pessimism Increases Ahead Of OPEC Meeting (MW)
Deutsche Bank Slumps to Fresh Record Low on Capital Concerns (BBG)
China’s Smaller Banks Are Funding Each Other’s Lending (BBG)
China Launches $52.5 Billion Restructuring Fund For State-Owned Firms (R.)
A Weaker Currency Is No Longer the Economic Elixir It Once Was (BBG)
US Home Prices Rose 76% Since 1999 As Real Income Grew Less Than 2% (BBG)
Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Honeymoon Is About to End (BBG)
The Know-Nothing Economists Who Created This Mess Blast Trump’s Plan (MW)
Amazon “Tweaks” Hillary Book Stats: ‘5-Star’ Reviews Double Overnight (ZH)
Cracks Showing In Germany’s Fragile Truce With The ECB (R.)
German Minister: Britain Won’t Stop EU Army (Pol.)
50% Of Guns In America Owned By Just 3% Of Population (ZH)
African Elephants ‘Suffer Worst Decline In 25 Years’ (AFP)

 

 

And Europe’s falling faster.

Asian Markets Drop As Pessimism Increases Ahead Of OPEC Meeting (MW)

Asian shares were broadly lower Monday, as relief over a delay by the U.S. Federal Reserve in raising interest rates wore off. Japan’s Nikkei was down 0.8%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index retreated 0.7%. South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.4%. “Asia Pacific investors are bracing for a sell day after European and U.S. traders took some hard won risk off the table,” wrote Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, in a note. On Friday, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both fell 0.6% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.7% as energy stocks slid with oil prices Friday. Investors were also pessimistic on Monday over any breakthroughs in oil-production cuts when OPEC gathers for an informal meeting later this week.

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Merkel’s comments weigh in.

Deutsche Bank Slumps to Fresh Record Low on Capital Concerns (BBG)

Deutsche Bank shares dropped to a record low amid concerns that the lender’s capital buffers will be undermined by mounting legal charges including a settlement tied to the sale of U.S. securities The shares dropped 4.2% to €10.93 at 9:15 a.m. in Frankfurt, an all-time low. The 38-member Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index slipped 1.5%, with Deutsche Bank the worst performer. A potential $14 billion bill to settle a U.S. probe into residential mortgage-backed securities is more than twice the €5.5 billion ($6.2 billion) Deutsche Bank has set aside for litigation. The lender also faces inquiries into legal issues including currency manipulation, precious metals trading and billions of dollars in transfers out of Russia, complicating CEO John Cryan’s efforts to bolster profitability and capital ratios.

Germany’s biggest bank would be “significantly under-capitalized” even assuming enough provisions to cover an eventual settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, Andrew Lim at Societe Generale said in a note earlier this month. A settlement range of $3 billion to $3.5 billion would leave the German lender room to settle other legal issues, while any additional $1 billion in litigation charges would erode 24 basis points in capital, JPMorgan analysts wrote. Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out any state assistance for Deutsche Bank in the year heading into the national election in September 2017.

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Big warning sign. Circle jerking tail eating snakes.

China’s Smaller Banks Are Funding Each Other’s Lending (BBG)

[..] China’s banking regulator told city banks last week to learn the lesson of the global financial crisis and get back to traditional businesses. CLSA estimates total debt may reach 321% of GDP in 2020 from 261% in the first half. “Contagion risks are definitely rising,” said Liao Qiang, Beijing-based senior director for financial institution ratings at S&P Global Ratings. “The pace of the development is concerning. If this isn’t stopped in time, the central bank will lose some control and flexibility of its monetary policy.” Shanghai Pudong Development Bank said in an e-mailed response on Sept. 24 it has been using appropriate financing and its regular deposits and interbank borrowing have been developing properly and in synchronization.

Total liabilities will be kept under control in the long run and all liquidity gauges meet regulatory requirements, it said. Rising short-term borrowing doesn’t mean its risks have climbed as well, the bank said. “City commercial banks should change as soon as possible the situation of allocating more funds into investing than lending, and developing their off-balance-sheet businesses too fast,” Shang Fulin, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said. The PBOC resumed longer-term reverse repos to boost borrowing costs in August and deputy governor Yi Gang said in a television interview earlier this month that the nation’s short-term goal is to curb leverage. It gauged demand for such auctions today. The benchmark 10-year government bond yield climbed slightly, to 2.73% from a decade low of 2.64% on Aug. 15.

[..] The higher the reliance on wholesale funds and investment in illiquid assets, the greater the risk of a liquidity crunch, said Christine Kuo at Moody’s. “When banks face fund withdrawals by other financial institutions, this will in turn prompt them to call back their own funds,” she said. Banks are also buying each others’ wealth-management products and accounting for the transactions as investment receivables. A record 26.3 trillion yuan of WMPs were outstanding as of June 30, doubling over two years, official data showed. Investment receivables at 25 listed banks grew 13.4% in the first half to 11 trillion yuan.

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Doesn’t sound like real restructuring.

China Launches $52.5 Billion Restructuring Fund For State-Owned Firms (R.)

A private equity fund worth 350 billion yuan ($52.5 billion) has been launched in China to help with the restructuring of state firms, a newspaper run by Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. The China State-owned Enterprises Restructuring Fund will be managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), according to the Economic Information Daily. The report said 10 state-owned enterprises have established the fund to help with restructuring of state firms, including M&A deals, as part of government efforts to advance supply side reform. The 10 firms have provided initial registered capital of 131 billion yuan, the newspaper said.

No detail was provided on the source of the rest of the equity fund. The 10 firms include China Mobile, China Railway Rolling Stock, China Petroleum & Chemical and China Chengtong, a restructuring platform supervised by SASAC that will lead the fund. China is embarking on a revamp of its massive but debt-ridden state sector, which has struggled under a system that requires firms to maximize economic gains while fulfilling government policy objectives. The government has vowed to create innovative and globally competitive enterprises through mergers, asset swaps and management reforms.

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Caveat: a weak currency doesn’t automatically spur more exports. But they should also ask where exports would be if the currency had remained strong. Maybe they would have plummeted. Maybe global trade is falling fast.

A Weaker Currency Is No Longer the Economic Elixir It Once Was (BBG)

A weaker currency, once the cure-all for ailing economies around the world, isn’t the panacea it once was. Just look at Japan, where the yen plunged 28% in the two years through 2014, yet net exports to America still fell by 10% in the span. Or at the U.K., where the pound’s 19% tumble in the two years through 2009 couldn’t stave off a 26% decline in shipments to the U.S. In fact, since the turn of the century, the ability of exchange-rate movements to affect trade and growth in major economies has fallen by more than half, according to Goldman Sachs. The findings suggest that weaker currencies may not provide much assistance to officials in countries like Japan and the U.K. that are relying on unprecedented easy-money policies to help boost tenuous growth and inflation.

On the flip side, the data also indicate that concerns U.S. growth will be derailed as rising interest rates drive investors into the dollar are also overblown. A shift in the structure of advanced-economy trade to less price-elastic goods and services, combined with the prolonged effects of the financial crisis, have stunted the sensitivity of trade volumes relative to global exchange rates, according to Goldman Sachs analysts led by Jari Stehn. “If you’re a central banker, yes you’re paying attention to currency levels, but the more-developed market economies aren’t reacting to currency debasing policies like they used to,” said Philippe Bonnefoy, the founder of hedge fund Eleuthera. “The impact has been diluted.”

Global central banks have cut policy rates 667 times since 2008, according to Bank of America Corp. During that period, the dollar’s 10 main peers have fallen 14%, yet Group-of-Eight economies have grown an average of just 1%. Since the late 1990s, a 10% inflation-adjusted depreciation in currencies of 23 advanced economies boosted net exports by just 0.6% of GDP, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with 1.3% of GDP in the two decades prior. U.S. trade with all nations slipped to $3.7 trillion in 2015, from $3.9 trillion in 2014.

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“Since 1999 year-end through 2015 home prices have risen 76% while household mean real income has grown less than 2%..”

US Home Prices Rose 76% Since 1999 As Real Income Grew Less Than 2% (BBG)

U.S. home prices appear to be getting out of hand again as the gap between home price growth and household real income growth is close to where it was just before the housing collapse. It’s also notable, and worrying, that the housing market is back in a “flipping frenzy” with non-bank actors climbing aboard to fund the speculation. Since 1999 year-end through 2015 home prices have risen 76% while household mean real income has grown less than 2%; the millennium-to-date gap between the two growth rates peaked at 84% during 2005-2006 and has risen back to 74% as of 2015 year-end. Gap at year-end 2007 was 75%. This millennium through 2015 has seen average new and existing home sale prices rise 84% and 55%, respectively, despite the lack of income growth.

Existing and new home sales average prices peaked at $280.2k in June 2015 and $384k in Oct. 2014, respectively; both peaks exceeded levels seen during housing boom. Over the same period outstanding home mortgage debt has risen 14%, though it’s notable that with the end of easy mortgage credit it has fallen 11% from its June 2008 peak. Concurrent with this 11% fall, the homeownership rate (63.8% at 2015 year-end) has slid back to levels last seen in the mid-1960s. Monthly U.S. single-family home price y/y growth hit a post-crisis peak of 10.85% in Oct. 2013 and has since leveled off at ~5% each month since July 2015; this is still easily outpacing growth in real income.

The disconnect between home price growth and the lack of real income growth has led homebuilders’ to turn to the higher-end of the market and for Ginnie Mae to take the lead in mortgage lending. GNMA offers taxpayer-guaranteed loans to first-time homebuyers who have lower credit scores and smaller down payments than those who obtain loans through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Whereas from 2005-2007 GNMA pct share of net MBS issuance was ~2% each year, during 2014, 2015 and 2016 YTD it is ~67%, according to BofAML data. Another severe downturn in home prices would be unlikely to play out in the agency MBS market in like manner to 2007-2008 as the Fed now holds ~33% of the outstanding universe and the U.S. taxpayer now guarantees almost all of the market with Fannie and Freddie remaining under government conservatorship.

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A big bad hornet’s nest. And that’s before the economic poisoned chalice is served.

Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Honeymoon Is About to End (BBG)

Along Canada’s evergreen-draped west coast, the fate of a multi-billion-dollar energy project and a nation’s reconciliation with its dark, colonial past hang in the balance. Beating rawhide drums and singing hymns, occupiers of Lelu Island—where Malaysia’s state oil company plans a $28 billion liquefied natural gas project—assert indigenous claims to the area where trees bear the markings of their forefathers and waters run rich with crimson salmon they fear the project will obliterate. “The blood of my ancestors is on my hands if I don’t defend this land,” says Donald Wesley, 59, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe which has inhabited the area for more than 6,000 years.

That claim is about to test Justin Trudeau, the country’s telegenic 44-year-old prime minister, who swept to power a year ago vowing to be many things to many people—to tackle climate change, revive the economy, and reset Canada’s fraught relationship with its indigenous communities. Those pledges are set for collision in British Columbia—home to more First Nations communities than any other province and the crucible where a resource economy seeks to reinvent itself. Trudeau has promised to decide on the LNG project on Lelu Island by Oct. 2. He has big spending plans to spur growth in a commodities downturn, and B.C., the birthplace of Greenpeace, is where most energy projects able to support that growth are located.

Indigenous groups, essential to public support, are divided, with some seeking to preserve their habitat and traditions, and others arguing that the projects offer a path out of poverty, addiction and suicide. Facing five major energy initiatives in B.C., Trudeau will choose which constituency to abandon. He’s allowed a hydroelectric dam to proceed; pending are decisions on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway crude pipeline, Petroliam Nasional’s LNG project on Lelu Island, a pipeline expansion by Kinder Morgan, as well as a ban on crude oil tankers. He’s said to want at least one pipeline, and favor Kinder Morgan. Trudeau says regularly it’s a prime minister’s job to get the country’s resources to market, and a pipeline approval would demonstrate Canada can get major projects completed as warnings mount that the complex web of regulatory rules is spurring a flight of capital.

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“It was refreshing to hear that Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore responded to a question from Pethokoukis about all the red ink in Trump’s plan with, “Whether it’s going to pay for itself, I don’t really care.”

The Know-Nothing Economists Who Created This Mess Blast Trump’s Plan (MW)

Establishment economists ranging from austere neoliberals to spendthrift Keynesians are united in branding Donald Trump’s proposed economic policies as “disastrous.” He must be on to something. These economists are the distinguished experts, after all, who have championed the globalization that gutted American manufacturing, promoted the offshoring and outsourcing of American jobs, encouraged American companies to keep trillions (trillions!) of dollars of profit abroad, and enabled the tax inversions allowing American companies to move to the country most willing to beggar its neighbor. These are the celebrity academics who have championed the deficit-reducing, budget-balancing, tax-cutting policies that have crippled our infrastructure, degraded our schools, and cut public services from police and fire protection to garbage collection.

And now this gaggle of Washington insiders is warning us that Trump’s policies will throw the country into recession, ignite a trade war, launch the national debt into the stratosphere, and create more unemployment rather than jobs. Why, really, should anyone listen to them? There is Mark Zandi, whose title as chief economist of Moody Analytics makes this sometime adviser to Barack Obama and backer of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton seem nonpartisan, even though he clearly is not. Not surprisingly, Zandi had his team at Moody’s produce some modeling this summer that concluded that Trump’s economic proposals would result in a less global economy, lead to larger government deficits and more debt, will largely benefit very high-income households, and will result in a weaker U.S. economy.

The implication is that these are all bad things. Those for whom Trump’s economic message resonates might consider a less global U.S. economy a good thing. To brand deficits and debts as terrible you would first have to prove that they do more harm than good.

[..] those establishment economists who through several administrations have served so ably on the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, in the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve — the people, in short, who have delivered us into the economic morass they blithely call secular stagnation — are training their heavy artillery on poor, dumb Trump. Progressive economist Joseph Stiglitz, who chaired the CEA under President Bill Clinton, gives Trump an “F” in economics because the nominee apparently doesn’t understand the principle of comparative advantage in global trade — as if we lived in a world where currency manipulation, dumping subsidies, and substandard environmental and labor conditions don’t keep this pristine economic principle from working its magic.

And conservative analyst James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, labeled Trump’s economic plan “a complete and utter joke” as he took the Republican nominee to task for potentially adding $2.6 trillion to $3.9 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years — even though the $9 trillion in debt added during the 7.5 years of the Obama administration has caused no detectable harm. It was refreshing to hear that Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore responded to a question from Pethokoukis about all the red ink in Trump’s plan with, “Whether it’s going to pay for itself, I don’t really care.” High time someone influencing policy fully appreciated the dynamic flexibility of a fiat currency in government finance. We don’t really need to care whether the plan “pays for itself” in the short term, if it does indeed produce the accelerated growth promised.

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For entertainment purposes only.

Amazon “Tweaks” Hillary Book Stats: ‘5-Star’ Reviews Double Overnight (ZH)

Two short weeks ago, we exposed the gaping difference between Amazon reader reviews of Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” book (14% 5-Stars) and Donald Trump’s “Great Again” book (74% 5-Stars)… As The New York Times reported at the time, the book was a disaster. Both Mrs. Clinton and her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, have promoted the book on the campaign trail, but the sales figure, which tallies about 80% of booksellers nationwide and does not include e-books, firmly makes the book what the publishing industry would consider a flop. [..] So, as with everything else in this ‘new normal rigged’ world, something had to be done and WaPo-owner Jeff Bezos’ Amazon reviews appear to have been ‘tweaked’ – more than doubling Hillary’s top reviews.

But, as WND.com explains, Amazon’s steps to ‘fix’ Hillary’s book rviews has resulted in 5-star ratings with scathingly negative comments… If you can’t even win when the rules are changed in your favor, things must be REALLY bad. That’s how it looks for Hillary Clinton’s new 2016 campaign book, “Stronger Together,” co-authored with running mate Tim Kaine. WND reported just days ago when the book was being savaged on Amazon.com with negative reviews, with 81% one-star ratings and an average of only 1.7. Clinton supporters lashed out at “trolls” they said were criticizing the book only because they oppose the Democrat’s presidential candidacy. WND previously reported there were more than 1,200 reviews, and the number grew to than 2,000.

But Thursday afternoon, there were only 255, with many of the most critical reviews removed by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, which created an army of 20 reporters and researchers to investigate the life of Donald Trump. Victory for the Clinton book, however, remains out of grasp, with the negative, one-star responses, outnumbering positive, five-star responses nearly 2-1. The one-star ratings Thursday were 62%, to 35% for five-star ratings.

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“..the political landscape in Germany has become decidedly more toxic for the ECB over the past months.”

Cracks Showing In Germany’s Fragile Truce With The ECB (R.)

Michael Stuebgen, a conservative member of the German parliament, was speaking with the head of a local savings bank recently about the ECB’s QE program. “He told me the bond market was being emptied out,” Stuebgen recalled. “He likened it to going into a supermarket where everything has been bought up. You might find a shriveled old carrot or potato. Pretty soon you’re starving.” Stuebgen, a spokesman on European affairs for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in the Bundestag, credits the ECB and its President Mario Draghi with saving the euro zone from collapse four years ago. But conversations like the one with the banker have convinced him that its policies, in particular the massive bond-buying program known as QE, have gone too far. He is not alone.

[..] Instead of changing course, as Stuebgen and his colleagues want, the ECB is widely expected to announce an extension of its QE program by the end of the year. The program is due to expire in March. As early as next month, it could also announce steps to broaden the scope of what it can buy in response to a dwindling pool of available assets. The most controversial change would be abandoning the so-called “capital key”, which limits the proportion of government bonds the ECB can buy from any given member state, based on its size and economic weight. “The big challenge for Mario Draghi will be to prepare the Bundestag and German public for a further easing of monetary policy,” said Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute and a former senior official at the ECB.

That message is unlikely to go down well in Berlin. In addition to concerns about the distorting effects of QE on financial markets and the impact of low interest rates on German savers and insurers, the political landscape in Germany has become decidedly more toxic for the ECB over the past months.

Read more …

Better get rid of the EU before they acutally do this.

German Minister: Britain Won’t Stop EU Army (Pol.)

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defense minister, does not believe the U.K. will stand in the way of deepened defense cooperation between EU member countries, she told Reuters in an interview Sunday night. Von der Leyen said she was confident Britain would “make good its promise that it will not hinder important EU reforms.” Michael Fallon, Britain’s defense secretary, said earlier this month Britain will veto measures to build an EU army for as long as it remains a member of the bloc. Von der Leyen said she told Fallon the plans were not directed against Britain, but “designed for a strong Europe” instead.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said during a speech in London last week that a British veto was “counterproductive and anyway not possible in this case.” EU defense ministers will discuss common military proposals on Monday and Tuesday. Federica Mogherini, the European Commission’s foreign policy chief, said earlier this month that member countries could combine their defense capabilities via a so-far unused provision in the Lisbon Treaty.

