Dec 162017
 
 December 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ann Rosener Salvage. Chicago automobile graveyard. 1942

 

A Journey Through A Land Of Extreme Poverty: Welcome To America (G.)
The Chart That Jeffrey Gundlach Calls “Must Watch” For 2018 (ZH)
Ignorance Is No Excuse (Roberts)
Uber Stole Trade Secrets, Bribed Foreign Officials And Spied On Rivals (G._
While Truth Puts On Its Shoes (W.Standard)
Taking Liberty (Jim Kunstler)
France, Germany To Unveil Eurozone Reforms In March (AFP)
EU To Force Firms To Reveal True Owners In Wake Of Panama Papers (G.)
EU Gives Itself June Deadline On Refugees (K.)
First Vulnerable Child Refugee Arrives In UK From Greece (G.)
Ovid’s Exile To The Remotest Margins Of The Roman Empire Revoked (G.)

 

 

“That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation.”

A Journey Through A Land Of Extreme Poverty: Welcome To America (G.)

Los Angeles, California, 5 December “You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.” We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk. The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches. Heaven. Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams. Alston turns right. So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington. His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty. Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Read more …

History is a poet.

The Chart That Jeffrey Gundlach Calls “Must Watch” For 2018 (ZH)

Having shown us his favorite trade of the year for 2018, DoubleLine CEO Jeffrey Gundlach tweeted last night his “must watch” chart for 2018. “Since Jan SPX up big & way above MA’s all year…” “…yet JNK unchanged and below 50, 100 & 200 MA’s with a death cross even… As Gundlach concludes: This is “unusual… Must Watch”

So, what happens next?

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“80% of Americans continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck” That’s an economy that doesn’t have much of a foundation left. It’s wobbly at best, prone to collapse.

Ignorance Is No Excuse (Roberts)

On Thursday, the retail sales report for November clicked up 0.8%. Good news, right? Not so fast. First, sales of gasoline, which directly impacts consumers ability to spend money on other stuff, rose sharply due to higher oil prices and comprised 1/3rd of the increase. Secondly, building products also rose sharply from the ongoing impact of rebuilding from recent hurricanes and fires. Again, this isn’t healthy longer-term either as replacing lost possessions drags forward future consumptive capacity. But what the headlines miss is the growth in the population. The chart below shows retails sales divided by those actually counted as part of the labor force. (You’ve got to have a job to buy stuff, right?)

As you can see, retail sales per labor force participant was on a 5% annualized growth trend beginning in 1992. However, after the financial crisis, the gap below that long-term trend has yet to be filled as there is a 22.7% deficit from the long-term trend. (If we included the entirety of the population, given the number of people outside of the labor force that are still consuming, the trajectory would be worse.) But wait, retail sales were really strong in November? Again, not so fast. The chart below shows the annual % change of retail sales per labor force participant. The trend has been weakening since the beginning of 2017 and shows little sign of increasing currently.

While tax cuts may provide a temporary boost to after-tax incomes, that income will simply be absorbed by higher energy, gasoline, health care and borrowing costs. This is why, 80% of Americans continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck and have little saved in the bank. It is also why, as wages have continued to stagnate, that the cost of living now exceeds what incomes and debt increases can sustain. Yes, corporations will do well under the “tax reform” plan, and while the average American may well see an increase in take-home pay, it will unlikely change their financial situation much. As a result, economic growth will likely remain weak as the deficit expands to $1 Trillion over the next couple of years and Federal debt marches toward $32 trillion.

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Anyone surprised?

Uber Stole Trade Secrets, Bribed Foreign Officials And Spied On Rivals (G._

Uber allegedly engaged in a range of “unethical and unlawful intelligence collections”, including the theft of competitive trade secrets, bribery of foreign officials and spying on competitors and politicians, according to an explosive legal document published on Friday. It’s the latest chapter in the discovery process for the company’s messy legal squabble with Waymo, Google’s driverless car spin-off, which has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. The details were outlined in a 37-page demand letter filed by the ex-Uber security manager Richard Jacobs, who left the company earlier this year. The document paints a picture of a team of employees dedicated to spying on rivals and “impeding” legal investigations into the company.

Jacobs alleges that when he raised concerns over the techniques being used, he was given a poor performance review and demoted as “pure retaliation” for refusing to buy into the culture of “achieving business goals through illegal conduct even though equally aggressive legal means were available”. He had sent the letter to Uber’s in-house counsel with his allegations about possible criminal activity carried out by the special group in May this year, threatening to sue the company. Uber did not provide the letter to Waymo as part of legal discovery before the trial started. An Uber spokeswoman said in a statement: “While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter – and, importantly, any related to Waymo – our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”

Read more …

MSM destroying its credibility more every day.

While Truth Puts On Its Shoes (W.Standard)

Covering the Trump presidency has not always been the media’s finest hour, but even grading on that curve, the month of December has brought astonishing screwups. Professor and venerable political observer Walter Russell Mead tweeted on December 8, “I remember Watergate pretty well, and I don’t remember anything like this level of journalistic carelessness back then. The constant stream of ‘bombshells’ that turn into duds is doing much more to damage the media than anything Trump could manage.” [..] Since October of last year, when Franklin Foer at Slate filed an erroneous report on a computer server in Trump Tower communicating with a Russian bank, there have been an unprecedented number of media faceplants, most of them directly related to the Russia-collusion theory. The errors always run in the same direction—they report or imply that the Trump campaign was in league with Moscow.

For a politicized and overwhelmingly liberal press corps, the wish that this story be true is obviously the father to the errors. Just as obviously, there are precedents for such high-profile embarrassments in the past. Editors at top news organizations once treated anonymous sourcing as a necessary evil, a tool to be used sparingly. Now anonymous sources dominate Trump coverage. It’s not just a problem for readers, who should rightly be skeptical of information someone isn’t willing to vouch for by name. It’s a problem for reporters, too, because anonymous sources are less likely to be cautious and diligent in providing information. According to CNN, the sources behind the busted report on Trump Jr.’s contact with WikiLeaks didn’t intend to deceive and had been reliable in the past. Maybe so, but given the network’s repeated errors it’s difficult to just take CNN’s word for it.

But it’s one thing to use anonymous sources; it’s quite another to be entirely trusting of them. CNN decided to report the contents of an email to Donald Trump Jr. based only on the say-so of two anonymous sources and without seeing the emails. [..] For their part, the media don’t seem to be coming to grips with the damage they’re doing to their own credibility. CNN, which calls itself “the most trusted name in news,” didn’t retract their WikiLeaks report but rewrote it in such a way as to render the story meaningless. They also came to the defense of Raju and Herb, saying the reporters acted in accordance with the network’s editorial policies. And of course they didn’t out their sources—the ultimate punishment news organizations can mete out to anonymous tipsters who steer them wrong.

It understandably infuriates the media that President Trump remains unwilling to own up to his own glaring errors and untruths, while news organizations run correction after correction. And it also understandably upsets the media to watch the president actively attack and seek to undermine their work, which remains vital to ensuring accountability in American governance. What they haven’t grasped is how perversely helpful to him they are being: On a very basic level, President Trump’s repeated salvos against “fake news” have resonance because, well, there does indeed appear to be a lot of fake news.

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“The desperation to get rid of Trump by the Democratic Party and its handmaidens in the media has an odor of reckless dishonesty..”

Taking Liberty (Jim Kunstler)

I’m not a Trump admirer, didn’t vote for the guy (nor Hillary, either), am not invested emotionally in his political survival, but I do have a pretty firm idea of what he represents: primitive maleness in all its lumbering vulgarity. I can see why he has a certain symbolic appeal in a society that increasingly shouts “men need not apply here.” He also represents the widespread disappointment with the poor job that the remaining men in charge of things have done in recent decades caretaking this polity. They’ve managed to dodge the repair of every broken institution and duck engagement with any of the really scary problems facing citizens of this republic, from the gross disparities of wealth, to pervasive racketeering in health care and education, to our rotting infrastructure, to the quandaries of race, immigration, climate change — you name it and they have done squat.

Men mostly in charge of the FBI are currently busy demonstrating that they can completely botch the wished-for Trump-ending investigation of Russian “meddling and collusion” — whatever that is as a legal matter — under special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The agency begins to look like the brotherhood depicted on The Sopranos TV show some years back. The congressional committees (mostly men) with oversight on the FBI (and its umbrella agency, the Department of Justice) can’t even get a few deputy Attorneys General to answer a subpoena. If ever there was a display of feckless impotence, this is it. The desperation to get rid of Trump by the Democratic Party and its handmaidens in the media has an odor of reckless dishonesty from a faction that succumbs more and more each day to the dangerous idea that the ends justify the means.

Despite the momentary jubilation over the defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama special election for senator, the party is close to committing suicide via the collective fantasy that all romantic gambits by men are always and everywhere a prelude to rape. But then, the Republican Party ought to be on suicide watch, too, as it debates a stupendously mendacious tax reform bill that will only shove the country closer to financial meltdown.

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2018 is set to become a very divisive year for the EU.

France, Germany To Unveil Eurozone Reforms In March (AFP)

Germany and France will offer their joint vision for reforming the eurozone by March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in an effort to bridge divisions over the future of the single currency. Meeting without departure-bound Britain, the bloc’s 27 leaders were tasked by EU President Donald Tusk to speak freely about their often clashing visions for the single currency’s future at a summit widely expected to be dominated by Brexit. Overhauling the eurozone and making it more resilient to economic shocks has been a top priority of French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as for European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

But these ambitions have been stymied by political uncertainty in Germany, where Macron ally Merkel is still trying to form a government after the pro-business FDP party abandoned talks amid doubts about eurozone reform. “We will find a common position because it is necessary for Europe,” Merkel said at a news briefing, speaking alongside Macron after a summit focused mostly on Brexit. Merkel’s overture to France will rankle her conservative CDU party which toes an austerity-minded line on economic matters, but appeals to Social Democrats, with whom she must now build a coalition. Reform of the eurozone is often blocked by political divisions, with rich countries – such as Germany and the Netherlands – reticent to adopt policies that share risks with their heavily-indebted eurozone partners, such as France, Spain, Italy or Greece.

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EU needs to open up about Luxembourg, Netherlands et al as tax havens.

EU To Force Firms To Reveal True Owners In Wake Of Panama Papers (G.)

