Mar 052019
 
 March 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Weaver 1884

 

China Warns Of ‘Tough Struggle’, Cuts Growth Target To Lowest Since 1990 (G.)
China’s Largest Property Developer To Sell All Homes At A 10% Discount (ZH)
Relying On Central Banks For Growth Is A Bad Idea (Das)
Theresa May ‘Did Not Understand EU When She Triggered Brexit’ (G.)
Dear Europe, Brexit Is A Lesson For All Of Us: It’s Time For Renewal (Macron)
EU Must Learn From Brexit And Reform – Macron (G.)
The Prisoner Says No To Big Brother (John Pilger)
White House Lambasts Trump Probe (BBC)
Fox News’s Propaganda Isn’t Just Unethical, It’s Enormously Influential (Vox)
Manafort Asks Judge to Revisit Order on Lies to Special Counsel (CN)
Britain Puts New Roof On Skripal House of Horrors (Galloway)
Sunset Boulevard with Chimp (Kunstler)
Heatwaves Sweeping Oceans ‘Like Wildfires’ (G.)
World’s Rarest Orangutan Under Threat In Indonesia From Dam Project (G.)

 

 

To reiterate from yesterday, Xiang Songzuo, professor at Renmin University in Beijing, former deputy director at the People’s Bank of China and chief economist at the Agricultural Bank of China, said in a speech in December that real GDP growth was 1.67%, and now says: “I think this year, regulators will encourage more shadow banking financing, particularly to the private sector.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway today is that China is failing to increase domestic demand, long predicted to be the country’s saving grace.

China Warns Of ‘Tough Struggle’, Cuts Growth Target To Lowest Since 1990 (G.)

China has set its lowest growth target in nearly three decades as premier Li Keqiang warned of “tough” challenges facing the world’s second-largest economy. He set the country’s growth at 6.0 to 6.5%, down from a target of 6.5% last year. In 1990, growth sank to 3.9% because of international sanctions sparked by the Tiananmen square protests. Growth in 2018 was 6.6%, the slowest rate since 1990. Speaking at the opening of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body, on Tuesday, Li said: “We will face a graver and more complicated environment as well as risks and challenges … We must be fully prepared for a tough struggle.”

Li’s state-of-the-nation-style address comes as the ruling Chinese Communist Party faces a difficult year amid a slowing economy, a trade war with the US, and diplomatic tensions over Huawei, the Chinese tech giant. Domestically, China has been hit by public health scandals as well as protests by workers, students, and small pockets of activists. Striking a sombre tone, Li stressed the “severe challenges” China is faced last year, including trade frictions, “mounting protectionism and unilateralism” and slowing domestic demand. “Downward pressure on the Chinese economy continues to increase, growth in consumption is slowing, and growth in effective investment lacks momentum. The real economy faces many difficulties,” Li said.

Read more …

The people who gave you empty cities.

China’s Largest Property Developer To Sell All Homes At A 10% Discount (ZH)

“Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities. “People are so used to rising prices that it never occurred to them that they can fall too. We shouldn’t add to this illusion,” Shao added, echoing Ben Bernanke circa 2005. The bottom line is that just like true price discovery for US capital markets is prohibited (and sees Fed intervention any time there is an even modest, 10-20% drop in asset prices) or else the risk of an all out panic is all too real, in China true price discovery is also not permitted, however when it comes to the country’s all important, and wealth effect boosting, real estate.

Which is a problem, because whereas China suddenly appears to be suffering from all the conventional signs of deflation in the auto retail sector, where as we noted previously, neither lower prices nor easier loans have managed to put a dent the ongoing demand plunge the same ominous price cuts – which are clearly meant to boost flagging demand – are starting to emerge in China’s housing sector. Case in point, according to China’s Paper, Hui Ka Yan, the Chairman of Evergrande, China’s biggest property developer, and China’s second richest person announced it must ramp up home sales and to do that it would sell all its properties at a 10% discount after its home sales tumbled in January amid a cooling market.

[..] In November, Evergrande, which carries the industry’s largest debt pile of any Chinese housing developer, was caught in a vicious funding squeeze and raised eyebrows with a $1.8BN, 5-year bond deal, which it had to pay a whopping 13.75% coupon, prompting analysts to say the move “carried a whiff of desperation.” The fact that chairman Hui Ka Yan, China’s second-richest person, bought $1bn of it himself, added to a sense that outside investors were shunning the company. In many ways, Evergrande had no choice: after the property market boomed for the past three years, helping to power the economy through Xi Jinping’s crucial political transition year of 2017, in 2018 the market slowed sharply, after local governments shifted focus to controlling frothy prices and China Development Bank, the policy lender, phased out a $1 trillion subsidy program for homebuyers in smaller cities, where Evergrande’s projects are concentrated, the FT reported.

Even the official China News Service, usually a cheerleader for the economy, acknowledged recently that the property market “was a bit chilly”. Nomura chief China economist Ting Lu put it more starkly, forecasting a “frigid winter”. The bigger problem for Evergrande, which had $208 billion in total liabilities at the end of June 2018 — the most of any Chinese developer — including $43bn maturing in 2019, is that should China’s housing market suffer a steep downturn, it will likely be the company to suffer the most, if for no other reason than its massive leverage which stood at a net debt to equity ratio of 400%.

Read more …

I like and appreciate Satiayit Das, but the Fed doesn’t make grand policy errors, it simply protects its clients with public money. Since it does that by killing off price discovery, let’s stop talking about ‘markets’.

Relying On Central Banks For Growth Is A Bad Idea (Das)

Just since December 2018, central banks have collectively injected as much as $500 billion of liquidity to stabilize economic conditions. The U.S. Federal Reserve has put interest rate increases on hold and is contemplating a halt to its balance-sheet reduction plan. Other central banks have taken similar actions, fueling a new phase of the “everything bubble” as markets careen from December’s indiscriminate selling to January’s indiscriminate buying. The monetary onslaught appears a reaction to financial factors – falling equity markets, rising credit spreads, increased volatility – and a perceived weakening of economic activity, primarily in Europe and China.

If they heeded Walter Bagehot’s oft-cited rule, central banks would act only as lenders of last resort in times of financial crisis, lending without limit to solvent firms against good collateral at high rates. Instead, they’ve become lenders of first resort, expected to step in at any sign of problems. U.S. central bankers are currently debating whether quantitative-easing programs should be used purely in emergency situations or more routinely. Since 2008, the global economy has grown far too dependent on huge central bank balance sheets and accommodative monetary policy. The U.S. economic boom President Donald Trump loves to tout is largely fake, engineered by artificial policy settings.

Such dependence is dangerous and, for various reasons, could well backfire. For one thing, central banks are poor forecasters. GDP growth, inflation and labor markets may prove more resilient than feared, remaining at or above trend. Key risks, such as the trade dispute between the U.S. and China, may recede. Financial markets and asset prices have already recovered substantially. It’s possible that central banks may be forced to make another U-turn to reduce the risk of reflating asset price bubbles and overheating economies. This flip-flop would be destabilizing and affect decisionmakers’ credibility.

Printing money was always going to be easier than withdrawing it later. In effect, central banks are boxed into a situation where they can’t normalize policy and must maintain low rates and abundant liquidity, lest they destabilize fragile asset markets and spur low growth and disinflation. This state of “infinite QE” risks miscalculations and major policy errors. If central banks are, as is now fashionable to state, the only game in town, then the game is lost.

Read more …

The Tories thought they could get deals done with separate EU countries.

Theresa May ‘Did Not Understand EU When She Triggered Brexit’ (G.)

Theresa May and her circle of advisers did not understand how the European Union works, and consequently followed a negotiating strategy in 2016 that was doomed to fail, the former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers has said. Speaking to the Institute for Government on Monday, Rogers said the people around the prime minister at the start of the article 50 process “didn’t know very much about European councils or that much about the EU”. Rogers, who resigned a year ago and has developed a reputation for producing some of the most caustic assessments of the misunderstandings between the UK and the EU, said the UK lived under the illusion that it could circumvent Brussels by making direct deals with the major capitals.

He said: “Capitals obviously matter, but I think having lived through this with a number of prime ministers, a number of different negotiations … that reflex in the British system always to think that we can deal direct with the organ grinders and not the monkeys: it never works like that. “It didn’t work like that in the Cameron renegotiation either. That stuff is not done in the way British politics works, leader to leader. It’s done via the bureaucrats, and the sherpas, and the people at the top of the institutions.” Rogers also warned that the chances of a no-deal Brexit sticking for long were close to zero. “The UK and EU know there is no chance of no-deal Brexit being the long-term end state, as the UK would quickly come back to the negotiating table,” he said. “There is not a world where we are going to end up with no deal.”

Read more …

A 25% approval rating won’t keep Little Napoleon from designing grande plans. More Europe!

Dear Europe, Brexit Is A Lesson For All Of Us: It’s Time For Renewal (Macron)

Never since the second world war has Europe been so essential. Yet never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its peoples’ need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. The trap lies not in being part of the European Union; the trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it. Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.

Europe is not a second-tier power. Europe in its entirety is a vanguard: it has always defined the standards of progress. In this, it needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition: Europe, where social security was created, needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, guaranteeing the same pay for the same work, and an EU minimum wage, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year. Getting back on track also means spearheading the environmental cause. Will we be able to look our children in the eye if we do not also clear our climate debt?

The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition, a European food safety force to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health. This imperative needs to guide all our action: from the Central Bank to the European commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe, all our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.

Read more …

Not the Onion. The man who has his police maim his own citizens now says “the people will really take back control of their future”.

EU Must Learn From Brexit And Reform – Macron (G.)

Macron later said: “The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all”. In a nod to the Brexiters’ campaign slogan “take back control”, he said that in a changed Europe “the people will really take back control of their future”. In a suggestion the UK would deepen its future relationship with the EU, he said that “in this new Europe, the UK, I am sure, will find its true place”. The call for a Europe-wide agency “for the protection of democracies” to shield against electoral interference from outside powers comes as campaigning for May’s European parliament elections gets underway. Security officials are preparing for potential attempts by Russia-linked hackers to sway the vote and potentially deepen divisions in the bloc.

“There’s a strong likelihood that people will try to manipulate the debates and falsify the European election results,” the EU’s security commissioner, Julian King, told France’s Alsace newspaper last week. The May vote is shaping up as a continental clash between populist and Eurosceptic movements on the one hand, and pro-European internationalists on the other. Macron, who has faced months of gilets jaunes or yellow vest anti-government protests, has sought to style himself as a progressive voice against nationalism. His centrist party La République En Marche is narrowly ahead of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in French polls – a re-run of his face-off with Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election.