Read more …

Feel safe?

50% Of Guns In America Owned By Just 3% Of Population (ZH)

A recent Harvard study of the demographics of gun ownership in the United States yielded a fairly shocking discovery, namely the emergence of the Obama gun “Super Owner.” The study, entitled “The Stock and Flow of US Firearms: Results from the 2015 National Firearms Survey”, was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and found that just 14% of all gun owners, or 7.6mm adults and 3% of the total U.S. population, possessed 50% of all guns owned by civilians in the country. Moreover, with a total stock of 270mm civilian-owned guns in the U.S., that implies that these “super owners” possess an average of nearly 18 guns per person.

“Gun owning respondents owned an average of 4.85 firearms (range: 1-140); the median gun owner reported owning approximately two guns. As can be seen in Figure 3, approximately half (48%) of gun owners report owning 1 or 2 guns, accounting for 14% of the total US gun stock, while those who own 10 or more guns (8% of all gun owners), own 39% of the gun stock. Put another way, one half of the gun stock (~130 million guns) is owned by approximately 86% of gun owners, while the other half is owned by 14% of gun owners (14% of gun owners equals 7.6 million adults, or 3% of the adult US population).”

Another startling discovery in the data, though “oddly” not highlighted in the report, is that the surge in gun ownership per capita seemed to coincide with the start of the Obama presidency and growing rhetoric over new gun regulations. Per the chart below, over the past 20 years, gun ownership per U.S. adult hovered around 1 from 1993 through 2007 but then surged starting in 2008 as an Obama presidency became increasingly likely. This trend is also reflected in annual guns sales which floated between 4-6mm units per year before surging in 2008.

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Tears. I still have tears left.

African Elephants ‘Suffer Worst Decline In 25 Years’ (AFP)

Africa’s elephant population has suffered its worst drop in 25 years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said Sunday, blaming the plummeting numbers on poaching. Based on 275 estimates from across the continent, a report by the conservation group put Africa’s total elephant population at around 415,000, a decline of around 111,000 over the past decade. It is the first time in 25 years that the group’s African Elephant Status Report has reported a continental decline in numbers, with the IUCN attributing the losses in large part to a sharp rise in poaching. “The surge in poaching for ivory that began approximately a decade ago – the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s – has been the main driver of the decline,” said IUCN in a statement.

Habitat loss is also increasingly threatening the species, the group said. IUCN chief Inger Andersen said the numbers showed “the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant”. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species,” she said. The IUCN report was released at the world’s biggest conference on the international wildlife trade, taking place in Johannesburg. Thousands of conservationists and government officials are seeking to thrash out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species. A booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Read more …

Sep 242016
 
 September 24, 2016  Posted by at 8:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 24 2016


DPC “Unloading fish at ‘T’ wharf, Boston, Mass.” 1903

 

Austerity Only Benefits Germany But Destroys Europe, Renzi Says (BBG)
€18 In ECB QE Generated Just €1 In GDP Growth (ZH)
IMF Calls For More Greek Pension Cuts, Greater Debt Relief (Kath.)
Plunging Velocity of Money Closes Fed Window (Roberts)
Russia’s Central Bank Criticizes The Easy Money Policies Of Its Peers (CNBC)
BIS, OECD Warn On Canadian Housing Bubble Debt, See No Exit (WS)
Oil Slumps 4% As No Output Deal Expected For OPEC (R.)
Kingdom Comedown: Falling Oil Prices Shock Saudi Middle Class (WSJ)
Health Warning! “Realism” Virus Afflicting Mainstream Economists (Steve Keen)
Obama Vetoes 9/11 Saudi Bill, Sets Up Showdown With Congress (R.)
EU Refuses To Revise Canada CETA Trade Deal (BBC)
NATO’s Expansion Parade Makes America Less Secure (Forbes)

 

 

Renzi should have made these statements years ago. Now they look like cynical ways to get votes.

Austerity Only Benefits Germany But Destroys Europe, Renzi Says (BBG)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had some fighting words for German leader Angela Merkel: Your obsession with austerity is strangling Europe and your country is the only one profiting. That view, held by others in the EU, rarely gets aired publicly quite so forcefully. Especially by Renzi, who until recently had deployed priceless ancient Roman art and Ferraris in some of Merkel’s recent visits to Italy. But Brexit, which exposed cracks in the European project, has made the EU more vulnerable to jabs. In New York for the United Nations General Assembly, while Merkel hung back at home to face an angry electorate, Renzi lashed out. “Stressing austerity means destroying Europe,” Renzi told an audience of policy experts at the Council on Foreign Relations.

”Which is the only country which receives an advantage from this strategy? The one which exports the most: Germany.” The 41-year-old premier has staked his political future on a referendum on constitutional reform that polls show he could narrowly lose. Confronted with an economy in trouble, he’s stepped up criticism of the EU’s rigid budget deficit limits and of the nations seen as wielding the most power in the 28-nation bloc: Germany and France. His appeal for more flexibility has grown more strident as pressure mounts for him to pick a date for when Italians will vote on cutting back the Senate with the aim of making governments more stable and simplifying the passage of legislation. The referendum is expected to take place by the end of the year, and Renzi has said he would quit if he loses.

Read more …

“..€80 billion have been wasted almost every month!..”

€18 In ECB QE Generated Just €1 In GDP Growth (ZH)

After almost two years of the quantitative easing program in the Euro Area, economic figures have remained very weak. As GEFIRA details, inflation is still fluctuating near zero, while GDP growth in the region has started to slow down instead of accelerating. According to the ECB data, to generate €1.0 of GDP growth, €18.5 had to be printed in the QE, which means that €80 billion have thus been wasted almost every month! This year, the ECB printed nearly €600 billion within the frame of asset purchase programme (QE). At the same time, GDP has increased by… €31 billion; even if up to the end of 2015 the ECB issued €650 billion during its QE program. Needless to say that the Greek debt is “only” €360 billion and there has been no chance of a relief, so far.

The question is where this money from the QE goes and who benefits from it. Clearly it is not the real sector, the so called Main Street of French, Italian or Portuguese cities (Greece is not under the QE program). European stocks are still weak, too, while stock exchanges in the USA are hitting their records. So, is the ECB serving Europeans?

Read more …

More pension cuts is an immoral demand.

IMF Calls For More Greek Pension Cuts, Greater Debt Relief (Kath.)

The International Monetary Fund called for Greece to cut pensions and taxes and for its lenders to provide significant debt relief in order for the country to make a convincing exit from the crisis. In its annual report on the Greek economy, following so-called Article Four consultations in Athens, the Fund described the country’s pension system as “unaffordable” despite recent reforms. It argued that the pension system’s deficit remains too high at 11%, compared to a 2.5% average in the eurozone, and that too much of a burden has been placed on Greeks currently in work, while existing pensioners have largely been protected. The Fund also said that Greece’s tax credit system was too generous, exempting around half of salary earners compared to a euro area average of 8%.

The IMF proposes a reduction in taxes and social security contributions, arguing that recent increases created incentives for undeclared work. “Greece needs less austerity, not more,” said IMF mission chief Delia Velculescu as she presented the report in a teleconference with journalists. The Fund, whose role in Greece’s third bailout program has yet to be clarified, also stressed the need for European lenders to deliver on their debt relief pledge as “growth prospects remain weak and subject to high downside risks.” “Even with full implementation of this demanding policy agenda, Greece requires substantial debt relief calibrated on credible fiscal and growth targets,” the report said.

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Plunging velocity is the most important deflation indicator.

Plunging Velocity of Money Closes Fed Window (Roberts)

The problem for the Federal Reserve remains the simple fact there is NO evidence that “Quantitative Easing” actually works as intended. The artificial suppression of interest rates was supposed to spur economic activity by encouraging lending activities through the banks. Such an outcome should have been witnessed by an increase in monetary velocity. As the velocity of money accelerates, demand rises and inflationary pressures increase. However, as you can clearly see, the demand for money has been on the decline since the turn of the century.

The surge in M2V during the 90’s was largely driven by the surge in household leverage as consumers turned to debt to fill the gap between falling wage growth and rising standards of living. The issue for the Fed is the decline in the “unemployment rate,” caused solely by the shrinking labor force, is obfuscating the difference between a “real” and “statistical” full employment level. While it is expected that millions of individuals will retire in the coming years ahead; the reality is that many of those “potential” retirees will continue to work throughout their retirement years. In turn, this will have an adverse effect by keeping the labor pool inflated and further suppressing future wage growth.

[..] It is quiet evident the financial markets, and by extension, the economy, have become tied to Central Bank interventions. As shown in the chart below, the correlations between Federal Reserve interventions and the markets is quite high. Of course, this was ALWAYS the intention of these monetary interventions. As Ben Bernanke suggested in 2010 as he launched the second round of Quantitative Easing, the goal of the program was to lift asset prices to spur consumer confidence thereby lifting economic growth. The problem was the lifting of asset prices acted as a massive wealth transfer from the middle class to the top-10% providing little catalyst for a broad-based economic recovery. Unwittingly, the Fed has now become co-dependent on the markets. If they move to tighten monetary policy, the market sells off impacting consumer confidence and pushes economic growth rates lower. With economic growth already running below 2%, there is very little leeway for the Fed to make a policy error at this juncture.

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The smartest kid on the block.

Russia’s Central Bank Criticizes The Easy Money Policies Of Its Peers (CNBC)

Russia’s economy is facing a different range of issues than those facing the U.S., Japan and the euro zone and so the central bank has to take a different approach, Russia’s central bank governor told CNBC, questioning whether other central banks still had the means to influence their economies. “Whether (other) central banks still have in their possession the types of tools to influence this situation (is the subject of a very broad discussion),” Russia Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina told CNBC in Moscow. “Whether they are already finding themselves on the brink of negative interest rates and some are already in negative interest rate territory. These are most certainly not trivial problems. But as far as the Russian economy is concerned, we find ourselves in a totally different situation,” she said.

Nabiullina was critical of the environment of easy monetary policy that other central banks have created in recent years with their quantitative easing (QE) programs. These were aimed at boosting liquidity, investment and economic growth but they have not necessarily translated into investment in the real economy. Rather, there has been increased liquidity in financial markets, prompting concerns of an equity and bond bubble that will burst when QE programs are eventually wound down and monetary policy “normalized.” Nabiullina warned that “because of the continued easing of monetary policy in many countries there is also the possibility that a higher level of financial market volatility will persist.”

Read more …

Tragedy waiting in the wings.

BIS, OECD Warn On Canadian Housing Bubble Debt, See No Exit (WS)

Everyone is fretting about the Canadian house price bubble and the mountain of debt it generates – from the IMF on down to the regular Canadian. Now even the Bank for International Settlement (BIS) and the OECD warn about the risks. Every city has its own housing market, and some aren’t so hot. But in Vancouver and Toronto, all heck has broken loose in recent years. In Vancouver, for example, even as sales volume plunged 45% in August from a year ago – under the impact of the new 15% transfer tax aimed at Chinese non-resident investors – the “benchmark” price of a detached house soared by 35.8%, of an apartment by 26.9%, and of an attached house by 31.1%. Ludicrous price increases!

In Toronto, a similar scenario has been playing out, but not quite as wildly. In both cities, the median detached house now sells for well over C$1 million. Even the Bank of Canada has warned about them, though it has lowered rates last year to inflate the housing market further – instead of raising rate sharply, which would wring some speculative heat out of the system. But no one wants to deflate a housing bubble. During the Financial Crisis, when real estate prices in the US collapsed and returned, if only briefly, to something reflecting the old normal, Canadian home prices barely dipped before re-soaring. And this has been going on for years and years and years.

The OECD in its Interim Economic Outlook warned: “Over recent years, real house prices have been growing at a similar or higher pace than prior to the crisis in a number of countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The rise in real estate prices has pushed up price-to-rent ratios to record highs in several advanced economies.” Canada stands out. Even on an inflation-adjusted basis, Canadian home prices have long ago shot through the roof. The OECD supplied this bone-chilling chart. The top line (orange) represents Canadian house price changes, adjusted for inflation.

[..] Real estate is highly leveraged. It’s funded with debt. Many folks cite down-payment requirements in rationalizing why the Canadian market cannot implode, and why, if it does implode, it won’t pose a problem for the banks. However, an entire industry has sprung up to help homebuyers get around the down-payment requirements. So household debt has been piling up for years, driven by mortgage debt. Statistics Canada reported two weeks ago that the ratio of household debt to disposable income has jumped to another record in the second quarter, to a breath-taking 167.6%:

Read more …

Even if there were a deal, global output would barely fall.

Oil Slumps 4% As No Output Deal Expected For OPEC (R.)

Oil prices tumbled 4% on Friday on signs Saudi Arabia and arch rival Iran were making little progress in achieving preliminary agreement ahead of talks by major crude exporters next week aimed at freezing production. Also weighing on sentiment was data showing the United States was on track to add the most number of oil rigs in a quarter since the crude price crash began two years ago. Lower equity prices on Wall Street and other world stock markets was another bearish factor. Brent crude futures settled down $1.76, or 3.7%, at $45.89 a barrel. For the week, it rose 0.3%, accounting for gains in the past two sessions. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.84, or 4%, to settle at $44.48. On the week, WTI gained 3%.

Crude futures slumped after sources said Saudi Arabia did not expect a decision in Algeria where the OPEC and other big oil producers were to convene for Sept 26-28 talks. “The Algeria meeting is not a decision making meeting. It is for consultations,” a source familiar with Saudi oil officials’ thinking told Reuters. Earlier in the day, the market rallied when Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia had offered to reduce production if Iran caps its own output this year. Oil prices are typically volatile before OPEC talks and Friday’s session was tempered with caution despite market sentiment on a high this week after the U.S. government reported on Wednesday a third straight weekly drop in crude stockpiles. “A ‘No Deal’ result in our definition will be one where OPEC not only failed to get an explicit deal out of the meetings, but also failed to develop a forward plan,” Macquarie Capital said, referring to the Algeria talks. “This would be another epic fail by OPEC.”

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People keep on suggesting that SA has a choice, without acknowledging that any output cut would promptly be filled by some other producer. Cutting output equals losing market share.

Kingdom Comedown: Falling Oil Prices Shock Saudi Middle Class (WSJ)

[..] a sharp drop in the price of oil, Saudi Arabia’s main revenue source, has forced the government to withdraw some benefits this year—raising the cost of living in the kingdom and hurting its middle class, a part of society long insulated from such problems. Saudi Arabia heads into next week’s meeting of major oil producers in a tight spot. With a slowing economy and shrinking foreign reserves, the kingdom is coming under pressure to take steps that support the price of oil, as it did this month with an accord it struck with Russia. The sharp price drop is mainly because of a glut in the market, in part caused by Saudi Arabia itself. The world’s top oil producer continues to pump crude at record levels to defend its market share.

One option to lift prices that could work, some analysts say, is to freeze output at a certain level and exempt Iran from such a deal, given that its push to increase production to pre-sanction levels appears to have stalled in recent months. Saudi Arabia has previously refused to sign any deal that exempts arch-rival Iran. As its people start feeling the pain, that could change. The kingdom is grappling with major job losses among its construction workers—many from poorer countries—as some previously state-backed construction companies suffer from drying up government funding. Those spending cuts are now hitting the Saudi working middle class.

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Funny. What I wonder about is, the criticism of mainstream economics is going mainstream, but the ‘solutions’ are not the same.

Health Warning! “Realism” Virus Afflicting Mainstream Economists (Steve Keen)

Some papers that are remarkably critical of mainstream economics have been published recently, not by the usual suspects like myself, but by prominent mainstream economists: ex-Minneapolis Fed Chairman Narayana Kocherlokata, ex-IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard, and current World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer. I discuss these papers in a tongue-in-cheek introduction to another key problems of unrealism in economics–the absence of any role for energy in both Post Keynesian and Neoclassical production functions. I also address Olivier Blanchard’s desire for a “widely accepted analytical macroeconomic core”, explain the role of credit in aggregate demand and income, and identify the countries most likely to face a credit crunch in the near future. I gave this talk to staff and students of the EPOG program at the University of Paris 13 on Friday September 23rd.

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He’s stuck. Allowing it would open up one Pandora’s Box, not allowing it opens yet another.

Obama Vetoes 9/11 Saudi Bill, Sets Up Showdown With Congress (R.)

President Barack Obama on Friday vetoed legislation allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, which could prompt Congress to overturn his decision with a rare veto override, the first of his presidency. Obama said the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act would hurt U.S. national security and harm important alliances, while shifting crucial terrorism-related issues from policy officials into the hands of the courts. The bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives in reaction to long-running suspicions, denied by Saudi Arabia, that hijackers of the four U.S. jetliners that attacked the United States in 2001 were backed by the Saudi government. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Obama said other countries could use the law, known as JASTA, as an excuse to sue U.S. diplomats, members of the military or companies – even for actions of foreign organizations that had received U.S. aid, equipment or training. “Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel,” Obama said in a statement. Senator Chuck Schumer, who co-wrote the legislation and has championed it, immediately made clear how difficult it will be for Obama to sustain the veto. Schumer issued a statement within moments of receiving the veto, promising that it would be “swiftly and soundly overturned.”

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Sure, why don’t you, against the will of your own people. Should work just fine.

EU Refuses To Revise Canada CETA Trade Deal (BBC)

The European Commission has ruled that a controversial EU-Canada free trade deal – CETA – cannot be renegotiated, despite much opposition in Europe. “CETA is done and we will not reopen it,” said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. Ms Malmstrom was speaking as EU trade ministers met in Slovakia to discuss CETA and a similar deal with the US, TTIP, which has also faced criticism. A draft CETA deal has been agreed, but parliaments could still delay it. Thousands of activists protested against CETA and TTIP in Germany on Saturday and thousands more in Brussels – outside the EU’s headquarters – on Tuesday. Activists fear that the deals could water down European standards in the key areas of workers’ rights, public health and the environment.