Companies across the EU will be forced to disclose their true owners under new legislation prompted by the release of the Panama Papers. Anti-corruption campaigners applauded the agreement as a major step in the fight against tax evasion and money laundering, but expressed disappointment that trusts will mostly escape scrutiny. The revised terms of the EU’s fourth anti-money laundering directive include: • A requirement for companies to disclose their beneficial, or true, owners in a publicly available register. • Data on the beneficial owners of trusts to be available to tax and law enforcement authorities, as well as sectors with an obligation to follow anti-money laundering rules, such as lawyers. • A requirement for member states to verify beneficial ownership information submitted to their registers. • Extending anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations to apply to virtual currencies, provision of tax services and those dealing in works of art.

EU member states will have 18 months to transpose the new directive into domestic legislation. As a current member of the EU, the UK will implement the legislation. “This is a big breakthrough and confirms that full transparency of corporate ownership is now the global standard against which other countries will be judged,” said Laure Brillaud, the anti-money laundering policy officer at Transparency International EU. “The EU deserves credit for taking this bold leap to end the secrecy that facilitates corruption, tax evasion and other crimes.” Global Witness applauded the move “in the face of opposition from countries like the UK, Luxembourg, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus,” but criticised the failure to introduce the same requirements for trusts.

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All the time in the world. Who cares about the misery?

EU Gives Itself June Deadline On Refugees (K.)

EU leaders appealed for unity in a last-ditch effort to break their deadlock on sharing out refugees by June, telling reluctant eastern states they could otherwise be outvoted on a dispute that has shaken the bloc’s foundations. Coming out from a fraught discussion among 28 EU leaders that went into the small hours on Friday morning in Brussels, rivals in the two-year-old dispute all stuck to their guns, hemmed in by expectations they have raised with their own voters. The Mediterranean frontline states Italy and Greece, and the rich destination countries including Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are demanding that all countries host some refugees as a way to demonstrate solidarity.

Their four ex-communist peers Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic refuse to accept people from the mostly-Muslim Middle East and North Africa, saying that would threaten their security after a raft of Islamic attacks in Europe. “There are areas where there is no solidarity and this is something I find unacceptable,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. At one point during the two days of talks in Brussels, cameras caught Merkel, the bloc’s paramount national leader, as she appeared to become agitated when talking with the leaders’ chairman, Donald Tusk, making her displeasure with him clear. That came after Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, came out strongly against “ineffective” and “highly divisive” obligatory refugee quotas, ruffling the feathers of those states that back them as well as the executive European Commission.

“The manner in which the principle of solidarity was being questioned does not only undermine the discussion on the refugee issue, but the future of Europe,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters after what he called “intense” talks. Tusk said the ineffectiveness of relocation schemes was demonstrated by the fact that only 35,000 asylum seekers had been transferred from Greece and Italy under a 2015 plan meant to move 160,000 people. “Mandatory quotas remain a contentious issue,” Tusk told a joint news conference with the Commission’s head Jean-Claude Juncker, the disagreement between the two playing out visibly despite their usually friendly rapport. “Relocation is not a solution to the issue of illegal migration.”

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Oh well, that only took a year and a half. Were they hoping his suicide attempts would be successful?

First Vulnerable Child Refugee Arrives In UK From Greece (G.)

The first vulnerable child refugee stranded in Greece who qualifies for sanctuary under the Dubs amendment has arrived in the UK, more than a year after the government pledged to bring over hundreds of children. The Home Office had accepted that the boy was vulnerable and eligible for transfer 16 months ago. The Dubs amendment, part of the 2016 Immigration Act, was passed after a campaign to transfer 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees stuck in camps to Britain. There are more than 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece, 11,186 in France and 13,867 in Italy. The Home Office agreed to resettle 480 under the Dubs scheme. Conditions for lone children in Greece have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which found filthy cells infested with bugs and vermin, sometimes without mattresses or access to showers.

Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London has stepped in to offer the boy a home and one of its social workers travelled to Greece to assess the child, who has lost contact with his family in Syria. The boy, who is said to be deeply traumatised, was detained until last month in a police cell with no access to medical professionals, and forced to sleep on an inch-thick mattress on the ground. Police said the boy had repeatedly self-harmed, tried to kill himself and was at “imminent risk” of doing this. According to Antonia Moustaka, a lawyer for the humanitarian agency Praksis, he spent more than 380 days in psychiatric clinics, 124 days in shelters for unaccompanied minors and six weeks in police detention.

[..] George Gabriel, the project lead at the charity Safe Passage, said: “There are more than 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece and only 1,130 spaces in shelters. The winter is bitterly cold and conditions are getting worse. “Over a year and a half ago, the Dubs amendment brought hope that hundreds of these kids would be brought to safety. It has been appalling to watch these minors wait, month after month, on bureaucratic delays.”

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Only took 2,000 years. What were all other mayors of Rome during that time thinking?

Ovid’s Exile To The Remotest Margins Of The Roman Empire Revoked (G.)

More than 2,000 years after Augustus banished him to deepest Romania, the poet Ovid has been rehabilitated. Rome city council on Thursday unanimously approved a motion tabled by the populist M5S party to “repair the serious wrong” suffered by Ovid, thought of as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature along with Virgil and Horace. Best known for his 15-book epic narrative poem Metamorphoses and the elegy Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, Publius Ovidius Naso was exiled in 8 AD to Tomis, the ancient but remote Black Sea settlement now known as the Romanian port city of Constanta. He remained there until his death a decade later. Although ordered directly by the emperor, scholars have long speculated over the motive for Ovid’s exile; the poet himself attributed it to “carmen et error”, a poem and a mistake.

Experts believe the cause was probably a combination of three factors: that Ovid’s erotic poetry was considered offensive, his attitude to Augustus was too disrespectful, and that he may have been involved in an unspecified plot or scandal. La Republicca reported that M5S, which holds a majority of the seats on the council, demanded that “necessary measures” be adopted to revoke the order in what the capital’s deputy mayor, Luca Bergamo, described as an important symbol. “It is about the fundamental right of artists to express themselves freely in societies in which, around the world, the freedom of artistic expression is increasingly constrained,” Bergamo told councillors.

Ovid was indisputably “one of the greatest poets in the history of humanity,” the deputy mayor said, and moreover the real reasons for his mysterious banishment by the emperor “were never placed on the historical record”. Sulmona, the Abruzzo town where the poet was born (then Sulmo), formally acquitted him of any wrongdoing. Dante, the great Renaissance poet, was similarly pardoned in 2008 by Florence – from where he was exiled on pain of death in 1302.

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Oct 172017
 
 October 17, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt An Old Scholar Near a Window in a Vaulted Room 1631

 

Asset Prices & Monetary Policy in an Irrational World (Whalen)
Central Banks Will Cause An Orgy of Blood (Clarmond)
Global Central Banking Leadership Flux Looms (R.)
Kobe Steel Faked Quality Data For Decades (Nikkei)
China’s Impact on Global Markets is About to Get Much Bigger (BBG)
China’s Banks Are Bingeing on Bonds Despite Debt Crackdown (BBG)
China Has Only Taken Baby Steps to Cut Leverage (BBG)
Investigations of Wall Street Have Disappeared from Corporate Media (Martens)
MIT Economist Andrew Lo Wants You To Realize That Traders Are Animals (BW)
Varoufakis Tells Macron To Adopt The ‘Empty-chair’ Tactic (EuA)
The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains (David Graeber)
Malta Car Bomb Kills Panama Papers Journalist (G.)
IMF Chief Calls For Implementation Of Greek Program, Debt Relief (K.)
2,000 Refugees, Migrants Landed in Greece Since October 1 (GR)

 

 

“.. the logical and unavoidable result of the end of QE is that asset prices must fall and excessive debt must be reduced.”

Asset Prices & Monetary Policy in an Irrational World (Whalen)

[..] Let’s wind the clock back two decades to December 1996. The Labor Department had just reported a “blowout” jobs report. Then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan had just completed a decade in office. He made a now famous speech at American Enterprise Institute wherein Greenspan asked if “irrational exuberance” had begun to play a role in the increase of certain asset prices. He said:

“Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the FOMC abandoned its focus on the productive sector and essentially substituted exuberant monetary policy for the irrational behavior of investors in the roaring 2000s. In place of banks and other intermediaries pushing up assets prices, we instead have seen almost a decade of “quantitative easing” by the FOMC doing much the same thing. And all of this in the name of boosting the real economy?

The Federal Reserve System, joined by the Bank of Japan and the ECB, artificially increased assets prices in a coordinated effort not to promote growth, but avoid debt deflation. Unfortunately, without an increase in income to match the artificial rise in assets prices, the logical and unavoidable result of the end of QE is that asset prices must fall and excessive debt must be reduced. Stocks, commercial real estate and many other asset classes have been vastly inflated by the actions of global central banks. Assuming that these central bankers actually understand the implications of their actions, which are nicely summarized by Greenspan’s remarks some 20 years ago, then the obvious conclusion is that there is no way to “normalize” monetary policy without seeing a significant, secular decline in asset prices. The image below illustrates the most recent meeting of the FOMC.

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Great piece of history.

Central Banks Will Cause An Orgy of Blood (Clarmond)

The Bank of Japan’s current path provides an ominous reminder of a similar era 80 years ago. These policies, which are also being followed by the other world central banks, will lead to disaster. “One man – one kill” railed Inoue Nissho, leader of the Ketsumeidan (the Blood Pledge Corps), a Japanese ultranationalist group of the 1930s committed to cleansing the country of ‘traitors’ – the leaders of business and government. The first name on their death list was Inoue Junnosuke, a former Finance Minister, an austerity advocate and former governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ); he was shot as he visited a nursery school. The next name was Dan Takuma, head of the Mitsui Group, the Japanese Goldman Sachs; he was shot in front of his office in the fashionable Nihonbashi district.

Further attacks on the BOJ and Mitsubishi Bank followed but were unsuccessful. The “world of cosmopolitan finance had collided with nationalist resentment.” The liberal elite was stunned, unable to provide answers to the social turmoil of the time; and with the establishment paralysed, the public began to sympathise with the killers’ aims. Enter Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo. He placated the nationalists by championing massive deficit financing, via the BOJ, to pull Japan out of its economic morass. Japan’s economy soon embarked on a period of economic growth with stable prices, full employment and humming factories, an “economic nirvana.” Seven decades later these results were heralded a success by another central banker trying a similar trick – Ben Bernanke. Korekiyo’s plan was to fund government spending by having the BOJ directly purchase all the government-issued bonds.

