Mar 162018
 
 March 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Women of Algiers (after Delacroix) 1955

 

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)
UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)
Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)
Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)
UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)
UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)
More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)
European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)
Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)
EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)
The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)
Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

 

 

Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.

 

 

Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)

[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.

Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:

“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:

“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”

[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’

Read more …

People are subject to abuse for questioning the official story. At least Corbyn has the decency to ask for evidence.

UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)

It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.

The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.

[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”

Read more …

Casino.

Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)

It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.

And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.

The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!

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Household debt. That’s the focal point.

Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)

There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.

So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.

I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).

Read more …

You can see the wall ahead that hey’re about to crash into.

UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)

Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.

Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.

He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.

Read more …

What QE has brought us. This is a global phenomenon revealed stronger and sooner in Britain because of, but not caused by, Brexit.

UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)

The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.

“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.

Read more …

Third world here we come.

More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)

More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.

The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.

[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”

Read more …

This is Brussels. Simple as that. The next crony case is already known in the person of Selmayr. More on that soon. There are a few decent people in Brussels, but they don’t have much time left.

European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)

An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.

She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.

[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..

The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”

Read more …

Abe had better leave while he can.

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)

A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.

Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…

Read more …

How to spell recovery.

Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)

Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.

Read more …

That EU-Turkey refugee deal looks darker by the minute. Dirty politics.

EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)

The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.

Read more …

No, really, it’s an industry.

The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)

Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.

My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.

Read more …

There are still a few smart people left.

Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.

This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”

Read more …

Feb 212018
 
 February 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:06 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


J.J. Grandville ‘A Comet’s Journey’, Illustration from ‘Un Autre Monde’ 1844

 

Oxfam. I’m wondering if I should warn this is not for the faint of heart, or say don’t read on an empty stomach. If so, hereby. I know I found it hard.

The first and foremost thing the BBC last week felt its audience should know about the sleaziest scandal to come out of Britain in quite some time -and that’s saying something- is that an actress had turned her back on the aid organization. Your news in bite-size pre-chewed headlines.

While a guy who ‘served’ Oxfam in Bosnia claims it’s nobody’s business if he visited the local hookers in his spare time. The head office even specifically refuses to ban staff from doing that. Not violating a staff member’s civil liberties trumps a question like what drives desperate women -girls- into prostitution that same staff member pays for with money donated to aid desperate people.

Someone at the Dutch Oxfam/Novib office complained that his British colleagues should have provided more information, sooner, because now his branch suffers from the scandal (fewer donations). A branch that knew about it at least as far back as 2012, and passed on the info to the Dutch Foreign Ministry and Accounting Office. Who looked at potential -financial- damage in their country, found none, and located a carpet to sweep it under.

The only right choice for us, and our governments, would seem to be to cancel all donations to Oxfam, because apparently nobody connected to the organization is able to figure out who the actual victims are here. They instead portray themselves as the victims.

Of all people, its own chief executive feels a need, when responding to accusations of child sex abuse concerning his organization, to paint himself -and Oxfam- as victims. ‘Anything we say is being manipulated. We’ve been savaged’ . How does that guy hold on to that job?

Charities like Oxfam receive donations to help those people who have fallen victim to the conditions that exist where they live, be they manmade or due to natural disaster. Obviously, if Oxfam cannot (will not) even correctly identify these victims, it has no reason to exist.

Of course Oxfam announces more internal investigations when these accusations come out, but it’s too late. They’ve hush-hushed all previous such investigations, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again. Oxfam has covered up the issues for a long time, likely decades, and if they can no longer cover things up -like now-, they try and make things look like incidents, stand-alone occurrences. This is a pattern.

 

Of course there are many people involved in international aid who are pure -enough- souls with the best intentions, but that’s simply not enough: sexual predation has infiltrated its ranks to such a degree, and management has refused to take the only appropriate steps against its perpetrators for so long, that sex abuse has become Oxfam’s middle name. And that very much includes child sex abuse.

I’ve been reading a lot about the story over the past 10 days, and one of the things that stand out is that the typical first reaction is to cover up whatever nastiness it is that surfaces, out of fear that donations would suffer. Instead of thinking about the people Oxfam is supposed to help, for which it receives those donations, and put their interests first. That is a death sentence for any aid organization. And rightly so.

It’s quite simple when you think about it: if we allow Oxfam to continue to exist, we accept that the aid we pay for through donations is sold to victims for sex. If you say, as many people do, that shutting down Oxfam will ‘only’ be bad for those in need who rely on it for aid, then that’s what you promote: aid for sex.

Through the many articles I’ve read I’ve seen people finger Oxfam for sex abuse in Haiti, Chad, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal. Ten to one that is but a partial list. Other aid organizations cover even more territory. There are specific accusations, just through these articles, from 1999, 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017. That too is but a partial list.

 

Let’s see if I can make a coherent story of all this without turning it into an entire book (would not be a problem). Here’s from The Independent, with a headline that takes us right where we need to be:

 

Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago

Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded.

“Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.” It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.”

A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.

Ironically, that report is from Save the Children. Ironic because just today the Telegraph had this:

The former chief executive of Save the Children resigned after he admitted making “unsuitable and thoughtless” comments to three young female members of staff, it emerged on Tuesday. Justin Forsyth, who is now deputy executive director at Unicef, “apologised unreservedly” to the women after sending them text messages commenting on how they looked and what they were wearing. Mr Forsyth’s resignation from Save the Children came just four months after Brendan Cox, a friend of Mr Forsyth and former chief strategist at the charity, quit following separate allegations of sexual misconduct.

Mr Forsyth and Mr Cox worked together at Oxfam and later again as advisors to Gordon Brown in Downing Street. Mr Cox, the widower of the late Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016, admitted at the weekend that he had caused the women “hurt and offence”. Neither Mr Forsyth nor Mr Cox were subject to a formal disciplinary hearing. Save the Children said on Tuesday night that trustees had carried out two internal investigations into the complaints against Mr Forsyth in 2011 and 2015.

Save the Children admitted on Tuesday that it dealt with 193 child protection and 35 sexual harassment cases last year, which led to 30 dismissals.

It’s by no means just Oxfam. But they’re a major player. In more ways than one, unfortunately. Oxfam has some 2,500 staff and 31,000 volunteers through the world. Its annual budget is about half a billion dollars.

Another ‘interesting’ pattern to emerge is that the perpetrators, even if they are penalized, seemingly seamlessly float between aid organizations: get kicked out in one place, start afresh a few months later at the next. This article from IRIN is about the Belgian guy with whom the latest scandal surfaced.

He lived in a splendid $2000 a month Oxfam-sponsored villa in Haiti right after the 2010 earthquake, when most locals didn’t even have a roof over their heads, and threw sex-parties there. None of that hurt him much; he lost his Oxfam job, though only after many years of complaints, but just kept going (and denies just about all):

The man at the centre of a sexual exploitation scandal at aid agency Oxfam was dismissed by another British NGO seven years earlier for similar misconduct, IRIN has found. A former colleague reveals that Roland van Hauwermeiren was sent home from his job in Liberia in 2004 after her complaints prompted an investigation into sex parties there with young local women. Despite this, van Hauwermeiren was recruited by Oxfam in Chad less than two years later and went on to work for them in Haiti, and then in Bangladesh for Action contre la Faim.

The Swedish government’s aid department, alerted in 2008, also missed an opportunity to bring his behaviour to light and even went ahead that year to fund Oxfam’s Chad project, under his management, to the tune of almost $750,000. [..] Seeing the Times article about van Hauwermeiren, Swedish civil servant and former aid worker Amira Malik Miller was shaken to read about the Haiti case, which pertained to alleged parties and orgies in 2011, seven years after her own experiences of him in Liberia. She couldn’t believe he was still active in the aid world, especially after she had blown the whistle on him and his colleagues, not once but twice.

“Oh my God, he’s been doing this for 14 years,” she remembers thinking. “He just goes around the system… from Liberia to Chad, to Haiti, to Bangladesh. Someone should have checked properly,” she told IRIN. On two previous occasions, she thought she had done enough to stop his predatory behaviour. Malik Miller told IRIN how her initial complaints way back in 2004 led to van Hauwermeiren being pushed out of his job as Liberia country director of UK charity Merlin, a medical group now merged with Save the Children. An internal investigation into sexual exploitation and misconduct led to his departure, several Merlin staff members confirmed.

And that was just for warming up. An interesting voice in the whole narrative is that of Australian professor Andrew MacLeod, who worked with the Red Cross in Bosnia and the UN Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Pakistan. From the Times:

 

UN Staff Responsible For 60,000 Rapes In A Decade

Andrew MacLeod, who was chief of operations at the UN’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre, said that “predatory” abusers used development jobs to get to vulnerable women and children. He estimated that 60,000 rapes had been carried out by UN staff in the past decade, with 3,300 paedophiles working in the organisation and its agencies. “There are tens of thousands of aid workers around the world with paedophile tendencies, but if you wear a Unicef T-shirt nobody will ask what you’re up to,” he told The Sun. “You have the impunity to do whatever you want. It is endemic across the aid industry across the world.”

More Andrew McLeod, via the Daily Mail:

I was first alerted to it in 1996 while working in former Yugoslavia with the International Committee of the Red Cross. People would talk about a nightclub called Florida 2000, in the Bosnian city of Zenica, where girls of 14 and 15 were working as prostitutes. These children were being trafficked into Bosnia from neighbouring Moldova by individuals working for the UN and Bosnian police. They were used exclusively for the sexual gratification of UN staff. Such lurid rumours seemed difficult to credit at first, but when a UN peacekeeper called Kathryn Bolkovac tried to investigate, she was swiftly demoted and then fired. Her story was turned into a film, Whistleblower, in 2010, starring Rachel Weisz.

There is so much opportunity for abuse and so little to stop it that jobs in international aid actively attract sexual predators who benefit from the artificial power the aid industry confers upon them. [..] Senior figures in the UN and some of our best known charities have known for decades that this problem was rampant. They should have put in place systems for training, prevention, protection and prosecution. By failing to do so they were committing an offence. They were party to child sex crime. They did nothing, and they should face charges. If they’re not worried – they should be.

From the same article:

A middle-aged man who persistently hangs around the gates of a British primary school as children are leaving will attract the wary attention of teachers, parents and, pretty soon, the police. But the same man lurking outside a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, will be quite safe. Especially if he is wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of Unicef, Save the Children, Oxfam or any other internationally-renowed aid organisations. Almost 20 years ago, the UK’s National Criminal Intelligence Service, warned that due to better policing and safe-guarding strategies and an international crackdown on child sex tourism, predatory paedophiles were turning their attention to the developing world.

And the best way of gaining access to children? Work for a children’s charity in some place where paedophilia is ignored or difficult to police. Everyone working in the international aid industry needs to be aware of the scale of sexual abuse – happening on their watch and often involving their personnel – of vulnerable people, especially children. Those who deny it are either lying through their teeth, or have their heads buried so far in the sand that their ignorance is deliberate.

And if you think government investigations would solve anything, here’s how Britain’s Charity Commission deals with things:

The Charity Commission has been forced to defend its own investigations after Oxfam’s former head of safeguarding claimed she told the watchdog women were being coerced into sex for aid. Helen Evans said she was “extremely concerned” by the response to concerns she raised while heading the charity’s global efforts to protect staff and beneficiaries from 2012 to 2015.

While appealing for more resources from management to deal with a rising number of allegations, Ms Evans told how in a single day she was told of a woman being coerced into sex in exchange for aid, another aid worker having sex with a beneficiary and a member of staff being struck off for abuse. “There has been a lot of coverage about Oxfam and how shocking and surprising this is – it isn’t,” she told Channel 4 News.

“I went in 2015 to the Charity Commission, I went back again in 2017. Everything I’m saying today, the Charity Commission knew, so why is the Government saying this is a surprise?” Ms Evans had emailed Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, warning that data being gathered from staff “increasingly points to a culture of sexual abuse within some Oxfam officers” but a face-to-face meeting was cancelled in 2014.