Read more …

John Pilger gave this speech at a rally in Sydney for Julian Assange recently, organised by the Socialist Equality Party. Unfortunate name.

The Prisoner Says No To Big Brother (John Pilger)

Whenever I visit Julian Assange, we meet in a room he knows too well. There is a bare table and pictures of Ecuador on the walls. There is a bookcase where the books never change. The curtains are always drawn and there is no natural light. The air is still and fetid. This is Room 101. Before I enter Room 101, I must surrender my passport and phone. My pockets and possessions are examined. The food I bring is inspected. The man who guards Room 101 sits in what looks like an old-fashioned telephone box. He watches a screen, watching Julian. There are others unseen, agents of the state, watching and listening. Cameras are everywhere in Room 101. To avoid them, Julian manoeuvres us both into a corner, side by side, flat up against the wall.

[..] Julian is a distinguished Australian, who has changed the way many people think about duplicitous governments. For this, he is a political refugee subjected to what the United Nations calls “arbitrary detention”. The UN says he has the right of free passage to freedom, but this is denied. He has the right to medical treatment without fear of arrest, but this is denied. He has the right to compensation, but this is denied. As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, his crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them. That explains why he is being punished.

For example: Last week, the International Court of Justice ruled that the British Government had no legal powers over the Chagos Islanders, who in the 1960s and 70s, were expelled in secret from their homeland on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and sent into exile and poverty. Countless children died, many of them, from sadness. It was an epic crime few knew about. For almost 50 years, the British have denied the islanders’ the right to return to their homeland, which they had given to the Americans for a major military base. In 2009, the British Foreign Office concocted a “marine reserve” around the Chagos archipelago. This touching concern for the environment was exposed as a fraud when WikiLeaks published a secret cable from the British Government reassuring the Americans that “the former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”

The truth of the conspiracy clearly influenced the momentous decision of the International Court of Justice. WikiLeaks has also revealed how the United States spies on its allies; how the CIA can watch you through your iPhone; how Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took vast sums of money from Wall Street for secret speeches that reassured the bankers that if she was elected, she would be their friend. In 2016, WikiLeaks revealed a direct connection between Clinton and organised jihadism in the Middle East: terrorists, in other words. One email disclosed that when Clinton was US Secretary of State, she knew that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding Islamic State, yet she accepted huge donations for her foundation from both governments. She then approved the world’s biggest ever arms sale to her Saudi benefactors: arms that are currently being used against the stricken people of Yemen. That explains why he is being punished.

Read more …

Nadler et al sent Julian Assange a request for documents. Imagine the brain damage required for that. Other than that, from what I get, there’s nothing new. All 81 requests concern people who’s already sent docs before, to Mueller and elsewhere.

White House Lambasts Trump Probe (BBC)

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, said it was the “obligation” of Congress to “provide a check on abuses of power” by the White House. Mr Nadler, whose committee has the power to conduct impeachment hearings, also said it was “very clear” that the president had obstructed justice. But Mr Nadler told ABC News it was too early to discuss removing the president from office. President Trump dismissed Mr Nadler’s probe as a “political hoax”, but added: “I co-operate all the time with everybody.” Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives in January, have vowed to open investigations into the president and White House.

More than five House committees are now investigating alleged attempts by Russia to meddle in the 2016 election campaign, the president’s tax returns and potential conflicts of interest involving Mr Trump’s family. Those inquiries are in addition to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is expected to file his report soon. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “Today, Chairman Nadler opened up a disgraceful and abusive investigation into tired, false allegations already investigated by the special counsel and committees in both chambers of Congress. “Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of ‘Russia collusion’ is crumbling.

[..] Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, longtime Trump personal assistant Rhona Graff and ex-White House counsel Don McGahn are also on the list of names released by the House Judiciary Committee. Donald Trump Jr has previously been forced by members of Congress to answer questions about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, in which he sat down with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who had offered dirt on Mr Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. Wikileaks, and its founder Julian Assange, have also been sent documents requests by the committee. Wikileaks published emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and released them during the 2016 campaign, causing political embarrassment to Mrs Clinton and her campaign team.

Read more …

Yes, Trump has Fox. The other side has just about everything else: CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo, ABC, Politico, etc etc etc. Doesn’t someone who writes pieces like this one see the irony?

Fox News’s Propaganda Isn’t Just Unethical, It’s Enormously Influential (Vox)

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker’s longtime star investigative reporter, has a fantastic new longform piece out detailing the extent to which the Fox News Channel has become propaganda television for the Trump administration. Many of the basic points — like Fox’s bending of ethical standards to accommodate Sean Hannity, the collaborative relationship between Fox and Trump in shaping the news agenda, and the extent to which Trump at times seems to take his policy cues from Fox & Friends – will be familiar to Vox readers. But Mayer adds critical new insights into the arc of change at the network during a period when CEO Roger Ailes was deposed and then died, vice president Bill Shine left to become White House communications director, and the company’s owner Rupert Murdoch has restructured his media holdings and prepared to pass the baton to his son.

She also adds a couple of key scoops, including: • A Fox reporter named Diana Falzone had pieced together the entire Stormy Daniels story before the election, but network executives killed the story, demoted her, and then, after she sued them, reached a settlement with her that included a nondisclosure agreement. • “Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene” and sue to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of Time Warner. (The DOJ did sue, though they denied this was due to improper interference from the White House, and ended up losing in court.) • “During the Bush Administration’s disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina, Fox’s ratings slumped so badly, a former Fox producer told me, that he was told to stop covering it.”

Fox’s propaganda broadcasting matters. It’s a somewhat underexplored topic in political science research, but the information that’s available suggests that right-wing propaganda broadcasting — led by Fox but also including Sinclair Broadcast Group — has a decisive influence on American politics. [..] A study by Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimates that watching Fox News translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates. Specifically, by exploiting semi-random variation in Fox viewership driven by changes in the assignment of channel numbers, they find that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. Without Fox, in other words, the GOP’s only popular vote win since the 1980s would have been reversed and the 2008 election would have been an extinction-level landslide.

Read more …

Interesting twist. But under wraps.

Manafort Asks Judge to Revisit Order on Lies to Special Counsel (CN)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort asked a federal judge Monday to reconsider her earlier ruling that Manafort violated his plea agreement by lying about his contacts with suspected Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik. The details of the request remain under seal for now, but a short order from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson entered into the docket in the case shows it is a request to reconsider her earlier decision based on new evidence. The docket entry specifically references a supplemental filing last month from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office that informed Jackson of new information relevant to Manafort’s plea deal that came up in an interview with longtime Manafort associate Rick Gates.

Jackson said in the short order Monday she will “deem [Manafort’s] filing as a motion for reconsideration” of her earlier decision. The motion is under seal for now, but Manafort and Mueller’s office will discuss whether portions of the filing may become public, according to the order. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in Washington, D.C., on March 13. He pleaded guilty to head off a second criminal trial after a federal jury in Virginia found him guilty last year of various financial crimes. In Washington, Manafort pleaded to conspiring to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice and violations of lobbying laws in relation to work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

Read more …

Britain would fall apart if it could no longer unite vs Russia.

Britain Puts New Roof On Skripal House of Horrors (Galloway)

In 12 months of shifting sands, one thing remains as its original foundations: the British state narrative on Salisbury stands as a castle in the air. One year from the dastardly fate of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, no one is a step forward on what happened to them, how, why, or of course where they are. One year ago, a nerve agent was allegedly sprayed onto their front doorknob. One year later, their house needs a new roof as a result. And why the roof? And why only the roof? I don’t know what happened to the stricken pair but then, neither do you, however much you’ve followed the story in Britain’s mass media. In fact, the more you’ve read, the more confused you’re likely now to be. There are some things I do know, however. The first is that the Russian state had as little to gain from attacking this pair in broad daylight on a Salisbury street with a signature Soviet-developed weapon, ‘novichok,’ as I said at the time.

It was exactly 100 days before the World Cup, just days before President Putin’s re-election. If – and it’s a big if – the Russian state wanted to kill the Skripals, many things would’ve been different. Firstly, they would’ve been dead. Yulia would’ve been dead in Russia where she lived. And Sergei would’ve been dispatched at a less sensitive time by rather more reliable, less identifiable means, and by rather less comical killers. The killers would not have flown directly from and back to Moscow. They would not have entrusted their egress to the Sunday service of Wiltshire public transport. They would not have smiled up at every CCTV camera they could find. They would not have stayed at a downscale small hotel in East London, they would not have smoked drugs there, and they would not have noisily entertained a prostitute in their room. They would not have left traces of their nerve agent in their hotel room.

They would not have spent a mere hour scoping Salisbury the day before the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. Nor would they have returned by public transport to London for their sex and drug party, only to retrace their steps by public transport the next day. If they were going to kill a man and his daughter, they would not have trusted nerve agent on a doorknob when there was no conceivable way of knowing who’s hand would touch it. Yulia? Sergei? The milkman? Any Tom, Dick or Harry in the street (or any of their children)? If they were going to smear nerve agent on a doorknob, they would’ve done it in the dark – not at noon the next day, when anyone or any camera could watch them doing so, yet no one did. Quite apart from the salient fact that by noon the victims had already left the house never to return to it.

Read more …

Very sorry to see what Jacko was up to.

Sunset Boulevard with Chimp (Kunstler)

If you want some insight into how deep the collective public psychosis of this land runs, check out Dan Reed’s four-hour documentary about the late Michael Jackson streaming on the HBO cable network. The film apparently provoked outrage when it premiered at the Sundance Festival recently, as if it were in bad taste to disclose the icon’s peccadillos in these days of Progressive intersectional triumph. Mr. Jackson methodically assembled a harem of catamites as his show business fame exploded and he struggled with the personal horror of developing into a full-grown man. He solved that problem by restricting his social consort to little boys while surgically metamorphosing into a schematic approximation of a woman — interesting, since he repeatedly referred to women as “evil,” but then his greatest hit was the self-revealing song, Bad.

Everybody and his uncle’s-second-cousin in Hollywood at the time must have known what the deal was with him but they went along with the gag that he was the reincarnation of Peter Pan, just a harmless character out of Show Biz’s own catalog of manufactured mythology, something they could understand, a framing device to spin cotton candy out of the truth that Mr. Jackson was simply a child-molester. [..] perhaps, Leaving Neverland signals an interesting turning point in the madness that has gripped this country for years, and especially the bewitched, bothered, and bewildered thinking class, lost in its labyrinth of sacred monsters. This year 2019 — and especially the coming springtime — promises to be a time of spectacular reversals in politics, manners, and markets.