The hope was that, when conditions and inflation improved, the bonds would be sold back into the market. Four years later, the BOJ’s balance sheet was 90% of GDP, and the economy (and for “economy” read military) was totally dependent on government spending financed by the BOJ. As the first modest hint of inflation arrived Korekiyo attempted to sell government bonds publicly, but the auction failed. With this failure it became clear that the bonds which had been stuffed onto the BOJ’s balance sheet could never be sold. Korekiyo’s struggle to ‘cut up the credit card’ culminated in him suffering a similar fate to Junnosuke and being cut up in an attack of army machetes. As the BOJ’s balance sheet crossed 100% of GDP, there could be no turning back, the road to conflict had been primed by the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet and the money that had flooded into the military.

The current Bank of Japan’s balance sheet has now again crossed that fabled 100% of GDP and it is getting close to owning 45% of outstanding government bonds. There is no end in sight with the BOJ buying $60 billion a month of government debt. At this current pace the modern BOJ will by 2019 be the proud owner of 60% of the local bond market. There is no longer a market price for a Japanese Government Bond, it is an asset whose price is set by the BOJ. The key difference between today and the 1930s is that Japan now has an open capital account, therefore the only untethered market price is the currency. The Yen’s continued devaluation will be deep and comprehensive, while Japanese equities will continue to rise, adjusting to the currency loss.

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Musical chairs. Won’t change a thing.

Global Central Banking Leadership Flux Looms (R.)

The leaders of the world’s top central banks who risked trillions of dollars and their reputations to rescue the global economy are now set to walk off stage at a time when the lingering effects of the crisis, evolving technology and a combustible political landscape will challenge their successors. The Fed, the Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank of China may all have new bosses in early 2018 and there will be a new head of the ECB the following year. The new leaders will have to deal with the hangover from the 2007-2009 crisis and its immediate aftermath as well as newly emerging risks. Some $10 trillion in assets bought by the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ to prop up their economies remains on the books and will have to be pared back. Stubbornly low global inflation and weak growth complicate the return to more conventional policies.

There are unfinished reforms in China and Europe, while the rise of nationalism could erode central bank independence. Further ahead, the spread of cryptocurrencies and other technologies threatens to weaken central bank control over the financial system. “The bad news is that in a crisis people learn by doing,” said Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at investment firm Standish Mellon and a longtime official at the Federal Reserve. “Will the next set of people have the set of experiences that allows them to do that? Will they have a test?” The changing of the guard could veer in unpredictable directions. China’s president is considering a provincial official to succeed Zhou Xiaochuan, a veteran policymaker who has led the central bank since 2002 and whom analysts regard as a champion of reforms that could falter without his leadership.

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Even had a fraud manual. This keeps growing by the day.

Kobe Steel Faked Quality Data For Decades (Nikkei)

Product quality data was falsified for decades at some Kobe Steel plants in Japan, well beyond the roughly 10-year time frame given by the steelmaker, a source with knowledge of the situation said Monday. Employees involved in the data manipulation used the industry term tokusai to refer to shipping of products that did not meet the standards requested by customers, the source said. Though tokusai usually refers to voluntary acceptance of such products, plants sometimes sent substandard goods without customers’ consent. The word was apparently in use at some plants for 40 to 50 years. The cheating procedures eventually became institutionalized in what was essentially a tacit fraud manual, allowing the practice to continue as managers came and went. Data manipulation may have occurred with the knowledge of plant foremen and quality control managers. Some shipments even came with forged inspection certificates.

Kobe Steel has tapped senior officials in the aluminum and copper business – where most of the misconduct took place – to serve on its board. How far up the chain of command knowledge of the fraud may have extended in the past remains an open question. Systemic data falsification took place at four Japanese production sites. The scandal has spread to the manufacturer’s mainstay steel business, with revelations Friday that steel wire was also shipped without inspection or with faked certificates. The number of affected customers has swelled from around 200 to roughly 500. Kobe Steel has said it will complete safety inspections for already shipped products in two weeks or so. A report on the causes of the fraud and measures to prevent a recurrence will come out in a month or so. The steelmaker is conducting a groupwide probe that includes interviews with former senior officials.

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Yeah, when its Ponzi collapses.

China’s Impact on Global Markets is About to Get Much Bigger (BBG)

China’s ascension as an economic superstar over the past three-plus decades is out of sync with its heft in global financial markets. But things are starting to change, and investors around the world will feel the difference. China makes up more than one-seventh of the global economy, yet its footprint in international portfolios is ludicrously small, with overseas investors owning less than 2% of its domestic stocks and bonds. But its insulated markets are slowly becoming more integrated, as President Xi Jinping loosens rules on foreign participation. That push could get further backing at the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress this month, where the leadership will set policy priorities for the coming five years.

China’s capacity to influence global financial markets has been growing incrementally, but the pivotal moment came in 2015, when the yuan’s unexpected devaluation rocked assets worldwide, showing investors beyond Asia that China’s markets are a force to be reckoned with. The surprise move saw the yuan slide the most in two decades on Aug. 11, 2015, as Beijing sought to shore up economic growth and make China’s exports more competitive. Following on from a Chinese stock rout in mid-2015 that also had a ripple effect globally, the devaluation rattled risk assets for weeks as it was seen as an admission the economy was struggling. Fast forward to 2017, and China’s clout has only expanded, with its lion’s share of global trade making the managed yuan an anchor for currencies throughout Asia.

The nation’s status as both the world’s biggest exporter and the largest market of consumers means policy tweaks in Beijing can affect prices for everything from beef to bitcoin. Trading on Shanghai’s commodity futures market is taking on increasing influence beyond China’s borders. The country’s pivot away from the smokestack industries that have been its growth engine for decades toward high-tech production is already shifting the global landscape for manufacturing and consumption. At the same time, China is looking to draw in more foreign capital by opening conduits to its equity and bond markets, among the largest in the world. That makes the 19th party congress, where Xi will unveil the party’s vision for China over the next five years, key for even the most peripheral of investors.

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It’s almost funny.

China’s Banks Are Bingeing on Bonds Despite Debt Crackdown (BBG)

China’s banks are still bingeing on short-term financing, defying analyst predictions that they would wean themselves off such debt as regulators intensify a crackdown on leverage. Sales of negotiable certificates of deposit — a key funding source for medium and smaller banks — surged 49% from a year ago in the third quarter to a record 5.4 trillion yuan ($819 billion), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While strategists had predicted in June that the NCD market would shrink, it turned out to be one of the few funding channels left as officials drained cash from the interbank market and asked lenders to strengthen risk controls. China’s deleveraging looms large in debt-market dynamics these days, with government bond yields at two-year highs and the one-week Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate not far from the most expensive since 2015.

Still, officials are also trying to keep the economy humming: they’ve tweaked the rules governing NCD issuance, but haven’t shut off the taps as credit growth accelerates. “The short-term debt is an indispensable fundraising channel for smaller banks,” said Shen Bifan, head of research at First Capital Securities Co.’s fixed-income department in Shenzhen. “As other channels get squeezed, and lenders’ books continue to expand, as is the case now amid solid economic growth, it’d be difficult to see the NCD market size shrink.” Net financing – sales minus maturities – through such securities was at 333 billion yuan in the third quarter, versus a total of 1.7 trillion yuan in the first half, data compiled by Bloomberg show. With more than 8 trillion yuan of contracts outstanding, it’s now the fourth-largest type of bond in China, after sovereign, local government and policy bank debt.

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Xi only talks the talk.

China Has Only Taken Baby Steps to Cut Leverage (BBG)

China has taken “baby steps” toward cutting leverage as lending from banks slows, but progress has been uneven as borrowing by households and the government has risen, according to S&P Global Ratings. Authorities are adopting both tight and loose policies to try to reduce the country’s dependency on debt without causing a hard landing, analysts led by Christopher Lee wrote in a note dated Oct. 16. S&P last month cut China’s sovereign rating for the first time since 1999, saying it didn’t believe enough was being done to contain credit growth.

The next big test is whether companies can withstand higher funding costs as financial conditions tighten, according to S&P. “Smaller and less-capitalized banks may feel the liquidity squeeze and pressures on their capital, leading to distress; and default risks could also increase for the local government financing vehicles,” the analysts wrote. “Passing the baton of credit-fueled growth in recent years to households also has many obvious risks,” such as a correction in the property market hurting consumption, they said.

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One system.

Investigations of Wall Street Have Disappeared from Corporate Media (Martens)

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought Dow Jones & Company in late 2007 after a century of ownership by the Bancroft family. The purchase just happened to come at a time when the Federal Reserve had secretly begun to funnel what would end up totaling $16 trillion in cumulative low-cost loans to bail out the Wall Street mega banks and their foreign counterparts. In 2011, the Pew Research Center released a study on how front page coverage had changed since the News Corp. purchase of the Wall Street Journal. Pew found that “coverage has clearly moved away from what had been the paper’s core mission under previous ownership—covering business and corporate America. In the past three and a half years, front-page coverage of business is down about one-third from what it had been in 2007, the last year of the old ownership regime.”

What is not down but “up” at the Wall Street Journal is its defense of the Wall Street banking giants’ indefensible practices on its editorial and opinion pages. One of the most striking examples of the changing face of corporate media coverage of Wall Street was an October 20, 2013 editorial in the Wall Street Journal headlined:“The Morgan Shakedown.” The unsigned editorial began with this: “The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”

Actually, there was a very good reason for the $13 billion settlement – but the intrepid investigative reporting on that subject would be done by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone – not by the paper still calling itself the “Wall Street” Journal. Taibbi revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had actually settled on the cheap and had failed to reveal to the public that it had the most credible of eyewitnesses to mortgage fraud at JPMorgan Chase – a securities attorney who worked there and had reported the fraud to her supervisors. The attorney, Alayne Fleischmann, told Taibbi that what she witnessed in JPMorgan’s mortgage operations was “massive criminal securities fraud.”

Taibbi’s in-depth report on the matter made the editorial board at the Wall Street Journal appear naïve or captured by Wall Street. It raised the added embarrassing question as to why the Wall Street Journal was out of touch with the details of the Justice Department’s investigation.

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This year’s Fauxbel for human behavior, next year’s for animal behavior?

MIT Economist Andrew Lo Wants You To Realize That Traders Are Animals (BW)

Every reigning theory of finance has holes. The efficient-markets hypothesis says markets are rational and self-regulating, but it doesn’t account for crashes and crises; behavioral finance blames market breakdowns on investors’ short-term thinking, but it fails to account for group dynamics or predict future markets. Andrew Lo spent his early career studying these flaws. Lo, 57, is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris professor of finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management, but he’s always been a multidisciplinarian. At the Bronx High School of Science, he excelled in biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics and liked solving broad problems. “I just really enjoyed the dynamics across all these fields,” he says. “I never thought of myself as, I am an economist or I’m a statistician.”