There is also great anxiety about proposed special courts where investors will be able to sue governments if they feel that legislation hurts their business unfairly. Critics say the mere existence of such courts – an alternative to national courts – will have a “chilling” effect on policymakers, leading to slacker regulation on the environment and welfare. Ms Malmstrom said CETA would dominate Friday’s meeting in Bratislava. The Commission hopes the deal can be signed with Canada at the end of October, so that it can then go to the European Parliament for ratification. But it will also need to be ratified by national parliaments across the EU. “What we are discussing with the Canadians is if we should make some clarifications, a declaration so that we can cover some of those concerns,” Ms Malmstrom said. She acknowledged fears in some countries that politicians might see their “the right to regulate” diluted. “Maybe that [right] needs to be even clearer in a declaration,” she said, admitting that the CETA negotiations were still “difficult”.

Read more …

Surprisingly lucid overview. Not everyone’s turned into a Putin basher yet.

NATO’s Expansion Parade Makes America Less Secure (Forbes)

The transatlantic alliance was created in 1949 to protect war-ravaged Western Europe from the Soviet Union, an opportunistic predator after its victory over Nazi Germany. The threat to America reflected both Moscow’s control over Eastern and Central Europe and the USSR’s role as an ideologically hostile peer competitor. The end of the Cold War changed everything. The Soviet subject nations were freed, a humanitarian bonanza. More important, the successor state of Russia went from hostile superpower to indifferent regional power. NATO lost its essential purpose, since the U.S. no longer needed to shield Western Europe from Moscow. Yet the alliance proved to be as resilient as other government bureaucracies. NATO officials desperately sought new reasons to exist.

Explained Vice President Al Gore: “Everyone realizes that a military alliance, when faced with a fundamental change in the threat for which it was founded, either must define a convincing new rationale or become decrepit.” The latter was viewed as inconceivable, not even worth considering. So the alliance expanded both its mission (to “out-of-area” activities) and membership (inducting former Warsaw Pact members). Washington’s military obligations multiplied even as the most important threat against it dissipated. Objections to this course were summarily rejected. Not a single Senator voted against admitting the three Baltic states. Then no one imagined that the U.S. might be expected to fight on their behalf. The alliance was seen as the international equivalent of a gentleman’s club, to which everyone who is someone belongs.

Those who pointed to possible conflicts with Moscow were dismissed as scaremongers. Expansion was expected to be all gain, no pain. Alas, Russia did not perceive moving the traditional anti-Moscow alliance up to its borders as a friendly act. Despite coming from the KGB, Vladimir Putin originally didn’t seem to bear the U.S. or West much animus. However, NATO compounded expansion with an unprovoked war against Serbia, a traditional Slavic ally of Moscow, and proposals to include Georgia and Ukraine, the latter which long had especially close historical, cultural, economic, and military ties with Russia. Over time Putin, as well as many of his countrymen, came to view the transatlantic alliance as a threat.

Read more …

Sep 192016
 
 September 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 19 2016


Jack Delano Chicago & North Western Railroad locomotive shops 1942

BIS Flashes Red Alert For a Banking Crisis in China (AEP)
BIS Warning Indicator for China Banking Stress Climbs to Record (BBG)
China Relies on Housing Bubble to Keep GDP Numbers Elevated (CNBC)
Chinese Yuan Borrowing Rate Hits Second Highest Level On Record (R.)
Oil Investors Flee as OPEC Freeze Hopes Face Supply Reality (BBG)
The Death Of The Bakken Field Has Begun (SRSrocco)
Canada To Impose Nationwide Carbon Price (R.)
1000s of VW Lawsuits To Be Filed By The End Of Monday, All in Print (BBG)
Many Car Brands Emit More Pollution Than Volkswagen (G.)
The Ongoing Collapse of Economics (Caswell)
WaPo 1st Paper to Call for Prosecution of its Own Source -After Pulitzer- (GG)
‘People’s Candidate’ Le Pen Vows To Free France From EU Yoke (AFP)
Merkel Suffers Drubbing In Berlin Vote Due To Migrant Angst (R.)
Why Won’t The World Tackle The Refugee Crisis? (Observer)

 

 

“..China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution”

BIS Flashes Red Alert For a Banking Crisis in China (AEP)

China has failed to curb excesses in its credit system and faces mounting risks of a full-blown banking crisis, according to early warning indicators released by the world’s top financial watchdog. A key gauge of credit vulnerability is now three times over the danger threshold and has continued to deteriorate, despite pledges by Chinese premier Li Keqiang to wean the economy off debt-driven growth before it is too late. The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution. It is also significantly higher than the scores in East Asia’s speculative boom on 1997 or in the US subprime bubble before the Lehman crisis.

Studies of earlier banking crises around the world over the last sixty years suggest that any score above ten requires careful monitoring. The credit to GDP gap measures deviations from normal patterns within any one country and therefore strips out cultural differences. It is based on work the US economist Hyman Minsky and has proved to be the best single gauge of banking risk, although the final denouement can often take longer than assumed. Indicators for what would happen to debt service costs if interest rates rose 250 basis points are also well over the safety line. China’s total credit reached 255pc of GDP at the end of last year, a jump of 107 percentage points over eight years. This is an extremely high level for a developing economy and is still rising fast.

Outstanding loans have reached $28 trillion, as much as the commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale is enough to threaten a worldwide shock if China ever loses control. Corporate debt alone has reached 171pc of GDP, and it is this that is keeping global regulators awake at night. The BIS said there are ample reasons to worry about the health of world’s financial system. Zero interest rates and bond purchases by central banks have left markets acutely sensitive to the slightest shift in monetary policy, or even a hint of a shift. “There has been a distinctly mixed feel to the recent rally – more stick than carrot, more push than pull,” said Claudio Borio, the BIS’s chief economist. “This explains the nagging question of whether market prices fully reflect the risks ahead.”

Read more …

really? “..the state’s control of the financial system and limited levels of overseas debt may mitigate against the risk of a banking crisis.”

BIS Warning Indicator for China Banking Stress Climbs to Record (BBG)

A warning indicator for banking stress rose to a record in China in the first quarter, underscoring risks to the nation and the world from a rapid build-up of Chinese corporate debt. China’s credit-to-GDP “gap” stood at 30.1%, the highest for the nation in data stretching back to 1995, according to the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements. Readings above 10% signal elevated risks of banking strains, according to the BIS, which released the latest data on Sunday. The gap is the difference between the credit-to-GDP ratio and its long-term trend. A blow-out in the number can signal that credit growth is excessive and a financial bust may be looming. Some analysts argue that China will need to recapitalise its banks in coming years because of bad loans that may be higher than the official numbers.

At the same time, the state’s control of the financial system and limited levels of overseas debt may mitigate against the risk of a banking crisis. In a financial stability report published in June, China’s central bank said lenders would be able to maintain relatively high capital levels even if hit by severe shocks. While the BIS says that credit-to-GDP gaps exceeded 10% in the three years preceding the majority of financial crises, China has remained above that threshold for most of the period since mid-2009, with no crisis so far. In the first quarter, China’s gap exceeded the levels of 41 other nations and the euro area. In the U.S., readings exceeded 10% in the lead up to the global financial crisis.

Read more …

“.. the importance of the property sector to China’s overall economic health, posed a challenge. It contributes up to one-third of GDP..”

China Relies on Housing Bubble to Keep GDP Numbers Elevated (CNBC)

Policymakers in China were facing the dilemma of driving growth while preventing the property market from overheating, an economist said Monday as prices in the world’s second largest economy jumped in August. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 9.2% in August from a year earlier, accelerating from a 7.9% increase in July, an official survey from the National Bureau of Statistics showed Monday. Home prices rose 1.5% from July. But according to Donna Kwok, senior China economist at UBS, the importance of the property sector to China’s overall economic health, posed a challenge. It contributes up to one-third of GDP as its effects filter through to related businesses such as heavy industries and raw materials.

“On the one hand, they need to temper the signs of froth that we are seeing in the higher-tier cities. On the other hand, they are still having to rely on the (market’s) contribution to headline GDP growth that property investment as the whole—which is still reliant on the lower-tier city recovery—generates…so that 6.5 to 7% annual growth target is still met for this year,” Kwok told CNBC’s “Street Signs.” The data showed prices in the first-tier cities of Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 31.2% and 23.5%, respectively. Home prices in the second tier cities of Xiamen and Hefei saw the larges price gains, rising 43.8 percent and 40.3 percent respectively, from a year ago.

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Liquidity.

Chinese Yuan Borrowing Rate Hits Second Highest Level On Record (R.)

Hong Kong’s overnight yuan borrowing rate was fixed at the highest level in eight months on Monday after the long holiday weekend. China’s financial markets were closed from Thursday for the Mid-Autumn Festival, and Hong Kong’s markets were shut on Friday. The CNH Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate benchmark (CNH Hibor), set by the city’s Treasury Markets Association (TMA), was fixed at 23.683% for overnight contracts, the highest level since Jan. 12. Traders said the elevated offshore yuan borrowing rates in the past week were due to tight liquidity in the market and rumors that China took action to raise the cost of shorting its currency.

“Normal lenders of the yuan, like Chinese banks, have refrained from injecting liquidity into the market recently due to speculation that the yuan will depreciate toward certain levels like 6.68, 6.7 per dollar,” said a trader in a local bank in Hong Kong. “(The yuan’s) inclusion into the SDR basket nears, so the central bank would like to maintain the offshore yuan near the stronger side,” said the trader, adding that seasonal reasons including national holidays and caution near the quarter-end also drains yuan liquidity from the market. The U.S. dollar traded near a two-week high against a basket of major currencies on Monday after U.S. consumer prices rose more than expected in August, bolstering expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

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Really, it’s about demand.

Oil Investors Flee as OPEC Freeze Hopes Face Supply Reality (BBG)

Oil speculators headed for the sidelines as OPEC members prepare to discuss freezing output in the face of signs the supply glut will linger. Money managers cut wagers on both falling and rising crude prices before talks between OPEC and other producers later this month. The meeting comes after the International Energy Agency said that the global oversupply will last longer than previously thought as demand growth slows and output proves resilient. “It’s a cliff trade right here,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capita, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “There’s more uncertainty than usual in the market because of the upcoming meeting. People are waiting for the outcome and a number think this is a good time to stand on the sidelines.”

OPEC plans to hold an informal meeting with competitor Russia in Algiers Sept. 27, fanning speculation the producers may agree on an output cap to shore up prices. Oil climbed 7.5% in August after OPEC announced talks in the Algerian capital. [..] World oil stockpiles will continue to accumulate into late 2017, a fourth consecutive year of oversupply, according to the IEA. Just last month, the agency predicted the market would start returning to equilibrium this year. OPEC production rose last month as Middle East producers opened the taps, the IEA said. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE pumped at or near record levels and Iraq pushed output higher, according to the agency. “OPEC is out of bullets,” said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group. “Even if they agree on a production freeze it will be at such a high level that it will be meaningless.”

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“..the energy companies producing shale oil in the Bakken are in the hole for $32 billion. ”

The Death Of The Bakken Field Has Begun (SRSrocco)

The Death of the Great Bakken Oil Field has begun and very few Americans understand the significance. Just a few years ago, the U.S. Energy Industry and Mainstream media were gloating that the United States was on its way to “Energy Independence.” Unfortunately for most Americans, they believed the hype and are now back to driving BIG SUV’s and trucks that get lousy fuel mileage. And why not? Americans now think the price of gasoline will continue to decline because the U.S. oil industry is able to produce its “supposed” massive shale oil reserves for a fraction of the cost, due to the new wonders of technological improvement. [..] they have no clue that the Great Bakken Oil Field is now down a stunning 25% from its peak just a little more than a year and half ago:

Some folks believe the reason for the decline in oil production at the Bakken was due to low oil prices. While this was part of the reason, the Bakken was going to peak and decline in 2016-2017 regardless of the price. This was forecasted by peak oil analyst Jean Laherrere. [..] I took Jean Laherrere’s chart and placed it next to the current actual Bakken oil field production:

As we can see in the chart above, the rise and fall of Bakken oil production is very close to what Jean Laherrere forecasted several years ago (shown by the red arrow). According to Laherrere’s chart, the Bakken will be producing a lot less oil by 2020 and very little by 2025. This would also be true for the Eagle Ford Field in Texas. According to the most recent EIA Drilling Productivity Report [8], the Eagle Ford Shale Oil Field in Texas will be producing an estimated 1,026,000 barrels of oil per day in September, down from a peak of 1,708,000 barrels per day in May 2015. Thus, Eagle Ford oil production is slated to be down a stunning 40% since its peak last year.

Do you folks see the writing on the wall here? The Bakken down 25% and the Eagle Ford down 40%. These are not subtle declines. This is much quicker than the U.S. Oil Industry or the Mainstream Media realize. And… it’s much worse than that. The U.S. Oil Industry Hasn’t Made a RED CENT Producing Shale. Rune Likvern of Fractional Flow has done a wonderful job providing data on the Bakken Shale Oil Field. Here is his excellent chart showing the cumulative FREE CASH FLOW from producing oil in the Bakken: [..] the BLACK BARS are estimates of the monthly Free Cash flow from producing oil in the Bakken since 2009, while the RED AREA is the cumulative negative free cash flow. [..] Furthermore, the red area shows that the approximate negative free cash flow (deducting CAPEX- capital expenditures) is $32 billion. So, with all the effort and high oil prices from 2011-2014 (first half of 2014), the energy companies producing shale oil in the Bakken are in the hole for $32 billion. Well done…. hat’s off to the new wonderful fracking technology.

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Lofty.

Canada To Impose Nationwide Carbon Price (R.)

Canada will impose a carbon price on provinces that do not adequately regulate emissions by themselves, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said on Sunday without giving details on how the Liberal government will do so. Speaking on the CTV broadcaster’s “Question Period,” a national politics talk show, McKenna said the new emissions regime will be in place sometime in October, before a federal-provincial meeting on the matter. She only said the government will have a “backstop” for provinces that do not comply, but did not address questions on penalties for defiance. Canada’s 10 provinces, which enjoy significant jurisdiction over the environment, have been wary of Ottawa’s intentions and have said they should be allowed to cut carbon emissions their own way.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau persuaded the provinces in March to accept a compromise deal that acknowledged the concept of putting a price on carbon emissions, but agreed the specific details, which would take into account provinces’ individual circumstances, could be worked out later. Canada’s four largest provinces, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, currently have either a tax on carbon or a cap-and-trade emissions-limiting system. But Brad Wall, the right-leaning premier of the western energy-producing province of Saskatchewan, has long been resistant to federal emissions-limiting plans. McKenna said provinces such as Saskatchewan can design a system in which emissions revenues go back to companies through tax cuts, which would dampen the impact of the extra cost brought by the carbon price.

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“Lower Saxony, home state to Volkswagen doesn’t offer electronic filing for civil litigation.”

1000s of VW Lawsuits To Be Filed By The End Of Monday, All in Print (BBG)

There was one thing Andreas Tilp and Klaus Nieding needed most for taking a wave of Volkswagen investor cases to court: a pickup truck. Nieding had a load of 5,000 suits sent Friday from his office in Frankfurt to Braunschweig, about 350 kilometers (218 miles) away. Tilp’s 1,000 or so complaints will arrive in a transport vehicle Monday, traveling more than 500 kilometers from his office in the southern German city of Kirchentellinsfurt. There was no other way to do it: Lower Saxony, home state to Volkswagen doesn’t offer electronic filing for civil litigation. The court in Braunschweig, the legal district that includes VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters, is expecting thousands of cases by the end of the day.

Investors are lining up to sue in Germany, where VW shares lost more than a third of their value in the first two trading days after the Sept. 18 disclosure of the emissions scandal by U.S. regulators. Monday is the first business day after the anniversary of the scandal and investors fear they have to sue within a year of the company’s admission that it had equipped about 11 million diesel vehicles with software to cheat pollution tests. The lawsuits disclosed so far are seeking 10.7 billion euros ($11.9 billion). The Braunschweig court has said it will release the total number this week. Volkswagen has consistently argued that it has followed all capital-markets rules and properly disclosed emissions issues in a timely fashion.

The super-sized filing is yet another example of the sheer scale of the scandal that’s haunted VW for a year. It forced the German carmaker into the biggest recall in its history to fix the cars or get them off the road entirely, the fines already levied are among the steepest against any manufacturer, and the carmaker has built up massive provisions to absorb the hit.

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What are the odds VW sponsored the report?

Many Car Brands Emit More Pollution Than Volkswagen (G.)

A year on from the “Dieselgate” scandal that engulfed Volkswagen, damning new research reveals that all major diesel car brands, including Fiat, Vauxhall and Suzuki, are selling models that emit far higher levels of pollution than the shamed German carmaker. The car industry has faced fierce scrutiny since the US government ordered Volkswagen to recall almost 500,000 cars in 2015 after discovering it had installed illegal software on its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. But a new in-depth study by campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) found not one brand complies with the latest “Euro 6” air pollution limits when driven on the road and that Volkswagen is far from being the worst offender.

“We’ve had this focus on Volkswagen as a ‘dirty carmaker’ but when you look at the emissions of other manufacturers you find there are no really clean carmakers,” says Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at T&E. “Volkswagen is not the carmaker producing the diesel cars with highest nitrogen oxides emissions and the failure to investigate other companies brings disgrace on the European regulatory system.” T&E analysed emissions test data from around 230 diesel car models to rank the worst performing car brands based on their emissions in real-world driving conditions. Fiat and Suzuki (which use Fiat engines) top the list with their newest diesels, designed to meet Euro 6 requirements, spewing out 15 times the NOx limit; while Renault-Nissan vehicle emissions were judged to be more than 14 times higher. General Motors’ brands Opel-Vauxhall also fared badly with emissions found to be 10 times higher than permitted levels.

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Exposed. But too late.

The Ongoing Collapse of Economics (Caswell)

If we accept the rapidly growing body of evidence and authority suggesting that many of the core concepts of conventional macroeconomics are bollox, and that economists don’t really know what they’re doing, then the important question becomes ‘What next?’ As conventional macroeconomic theory crumbles in the face of facts, what will replace it? One of the primary contenders is Modern Monetary Theory, which focuses on money itself (something which, believe it or not, conventional macroeconomic theory doesn’t do). Another possibility is that macroeconomics will learn from complexity and systems theory, and that its models (and, hopefully, their predictive ability) will become more like those used in meteorology and climate science.

Anti-economist Steve Keen is working in this direction, influenced by the Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH) of Hyman Minsky, whatever that is. But wherever macroeconomics is going, it’s clear that the old order is collapsing. The theoretical orthodoxy that has guided the highest level of economic management for many decades is crumbling. Either economics is an objective science or it’s not. And if economics is not an objective science, then we quickly need an economics that is. Countless livelihoods and lives will be deeply affected by the revolution we are witnessing in theoretical macroeconomics. It may be dry, it may be boring, it may be theoretical, and it may seem incomprehensible. But it’s hard to think of any discussion that’s more important.