Read more …

Most of you will be eating yellyfish in your lifetime, it’s not just your kids anymore.

Heatwaves Sweeping Oceans ‘Like Wildfires’ (G.)

The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”. The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say. Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more. The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied.

In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954. As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain. “You have heatwave-induced wildfires that take out huge areas of forest, but this is happening underwater as well,” said Dan Smale at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK, who led the research published in Nature Climate Change. “You see the kelp and seagrasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.”

The damage global warming is causing to the oceans has also been shown in a series of other scientific papers published in the last week. Ocean warming has cut sustainable fish catches by 15% to 35% in five regions, including the North Sea and the East China Sea, and 4% globally, according to work published by Pinsky and colleagues.

Read more …

More victims of European fossil fuel replacements. This is so easy to solve: pay them to NOT build that dam. Demand phasing out of palm oil, in fuel and food.

World’s Rarest Orangutan Under Threat In Indonesia From Dam Project (G.)

Environmentalists in Indonesia have lost a court challenge to a Chinese-backed dam project in Indonesia that will rip through the habitat of the most critically endangered orangutan species. On Monday, the state administrative court in North Sumatra’s capital, Medan, ruled that construction can continue despite critics of the 510-megawatt hydro dam providing evidence that its environmental impact assessment was deeply flawed. Experts said the dam would flood and in other ways alter the habitat of the orangutan species, which numbers only about 800 primates, and was likely to make it impossible to ensure the species survived.

Scientists announced the discovery of the species, Pongo tapanuliensis, in November after DNA analysis and field study revealed unique characteristics. The population, with frizzier hair and distinctively long calls, was previously believed to be Sumatran orangutans, also critically endangered. Without special protection, it is in danger of rapid extinction, according to scientists. The species is found only in the Batang Toru forest, where the dam will be built. Announcing the decision of a three-judge panel, presiding Judge Jimmy C Pardede said the witnesses and facts presented by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, the country’s largest environmental group, in its case against the North Sumatra provincial government were irrelevant.


A newly-discovered species of orangutan, the Pongo tapanuliensis, is only found in the forest where the dam will be built. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

Read more …

Feb 192019
 
 February 19, 2019  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Eisenstaedt The kiss (V-J Day in Times Square) 1945

 

16 States Sue Over Trump’s National Emergency Declaration (NPR)
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein To Leave Office Soon (AFP)
Scott Pelley Commits Career Suicide (Kunstler)
US Auto Industry Lines Up Against Possible Tariffs (R.)
China Car Sales Plunge Most In 7 Years (ZH)
Honda Confirms UK Swindon Plant Will Close In 2021 (G.)
Germany Tops Japan With World’s Largest Current Account Surplus In 2018 (R.)
Euroskeptic Parties Could Paralyze EU (K.)
More MPs Ready To Quit Labour, Corbyn Warned (Ind.)
The First Step For Labour’s Exiles: Bring 29 More With Them (G.)
Museums Grapple With Rise In Pleas For Return Of Foreign Treasures (G.)
Majority Of European Firms Have No CO2 Reduction Targets (G.)
How The World Got Hooked On Palm Oil (G.)

 

 

Way ahead of you: “We will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake.”

16 States Sue Over Trump’s National Emergency Declaration (NPR)

A group of 16 states has filed a lawsuit in a Northern California federal court against President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, calling the president’s decision to use executive power to fund a border wall unconstitutional. The complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeks to bar the administration from using emergency powers to divert money from other programs to a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the start of a legal battle anticipated by both the president and his opponents. “The President has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency,” the plaintiffs wrote in California et al. v. Trump et al.

The lawsuit, spearheaded by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, says that the Constitution gives Congress alone the power to control spending, not the president. Trump declared the emergency on Friday to free up billions of dollars for construction of a long-promised border wall, after Congress passed a spending bill that allocated just $1.375 billion for its construction. The president says he plans to allocate a total of $8 billion to the wall, including redirecting $3.6 billion in military construction funds and $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities. Trump acknowledged the likelihood of legal challenges, saying on Friday, “We will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake.”

The White House has argued that the move is routine. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, presidents have declared national emergencies 60 times, including Trump, since the power was codified in the National Emergencies Act of 1976. But Democratic critics, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have advanced the same argument as the California-led lawsuit, claiming Trump’s declaration violates lawmakers’ power to set spending priorities. Experts seem to think the courts are likely to defer to the president on the question of whether there is an emergency, NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported, and the legal fight is likely to boil down to whether the president has the right under existing law to “reprogram” money Congress has appropriated.

Read more …

I meant to do that.

US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein To Leave Office Soon (AFP)

The US Justice Department official who once oversaw the Russia probe, Rod Rosenstein, plans to resign in mid-March, US news outlets reported. Rosenstein’s departure from his post as deputy attorney general has been expected for some time. CNN late Monday quoted a department official as saying it has nothing to do with recent explosive claims by the former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. McCabe has said that Rosenstein raised the idea of wearing a wire to tape President Donald Trump and talked about removing him from office under the 25th Amendment after Trump fired FBI director James Comey in May 2017.

CNN said Rosenstein has widely been expected to leave his job after Bill Barr is confirmed to fill the vacant post of attorney general. The network said that a departure by Rosenstein next month could suggest the Russia probe being carried out by special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing completion. Trump abruptly fired Comey as pressure rose over the Russia investigation, setting off alarm bells in the FBI and Justice Department. According to McCabe, in a lengthy interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Rosenstein brought up the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which provides for the removal of a sitting president for incapacity.

Read more …

“..the attempt by CBS-News to sell “the sterling career” story of Andrew McCabe (as Mr. Pelley put it), is really just a way for the network to cover its own ass..”

Scott Pelley Commits Career Suicide (Kunstler)

Apparently, one of the main objectives in the 60-Minutes story was to paint Mr. McCabe as an heroic patriot defending America against the wicked, shape-shifting, all-powerful Russia, which had made Mr. Trump its captive. The 60-Minutes piece happens to coincide exactly with the release of Mr. McCabe’s ass-covering book: The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. (Real superheroes fight both.) It also sets up a nice contrapuntal battle between the enigmatic Rod Rosenstein and Mr. McCabe vis-à-vis the idea of “wearing a wire” to record the President en route to running him over with the 25th Amendment. According to Mr. McCabe, there was a lot of lively discussion around this plan.

Mr. Rosenstein has brushed it off as a gag. Mr. McCabe, apparently, thought it was dead serious. They never did get their stories straight. In the meantime, Mr. McCabe’s own colleagues in the FBI’s ethics office and its Inspector General charged him with lying repeatedly about his role in this matter. You had to wonder whether the attempt by CBS-News to sell “the sterling career” story of Andrew McCabe (as Mr. Pelley put it), is really just a way for the network to cover its own ass in acting as a propaganda patsy in the long-running RussiaGate affair. The 60-Minutes segment also coincided with William Barr’s confirmation last week by the senate as the Attorney General, as well as official reports issued by both house and senate committees stating that they found no evidence for the Trump/Russia collusion story.

The ground is shifting under all this seditious hugger-mugger. Whether you are a Trump cheerleader or not (I’m not), there is a reality-based chain of events behind the FBI’s actions from early 2016 on — and the actions of other official players in government — that can only be clarified now in the courts, and chances are pretty good that they will be. It concerns me because the specter of massive institutional failure in federal law enforcement and the news media bodes very darkly for this country’s future.

Read more …

Let’s start with no longer calling it a growth industry. And then execute a controlled demolition. There are enough cars already.

US Auto Industry Lines Up Against Possible Tariffs (R.)

The U.S. auto industry urged President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday not to saddle imported cars and auto parts with steep tariffs, after the U.S. Commerce Department sent a confidential report to the White House late on Sunday with its recommendations for how to proceed. Some trade organizations also blasted the Commerce Department for keeping the details of its “Section 232” national security report shrouded in secrecy, which will make it much harder for the industry to react during the next 90 days Trump will have to review it.

“Secrecy around the report only increases the uncertainty and concern across the industry created by the threat of tariffs,” the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association said in a statement, adding that it was “alarmed and dismayed.” “It is critical that our industry have the opportunity to review the recommendations and advise the White House on how proposed tariffs, if they are recommended, will put jobs at risk, impact consumers, and trigger a reduction in U.S. investments that could set us back decades.” The industry has warned that possible tariffs of up to 25 percent on millions of imported cars and parts would add thousands of dollars to vehicle costs and potentially devastate the U.S economy by slashing jobs.

Read more …

Actually, “For 2018, the drop was 4.1%, marking the first decrease since the early 1990s.”

China Car Sales Plunge Most In 7 Years (ZH)

Car sales in China continued their relentless descent in January, falling 17.7%, as we recently expected would happen when discussing Europe’s tumbling January auto sales. This follows the country’s first full year slump (2018) in more than two decades and it puts further pressure on the state of the global automotive market. The drop marked the eighth monthly retail sales decline in a row and was the biggest one-month drop in seven years. Gu Yatao, a Beijing-based auto analyst with Roland Berger, confirmed to Bloomberg that the “downward pressure is still there. The government isn’t adopting stimulating policies to give the market a shot in the arm.”

The contraction in China comes at the same time that auto markets in Europe and North America continue to shrink as a result of car sharing services and slowing economies. As we have been reporting for months, the slowdown in China continues to be a result of the country’s slowing economy, coupled with the lagging trade war with the United States. Even discounts for the Chinese New Year, which traditionally can help spur sales, weren’t enough to keep consumers in showrooms early this year. It’s a “historic slump” for China: the wholesale decline in January, to 2.02 million units, accelerated from December’s 15.8% slump. For 2018, the drop was 4.1%, marking the first decrease since the early 1990s.

Read more …

Boohoohoo.

Honda Confirms UK Swindon Plant Will Close In 2021 (G.)

Honda has confirmed the closure of its Swindon factory with the loss of 3,500 jobs, dealing another huge blow to Britain’s car industry in the run-up to Brexit. The Japanese carmaker announced it would shut the factory, its only European production site, in 2021, when the current model’s production cycle ends. The Swindon factory produces 150,000 Honda Civics a year – most of them for export to the EU – amounting to about a tenth of total UK vehicle production. It employs 3,500 people but supports many more jobs in the supply chain. Greg Clark, the UK business secretary, said Honda’s plan was “a devastating decision” for Swindon and the UK. “This news is a particularly bitter blow to the thousands of skilled and dedicated staff who work at the factory, their families and all of those employed in the supply chain.”