Eighteen years into his research, Lo had a major insight. One day in 1999 his 4-year-old son took off running toward a gorilla cage at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “The mother gorilla jumped right in and growled,” he says. “And as soon as she did that, I did the same thing. I ran to my child and brought him back.” The similarity of their reactions startled Lo and caused him to wonder: Could there be other similarities in the way people and animals react to danger and risk? The insight eventually led to the adaptive-markets hypothesis. “Right now, we tend to collect prices and assume that those are the only things that matter” to predict investor behavior, Lo says, whereas an ecologist would try to understand investors as a population—which means accounting for their animal instincts. Lo’s hypothesis says people act in their own self-interest but frequently make mistakes, figure out where they’ve erred, and change their behaviors.

The broader system also adapts. These complex interactions contribute to our booms and busts. Lo’s book-length exploration of the idea, Adaptive Markets, came out in February. Says Ben Golub, a founding partner at BlackRock Inc. and now co-head of the company’s risk and quantitative analysis group: “It makes you realize that at any time in the market, the people who are there are not there by accident.” Some people survived the last financial crisis and might be more risk-averse, and some people who’ve joined since might be more risk-tolerant. “The cautious guys survive for a while and then get pushed out by the more aggressive risk takers, who then get thrown out when the thing blows up in their faces,” Golub says. He’s made the book required reading for many BlackRock employees.

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“Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”

Varoufakis Tells Macron To Adopt The ‘Empty-chair’ Tactic (EuA)

More than fifty years ago, in 1965, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his ministers from the Council of the EU, de facto vetoing all decisions. According to Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister for Greece, Macron should consider refreshing this tactic – but for the opposite reason. De Gaulle was defending nation states, while Macron wants to push federalism forward. “Macron has got some good ideas, but he already lost, he is done, belittled by Germany” who refuses to create a budget for the Eurozone, according to the economist, who spoke to the French press in Paris. According to him, the success of the far-right party AfD in September’s parliamentary election gives Germany the perfect excuse to retrench on this dossier. And the European Monetary Fund, proposed by Germany as an alternative to a Eurozone budget, is a sham and not a real compromise, according to Varoufakis.

The only way to force Germany into siding with France on relaunching the federalist process is the empty-chair tactic, he says. A form of “constructive disobedience” [..] “Trying to achieve a permanent reduction of the public deficit under 3% of GDP is nonsensical. It is not a problem to run a public deficit: Arizona will always have one, especially if compared to California. In a federation, this happens a lot. But in the case of France, current public spending will condemn the country to permanent stagnation, because the German industry has a monopoly of numerous markets”, he says. The real priority according to him is investment, which should be raised to €500 billion per year. “The Juncker plan is a farce,” he said.

Without a eurozone budget to relaunch the federalist project, the economist proposes that the European Investment Bank (BEI) issue green bonds to finance large infrastructure projects in clean energy and transport – and that the ECB buys them. “We don’t need to change the treaties. It is already feasible – it is just a question of achieving the consensus of the EIB’s board.” On the type of projects that should be financed, Varoufakis echoes Macron who spoke about a way to cross the old continent without polluting: he would like to develop a railway network from the East to the West as well as invest in clean energy. While he sides with Macron’s federalist elements, including a transnational list for the 2019 European elections, Varoufakis is also very critical of his first steps.

“The speech he gave in Greece was pathetic. Coming to tell us that Greece is out of the crisis is an insult, and speaking from [Athens’ Acropolis] where countless dictators spoke to Greeks adds insult to injury,” said the economist. Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”

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Excellent and very educational.

The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains (David Graeber)

“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains” — that’s what Mehmet Aksoy used to say. But Mehmet, who was killed Sept. 26 during an attack by the Islamic State in northern Syria, was my friend, and a tireless advocate of the Kurdish freedom movement. He was working on an essay that began with those words when he died. He often used that adage to explain the plight of his people, who have long been used or mistreated by the very powers that claim to spread democracy and freedom through the world. I first met Mehmet at a Kurdish demonstration in London, where he lived. I had come because of my interest in direct democratic movements like the one the Syrian Kurds were building, but ended up feeling as if I was lurking, out of place at the fringe of the gathering, until he walked up and introduced himself.

I came to know him as I’ve now heard many in the community did, as kind and unassuming but somehow larger than life, always juggling a dozen projects, films, essays, events and political actions. Now I think it’s important to tell people about his last project, his writing on the conflict in Kurdistan, so that more of us understand what’s at stake there. He was writing in the shadow of a referendum taking place in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan that everyone knew would end with a strong endorsement of an independent Kurdish state. But the Syrian Kurdish freedom movement that Mehmet represents has pursued an entirely different vision from that of the Kurds in Iraq: It does not wish to change the borders of states but simply to ignore them and to build grass-roots democracy at the community level.

It frustrated Mehmet that the endless sacrifices of Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State in cities across Syria are being mistakenly seen as justification of more borders and more divisions rather than for less. Too often in the Western news media, the Kurds are grouped together as one homogeneous people, with Syrian Kurds often an afterthought of late because of the attention the Iraqi Kurds have received for their referendum. But the Kurds in these two countries have built very different political systems. The Syrian Kurds have built a coalition with Arabs, Syriacs, Christians and others in the northern slice of Syria that they call Rojava (or, more officially, the The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.).

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RIP. May your courage shine on others.

Malta Car Bomb Kills Panama Papers Journalist (G.)

The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device which blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field. A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the Politico website as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. Her blogs were a thorn in the side of both the establishment and underworld figures that hold sway in Europe’s smallest member state.

Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan. No group or individual has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Malta’s president, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, called for calm. “In these moments, when the country is shocked by such a vicious attack, I call on everyone to measure their words, to not pass judgment and to show solidarity,” she said. After a fraught general election this summer, commentators had been fearing a return to the political violence that scarred Malta during the 1980s.

In a statement, Muscat condemned the “barbaric attack”, saying he had asked police to reach out to other countries’ security services for help identifying the perpetrators. [..] Caruana Galizia, who claimed to have no political affiliations, set her sights on a wide range of targets, from banks facilitating money laundering to links between Malta’s online gaming industry and the Mafia. Over the last two years, her reporting had largely focused on revelations from the Panama Papers, a cache of 11.5m documents leaked from the internal database of the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

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This is theater. And it’s empty.

IMF Chief Calls For Implementation Of Greek Program, Debt Relief (K.)

Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has praised Greece’s progress on reforms while saying that implementation of the adjustment program coupled with an agreement on debt relief are key to leading the debt-wracked country out of the crisis. The IMF chief made the comments after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington Monday to discuss recent developments in Greece and key issues ahead. “I was very pleased to welcome Prime Minister Tsipras to the IMF today. I complimented him and the Greek people on the notable progress Greece has achieved in the implementation of difficult policies, including recent pension and income tax reforms. We had an excellent and productive meeting,” Lagarde said in a statement after the meeting.

“The IMF recently approved in principle a new arrangement to support Greece’s policy program. Resolute implementation of this program, together with an agreement with Greece’s European partners on debt relief, are essential to support Greece’s return to sustainable growth and a successful exit from official financing next year,” Lagarde said. “The prime minister and I are committed to working together towards this goal,” she said. In his comments, Tsipras said that “after several years of economic recession Greece has turned a page.” The Greek prime minister said that it is in everyone’s interest to wrap up the third bailout review as swiftly as possible.

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Numbers rising as we speak.

2,000 Refugees, Migrants Landed in Greece Since October 1 (GR)

A total of 1,877 migrants and refugees crossed into the northern Aegean islands from the Turkish coast during the first 15 days of October. According to official figures, 1,148 have arrived in Lesvos; 572 in Chios, and 117 in Samos. In addition to this, on Monday morning, 44 people arrived in Lesvos and 157 in Chios. Between October 1 and 13, the Turkish coast guard announced that it had located 25 incidents involving dinghies with migrants and refugees on board, that had attempted to reach the Greek waters. 907 people have been returned back to Turkey.

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Aug 062016
 
 August 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 6 2016


Ben Shahn Sideshow, county fair, central Ohio 1938

UK’s Four Biggest Banks £155 Billion Short Of Safety (Ind.)
Want To Avoid Recession? Then Shower UK Households With Cash (G.)
A Realistic Look at July’s Nonfarm Payrolls (M2)
The Politically Incorrect Jobs Numbers Everyone is Hushing Up (WS)
Hacked Bitcoin Firm Plans To Spread Losses Across All Users (CNBC)
In China, When in Debt, Dig Deeper (WSJ)
Only In China: Companies Become Banks To ‘Solve’ Financial Difficulties
Galbraith Says Critics Have It All Wrong Over Greece ‘Plan X’ (Kath.)
Stiglitz Quits Panama Papers Probe, Cites Lack Of Transparency (R.)
Is Hillary Clinton Corrupt? An Archive of Financial Improprieties (Medium)
Average American 15 Pounds Heavier Than 20 Years Ago (HDN)

 

 

“That sum is not far away from the present market capitalisation of these banks, implying that they are massively overexposed.”

UK’s Four Biggest Banks £155 Billion Short Of Safety (Ind.)

The UK’s four biggest banks would need to raise another £155bn in fresh capital to withstand a new financial crisis, despite the view of the Bank of England Governor that lenders have an adequate cushion to cope with further turmoil. Those are the results of research from three respected financial academics – and add to a growing feeling that the Bank of England is dangerously undercooking its capital requirements on UK lenders in the face of swelling instability in financial markets. UK banks had to be rescued in 2008 and 2009 at massive cost to British taxpayers. Capital represents the shareholder funds in banks available to absorb losses. When losses are greater than the capital cushion the bank is bust and may need to tap state support if deemed to be systemically important by politicians and regulators.

In a new paper Viral Acharya of New York University, Diane Pierret of the University of Lausanne and Sascha Steffen of the University of Mannheim calculate that HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland would need to raise $185bn (£155bn) of new equity between them to retain a 5.5% capital cushion in a crisis, which is the benchmark of safety used in the past by the European Banking Authority. That sum is not far away from the present market capitalisation of these banks, implying that they are massively overexposed. The EBA’s stress test exercise last Friday showed the UK’s major lenders would see their capital diminished in another European economic crisis, but not below the 5.5% level of so-called “risk-weighted assets” that would have created pressure for more equity injections.