So far we’ve encountered Oxfam, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders (MSF) and the UN (including its children’s fund Unicef). But that’s by no means the whole story. Try this on for size from Agence France Presse:

Oxfam is not the first non-governmental organisation to be accused of abuse. Previous revelations spurred the United Nations in 2002 to issue special measures for all its staff and others, including aid workers under UN contract, based on a policy of zero tolerance. The issue came to public attention in 2002 after allegations of widespread abuse of refugee and internally displaced women and children by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers in West Africa.

In refugee camps in Guinea, Liberia, and to a lesser extent Sierra Leone, dozens of male aid workers, often locals, were suspected of having exchanged money or gifts for sex with young refugee girls aged between 13 and 18. “It’s difficult to escape the trap of those (NGO) people, they use the food as bait to get you to have sex with them,” an adolescent in Liberia was quoted as saying in a report from the UN refugee agency. More than 40 agencies and organisations and nearly 70 individuals were mentioned in the testimonies taken from 1,500 children and adults for the UN report [..]

It’s everywhere, the pedophile rot. And the cover-ups, the industry approach, the aid as big business. And that can only lead to ever more misery. Because aid should never become an industry.

I touched on that about a year ago in one of many articles on our efforts for refugees and homeless in Greece. When it comes to scrutiny of aid organizations, you shouldn’t expect much if anything from governments. They’re part of the same industry.

Politicians find it much easier to fork over their constituents’ cash to ‘recognized’ aid organizations than to investigate them. They have a vested interest in letting the system roll on without disturbing it.

 

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

[..] NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it. Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted.

But the Oxfam scandal, spreading as it is across the entire aid’ industry’, is many times worse than letting refugees freeze on islands. Or is it? Isn’t it perhaps the exact same thing, that changes appearance between places but remains always the same in essence?

Oxfam must go. It’s been found painfully wanting for too long and on too many occasions. It’ll be a useful deterrent for all other groups. The managers of which, who often make hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more, must also go. They’ve all either known or should have known for many years. The buck stops with them.

The aid itself may stop too in some places, at some times, but when you can only hand out aid when you’re ready to accept that it will be traded for sex with often underaged children, you’re losing big time, and you’re never going to turn that around. Institutionalization can only be halted when walls are broken down, up to and including their foundations.

 

The aid organizations that cause all these problems have one thing in common: they’re large, large enough to become like, look like, industries. The ones that have expensive offices in A locations because that’s where their major donors are, and executives who make salaries like the executives at those donors.

That’s simply the wrong scale. In all the countries where these organizations operate, and where they bring their depraved sex-crazed staff, there are other, smaller, local organizations too. Who most often don’t have anything like those issues, who often exhibit the exact opposite behavior: people helping people without looking for anything in return. I know this from my experiences in Greece since 2015.

It’s when you scale up the humanity that exists in many, if not most, people, that things go awry and the vermin creeps in. When things become so large that managers are hired, you can be sure that most of the money donated for aid will be burned in a bonfire of politicians, businessmen and, as we now know, pedophiles.

Oxfam gets $500 million a year or so. The EU has pumped over €1 billion into Greece, and probably as much into Italy as well, to ‘solve’ the refugee situation. That Brussels doesn’t want to solve, and neither do Athens or Rome, for fear that it will encourage more refugees to come.

So they make the people they purport to help, miserable, and they put a huge price sticker on that misery posing as help, for the taxpayer to pay. Like this, for instance -from my same article above:

 

[..] every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

It won’t be easy to stop this insanity, but it can be done. Refuse to dole out money to organizations that have been accused of abuse. Refuse to give any organization more than $1 million. Support many small organizations insteads. Humanitarian aid does not scale up well. To say the least.

It’ll be cost-effective as well. It’ll take more effort to locate the right people, but given that $70 out of every $100 in donations is wasted by large aid organizations today, there’s a huge win lurking right there. You just need to find people who are better at all this than the ones who made that disaster possible.

Then, fire any manager who has not acted in the past on complaints. Establish a system that promises to put anyone in jail against whom credible complaints have been filed.

There are thousands of those walking around right now working for organizations funded by you and me directly, and by our taxes too, free to abuse another girl or little boy, and then another one tomorrow, or a mother who needs to feed her child(ren) because her home has been swept away by floods or bombs.

And make this the number one issue for the UN (yeah, I know, that same UN), to discuss and control as per tomorrow morning. Get multiple countries’ military to deliver what Oxfam did before, and make sure all soldiers understand what’ll happen to them at the first sign of abuse, of money, of people, anything at all.

There are many things out there that we can’t control, but this one we can. Because, as I said, in all locations where aid is needed, there are local people available to deliver it without trying to abuse, centralize, institutionalize it, profit from it, or turn it into a business. Just keep aid donations so small it’s not interesting to do any of those things.

At the UN level, I’m thinking Jimmy Carter. He’s the only man I can conjure up who has the integrity to clean up this mess. I know, one is a very small number. But Carter will know others. Big job, but doable. After all, we can’t very well have the worst of our own societies run rampant in places where people are defenseless against them.

Oh wait, that right there is another reason why our governments like the way things are going, just fine, isn’t it? Oxfam allows them (us) to export their perverts.

Well, screw that. We’re better than our governments.

To summarize: right now, your donation to Oxfam literally pays for pedophiles to go rape children across the world. Not every penny or dollar (they need their shiny offices too), but that’s not the point: your dollars keep the aid industry, the system, and therefore the opportunity for the abuse going. Is that what you want?

 

 

Feb 172018
 
 February 17, 2018  Posted by at 10:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gilles Mostaert Sodom and Gomorrah 1597

 

Kudlow: Trump Needs A Return To ‘King Dollar’ (CNBC)
The Stock Market’s $3 Trillion Trauma (BBG)
Why Today’s Low Financial Stress Should Stress You Out (Colombo)
US Government Is Nowhere Close To Regulating Bitcoin (CNBC)
Banks Told They’re Lagging On Response To Climate Change Risks (BBG)
Monsanto Loses Bid To Stop Arkansas Ban On Weed Killer Dicamba (R.)
Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking (Jim Kunstler)
The End Of Germany’s Big-Tent Parties (Spiegel)
‘Absurd’ Meddling Claims & Indictment Of Russians Show New US Policy (RT)
Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago (Ind.)
Oxfam Boss: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’ (G.)

 

 

Weak dollars make weak economies. Or is it the other way around?

Kudlow: Trump Needs A Return To ‘King Dollar’ (CNBC)

The Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress have passed one of the best pro-growth tax bills ever. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ranks in the all-time hall of fame of legislation, along with Ronald Reagan’s 1981 and 1986 Tax Acts and John F. Kennedy’s posthumous tax cuts of 1964. The announcements by Apple, FedEx, ATT, Fiat Chrysler and over 300 companies with multi-billion dollar investments in the U.S. are early indicators of good things to come from the tax rate cuts. When this is combined with President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda, we see no reason why the economy cannot grow for a sustained period at 3 to 4% growth — up from 1.6% in Obama’s last year. But there is still a missing pillar of prosperity in the Trump economic agenda, and that is a sound dollar strategy.

The dollar weakened in 2017 and we want it stabilized. There’s little in this world that can bring our economy to its knees faster than a weak dollar in the foreign exchange markets. Just ask people who served in the administrations of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush 2 and Barack Obama’s first term. All of them were undone by a weak and depreciating dollar, surging inflation, spiking interest rates, plus financial or commodity bubbles. Meanwhile, under Reagan the U.S. dollar increased by 67% in value on foreign exchange markets through 1985. The price of gold, interest rates, and inflation all fell as well from double-digit inflationary highs, while the American economy reignited and the stock market launched its 18 year bull market.

Or, go back further in time. In May of 1962, President Kennedy’s Revenue Act was passed and he reaffirmed that the U.S. dollar was as good as gold — thus launching the incredible boom called the ‘Go-Go Sixties’. A strong dollar is an essential pillar of economic prosperity with minimal inflation, but we worry that the White House has not adopted this strategy. So we urge the Trump administration to return to the successful “King Dollar” policies that worked in the 60’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Read more …

When $3 trillion is almost nothing.

The Stock Market’s $3 Trillion Trauma (BBG)

Want a neat narrative? There isn’t one. Stocks buckled, $3 trillion was lost, then just as quickly, roughly half of it came back. Nothing quite explains every little twist and turn. Much of it remains a blur. But there are clues to be gleaned from the behavior of buyers and sellers. Several key facts stand out. One: a very large sum of money was plowed into equities amid January’s euphoria. Two: even more was yanked out as shares plunged. Three: corporate buyers showed up in force at the bottom. Combined, the flows are a framework for understanding — not a grand theory of everything, but an account of how money moved during the most tumultuous stretch in two years. They show how fast things change during a late-stage bull market, a rally that got back on track with this week’s 4.3% rebound.

“There was a technical correction but we saw some fear and some panic and some investors getting burned,” said Andrew Adams, a strategist at Raymond James Financial. “By no means did anyone expect that this selloff would be of this swiftness and magnitude.” Whatever the role of computers and automated traders as markets bucked and recovered, the events had a recognizable human ring. Investors – many of them of them newly christened, going by account data at discount brokerages – sent $16.4 billion to U.S. stock mutual funds and ETFs between Jan. 2 and the market peak of Jan. 26, EPFR data show. It was a decision they quickly reconsidered. Spooked by signs of inflation, shocked by the sight of traders unwinding bets against volatility, clients pulled almost $27 billion from the same set of funds in the next nine sessions.

One security, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, saw $23.6 billion withdrawn in one week. What made the selloff stop is anyone’s guess. It happened at a chart level, the S&P 500’s average price over the last 200 days, that half the world was watching a week ago Friday. But who the buyers were is less of a mystery. The Goldman Sachs unit that executes share repurchases for clients saw 4.5 times its average daily volume last week, its busiest ever. “Retail investors were fearful immediately after the selloff, but not the companies,” said Aidan Garrib, macro strategist at Pavilion Global Markets. “Companies have buyback policies that get reconsidered every quarter, so if you told shareholders that you’re going to buy back stock, and then a market blow-up that had no impact on your fundamentals made the price fall more than expected, maybe it’s not a bad thing to step in.”

Read more …

Any and all low financial stress should stress you out. Because there should be a balance between greed and fear. Because stability breeds instability.

Why Today’s Low Financial Stress Should Stress You Out (Colombo)

In this piece, I will discuss a little-followed, but valuable market indicator called the “St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index.” According to the St. Louis Fed, this indicator was created in 2010 after economists sought a better way to track U.S. financial system stress in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This index uses 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators (mostly sentiment-related indicators). When the index is very high (such as in 2008), it means that the U.S. financial system is experiencing a great amount of stress. When the index is low (such as during an economic expansion and bull market), it means that the financial system is experiencing a low amount of stress. According to the chart below, U.S. financial system stress is currently at record lows:

According to the chart below (with my comments added in red), dangerous economic bubbles form during relative troughs in the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index. The late-1990s Dot-com bubble formed when the index was at a relative low, as did the mid-2000s U.S. housing and credit bubble, and I believe that the “Everything Bubble” is forming during the current trough. The “Everything Bubble” is a bubble that is inflating in numerous global assets and sectors (including tech startups, U.S. equities, global bonds, some segments of the U.S. property market, property in China, emerging markets, Australia, Canada, and more) as a result of unprecedented central bank stimulus since the global financial crisis.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has manipulated interest rates by keeping them extremely low, which has led to the inflation of bubbles throughout the economy. As the chart below shows, bubbles form during periods of low interest rates. In this case, “low” is all relative because interest rates have been trending lower since the early-1980s, which is why asset and credit bubbles are becoming more extreme than in the past. Most people are unaware of how extreme our current bubble is, but it will certainly be another case of “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked” (to quote Warren Buffett).

Read more …

Not much need right now.