He said Honda’s move was a “commercial decision based on unprecedented changes in the global market”. Katsushi Inoue, the chief officer for European regional operations and president of Honda Motor Europe, said: “In light of the unprecedented changes that are affecting our industry, it is vital that we accelerate our electrification strategy and restructure our global operations accordingly. “As a result, we have had to take this difficult decision to consult our workforce on how we might prepare our manufacturing network for the future. This has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling today’s announcement will be for our people.”

 

Read more …

Talking about cars…

How Reuters can write this without indicating with whom Germany has its main surpluses is a valid question.

Germany Tops Japan With World’s Largest Current Account Surplus In 2018 (R.)

Germany’s current account surplus shrank but remained by far the world’s largest last year due to strong exports, according to data from the Ifo institute on Tuesday that is likely to renew criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fiscal policies. The IMF and the European Commission have urged Germany for years to do more to lift domestic demand as a way to boost imports, stimulate growth elsewhere and reduce global economic imbalances. Since he took office, U.S. President Donald Trump has also criticized Germany’s export strength.

Germany’s current account surplus, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments, was the world’s largest for the third year running in 2018 at $294 billion, followed by Japan with $173 billion, the Ifo figures showed. Russia came in third with a surplus of $116 billion. When measured in relation to economic output, Germany’s current account surplus shrank for the third year in a row, however, falling to 7.4 percent in 2018 from 7.9 percent the previous year, according to the Ifo figures. Since 2011, Germany’s current account balance has been consistently above the European Commission’s indicative threshold of 6 percent of GDP and the surplus reached a record high of 8.9 percent in 2015.

Read more …

And according to the report, that would be a bad thing.

Euroskeptic Parties Could Paralyze EU (K.)

A new survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) ahead of European Parliament elections in May has found that Euroskeptic parties are on course to win a third of the seats in the assembly, which could potentially undermine the European Union’s cohesion and security. “In the longer term, their ability to paralyze decision-making at the center of the EU would defuse pro-Europeans’ argument that the project is imperfect but capable of reform. At this point, the EU would be living on borrowed time,” said the report, “The 2019 European Elections: How anti-Europeans plan to wreck Europe and what can be done to stop it.” Mark Leonard, director of the London-based think-tank, said that the warning contained in the report, that anti-European parties are gaining strength and could paralyze the EU, should focus the minds of pro-Europeans.

“They must not become trapped into becoming defenders of the status quo in Europe or allowing the election to become a referendum on the issue of migration – which is exactly the battleground that the anti-Europeans want,” he said. “Instead, pro-Europeans need to unmute the silent majority by fighting different elections that Europe’s different publics will vote on – such as the climate change election, the ‘Facebook’ election for those concerned about their data and privacy, the election for those worried about Russian aggression, the prosperity election for those worried about stalled living standards, the rule of law election for those worried about democratic backsliding, and the ‘saving Europe’ election for the EU’s most ardent defenders.”

Read more …

Antisemitism sells as much as Trump does. People eat it up.

More MPs Ready To Quit Labour, Corbyn Warned (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn faces a historic Labour rupture after being warned that more MPs are ready to follow the seven who dramatically quit his party on Monday. The leader publicly appealed for unity while his supporters launched savage attacks on the MPs, branding them “cowards”, “traitors” and “splitters” and demanding they give up their seats. But as the crisis deepened, deputy leader Tom Watson said other MPs are also considering leaving Labour, a party he admitted he sometimes no longer recognises, amid visceral anger over antisemitism, Brexit and Mr Corbyn’s leadership. The breakaway MPs headed by prominent backbenchers Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger said they would form a new “Independent Group” in the House of Commons and invited people from other parties to join.

There were some early signs on Monday evening that they might attract support from disenfranchised Conservatives to the new centre-ground anti-Brexit grouping in the chamber. The group who left Labour, in the first major split of a British political party since the SDP were formed in 1981, also included Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie and Ann Coffey. Shortly after the announcement, Mr Corbyn wrote to every party member expressing his disappointment that a “small group” had left and urged the party “must be united”. But in a longer filmed statement, Mr Watson lamented their departure and in particular the antisemtic abuse suffered by Ms Berger that had preceded her announcement.

He said: “Even a single incident of antisemitism in the Labour Party shames us. Now we have lost Luciana, one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs. “If someone like Luciana no longer believes there is a home for her in the Labour Party then many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay. “That’s why time is short for us. To confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences. To keep others from leaving.” [..] As she resigned, Ms Berger said Labour had become “institutionally antisemitic”, while Mr Gapes, a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the press conference Labour is now a “racist, antisemitic party”. He added: “Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side on so many international issues – from Russia, to Syria, to Venezuela. A Corbyn Labour government would threaten our national security and international alliances.”

Read more …

Less than 40 days before Brexit. So what do you do? Of course.

The First Step For Labour’s Exiles: Bring 29 More With Them (G.)

It has no name, no logo, no staff and no money. Yet those who packed into the tiny room above Westminster Bridge as seven MPs announced they were quitting the Labour party were left in no doubt that this was the beginning of a new political party. “The crucial word is yet,” one of the MPs said afterwards. “We are not a new party – yet.” As of Monday, the group are independents with no special status in the House of Commons. They hope to be something much more concrete, depending on their success in persuading other MPs to join them. In the short term the group has one central task – to convince 29 more disgruntled MPs from any party colour to join their group.

That would give them official third party status – overtaking the SNP and access not just to more “Short money” but also a prized guaranteed slot for the group’s leader at every PMQs, replacing the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Those MPs involved in the new group’s organisation stress that they hope this week will be dominated by several news cycles’ worth of new developments, including an expectation of more defections. If they do not materialise, the group will find it hard to maintain momentum. Two names mentioned as the most likely Conservative targets are the Tory MPs Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, both independent-minded and supporters of the People’s Vote campaign.

The most crucial name on the list of seven is Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree who has faced a slew of antisemitic abuse including death threats that have seen more than one abuser put behind bars. Berger, who is nine months pregnant, had not often been talked about in the same breath as MPs like Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie who have been on the brink of quitting for many months over the party’s Brexit policy. Yet it was she who strode into the room first and chaired the event, looking the most like the group’s leader.

Read more …

What more to say about this display of dumb f*ckery? The entire article doesn’t mention the Parthenon Marbles even once. But between the lines groups them together with a giant sloth. And some art historian says “[museums] are going to have to figure it out or someone is going to figure it out for them..” Nonsense. Just give it back. You stole it.

Museums Grapple With Rise In Pleas For Return Of Foreign Treasures (G.)

Neanderthal skulls and the remains of an extinct sloth named after Charles Darwin are among the items requested for repatriation from British institutions, as documents reveal museums are facing calls to return some of their most treasured items to their places of origin. The pressure on museums to grapple with the provenance of their collections has been revealed by freedom of information requests submitted by the Guardian. A series of high-profile restitution claims have been received by institutions including the British Museum and the Natural History Museum in recent months. They include a call from the government of Gibraltar for the return of Neanderthal remains, including the first adult skull to be discovered by scientists, and a request from Chile for the repatriation of the remains of a now extinct giant ground sloth.

The letters, almost all of which resulted in the requests being rejected, show that long-running restitution claims for high-profile exhibits such as the Parthenon marbles are the tip of the iceberg as debate rages over the right of museums to keep hold of contested collection items. Last month the Egyptian government called on the National Museum of Scotland to produce certification documents for its Egyptian antiquities after a row broke out over plans to display a casing stone from the Great Pyramid of Giza. In October last year, the British Museum faced calls to return Hoa Hakananai’a, a basalt statue taken from Easter Island in 1868 and given to the museum by Queen Victoria the following year. In April, the ministry of cultural heritage in Italy requested the return of a marble relief depicting the freedmen Publius Licinius Philonicus and Publius Licinius Demetrius.


The Hoa Hakananai’a statue from Easter Island is among the artefacts displayed in the British Museum asked to be returned. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

The art historian Alice Procter, whose Uncomfortable Art Tours seek to inform visitors about the colonial history of museums, said British institutions would increasingly be forced into “soul-searching” about the provenance of their items – and whether they should be returned. “This is a really critical time for museums to work out where they stand on these questions,” she said. “Stop hiding behind historical acts. They have little justification for continuing to cite something like the British Museum Act.” Procter referred to a recent report commissioned by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, which caused a stir in the museum world last November with a call for thousands of African artworks held by French museums to be returned to their countries of origin. “It’s one of those situations where [museums] are going to have to figure it out or someone is going to figure it out for them,” said Procter.

Read more …

But 47% already reward their CEOs for climate performance. Wonder what pot of money that comes out of.

Majority Of European Firms Have No CO2 Reduction Targets (G.)

Most European companies have no target for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions even though 80% see climate change as a business risk, a survey has found. Among those that have set climate goals, only one in three stretch beyond 2025, according to the annual Carbon Disclosure Project report. Instead, corporate action has focused in the boardroom, with 47% of firms rewarding their CEOs for climate performance, and a quarter tying incentives to environmental goals. European firms now make up half of the CDP’s environmental “A-list” and the managing director for Europe, Steven Tebbe, praised climate disclosure’s entry into the financial mainstream.

“The next decade is vital if our shift to a sustainable economy is to be successful, and companies lie at the heart of this transition,” he said. A-list companies on the Stoxx global climate change leaders index outperformed their peers by 5.5% per annum this decade, he noted. Although 53% of companies surveyed did not yet have climate goals, 58% reported carbon cuts in 2018, amounting to a total reduction of the equivalent of 85m tonnes of CO2 – as much as Austria’s annual emissions. One third of companies reported increased emissions. One A-listed property management firm, Landsec, has cut its greenhouse gases by 17% since 2014 – on the way to a planned 40% tail-off by 2030.

Read more …

There is essentially zero need for palm oil. But Europe throws it in its biofuels. And all of its food. Because Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and orangutans don’t protest.

Zombies ‘R’ Us. We kill anything for profit, including ourselves.

How The World Got Hooked On Palm Oil (G.)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there grew a magical fruit. This fruit could be squeezed to produce a very special kind of oil that made cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting. Because of these wondrous qualities, people came from around the world to buy the fruit and its oil. In the places where the fruit came from, people burned down the forest so they could plant more trees that grew the fruit – making lots of nasty smoke and sending all of the creatures of the forest scurrying away. When the trees were burned, they emitted a gas that heated up the air. Then everybody was upset, because they loved the forest’s creatures and thought the temperature was warm enough already. A few people decided they shouldn’t use the oil any more, but mostly things went on as before, and the forest kept burning.