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Not looking good.

WaPo 1st Paper to Call for Prosecution of its Own Source -After Pulitzer- (GG)

Three of the four media outlets which received and published large numbers of secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden – The Guardian, The New York Times and The Intercept – have called for the U.S. Government to allow the NSA whistleblower to return to the U.S. with no charges. That’s the normal course for a newspaper, which owes its sources duties of protection, and which – by virtue of accepting the source’s materials and then publishing them – implicitly declares the source’s information to be in the public interest. But not The Washington Post.

In the face of a growing ACLU-and-Amnesty-led campaign to secure a pardon for Snowden, timed to this weekend’s release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the Post Editorial Page not only argued today in opposition to a pardon, but explicitly demanded that Snowden – their paper’s own source – stand trial on espionage charges or, as a “second-best solution,” “accept [] a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency.” In doing so, The Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own paper’s source – one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. But even more staggering than this act of journalistic treachery against their paper’s own source are the claims made to justify it.

The Post Editors concede that one – and only one – of the programs which Snowden enabled to be revealed was justifiably exposed – namely, the domestic metadata program, because it “was a stretch, if not an outright violation, of federal surveillance law, and posed risks to privacy.” Regarding the “corrective legislation” that followed its exposure, the Post acknowledges: “we owe these necessary reforms to Mr. Snowden.” But that metadata program wasn’t revealed by the Post, but rather by the Guardian.

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Soon one of many.

‘People’s Candidate’ Le Pen Vows To Free France From EU Yoke (AFP)

French far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen on Sunday vowed to give her country back control over its laws, currency and borders if elected president next year on an anti-EU, anti-immigration platform. Addressing around 3,000 party faithful in the town of Frejus on the Cote d’Azur, Le Pen aimed to set the tone for her campaign, declaring in her speech: “The time of the nation state has come again.” The FN leader, who has pledged to hold a referendum on France’s future in the EU if elected and bring back the French franc, said she was closely watching developments in Britain since it voted to leave the bloc. “We too are keen on winning back our freedom…. We want a free France that is the master of its own laws and currency and the guardian of its borders.”

Polls consistently show Le Pen among the top two candidates in the two-stage presidential elections to take place in April and May. But while the polls show her easily winning a place in the run-off they also show the French rallying around her as-yet-unknown conservative opponent in order to block her victory in the final duel. In Frejus, Le Pen sought to sanitise her image, continuing a process of “de-demonisation” that has paid off handsomely at the ballot box since she took over the FN leadership from her ex-paratrooper father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2011. “I am the candidate of the people and I want to talk to you about France, because that is what unites us,” the 48-year-old politician said in a speech that avoided any reference to the FN which is seen as more taboo than its leader.

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What would happen if she decides not to run next year?

Merkel Suffers Drubbing In Berlin Vote Due To Migrant Angst (R.)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives suffered their second electoral blow in two weeks on Sunday, with support for her Christian Democrats (CDU) plunging to a post-reunification low in a Berlin state vote due to unease with her migrant policy. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) polled 11.5%, gaining from a popular backlash over Merkel’s decision a year ago to keep borders open for refugees, an exit poll by public broadcaster ARD showed. The result means the AfD will enter a 10th state assembly, out of 16 in total.

Merkel’s CDU polled 18%, down from 23.3% at the last election in 2011, with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) remaining the largest party on 23%. The SPD may now ditch the CDU from their coalition in the German capital. The blow to the CDU came two weeks after they suffered heavy losses in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The setbacks have raised questions about whether Merkel will stand for a fourth term next year, but her party has few good alternatives so she still looks like the most likely candidate.

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Perhaps there’s a contradiction hiding in realizing that globalization is moving in reverse, but still expecting global responses to crises.

Why Won’t The World Tackle The Refugee Crisis? (Observer)

It is now the greatest movement of the uprooted that the world has ever known. Some 65 million people have been displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of them refugees for whom flight is virtually compulsory – involuntary victims of politics, war or natural catastrophe. With just less than 1% of the world’s population homeless and seeking a better, safer life, a global crisis is under way, exacerbated by a lack of political cooperation – and several states, including the United Kingdom, are flouting international agreements designed to deal with the crisis. This week’s two major summits in New York, called by the United Nations general assembly and by President Barack Obama, are coming under intense criticism before the first world leaders have even taken their seats.

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and refugee charities are among those accusing both summits of being “toothless” and saying that the declaration expected to be ratified by the UN on Monday imposes no obligations on the 193 general assembly nations to resettle refugees. The Obama-led summit, meanwhile, which follows on Tuesday, is designed to extract pledges of funding which critics say too often fail to materialise. Steve Symonds, refugee programme director at Amnesty, said: “Funding is great and very much needed, but it’s not going to tackle the central point of some sharing of responsibility. The scale of imbalance there is growing, and growing with disastrous consequences.”

He said nations were sabotaging agreements through self-interest. “It’s very, very difficult to feel any optimism about this summit or what it will do for people looking for a safe place for them and their families right at this moment, nor tackle the awful actions of countries who are now thinking, ‘If other countries won’t help take responsibility, then why should we?’ and are now driving back desperate people. “Compelling refugees to go back to countries where there is conflict and instability doesn’t help this awful merry-go-round going on and on.”

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May 082016
 
 May 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 8 2016


DPC Peanut stand, New York 1900

Saudi Arabia’s Oil ‘Maestro’ Exits As Young Prince Flexes Muscles
Saudi Shake-Up Rolls On With Big Reshuffle Of Economic Posts (R.)
Canada Fire ‘Out Of Control,’ Doubles In Size (AFP)
70,000 Fort McMurray Foreign Workers May Have To Leave Canada (AFP)
China April Exports, Imports Decline More Than Expected (R.)
Britain Braced For A Ban On Second Homes (DM)
The TTIPing Point: German Protests Threaten Trade Deal (Spiegel)
Is For-Profit Care For The Elderly The Answer? (Economist)
On The Frontline Of Africa’s Wildlife Wars (G.)
German Vice Chancellor Urges Debt Relief For Greece (R.)
Greece Has ‘Basically Achieved’ Reform Goals, Says Juncker (AFP)
1,700 Years Ago, Mismanagement Of A Migrant Crisis Cost Rome Its Empire (Q.)

Panic in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia’s Oil ‘Maestro’ Exits As Young Prince Flexes Muscles

The end of Ali al-Naimi’s more than two-decade tenure as Saudi Arabia’s oil minister signals a new era for crude markets, analysts said on Saturday, and appeared to be a reaffirmation of Saudi policy to let oil set its own pricing. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree that replaced al-Naimi with Khalid al-Falih, chairman of Saudi Aramco, as part of a broad reshuffling of the cabinet. The move came as the world’s largest oil producer continues to grapple with the fallout from the global bear market in crude oil. Al Naimi was the most watched figure in the oil world, and was often described as a “maestro” of the market. His utterances on production levels could swing prices and drive the direction of oil for months. Last month, a high-stakes summit in Doha between OPEC and non-OPEC producers failed to produce an agreement to freeze output, in what was seen as the product of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The failure of Doha reinforced what many analysts have said for months: That the oil cartel was quickly losing its ability to set the agenda of world oil markets, and influence prices. Al-Naimi battled to manage the price of oil throughout his time as minister. In his absence, the Saudis may allow market forces to play a greater role in setting the cost of crude, according to observers. “What that means is you’ll have much more market volatility. You’ll have higher highs and lower lows if you don’t manage” crude prices, Pira Energy Group founder and executive chairman Gary Ross told CNBC on Saturday. Al-Naimi was a “stabilizing force,” and markets could react negatively to his absence, said Ross, who has known al-Naimi for more than 20 years. Although savvy observers say the aging al-Naimi was ready to vacate his post, the implications of the shake up are still far reaching. “The Saudi put is gone,” Ross added.

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Say what? “..encouraging Saudis to spend money at home by creating more entertainment opportunities.”

Saudi Shake-Up Rolls On With Big Reshuffle Of Economic Posts (R.)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Saturday replaced his veteran oil minister and restructured some big ministries in a major reshuffle apparently intended to support a wide-ranging economic reform programme unveiled last week. The most eye-catching move was the creation of a new Energy, Industry and Natural Resources Ministry under Khaled al-Falih, chairman of the state oil company Aramco. He replaces the 80-year-old oil minister Ali al-Naimi, in charge of energy policy at the world’s biggest oil exporter since 1995. But major changes were also made to the economic leadership, with Majed al-Qusaibi named head of the new Commerce and Investment Ministry, and Ahmed al-Kholifey made governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the central bank.

The changes, announced in a series of royal decrees, go far beyond Salman’s previous reshuffles since he became king in January last year, and also put the stamp of his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, author of the Vision 2030 reform programme, on the government. Prince Mohammed’s programme has been presented as a sweeping rethink of the entire way that Saudi Arabia’s government and economy will function to prepare for a future that is less dependent on oil income. Some of the most important elements of the plan, which will be fleshed out in coming weeks, involve creating a massive sovereign wealth fund, privatizing Aramco, cutting energy subsidies, expanding investment and streamlining government. The plan also seeks to boost revenues by increasing the number of foreign pilgrims outside the main annual Haj, and encouraging Saudis to spend money at home by creating more entertainment opportunities.

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The Alberta blaze is so big smoke from the fire is being detected in Florida.. It’s now threatening to cross the border into both Sasketchewan and the Northwest Territories too. It’ll take months to get it under control.

Canada Fire ‘Out Of Control,’ Doubles In Size (AFP)

A ferocious wildfire wreaking havoc in Canada doubled in size and officials warned that the situation in the parched Alberta oil sands region was “unpredictable and dangerous.” “This remains a big, out of control, dangerous fire,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said of the raging inferno bigger than London that forced the evacuation of the city of Fort McMurray. Winds were pushing the flames east of the epicenter around the oil city late Saturday, as nearly all 25,000 people who were still trapped to the north finally left town, either via airlift or convoys on the roads. The wildfire had doubled in size in one day, covering more than 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) by midnight and continuing to grow, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said in an update late Saturday. “Fire conditions remain extreme,” it said.

Low humidity, high temperatures nearing 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and gusty winds of 40 kilometers (25 miles) in forests and brush dried out from two months of drought are helping fan the flames. Still, in a glimmer of positive news, the authorities have recorded no fatalities directly linked to the blaze that began almost a week ago. Cooler, moist air with some chance of rainfall could help slow the fires in the coming days, Alberta Fire Service director Chad Morrison said. However, “we need heavy rain,” he cautioned. “Showers are not enough.” The only “good news,” he said, was that the wind was pushing the fires away from Fort McMurray and oil production sites to the northeast, presenting less threat to people although causing serious damage to the environment.

The government has declared a state of emergency in Alberta, a province the size of France that is home to one of the world’s most prodigious oil industries. In the latest harrowing chapter, police convoys shuttling cars south to safety through Fort McMurray resumed at dawn. Making their way through thick, black smoke, the cars were filled with people trapped to the north of the city, having sought refuge there earlier in the week. Police wearing face masks formed convoys of 25 cars, with kilometers (miles) of vehicles, smoke swirling around them, patiently awaiting their turn. Separate convoys of trucks carried essential equipment to support “critical industrial services,” according to the Alberta government. With elevated risk that something could go wrong, the convoys along Highway 63 were reduced in size compared to the previous day.

Those being evacuated – for a second time, after first abandoning their homes – had fled to an area north of the city where oil companies have lodging camps for workers. But officials concluded they were no longer safe there because of shifting winds that raised the risk of them becoming trapped, and needed to move south to other evacuee staging grounds and eventually to Edmonton, 400 kilometers away. Some 2,400 vehicles made it to safety on Friday. But concerns are growing about the effect on the oil industry, the region’s economic mainstay, as the fires come dangerously close to extraction sites. Syncrude, one of several oil companies in the region, announced that it had shut down its facility 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Fort McMurray due to smoke, followed by Suncor, after the local authorities ordered them to evacuate personnel. The military dispatched C130 aircraft to help evacuate 4,800 Syncrude employees.

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Hard to see how the tar sands industry could ever be rebuilt.

70,000 Fort McMurray Foreign Workers May Have To Leave Canada (AFP)

Jonathan Infante fled for his life from wildfires ravaging Canada’s remote Athabasca oil-producing region, and now he and other migrant workers face the grim prospect of having to altogether leave Canada. Their residency here is tied to their employment and if that is now gone – literally up in smoke – they could be forced to leave this country. The wildfires in northern Alberta have forced the evacuation of 100,000 people. Among the evacuees were almost two dozen distraught migrant workers who arrived late Friday at a government shelter in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital. Marco Luciano of the migrant advocacy group Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights in Canada, who was on hand to greet them, said many showed up in their work uniforms.

“They had been evacuated from work and did not have time to stop at home to pick up any of their clothes or belongings,” Luciano told AFP. “They’re not sure what’s coming… Because they no longer have work, their (residency) status has become precarious.” “Many are bracing for the worst,” he said. Infante’s wages support a wife and two children back in the Philippines. The Wendy’s fast food restaurant in Fort McMurray where he worked is believed to have survived the wildfires, so far. “Our employer told us to wait and see,” Infante said outside an evacuation center in Lac La Biche, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of Fort McMurray. According to Luciano’s group, there are about 70,000 temporary foreign workers accredited in Alberta. There’s no breakdown available of how many were displaced by the fires.

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“April imports dropped 10.9% from a year earlier, falling for the 18th consecutive month. ”

China April Exports, Imports Decline More Than Expected (R.)

China’s exports fell more than expected in April, reversing the previous month’s brief recovery, as weak global demand weighed on trade out of the world’s second-largest economy. Exports fell 1.8% from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said on Sunday, supporting the government’s concerns that the foreign trade environment will be challenging in 2016. April imports dropped 10.9% from a year earlier, falling for the 18th consecutive month. The continued decline in imports suggests domestic demand remains weak, despite a pickup in infrastructure spending and record credit growth in the first quarter. China had a trade surplus of $45.56 billion in April, versus forecasts of $40 billion. [..]

An official factory survey and Caixin’s private-sector gauge for April painted a mixed picture of the health of the manufacturing sector. The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) showed factory activity expanded for the second month in a row in April but only marginally, while Caixin’s manufacturing PMI pointed to 14 straight months of sector contraction. Concerns of a hard-landing in China had eased after the strong March economic data, but analysts have warned that the rebound may be short-lived. Economists expect a slowdown in credit growth and industrial production in April although inflation could accelerate. Key economic data is expected over the next two weeks. [..] Amid shrinking global demand, China still managed to grow its share of world exports to 13.8% last year from 12.3% in 2014, indicating the country’s export sector remains competitive despite higher costs.

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“..I worry that it is discriminatory..” Well, what is more discriminatory? A person not being able to buy a second home, or a person not having access to any home?

Britain Braced For A Ban On Second Homes (DM)

Councils across the UK are set to consider banning people who already own homes from buying holiday cottages after a historic vote yesterday. More than 80% of voters in St Ives, Cornwall, backed proposals that will mean new housing developments will only get planning permission if homes there are reserved for full-time residents. And now councils in the Lake District, Derbyshire Dales, north Devon and the Isle of Wight are all looking at schemes to prevent outsiders buying holiday homes. But ministers are poised to oppose the ban, saying it could be regarded as unfair and discriminatory. Tory MP Mark Garnier told The Times: ‘The only home I own is in St Ives but I live in rented properties elsewhere. Would it be considered as a second home? ‘I worry that it is discriminatory – that one person can buy a home but another can’t.’

The mayor of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, Michael Kiff, admitted that he would be watching what happened in St Ives with interest, and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said that a vote to ban second homes would be ‘entirely justified’ in his North Norfolk constituency, which has a high percentage of holiday homes. The St Ives vote comes after figures revealed that 48% of homes in the town centre were second homes or holiday lets. Planning minister Brandon Lewis will meet the St Ives’ MP Derek Thomas on Monday to urgently discuss the ban – which is subject to a legal challenge by a firm of architects from Penzance. The town has been dubbed Kensington-on-Sea because of the number of rich holidaymakers who own houses there, and concerns were raised that local people in the town were struggling to stay in the area thanks to increasingly expensive house prices, and rents that spiral during the summer months.

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You’d almost hope they try to push it through regardless. Germany badly needs a wake-up call that is not right-wing and racist.

The TTIPing Point: German Protests Threaten Trade Deal (Spiegel)

As the battle over TTIP was lost, Angela Merkel feigned resolution yet one more time. “We consider a swift conclusion to this ambitious deal to be very important,” her spokesperson said on her behalf on Monday. And this is the government’s unanimous opinion. But the German population has a very different one. More than two-thirds of Germans reject the planned trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. And even in circles within Merkel’s cabinet, the belief that TTIP will ever become a reality in its currently planned form is disappearing. That’s because on Monday morning, Greenpeace published classified documents from the closed-door negotiations. Even if the papers only convey the current state of negotiations and do not document the end results, they still confirm the worst suspicions of critics of TTIP.

The 248 pages show that bargaining is taking place behind the scenes, even in areas which the EU and the German government have constantly maintained were sacrosanct. These include standards on the environment and consumer protection; the precautionary principle, a stricter EU policy that sets high hurdles for potentially dangerous products; the legislative self-determination of the countries involved, etc. Even the pledge made on the European side that there would be no arbitration courts has turned out to be wishful thinking. So far, the Americans have insisted on the old style of arbitration court. The result is that Merkel’s grandly staged meeting with US President Barack Obama in Hanover eight days earlier had been nothing more than a show – one aimed at hiding the fact that the two sides are anything but united in their positions.

The leaks have resulted in a failed attempt to bypass 800 million European citizens as they negotiate the world’s largest bilateral free trade agreement. From the very beginning, the government underestimated the level of resistance these incursions on virtually all aspects of life would unleash among the people. What began as a diffuse discomfort over opaque backroom dealings grew into a true public initiative, especially in Germany. It was fueled by an international alliance of non-government organizations that has acted in a more professional and networked way than anything that has come before.

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We need discussions on this. Big ones. On pensions and on health care. But we’re not having them. Not everything can be optimized for profit. What happens when the profit is gone, what happens when the economy crashes? We’re going to dump our elderly?