US Government Is Nowhere Close To Regulating Bitcoin (CNBC)

There’s a long way to go before the U.S. government starts regulating bitcoin, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator, told CNBC on Friday. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Joyce emphasized the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before embarking on any sort of regulatory regime. “I think we’re still absolutely studying and understanding what the good ideas and bad ideas in that space are,” he said when asked about the potential for government regulation. “So, I don’t think it’s close.” Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency, meaning that unlike fiat currencies such as the dollar, it’s not backed by a central authority. Critics have said that this gives the currency, which saw huge price gains in 2017, no inherent value.

As transactions are completely anonymous, bitcoin has been accused of making it easier for those engaged in illicit activities to hide their money. “We are worried. There are benefits to the bitcoin concept — digital cash, digital currencies,” Joyce said. “But at the same time, if you look at the way bitcoin works after there is a criminal act that takes place, you can’t rewind the clock and take back that currency.” Joyce described the inherent problem with this lack of a trail, noting that in the case of credit card theft, for instance, individuals or companies can contact their banks and purchases can be undone and the cash retrieved. “With the current instantiation of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, we haven’t figured that out yet. So it’s a problem,” he said.

Read more …

Someone comes up with some arbitrary set of numbers (Paris) and expects banks to comply. We got nothing.

Banks Told They’re Lagging On Response To Climate Change Risks (BBG)

Fewer than half the world’s biggest banks are doing enough to forestall climate change that poses risks to their markets and economies. Most lenders still aren’t producing firm targets for low-carbon financial products that will aid efforts to keep temperatures from rising, according to a survey of 59 banks conducted by Boston Common Asset Management. Even the strongest banks in the survey, including Goldman Sachs, still struggle to define a climate strategy at the heart of their business, according to the report published Thursday and backed by more than 100 institutional investors. Scientists predict higher frequencies of floods, famines and superstorms unless the world keeps temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.

Goldman Sachs was cited as a leader in the report after the investment bank set a 2025 target of $150 billion in clean energy financing and investing. It also released a clean energy impact report in 2016 that examined the impact of the $41 billion in green investments. Almost half of the groups have put in place climate risk assessments and 61% haven’t restricted the financing of coal. The global banking sector provided $600 billion in financing for the top 120 coal plant developers between 2014 and September 2017, according to the report. Boston Common called for all banks to disclose climate risk in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. They should also set clear targets to promote low carbon products and publish strategy reports aligned with the Paris Agreement, according to the recommendations.

“Since 2005, when Goldman Sachs established its Environmental Policy Framework, harnessing market-based solutions to address environmental challenges has become increasingly core to our business,” said Kyung-Ah Park, head of the Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs. “Our $150 billion target of financing and investing in companies that promote clean technology and renewable energy is an example of our commitment to addressing climate change.”

Read more …

Because the state cannot be made a defendant in court.

Monsanto Loses Bid To Stop Arkansas Ban On Weed Killer Dicamba (R.)

An Arkansas judge on Friday dismissed a Monsanto lawsuit aiming to stop Arkansas from blocking the use of a controversial farm chemical the company makes, dealing a blow to its attempts to increase sales of genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto, which is being acquired by Bayer, filed the lawsuit last year in a bid to halt the state’s ban on sprayings of the weed killer known as dicamba from the period spanning April 16 to Oct. 31. Growers across the U.S. farm belt said last summer that dicamba drifted away from where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of crops that could not tolerate the herbicides. St. Louis-based Monsanto, the biggest U.S. seed company, said it was disappointed with the judge’s decision and would consider additional legal action.

In the ruling, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza cited a recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision that the state cannot be made a defendant in court, according to the Arkansas Agriculture Department. Dicamba, also sold by BASF and DowDuPont, is meant to be used during the summer growing season on soybeans and cotton that Monsanto engineered to resist the chemical. Monsanto is banking on the herbicide and its dicamba-resistant soybean seeds to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter. The company says dicamba, which it sells under the name XtendiMax with VaporGrip, is safe when used properly.

The Arkansas ban hurts Monsanto’s ability to sell dicamba-tolerant seed in the state and has caused “irreparable harm” to the company, according to Monsanto’s lawsuit. The state also limited use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide in 2017 but allowed sales of products by other companies. David Wildy, an Arkansas farmer who served on a state task force that recommended the ban, said he supported Friday’s ruling. He said his soybeans suffered damage from the herbicide last year and that it threatens plants ranging from flowers to vegetables and peanuts when it drifts away from where it is sprayed. “If we can’t keep products on target, then there’s not a place for them in agriculture,” Wildy said in an telephone interview.

Read more …

If all the money and energy spent on Mars attacks were used to ameliorate life on earth, perhaps we’d have a shot.

Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking (Jim Kunstler)

There’s absolutely nothing that might make Mars a “sustainable” habitat for human beings, or probably any other form of Earthly life. The journey alone would destroy human bodies. If you think that living in Honolulu is expensive, with most daily needs of the population shipped or flown in, imagine what it would be like sending a cargo of provisions (Doritos? Pepperoni sticks? Mountain Dew? Fabreeze?) to a million “consumers” up on Mars. Or do you suppose the colonists will “print” their food, water, and other necessities? Elon Musk’s ventures have reportedly vacuumed in around $5 billion in federal subsidies. Mr. Musk is doing a fine job of keeping his benefactors entertained. Americans are still avid for adventures in space, where just about every other movie takes place.

I suppose it’s because they take us away from the awful conundrums of making a go of it here on Earth, a planet that humans were exquisitely evolved for (or designed for, if you will), and which we are in the process of rendering uninhabitable for ourselves and lots of other creatures. This is our home. Can we talk about the necessary adjustments and arrangements we have to make in order to continue the human project here? Just based on our performance on this blue planet, we are not qualified to infect other parts of the solar system.

Read more …

German politics is descending into chaos.

The End Of Germany’s Big-Tent Parties (Spiegel)

The country is slipping into a crisis and Germany, the bastion of stability in Europe, is becoming politically unstable. And every month the country continues to be run by a provisional government is another month that Germany doesn’t have a voice in Europe or the world.This is by no means purely a domestic development. The party system is currently being turn upside down across Western democracies. Owing to Germany’s prosperity and the sedative power of its chancellor, it long appeared that Merkel had been spared by the international development. But the torturous wrangling to create a new government has now dashed that hope.

In France, the two parties that once dominated the country now hold only just over a quarter of the seats in the national parliament. In Italy, the Five Star Movement, which doesn’t seem to stand for much other than the desire for change and its loathing of the status quo and is led by a former TV comedian, appears to have strong chances of winning the election there in March. In Germany, the old establishment parties are also struggling to maintain political stability. Combined support for the SPD and the conservatives has dropped from over 90% at the beginning of the 1970s to just 49% today. Their decline, which had previously been a slow and creeping process, has rapidly accelerated in recent months.

The party system in Germany is splintering, with seven parties now represented in national parliament. When it is no longer possible to form governments with two or three parties, it will necessarily become increasingly difficult to build stable governments. Italy already provides an example of what that can mean. The country is constantly swapping out its prime minister and holding snap elections. Italy has had almost 30 prime ministers and a total of 61 cabinets since 1946. In the same period, Germany has been governed by eight chancellors.

Read more …

Echo chambers just keep getting louder. Not much of substance. So why not RT’s comment? The Russians did it anyway.

‘Absurd’ Meddling Claims & Indictment Of Russians Show New US Policy (RT)

US indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three entities over alleged meddling in American elections in 2016 has been labelled absurd by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova. “Turns out, there’ve been 13 people, in the opinion of the US Justice Department. 13 people interfered in the US elections? 13 against billions budgets of special agencies? Against intelligence and counterespionage, against the newest technologies? Absurd? – Yes.” Zakharova said in a Facebook post. The indictment, however, is the “modern American political reality,” Zakharova added, jokingly suggesting that the number 13 was picked due to its negative associations.

One of the indicted, Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, said he was not really upset by the accusations. “The Americans are very emotional people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I am not at all upset that I am on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them,” Prigozhin told RIA Novosti. The entities and individuals were indicted by a US federal grand jury on Friday of “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump…and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” However, there are “no allegations” that the suspected activities of the Russian nationals somehow affected the polls, according to the US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that supporting Donald Trump has never been an official Russian policy, even if some Russians did express their backing of the new US leader. The Minister has expressed his discontent with the apparently continuing nosedive in the US-Russia relations. “It’s a pity that under Donald Trump, for more than a year of his presidency, our relations have not improved compared to the period of the Democratic administration. Even worsened to a certain extent,” Lavrov told Euronews.

Read more …

Close it down. It can’t be saved. You can’t send Oxfam people anywhere in the world anymore.

Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago (Ind.)

Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded. “Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.”

It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.” A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.

Read more …

See? Oxfam is the victim, not te raped children. That this guy still has a job there says more than enough.

Oxfam Boss: ‘Anything We Say Is Being Manipulated. We’ve Been Savaged’ (G.)

Oxfam has been reeling since the Times reported last week that several of the charity’s aid workers – including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had used prostitutes in Haiti while providing humanitarian work, following the 2011 earthquake. The men involved lost their jobs, but Oxfam is accused of covering up the scandal. Further revelations of sexual abuse in Oxfam shops, some against volunteers as young as 14, have emerged, engulfing the charity in a crisis unprecedented in its 76-year history. Many things have been said about Goldring and Oxfam this week, but the charge that they have failed to grasp the gravity of the situation seems absurd. Yet he came close to cancelling this interview, justifiably fretting that his words would be wilfully twisted to do Oxfam yet more damage. “Anything we say is being manipulated: ‘Oxfam’s still making excuses, still trying to justify itself.’

I went on the Today programme on the first day and tried to explain and it totally failed. All it did was fuel the fire.” Every explanation he’s tried to offer has been branded an excuse “and just failed in the court of public opinion. We’ve been savaged.” Even apologies only make matters worse. “I said on TV: ‘Yes, we could have done some things faster,’ and all of a sudden we’ve got two former ministers calling for my resignation. What I felt really clearly is many people haven’t wanted to listen to explanations.” To try again is a risk Goldring worries he may regret, but no one can doubt the courage it took. He talks to me alone, unchaperoned by press officers, and is unguarded and candid. The impression I form is of someone telling the truth: if Goldring has been guilty of anything, I think it might be naivety about the vulnerability of almost any organisation in the febrile public mood of distrust.

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Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Corot Study for “The Destruction of Sodom” 1843

 

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)
‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)
How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)
Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)
These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)
China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)
Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)
Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)
An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)
Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)
Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

 

 

“Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount.”

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)

Yea….it’s that psychology thing. Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount. This behavioral bias of investors is one of the most serious risks arising from ETFs as the concentration of too much capital in too few places.

But this concentration risk in ETF’s is not the first time this has occurred: In the early 70’s it was the “Nifty Fifty” stocks, Then Mexican and Argentine bonds a few years after that; “Portfolio Insurance” was the “thing” in the mid -80’s; Dot.com anything was a great investment in 1999; Real estate has been a boom/bust cycle roughly every other decade, but 2006 was a doozy; Today, it’s ETF’s and Bitcoin.

Risk concentration always seems rational at the beginning, and the initial successes of the trends it creates can be self-reinforcing. Until it goes in the other direction. While the sell-off last week was not particularly unusual, it was the uniformity of the price moves which revealed the fallacy “passive investing” as investors headed for the door all at the same time. Such a uniform sell-off is indicative of what we have been warning about for the last several months. For price chasing investors, last week’s plunge should serve as a warning. “With everyone crowded into the ‘ETF Theater,’ the ‘exit’ problem should be of serious concern. Unfortunately, for most investors, they are likely stuck at the very back of the theater.

I warned of this previously: “At some point, that reversion process will take hold. It is then investor ‘psychology’ will collide with ‘margin debt’ and ETF liquidity. It will be the equivalent of striking a match, lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it into a tanker full of gasoline. When the ‘herding’ into ETF’s begins to reverse, it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to price, valuation or fundamental measures. Importantly, as prices decline it will trigger margin calls which will induce more indiscriminate selling. The forced redemption cycle will cause catastrophic spreads between the current bid and ask pricing for ETF’s.