This is a true story. Except that it is not magic. The fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), which grows in tropical climates, contains the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. It can handle frying without spoiling, and blends well with other oils. Its combination of different types of fats and its consistency after refining make it a popular ingredient in packaged baked goods. Its low production costs make it cheaper than frying oils such as cottonseed or sunflower. It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. Cosmetics manufacturers prefer it to animal tallow for its ease of application and low price. It is increasingly used as a cheap raw material for biofuels, especially in the European Union.


Orangutans rescued near a palm oil plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rex

It functions as a natural preservative in processed foods, and actually does raise the melting point of ice-cream. Palm oil can be used as an adhesive that binds together the particles in fibreboard. Oil palm trunks and fronds can be made into everything from plywood to the composite body of Malaysia’s national automobile. Worldwide production of palm oil has been climbing steadily for five decades. Between 1995 and 2015, annual production quadrupled, from 15.2m tonnes to 62.6m tonnes. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple again, reaching 240m tonnes. The footprint of palm oil production is astounding: plantations to produce it account for 10% of all global cropland. Today, 3 billion people in 150 countries use products containing palm oil. Globally, we each consume an average of 8kg of palm oil a year.

Of this, 85% comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where worldwide demand for palm oil has lifted incomes, especially in rural areas – but at the cost of tremendous environmental devastation and often with attendant labour and human rights abuses. Fires set to clear forests and create land for more palm plantations are the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, a country of 261 million people. The financial incentive to produce more palm oil is helping to warm the planet, while destroying the only habitat of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and orangutans – driving them towards extinction.

Read more …

May 112018
 
 May 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso La lecture 1932

 

‘Everything’ in Argentina is 20% to 30% Overvalued – Lacalle (BI)
About That FBI ‘Source’ (Strassel)
The Art of Breaking a Deal (Escobar)
China Walks A Fine Line In Iran (Dorsey)
Capitalism Is Collectivist (CA)
Karl Marx Sacrificed Logic On The Altar Of His Desire For Revolution (Keen)
Theresa May Turns Brexit Into Role-Reversal Game (G.)
Third of British Homeowners Priced Out Of Their Own Property (Ind.)
Greece Sees Spike In Waivers Of Inheritance (K.)
The Answer To Life, The Universe And Everything Might Be 73. Or 67 (G.)
Palm Oil Producers Are Wiping Out Orangutans (G.)

 

 

“Obviously the economy will shrink, but it shrinks to reality..”

‘Everything’ in Argentina is 20% to 30% Overvalued – Lacalle (BI)

“Everything” in Argentina is 20% to 30% overvalued, making a financial crisis inevitable, Daniel Lacalle, an economist and fund manager, told Business Insider. A financial crisis has been building in Argentina for years but was hidden by an inflationary bubble which politicians refused to address because they wanted to “avoid the pain,” said Lacalle, chief economist at Tressis SV and a fund manager at Adriza International Opportunities. “Argentina was an accident waiting to happen… Right now GDP [in Argentina] is a fabrication… a complete invention. Obviously the economy will shrink, but it shrinks to reality. It needs to face reality,” he said.

The Argentine peso has been struggling against an increasingly strong dollar. Two interest rate hikes in 24 hours failed to prevent the fall of the currency’s value and the country is seeking billions from the International Monetary Fund, according to reports. The news shocked Argentines who are still traumatized by the last IMF loan which coincided with austerity and the financial crisis in 2001 that caused social and economic chaos. The next crisis could already be underway. “The crisis is already happening. You have seen prices go through the roof, discontent, the economy is not growing as it was supposed to grow,” said Lacalle.

He added that the problems have been building for years but were disguised by a “massive bubble” which came from an “extreme inflow of cheap dollars” during the end of QE and helpful “tailwind” conditions. The tailwind has now reversed thanks to an increasingly strong dollar and the prospect of an interest rate rise from the US Federal Reserve. The result is a crisis which interest rate rises have failed to stave off. It was disguised by politicians who wanted to “avoid the pain of facing the problems, so they tried to indebt their way out of it,” Lacalle said.

Read more …

Planting a spy in a political campaign may cause a problem or two.

About That FBI ‘Source’ (Strassel)

Did the bureau engage in outright spying against the 2016 Trump campaign? The Department of Justice lost its latest battle with Congress Thursday when it allowed House Intelligence Committee members to view classified documents about a top-secret intelligence source that was part of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Even without official confirmation of that source’s name, the news so far holds some stunning implications. Among them is that the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation. In a Thursday press conference, Speaker Paul Ryan bluntly noted that Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s request for details on this secret source was “wholly appropriate,” “completely within the scope” of the committee’s long-running FBI investigation, and “something that probably should have been answered a while ago.”

Translation: The department knew full well it should have turned this material over to congressional investigators last year, but instead deliberately concealed it. House investigators nonetheless sniffed out a name, and Mr. Nunes in recent weeks issued a letter and a subpoena demanding more details. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s response was to double down—accusing the House of “extortion” and delivering a speech in which he claimed that “declining to open the FBI’s files to review” is a constitutional “duty.” Justice asked the White House to back its stonewall. And it even began spinning that daddy of all superspook arguments—that revealing any detail about this particular asset could result in “loss of human lives.” This is desperation, and it strongly suggests that whatever is in these files is going to prove very uncomfortable to the FBI.

The bureau already has some explaining to do. Thanks to the Washington Post’s unnamed law-enforcement leakers, we know Mr. Nunes’s request deals with a “top secret intelligence source” of the FBI and CIA, who is a U.S. citizen and who was involved in the Russia collusion probe. When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency. Ergo, we might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign. This would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting.

Read more …

“Trump has reshuffled the Grand Chessboard. Persians, though, happen to know a thing or two about chess.”

The Art of Breaking a Deal (Escobar)

To cut to the chase, the US decision to leave the JCPOA will not open the path to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last word, repeatedly stressed these are un-Islamic. It will not open the path toward regime change. On the contrary, Iran hardliners, clerical and otherwise, are already capitalizing on their interpretation from the beginning – Washington cannot be trusted. And it will not open the path toward all-out war. It’s no secret every Pentagon war-gaming exercise against Iran turned out nightmarish. This included the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, could be put out of the oil business within hours, with dire consequences for the global economy.

President Hassan Rouhani, in his cool, calm, collected response, emphasized Iran will remain committed to the JCPOA. Immediately before the announcement, he had already said: “It is possible that we will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this.” Responding to Trump, Rouhani stressed: “From now on, this is an agreement between Iran and five countries … from now on the P5+1 has lost its 1… we have to wait and see how the others react. “If we come to the conclusion that with cooperation with the five countries we can keep what we wanted despite Israeli and American efforts, Barjam [the Iranian description of the JCPOA] can survive.”

Clearly, a titanic internal struggle is already underway, revolving around whether the Rouhani administration – which is actively working to diversify the economy – will be able to face the onslaught by the hard-liners. They have always characterized the JCPOA as a betrayal of Iran’s national interest. [..] So, Trump has reshuffled the Grand Chessboard. Persians, though, happen to know a thing or two about chess.

Read more …

China will not turn its back on Iran. Neither will Russia.

China Walks A Fine Line In Iran (Dorsey)

Chinese businessman Sheng Kuan Li didn’t worry about sanctions when he decided in 2010 to invest $200 million in a steel mill in Iran that started producing ingots and billet within months of the lifting of punitive measures against the Islamic republic as part of 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran. With no operations in the United States, Mr. Li was not concerned about being targeted by the US Treasury. Mr. Li, moreover, circumvented financial restrictions on Iran by funding his investment through what he called a “private transfer,” a money swap that was based on trust and avoided regular banking channels. In doing so, Mr. Li was following standard Chinese practice of evading the sanctions regime by using alternative routes or establishing alternative institutions that were in effect immune.

To be able to continue to purchase Iranian oil while sanctions were in place, China, for example, established the Bank of Kunlun to handle Chinese payments. The Chinese experience in circumventing the earlier sanctions will come in handy with Beijing rejecting US President Donald J. Trump’s renewed effort to isolate Iran and force it to make further concessions on its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs as well as the Islamic republic’s regional role in the Middle East by walking away from the 2015 agreement and reintroducing punitive economic measures. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in response to Mr. Trump’s announcement that the People’s Republic was committed to the deal and would “maintain communication with all parties and continue to protect and execute the agreement fully.”

Read more …

How can you maintain individualism rules when you see how people interact with social media?

Capitalism Is Collectivist (CA)

One of the central tenets of late-20th century consumer capitalism is the sanctity of the individual. Margaret Thatcher declared that “There’s no such thing as society, there are individual men and women.” Ayn Rand’s philosophy glamorized anti-social übermenschen who stand against everyone else. Friedrich von Hayek thought mild social welfare policy could be compared to Nazi fascism because they are both “collectivist.” Libertarians promote “individual freedom” with a level of brand discipline that would make Apple proud.

It’s easy to swallow this idea at face value, agreeing that market fundamentalists really do value the inviolability of the individual, while the left believes instead in the collective and the community. After all, market zealots don’t merely try to dismantle policies that benefit the common good. They attack the idea that there can be a common good to begin with. Because leftists talk about social welfare, and supporters of markets put the Individual at the center of their framework, one can forgive those who are seduced by this rhetoric. But it is only rhetoric. In fact, today’s economy is a collectivist enterprise, insofar as collectivism elevates the good of the aggregate and the organization over that of individual human beings.

Get past the well-crafted agitprop, and we see that corporate capitalism is all about subsuming the particular will of an individual to that of the institution. The institutions vary: a monopolistic corporation, a nonprofit charity, an arm of government, the police. But in each, the individual is actually helpless and powerless, with the needs, wants, and will of the larger entity taking priority. Amazon workers work for Amazon: They don’t set the rules of their own workplace, that’s done from above. They don’t own the company, they don’t get to say what it does. And Amazon in particular is a pioneer in sacrificing the sanctity (and dignity) of the individual to the company. The employees serve the corporation, rather than the other way around.

Read more …

Steve on Marx’s crucial mistake.

Karl Marx Sacrificed Logic On The Altar Of His Desire For Revolution (Keen)

With both use-value and exchange-value quantitative, there will be a difference between these two “intrinsically incommensurable magnitudes” (Capital I. Ch. 19) that is the source of surplus. Marx’s best statement of this in relation to labor was in Capital I itself: “The daily cost of maintaining it [Labour], and its daily expenditure in work, are two totally different things. The former determines the exchange-value of the labour power, the latter is its use-value. The fact that half a [working] day’s labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day… The seller of labour power, like the seller of any other commodity, realises its exchange value, and parts with its use-value.”