Is For-Profit Care For The Elderly The Answer? (Economist)

The forecasts are clear: by 2050 the number of people aged over 80 will have doubled in OECD countries, and their share of the population will rise from 3.9% to 9.1%. Around half will probably need help with daily tasks—particularly those with enduring chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and osteoporosis. Health systems designed only to offer hospital care for acute cases will struggle to provide such support. To maintain the well-being of wrinkly populations, hospital stays can be replaced by residencies in purpose-built facilities at less cost. A forthcoming report covering 20 countries from KPMG, a consultancy, suggests the number of care-home residents could grow by 68% over the next 15 years. How care is managed in any one country reflects a tussle between cultural attitudes, national budgets and gritty demographic realities.

The increasing availability of technology that would allow the elderly to stay in their homes for longer will also affect demand for such options. Residential care in America and Japan is flourishing. But in an era of tight public finances, some governments are trimming the payments they offer to cover, or subsidise, care-home places. Some operators now struggle to make money; in western Europe, for example, governments are encouraging the elderly to stay in their own houses for longer. This is why the length of stays in care homes has declined from an average of three to four years a decade ago to 12 to 18 months today, says Max Hotopf, the boss of Healthcare Business International, a publishing company. Thousands of residential beds in the Netherlands and Sweden have disappeared as a result. About 5,000 debt-laden British care homes—a quarter of the total—may close within three years.

This makes emerging markets a more attractive prospect, at least for European care firms. Senior Assist, a Belgian company which manages residential facilities and home help, is now expanding in Chile and Uruguay. But China is the big prize. The Chinese will rely heavily on residential care, thanks to the country’s one-child policy and increasing urbanisation: two parents and four grandparents often depend on one child far away. Families in other developing countries are more hesitant about handing Granny over to strangers, however. In Brazil, India and richer countries of the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, elderly care remains centred around hospitals. In Brazil taking the old from their neighbourhoods is frowned upon. In India and the Middle East, families are expected to look after their elderly when they are not in hospital.

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Let’s make our armies do something useful.

On The Frontline Of Africa’s Wildlife Wars (G.)

Brigadier Venant Mumbere Muvesevese, a 35-year-old father of four, became the 150th ranger in the last 10 years to be killed protecting lowland gorillas, elephants and other wildlife in Virunga national park last month. He and his young Congolese colleague, Fidèle Mulonga Mulegalega, were surrounded by local militia, captured and then summarily executed. For Emmanuel de Mérode, the Belgian head of Virunga, himself shot and wounded by militia in 2014, the two killings in Africa’s oldest park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were yet another atrocity in the brutal wildlife wars raging through southern Sudan, the Central African Republic, Congo and parts of Uganda, Chad and Tanzania. “These two rangers were killed in situations that may amount to war crimes in any other conflict,” he said. “We cannot sustain these kind of losses in what is still the most dangerous conservation job in the world.”

Virunga has lost five rangers so far this year. Speaking to the Observer from the park’s fortified HQ in Goma, De Mérode said security had got worse in recent months. “We lost people in January, too. We have a state of armed conflict, a low-intensity war being fought over the exploitation of natural resources in the park,” he said. “For the rangers it is not impossible to work, but it is now very dangerous. We are training 100 new rangers now and there will be 120 more next year. We are still very committed and optimistic.” The battle for central Africa’s wildlife has exploded as heavily armed militia target elephants and rhino and gun down anyone trying to protect them. Three rangers were killed and two wounded in a shootout in the vast Garamba national park in DRC last week; others were killed in Kahuzi-Biéga park near the city of Bukavu in March; in northern Tanzania, poachers killed British helicopter pilot Roger Gower in January.

The five rangers shot in Garamba were working for African Parks, a Johannesburg-based nonprofit conservation group that sends South African and other military officials to train rangers in the 10 wildlife parks it manages on behalf of governments. According to Peter Fearnhead, African Parks director, Garamba is now the heart of the illegal African wildlife trade. Its 300-odd armed guards combat helicopters and drones and find poachers from as far afield as the Central African Republic, Uganda, Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. “We have lost probably 30 people in Garamba alone in seven years. Hundreds of elephants are killed every year. This is the last stronghold of elephant and giraffe in Congo, but probably the toughest park in Africa. Every elephant poached can turn into a firefight,” said Fearnhead. “Life for a wildlife ranger is now very dangerous in some countries, probably more risky than being in a national army.”

[..] “Last week we buried three people but morale is as strong as ever. When [the rangers] were told that their colleagues had been shot, they all wanted to respond. The poachers use automatic weapons, even grenades. Being a ranger is not about chasing people through the bush and arresting them. It’s war. The rangers put their lives on the line every day, and are under real siege in Garamba. We are not militia but it requires a militaristic response to defend wildlife. [Groups of militia] are now bidding for contracts to get tons of ivory. It’s big business with groups of armed people crossing multiple borders. These people have phenomenal bush skills, with AK-47s. They shoot for the head. They are a total law unto themselves.”

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Stop talking and do it already.

German Vice Chancellor Urges Debt Relief For Greece (R.)

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged euro zone finance ministers to start talks on debt relief for Greece, saying it made no sense to crush the green shoots of economic recovery with further austerity measures. The finance ministers of the euro zone’s 19 countries are due to meet in Brussels on May 9 to discuss Greece’s debt and a new set of contingency measures that Athens should adopt to ensure it will achieve agreed fiscal targets in 2018. “The euro group meeting on Monday must find a way to break the vicious circle,” Gabriel, who is also Economy Minister, said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Saturday. “Everyone knows that this debt relief will have to come at some point. It makes no sense to shirk from that time and time again,” he added.

The IMF wants Greece’s European partners to grant Athens substantial relief on its debt, which it sees as vital for its long term sustainability. But Germany’s hardline Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble opposes any debt relief, arguing it is not necessary. Thrice-bailed-out Greece needs to secure an overdue aid payment of €5 billion to repay IMF loans, bonds held by the ECB maturing in July, and growing state arrears. “It doesn’t help the people and the country to have to fight every 12 months to get new credit to pay off old loans,” Gabriel said. “Greece needs debt relief.” Gabriel spoke out against further austerity measures and said Athens had managed to achieve better economic growth than expected. “It makes no sense to destroy these tender shoots once again with new austerity measures,” he added.

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“Tsakalotos warned of the price of a “failed state” if the crucial talks on Monday run aground.”

Greece Has ‘Basically Achieved’ Reform Goals, Says Juncker (AFP)

Greece has “basically achieved” the objectives of the reforms required by its creditors and its eurozone partners will begin discussing possible debt relief for the country, according to European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker. “We are now at the time of the first review of the programme (to aid Greece) and the objectives have been basically achieved,” Juncker said in an interview to be published on Sunday in Funke Mediengruppe newspapers in Germany. Greece’s creditors carried out the review intended to evaluate progress on reforms by the Athens government as it hopes to unlock the next tranche of its €86bn bailout agreed in July. The Eurogroup, comprised of the 19 finance ministers of the euro area countries, is set to meet on Monday in Brussels and take up this review of Greek reforms.

They will also “start the first discussions about how to make Greece’s debt sustainable in the long term”, Juncker told the German papers. Approval of the reforms is needed before any consideration of Greek debt relief, but despite months of talks, Greece’s reforms have yet to win the backing of all its creditors largely due to differences between the EU and the IMF, which has demanded more reforms. Juncker’s comments come as Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos Saturday called on his eurozone partners to back Greece’s reform package of cuts worth €5.4 billion, and to put aside the creditors’ call for €3.6 billion of additional measures. “Any package in excess of €5.4 billion is bound to be seen by both Greek citiziens and economic agents, within and beyond Greece, as socially and economically counter-productive,” he wrote in a letter to the Eurogroup. Tsakalotos warned of the price of a “failed state” if the crucial talks on Monday run aground.

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History rhymes.

1,700 Years Ago, Mismanagement Of A Migrant Crisis Cost Rome Its Empire (Q.)

On Aug. 3, 378, a battle was fought in Adrianople, in what was then Thrace and is now the province of Edirne, in Turkey. It was a battle that Saint Ambrose referred to as “the end of all humanity, the end of the world.” The Eastern Roman emperor Flavius Julius Valens Augustus—simply known as Valens, and nicknamed Ultimus Romanorum, (the last true Roman)—led his troops against the Goths, a Germanic people that Romans considered “barbarians,” commanded by Fritigern. Valens, who had not waited for the military help of his nephew, Western Roman emperor Gratian, got into the battle with 40,000 soldiers. Fritigern could count on 100,000. It was a massacre: 30,000 Roman soldiers died and the empire was defeated. It was the first of many to come, and it’s considered as the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476.

At the time of the battle, Rome ruled a territory of nearly 600 million hectares, with a population of over 55 million. The defeat of Adrianople didn’t happen because of Valens’s stubborn thirst for power or because he grossly underestimated his adversary’s belligerence. What was arguably the most important defeat in the history of the Roman empire had roots in something else: a refugee crisis. Two years earlier the Goths descended toward Roman territory looking for shelter. The mismanagement of Goth refugees started a chain of events that led to the collapse of one of the biggest political and military powers humankind has ever known. It’s a story shockingly similar to what’s happening in Europe right now—and a it should serve as a cautionary tale.

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May 062016
 
 May 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


NPC Sidney Lust Leader Theater, Washington, DC 1920

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)
Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)
China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)
China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)
Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)
Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)
UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)
The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)
Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)
US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)
Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)
Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)
Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)
Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)
Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

The last steps up for the yen?

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)

Global stocks dropped, set for the biggest weekly loss since February, and the yen rose before key American jobs data that will help shape the U.S. interest-rate outlook. Australia’s currency slumped and its bonds surged after the nation’s central bank lowered its inflation forecast. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index both lost ground, as did S&P 500 futures. Shanghai shares tumbled the most since February as raw-materials prices sank in China. The yen rose against all 16 major peers. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index gained for a fourth day, buoyed by comments from Federal Reserve officials that a June rate hike is possible. U.S. crude oil sank below $44 a barrel and industrial metals were poised for their biggest weekly loss since 2013. Australia’s three-year bond yield fell to a record.

A retreat in global equities gathered pace in the first week of May as data highlighted the fragile state of the world economy. The Reserve Bank of Australia joined the European Union in trimming inflation projections this week, after the Bank of Japan on April 28 pushed back the target date for meeting its 2% goal for consumer-price gains. Economists predict U.S. non-farm payrolls rose by 200,000 last month, a Bloomberg survey showed before Friday’s report. “With the U.S. jobs report coming up, investors are holding back,” said Masahiro Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui in Tokyo. “They’re watching the yen very closely.” Four regional Fed presidents said Thursday they were open to considering an interest-rate increase in June, something that’s been almost ruled out by derivatives traders. Fed Funds futures put the odds of a hike next month at around 10%, down from 20% a month ago.

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Losses in shadow banks are consistently underestimated.

Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)

Chinese banks’ bad loans are at least nine times bigger than official numbers indicate, an “epidemic” that points to potential losses of more than $1 trillion, according to an assessment by brokerage CLSA Ltd. Nonperforming loans stood at 15% to 19% of outstanding credit last year, Francis Cheung, the firm’s head of China and Hong Kong strategy, said in Hong Kong on Friday. That compares with the official 1.67%. Potential losses could range from 6.9 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) to 9.1 trillion yuan, according to a report by the brokerage. The estimates are based on public data on listed companies’ debt-servicing abilities and make assumptions about potential recovery rates for bad loans. Cheung’s assessment adds to warnings from hedge-fund manager Kyle Bass, Autonomous Research analyst Charlene Chu and the IMF on China’s likely levels of troubled credit.

The IMF said last month that the nation may have $1.3 trillion of risky loans, with potential losses equivalent to 7% of GDP. CLSA estimates bad credit in shadow banking – a category including banks’ off-balance-sheet lending such as entrusted loans and trust loans – could amount to 4.6 trillion yuan and yield a loss of 2.8 trillion yuan. CLSA cites a diminishing economic return on stimulus pumped into the economy as among the reasons for a worsening outlook, with Cheung saying at a briefing that bad loans had the potential to rise to 20% to 25%. “China’s banking system has reached a point where it needs a comprehensive solution for the bad-debt problem, but there is no plan yet,” he said in the report.

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Beijing can’t regulate shadow banking, since it let it grow far too big, but it can try to pick favorites. It’s relevant to ask who has the power in China these days. Local governments are neck deep in shadow loans, and Xi can’t afford, politically, to let them go bust. But can he afford to support them, financially?

China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)

In the pursuit of order in its financial markets, China’s banking regulator has tended to be one step behind in keeping up with a decade-long dalliance between commercial banks and the country’s non-bank lenders, called the shadow banking sector. Its latest directive suggests the government might finally be trying to get ahead. Bankers and analysts say the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a notice to commercial lenders last week, taking aim at a shadow-banking product that has allowed banks to hide loans, including bad ones, from their books. The watchdog has tried cracking down on similar arrangements in the past. But this time, it appears to have taken a more nuanced approach in order to more effectively get at banks that originate the loans underlying these products.

In its crosshairs is a relatively obscure instrument called credit beneficiary rights, a product that is derived from shadow-banking deals and can then be sold between banks. The CBRC’s new directive in part takes aim at this practice by calling for banks to stop investing in credit beneficiary rights using funds raised from their own wealth management products. In China, shadow banks’ dexterity and relentlessness at product innovation have regularly pushed them right to the edge of what their regulators can tolerate. The CBRC directive, known as Notice No. 82, is the latest in a cat-and-mouse game that banks have played with regulators for years. Beneficiary rights are themselves an innovation to circumvent a CBRC clampdown in 2013 and 2014 on banks directly buying trust products in a similar arrangement to disguise loans, and then developing a lively interbank market for these rights transfers.

There have been regulatory interventions on variations of the practice every year since 2009. The commission hasn’t publicly released the directive. Analysts say the regulator is likely now huddled with banks to gauge how hard they will push back and how thoroughly the regulator can implement the requirements. Beneficiary rights confer on the buyer the right to a stream of income without ceding actual ownership of the underlying asset. That asset is often a corporate loan, which may or may not have already soured, though it could also be anything that generates an income stream, such as a trust, a wealth management product or a margin financing deal.

When one bank sells credit beneficiary rights to another, the transaction allows the first bank to use the accounting change to turn the underlying loan on its books into an “investment receivable.” The rules require banks to set aside about 25% of the receivable’s value in capital provisions, compared with 100% had it been a loan. The deals get more complex as layers are added to further disguise the loan. Banks will have third-party shadow financiers extend the actual loan to the company, in exchange for the bank’s purchase of beneficiary rights to the loan’s income stream.

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And where would you think steel prices are going?

China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)

China, maker of half the world’s steel, probably boosted production to a record in April as mills fired up furnaces and domestic prices surged to 19-month highs, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. Average daily output may have eclipsed the previous high of about 2.31 million metric tons in June 2014, said Paul Gait, a senior analyst in London. Producers ramped up supply as demand rebounded and prices jumped as much as 69% from their November low, generating the best margins since 2009.

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1970 is a reasonable guess for peak of prosperity. It’s not the only one, but it’s right up there.

Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)

The majority of American households feel poorer because they are poorer. Real (i.e. adjusted for inflation) median household income has declined for decades, and income gains are concentrated in the top 5%:

Even more devastating, wages’ share of GDP has been declining (with brief interruptions during asset bubbles) for 46 years. That means that as GDP has expanded, the gains have flowed to corporate and owners’ profits and to the state, which is delighted to collect higher taxes at every level of government, from property taxes to income taxes.

Here’s a look at GDP per capita (per person) and median household income. Typically, if GDP per capita is rising, some of that flows to household incomes. In the 1990s boom, both GDP per capita and household income rose together. Since then, GDP per capita has marched higher while household income has declined. Household income saw a slight rise in the housing bubble, but has since collapsed in the “recovery” since 2009.

These are non-trivial trends. What these charts show is the share of the GDP going to wages/salaries is in a long-term decline: gains in GDP are flowing not to wage-earners but to shareholders and owners, and through their higher taxes, to the government. The top 5% of wage earners has garnered virtually all the gains in income. The sums are non-trivial as well. America’s GDP in 2015 was about $18 trillion. Wages’ share -about 42.5%- is $7.65 trillion. If wage’s share was 50%, as it was in the early 1970s, its share would be $9 trillion. That’s $1.35 trillion more that would be flowing to wage earners. That works out to $13,500 per household for 100 million households.

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When you start with statements like this, what’s left to talk about? “The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability..”

Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)

Over the past century central banks have become the guardians of our economic and financial security. The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability, often in the face of political opposition. But central bankers can also lose the plot, usually by following the economic dogma of the day. When they do, their mistakes can be catastrophic. In the 1920s the German Reichsbank thought it a clever idea to have 2,000 printing presses running day and night to finance government spending. Hyperinflation was the result. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve stood by as more than a third of US bank deposits were destroyed, in the belief that banking crises were self-correcting. The Great Depression followed. Today the behaviour of the ECB suggests that it too has gone awry.

When reducing interest rates to historically low levels did not stimulate growth and inflation, the ECB embarked on a massive programme of purchasing eurozone sovereign debt. But the sellers did not spend or invest the proceeds. Instead, they placed the money on deposit. So the ECB went to the logical extreme: it imposed negative interest rates. Currently almost half of eurozone sovereign debt is trading with a negative yield. If this fails to stimulate growth and inflation, “helicopter money” will be next on the agenda. Future students of monetary policy will shake their heads in disbelief. What is more, as purchaser-of-last-resort of sovereign debt, the ECB is underwriting the solvency of its over-indebted members. Countries no longer fear that failure to reform their economies or reduce debt will raise the cost of borrowing.

Six years after the onset of the European debt crisis, total indebtedness in the eurozone keeps on rising. Badly needed reforms have been abandoned. As a result the eurozone is as fragile as ever. Safe keepers of our wealth, such as insurance companies, pension funds and savings banks barely earn a positive spread. Inflation is just above zero, well below the ECB’s defined target. And with growth anaemic, debt levels in some countries, such as Italy, are not sustainable. Worse still, the ECB is failing in its other mandated duty – to promote stability. Popular opposition to low and negative interest rates, when combined with continuing high unemployment, is fomenting anger with the European project. Even if current policy eventually results in an overdue recovery, political pressure is unlikely to abate.

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It’s like one of those oracle-type questions: ‘how can something be on its knees that doesn’t exist’?

UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)

The latest survey of the UK’s dominant services sector has today rounded off a dismal hat-trick of disappointment for the British economy. The Markit/CIPs PMI Index for April came in at 52.3. That’s above the 50 point that separates contraction from growth. But it’s also the weakest reading since February 2013, when the economy’s recovery was just starting. And it follows two pretty desperate readings this week from the equivalent PMIs for the manufacturing and construction sectors, which both showed the feeblest levels of activity in around three years. Put all these three readings together and one gets the “composite” PMI which can be used to roughly approximate to GDP growth in the overall economy. And combine these two metrics in the chart below (from Pantheon Macroeconomics) and you get this grim picture:

The blue line (left hand scale) shows the level of the composite PMI. The black line (right hand scale) shows the % quarterly rate of GDP growth. They track reasonably well over time. And the decline in the composite reading suggests GDP growth, which weakened to 0.4% in the first quarter of 2016, could be heading down to zero in the second quarter. What’s going on? Samuel Tombs of Pantheon says business and consumer jitters emanating from uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit referendum has “brought the recovery to its knees”. More economists are now seriously talking of the possibile need for macroeconomic stimulus to get the recovery back on track. “The deterioration in April pushes the surveys into territory which has in the past seen the Bank of England start to worry about the need to revive growth either by cutting interest rates or through non-standard measures such as QE” said Chris Williamson of Markit.

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Lewis paints King a tad too much like a cross between Einstein and Mother Theresa, if you ask me. He presided over a period when debt was already rising like there’s no tomorrow.

The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)

One of my favorite memories of my brief life on Wall Street in the late 1980s is of Mervyn King’s visit. A year after Professor King – as I still think of him – had been my tutor at the London School of Economics, he was tapped to advise some new British financial regulator. As he had no direct experience of financial markets, either he or they thought he’d benefit from exposure to real, live American financiers. I’d been working at the London office of Salomon Brothers for maybe six months when one of my bosses came to me with a big eye roll and said, “We have this academic who wants to sit in with a salesman for a day: Can we stick him with you?” And in walked Professor King. I should say here that King’s students, including me, often came away from encounters with him feeling humored.

He was gentle with people less clever than himself (basically everyone) and found interest in what others had to say when there was no apparent reason to. He really wanted you to feel as if the two of you were engaged in a genuine exchange of ideas, even though the only ideas with any exchange value were his. Still, he had his limits. The man who a year before had handed me a gentleman’s B and probably assumed I would vanish into the bowels of the American economy never to be heard from again saw me smiling and dialing at my Salomon Brothers desk and did a double take. He took the seat next to me and the spare phone that allowed him to listen in on my sales calls. After an hour or so, he put down the phone. “So, Michael, how much are they paying you to do this?” he asked, or something like it.

When I told him, he said something like, “This really should be against the law.” Roughly 15 years later, King was named governor of the Bank of England. In his decade-long tenure, which ended in 2013, the Bank of England became, and remains, the most trustworthy institutional narrator of events in global finance. It’s the one place on the inside of global finance where employees don’t appear to be spending half their time wondering when Goldman Sachs is going to call with a job offer. For various reasons, they don’t play scared. One of those reasons, I’ll bet, is King.

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They’re all very nervous. What happens when oil prices start falling again?

Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)

As OPEC officials gathered this week to formulate a long-term strategy, few in the room expected the discussions would end without a clash. But even the most jaded delegates got more than they had bargained with. “OPEC is dead,” declared one frustrated official, according to two sources who were present or briefed about the Vienna meeting. This was far from the first time that OPEC’s demise has been proclaimed in its 56-year history, and the oil exporters’ group itself may yet enjoy a long life in the era of cheap crude. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most powerful member, still maintains that collective action by all producers is the best solution for an oil market that has dived since mid-2014.

But events at Monday’s meeting of OPEC governors suggest that if Saudi Arabia gets its way, then one of the group’s central strategies – of managing global oil prices by regulating supply – will indeed go to the grave. In a major shift in thinking, Riyadh now believes that targeting prices has become pointless as the weak global market reflects structural changes rather than any temporary trend, according to sources familiar with its views. OPEC is already split over how to respond to cheap oil. Last month tensions between Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran ruined the first deal in 15 years to freeze crude output and help to lift global prices. These resurfaced at the long-term strategy meeting of the OPEC governors, officials who report to their countries’ oil ministers.

According to the sources, it was a delegate from a non-Gulf Arab country who pronounced OPEC dead in remarks directed at the Saudi representative as they argued over whether the group should keep targeting prices. Iran, represented by its governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, has been arguing that this is precisely what OPEC was created for and hence “effective production management” should be one of its top long-term goals. But Saudi governor Mohammed al-Madi said he believed the world has changed so much in the past few years that it has become a futile exercise to try to do so, sources say. “OPEC should recognize the fact that the market has gone through a structural change, as is evident by the market becoming more competitive rather than monopolistic,” al-Madi told his counterparts inside the meeting, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

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And how could prices rise in the face of record reserves?

US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)

U.S. crude inventories will expand to a record 550 million barrels this month before starting their seasonal slide, according to a forecast by Citigroup. Stockpiles rose 2.8 million barrels to 543.4 million last week, the most in more than 86 years, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Inventories reached the highest ever at 545.2 million barrels in October 1929, according to monthly EIA data.

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Record stockpiles with a million barrels missing. Prices are already dropping again.

Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)

The shut down of energy facilities accelerated Thursday, taking off line about one million barrels – close to 40% – of Alberta’s daily oilsands production, as a wildfire that started near Fort McMurray spread south to new producing areas. Meanwhile, oil companies poured their resources into the firefighting effort — from sheltering evacuees to helping with medical emergencies. Overnight Wednesday, the raging fire forced the evacuation of smaller communities south of Fort McMurray, where many evacuees fleeing the flames this week had taken shelter. They joined residents of Fort McMurray, who were ordered to leave their homes earlier in the week.

“Based on press releases and our discussions with producers, the fires have impacted oilsands production by an estimated 0.9 to 1 million b/d – disproportionately weighted towards synthetic crude oil,” Greg Pardy, co-head of global energy research at RBC Dominion Securities, said in a report. “This would constitute about 35% to 38% of our 2016 oilsands outlook of 2.6 million b/d.” Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources, said it was difficult to gauge the long-term impacts of the crisis because it was still evolving. “It’s devastating to the city of Fort McMurray,” he said Thursday after addressing the company’s annual meeting. Many production facilities are located away from the fire, but “it’s really the workers at the mines and the plants who live in Fort McMurray who are impacted,” Laut said. Canadian Natural said its operations at the Horizon mining project were stable.

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How is it possible that no-one died yet? They must be doing something very right.

Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)

A catastrophic wildfire that has forced all 88,000 residents to flee Fort McMurray in western Canada grew tenfold on Thursday, cutting off evacuees in camps north of the city and putting communities to the south in extreme danger. Authorities scrambled to organise an airlift of 8,000 people from the camps on Thursday night and hoped to move thousands more to safer areas as the fast-moving fire threatened to engulf huge areas of the arid western province of Alberta. Officials said 25,000 people had taken shelter in the oilsands work camps when the fires engulfed the city. The remaining 17,000 would have to wait until fuel reserves were refilled and the opening of a main highway to drive themselves south. The out-of-control blaze has burned down whole neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in Canada’s energy heartland and forced a precautionary shutdown of some oil production, driving up global oil prices.

The Alberta government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting a total of 49 wildfires, with seven considered out of control. Three days after the residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, firefighters were still battling to protect homes, businesses and other structures from the flames. More than 1,600 structures, including hundreds of homes, have been destroyed. “The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents,” said Alberta premier Rachel Notley in a press briefing on Thursday night, as those left stranded to the north of the city clamoured for answers. “It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days,” she added.

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Merkel bet on the wrong horse again. And this one, too, will put people’s well-being in danger. “..It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.” Oh, they see it alright.

Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)

A pivotal deal to staunch the flow of migrants from Turkey into the EU, masterminded by Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is in doubt after Turkey’s pro-European prime minister resigned. Ahmet Davutoglu, who personally negotiated the deal with Ms Merkel, quit on Thursday following a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The premier’s departure imperils an agreement credited with sharply reducing the influx of asylum-seekers into the EU – and rescuing Ms Merkel from a potentially fatal political backlash. The deal enables the EU to send migrants arriving illegally on the Greek islands back to Turkey in exchange for visa requirements on Turkish visitors being eased and financial aid. However, President Erdogan has responded coolly towards the agreement struck by his premier and has shown increasing hostility towards the EU.

Without reforms to Turkey’s antiterrorism and anti-corruption laws, which Mr Erdogan has angrily resisted, Brussels may be unable to grant some of the most important concessions in the deal — a move that Ankara has already warned would cancel its obligation to curtail refugee crossings into Greece. “We’ve made good progress on the agreement with Turkey,” Ms Merkel said in Rome on Thursday. “The European Union, or at least Germany and Italy, are prepared and stand by the commitments that we’ve agreed to. We hope that’s mutual.” To keep the pact on track, Ankara must still meet several benchmarks, including major revisions to its antiterrorism legislation to ensure civil liberties, that Mr Erdogan has been loath to support.

EU officials are now concerned that Ankara will backtrack on reform commitments. “It’s certainly not good news for us,” said the EU official. “Erdogan would be very ill-advised to throw this out of the window and think this is now a matter of horse-trading. He thinks it’s 50% wriggle room, and the rest is all arm-wrestling.” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat at the Carnegie Europe think-tank, said that Mr Erdogan had been “much more categorical” in resisting changes to the antiterrorism law, adding that, with his AK party and parliament in disarray, the chances of reforms being passed in time for a June deadline was becoming increasingly unlikely. When Ms Merkel set out to persuade sceptical EU countries to back the migrant deal, one of her central arguments, according to diplomats, was that it would shore up the pro-European faction in Ankara, led by Mr Davutoglu.

Instead, the deal hastened the demise of her main Turkish ally and left the pro-Europeans seriously weakened. President Erdogan saw Mr Davutoglu’s increasingly close relationship with the EU as a threat. A rift between the two men turned into a power struggle which the prime minister lost. [..] European lawmakers who must now approve the deal say they are becoming increasingly wary. “If this was an isolated incident, you could say it’s just an internal affair,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal who has become a leading voice on Turkey in the European parliament. “But we’ve seen a series of incidents that are clearly a pattern towards authoritarianism. It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.”

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Merkel has lost it: the EU, in order to survive, needs to start protecting people, especially children, before protecting borders. It’s the only thing that could still save the Union.

Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged European leaders to protect EU borders or risk a “return to nationalism” as the continent battles its worst migration crisis since World War II. As Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi kicked off two days of talks in Rome with Merkel and senior EU officials, the German leader said Europe must defend its borders “from the Mediterranean to the North Pole” or suffer the political consequences. Support for far-right and anti-immigrant parties is on the rise in several countries on the continent which saw more than a million people arrive on its shores last year. In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party is expected to win a presidential run-off on May 22 after romping to victory in the first round on an anti-immigration platform.

Merkel told a press conference with Renzi that Europe’s cherished freedom of movement is at threat, with ramped-up border controls in response to the crisis raising questions over whether the passport-free Schengen zone can survive. With over 28,500 migrants arriving since January 1, Italy has once again become the principal entry point for migrants arriving in Europe, following a controversial EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan route up from Greece. In previous years, many migrants landing in Italy have headed on to other countries – but with Austria planning to reinstate border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps, a key transport corridor, Rome fears it could be stuck hosting masses of new arrivals. Renzi lashed out at Austria on Thursday, describing Vienna’s position as “anachronistic”.

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Child refugees have to be the no. 1 priority. A Europe with no morals has no future either.

Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

A quarter of all child refugees who arrived in Europe last year – almost 100,000 under-18s – travelled without parents or guardians and are now “geographically orphaned”, presenting a huge challenge to authorities in their adopted countries. A total of 1.2 million people sought asylum in the EU in 2015, 30% of whom – almost 368,000 – were minors. The number of children arriving in Europe last year was two-and-half times that recorded a year earlier, and almost five times as many as in 2012. But the most staggering statistic is that a quarter of the young arrivals were unaccompanied. In all, 88,695 children completed the dangerous journey without their parents – an average of 10 arriving every hour. The highest proportion of child refugees last year were Syrian, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. Together these three nationalities accounted for 60% of all minors seeking asylum in the EU.

In absolute terms, Germany received the highest number of child refugees, taking in more than 137,000 in 2015. However, as a proportion of population Sweden took in the most. Half of the unaccompanied minors came from Afghanistan, and one in seven were Syrian. More unaccompanied minors hailed from Eritrea (5,140) than from Iraq (4,570). Sweden took the highest number of lone children, 35,000 in total, two-thirds of them from Afghanistan. It also recorded the highest number of unaccompanied minors per head of population, followed by Austria and Hungary. It is not possible to get a full picture of how many children have sought asylum in Europe so far in 2016, as several countries have not yet published figures for the first quarter of the year. But the number of child asylum applicants recorded in Europe in January and February already far exceeds that recorded in the same months of 2015.

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Apr 182016
 
 April 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


DPC Coaches at Holland House Hotel on Fifth Avenue, NY 1905

Oil Prices Plunge After Doha Output Talks Fail (AFP)
Oil Producers Get Worst Possible Outcome, Destroy Remaining Credibility (R.)
Failure To Reach Oil Output Deal Sparks Selloff Across Emerging Markets (BBG)
Loonie, Aussie Drop After Doha Failure; Yen Near 1 1/2-Year High (BBG)
The Bad Smell Hovering Over The Global Economy (G.)
Untried, Untested, Ready: Remedies for the Global Economy (BBG Ed.)
China’s QoQ and YoY GDP Data Don’t Add Up (BBG)
Is China Ready To Let More State-Owned Enterprises Default? (BBG)
China Makes Plans for 1.8 Million Workers Facing Unemployment (WSJ)
The Trucker’s Nightmare That Could Flatten Europe’s Economy (BBG)
George Osborne: Brexit Would Leave UK ‘Permanently Poorer’ (G.)
Brazilian Congress Votes To Impeach President Dilma Rousseff (G.)
Australia’s Debt Dilemma Raises Downgrade Fears (BBG)
Peter Schiff: ‘Trump’s Right, America Is Broke’ (ZH)
Make America Solvent Again (Jim Grant)
Is Capitalism Entering A New Era? (Kaletsky)
Fears Of ‘The Big One’ As 7 Major Earthquakes Strike Pacific In 96 Hours (E.)

A curious piece of two-bit theater. It failed before it started. Why do it then? The west trying to pit Saudi vs Iran/Russia?

Oil Prices Plunge After Doha Output Talks Fail (AFP)

Oil prices plunged on Monday after the world’s top producers failed to reach an agreement on capping output aimed at easing a global supply glut during a meeting in Doha. Hopes the world’s main producer cartel, OPEC, and other major exporters like Russia would agree to freeze output has helped scrape oil prices off the 13-year lows they touched in February. But crude tanked after top producer Saudi Arabia walked away from the talks, which many hoped would ease a huge surplus in world supplies, because of a boycott by its rival Iran. Oil tumbled in early Asian trade after the collapse of Sunday’s talks, with prices dropping as much as seven% in opening deals.

At around 0100 GMT, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery was down $2.11, or 5.23%, from Friday’s close at $38.25 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent crude for June lost 4.71%, or $2.03, to $41.07. “Despite many of the 18 oil producers believing the meeting in Doha was merely a rubber stamp affair for an oil production freeze, Saudi Arabia managed to throw a spanner in the works,” said Angus Nicholson at IG Markets. “With Saudi Arabia fighting proxy wars with Iran in Yemen and Syria/Iraq, it is understandable that they had little inclination to freeze their own production and make way for newly sanctions-free Iran to increase their market share.”

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It’s impossible for a reporter to see that no output freeze was ever in the works, simply because no producer can afford a freeze.

Oil Producers Get Worst Possible Outcome, Destroy Remaining Credibility (R.)

It was the worst possible outcome for oil producers at their weekend meeting in Doha, with their failure to reach even a weak agreement showing very publicly their divisions and inability to act in their own interests. Expectations for the meeting had been modest at best, with sources in the producer group predicting an agreement to freeze output. But even this meagre hope was dashed by Saudi Arabia’s insistence Iran join any deal, something the newly sanctions-free Islamic republic wouldn’t countenance. From a producer point of view, an agreement including Iran that shifted market perceptions on the amount of oil supply available would have been the best outcome.

The acceptable result would have been an agreement that froze production at already near record levels, with an accord that Iran would join in once it had reached its pre-sanctions level of exports. What was delivered instead was confirmation that the Saudis are prepared to take more pain in order not to deliver their regional rivals Iran any windfall gains from higher prices and exports. The meeting in Qatar on Sunday effectively pushed a reset button on the crude markets, putting the situation back to where the market was before hopes of producer discipline were first raised. What happens now is that the market will have to continue along its previous path of re-balancing, without any assistance from the OPEC or erstwhile ally Russia. Brent crude fell nearly 7% in early trade in Asia on Monday, before partly recovering to be down around 4%.

The potential is for crude to fall further in coming sessions as long positions built up in the expectation of some sort of producer agreement are liquidated in the face of the reality of no deal. It’s likely that recriminations will follow for some time among the oil producers, with the Russians and Venezuelans said to be annoyed at what they see as the Saudi scuppering of a deal that had almost been locked in. This will make it harder for any future agreement, with the OPEC meeting on June 2 the next chance for the grouping to reach some sort of agreement. For the time being, OPEC’s credibility is shot, and won’t be restored by even a future agreement as it will take actual, verifiable action to convince a now sceptical market. However, as the events in Doha showed, the Saudis are unlikely to agree to anything in the absence of Iranian participation, and that is also equally unlikely.

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Naturally. Sell-off is waning already, by the way. But the trend is clear.

Failure To Reach Oil Output Deal Sparks Selloff Across Emerging Markets (BBG)

The failure by the world’s biggest oil producers to agree on an output freeze spurred a selloff across emerging markets, with stocks halting a seven-day rally as Brent crude plunged as much as 7%. The ringgit led declines in developing-nation currencies as the disappointment stemming from the weekend meeting in Doha disrupted a recovery in commodity prices, putting pressure on Malaysian finances as a net oil exporter. Hopes an agreement would be reached had pushed Brent above $44 a barrel for the first time since December and spurred gains across asset classes in recent days. It’s now headed back toward $41 as the discussions to address a global oil glut stalled after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations wouldn’t commit to any deal unless all OPEC members joined, including Iran.