[..] Acharya, Pierret and Steffen argue that the broader European banking sector could be undercapitalised to the tune of around €890bn – a figure they calculated using stock market valuations of banks’ equity rather than the sums reported by lenders themselves. Bank share prices have continued to fall since last Friday’s EBA stress test, implying investors are far from reassured by the fact that most lenders received a clean bill of health from the regulators.

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Would it even help anymore?

Want To Avoid Recession? Then Shower UK Households With Cash (G.)

Just give people the money. Give them cash, dole it out, increase benefits, slash VAT, hand it to those most likely to spend it: the poor. Put £1,000 into every debit account. Whatever you do, don’t give it to banks. They will just hoard it or use it to boost house prices. Britain is suffering from a classic liquidity trap. There is insufficient demand. Yet all the Bank of England did on Thursday was wring its hands, blame Brexit and go on digging the same old holes. They are labelled lower interest rates, quantitative easing and more cash for banks. Those policies have been in place for some seven years. They have failed, failed, failed. Not one commentator yesterday thought cutting interest rates to 0.25% would make any difference to the threat of recession.

Worse, by cutting annuity yields it would impoverish many old people who would otherwise spend. The Bank’s cumbersome monetary bureaucracy was set up to keep inflation under control by curbing bank lending. That failed during the credit crunch. Now it is failing in the opposite direction. Channelling policy through the banks has proved useless in protecting the economy from deflation and recession. The Bank is trapped intellectually in the world in which it lives, that of the City and the banking system. Like chateau generals at the Somme, it never ventures to the economy’s frontline, where buyers meet sellers and generate growth. It thinks of bonds, investments and the only glamour spending it recognises, on infrastructure. It believes that an economy can be regenerated through middle-class home ownership and state mega-projects.

But there is no shortage of funds to invest. Companies, like banks, are awash in cash. The problem is that savers are not spending; if they spend on anything it is on property, and that, too, may now slide. It is irresponsible to await the chancellor’s autumn statement and a political fiddle with tax rates. The engine of the economy must crash into forward gear. Money must be got into bank accounts, cash cards, shops tills and revenues. The plea from 35 economists published in the Guardian this week for “unconventional measures” made only one mistake. It suggested more spending on state infrastructure, which is just spending delayed. Where the economists were right was in suggesting “an immediate increase in household disposable incomes”.

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“..the U-6 unemployment number is 10.7% of the nation’s workforce..”

A Realistic Look at July’s Nonfarm Payrolls (M2)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its nonfarm payroll data this morning, showing that 255,000 jobs were created in July. The unemployment rate remained at 4.9%. May data was revised up from the eyebrow-raising low number of 11,000 jobs to 24,000 jobs while June was also revised upward from 287,000 jobs to 292,000. That brought the monthly average to 190,000 jobs over the past three months. Unfortunately, drilling down into the more granular details, a far less rosy picture emerges; a picture which is far more consistent with an economy feeling the continued weight of unprecedented wealth and income inequality; a picture that is far more correlated to an economy where “58% of all new income since the Wall Street crash has gone to the top 1%,” to quote Senator Bernie Sanders.

The data for July shows that the U-6 unemployment number is 10.7% of the nation’s workforce, more than double the official number of 4.9%. The U-6 unemployment rate includes the number of people unemployed; plus individuals just marginally attached to the labor force; plus those employed part-time for economic reasons. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the following definition of marginally attached: “Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work.)

But a far bigger problem with the BLS data is what constitutes an “employed” worker to our Federal government’s numbers crunchers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you could be an out of work MBA graduate but if you help your brother in his deli for 15 hours in a week while living in his home, you’re counted as employed. (The BLS says that a worker who makes no money at all donating his or her services to a family business for 15 hours or more per week is considered employed.)

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The US keeps addding more people than jobs.

The Politically Incorrect Jobs Numbers Everyone is Hushing Up (WS)

On its population clock, the Census Bureau estimates that the US population on August 5, 2016, at 4:49 p.m. ET (yup, down to the minute) was 324.17 million. That’s up from 308.76 million in April 2010. Since the darkest days of the Great Recession, the US population has grown by 15.4 million. The Census Bureau also estimates that there are currently 8.6 births per minute, minus 4.6 deaths per minute, plus 2 arriving immigrants (“net”) per minute, for a gain of nearly 6 folks per minute. Everyone ages, so the young ones move into the labor force, but the baby boomers are fit and healthy and don’t feel like retiring, and so they hang on to their jobs for as long as they can, despite the rampant age discrimination they face in many sectors, particularly in tech, though obviously not in politics.

In 2010, 24% of the people were under 18. That was 74 million people. Millions of them have since moved into the labor force, elbowing each other while scrambling for jobs, as have those millions who were then between 18 and their twenties and in college or grad school. These millennials have arrived on the job market in very large numbers. In April 2010, there were 130.1 million nonfarm payrolls. In today’s July report, there were 144.4 million. Hence, 14.3 million jobs have been added to the economy over the time span, even as the total population has grown by 15.4 million. So that’s not working out very well. On average, 205,300 jobs need to be created every month just to keep up with population growth and not allow the unemployment situation to get worse.

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Maybe they should be forced to pay back all their clients and close?

Hacked Bitcoin Firm Plans To Spread Losses Across All Users (CNBC)

The bitcoin exchange Bitfinex has said it is considering sharing losses among all its users after around $70 million worth of bitcoin was stolen earlier in the week. “We are still working out the details so nothing is set in stone, however we are leaning towards a socialized loss scenario among bitcoin balances and active loans to (bitcoin/dollar) positions,” the Hong-Kong based company said on its website on Friday. Bitfinex revealed it had been hacked on Tuesday and suspended trading, causing prices of the digital currency to fall significantly. A total of 119,756 bitcoins, worth $68 million at current prices, were reportedly stolen as a result of a security breach.

The company added in its latest statement that nothing had yet been decided and it was still settling positions and account balances. Bitfinex’s “socialized loss scenario” most likely means it will distribute its losses among all of the platform’s users, according to Charles Hayter, chief executive and founder of digital currency comparison website CryptoCompare. This would mean users whose bitcoins were never originally stolen would be affected. “In essence, (this is) a haircut for all users on their deposits. To what degree depends on the devil in the details and what the total capital held by BitFinex is,” Hayter told CNBC via email.

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A heavily indebted company gets permission to open a bank, to rival another bank that has 25% of its loans off-balance-sheet and non-performing. What could go wrong?

In China, When in Debt, Dig Deeper (WSJ)

When the going gets tough in China, just get a bank. With profits headed south, heavily indebted Chinese heavy-machinery giant Sany Heavy Industries said this week it won approval to set up a bank in the Hunan province city of Changsha. With 3 billion yuan ($450 million) of registered capital, it will be a relatively large institution as Chinese city-based banks go. Sanyplans to join forces with a pharmaceutical company and an aluminum company.

In recent months several city commercial banks in China have been taken over by the likes of tobacco and travel companies, recapitalized and renamed. Banking licenses are scarce in China, and rarely are new banks set up from scratch. Sany’s Sanxiang Bank will be up and running in six months. It will go up against crosstown rival Bank of Changsha, which at the end of last year had substantial 90 billion yuan book of off-balance-sheet loans, more than a quarter of them nonperforming. Sany had better ramp up quickly.

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Comment on the WSJ piece above.

Only In China: Companies Become Banks To ‘Solve’ Financial Difficulties

China is desperate to solve several problems it has due to its debt to GDP ratio being north of 300%. It may have found a pretty unconventional one by letting companies become banks, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. “With profits headed south, heavily indebted Chinese heavy-machinery giant Sany Heavy Industries said this week it won approval to set up a bank in the Hunan Province city of Changsha. With 3 billion yuan ($450 million) of registered capital, it will be a relatively large institution as Chinese city-based banks go. Sany plans to join forces with a pharmaceutical company and an aluminum company. Sany already operates an insurance and finance division with the goal of internal financing and insurance services for clients.”

One problem is that companies are defaulting on bond payments and there is no adequate resolution mechanism for bad debts, at least according to Goldman Sachs. “A clearer debt resolution process (for example, how debt restructuring on public bonds can be achieved, how valuation and recovery on defaulted bonds are arrived at, the timely disclosure of information and clarity on court-sanctioned processes) would help to pave the way for more defaults, which in our view are needed if policymakers are to deliver on structural reforms,” the investment bank writes in a note. By becoming or owning banks, the companies can just shift debt around different balance sheets to avoid a default, although this is probably not the resolution that Goldman Sachs had in mind when talking about structural reforms.

Another problem is that the regime has more and more difficulties pushing more debt into the economy to grease the wheels and keep GDP growth from collapsing entirely. China needs 11.9 units of new debt to create one unit of GDP growth. At the same time, the velocity of money or the measure of how often one unit of money changes hands during a year has fallen to below 0.5, another measure of how saturated the economy is with uneconomical credit. If the velocity of money goes down, the economy needs a higher stock of money to keep the same level of activity.

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Kathimerini is going off the rails, as are a group of Greeks. Accusing Varoufakis and Galbraith of planning a military coup is so far beyond the pale, it’s reason to look at legal action.

Galbraith Says Critics Have It All Wrong Over Greece ‘Plan X’ (Kath.)

University of Texas professor James Galbraith, a close associate of Yanis Varoufakis, has urged the 23 US-educated Greeks who recently criticized him for his part in last year’s negotiations with Greece’s creditors to read his book. Galbraith’s response came in the form of a letter to Kathimerini, which had published a story on July 29 on the letter from the 23 academics, addressed to the president of the University of Texas. In his own letter, Galbraith mentions the fact that his critics say they learned of his work as head of the team that worked on the so-called “Plan X” from interviews in the Greek press and excerpts of the Greek translation of his book, “Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice” (Yale University Press).

He asks why, given their knowledge of English, they did not read the original: “Had they done so, they would have found that the allegations they made are factually false.” Galbraith characterizes Plan X as “preliminary,” admitting that “the work of a small team cannot fully prepare for such a dramatic event.” He repeats that it would only have been activated if the Europeans had carried out their threat to cut off emergency liquidity via the ECB to Greek banks. “This would have triggered a forced exit of Greece from the euro, against the will of the government,” he notes. “The threat had been delivered by the president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, in late January,” he adds, mentioning also the suggestion by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble that Greece take a “holiday from the euro.”