As investors are forced to dump positions to meet margin calls, the lack of buyers will form a vacuum causing rapid price declines which leave investors helpless on the sidelines watching years of capital appreciation vanish in moments. Don’t believe me? It happened in 2008 as the ‘Lehman Moment’ left investors helpless watching the crash.” “Over a 3-week span, investors lost 29% of their capital and 44% over the entire 3-month period. This is what happens during a margin liquidation event. It is fast, furious and without remorse.” Make no mistake we are sitting on a “full tank of gas.”

Read more …

No! “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options..”

‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)

A scheme to manipulate Wall Street’s fear gauge, VIX, poses risk to the entire equity market and costs investors hundreds of millions of dollars a month, a law firm on behalf of an “anonymous whistleblower” told U.S. financial regulators and urged them to investigate before additional losses are suffered. The Washington-based law firm which represents an anonymous person who claims to have held senior roles in the investment business, told the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday that he discovered a market manipulation scheme that takes advantage of a widespread flaw in the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX).

The CBOE Volatility Index measures the cost of buying options and is the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility. “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options and without needing to physically engage in any trading or deploying any capital,” it said in a letter. Those bets against volatility unraveled last week as the benchmark S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their biggest respective percentage drops since August 2011. Investors using exchange-traded products linked to the VIX were pummeled and two banks, Credit Suisse and Nomura, said they would terminate two exchange traded notes that bet on low volatility in stock prices.

Read more …

Try 6%, 7%.

How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)

Mortgage rates are now at their highest level in four years and poised to move even higher. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the usually busy spring housing market kicked into gear early this year amid higher home prices and strong competition for a record low supply of homes for sale. Add it all up, and affordability is starting to hurt. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed is now right around 4.50%, still low when looking historically, but buyers over the past six years have gotten more used to rates in the 3% range. Mortgage rates have not been at 5% since 2011. A 5% rate would cause more than a quarter of today’s homebuyers to slow their plans, according to a Redfin survey of 4,000 consumers at the end of last year. Just 6% said they would drop their plans to buy altogether.

About one-fifth of consumers said 5% rates would cause them to move with more urgency to purchase a home, fearing rates would rise even further. Another fifth said they would consider more affordable areas or just buy a smaller home. Despite rate concerns, the bigger issue for buyers is changes to tax laws that had lowered the cost of homeownership. Specifically, the deduction on property taxes is now limited to $10,000. While that does not affect homeowners in the majority of the country, it does hit those in high-cost states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and those in higher-priced housing markets like California. Some have claimed that higher rates and the new tax law will put downward pressure on home prices, alleviating some of the current sticker shock, but other factors are fighting that assertion.

“Tight credit, lack of inventory and high demand are the major factors that tell us there’s no housing bubble, despite rapid price increases,” said Redfin’s chief economist, Nela Richardson. “There are still many more buyers than the current housing supply can support, with no major relief in sight.”

Read more …

From Australia. Check interest-only where you live. Big Threat.

Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)

Interest-only property investors seeking to switch their loan to principal and interest may be forced to sell because of lenders’ tough new serviceability requirements. A typical borrower paying 4.5% on a $400,000 loan will have to prove to their lender they can meet repayments for a 7.25% loan, or an increase in annual repayments from $18,000 to more than $32,700. The higher serviceability rates have been introduced after many investors took out their loans and are forcing borrowers to try and sell their properties, despite markets beginning to soften. It’s worse for many self-managed super fund investors who bought investment properties and are boxed in from making bigger payments because of annual caps on the size of their contributions. Real estate agents are warning the cash flow crunch is causing mortgage stress to rapidly spread from one-time mining boom towns and the outer suburbs into prestigious inner suburbs.

“Clients are ringing to say they need to refinance and their next call is that they need to sell,” said Andrew Fawell, director of Beller Property Group. Mr Fawell, whose business covers inner Melbourne within 10 kilometres of the central business district, has been asked to value four potential mortgagee property sales in the past month after having none in the past two years. “Many investors who bought two or three apartments with, in many cases, only 10% deposit with cheap interest-only loans are beginning to feel the heat,” Mr Fawell said. “These numbers will get a lot worse as investors find it harder to service their debt.”

The potential problem arises for many three- to five-year fixed rate loans that have reached the end of their terms and the much stricter regime introduced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Many borrowers deposited only 10%. In recent years most major lenders have introduced a 7.25% “floor for serviceability” for investor and owner-occupier loans, which is the minimum rate at which the bank will assess a home loan. Serviceability is the lenders’ assessment of the borrowers’ capacity to afford the loan and takes into account possibly higher future interest rates. It is usually assessed by a review of income and fixed commitments over the life of the loan and potential rental income.

Read more …

The ECB supports those parties that don’t need it.

These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)

This is tapering? With the economic recovery well under way in Europe the European Central Bank has cut its government bond purchases by two-thirds. Fair enough. However, it is not reining in its involvement in company debt. The securities now comprise about 20% of monthly purchases, up from 7% at the start of the program in mid-2016. The total amount could top €200 billion ($244 billion) before quantitative easing ends. If it had any self-knowledge the ECB should be aware of the problems it’s creating. The fact that, by its purchases, it has soaked up all the liquidity in the secondary market and has had to turn to the primary market should be a warning sign. The central bank’s growing involvement in company borrowing should be causing ructions among the hawks on the Governing Council, who seem alive to the dangers of being late in withdrawing stimulus.

Yet their silence is deafening. Through QE the ECB has invested in over 230 individual companies, and with an average maturity of 5.6 years it’s impossible to see them as being exposed only in the short term. Performance has been decent – spreads have tightened on about three-quarters of its holdings. The odd misstep, such as having to liquidate Steinhoff or German fertilizer maker K+S bonds when they fell below investment grade, can be overlooked. The knock-on effect of such largess is that corporate bond spreads have had a seemingly unending streak of achieving record lows. Support for credit markets in times of strife is one thing. But driving outsized performance isn’t just storing up trouble for an individual company or investor for the future, it’s a reckless refusal to allow financial discipline to inform the decision making of actors in the financial system.

[..] The surge of demand for additional tier one bank capital is another particularly worrying phenomenon. Investors face a total loss if the issuing bank’s capital ratios fall below regulatory requirements. Raiffeisen Bank was able in January to issue an AT1 perpetual bond at 4.5%, having issued a similar 6.125% AT1 security in June. Though there was a one-notch credit-rating upgrade, that can hardly justify such an enormous improvement. And 4.5% can never be enough compensation for the risk of getting completely wiped out.

Read more …

Now Beijing wants to push rental housing. Easier to control?

China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)

While all eyes are on China’s stocks rout after the U.S. swoon, there’s a troubled sector that’s garnering fewer headlines but will have broader reverberations – real estate. Chinese property stocks slumped last week, dragged down not just by the global sell-off but by worries this may be the year when housing finally takes a hit. To date, Beijing’s crackdown on risk amid soaring household debt has had little effect on prices. December data showed values in small cities continued to rise, while they were mostly flat in top-tier conurbations like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing. There are several reasons, though, why the 13-year rally in house prices must end at some point. First, banks are making borrowing tough, not only raising costs for home loans but also restricting supply, especially in major centers such as Beijing and Shenzhen, under a semi-official mortgage quota.

Even last year’s stars, the second- and third-tier cities that led price gains, may fade as China curtails easy home loans that were intended to help soak up a glut of property. Downpayments there ranged between 20 and 30%, compared with 40 to 80% in top-tier locations, according to Credit Suisse. As the curbs bite, mortgage lending has started to decline. (The other plank of household debt, consumer lending, has been an even bigger problem, surging 180% last year, according to Credit Suisse.) Second, perhaps further down the line, a property tax is looming. Finance Minister Xiao Jie indicated this might happen as early as 2020. When President Xi Jinping exhorted people to remember that houses are for living, not speculation, real estate investors must have grown nervous; a tax will make them quake.

With few investment options available to individuals beyond the volatile stock market and wealth-management products (more and more of which are being banned), it’s no surprise that as much as 25% of the demand for real estate is speculative, according to Bloomberg Economics. Third, there’s the more immediate threat to real estate prices of a supply-side push by Beijing. The government is starting to shift from tamping down demand to promoting new housing. Among measures the government is promoting, according to BNP Paribas economist Chen Xingdong, is encouraging homes where the government and buyers share property rights, and even allowing state-owned firms to sell apartments to their employees. The government is also encouraging the growth of a rental market. While much of the current stock of rental housing is of poor quality, that’s likely to change.

Read more …

And only now does this reach European media. The upshot: Novartis pulled the same stunt in South Korea.

Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has called for parliament to investigate whether two of his predecessors and eight former ministers accepted bribes from the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, after allegations of industrial-scale bribery involving senior politicians. The former PMs Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the governor of the Bank of Greece and the EU’s migration commissioner were all identified as alleged beneficiaries of bribes in a report compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors with the help of US authorities. Novartis is alleged to have bribed politicians to approve overpriced contracts and to have made payments to thousands of doctors as part of concerted efforts to boost sales between 2006 to 2015.

The claims have rocked Greek society since coming to light last week. One serving government minister claimed the kickbacks surpassed €50m and resulted in costs of more than €4bn to the Greek public health system. The deputy justice minister, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, said it was “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state” almost 200 years ago. Widening the net on Monday, Tsipras said it was imperative there could be no cover-up. “We will make use of every power afforded by national and international law to recover the money stolen from the Greek people down to the last euro,” the leftist leader told MPs in his Syriza party. “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth.”

MPs will vote on establishing a committee of inquiry later this month. Only parliament has the power to investigate politicians for alleged infractions during their term in office. The allegations have been rebutted vehemently by the accused. The report’s reliance on three unnamed witnesses – who are currently under government protection – has been especially criticised, and legal experts contend that the claims would not stand up in court. The EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos demanded that the identity of the witnesses be revealed and expressed his “disgust” at what he said were fabrications created by “sick minds”. He stands accused of purchasing 16m anti-flu vaccines from Novartis while health minister between 2006 and 2009. [..] Novartis has faced similar investigations in recent years. Last year South Korea fined the company $48m for offering kickbacks to doctors.

Read more …

Just as Greece starts selling bonds again, it faces increasing competition,

Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)

Greece almost makes it look easy. It issued a new €3 billion ($3.7 billion) seven-year bond on Thursday, at a very healthy 3.5% yield, stepping into a briefly open window for raising money during the most torrid week for markets in years. The security is now trading very close to 4%. Ouch. The benefits of going ahead with the sale went to Greece rather than to investors. With a €6 billion order book there was no lack of demand – but there is buyer’s remorse now. It’s the first sovereign syndicated new issue to perform badly in Europe so far this year. This could make it troublesome for the region’s other governments to bring deals on top of an already-heavy regular auction schedule. Greece may just be one turkey, but investor demand is going to become a lot pickier.

And there’s plenty to choose from. Governments have been crowding out the syndicated new issue market even more this year, comprising 26.5% of deals versus an already-strong 23% at this stage in 2017. If supra-nationals and agencies are included then half of all new syndicated deals are from an official institution. It’s a curious result, given that the European new-issue market is supposed to be much more about companies. For example, the European Financial Stability Facility – created to fund Greece’s bailout – has already issued half of its €28 billion annual plan. The EFSF has come three times in 2018 with €13.5 billion in maturities ranging from 6 to 23 years. That is an almost indecent rush to complete its annual funding schedule as early as possible. It’s smart for the issuer – less so for the investor.

Borrowers can try to front-load sales in a low-rate environment, but with more central banks getting comfortable with tightening, investors are not going to play that game unless the yield is generous. It’s an increasing struggle, given that the German benchmark 10-year yield has risen sharply since the mid-December lows of 30 basis points. The yield famine is easing up.

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What a shame: too late!