He thus had a far more satisfying, positive proof as to why Labour was a source of surplus. But was it the only source? What about machinery as well? In the Grundrisse, when he was still enthralled by his new methodology, he applied it correctly to machinery: “It also has to be postulated (which was not done above) that the use-value of the machine [is] significantly greater than its value; i.e. that its devaluation in the service of production is not proportional to its increasing effect on production.” But Gadzooks! This means that machinery can be a source of surplus as well. And if so, then an increasing “organic composition of capital” has no implications for the levels of surplus and profit: they could go up just as well as go down when production became less labour-intensive.

The “Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall” disappears. Socialism is no longer inevitable. Marx’s reaction to this shock discovery was to employ verbal gymnastics until such a time that he could fool himself that he had reconciled the two approaches. He then set about fooling everyone else, and finally declared emphatically—and falsely—that: “However useful a given kind of raw material, or a machine, or other means of production may be, though it may cost £150… yet it cannot, under any circumstances, add to the value of the product more than £150”. With this false statement swallowed by Marx’s followers, the belief in the inevitability of socialism continued. Accidents of history led to his Russia’s Bolshevik followers attempting to impose socialism on feudal Russia, and the rest is a very unfortunate history.

Read more …

What despair looks like.

Theresa May Turns Brexit Into Role-Reversal Game (G.)

Theresa May has ordered Brexiters to study her “customs partnership” model, and remainers to go over the leavers’ “maximum facilitation” proposal, in a bid to thrash out a compromise between the two sides. Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond – apparently regarded as the “ultras” of leave and remain, respectively – have been sitting out of the cabinet working groups. May’s “customs partnership” will be examined by Brexiters Liam Fox and Michael Gove, teamed with remainer and Cabinet Office minister David Lidington. “Max-fac” will be workshopped by remainers Greg Clark, the business secretary, and Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, along with Brexit secretary David Davis, a leaver.

The ministers have until Tuesday to examine their options, but entrenched positions mean a breakthrough is not expected. One cabinet minister told the Guardian it is partly about May wanting to “kick any decisions down the road for as long as she can”. It certainly looks that way, after Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, announced government business for the next fortnight – minus the EU withdrawal bill, which needs to come back from the Lords but is peppered with amendments that have enraged Brexiters. Labour accused the government of “subverting democracy” with the delay.

Sir John Major, meanwhile, has hit out at Brexiters’ failure to grasp that leaving the customs union would mean a hard border in Ireland and damaging consequences for peace there. The Conservative former PM, speaking at the Irish embassy in London, said without a customs union, border checks would be required by law, especially for food, animals and animal feed. “If so, a physical border seems unavoidable,” he said.

Read more …

How bubbles implode. Slowly at first.

Third of British Homeowners Priced Out Of Their Own Property (Ind.)

More than one in three UK homeowners wouldn’t be able to afford their home if it were listed on the property market at today’s value says new research, as the latest data confirms prices stutter upwards. The Halifax House Price Index, a leading measure of the state of the property market, this week released figures showing prices in the last three months were 2.2% higher than in the same period last year, with the average property now coming in at £220,962. The figures support separate findings that suggest that a significant proportion of those who have owned their own home even for a few years would already be priced out of the market if they were to attempt the purchase again, despite historically low mortgage interest rates.

More than one in three of the 3,000 property owners surveyed by MyJobQuote said their home’s value had increased to the point that they would be unable to afford it at the current value – an average of £50,000 more than their original purchase price – or that changes to their financial circumstances would now make it impossible. However, the Halifax data suggests that a downward price trend that had been contained in geographical pockets until recently is becoming more widespread. While the annual figures still show a reasonable increase, month by month, prices are currently dropping nationally by an average of more than 3%. At a time when the property market traditionally enters a stronger summer buying season, the latest data, which follows a 1.6% increase in average prices in March, suggests a rocky state of affairs.

Read more …

Properties become unused and useless. There is no reason for this to happen. Scorched Earth.

Greece Sees Spike In Waivers Of Inheritance (K.)

The exhaustion of Greeks’ taxpaying capacity and the difficulties in meeting day-to-day expenses are leading to more and more citizens waiving inheritances, especially when they concern real estate assets. Legal sources say that the phenomenon no longer only concerns people waiving inheritances due to the debts of the deceased (which they would have to pay), but has spread to those wishing to avoid the payment of the inheritance tax and the Single Property Tax (ENFIA), as well as expenses related to property maintenance. According to the latest data available, in 2017 such waivers amounted to 130,000, while the definitive data will be issued soon, according to Justice Ministry sources.

That figure is quite impressive, given that it is almost three times the number of inheritance waivers in 2016 (54,422), and is up by 333 percent on the 2013 figure. This means that the state takes ownership of properties that cannot be utilized, as the fate of those assets remains unknown given that the state’s auction programs are fairly limited. For instance, in the first half of this month, the state will auction just three properties, after 15 assets went under the hammer over the previous fortnight but without any success. It also remains unknown how many assets have come under state ownership as a result of confiscations and property concessions.

What is certain is that all these properties are assets that will drop in value, which will make it even more difficult to find buyers for them in the future. Every beneficiary has the right to waive an inheritance, except for the state. The deadline for waiving an inheritance is four months after the day a will is published. If there is no will, the four-month period starts on the day the person dies. However, if the deceased lived abroad or the heir has their main residence in another country, then the deadline for waiving an inheritance extends to 12 months. The acceptance or waiver has to concern the entire inheritance, not parts of it.

Read more …

“..the universe is getting bigger quicker than it should be..”

The Answer To Life, The Universe And Everything Might Be 73. Or 67 (G.)

A crisis of cosmic proportions is brewing: the universe is expanding 9% faster than it ought to be and scientists are not sure why. The latest, most precise, estimate of the universe’s current rate of expansion – a value known as the Hubble constant – comes from , which is conducting the most detailed ever three-dimensional survey of the Milky Way. The data has allowed the rate of expansion to be pinned down to a supposed accuracy of a couple of percent. However, this newest estimate stands in stark contradiction with an independent measure of the Hubble constant based on observations of ancient light that was released shortly after the Big Bang. In short, the universe is getting bigger quicker than it should be.

The mismatch is significant and problematic because the Hubble constant is widely regarded as the most fundamental number in cosmology. “The fact the universe is expanding is really one of the most powerful ways we have to determine the composition of the universe, the age of the universe and the fate of the universe,” said Professor Adam Riess, at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the latest analysis. “The Hubble constant quantifies all that into one number.” In an expanding universe, the further away a star or galaxy is, the quicker it is receding. Hubble’s constant – proposed by Edwin Hubble in the 1920s – reveals by how much.

So one approach to measuring it is by observing the redshifts of bright supernovae, whose light is stretched as the very space it is travelling through expands. A challenge, though, is pinpointing the exact distance of these stars. [..] The new data puts the Hubble constant at 73, which translates to galaxies moving away from us 73km per second faster for each additional megaparsec of distance between us and them (a megaparsec is about 3.3m light-years). However, a separate estimate of Hubble comes from observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background, relic radiation that allows scientists to calculate how quickly the universe was expanding 300,000 years after the big bang.

“The cosmic microwave background is the light that is the furthest away from us that we can see,” said Riess. “It’s been travelling for 13.7bn years… and it’s telling us how fast the universe was expanding when the universe was a baby.” Scientists then use the cosmic equivalent of a child growth chart (a computational model that roughly describes the age and contents of the universe and the laws of physics) to predict how fast the universe should be expanding today. This gives a Hubble value of 67.

Read more …

Mass extinction and mass insanity.

Palm Oil Producers Are Wiping Out Orangutans (G.)

These extraordinary creatures are our closest relatives, sharing 97% of our DNA. Their similarity to us is astonishing. They are intelligent, inquisitive, smile and show empathy. They even laugh when tickled, like us, when most other animals have evolved to be ticklish only in an itchy, irritating sort of way as a protective reflex. Encountering orangutans in the wild is like nothing else I’ve experienced. They once thrived in Indonesia’s lush, green rainforests but over the last 50 years they have been forced from their home and killed. In the last 16 years alone, 100,000 Bornean orangutans have been lost. All three species – Bornean, Sumatran and the Tapanuli, a species discovered only last year – are now on the critically endangered list.

The reason? It started in the 1960s as forests were logged for timber, but now it’s palm oil. Global demand for palm oil has increased six-fold since 1990. It’s in half of all packaged products on supermarket shelves and to avoid it completely would be incredibly tricky. Although palm oil in food can no longer be described simply as vegetable oil and must be clearly labelled (thanks to an EU directive in 2014), there is no such law for products such as soap, shampoo and other cosmetics. The supermarket Iceland’s decision to ditch palm oil from all of its own-brand products was, it says, a response to the palm oil industry’s catastrophic failure to halt deforestation and deal with the problem.

Even the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – the industry body charged with ensuring registered companies trade only in oil that has not come from deforestation – is failing spectacularly. Just over a week ago, Greenpeace exposed massive rainforest destruction in Papua allegedly caused by palm oil companies that are subsidiaries of a current RSPO member. Buying from them were big multinationals including Unilever, Nestlé, Pepsico and Mars. The companies concerned have responded by saying they are taking Greenpeace’s claims seriously and taking appropriate action. But if Greenpeace’s assertions are correct, no company can claim the palm oil it uses is 100% “sustainable”.

Read more …

Feb 162018
 
 February 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Yellow haystacks (Golden harvest) 1889

 

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)
There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)
T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)
“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)
Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)
Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)
Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)
US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)
Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)
Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)
Monopolies Game the System (Nation)
Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)
Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

 

 

Short is hip again.

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)

You ain’t seen nothing yet. Some veteran investors who were vindicated in calling for a pullback in shares and a spike in volatility could now be cheering. Actually, they’re looking at the risks that still lie ahead in the current relative calm. The last week’s wild market swings confirmed that the market was in correction territory – falling more than 10% from its high. The falls were triggered by higher bond yields and fears of inflation but came against a backdrop of a stretched market that had taken price/earnings levels to as high as 18.9. Adding to downwards pressure was the unwinding of bets that volatility would stay low. The fall had come after a growing number of strategists and investors said a pullback was in the offing – although the consensus opinion was that the market would then start rising again. The big question is: what comes now?

“Do you honestly believe today is the bottom?” said Jeffrey Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King, last week, who had been warning for more than a year that markets were too calm. Gundlach had been particularly vocal in his warnings about the VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which tracks the volatility implied by options on the S&P 500. The sell-off in U.S. stocks derailed some popular short volatility exchange-traded products, which contributed to more downwards pressure on the market. Gundlach in May last year warned that the VIX was “insanely low.” Hedge fund manager Douglas Kass was short SPDR S&P 500 ETF and said he “took a lot of small losses” last year but says he still sees more stress ahead. He said he is now re-shorting that ETF. Investors who bet low volatility would continue will need time to unwind their strategies, Kass said.