Galbraith further rejects the claim made by the 23 that his plan constituted a “monetary-cum-military coup d’etat” and that it would involve “mobilizing the Greek armed forces to suppress possible civil disorder.” “We did not suggest using the military inappropriately or outside the Constitution. The only use of the word ‘mobilization’ in my book refers to the civil service.” He also denies that the plan included a plot to arrest the governor of the central bank. The memo on Plan X, as Galbraith repeats in his letter, “was prepared at the request of the prime minister” and “at no time was the working group engaged in advocating exit or any policy choice. The job was strictly to study the operational issues that would arise if Greece were forced to issue scrip or if it were forced out of the euro.”

Finally, Galbraith responds to claims in the letter from the 23 that he regretted the non-activation of Plan X. “This claim also is false,” he writes, making reference to his interview with Kathimerini on July 6, 2016, in which he had stated that “we were preparing for a scenario that everyone hoped to avoid.”

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“..even as an expert on economic and organized crime, I was amazed to see so much of what we talk about in theory was confirmed in practice..”

Stiglitz Quits Panama Papers Probe, Cites Lack Of Transparency (R.)

The committee set up to investigate lack of transparency in Panama’s financial system itself lacks transparency, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Reuters on Friday after resigning from the “Panama Papers” commission. The leak in April of more than 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, dubbed the “Panama Papers,” detailed financial information from offshore accounts and potential tax evasion by the rich and powerful. Stiglitz and Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth joined a seven-member commission tasked with probing Panama’s notoriously opaque financial system, but they say they found the government unwilling to back an open investigation.

Both quit the group on Friday after they say Panama refused to guarantee the committee’s report would be made public. “I thought the government was more committed, but obviously they’re not,” Stiglitz said. “It’s amazing how they tried to undermine us.” The Panamanian government defended the committee’s “autonomous” management in a statement issued later on Friday, and while it said it regretted the resignations of Stiglitz and Pieth, it chalked them up to unspecified “internal differences.”

[..] In addition to embarrassing leaders worldwide who had interests tied to secretive business concerns, the leak heaped pressure on Panama, well-known for its lax financial laws, to clean up its act. “I have had a close look at the so called Panama Papers, and I must admit that even as an expert on economic and organized crime, I was amazed to see so much of what we talk about in theory was confirmed in practice,” Pieth said in a telephone interview. In the papers he said he found evidence of crimes such as money laundering for child prostitution rings. “We’re being asked to do this as a courtesy for them and we’re paraded in front of the world media first, and then we’re told to shut up when they don’t like it,” Pieth, a criminal law professor at Basel University, said.

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Long and strong summary by Kristi Culpepper. Damning.

Is Hillary Clinton Corrupt? An Archive of Financial Improprieties (Medium)

[..] Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure – derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) – represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143% increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House. The 143% increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80% increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.

[..] It’s really not all that difficult to see why Clinton hasn’t given a press conference in 244 days and avoids the media at her campaign events, is it? Asking her to explain every ethically questionable deal she has been involved in would probably take longer than the State Department requires to vet her emails.

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In just 20 years. Wow.

Average American 15 Pounds Heavier Than 20 Years Ago (HDN)

There’s no doubt about it: Americans are getting heavier and heavier. But new U.S. estimates may still come as a shock – since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the average American has put on 15 or more additional pounds without getting any taller. Even 11-year-old kids aren’t immune from this weight plague, the study found. Girls are more than seven pounds heavier even though their height is the same. Boys gained an inch in height, but also packed on an additional 13.5 pounds compared to two decades ago. When looked at by race, blacks gained the most on average. Black women added 22 pounds despite staying the same average height. Black men grew about one-fifth of an inch, but added 18 pounds, the study found.

[..] According to the report, the average weight of men in the United States rose from 181 pounds to 196 pounds between 1988-1994 and 2011-2014. Their average height remained the same at about 5 feet, 9 inches. The average woman, meanwhile, expanded from 152 pounds to 169 pounds while her height remained steady at just under 5 feet, 4 inches.

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May 072016
 
 May 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


George N. Barnard Federal picket post near Atlanta, Georgia 1864

World Corporate Debt Far Exceeds Pre-Lehman Financial Bubble (IBT)
Warnings Mount On World’s Corporate Debt, China Crisis (AEP)
US Consumer Borrowing Increases at Fastest Pace Since 2001 (BBG)
Trump Dips Toe Into Delicate US Debt Discussion (R.)
China Commodities Selloff Deepens, Steel Has Worst Week Since 2009 (R.)
UK Stores Post Steepest Sales Decline Since Financial Crisis (BBG)
When Wall Street and Washington Got in Bed Together (Arnade)
Central Banking Can Become An Opaque Creator Of Insider Deals (FT)
Why Garbagemen Should Earn More Than Bankers (Evon.)
The Emerging Markets Recovery Looks Fragile (Economist)
Panama Papers Whistleblower Manifesto (John Doe)
Sea-Level Rise Claims Five Islands In Solomons (AFP)
IMF Tells Eurozone To Start Greek Debt Relief Talks (FT)
Turkish Journalists Jailed For 5 Years, Hours After Courthouse Attack (R.)
EU’s Juncker Sees Refugee Crisis At ‘Turning Point’ (R.)

Everyhting around you has been borrowed. You just don’t recognize it.

World Corporate Debt Far Exceeds Pre-Lehman Financial Bubble (IBT)

Corporate debt across the world has reached extreme levels, warned the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a trade group of financial institutions. The global banking watchdog added that it far exceeded the pre-Lehman financial bubble. “As the credit cycle ages, following years of record-setting bond issuance, there are growing concerns about signs of stress in corporate balance sheets,” the IIF said. It said there was a double threat. While emerging markets had seen a five-fold increase in corporate debt to $25tn over the last 10 years, developed markets such as the US and Europe were seeing record junk bond issuance. Referring to the US, the IIF said companies were borrowing as if there was no tomorrow even though their profits began to decline in 2014.

It said the ratio of net debt to earnings (EBITDA) for companies was at 1.4. This had doubled since the 2007 subprime bubble, according to The Telegraph. “For the most part, this very significant amount of debt has been used to pay dividends, buy back shares and fund M&A transactions, rather than financing capital spending, which has been on a declining trend since 2012 (and fell 3.5pc in the first quarter on 2016),” the IIF explained. On junk bonds, a high-yielding high-risk security, typically issued by a company seeking to raise capital quickly, Europe and the US put together are reported to have issued them at double the pace when compared to the pre-Lehman period. “Of particular concern is that since US high-yield companies have increased their debt relative to assets, the recovery rate on defaulted bonds has declined sharply,” the IIF said.

It added that corporate defaults were at the highest levels since the financial crisis and it was “not restricted to the energy sector.” The IIF said the situation was complex as on the one hand there were cash-rich companies, on the other there very many smaller companies which had huge amounts of debt on their books. Cash that large businesses were holding onto was estimated at $1.6tn in the US, $2.2tn in Europe, and $2tn in Japan. The warning coincided with warnings issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the country’s currency board and de facto central bank. It said giving companies access to easy money over years had put the global systems in danger. Howard Lee, the executive director at the board said: “We are far from out of the woods, given new risks and headwinds on multiple fronts. There is the threat of a disorderly pullback in capital out of the region.”

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The world has but one answer to warnings like this: borrow more.

Warnings Mount On World’s Corporate Debt, China Crisis (AEP)

Corporate debt has reached extreme levels across much of the world and now far exceeds the pre-Lehman financial bubble by a host of measures, the global banking watchdog has warned in a deeply-disturbing report. “As the credit cycle ages, following years of record-setting bond issuance, there are growing concerns about signs of stress in corporate balance sheets,” said the Institute of International Finance in Washington. The body flagged a double threat: a five-fold rise in company debt to $25 trillion in emerging markets over the past decade; and record junk bond issuance in US and Europe, along with shockingly-irresponsible levels of US borrowing to buy back shares and pay dividends. The warning came as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority aired its own grim concerns that the global system is dangerously over-stretched after years of easy money, with Asia’s entire financial edifice potentially in danger.

“We are far from out of the woods, given new risks and headwinds on multiple fronts,” said Howard Lee, the body’s executive director. “There is the threat of a disorderly pullback in capital out of the region.” Mr Lee said the exodus of capital at the beginning of the year – mostly driven by fears of a Chinese devaluation – may be a foretaste of what is to come. “The next episode may be even more damaging given the financial imbalances built up over the past few years,” he told a forum in Hong Kong. “While the region has become a key driver of growth globally, this has come at the price of a pretty dramatic rise in debt fueled by easy global liquidity,” he said. “As we have witnessed in advanced economies, disorderly deleveraging may weigh heavily on the economy and may even risk the financial system.”

The IIF said the ratio of net debt to earnings (EBITDA) for US companies has doubled to 1.4 from 0.7 at the top of the subprime bubble in 2007. Firms continued to borrow as if there were no tomorrow even after their profits began to crumble in 2014. “For the most part, this very significant amount of debt has been used to pay dividends, buy back shares and fund M&A transactions, rather than financing capital spending, which has been on a declining trend since 2012 (and fell 3.5pc in the first quarter on 2016),” it said. Companies on both sides of the Atlantic have issued $1.9 trillion of junk bonds over this cycle, with volumes running at double the pre-Lehman pace. The weakest CCC-rated debt has grown in share and is already under stress, with yields spiking to 20pc in February. “The number of corporate defaults has reached the highest level since the financial crisis. It is not restricted to the energy sector,” said the report.

“Of particular concern is that since US high-yield companies have increased their debt relative to assets, the recovery rate on defaulted bonds has declined sharply,” it said. The recovery value has dropped to 29pc from 44pc two years ago. It is a complex picture because large corporations are also sitting on record levels of cash, estimated at $1.6 trillion in the US, $2.2 trillion in Europe, and $2 trillion in Japan. What emerges is a split market, divided into cash-rich giants and an army of smaller companies up to their necks in debt. Total corporate leverage is 70pc of GDP in the US and 100pc in Europe. Excesses in emerging markets are even greater, concentrated in Turkey, Brazil, Russia, and Indonesia, and above all in China where it has reached 175pc of GDP “This is the highest ratio in the world,” said the IIF.

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Debt slavery next.

US Consumer Borrowing Increases at Fastest Pace Since 2001 (BBG)

Household borrowing surged in March at the fastest pace since November 2001 as financing for automobiles picked up and Americans’ outstanding credit-card debt soared. The $29.7 billion increase, or an annualized 10%, exceeded the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey and followed a revised $14.1 billion gain the prior month, Federal Reserve figures showed Friday. Revolving credit, which includes credit-card spending, posted the biggest annualized advance since July 2000. With employers still hiring at a decent clip, consumers may be growing more comfortable carrying bigger credit-card balances and taking out car loans.