An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)

“A man’s house is his castle,” Sir Edward Coke wrote back in the 17th century. These days, Britons are relying on their properties not just for refuge but also to fund their retirements. It’s a strategy that could backfire badly. Along with the rest of the world, the U.K. has an aging population: a growing number of retirees are being supported by a shrinking pool of workers. The U.K.’s dependency ratio – calculated by adding together the over 65s and under 15s, then dividing by the working-age population and multiplying by 100 – will rise to 60% by 2027. That’s up from 55% in 2017 and from 54% in 1997. As the pyramid grows more inverted, how does the top-heavy non-working cohort propose to finance a life of leisure and superannuation? By releasing the equity they expect to have accumulated in their homes once they’re ready to hit the golf course.

One in five Brits agreed with the statement “when I retire, I plan to sell my house, downsize and live off the profit,” according to a survey commissioned by pension consultants LCP from polling firm YouGov. That gamble seems unwise. In recent years home values, like global stock markets, only ever seemed to increase. But, again as with global stock markets, the notion of ever-rising prices has taken something of a beating recently. According to a report published on Monday, U.K. house prices posted their first annual decline in six years in January. Moreover, with wage growth in recent years failing to keep pace with either rising property prices or inflation, it’s become harder for those of working age to get on the housing ladder in the first place. And the percentage of under 34s who own their own homes has slumped in the past decade.

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This is so sick it makes one silent.

Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)

British charities are facing a government crackdown to combat the “horrific” sexual exploitation exposed at Oxfam, amid concerns about a wider culture of abuse. All British charities working overseas have been ordered to provide “absolute assurances” that they are protecting vulnerable people and referring complaints to authorities. Oxfam’s deputy chief executive resigned during crisis talks with the Government, saying she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti. But aid workers told The Independent sexual misconduct against both locals and staff remains “widespread” in humanitarian agencies and called for wholesale reforms.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has written a letter to all UK charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”. “It is not only Oxfam that must improve,” she said. “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.” The Department for International Development (Dfid) has created a new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities.

[..] “Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti – for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation’s response to it,” said Ms Mordaunt. “They spoke of the deep sense of disgrace and shame that they and their organisation feel about what has happened, and set out the actions they will now take to put things right and prevent such horrific abuses happening in future.“

Read more …

It’s not just Oxfam, it’s an industry-wide culture.

Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

The UN’s children’s agency has admitted shortcomings in its humanitarian support to children who allege that they were raped and sexually abused by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic. A statement by Unicef Netherlands is the first public acknowledgement of the agency’s recent failure to provide support to some of the victims of alleged abuse by peacekeepers in the African nation. It comes as the aid sector and the UN face increasing scrutiny for their failings in managing internal sexual misconduct by their own staff. Unicef was given the task of overseeing the support for children who said they had been abused by peacekeepers.

But in March last year, an award-winning investigation by Swedish Television’s Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) revealed that some of the children supposedly in the UN’s care were homeless, out of school and forced to make a living on the streets, despite UN assurances that they would be protected. Unicef’s representative in CAR told the programme that the children were in the agency’s assistance programme for minors and were being supported. He said he was not aware that some were on the streets. But earlier this month – ahead of a Dutch screening of the programme – Unicef Netherlands admitted to the Dutch television programme Zembla that Unicef had failed in its duty to help some of the alleged victims. But it said that since the programme had first aired, it had taken steps to locate the children featured in the programme and provide them with support.

Marieke van Santen, of Zembla, said she found the Swedish film “astonishing” because the children who were interviewed were known to Unicef, yet they were not being cared for. Van Santen said: “It is quite shocking to realise that not only once but twice UN agencies have failed to help these victims.” The statement from Unicef Netherlands was welcomed by Karin Mattisson, a reporter for Mission Investigate. “I hope it makes a difference to the children and gives them strength. They have said they were failed,” said Mattisson.Several boys who testified to having been sexually assaulted by French soldiers were living rough, Mattisson found, while a girl, who became pregnant at the age of 14 by a Congolese peacekeeper and had later found out she was HIV-positive, was out of school looking after her baby. Another boy, aged eight, who was too traumatised to be interviewed, was in an orphanage. “I hope they live up to this statement,” she said. “When we investigated the UN and Unicef it was a long journey into their culture of silence.”

Read more …

Feb 122018
 
 February 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Corot The Burning of Sodom (formerly “The Destruction of Sodom”) 1843 and 1857

 

Rising Debt + Rising Rates (Northman)
Last Week’s ‘Volocaust’ “Just An Appetizer” – Cole (ZH)
Why People Who Make Money Are Usually Wrong – Taleb (ZH)
‘Big Shakeout Coming’: Bridgewater Sounds Warning (G.)
History Suggests The Correction Isn’t Nearly Over (MW)
Interest Rate Rise Would Hit Millions In UK Who Depend On Cheap Credit (G.)
May Starts Drive to End the Conservative Civil War Over Brexit (BBG)
China Enters The Graveyard Of Empires (Escobar)
China Pledges ‘Employment First’ Policies To Create Millions Of Jobs (R.)
Party On, Dudes (Jim Kunstler)
Oxfam Faces Losing Funding As Crisis Grows Over Abuse Claims (G.)
Oxfam Reels From Prostitution Scandal (G.)
The UK’s Hidden Role In Assange’s Detention (Cook)

 

 

Ultra low rates but ultra high payments.

Rising Debt + Rising Rates (Northman)

“Interest On The Debt Will Be The Fastest Growing Part Of The Federal Budget…By Far. Forget Medicare, Social Security and the Pentagon: $1 trillion-plus deficits means massive increases in the national debt and that debt will have to be borrowed at higher interest rates. Add the need for the Treasury to roll-over existing debt at higher and higher rates and you get an immediate increase in the amount the U.S. will need to spend on interest each year.” Watch this space:

Some people may argue that tax cuts will bring in so much economic growth it will all pay for itself. There is precisely zero evidence for such an assertion:

If you know your tax cut history you know where in the chart above major tax cuts were passed. The debt continued to rise and will continue to rise as spending continues to be expanded. But here’s the kicker: Never in modern times have we seen tax cuts being implemented and spending increased with debt to GDP north of 100%:

Many corporations are drowning in debt, as are consumers, and so are their interest payments:

People invariably argue and say: Yea well, but as a percent of disposable income it’s not so bad. Yes, it’s called artificial low rates, they can mask a lot, but what is currently the situation is not the point, it’s sustainability of debt loads in the very immediate future. As you saw in the above data we are already seeing a vast increase in interest payments despite rates having barely moved off of the historic zero bound line. “As for total debt, the CBO last predicted borrowings of $25.5 trillion by 2027. According to Riedl, the tax cuts, new discretionary outlays and additional interest on the extra spending could add $5 trillion to that number, bringing the total of $30 trillion. That’s 107% of the national income estimate projected by the CBO.

The scariest unknown is what happens to interest expense. At $25.5 trillion, the CBO forecasts outlays for interest of $818 billion in 2027. Going to $30 trillion will raise the load to over $1 trillion. One dollar in seven in spending would be going to interest, versus one in 15 today. And that scenario assumes that the yield on the 10-year Treasury increases to just 3.5% over the next decade, far below its historic average. “If rates go to their average in the 1990s,” warns Riedl, “the deficit will go not to $2 trillion, but to between $2.5 and $3 trillion.”

Read more …

“..the VIX ETPs are only 5 billion dollars. You have 1.5 trillion of implicit short-volatility strategies..”

Last Week’s ‘Volocaust’ “Just An Appetizer” – Cole (ZH)

While Cole is happy to accept the back-patting and congratulations for having foretold in near-perfect detail the dynamics that would drive this week’s volatility explosion, those who read our piece summarizing Cole’s (uncannily well-timed) interview two weeks ago will remember that short-vol ETPs like XIV represent only a fraction of the collective $2 trillion short-gamma position that touches nearly every corner of the market. Other components of what calls the ‘implicit’ gamma short – which we’ve touched on this week – include $600 billion invested in risk-parity strategies, $400 billion in volatility-control funds. And $250 billion of risk premium strategies… Rather than buy the dip, Cole ominously warned that it’s more likely this is the beginning of a much larger selloff. Or, as Kevin Spacey’s character put it in the movie “Margin Call”, because of vulnerabilities related to the market’s massively short gamma positioning, “there will be turmoil in the markets for the foreseeable future.”

Everyone talks – congratulations about calling this. Well, I don’t think what I’ve really talked about has come to pass yet. The VIX ETPs are the smallest portion of the global short-vol trade. Talk about this idea of about 1.5 to 2 trillion dollars’ worth of short-vol exposure, both explicit and implicit. Explicit short volatility are VIX exchange-rated products and vol overwriting funds. You know, the VIX ETPs are only 5 billion dollars. You have 1.5 trillion of implicit short-volatility strategies, strategies that may not be directly shorting options, but use financial engineering to mimic the components of a short-option portfolio. About 1.5 trillion dollars’ worth of these, of exposure, this is what we’re seeing come online now.

This is the real risk. So stocks and bonds sell off together. You have disorderly unwind withdrawal of liquidity. And then, all of a sudden, increasing volatility results in a quick deleveraging of these implicit short-volatility strategies. And this will drive the next leg of the crisis. So, people say congratulations, you called the short-vol trade. No, nothing has happened yet. This is an appetizer. This is just the appetizer for the unwind that is about to come. I think this is what people should be really afraid of, and I think this is the next leg of this that we will see. Whether this happens in two weeks or whether this happens over two years, I don’t know. But I strongly believe this will come to pass. And it will be quite disorderly and ugly.

Read more …

Practice and theory.

Why People Who Make Money Are Usually Wrong – Taleb (ZH)

Echoing Mark Spitznagel’s insights into how ‘naiveté’ led to the epic losses experienced by many ‘nickel-picker-uppers’ this week in the short-vol game, Nassim Taleb takes to YouTube to provide some more color on the fallacy of forecasting and what destroyed XIV traders. Taleb begins by noting that “many people attempted to profit by forecasting volatility [would drop] and from the fact that the contract [in this case XIV] was poorly constructed… they were right, until they were destroyed.” Academics cannot get the idea that you don’t have to be right about the world to make money.

“Antifragile explains why understanding x is different from f(x) the payoff or exposure from x. Most of the harm/gains come from f(x) being convex or concave, not from understanding x. Forecasting is off an average, and average is for academics and other morons.” As Valuewalk’s Jacob Wolinsky writes, this video illustrates the point with XIV that went bust while being correct about volatility –and why people who make money are usually wrong.

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Has Pandora’s box been opened?

‘Big Shakeout Coming’: Bridgewater Sounds Warning (G.)

Financial markets are braced for more volatility this week amid predictions from the world’s biggest hedge fund that a “big shakeout” is coming. The Australian stock market was the first to test the water on Monday morning and one point was down 0.7%. But it rallied slightly in afternoon trade to close down 0.3%. Bourses elsewhere in Asia Pacific also found calmer waters. South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.9% while Hong Kong put on 0.8%. The Nikkei in Japan was closed for a holiday. The FTSE100 is London is due to open up 1.25% according to futures trading, while the Dow Jones average on Wall Street is set to rise 0.7%. Last week saw $4tn wiped off the value of shares around the world and the US market entered into an official correction after falling more than 10% from its record level in January.

Wall Street staged a late rally on Friday as the Dow Jones finished 330 points higher and the closely watched Vix index, or “fear index”, has dropped four points to 29 on Monday from 33 on Friday. But Bob Prince, co-chief investment officer at the $160bn US hedge fund Bridgewater, told the Financial Times on Monday (paywall): “There had been a lot of complacency built up in markets over a long time, so we don’t think this shakeout will be over in a matter of days. “We’ll probably have a much bigger shakeout coming.” David Bassanese, the chief economist at BetaShares Capital in Sydney, said in a note on Sunday that despite the big falls last week, the selling could continue. “History suggests the depth of corrections – assuming the underlying bull market persists – don’t usually get beyond 15%, so there’s certainly some scope for market weakness before a bottom is reached,” he said.