[..] Veteran short-seller Bill Fleckenstein, who ran a short fund but closed it in 2009, said that “last week’s action was an early indication that the end of bull market is upon us.” Fleckenstein said there was a lot of money in the market with no conviction behind it, for example, buying index funds and ETFs just “to be part of the party” which was an element of “hot money.” “Last week was just the preview to the bigger event that we’ll see this year probably,” Fleckenstein said. Fleckenstein said he is not short at the moment – although he did make “a couple of bucks” last week shorting Nasdaq futures. He said he is looking for an opportunity to get short again. He said he has “flirted with the idea of restarting a short fund”.

Read more …

The US is betting big. But don’t let that blind you to the fact that so is everyone else.

There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)

Last week, Congress passed a 2-year “continuing resolution, or C.R.,” to keep the Government funded through the 2018 elections. While “fiscal conservatism” was just placed on the sacrificial alter to satisfy the “Re-election” Gods,” the bigger issue is the impact to the economy and, ultimately, the financial markets. The passage of the $400 billion C.R. has an impact that few people understand. When a C.R. is passed it keeps Government spending at the same previous baseline PLUS an 8% increase. The recent C.R. just added $200 billion per year to that baseline. This means over the next decade, the C.R. will add $2 Trillion in spending to the Federal budget. Then add to that any other spending approved such as the proposed $200 billion for an infrastructure spending bill, money for DACA/Immigration reform, or a whole host of other social welfare programs that will require additional funding.

But that is only half the problem. The recent passage of tax reform will trim roughly $2 Trillion from revenues over the next decade as well. This is easy math. Cut $2 trillion in revenue, add $2 trillion in spending, and you create a $4 trillion dollar gap in the budget. Of course, that is $4 Trillion in addition to the current run rate in spending which continues the current acceleration of the “debt problem.”

But it gets worse. As Oxford Economics reported via Zerohedge: “The tax cuts passed late last year, combined with the spending bill Congress passed last week, will push deficits sharply higher. Furthermore, Trump’s own budget anticipates that US debt will hit $30 trillion by 2028: an increase of $10 trillion.” Oxford is right. In order to “pay for” all of the proposed spending, at a time when the government will receive less revenue in the form of tax collections, the difference will be funded through debt issuance.

Simon Black recently penned an interesting note on this: “Less than two weeks ago, the United States Department of Treasury very quietly released its own internal projections for the federal government’s budget deficits over the next several years. And the numbers are pretty gruesome. In order to plug the gaps from its soaring deficits, the Treasury Department expects to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year. Then nearly $1.1 trillion next fiscal year. And up to $1.3 trillion the year after that. This means that the national debt will exceed $25 trillion by September 30, 2020.”

Of course, “fiscal responsibility” left Washington a long time ago, so, what’s another $10 Trillion at this point? While this issue is not lost on a vast majority of Americans that “choose” to pay attention, it has been quickly dismissed by much of the mainstream media, and Congressman running for re-election, by suggesting tax reform will significantly boost economic growth over the next decade. The general statement has been: “By passing much-needed tax reform, we will finally unleash the economic growth engine which will more than pay for these tax cuts in the future.”

Read more …

Nobody expects the bond vigilantes?!

T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)

Get ready for the deluge of Treasury bills, and the increase in short-term funding costs that’s likely to accompany it. Investors are bracing for an onslaught of T-bill supply following last week’s U.S. debt ceiling suspension. That’s already prompting them to demand higher rates from borrowers across money markets. And that’s just a result of the government replenishing its cash hoard to normal levels. The ballooning budget deficit means there’s even more to come later, and that deluge of supply could further buoy funding costs down the line, making life more expensive both for the government and companies that borrow in the short-term market. Concerns about the U.S. borrowing cap had forced the Treasury to trim the total amount of bills it had outstanding, but that’s no longer a problem and the government is now busy ramping up issuance.

Financing estimates from January show that the Treasury expects to issue $441 billion in net marketable debt in the current quarter and the bulk of that is likely to be in the short-term market. “Supply will come in waves and we’re in a very heavy wave right now,” said Mark Cabana at Bank of America. “If you take Treasury at their word that they want to issue $300 billion in bills, that’s a lot of net supply that needs to come to market.” Next week’s three- and six-month bill auctions will be the largest on record at $51 billion and $45 billion respectively, Treasury said Thursday. The four-week auction will be boosted to $55 billion next week, having already been lifted to $50 billion for the Feb. 13 sale. Auction volume at the tenor had earlier been shrunk to just $15 billion.

Read more …

Spikes but is still negative. Wait till that changes.

“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)

The weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress index, released today, just spiked beautifully. It had been at historic lows back in November, an expression of ultra-loose financial conditions in the US economy, dominated by risk-blind investors chasing any kind of yield with a passion, which resulted in minuscule risk premiums for investors and ultra-low borrowing costs even for even junk-rated borrows. The index ticked since then, but in the latest week, ended February 9, something happened. The index, which is made up of 18 components (seven interest rate measures, six yield spreads, and five other indices) had hit a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, 2017, even as the Fed had been raising its target range for the federal funds rate and had started the QE Unwind. It began ticking up late last year, hit -1.35 a week ago, and now spiked to -1.06.

The chart above shows the spike of the latest week in relationship to the two-year Oil Bust that saw credit freeze up for junk-rated energy companies, with the average yield of CCC-or-below-rated junk bonds soaring to over 20%. Given the size of oil-and-gas sector debt, energy credits had a large impact on the overall average. The chart also compares today’s spike to the “Taper Tantrum” in the bond market in 2014 after the Fed suggested that it might actually taper “QE Infinity,” as it had come to be called, out of existence. This caused yields and risk premiums to spike, as shown by the Financial Stress index. This time, it’s the other way around: The Fed has been raising rates like clockwork, and its QE Unwind is accelerating, but for months markets blithely ignored it. Until suddenly they didn’t.

This reaction is visible in the 10-year Treasury yield, which had been declining for much of last year, despite the Fed’s rate hikes, only to surge late in the year and so far this year. It’s also visible in the stock market, which suddenly experienced a dramatic bout of volatility and a breathless drop from record highs. And it is now visible in other measures, including junk-bond yields that suddenly began surging from historic low levels. The chart of the ICE BofAML US High Yield BB Effective Yield Index, via the St. Louis Fed, shows how the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds surged from around 4.05% last September to 4.98% now, the highest since November 20, 2016:

But a longer-term chart shows just how low the BB-yield still is compared to where it had been in the years after the Financial Crisis, and how much more of a trajectory it might have ahead:

The Financial Stress Index is designed to show a level of zero for “normal” financial conditions. When these conditions are easy and when there is less financial stress than normal, the index is negative. The index turns positive when financial conditions are tighter than normal. But at -1.06, it remains below zero. In other words, financial conditions remain extraordinarily easy. This is clear in a long-term chart of the index that barely shows the recent spike, given the magnitude of prior moves. This is precisely what the Fed wants to accomplish.

Read more …

Feels a bit like Soros vs Britain in 1992.

Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)

Ray Dalio, billionaire philosopher-king of the world’s biggest hedge fund, has a checklist to identify the best time to sell stocks: a strong economy, close to full employment and rising interest rates. That may explain why the firm he created, Bridgewater Associates, has caused a to-do the past two weeks by quickly amassing an $21.65 billion bet against Europe’s biggest companies. The firm’s total asset pool is $150 billion, according to its website. Economic conditions in Europe appear to fit Dalio’s requirements. Last year, the continent’s economy grew at the fastest pace in a decade, and ECB President Mario Draghi has indicated he’s on a slow path toward boosting rates as economic slack narrows. Factories around the world are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with demand, potentially forcing them to raise prices.

But Dalio is leading his firm down a path that few other funds care to tread. Renaissance Technologies, most recently famous for its association with Breitbart donor Robert Mercer, is only $42 million short in Europe. Two Sigma Investments is betting even less than that. Kenneth Griffin’s Citadel has less than $2 billion in European company shorts. So Dalio will rise or fall virtually on his own. “It is not unusual to see strong economies accompanied by falling stock and other asset prices, which is curious to people who wonder why stocks go down when the economy is strong and don’t understand how this dynamic works,” Dalio wrote in a LinkedIn post this week. Bridgewater’s shorting spree started last fall in Italy. With the country’s big banks accumulating billions in bad debt, Bridgewater mounted a $770 million wager against Italian financial stocks.

Saddled with non-performing loans and under constant regulatory scrutiny, they made for a juicy target. Throughout the fall and into winter the bet against Italy represented the majority of Bridgewater’s publicly disclosed short positions. The initial bet was eventually raised to encompass 18 firms and nearly $3 billion. Bridgewater had flipped its portfolio in January to turn bearish on Western Europe stocks and also started shorting Japanese equities, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The hedge fund significantly raised its long U.S. equities exposure last month, the person added.

Read more …

“This market is nuts.”

Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)

With stocks erasing their early-day losses and the VIX tumbling once again, CNBC – the go-to resource for retirees and other retail investors – was back to reassuring investors that this month’s explosion of volatility was just another dip deserving to be bought. But Embark Capital CIO Peter Toogood offered an important counterpoint during an appearance this morning where he warned his audience against exactly this kind of credulousness by ignoring the fundamental growth global growth story that seemingly every other portfolio manager has been relying on and instead pointing to one simple fact: “Everybody is already invested”.

But even with positioning stretched to such an exaggerated degree, that doesn’t necessarily mean a crash is right around the corner. Instead, Toogood foresees a “step bear market” that will continue until the PPT, newly reconstituted under the leadership of Jerome Powell, realizes that they must once again intervene…because with so much systemic debt and myriad other risks – like the dangerously underfunded pensions that we’ve highlighted again and again – a sustained selloff would be far too risky to countenance. “I noticed Dudley the other day say ‘this is small potatoes’ and warning investors not to worry about it. And I would accept that’s all true, if everybody wasn’t already invested. And I want to know who the marginal buyer of this story is. Everyone is in. Look at consumer sentiment surveys, loo at professional money managers, everyone is in. So who’s the buyer? It’s very 2007-2008.”