The pickup in March helped drive up household borrowing in the first quarter to a 6.4 annualized pace, compared with a 6.2% rate in the final three months of 2015. Revolving debt jumped by $11.1 billion in March, or an annualized 14.2%, after a $2.9 billion increase, the Fed’s report showed. Non-revolving debt, which includes loans for education and automobile and mobile home purchases, increased $18.6 billion, the most since September. In the first quarter, student loans outstanding climbed $31.7 billion and lending for auto purchases increased $13.5 billion.

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What I see when I read this kind of thing is the media creating a story where there is none: “Mr. Trump was clear in saying that he was not going to renegotiate U.S. debt, despite being asked multiple times, and that he would not default on U.S. debt, despite being asked multiple times,” said the adviser.”

And there’s something else too: “.. his campaign moves [..] to a general election competition where the media and members of the public expect more policy details from the candidates.” That line contains 2 false claims in one: 1) it paints the media as being on the side of the public, and 2) it denies that the media are part of the political machinery.

Actually, there’s a third implied yet unsubstantiated claim: that the media’s reporters are knowledgable when it comes to finance, economics, debt.

Trump Dips Toe Into Delicate US Debt Discussion (R.)

Would Donald Trump really consider not paying portions of the U.S. debt? The prospect riled economists on Friday as stories in the New York Times and the conservative website The Blaze cast fresh scrutiny on comments Trump made a day earlier. Responding to a question about the national debt, the likely Republican presidential nominee said in an interview on CNBC on Thursday he would “borrow knowing that if the economy crashed you could make a deal.” When asked if that meant he had taken a page from his own playbook as a businessman and try to get U.S. creditors to accept less than the full value of the bonds they hold, he said “No,” but added: “I could see long-term renegotiations where we borrow long-term at very low rates.”

The reaction to his words on Friday offered the first-time political candidate a taste of how delicate the prospect of discussing economic and fiscal policy can be. It also highlighted a danger for Trump as his campaign moves from a crowded, personality-fueled contest for the Republican nomination to a general election competition where the media and members of the public expect more policy details from the candidates. “Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent,” the New York Times wrote in a story saying Trump’s plan implied he would “negotiate a partial repayment” of U.S. debt.

“It’s beyond ludicrous and irresponsible unless you’re, say, an emerging market country,” wrote the U.S. debt analyst David Ader, the head of rates strategy at CRT Capital, in a note to clients early Friday morning. A senior campaign adviser said Trump had not meant to suggest he would demur on any U.S. debt payments. “Mr. Trump was clear in saying that he was not going to renegotiate U.S. debt, despite being asked multiple times, and that he would not default on U.S. debt, despite being asked multiple times,” said the adviser. “All he said is that he believes that long term low interest Treasuries would be a better deal for the U.S. taxpayer.”

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It’s moments like this when one must wonder if Beijing perhaps really doesn’t understand how things work.

China Commodities Selloff Deepens, Steel Has Worst Week Since 2009 (R.)

Chinese commodities prices spiraled lower on Friday, with steel futures suffering their worst week since 2009, as more money flowed out of markets whose surge two weeks ago unnerved global investors and forced regulators to step in to restore calm. Indicating how authorities may now be alarmed after a collapse in volumes and prices, the Dalian Commodity Exchange on Friday said it will cut some trading fees on contracts such as iron ore and coking coal. The commodities slide spilled over into stocks, with the Shanghai Composite Index ending down 2.8%, its worst day since February, as commodity producers fell. Commodities linked to China’s steel sector, which led the mid-April rally, were the hardest hit on Friday, on worries that demand in the world’s biggest steel consumer could soon wane.

The selloff spread to agricultural products including soybeans, eggs and cotton. Some traders were concerned that China’s interest rate easing cycle could be over even as optimism about prospects for the world’s No.2 economy faded. The retreat pulled prices of many of the commodities below levels in mid-April, when a buying frenzy, pinned on retail investors, bloated volumes and drew comparison with the boom-and-bust cycle in China’s stock markets last year. “It’s panic now and capital is flowing out of commodities markets amid a cautious outlook on the economy,” said a trader at a fund in Shanghai. The price declines suggest that Chinese exchanges have more than succeeded in popping the bubble, after commodity platforms in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou launched measures to curb speculative buying.

Investors have been losing faith in Chinese steel demand for May and June.A tighter steel market following shutdowns of Chinese mills in the past year and a seasonal pickup in demand helped spur prices in the past two months. But producers have since ramped up output and once-shut plants have also resumed production. “The steel mills have started to become cautious towards the market after the really crazy rally. At the same time they don’t think demand will be sustainable,” said Wang Di, an analyst at CRU consultancy in Beijing.

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Gotta be the (‘Cool spring) weather’…

UK Stores Post Steepest Sales Decline Since Financial Crisis (BBG)

U.K. stores had their steepest sales decline since 2008 last month as British consumers shunned the country’s shopping streets. Like-for-like sales fell 6.1% compared with April last year, business advisory firm BDO said in its monthly report. Fashion retailers were hardest hit, with sales dropping 9.2% as stores ended seasonal discounting toward the end of the month. The figures confirm recent evidence of difficult trading for U.K. retailers. Clothing merchant Next cut its sales forecast for a second time this week, shortly after the collapses of department-store chain BHS and formalwear retailer Austin Reed. Cool spring weather, muted wage gains and uncertainty surrounding the upcoming EU referendum have caused consumers to defer purchases.
“Retailers are concerned that consumers aren’t inclined to spend at the moment because of the overall economy,” Charles Allen, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone.

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Obviously, the press is in that bed too.

When Wall Street and Washington Got in Bed Together (Arnade)

My first evening of my first Wall Street business trip was spent in a Brazilian brothel. I was with a salesman from my firm who was entertaining his clients. I was brought there unexpectedly, and told to talk about markets when things got slow. Buying women for clients and then expensing it as a 10-bottle dinner wasn’t every salesperson’s thing, but in certain countries, with certain clients, it was pretty common on Wall Street. It also worked; the clients ended up buying a lot of bonds from us. The next morning I expressed my surprise to a senior trader. He laughed, “You think that’s bad? Did you look at the other guys around you? Did you see the Brazilian bankers entertaining politicians? That is the way it works here. Bankers buy the politicians.”

That was in Brazil in the 90s. On Wall Street outright corruption, like buying escorts for politicians, is exceedingly rare. The far more common, lucrative, and nuanced method of influencing politicians is to offer them high-paying jobs -or pay them for speeches. It’s such an ingrained part of the political culture that Hillary Clinton s speeches to banks after leaving the State Department, which earned her $2.9 million, isn’t odd. She did it because everyone in the political establishment does it. She doesn’t see it as wrong, because being part of that political establishment means being supported by, and supporting, the Wall Street establishment. Wall Street has always hired former government officials, mostly Republicans, and mostly for show. The jobs were ceremonial, used to wow clients and provide a firm a sheen of importance.

Bill Clinton’s first administration dramatically changed the practice, when as part of New Democrats rebranding, and to ride the popular support generated by Reagan, he pivoted towards Wall Street, embracing free trades and free markets. Wall Street was being deregulated, and rules of the game being rewritten, and so value of connections became all the higher. With both parties now aligned with bankers, prior checks on the process started dissolving. With both parties behind it, Wall Street fully embraced the political class. The embrace was mutual. Bankers also started going to work in D.C., taking central roles in writing banking regulations. It turned into a personally profitable merging of interest, with D.C. favoring Wall Street, and Wall Street rewarding D.C..

The model for the new “revolving door” was Robert Rubin, the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Determined to show Wall Street that he was a different type of Democrat, Bill Clinton hired Rubin as his second Treasury Secretary. Rubin’s four years in the administration were very good to Wall Street; the regulatory environment, with his support, swung aggressively in their favor, punctuated by the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Rubin left the administration to go back to a booming Wall Street, taking a high paying job at Citigroup, whose expansion to the world’s largest financial company was made possible by the repeal of Glass-Steagall. It was, even by Wall Street’s standards, an audacious move.

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They can be a lot worse than that. We see it on a daily basis.

Central Banking Can Become An Opaque Creator Of Insider Deals (FT)

Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? -Juvenal

Financial people are being given more good reasons to wonder, as Juvenal, the Roman poet, put it, who is guarding the guardians? This has not been a good week or two for anyone concerned about the honesty and independence of central bankers. One has to wonder how many times we can blame Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, the US banks, for all the wrongdoing in the financial world while overlooking the regulators and central banks themselves. I have been saving bits of questionable-central-bank-behaviour string over the past couple of months, and it has become a giant ball. Consider the ECB’s report last week on “pre-announcement price drift” for US data releases. In plain language, the ECB pointed to the apparent use of inside information, including Federal Open Market Committee policy announcements, to trade instruments such as stock index futures.

The ECB’s methodology was quite interesting, and well thought out, as far as it went. It did not, of course, go to the measurement of any such “price drift” for its own announcements, or for the data released by any group under its own supervision. Anyone who has contact with the management of the upper reaches of regulated financial institutions will have noticed the increasing level of paranoia among them about the appearance of wrongdoing. Actually, it is not paranoia. If there is not a regulation that can be used to blame them for the next financial crisis, one will be written, retroactively if that is necessary. Who, though, is exempt from the web of capital ratios, counterparty risk controls and compliance officer full-employment requirements? That would be the central banks of the 189 member states of the IMF.

So, for example, there is not much in the way of treaty obligations or shared philosophy to prevent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from taking closer control over the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey in the coming days. The German government and ECB will not like that, but what are they going to say or do about it? As Robert Klitgaard, one of the founders of the sad discipline of corruption research put it back in 1988, “corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability”. The wonder is why we have not detected or measured more corruption in central banks than we have.

My own belief is that the natural tendency for administrative institutions to become corrupt was tempered in central banks by the original simplicity of their tasks and the immediate evidence of the results. They used to buy and sell a short list of assets against the short-term trends in the market. Their regulatory role was limited to specifying the assets they would buy, and their risk appetite was, proportionately, the smallest in the financial markets. The functions of “lender of last resort”, ie funder of politicians’ projects, and “cop on the beat” or micromanaging regulator, were not the day-to-day purposes of central banking.

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Always a useful discussion provided people are prepared to prepare.

Why Garbagemen Should Earn More Than Bankers (Evon.)