Investors would be jittery about US inflation figures on Wednesday, he said. The market was forecasting a “fairly benign” 1.7% annual prices growth, but anything above that was likely to result in more stock losses. Chris Weston at online trader IG said on Monday: “A massive buildup in market leverage has been partially unwound in the blink of an eye and what started as systematic funds selling out of equity and futures positions, as implied volatility headed higher, has morphed into something far more broad-based incorporating many other market participants.”

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“..the median decline for the S&P in a correction is 16.4%, and the median length of a pullback is 64 days..”

History Suggests The Correction Isn’t Nearly Over (MW)

Perhaps the biggest question on Wall Street right now is whether the recent pain in the U.S. stock market is over. If history is any indication, the answer is no. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 entered correction territory on Thursday, defined as a 10% drop from a recent peak—in this case, record highs that were hit in late January. According to Bespoke Investment Group, which analyzed the 95 corrections the S&P has seen since 1928, investors might want to brace themselves for more pain.

Per Bespoke’s data, the median decline for the S&P in a correction is 16.4%, and the median length of a pullback is 64 days. Were the S&P to hit that median in the current selloff, it would bottom around 2,400, or roughly 7.8% below current levels. “Keep in mind, though, that these are median levels. There have been a number of corrections (13) that saw declines of less than 11%, while several saw deeper declines of more than 20%,” the research group wrote in a blog post. A decline of 20% would put the index into bear-market territory, where nearly one-fifth of S&P components currently trade. “In terms of length, prior corrections have also been all over the map. Some have lasted as little as three days, while others have stretched on for well over a year.”

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It will hit millions everywhere.

Interest Rate Rise Would Hit Millions In UK Who Depend On Cheap Credit (G.)

The Bank of England’s warning that it plans to raise interest rates from as early as May will hit millions of low-income families who have only survived financially for a decade by using cheap credit. The Resolution Foundation said almost half of low-income families were in debt distress before Threadneedle Street said last week that it needed to increase the base rate at an accelerated pace over the next two years. The Bank governor, Mark Carney, said the strength of the economy warranted higher borrowing costs. He cited rising average wages and resilient GDP growth as reasons to begin pushing interest rates from the historically low level of 0.5%.

But a study by the foundation showed the proportion of households in some form of debt distress rose to 45% among the poorest fifth of working age households, with more than a third experiencing difficulty in paying for accommodation and one in six in arrears on either their mortgage or consumer debts. Households headed by someone aged 25-34 spent nearly £1 in every £5 of their pre-tax income on debt repayments in 2017, compared with 20p for households aged 65 and over. Levels of consumer credit have soared in recent years to more than £200bn, prompting debt charities to warn that lenders are repeating the mistakes made in the early part of the century, when households on low incomes were sold loans they could not repay.

Matt Whittaker, the chief economist at the Resolution Foundation, said most of the increase in consumer debt since 2014 was among middle and higher income groups and they could afford to absorb an increase in interest rates. The cost of servicing Britain’s household debt is low by historical standards, he said, with repayments accounting for 7.7% of disposable income, well below the 12.3% recorded just before the financial crisis, and in line with the level seen during the mid-1990s and early 2000s. “However, while the recent growth in debt is less of a concern, it is very worrying that almost half of low-income families are already showing signs of debt distress,” Whittaker said. “While rates have been at historic lows for a decade now, many families have experienced a tight income squeeze over this period and have not been able to get back on the front foot when it comes to servicing their debts.”

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Yawn.

May Starts Drive to End the Conservative Civil War Over Brexit (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May embarks this week on a determined push to bring her divided Cabinet together and come up with a Brexit plan. As European negotiators show increasing signs of impatience, senior U.K. ministers are preparing to deliver a series of speeches in the coming weeks setting out a vision of life outside the European Union. They’ll culminate with an address by May. Dubbed a “Road Map to Brexit,” the schedule begins on Wednesday when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issues an appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate. May is expected to offer a new security relationship three days later when she addresses a conference in Munich. Also scheduled to make speeches are Brexit Secretary David Davis, Trade Secretary Liam Fox, and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.

Absent, however, is Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who enraged Brexit supporters in January by suggesting Britain would see only “very modest” changes to its relationship with the EU once it leaves the bloc. May has ordered key ministers to attend an “away day” at Chequers, the prime ministerial country retreat outside London, after two meetings to find a joint position on Brexit ended without agreement last week. With just 13 months to go before Britain exits the EU, the ruling Conservatives are mired in a civil war between those who want to retain close ties to the bloc and hard-liners demanding a clean break, including total withdrawal from the EU single market and the customs union. On Friday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, expressed his exasperation by warning that the post-Brexit bridging period that once seemed a certainty “is not a given,” prompting investors to sell the pound.

Businesses have said they’ll start to activate contingency plans to move jobs and operations out of the U.K. unless a transition deal is nailed down by the end of March. In her speech to cap off the “Road to Brexit” push — the date of which hasn’t been announced — May will set out the government’s “ambitions for Britain’s partnership with the EU after we have left.” It will be her third major address, following her Lancaster House speech in January last year and her Florence speech in September. “Brexit is a defining moment in the history of our nation,” May’s office said in a statement. “We will be forging an ambitious new partnership with Europe and charting our own way in the world to become a truly global, free-trading nation.”

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Afghanistan is like a Bermuda triangle.

China Enters The Graveyard Of Empires (Escobar)

The latest plot twist in the endless historical saga of Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires has thrown up an intriguing new chapter. For the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a military base alongside Afghanistan’s border with China. “We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers,” Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, admitted to the AFP. On the record, the Chinese Foreign Ministry only admitted that Beijing was involved in “capacity-building” in Afghanistan, while NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, led by the United States, basically issued a “no comment.”

The military base will eventually be built in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. It is one of the most spectacular, barren and remote stretches of Central Asia and according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there. True to Sydney Wignall’s fabled Spy on the Roof of the World ethos, a great deal of shadow play is in effect. Apparently, this is basically about China’s own war on terror. Beijing’s strategic priority is to prevent Uyghur fighters of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been exiled in Afghanistan, crossing the Wakhan Corridor to carry out operations across Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China.

There is also the fear that ISIS or Daesh jihadis from Syria and Iraq may also use Afghanistan as a springboard to reach the country. Even though the jihad galaxy may be split, Beijing is concerned about ETIM. As early as September 2013, the capo of historic al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. Later, in July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh said: “Muslim rights [should be] forcibly seized in China, India and Palestine.” Then, on March 1, 2017, Daesh released a video announcing its presence in Afghanistan, with the terror group’s Uyghur jihadis vowing, on the record, to “shed blood like rivers” in Xinjiang. At the heart of the matter is China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

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Empty politics.

China Pledges ‘Employment First’ Policies To Create Millions Of Jobs (R.)

China will boost its job creation effort and promote entrepreneurship this year, a spokeswoman for the top state planner said on Sunday, under pressure to find work for millions of unemployed people and new college graduates. Meng Wei of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said China needs to create jobs for 9.7 million people registered as unemployed and 8.2 million new college graduates, as well as workers affected by industrial capacity cuts. China’s urban-registered unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent last year and has remained generally stable despite slowing economic growth and the government forging ahead with plans to cut back industrial capacity.

Many analysts say, however, that the official data is an unreliable indicator of employment conditions because it only measures employment in urban areas and does not take into account the millions of migrant workers who form the bedrock of China’s labour force. “We will implement an employment-first strategy and more proactive employment policies…and vigorously promote employment and entrepreneurship,” Meng told a news conference on Sunday, adding that protecting jobs was fundamental to China’s stable growth policy. Authorities are counting on “new growth engines” such as technology and services to support job creation. Meng said China will create a policy environment that supports the digital economy and will promote the big data, artificial intelligence and industrial internet sectors.

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QE bankrolls the house.

Party On, Dudes (Jim Kunstler)

In June of 2008, US crude hit $144-a-barrel, a figure so harsh that it crippled economic activity — since just about everything we do depends on oil for making, enabling, and transporting stuff. The price and supply of oil became so problematic after the year 2000 that the US had to desperately engineer a work-around to keep this hyper-complex society operating. The “solution” was debt. If you can’t afford to run your society, then try borrowing from the future to keep your mojo working. The shale oil industry was a prime beneficiary of this new hyper-debt regime. The orgy of borrowing was primed by Federal Reserve “creation” of trillions of dollars of “capital” out of thin air (QE), along with supernaturally low interest rates on the borrowed money (ZIRP). The oil companies were desperate in 2008. They were, after all, in the business of producing… oil! (Duh….) — even if a giant company like BP pretended for a while that its initials stood for “Beyond Petroleum.”

The discovery of new oil had been heading down remorselessly for decades, to the point that the world was fatally short of replacing the oil it used every year with new supply. The last significant big fields — Alaska, the North Sea, and Siberia — had been discovered in the 1960s and we knew for sure that the first two were well past their peaks in the early 2000s. By 2005, most of the theoretically producible new oil was in places that were difficult and ultra-expensive to drill in: deep water, for instance, where you need a giant platform costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention armies of highly skilled (highly paid) technicians, plus helicopters to service the rigs. The financial risk (for instance, of drilling a “dry hole”) was matched by the environmental risk of a blowout, which is exactly what happened to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, with clean-up costs estimated at $61 billion.

[..] The shale oil companies could get plenty of cash-flow going, but it all went to servicing their bonds or other “innovative” financing schemes, and for many of the companies the cash flow wasn’t even covering those costs. It cost at least six million dollars for each shale well, and it was in the nature of shale oil that the wells depleted so quickly that after Year Three they were pretty much done. But it was something to do, at least, if you were an oil company — an alternative to 1) doing no business at all, or 2) getting into some other line-of-work, like making yoga pants or gluten-free cupcakes.

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“..87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016-17..” “..more than 120 workers across a range of leading charities had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone..”

Oxfam Faces Losing Funding As Crisis Grows Over Abuse Claims (G.)

Oxfam was scrambling on Sunday night to contain a growing crisis over claims of sexual misconduct by aid workers before a crunch meeting on Monday that could see the charity stripped of its government funding. Amid anger from the government and the wider aid sector at revelations that Oxfam staff in Haiti paid prostitutes – possibly underage – for sex in 2011, the charity’s chair of trustees, Caroline Thomson, pledged to widen a review of its practices to include the Haiti allegations and admitted “anger and shame that behaviour like that … happened in our organisation”. She set out the steps Oxfam would take to avoid a similar scandal in future after the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, issued a damning rebuke to the charity. Mordaunt warned that it would receive no more public money unless it demonstrated “moral leadership” and handed over all information on aid workers’ alleged use of prostitutes on the island.

[..] Oxfam’s fight to secure its financial footing came after days of escalating stories about the conduct of its workers after revelations that staff in Haiti had been dismissed for using prostitutes for sex parties. Any hopes the charity’s leadership had that the scandal might quickly subside were dashed when it was reported in the Observer that Oxfam staff in Chad had also used prostitutes and when Oxfam’s own annual report resurfaced, showing it dealt with 87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016-17. Oxfam’s crisis threatened to spill across the charity sector on Sunday with reports that more than 120 workers across a range of leading charities had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone.

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Everyone in Haiti knew about this. And it’s not just Oxfam either.

Oxfam Reels From Prostitution Scandal (G.)

deep disgust at what they were hearing was tinged with a sense of inevitability for some. “We’ve all worked with people who’ve worked in Ethiopia, DRC, Haiti, Malawi, Thailand etc who’ve seen similar things across the entire sector,” said one Oxfam worker in the Middle East. Goldring, admired by staff as “deeply thoughtful”, set out the story – first a chronology of what happened in Haiti in 2011, and then a commentary on the issues it raised, including pointing out the dilemmas that the Oxfam staff handling the case faced. For example, he said, the charity didn’t report it to the Haitian police because it was concerned that could rebound adversely on the women involved.