“We have seen a high correlation between oil, commodity prices and emerging assets this year and we have seen a strong run up, so the latest development on the failure to agree on an oil output freeze should spark profit-taking among investors,” said Miles Remington, head of equities at BNP Paribas Securities Indonesia. Energy-related companies fell the most among the 10 industry groups of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which dropped 0.7% and retreated from last week’s highest level since November. While that was the biggest decline since April 5, the energy component slid 1.4% and industrial stocks 1%.

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Japan can’t keep this up much longer.

Loonie, Aussie Drop After Doha Failure; Yen Near 1 1/2-Year High (BBG)

The Canadian and Australian dollars dropped as crude tumbled after oil-producing nations failed to reach an accord to freeze output. The yen, used by investors as a haven, rose toward a 17-month high. The currencies of Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Norway all retreated at least 0.7% after negotiations in Doha ended without an agreement from OPEC and other oil producers to freeze supplies. Foreign-exchange traders sought the safety of Japan’s currency as the diplomatic failure threatens to send crude back toward the more than 13-year lows reached in February. World leaders at the end of last week signaled opposition to any efforts from Japan to directly halt the yen’s 11% climb this year.

“Lack of agreement from Doha has hit commodity currencies lower,” said Robert Rennie at Westpac Banking in Sydney. “The prospects of another near-term round of talks appear limited ahead of the June OPEC meeting.” The Aussie dropped 0.8% to 76.65 U.S. cents as of 7:01 a.m. London time, set for the largest decline since April 7. Canada’s loonie tumbled 1.1% to C$1.2962 against the greenback. Crude is the nation’s second-largest export. Malaysia’s ringgit slid 0.8% to 3.9348 per dollar. Oil futures fell as much as 6.8%, the biggest intraday drop since Feb. 1. “The oil price will reset lower and could even retest $30 over the next three months,”said James Purcell at UBS’s wealth-management business in Hong Kong.

“Short term, that will dampen enthusiasm for risk assets. However, markets are being slightly myopic. Economic data have improved in both China and the U.S. of late.” The lack of agreement at Doha highlights the deep divisions between OPEC members, and importantly, within Saudi Arabia, Westpac’s Rennie said. The Aussie should hold support from about 75.75 cents to 76 cents at least through the next day or so, he said. The yen jumped 0.7% to 107.96 per dollar, and touched 107.77. It reached 107.63 on April 11, the strongest since October 2014. Hedge funds and other large speculators pushed wagers on yen strength to a record last week as Japanese authorities appeared reluctant to intervene to reverse the strengthening currency.

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Price discovery is the economy’s biggest enemy.

The Bad Smell Hovering Over The Global Economy (G.)

All is calm. All is still. Share prices are going up. Oil prices are rising. China has stabilised. The eurozone is over the worst. After a panicky start to 2016, investors have decided that things aren’t so bad after all. Put your ear to the ground though, and it is possible to hear the blades whirring. Far away, preparations are being made for helicopter drops of money onto the global economy. With due honour to one of Humphrey Bogart’s many great lines from Casablanca: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon.” But isn’t it true that action by Beijing has boosted activity in China, helping to push oil prices back above $40 a barrel? Has Mario Draghi not announced a fresh stimulus package from the European Central Bank designed to remove the threat of deflation? Are hundreds of thousands of jobs not being created in the US each month?

In each case, the answer is yes. China’s economy appears to have bottomed out. Fears of a $20 oil price have receded. Prices have stopped falling in the eurozone. Employment growth has continued in the US. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth in the global economy of just over 3% this year – nothing spectacular, but not a disaster either. Don’t be fooled. China’s growth is the result of a surge in investment and the strongest credit growth in almost two years. There has been a return to a model that burdened the country with excess manufacturing capacity, a property bubble and a rising number of non-performing loans. The economy has been stabilised, but at a cost. The upward trend in oil prices also looks brittle. The fundamentals of the market – supply continues to exceed demand – have not changed.

Then there’s the US. Here there are two problems – one glaringly apparent, the other lurking in the shadows. The overt weakness is that real incomes continue to be squeezed, despite the fall in unemployment. Americans are finding that wages are barely keeping pace with prices, and that the amount left over for discretionary spending is being eaten into by higher rents and medical bills. For a while, consumer spending was kept going because rock-bottom interest rates allowed auto dealers to offer tempting terms to those of limited means wanting to buy a new car or truck. In an echo of the subprime real estate crisis, vehicle sales are now falling. The hidden problem has been highlighted by Andrew Lapthorne of the French bank Société Générale. Companies have exploited the Federal Reserve’s low interest-rate regime to load up on debt they don’t actually need.

“The proceeds of this debt raising are then largely reinvested back into the equity market via M&A or share buybacks in an attempt to boost share prices in the absence of actual demand,” Lapthorne says. “The effect on US non-financial balance sheets is now starting to look devastating.” He adds that the trigger for a US corporate debt crisis would be falling share prices, something that might easily be caused by the Fed increasing interest rates.

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BBG senior editor David Shipley displays the general fallacy: all that’s there are desperate attempts to go back to something that once was, only in a more centralized fashion. But there’s no going back.

Untried, Untested, Ready: Remedies for the Global Economy (BBG Ed.)

The deeper the slump, economists used to say, the stronger the recovery. They don’t say that anymore. The effects of the crash of 2008 still reverberate, with the latest forecasts for global growth even more dismal than the last. The persistently stagnant world economy is more than just a rebuke to economic theory, of course; it exacts a human toll. And while politicians and central bankers – or economists, for that matter – can’t be faulted for their creativity, their remedies might have more impact if they were bolder and better-coordinated. By ordinary standards, to be sure, governments haven’t been timid. Without fiscal stimulus and aggressive monetary easing in the U.S. and other countries, things would look even worse. And yet, worldwide output is predicted to rise only 3.2% this year, falling still further below the pre-crash trend.

Simply doubling down on current strategies is unlikely to work. Large-scale bond-buying, or so-called quantitative easing, has run into diminishing returns. Negative interest rates, where they’ve been tried, haven’t revived lending, and central banks are unable or unwilling to cut further. What about new fiscal stimulus? Where possible, that would be good – but it’s hardest to do in the very countries that need it most, because that’s where public debt is already dangerously high. True, as the IMF’s new fiscal report says, almost all countries could become more growth-friendly by combining measures to curb public spending in the longer term (for instance, raising the retirement age) with steps to increase demand in the short term (cutting payroll taxes, raising employment subsidies and building infrastructure).

Getting fiscal policy right country by country would surely help – yet probably wouldn’t be enough: No single country can adequately deal with a global shortfall of demand. A finance ministry for the world isn’t happening any time soon. Still, it’s a pity that governments aren’t trying harder to coordinate their fiscal policies more intelligently, or indeed at all. The global slump persists partly because of international spillovers. Better coordination would take these into account: Countries that could safely deploy fiscal stimulus would give some weight to global as well as national conditions, and fiscal policy would be formed interactively. Even within the EU, where you’d expect economic coordination to be the norm, and where the single currency makes it essential, there’s no sign of it.

At the global level, in forums such as the IMF, you might expect the U.S. to take the lead in any such effort. So it should – but it will need to mend its shattered policy-making machinery first. If Washington can’t come to a decision on its own on taxes or spending, the question of coordination doesn’t arise. The last resort, if the slump goes on and governments can’t coordinate better, might be to combine monetary and fiscal policy in a hybrid known (unfortunately) as helicopter money. Governments would cut taxes and/or spend more, but meet the cost by printing money rather than by borrowing. In one variant, central banks might simply send out checks to taxpayers. That’s a startling idea, no doubt – but so was quantitative easing not long ago.

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Quarter-on-quarter annualized growth rate is 4.5%..

China’s QoQ and YoY GDP Data Don’t Add Up (BBG)

China’s growth rates for quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year GDP for the past year don’t match. That, combined with confirmation that 1Q output was underpinned by an unsustainable resurgence in real estate, tarnishes the newly acquired shine on the country’s economic prospects. The initial reaction to the 1Q GDP data, published Friday, was a sigh of relief. Growth at 6.7% year on year was in line with expectations and comfortably inside the government’s 6.5-7% target range. If anyone noticed that the normal quarter-on- quarter data was missing from the National Bureau of Statistics release, few thought anything of it. Then, on Saturday, the quarter-on-quarter data was published, and some of the relief turned to consternation.

Quarter-on-quarter growth in 1Q was just 1.1% – an annualized growth rate of 4.5%, and the lowest print since the data series became available in 2011. Worse, based on the accumulated quarter-on-quarter data over the last year, annual growth in 1Q was just 6.3% – substantially below the NBS’s 6.7% reading for year-on-year growth. Explaining the inconsistency between the two data points is tough to do. Accumulated quarter-on-quarter growth over four quarters should add up to year-on-year growth. In the past, it has. The divergence in the 1Q readings might reflect something as simple as difficulties with seasonal adjustment. Even so, against a backdrop of concerns about data reliability, it can only add to skepticism about China’s true growth rate.

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Xi’s dilemma.

Is China Ready To Let More State-Owned Enterprises Default? (BBG)

China’s state-owned enterprises are likely to suffer more defaults over the next year as the government shows its readiness to shut companies in industries struggling with overcapacity, according to Standard & Poor’s. “In a major policy shift, the central government appears willing to close and liquidate struggling enterprises in the steel, mining, building materials, and shipbuilding industries,” S&P analyst Christopher Lee wrote in a report Monday. “We believe this stance will exacerbate the problems of companies in these cyclical and capital-intensive sectors, which are facing sluggish demand amid slowing investment growth.”

The warning follows S&P’s decision earlier this month to cut China’s sovereign rating outlook to negative from stable because economic rebalancing is likely to proceed more slowly than it had expected. Moody’s Investors Service also downgraded the outlook to negative in March, highlighting surging debt and the government’s ability to enact reforms. The revisions were biased, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said in Washington on Friday. Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to withdraw support from so-called zombie firms that have wasted financial resources and dragged on economic growth, which is at the slowest in a quarter century. China’s central bank has lowered benchmark interest rates six times since 2014, underpinning a jump in debt to 247% of GDP.

China Railway Materials, a state-backed commodities trader, is seeking to reorganize debt and halted trading on 16.8 billion yuan ($2.6 billion) of bonds this month. Baoding Tianwei last year became the first government-backed company to renege on onshore bonds. Sinosteel defaulted on onshore debt in October. Leverage among the largest state-owned enterprises has reached a “critical” level, according to Lee. It is likely to worsen in 2016 as a weak top line is not fully offset by cost cuts and capital expenditure reductions, he wrote in the report.

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1.8 million is a rounding error in China.

China Makes Plans for 1.8 Million Workers Facing Unemployment (WSJ)

China etched in details of plans to help workers laid off from the bloated coal and steel industries, saying assistance would include career counseling, early retirement and help in starting businesses, among other measures. New guidelines released by seven Chinese ministries over the weekend build on previously announced commitments to restructure the coal and steel industries, whose excess production is dragging on the economy, and to take care of an estimated 1.8 million workers who will be displaced. The new measures place priority on finding jobs and cushioning the transition to reduce the unemployment that the authoritarian government sees as a threat to social stability.

“Proper placement of workers is the key to working to resolve excess capacity,” said the document issued by the labor ministry, the top economic planning agency and others. It urged local governments to “take timely measures to resolve conflicts” and to “avoid ignoring the issue.” Unlike a far-reaching restructuring of state industries two decades ago, Beijing is taking a cautious approach this time around, prompting some economists to caution that the protracted pace may make the situation worse. Government data released Friday showed economic growth slowing slightly in the first quarter, buoyed by new loans, debt and investment in real estate and factories—methods that are likely to lengthen the transition to a more consumer-driven society from one driven by investment and manufacturing.

Western-style “restructuring is not on the horizon here,” said ING economist Tim Condon. “Rebalancing, forget that. That’s for another day.” Government plans call for reducing some 10% to 15% of the excess capacity in the steel and coal sectors over the next several years. That is less than half the portion analysts say is needed to bring supply closer in line with demand. And steel and coal are only two of numerous other industries plagued by overcapacity that haven’t been addressed. The large number of ministries that have signed off on the plan dated April 7 but released more than a week later underscore the sensitivity, importance and breadth of resources China is devoting to the unemployment problem.

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Europe goes blindly into the night.

The Trucker’s Nightmare That Could Flatten Europe’s Economy (BBG)

[..] Germany, Austria, France and Sweden, among others, have reintroduced border checkpoints in some places. They are pressured by Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II – about 1 million migrants arrived in Greece and Italy in 2015 – terrorist attacks, and the growth of anti-immigration movements. But the economic cost of dumping Schengen, at a time when growth across the continent is still weak, would be massive. A permanent return to border controls could lop €470 billion of GDP growth from the European economy over the next 10 years, based on a relatively conservative assumption of costs, according to research published by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation. That’s like losing a company almost the size of BMW AG every year for a decade.

The open borders power an economy of more than 400 million people, with 24 million business trips and 57 million cross-border freight transfers happening every year, the European Parliament says. Firms in Germany’s industrial heartland rely on elaborate, just-in-time supply chains that take advantage of lower costs in Hungary and Poland. French supermarket chains are supplied with fresh produce that speeds north from Spain and Portugal. And trans-national commutes have become commonplace since Europeans can easily choose to, say, live in Belgium and work in France. For many Europeans, passport-free travel is part of being, simply, European. For the company hiring driver Unczorg, the security checks increase costs in terms of delays, storage and inventory.

Permanent controls would destroy the business model of German industry, says Rainer Hundsdoerfer, chairman of EBM-Papst. “You get the products you need for assembly here in Germany just in time,” he said by phone. “That’s why the trucks go nonstop. They come here, they unload, they load, and off they go. The cost isn’t the only prime issue” in reinstating border checks. “It’s that we couldn’t even do it.” Nor could anyone else, he adds: “Nothing in German industry, regardless of whether it’s automotives or appliances or ventilators, could exist without the extended workbenches in eastern Europe.”

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This sort of over the top comment could be the biggest gift to the Leave side. Then again, they have Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as their figureheads. Not going to work.

George Osborne: Brexit Would Leave UK ‘Permanently Poorer’ (G.)

Britain would be “permanently poorer” if voters choose to leave the EU, George Osborne has warned, as a Treasury study claimed the economy would shrink by 6% by 2030, costing every household the equivalent of £4,300 a year. In the starkest warning so far by the government in the referendum campaign, the chancellor describes Brexit as the “most extraordinary self-inflicted wound”. Osborne will embark on one of the government’s most significant moves in the referendum campaign on Monday when he publishes a 200-page Treasury report which sets out the costs and benefits of EU membership. In a Times article the chancellor wrote: “The conclusion is clear for Britain’s economy and for families – leaving the EU would be the most extraordinary self-inflicted wound.”

Osborne warned that the option favoured by Boris Johnson – a deal along the lines of the EU-Canada arrangement – would lead to an economic contraction of 6% by 2030. Supporters of Britain’s EU membership say the EU-Canadian deal would be a disaster for the UK because it excludes financial services, a crucial part of the British economy. The chancellor asked whether this was a “price worth paying” as he said there was no other model for the UK that gave it access to the single market without quotas and tariffs while retaining a say over the rules. Osborne continued: “Put simply : over many years, are you better off or worse off if we leave the EU? The answer is: Britain would be worse off, permanently so, and to the tune of £4,300 a year for every household.”

“It is a well-established doctrine of economic thought that greater openness and interconnectedness boosts the productive potential of our economy. That’s because being an open economy increases competition between our companies, making them more efficient in the face of consumer choice, and creates incentives for business to innovate and to adopt new technologies.”

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One corrupt clan fights the other. Rousseff may well be the cleanest of the bunch.

Brazilian Congress Votes To Impeach President Dilma Rousseff (G.)

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday as a hostile and corruption-tainted congress voted to impeach her. In a rowdy session of the lower house presided over by the president’s nemesis, house speaker Eduardo Cunha, voting ended late on Sunday evening with 367 of the 513 deputies backing impeachment – comfortably beyond the two-thirds majority of 342 needed to advance the case to the upper house. As the outcome became clear, Jose Guimarães, the leader of the Workers party in the lower house, conceded defeat with more than 80 votes still to be counted. “The fight is now in the courts, the street and the senate,” he said. As the crucial 342nd vote was cast for impeachment, the chamber erupted into cheers and Eu sou Brasileiro, the football chant that has become the anthem of the anti-government protest.

Opposition cries of “coup, coup,coup” were drowned out. In the midst of the raucous scenes the most impassive figure in the chamber was the architect of the political demolition, Cunha. Watched by tens of millions at home and in the streets, the vote – which was announced deputy by deputy – saw the conservative opposition comfortably secure its motion to remove the elected head of state less than halfway through her mandate. There were seven abstentions and two absences, and 137 deputies voted against the move. Once the senate agrees to consider the motion, which is likely within weeks, Rousseff will have to step aside for 180 days and the Workers party government, which has ruled Brazil since 2002, will be at least temporarily replaced by a centre-right administration led by vice-president Michel Temer.

On a dark night, arguably the lowest point was when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured. Bolsonaro’s move prompted left-wing deputy Jean Wyllys to spit towards him. Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son and also a deputy, used his time at the microphone to honour the general responsible for the military coup in 1964. Deputies were called one by one to the microphone by the instigator of the impeachment process, Cunha – an evangelical conservative who is himself accused of perjury and corruption – and one by one they condemned the president. Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixiba, who is accused of money laundering. “For the love of God, yes!” declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.

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Australia played all on red. Which can you take to mean either China, for exports, or debt, for housing. Realizing that in the ned the house always wins, it’s a suicide strategy.

Australia’s Debt Dilemma Raises Downgrade Fears (BBG)

1986 may seem like a long time ago, but for Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison some of the parallels with his current budget balancing act are getting too close for comfort. Back then, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s pulled their AAA ratings as weak commodity prices wrecked government income and external finances. With resources again in a funk and a widening funding gap, National Australia Bank and JPMorgan said last week Morrison needs to undertake repairs in his May 3 budget to safeguard the country’s top rankings. Moody’s warned Thursday that debt will grow without revenue-boosting measures. “Moody’s are understandably getting impatient,” said Shane Oliver at Sydney-based AMP Capital Investors.

“We’ve seen each successive budget update push out the return to surplus. This time around – like back in the middle of the ’80s when we did suffer downgrades – we again have a twin deficit problem.” Thirty years ago, then-Treasurer Paul Keating warned the country risked becoming a “banana republic” because of its reliance on resources and it took nearly 17 years to regain the two top credit scores. While Morrison’s language hasn’t been as strident, he has said Australia must live within its means and indicated a focus on reduced spending. The government expects Australia’s budget position to improve in coming years despite the environment for commodity prices as it controls expenditure growth, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Thursday in an e-mailed response to questions.