He added that hedge fund managers are now “sitting around scratching their heads” because even European high yield bonds – the debt of some of the worst companies on Earth – are yielding a staggeringly low 2%. Toogood also pointed out that stocks are breaking through important technical levels… “You’re breaking some very major levels in most markets outside of the US still, and that is very, very significant. That is the test of where you’d think a bear market is coming; I still do, just on valuation alone. I think this market is nuts,” Toogood said. Which is leaving asset managers in a bind… “It’s one of those extremely unpleasant moments when people need income but income is expensive and that’s the other problem we see … We are forced into high yield (bonds) and we don’t want to be there,” Toogood said.’

Read more …

“..our currency, but your problem..”

Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)

“There is no longer any doubt that the U.S. government is not only waging a currency war, but is also in the process of winning it,” Joachim Fels, chief economist at Pimco, says. Trump’s policies represent a threat to Europe’s recovery, a situation that has displeased the ECB. But there isn’t much the ECB can do about it. By pursuing economic policies that ignore the needs of America’s trading partners – an approach economists refer to as “beggar-thy-neighbor” – Trump has revisited an old American tradition. In the early 1970s, it was Treasury Secretary John Connally who raised the prospect of a budget deficit of $40 billion – a massive sum at the time – and justified it as “fiscal stimulus.” In response to concerns voiced by his European counterparts, worried as they were about the weak dollar, he responded with his legendary line that the dollar “is our currency, but your problem.”

Lloyd Bentsen, treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, informed the Japanese in 1993 that he urgently desired a stronger yen in order to stem the Asian trading partner’s high export surpluses. With “America First,” Trump has now elevated “beggar thy neighbor” to the status of administration doctrine. The first part of Trump’s economic policy agenda envisions stimulating the economy through tax cuts and public infrastructure investments. That would help American companies, and the rest of the world could also profit initially if the U.S. economy were to grow more rapidly and companies in Europe or Asia were to receive more orders. But it’s the second part of the Trump program that reveals the real strategic thrust.

During the same weak that the treasury secretary could be heard preaching the virtues of a weak dollar, the U.S. government imposed steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar cells. The combination of a weak dollar and protectionist measures are aimed at creating a competitive advantage for American companies versus their competitors from around the world. “The government clearly wants a weak dollar right now because inflation is moderate and a weaker dollar will make it easier for the manufacturing sector to grow,” says Barry Eichengreen, a professor for economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Read more …

Europe will have to act. Simple as that.

US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)

The US dollar has dropped 2.0% in the past five days, 2.4% over the past month, 4.1% year-to-date, 5.3% over the past three months, and 9.4 % over the past 12 months, according to the WSJ Dollar Index. At 82.47, the index is at the lowest level since December 25, 2014: The index weighs the US dollar against a basket of 16 other currencies that account for about 80% of the global currency trading volume: Euro, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Mexican Peso, Australian Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Hong Kong Dollar, South Korean Won, Swiss Franc, Swedish Krona, Singapore Dollar, Indian Rupee, Turkish Lira, and Russian Ruble. The currencies are weighted based on their foreign exchange trading volume.

Whatever the reasons may be for the decline of the dollar against this basket of currencies — everyone has their own theory, ranging from the much prophesied death of the dollar to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s actively dissing the dollar at every opportunity he gets — one thing we know: The decline started in late December 2016, after the index had peaked at 93.50. And it has not abated since. With the index currently at 82.47, it has fallen nearly 12% over those 14 months. The dominant factor in the decline of the dollar index is the strength of the euro, the second largest currency. Over those 14 months, the euro, which had been given up for dead not too long ago, has surged 20% against the dollar. The decline of the dollar is another indication that markets have blown off the Fed, similar to the 10-year Treasury yield falling for much of last year, even as the Fed was raising its target range for the federal funds rate.

The Fed keeps an eye on the dollar. A weak dollar makes imports more expensive and, given the huge trade deficit of the US, adds to inflationary pressures in the US. Over the past few years, the Fed has practically been begging for more inflation. So for the Fed, which is chomping at the bit to raise rates further, the weak dollar is a welcome sight. Conversely, a surging dollar would worry the Fed. At some point it would get nervous and chime in with the chorus emanating from the Treasury Department and the White House trying to talk down the dollar. If the dollar were to surge past certain levels, and jawboning isn’t enough to knock it down, the Fed might alter its monetary policies and might back off its rate-hike strategies or it might slow down the QE Unwind.

Read more …

“For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago Good luck trying to find buyers.

Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)

The chances of a young adult on a middle income owning a home have more than halved in the past two decades. New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows how an explosion in house prices above income growth has increasingly robbed the younger generation of the ability to buy their own home. For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago. Middle income young adults born in the late 1980s are now no more likely than those lower down the pay scale to own their own home. Those born in the 1970s were almost as likely as their peers on higher wages to have bought their own home during young adulthood.

Andrew Hood, a senior research economist at the IFS, said: “Home ownership among young adults has collapsed over the past 20 years, particularly for those on middle incomes.” The IFS said young adults from wealthy backgrounds are now significantly more likely than others to own their own home. Between 2014 and 2017 roughly 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds whose parents were in lower-skilled jobs such as delivery drivers or sales assistants owned their own home, versus 43% for the children of those in higher-skilled jobs such as lawyers and teachers. The study shows the growing disparities between rich and poor, as well as young and old, across the country. It also illustrates the drop in home ownership over the past decade. While those on middle incomes have seen the largest fall in ownership rates, those in the top income bracket have been least affected.

Read more …

Who needs capitalism when you can worship the golden calf?

Long article in a new series at the Nation.

Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)

Warren Buffett should not be celebrated as an avatar of American capitalism; he should be decried as a prime example of its failure, a false prophet leading the nation toward more monopoly and inequality. You probably didn’t realize that the same avuncular billionaire controls such diverse companies and products as See’s Candies, Duracell batteries, Justin Boots, Benjamin Moore Paints, and World Book encyclopedias. But Buffett has transformed Berkshire Hathaway, initially a relatively small textile manufacturer, into the world’s largest non-technology company by market value. Berkshire Hathaway owns over 60 different brands outright. And through Berkshire, Buffett also invests in scores of public corporations. The conglomerate closed 2016 with over $620 billion in assets.

The money mainly comes from Berkshire’s massive insurance business, composed of the auto insurer GEICO, the global underwriter General Reinsurance Corporation, and 10 other subsidiaries. Insurance premiums don’t get immediately paid out in claims; while the cash sits, Buffett can invest it. This is known as “float,” and Berkshire Hathaway’s float has ballooned from $39 million in 1970 to approximately $113 billion as of last September. It’s a huge advantage over rival investors—effectively the world’s largest interest-free loan, helping to finance Buffett’s pursuit of monopoly. “[W]e enjoy the use of free money—and, better yet, get paid for holding it,” Buffett said in his most recent investor letter. Indeed, as a 2017 Fortune article noted, with almost $100 billion in cash at the end of that year’s second fiscal quarter, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway literally has more money than it knows what to do with.

The dominant narrative around Buffett is that he invests in big, blue-chip companies whose products he enjoys, like Coca-Cola or Heinz ketchup. But Buffett’s taste for junk food cannot match his hunger for monopoly, and he scours the investment landscape to satisfy it.

Read more …

Monopoly contradicts capitalism. Well, in theory, that is.

Monopolies Game the System (Nation)

More than a century ago, Elizabeth Magie developed two sets of rules for a board game that would become known as Monopoly. There’s the one we know today: You play an aspiring real-estate tycoon, buying up properties to extract ever-larger sums from your opponents; you win when everyone else is destitute. But in Magie’s version, players could agree to switch midgame to a second rule book. Instead of paying rent to a landowner, they’d send funds to a common pot. The game would be over when the poorest player doubled their capital. Magie’s goal was to show the cruelty of monopoly power and the moral superiority of progressive taxation. Her board game was a rebuke to the slumlords and corporate giants of the Gilded Age.

Today, a few corporations once again dominate sectors of our economy. In an interview with The Nation’s George Zornick, Senator Elizabeth Warren points out that two companies sell 70% of the beer in the country; four companies produce 85% of American beef; and four airlines account for 80% of domestic seats. With monopolies squeezing out the competition and underpaying workers, profits are funneled to a tiny elite. It’s no coincidence that the three richest Americans—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett—are together worth slightly more than the bottom half of the entire US population.

Just as railroad monopolies once controlled the crucial infrastructure of 19th-century commerce, tech companies are trying to own the infrastructure of the 21st. As Stacy Mitchell explains in “The Empire of Everything,” Amazon is not only the leading retail platform, but it has developed a vast distribution network to handle package delivery. Amazon announced in February that it would begin testing its own delivery service, which could soon rival UPS and FedEx. It also runs more than a third of the world’s cloud-computing capacity, handling data for the likes of Netflix, Nordstrom, and The Nation. Unlike past monopolies, however, Amazon doesn’t want to dictate to the market; it seeks to replace the market entirely.

Under these conditions, small businesses and start-ups are struggling to compete. In 2017, there were approximately 7,000 store closings—more than triple the number in the prior year. And the percentage of companies in the United States that are new businesses has dropped by nearly half since 1978. In many industries, starting a new business is like playing Monopoly when all the squares have already been purchased: Everywhere you land, there’s a monopolist making demands, everything from fees to sell items on its website to the release of data with which to undercut you later.

Read more …

EU and US better act. Greece will start shooting soon. They have a formidable army.

Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)

Athens toughened up its stance on Turkish action in the eastern Aegean, with the foreign minister and the government spokesman making it clear to Ankara that Greece’s response to another incident will not be peaceful. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said in an interview on Alpha TV late on Thursday that the incident on Monday, when a Turkish vessel rammed a Greek one off Imia island, “touched on the red line and in some sense it overstepped it.” He went on to add that there will not be another such peaceful behavior by the Greek side should such an incident recur.

Kotzias also clarified that “Imia is Greek” and warned Ankara “you should not open a gray-zone issue, because if we do, based on international law, not only are you wrong but you will also incur losses.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos echoed Kotzias on Friday morning, warning that aggression will be met with an equal response. “If there is another act of Turkish aggression on Greek territory, there will be a response and there is no other way for us,” he told Skai TV. Greece’s verbal toughening comes as the Turkish armed forces conducted an extensive war game near the Greek-Turkish land border by Evros river in Thrace, including the scenario of crossing a river to invade a neighboring country.

Read more …

Words cannot express the sadness. Once we’ve eradicated the man of the woods, man is next.

Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report. Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers. However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species. The report published in the Current Biology Journal found more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015. “Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape. “Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction. UK consumers can make a difference through only supporting brands and retailers that buy sustainable palm oil.” Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover. [..] The report comes after an orangutan was shot at least 130 times with an air gun before it died earlier in the month, according to police in Borneo.

Read more …