He struck one attendee as “desperately keen to put across the point that we don’t think there was a cover-up because we didn’t hide that there was a problem in Haiti”. Only Oxfam hadn’t been open about what that problem was. Some staff also felt there was a “single-mindedness about the attack on Oxfam” that was not commensurate with the weight of what had happened in 2011. It was shocking and wrong, but some felt that the problems revealed were probably not unique to Oxfam. “I’m really frustrated at the Oxfam-only lens in this – granted what happened was horrific,” said one Oxfam worker abroad. “I’ve worked for [several other NGOs] and there just isn’t any type of policy or procedure in place for any of this stuff.”

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The people responsible for these decisions should be taken to court. Even -make that especially- politicians must be held to their own laws.

The UK’s Hidden Role In Assange’s Detention (Cook)

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade. Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case. In other words, for more than four years Assange has been holed up in a tiny room, policed at great cost to British taxpayers, not because of any allegations in Sweden but because the British authorities wanted him to remain there. On what possible grounds could that be, one has to wonder? Might it have something to do with his work as the head of Wikileaks, publishing information from whistleblowers that has severely embarrassed the United States and the UK.

In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents we support in other parts of the world. According to a new release of emails between officials, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service on 18 October 2013, warning that Swedish law would not allow the case to be continued. This was, remember, after Sweden had repeatedly failed to take up an offer from Assange to interview him at the embassy in London, as had happened in 44 other cases between Sweden and Britain.

Ny wrote to the CPS: “We have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.” Three days later, suggesting that legal concerns were far from anyone’s mind, she emailed the CPS again: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.” In a similar vein, proving that this was about politics, not the law, the chief CPS lawyer handling the case in the UK, had earlier written to the Swedish prosecutors: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

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Feb 112018
 
 February 11, 2018  Posted by at 11:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Peach trees in blossom 1888

 

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)
Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)
Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)
Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)
IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)
UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)
Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)
Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)
Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)
Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)
Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)
Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)
Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)
US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

 

 

Bond markets are 10x stock markets?!

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)

On Friday at around 1:40 p.m., during whiplash-inducing market moves, the S&P 500 index was down 1.9%, bringing the total loss for the week to 8.3%, which would have been the biggest weekly loss since November 2008, after the Lehman bankruptcy. But dip-buyers jumped in courageously and saved the day. The S&P 500 ended up 1.5%, bringing to the total loss for the week to 5.2%, the worst week since, well, the selloff in January 2016. Everyone has their own reasons why stocks plunged last week. Some blamed algorithmic trading. Others blamed the short-volatility financial complex that blew up.

More specifically, Jim Cramer blamed “a group of complete morons” who traded in this space. Others blamed the stratospheric valuations of stocks that had been rallying for eight years with only a few dimples in between, and it’s simply time to unwind some of those gains. Whatever the factors might have been, rising bond yields certainly had something to do with it. They tend to hit stocks, eventually. Last week, prices of short-dated Treasuries edged down and prices of long-dated Treasuries edged down, and their yields edged up, but there was some turmoil in the middle, with some interesting consequences.The three-month Treasury yield rose to 1.55% on Friday, the highest since September 11, 2008. Investors are beginning to price in a rate hike in March:

But the two-year yield, after having surged to 2.16% on February 1, got very nervous, dropping and bouncing during the week, and fell sharply on Friday, ending the week at 2.05%:

The 10-year yield closed on Friday at 2.83% and in late trading went on to 2.85%. The interesting thing about this is the difference (the “spread”) between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield. It surged. This spread is one of the indications of the slope of the yield curve and was one of the most watched bond-data points during the scare last year over an “inverted” yield curve. This is a phenomenon where the two-year yield would be higher than the 10-year yield. The last time this happened was before the Financial Crisis. By early January, the spread between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield had dropped as low as 50 basis points (0.5 percentage points), the lowest since October 2007. As the two-year yield kept spiking, the 10-year yield had started rising, but not fast enough. All this has changed, and the 10-year yield has been rising faster than the two-year yield and the spread has widened to 78 basis points on Friday:

The 30-year yield rose to 3.14% on Friday. For the first time, it is now back where it had been on December 14, 2016, when the Fed stopped flip-flopping and started getting serious about raising its target range for the federal funds rate. The market responded to each rate hike with increases in short-term yields but defied the Fed on longer-term yields, which fell until September 2017. So what happened last week was that the two-year yield fell, while the yields of most longer maturities stayed put or rose, steepening the yield curve from the two-year yield on up.

The chart below shows the “yield curves” as they occurred on these four dates: • Yields on Friday, February 9, 2018 (red line) • Yields on December 29, 2017 (black line) • Yields on August 29, 2017 (green line) two weeks before the QE unwind was detailed. • Yields on December 14, 2016 (blue line) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping, raised its rates, and became a clockwork. Note how the spread has widened at the longer-dated ends between the black line (December 29, 2017) and the red line (Friday), and how the slope of the red line has steepened, with the 30-year yield surging 40 basis points over those six weeks. That’s a big move:

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The cheap money has BEEN the entire market.

Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)

Stock markets are heading for a wild ride this year as central bankers strap on their bullet-proof vests and test investors’ willingness to accept higher interest rates. Last week’s share price crashes, which in two days wiped $4 trillion off the value of markets around the world, was just a foretaste of the battle to come. In the days following Monday’s crash, share values have recovered strongly only to dive again as competing theories about the path of interest rates and the likely impact on economic growth fight for attention. Most investors want the era of cheap borrowing to continue and many are willing to sell their shareholdings if it looks like coming to an end. Without low interest rates, they cannot borrow and invest cheaply, especially in the assets that for the past decade have gone up every year by much more than their salary – property and shares.

Countless businesses have also come to rely on low borrowing costs to keep going, and investors fear they might go bust should their bank raise loan rates. Weaning companies and investors off their addiction was never going to be easy, even 10 years after central banks first put their stimulus packages in place, and despite warnings that these measures need to end. For some time, the US Federal Reserve has taken on the role of the advance guard, forging a path towards higher rates for others to follow. But its campaign got off to a faltering start. Back in 2013 it was forced to retreat when it signalled in the mildest terms that it would begin withdrawing its quantitative easing programme. The main effect of QE was to drive down long-term interest rates, allowing investors to borrow cheaply not just over one or five years, but for 30 years.

And so its withdrawal was as much of a blow for some fund managers as an immediate rate rise. Wall Street and markets in Europe and Asia, where heavy selling turned into a rout, forced Fed officials to retreat. The Fed adopted a more incremental approach. It gave markets more warning and spaced out the policy decisions. As it entered 2017, US interest rates had trebled, but only from 0.25% to 0.75%. Yet the economy was booming more than ever. The Fed appeared ready to get tougher, and with justification, according to Karen Ward at JP Morgan Asset Management. After the heavy lifting needed to get the industrialised world back from bankruptcy, she said, “economies are now rested”. Ward, who until recently was an adviser to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said: “Households and businesses are feeling better about the future. They do not need a boost in quite the same way. Central banks can ease off the accelerator without troubling either growth or markets.”

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The problem is not that they’ve never seen a crash, the problem is they’ve never seen a functioning market.

Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)

In his career in finance—all seven years of it—Ben Kumar has seen some tough days. There was 2013, when traders worried about the Federal Reserve, and 2016, with the Brexit vote. But, at 29, Kumar and many millennials like him on Wall Street and the City of London have never endured a full-blown crash. For them, markets have always bounced back—fast—and gone on to heights. Now, with world stocks sinking and central banks withdrawing stimulus that’s supported markets for years, elders worry Kumar’s generation isn’t ready for its trial. Kumar is chill. “Find me someone who worked in the era of 15% inflation and I’ll talk to them about Bitcoin and the Internet,” said the 29-year-old, a fund manager at Seven Investment Management in London .

After $3 trillion was erased from global stocks in a week, he’s weighing whether to buy on the dip now—or wait a bit longer. “I don’t even think that this move is a wake-up call,” he said on Tuesday. Many bankers older than 40 shudder at the thought of what will happen if – or when – some unforeseen trigger sparks a crash that drags down not just stocks, but also bonds and currencies together. Etched in their memories is the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. In its wake, stock market valuations alone were cut in half. By contrast, most millennial investors have only worked in an era where central banks printed trillions of dollars to prop up their economies and markets. Since starting their careers, average interest rates in the developed world have barely nudged above 1%, inflation all but vanished, the S&P 500 Index more than doubled and bonds rallied so high that more than $7 trillion of debt is negative yielding.

“You have to have had that stage where you’re looking at the screen through your fingers to really appreciate risk-reward in this industry,” said Paul McNamara at GAM in London. “Not just seeing things go wrong, but going so much more wrong than you imagined was possible.”

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Why own stocks when bond yields rise? Still, inflation is a ludicrous fear.

Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)

The tug-of-war between stocks and bonds is at the heart of the shakeout roiling financial markets. This week’s U.S. inflation report could hold the key to the next phase. Seemingly every time 10-year Treasury yields approached a four-year high last week, equities investors panicked, fearing the specter of higher inflation and a more aggressive pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Whether you want to say Treasuries are in a bear market or not, the surge in yields to start 2018 has left investors reassessing the value of equities and corporate bonds. Profits were easy when the 10-year yield traded in its narrowest range in a half-century, inflation stayed subdued and volatility across financial markets plumbed record lows. Gains are harder when low rates, a linchpin of the post-crisis recovery, start to disappear.

“What’s happening now is just price discovery between bonds and equities – how far can the bond market push yields up before the equity market cracks?” said Stephen Bartolini, portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, which manages more than $10 billion in inflation-protected strategies. “The big fear in risk markets is that we get a big CPI print and it validates the narrative that inflation is coming back and the Fed is going to have to move faster.” The focus on inflation is nothing new, but it became even more critical after a Feb. 2 report showed average hourly earnings jumped in January at the fastest pace since 2009. That contributed to the dive in stocks. (It also led President Donald Trump to tweet about the “old days” when stocks would go up on good economic news.)

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Should be filed under Famous Last Words, but won’t be.

IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)

Sharp swings in global financial markets in the past few days are not worrying since economic growth is strong but reforms are still needed to avert future crises, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday. Christine Lagarde, speaking at a conference on global business and social trends in Dubai, said economies were also supported by plenty of financing available. “I‘m reasonably optimistic because of the landscape we have at the moment. But we cannot sit back and wait for growth to continue as normal,” she said in her first public comments on market movements since the latest round of turmoil at the end of last week.

“I‘m ringing not the alarm signal, but the strong encouragement and warning signal.” Global stock markets were hit by wild fluctuations, with the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 tumbling 5.2% last week, its biggest weekly percentage drop since January 2016. The volatility was fuelled by investor worries about rising interest rates and potential inflation. Lagarde repeated an IMF forecast, originally issued last month, that the global economy would growth 3.9% this year and at the same pace in 2019, which she said was a good backdrop for needed reforms.

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No society should ever relinquish control over its essentials.

UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)

Labour launched a full-frontal attack on the privatised water industry last night, accusing companies of paying out the “scandalous” sum of £13.5bn in dividends to shareholders since 2010, while claiming huge tax breaks and forcing up prices for millions of customers. The assault by shadow chancellor John McDonnell came as he pledged total, “permanent” and cost-free renationalisation of water, energy and rail if Labour won power at the next election. The three privatisations in the 1980s and 1990s became hallmarks of the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The dramatic intervention – which stunned the companies involved – was the strongest denunciation yet by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour of the privatisation programme that has become part of the British political landscape of the last 40 years.

The Conservative party and the Confederation of British Industry both condemned McDonnell’s comments. The CBI said Labour’s renationalisation agenda would “wind the clock back on our economy” while chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned that placing politicians in charge of public utilities “didn’t work last time and won’t work this time”. McDonnell told the Observer that water companies could not even claim to offer choice to customers but instead operated regional monopolies, and were therefore able to increase prices without the risk of losing out to competitors, as well as “load up debt” while paying out huge dividends to shareholders. “It is a national scandal that since 2010 these companies have paid billions to their shareholders, almost all their profits, whilst receiving more in tax credits than they paid in tax,” he said.