“The Government is committed to responsible budget management which protects our AAA credit rating,” he said. “Our public debt remains low internationally and consistent with our plan, the government is committed to stabilizing and reducing our debt over time.” Australia’s general government net debt is projected to peak at 19.9% in 2017, lower than any Group of Seven economy, according to the IMF’s fiscal monitor. That number has climbed from minus 0.6% in 2009. “One differentiating feature between Australia and other Aaa rated sovereigns is that, while government debt has increased markedly in Australia, it has been more stable for other Aaa sovereigns,” Marie Diron at Moody’s in Singapore wrote. “We expect a further increase in debt and will look at policy measures and the economic environment to review our analysis on this.”

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Japan and Europe are in a much better position than the US? Really?

Peter Schiff: ‘Trump’s Right, America Is Broke’ (ZH)

Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff sat down with Alex Jones last week to discuss the state of the economy, and where he sees everything going from here. Here are some notable moments from the interview. Regarding how bad things are, and what’s really going on in the economy, Schiff lays out all of the horrible economic data that has come out recently, as well as making sure to take away the crutch everyone uses to explain any and all data misses, which is weather.

“It’s no way to know exactly the timetable, but obviously this economy is already back in recession, and if it’s not in a recession it’s certainly on the cusp of one” “We could be in a negative GDP quarter right now, and I think that if the first quarter is bad the second quarter is going to be worse” “The last couple years we had a rebound in the second quarter because we’ve had very cold winters. Well this winter was the warmest in 120 years so there is nothing to rebound from.”

On the Fed, and current policies, he very bluntly points out that nothing is working, nor has it worked, but of course the central planners will try it all anyway. He also takes a moment to agree with Donald Trump regarding the fact that the U.S. is flat out, undeniably broke.

“The problem for the Fed is how do they launch a new round of stimulus and still pretend the economy is in good shape.” “Negative interest rates are a disaster. It’s not working in Japan, it’s not working in Europe, it’s not going to work here. Just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean we’re not going to do it, because everything we do doesn’t work and we do it anyway. It shows desperation, that you’ve had all these central bankers lowering interest rates and expecting it to revive the economy. And then when they get down to zero, rather than admit that it didn’t work, because clearly if you go to zero and you still haven’t achieved your objective, maybe it doesn’t work. Instead of admitting that they were wrong, they’re now going negative.”

“The United States, no matter how high inflation gets, we’ll do our best to pretend it doesn’t exist or rationalize it away because we have a lot more debt. America is broke, if you look at Europe and Japan even though there is some debt there, overall those are still creditor nations. The world still owes Europe money, the world still owes Japan money, but America owes more money than all of the other debtor nations combined. Trump is right about that, we are broke, we’re flat broke, and we’re living off this credit bubble and we can’t prick it. Other central banks may be able to raise their rates, but the Fed can’t.”

On how he sees everything unfolding from this point, Peter again points out that the economy is weak and it’s only a matter of time before this entire centrally planned manipulation is exposed for what it is, and becomes a disaster for the Federal Reserve. He likens how investors are behaving today to the dot-com bubble, and the beginning of the global financial crisis.

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“Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes.” “..in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!”

Make America Solvent Again (Jim Grant)

[..] The public debt will fall due someday. It will have to be repaid or refinanced. If repaid, where would the money come from? It would come from you, naturally. The debt is ultimately a deferred tax. You can calculate your pro rata obligation on your smartphone. Just visit the Treasury website, which posts the debt to the penny, then the Census Bureau’s website, which reports the up-to-the-minute size of the population. Divide the latter by the former and you have the scary truth: $42,998.12 for every man, woman and child, as I write this. In the short term, the debt would no doubt be refinanced, but at which interest rate? At 4.8%, the rate prevailing as recently as 2007, the government would pay more in interest expense –$654 billion– than it does for national defense.

At a blended rate of 6.7%, the average prevailing in the 1990s, the net federal-interest bill would reach $913 billion, which very nearly equals this year’s projected outlay on Social Security. We always need protection against cockeyed economic experimentation. Once a national consensus on money and debt furnished this protective armor. Money was gold and debt was bad, Americans assumed. Most credentialed economists today will smile at these ancient prejudices. Allow me to suggest that our forebears knew something. Keynes himself would recoil at 0% bank-deposit rates, chronically low economic growth and the towering trillions that we have so generously pledged to one another. (All we have to do now is earn the money to pay them.) How do we escape from our self-constructed fiscal jail? According to the Government Accountability Office, unpaid taxes add up to more than $450 billion a year.

Even so, according to the Tax Foundation, Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $233.8 billion each tax season complying with a federal tax code that runs to 10 million words. Are we quite sure we want no part of the flat-tax idea? An identical low rate on most incomes. No deductions, no H&R Block. Impractical? So is the debt. So is the spending (and the promises to spend more down the road). We need to stop the squandermania. How? By resuming the principled fight that Vivien Kellems waged against the IRS during the Truman Administration. It enraged Kellems, a doughty Connecticut entrepreneur, that she was forced to withhold federal taxes from her employees’ wages. She called it involuntary servitude, and she itched to make her constitutional argument in court. She never got that chance, but she published her plan for a peaceful revolution.

She asked her readers –I ask mine– to really examine the stub of their paycheck. Observe how much your employer pays you and how much less you take home. Notice the dollars withheld for Medicare, Social Security and so forth. If you are like most of us, you stopped looking long ago. You don’t miss the income that you never get to touch. Picking up where Kellems left off, I propose a slight alteration in payday policy. Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes. “Such a payroll policy,” wrote Kellems in her memoir, Taxes, Toil and Trouble, “is entirely legal and if it were universally adopted, in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!” Black ink, sound money and the spirit of Vivien Kellems are the way forward. “Make America solvent again” is my credo and battle cry. You can fit it on a cap.

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“The message of today’s populist revolts is that politicians must tear up their pre-crisis rulebooks and encourage a revolution in economic thinking.” No, it’s that today’s politicians must go.

Is Capitalism Entering A New Era? (Kaletsky)

The defining feature of each successive stage of global capitalism has been a shift in the boundary between economics and politics. In classical nineteenth-century capitalism, politics and economics were idealized as distinct spheres, with interactions between government and business confined to the (necessary) raising of taxes for military adventures and the (harmful) protection of powerful vested interests. In the second, Keynesian version of capitalism, markets were viewed with suspicion, while government intervention was assumed to be correct. In the third phase, dominated by Thatcher and Reagan, these assumptions were reversed: government was usually wrong and the market always right. The fourth phase may come to be defined by the recognition that governments and markets can both be catastrophically wrong.

Acknowledging such thoroughgoing fallibility may seem paralyzing – and the current political mood certainly seems to reflect this. But recognizing fallibility can actually be empowering, because it implies the possibility of improvement in both economics and politics. If the world is too complex and unpredictable for either markets or governments to achieve social objectives, then new systems of checks and balances must be designed so that political decision-making can constrain economic incentives and vice versa. If the world is characterized by ambiguity and unpredictability, then the economic theories of the pre-crisis period – rational expectations, efficient markets, and the neutrality of money – must be revised. Moreover, politicians must reconsider much of the ideological super-structure erected on market fundamentalist assumptions.

This includes not only financial deregulation, but also central bank independence, the separation of monetary and fiscal policies, and the assumption that competitive markets require no government intervention to produce an acceptable income distribution, drive innovation, provide necessary infrastructure, and deliver public goods. It is obvious that new technology and the integration of billions of additional workers into global markets have created opportunities that should mean greater prosperity in the decades ahead than before the crisis. Yet “responsible” politicians everywhere warn citizens about a “new normal” of stagnant growth. No wonder voters are up in arms. People sense that their leaders have powerful economic tools that could boost living standards.

Money could be printed and distributed directly to citizens. Minimum wages could be raised to reduce inequality. Governments could invest much more in infrastructure and innovation at zero cost. Bank regulation could encourage lending, instead of restricting it. But deploying such radical policies would mean rejecting the theories that have dominated economics since the 1980s, together with the institutional arrangements based upon them, such as Europe’s Maastricht Treaty. Few “responsible” people are yet willing to challenge pre-crisis economic orthodoxy. The message of today’s populist revolts is that politicians must tear up their pre-crisis rulebooks and encourage a revolution in economic thinking. If responsible politicians refuse, “some rough beast, its hour come at last” will do it for them.

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Japan, Philippines, Tonga, Vanuatu, Ecuador and more

Fears Of ‘The Big One’ As 7 Major Earthquakes Strike Pacific In 96 Hours (E.)

Japan has been worst hit by the tremors. The latest quake to hit the country yesterday, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, injured more than 1,000 and trapped people in collapsed buildings, only a day after a quake killed nine people in the same region. Rescue crews searched for survivors of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Japan’s Kyushu Island, the same region rattled by a 6.2 quake two days earlier. Around 20,000 troops have had to be deployed following the latest 7.3 earthquake at 1.25am local time on Saturday. Roads have also been damaged and big landslides have been reported, there are also 200,000 households without power. The death toll in the latest Kyushu earthquake is 16 people and a previous earthquake that struck the area on Thursday had killed nine people.

There have been other large earthquakes recorded in recent days, including a major one in southern Japan which destroyed buildings and left at least 45 people injured, after Myanmar was rocked on Wednesday. Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 7,262 people have sought shelter at 375 centers since Friday in Kumamoto Prefecture. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to do everything he could to save lives following the disaster. He said: “Nothing is more important than human life and it’s a race against time.” On Thursday, The Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital confirmed 45 were injured, including five with serious injuries after a quake of magnitude 6.2 to 6.5 and a series of strong aftershocks ripped through Kumamoto city.

Several buildings were damaged or destroyed and at least six people are believed to be trapped under homes in Mashiki. Local reports said one woman was rescued in a critical condition Scientists say there has been an above average number of significant earthquakes across south Asia and the Pacific since the start of the year. The increased frequency has sparked fears of a repeat of the Nepal quake of 2015, where 8,000 people died, or even worse. Roger Bilham, seismologist of University of Colorado, said: “The current conditions might trigger at least four earthquakes greater than 8.0 in magnitude. “And if they delay, the strain accumulated during the centuries provokes more catastrophic mega earthquakes.”

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Jan 152016
 
 January 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Russell Lee Tracy, California. Tank truck delivering gasoline to a filling station 1942

The first thing that popped into our minds on Tuesday when WTI oil briefly broached $30 for its first $20 handle in many years, was that this should be triggering a Gawdawful amount of bets, $30 being such an obvious number. Which in turn would of necessity lead to a -brief- rise in prices.

Apparently even that is not so easy to see, since when prices did indeed go up after, some 3% at the ‘top’, ‘analysts’ fell over each other talking up ‘bottom’, ‘rebound’ and even ‘recovery’. We’re really addicted to that recovery idea, aren’t we? Well, sorry, but this is not about recovering, it’s about covering (wagers).

Same thing happened on Thursday after Brent hit that $20 handle, with prices up 2.5% at noon. That too, predictably, shall pass. Covering. On this early Friday morning, both WTI and Brent have resumed their fall, threatening $30 again. And those are just ‘official’ numbers, spot prices.

If as a producer you’re really squeezed by your overproduction and your credit lines and your overflowing storage, you’ll have to settle for less. And you will. Which is going to put downward pressure on oil prices for a while to come. Inventories are more than full all over the world. With oil that was largely purchased, somewhat ironically, because prices were perceived as being low.

Interestingly, people are finally waking up to the reality that this is a development that first started with falling demand. China. Told ya. And only afterwards did it turn into a supply issue as well, when every producer began pumping for their lives because demand was shrinking.

All the talk about Saudi Arabia’s ‘tactics’ being aimed at strangling US frackers never sounded very bright. By November 2014, the notorious OPEC meeting, the Saudi’s, well before most others including ‘analysts’, knew to what extent demand was plunging. They had first-hand knowledge. And they had ideas, too, about where that could lead prices. Alarm bells in the desert.

There are alarm bells ringing in many capitals, there’s not a single oil producer sitting comfy right now. And that’s why ‘official’ prices need to be taken with a bag of salt. Bloomberg puts the real price today at $26:

The Real Price of Oil Is Far Lower Than You Realize

While oil prices flashing across traders’ terminals are at the lowest in a decade, in real terms the collapse is even deeper. West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. benchmark, sank below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since 2003. Actual barrels of Saudi Arabian crude shipped to Asia are even cheaper, at $26 – the lowest since early 2002 once inflation is factored in and near levels seen before the turn of the millennium. Slumping oil prices are a critical signal that the boom in lending in China is “unwinding,” according to Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Slowing investment and construction in China, the world’s biggest energy user, is “sending an enormous deflationary impetus through to the world, and that is a significant part of what’s happening in this oil-price collapse,” Turner, former chairman of the U.K. Financial Services Authority, said. The nation’s economic expansion faltered last year to the slowest pace in a quarter of a century. “You see a big destruction in the income of the oil and commodity producers,” Turner said. “That is having a major effect on their expenditure across the world.”

Zero Hedge does one better and looks at 1998 dollars:

The ‘Real’ Price Of Oil Is Below $17

“You see a big destruction in the income of the oil and commodity producers,” exclaims an analyst but, as Bloomberg notes, while oil prices flashing across traders’ terminals are at the lowest in a decade, in real terms the collapse is considerably deeper. Adjusted for inflation, WTI is its lowest since 2002 and worse still Saudi Light Crude is trading at below $17 (in 1998 dollar terms) – the lowest since the 1980s… Slumping prices are a critical signal that the boom in lending in China is “unwinding,” according to Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

In fact, while sub-$30 per barrel oil sounds very scary, Saudi prices would be less than $17 a barrel when converted into dollar levels for 1998, the year oil sank to its lowest since the 1980s. Slowing investment and construction in China, the world’s biggest energy user, is “sending an enormous deflationary impetus through to the world, and that is a significant part of what’s happening in this oil-price collapse,” Turner, former chairman of the U.K. Financial Services Authority, said.

But this still covers only light sweet crude. Heavier versions are already way below even those levels. Question: what does tar sands oil go for in 1998 dollars? $5 perhaps? A barrel’s worth of it fetched $8.35 in 2016 US dollars on Tuesday. And that does not stop production, because investment (sunk cost) has been spent so there’s no reason to cut, quite the contrary.

Crude At $10 Is Already A Reality For Canadian Oil-Sands Miners

Think oil in the $20s is bad? In Canada they’d be happy to sell it for $10. Canadian oil sands producers are feeling pain as bitumen – the thick, sticky substance at the center of the heated debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline – hit a low of $8.35 on Tuesday, down from as much as $80 less than two years ago. Producers are all losing money at current prices, First Energy Capital’s Martin King said Tuesday at a conference in Calgary. Which doesn’t mean they’ll stop. Since most of the spending for bitumen extraction comes upfront, and thus is a sunk cost, production will continue and grow.

Another interesting question is where the price of oil would be right now if the perception of low prices had not made 2015 such a banner year for filling up storage space across the globe, including huge amounts of tankers that are left floating at sea, awaiting a ‘recovery’. But that is so last year:

Tanker Rates Tumble As Last Pillar Of Strength In Oil Market Crashes

If there was one silver-lining in the oil complex, it was the demand for VLCCs (as huge floating storage facilities or as China scooped up ‘cheap’ oil to refill their reserves) which drove tanker rates to record highs. Now, as Bloomberg notes so eloquently, it appears the party is over! Daily rates for benchmark Saudi Arabia-Japan VLCC cargoes have crashed 53% year-to-date to $50,955 (as it appears China’s record crude imports have ceased). In fact the rate crashed 12% today for the 12th straight daily decline from over $100,000 just a month ago…

China imported a record amount of crude last year as oil’s lowest annual average price in more than a decade spurred stockpiling and boosted demand from independent refiners. China’s crude imports last month was equivalent to 7.85 million barrels a day, 6% higher than the previous record of 7.4 million in April, Bloomberg calculations show.

China has exploited a plunge in crude prices by easing rules to allow private refiners, known as teapots, to import crude and by boosting shipments to fill emergency stockpiles. The nation’s overseas purchases may rise to 370 million metric tons this year, surpassing estimated U.S. imports of about 363 million tons, according to Li Li, a research director with ICIS China, an industry researcher. But given the crash in tanker rates – and implicitly demand – that “boom” appears to be over.

The consequences of all this will be felt all over the world, and for a long time to come. All of our economic systems run on oil, so many jobs are related to it, so many ‘fields’ in the economy, and no, things won’t get easier when oil is at $20 or $10, it’ll be a disaster of biblical proportions, like a swarm of locusts that leaves precious little behind. Squeeze oil and you squeeze the entire economic system. That’s what all the ‘low oil prices are great for the economy’ analysts missed (many still do).

Entire nations will undergo drastic changes in leadership and prosperity. Norway, Canada, North Dakota, Russia. But more than that, Middle East nations that rely entirely on oil, a dependency that won’t allow for many of their rulers to remain in office. Same goes for all OPEC nations, and many non-OPEC producers.

We can argue that a war of some kind or another can be the black swan that sets prices ‘straight’, but black swans are supposed to be the things you can’t see coming, and Middle East warfare for obvious reasons doesn’t even qualify for that definition.

The world is full of nations and rulers that are fighting for bare survival. And things like that don’t play out on a short term basis. For that reason alone, though there are many others as well, oil prices will remain under pressure for now.

Even a war will be hard put to turn that trend around at this point. Unless production facilities are destroyed on a large scale, war may just lead to even more production as demand keeps falling. The fact that Iran is preparing to ‘come back online’, promising an even steeper glut in world markets, is putting the Saudi’s on edge. Rumors of Libya wanting to return for a piece of the pie won’t exactly soothe emotions either.

And when, in a few years’ time, all the production cuts due to shut wells become our new reality, and eventually they must, then no, there will still not be an oil shortage. Because the economy will be doing so much worse by then that demand will have fallen more than supply.

Barring large scale warfare in the Middle East there is nothing that can solve the low oil price conundrum. But think about it, which Gulf nation can even afford such warfare in present times? For that matter, which nation in the world can?

The US may try and ignite a proxy war with Russia, but that would lead to an(other) endless and unwinnable war theater. Which would carry the threat of dragging in China as well. The US and its -soon even officially- shrinking economy can’t afford that. Which of course by no means guarantees it won’t try.