“These companies operate regional monopolies which have profited at the expense of consumers who have no choice in who supplies their water. “The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and call time on the water companies, who have a stranglehold over working households. Instead, Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly owned water companies.” Citing figures from the National Audit Office, the shadow chancellor said water bills had risen by 40% in real terms since privatisation of the industry in 1989. In 2016-17, the forecast average for water bills was £389 per household. McDonnell claimed that in 2017, privatised water companies paid out a total £1.6bn to their shareholders. Since 2010, the total was £13.5bn.

[..] Corbyn said that Labour would back a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities. “We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities,” he said. “From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services,” he added.

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Banks and governments are accomplices in blowing this bubble.

Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)

Australia’s big banks are responding to a revenue crunch by cutting jobs and other costs, prompting fears on the eve of an inquiry into their businesses that the industry’s tarnished reputation is about to take another hit. Regulators’ demands that banks hold more capital and their scrutiny into internal operations have made cost-cuts the in-vogue metric at the so-called Big Four banks, Australia and New Zealand Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac, to boost profits. But the strategic change will come at a cost for the banks. “If you can be the most successful at bringing your staff numbers down the quickest, that’s going to give you the quickest cost advantage,” said one senior bank insider with direct knowledge of the cost-cutting strategy.

But, added the insider, as jobs cuts mount, “society and the community will push back, won’t accept it.” Cost cuts are not limited to jobs, with banks preparing to make use of improved technology to reengineer back office functions, and reduce the number and physical size of their branches. But the insider said he expected the Big Four to shed up to 40,000 jobs over five years as part of that overhaul, making a reduced wages bill the primary saving. The focus on costs coincides with the start of a royal commission looking into misconduct in the financial sector starting Monday. Scandals that have shaken public confidence include allegations of interest rate rigging, claims of a toxic trading room culture within some banks, and accusations that some institutions withheld legitimate health insurance payouts and gave misleading financial advice.

The inquiry, expected to last a year and which can recommend criminal charges and legislative changes, could potentially result in restrictions that affect bank profits, similar to a government-imposed bank tax levied last year. According to the government, Australia’s big four are still among the most profitable banks in the world, earning net profit margins of 36.4% in the June quarter of 2017. Years of economic growth and a booming property market had encouraged executives to focus on lifting sales rather than trimming operations. “Top line revenue growth is going to be a struggle, so they need to look closely at their cost lines really seriously,” said Brad Potter, head of Australian equities at Nikko Asset Management, which owns shares in the major banks.

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It’s the economy that causes much of the illness. Putting dollar numbers on it is not the way to go.

Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)

Reducing mental illness is one of the key ways to increase happiness worldwide, according to a study by the Global Happiness Council (GHC). The report, published Saturday, said that while mental illness was one of the main causes of unhappiness in the world, the net cost of treating it was actually negative. “This is because people who are mentally ill become seriously unproductive. So when they are successfully treated, there are substantial gains in output. And these gains exceed the cost of therapy and medication,” GHC researchers said. The most common conditions associated with mental illness are depression and anxiety disorders, the study said. And at least a quarter of the global population were thought to experience these conditions over the course of their lifetime.

Researchers at the GHC also said that mental illness was a “major block” on the global economy as it was found to be the main illness among people of a working age. Therefore, treating the conditions, it said, would save national income per head by 5% — that equates to billions worldwide. The study estimated that for every $1 spent on treating depression, production would be restored by the equivalent of $2.5. And while physical healthcare costs were thought to balance out, the GHC claimed net savings when treating anxiety disorders was greatest of all — with production restored by the equivalent of $3 for every $1 spent. In the U.K., the National Health Service (NHS) estimates that around 10 to 15% of people are considered to have had a mental illness at some stage of their lives. There are many types of mental illness but most conditions fit into either a neurotic or psychotic category, according to the NHS.

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Any individuals will escape persecution.

Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)

Pain-pill giant Purdue Pharma will stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, a retreat after years of criticism that the company’s aggressive sales efforts helped lay the foundation of the U.S. addiction crisis. The company told employees this week that it would cut its sales force by more than half, to 200 workers. It plans to send a letter Monday to doctors saying that its salespeople will no longer come to their clinics to talk about the company’s pain products. “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a statement. Instead, any questions doctors have will be directed to the company’s medical affairs department. OxyContin, approved in 1995, is the closely held company’s biggest-selling drug, though sales of the pain pill have declined in recent years amid competition from generics.

It generated $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion five years earlier, according to data compiled by Symphony Health Solutions. It also sells the painkiller Hysingla. Purdue is credited with helping develop many modern tactics of aggressive pharmaceutical promotion. Its efforts to push OxyContin included OxyContin music, fishing hats and stuffed plush toys. More recently, it has positioned itself as an advocate for fighting the opioid addiction crisis, as overdoses from prescription drugs claim thousands of American lives each year. Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors face dozens of lawsuits in which they’re accused of creating a public-health crisis through their marketing of the painkillers. Purdue officials confirmed in November that they are in settlement talks with a group of state attorneys general and trying to come up with a global resolution of the government opioid claims.

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At least there are still some truly pan-European values left.

Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)

Asylum seekers are being placed in appalling housing conditions where they are at risk from abuse and violence, according to a survey published on Sunday documenting the lives of new arrivals. A year after the home affairs select committee found asylum seekers were being held in “disgraceful” conditions and called for a major overhaul of the system, new research suggests the situation remains poor. In-depth interviews with 33 individuals inside a north London Home Office asylum accommodation centre found that 82% had found mice in their rooms. The survey, by the human rights charity Refugee Rights Europe, also found that two-thirds of asylum seekers interviewed felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe”.

Others, some of whom have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after fleeing violence and persecution from war zones, described how non-residents would enter the building and threaten residents, or simply use the kitchens and hallways to sleep. Of those interviewed, 30% alleged they had experienced verbal abuse in the accommodation from fellow residents or from staff, with 21% claiming they had experienced physical violence. “A number of respondents were under the impression that the cleaning staff may hold racist views. Sometimes this was expressed through abusive or hostile language in English, and, at other times, the respondents were shouted at in a foreign European language which they couldn’t understand,” said the study.

Marta Welander, head of Refugee Rights Europe, said: “An entire year has passed since the home affairs select committee released its alarming report on asylum accommodation in the UK, yet it seems as though little to nothing has changed. Our research revealed terrible hygiene standards and widespread problems with vermin. “Many of the [interviewees] said they felt unsafe in their accommodation, in particular the younger ones or those diagnosed with PTSD. Others explained they’re experiencing health problems, which they attributed to the unsanitary conditions in their bedrooms and communal areas.”

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C’mon, it’s funny.

Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)

The head of Russia’s strategic defense industry corporation Rostec says Moscow is ready to sell S-400 air defense systems to any nation that feels insecure and wants to seal its airspace, including the US if it wants to. Just before the end of the year, Moscow agreed to supply S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to Ankara, making Turkey the first NATO member state that will integrate Russian technology into the North Atlantic defense structure once the $2.5 billion order is delivered. On Wednesday, Sergey Chemezov, head of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, extended the offer to purchase S-400 Triumf, or the SA-21 Growler as it is known by NATO, to the Pentagon. “The S-400 is not an offensive system; it is a defensive system. We can sell it to Americans if they want to,” Chemizov told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) when asked about the strategic reasoning behind the S-400 sale to Turkey.

The S-400, developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau, has been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 2007. The mobile surface-to-air missile system which uses four projectiles can strike down targets 40-400 km away. The deployment of S-400 batteries to Syria served as one of the pillars to the successful Russian anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) campaign. While the Almaz Bureau is currently developing S-500 systems, foreign orders to purchase the S-400 have skyrocketed. Besides China and Turkey, who are awaiting order deliveries, India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are currently negotiating to purchase the Russian military hardware. The growing demand can be attributed to the high reliability and long history of the S missile defense system family. The S-200, designed by Almaz in the 1960s, still serves many nations today. On Saturday, a Syrian S-200 Vega medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile was allegedly used to intercept an Israeli F-16.

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The humanitarian industrial complex in all its glory.

Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)

Oxfam was hit with new allegations of staff involvement with prostitution on Saturday, after claims that employees at a second country mission had used sex workers while living at the organisation’s premises. Former staff who worked for the charity in Chad alleged that women believed to be prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team house there, with one adding that a senior member of staff had been fired for his behaviour in 2006. Roland van Hauwermeiren, who has since been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti, was head of Oxfam in Chad at the time. Van Hauwermeiren resigned from Oxfam in 2011, after admitting that prostitutes had visited his villa in Haiti. One former Chad aid worker said on Saturday: “They would invite the women for parties. We knew they weren’t just friends but something else. “I have so much respect for Oxfam. They do great work, but this is a sector-wide problem,” the former staffer told the Observer.

[..] Oxfam said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006. Its staff in Chad at the time lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns: employees could not walk around freely and were confined to the guest house from early evening. Some employees had raised the issue of prostitutes with Van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam’s beleaguered chief executive, Mark Goldring, denied suggestions the charity had covered up revelations that staff had hired prostitutes in Haiti during a 2011 relief effort on the earthquake-hit island. His defence of Oxfam’s handling of the scandal came as Britain’s charity regulator said Oxfam had failed to mention allegations of abuse of aid beneficiaries in Haiti and potential sexual crimes involving minors in a report to it in 2011. It took no further action at the time.

[..] The scandal broke on Friday when the Times revealed that senior Oxfam staff had paid earthquake survivors for sex and that a confidential Oxfam report had referred to a “culture of impunity” among aid workers in Haiti. The Times on Saturday said Oxfam did not tell other aid agencies about the behaviour of staff involved after they had left to work elsewhere. Goldring told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct, but I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”

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And what about next week?

Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)

This month, Maclean’s has created two covers with two different prices—one at $8.81, the other at our regular price of $6.99—to reflect the 26% gap between full-time wages paid to men and women in Canada.It’s a cheeky way to draw attention to a gap that has barely budged in decades, but we’re not the first to do this. In 2016, a group of students at the University of Queensland in Australia put on a bake sale. They called it the Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, and they priced their cupcakes higher for men than women to illustrate Australia’s pay equity gap. The fierce social media backlash (“Kill all women” and “Females are f–king scum, they should be put down as babies” and “I want to rape these feminist c–ts with their f–king baked goods”) was so horrific it made international headlines.

When we discussed the story during our Maclean’s news meeting at the time, we wondered what would happen if we tried it here in Canada. So let’s see, shall we? After years of stasis, pay equity is having its moment as the next beat in the cadence of the #MeToo movement. Our hope is that these dual covers stir the kind of urgent conversation here that is already happening elsewhere around the world. In England, Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, resigned earlier this year when her pay was revealed to be at least 50 per cent less than her two male counterparts, saying, “My managers had yet again judged that women’s work was worth much less than men’s.” #istandwithcarrie trended on Twitter. In Iceland, after women walked out of work at precisely 2:38 p.m.—a full workday minus 30%, to illustrate the pay gap there—the country enacted a new law that makes it mandatory for companies with 25 or more employees to show they provide equal pay.

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Surprised? Me neither.

US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

Southern New Hampshire University has fired a lecturer who insisted that Australia was a continent – but not a country – and took some time to conduct “independent research” into the issue before reviewing a student’s paper. Ashley Arnold, 27, who is studying toward an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), was “shocked” to learn she had failed an assignment, part of which required students to compare social norms between the United States and any other country – in her case Australia. Arnold was downgraded because her professor believed “Australia is a continent; not a country.” At first I thought it was a joke; this can’t be real. Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real,” she told BuzzFeed News. “With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country? If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just Google that herself?”

To address the professor’s apparent ignorance, Arnold sent a series of emails containing references from the school’s library which clearly stated Australia is both a continent and a country. Arnold even referred her to a section of the Australian government’s webpage called “About Australia” that said “Australia is an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country (7,682,300 sq km).” The female professor with PhD in philosophy, whose name is being kept private, was still not convinced, however, and said she needed to conduct “some independent research on the continent/country issue.” After reviewing Arnold’s paper the professor gave her a new grade of a B+, but never apologized, merely acknowledging that she had a “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent.”

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