Thick fog envelops City Hall Park at daybreak on February 2, 1968. Seven thousand New York City sanitation workers stand crowded together, their mood rebellious. Union spokesman John DeLury addresses the multitude from the roof of a truck. When he announces that the mayor has refused further concessions, the crowd’s anger threatens to boil over. As the first rotten eggs sail overhead, DeLury realizes the time for compromise is over. It’s time to take the illegal route, the path prohibited to sanitation workers for the simple reason that the job they do is too important. It’s time to strike. The next day, trash goes uncollected throughout the Big Apple. Nearly all the city’s garbage crews have stayed home. “We’ve never had prestige, and it never bothered me before,” one garbageman is quoted in a local newspaper. “But it does now. People treat us like dirt.”

When the mayor goes out to survey the situation two days later, the city is already knee-deep in refuse, with another 10,000 tons added every day. A rank stench begins to percolate through the city’s streets, and rats have been sighted in even the swankiest parts of town. In the space of just a few days, one of the world’s most iconic cities has started to look like a slum. And for the first time since the polio epidemic of 1931, city authorities declare a state of emergency. Still the mayor refuses to budge. He has the local press on his side, which portrays the strikers as greedy narcissists. It takes a week before the realization begins to kick in: The garbagemen are actually going to win. “New York is helpless before them,” the editors of The New York Times despair. “This greatest of cities must surrender or see itself sink in filth.”

Nine days into the strike, when the trash has piled up to 100,000 tons, the sanitation workers get their way. “The moral of the story,” Time Magazine later reported, “is that it pays to strike.” Perhaps, but not in every profession. Imagine, for instance, that all of Washington’s 100,000 lobbyists were to go on strike tomorrow. Or that every tax accountant in Manhattan decided to stay home. It seems unlikely the mayor would announce a state of emergency. In fact, it’s unlikely that either of these scenarios would do much damage. A strike by, say, social media consultants, telemarketers, or high-frequency traders might never even make the news at all. When it comes to garbage collectors, though, it’s different. Any way you look at it, they do a job we can’t do without. And the harsh truth is that an increasing number of people do jobs that we can do just fine without.

Were they to suddenly stop working the world wouldn’t get any poorer, uglier, or in any way worse. Take the slick Wall Street traders who line their pockets at the expense of another retirement fund. Take the shrewd lawyers who can draw a corporate lawsuit out until the end of days. Or take the brilliant ad writer who pens the slogan of the year and puts the competition right out of business. Instead of creating wealth, these jobs mostly just shift it around.

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I’m tempted to change the title into something that makes actual sense, but I’ll leave it. The Shanghai US dollar manipulation accord (a.k.a. sleight of hand) makes it possible for rags like the Economist to write drivel like this. In reality, the EM ‘recovery’ is entirely fake.

The Emerging Markets Recovery Looks Fragile (Economist)

It is not easy to have faith in the rally in emerging-market currencies that has taken place since February. The ones that have risen most in recent weeks are typically those—the rouble, the real and the rand—that had lost most ground since May 2013, when the emerging-market sell-off began in earnest. What is there to like about Russia, Brazil and South Africa, with their wilting economies and dysfunctional politics? The proximate causes of the rally are clear. One was the fading of fears for China’s economy. At the start of 2016 capital appeared to be fleeing China at a rapid rate, in a vote of no confidence.

The yuan seemed in danger of losing its moorings against the dollar, raising fears of a round of competitive devaluations across Asia and beyond. Views changed around the time of the meeting of the G20, a club of big economies, in Shanghai in February. Informal pledges by the Chinese authorities not to let the economy slide were backed up by stimulus policies, including a big budget deficit and faster credit growth. Tighter capital controls stemmed the outflows from China. Prices of scorned commodities, such as iron ore, surged at the prospect of Chinese construction. Currencies of raw-material exporters rose too. A second trigger was a change of heart by the Federal Reserve. In December it raised its main interest rate for the first time in a decade and suggested four further increases were likely in 2016.

It has since backed away from these hawkish forecasts. Real interest rates, measured by the yield on inflation-proof bonds, have fallen to 0.14%. The dollar has slumped against even rich-world currencies. No wonder the high yields on offer in Brazil, Russia and other emerging markets are so tempting to rich-world investors, says Kit Juckes of Société Générale. The improved conditions for emerging markets may prevail for a while, but not indefinitely. China’s policy of loose credit only adds to its alarming debt pile. The Fed will eventually resume tightening. Even so, there is a bit more to the emerging-market rally than just a favourable backdrop.

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Offering to work with authorities requires that one trust those authorities.

Panama Papers Whistleblower Manifesto (John Doe)

[..] For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own, as was my decision to share the documents with Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), not for any specific political purpose, but simply because I understood enough about their contents to realize the scale of the injustices they described. The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is legal and allowed in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed. But we must not lose sight of another important fact: the law firm, its founders, and employees actually did knowingly violate myriad laws worldwide, repeatedly.

Publicly they plead ignorance, but the documents show detailed knowledge and deliberate wrongdoing. At the very least we already know that Mossack personally perjured himself before a federal court in Nevada, and we also know that his information technology staff attempted to cover up the underlying lies. They should all be prosecuted accordingly with no special treatment. In the end, thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents. ICIJ and its partner publications have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able.

That being said, I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing. Edward Snowden is stranded in Moscow, exiled due to the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute him under the Espionage Act. For his revelations about the NSA, he deserves a hero’s welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment. Bradley Birkenfeld was awarded millions for his information concerning Swiss bank UBS—and was still given a prison sentence by the Justice Department. Antoine Deltour is presently on trial for providing journalists with information about how Luxembourg granted secret “sweetheart” tax deals to multi-national corporations, effectively stealing billions in tax revenues from its neighbour countries.

And there are plenty more examples. Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop. Until governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law, enforcement agencies will simply have to depend on their own resources or on-going global media coverage for documents.

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Oh well, it’s far away. Who cares?

Sea-Level Rise Claims Five Islands In Solomons (AFP)

Five islands have disappeared in the Pacific’s Solomon Islands due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion, according to an Australian study that could provide valuable insights for future research. A further six reef islands have been severely eroded in the remote area of the Solomons, the study said, with one experiencing some 10 houses being swept into the sea between 2011 and 2014. “At least 11 islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades or are currently experiencing severe erosion,” the study published in Environmental Research Letters said. “Shoreline recession at two sites has destroyed villages that have existed since at least 1935, leading to community relocations.”

The scientists said the five that had vanished were all vegetated reef islands up to five hectares (12 acres) that were occasionally used by fishermen but not populated. “They were not just little sand islands,” leader author Simon Albert told AFP. It is feared that the rise in sea levels will cause widespread erosion and inundation of low-lying atolls in the Pacific. Albert, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, said the Solomons was considered a sea-level hotspot because rises there are almost three times higher than the global average. The researchers looked at 33 islands using aerial and satellite imagery from 1947 to 2014, combined with historical insight from local knowledge.

They found that rates of shoreline recession were substantially higher in areas exposed to high wave energy, indicating a “synergistic interaction” between sea-level rise and waves, which Albert said could prove useful for future study. Those islands which were exposed to higher wave energy – in addition to sea-level rise – were found to have a greatly accelerated loss compared with the more sheltered islands. “This provides a bit of an insight into the future,” he said. “There’s these global trends that are happening but the local responses can be very, very localised.”

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I’m not at all sure the EU and IMF are not merely playing theater here.

IMF Tells Eurozone To Start Greek Debt Relief Talks (FT)

The IMF has told eurozone finance ministers they must immediately begin negotiations to grant debt relief for Greece despite German opposition, upending carefully orchestrated negotiations ahead of an emergency meeting on Monday. In a letter to all 19 ministers sent on Thursday night and obtained by the Financial Times, Christine Lagarde, the IMF chief, said stalemated talks with Athens to find €3bn in “contingency” budget cuts, which have gone on for a month, had become fruitless and that debt relief must be put on the table immediately, or risk losing IMF participation in the programme. “We believe that specific [economic reform] measures, debt restructuring, and financing must now be discussed contemporaneously,” Ms Lagarde wrote.

“For us to support Greece with a new IMF arrangement, it is essential that the financing and debt relief from Greece’s European partners are based on fiscal targets that are realistic because they are supported by credible measures to reach them.” The IMF has come under intense criticism in Greece, where senior officials in Alexis Tsipras’s government have blamed Poul Thomsen, the IMF’s European chief, for making excessive austerity demands and holding up an agreement on the €86bn bailout’s first review. But Ms Lagarde’s letter makes clear the IMF wants less austerity, arguing that the budget surplus target agreed last year between the EU and Athens — a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP target by 2018 — is unrealistic and should be drastically reduced. A primary surplus is a country’s budget surplus when debt payments are not included.

“A clarification is needed to clear unfounded allegations that the IMF is being inflexible, calling for unnecessary new fiscal measures and — as a result — causing a delay in negotiations and the disbursement of urgently needed funds,” Ms Lagarde wrote. [..] In her letter, Ms Lagarde wrote that all sides have nearly agreed on a core set of economic reforms that would cut the Greek budget by 2.5% of GDP by 2018. Some officials believe that list could be finalised at Monday’s eurogroup meeting. But Ms Lagarde stuck by the IMF’s assessment that such reforms would only produce a primary surplus of 1.5% in 2018 — not the 3.5% the EU has mandated. Instead, Ms Lagarde urged the EU to change its target to 1.5%, a sign that she believes Brussels is demanding too much austerity of Athens.

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Food for thought: Erdogan, too, who’s slowly moving Turkey from secularism to ‘islamism’, will be happy with Sadiq Khan’s election as muslim mayor of London. Therefore Khan will need to distance himself from Turkey. And since Turkey is the EU’s new best friend, that would mean distancing himself from the EU. Something he’s not prepared to do. And his party is not prepared to do.

Turkish Journalists Jailed For 5 Years, Hours After Courthouse Attack (R.)

Two prominent Turkish journalists were sentenced to at least five years in jail for revealing state secrets on Friday, just hours after a gunman tried to shoot one of them outside the courthouse in Istanbul. Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, who was unscathed in the shooting, was given five years and 10 months. Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, was sentenced to five years. They were acquitted of some other charges, including trying to topple the government. The case, in which President Tayyip Erdogan was named as a complainant, has brought widespread condemnation from global rights groups and increased fears about freedom of the press in Turkey, a NATO member and EU candidate country.

Hours before the verdict was handed down, an assailant attempted to shoot Dundar. In full public view, before a courthouse, the attack marked an alarming development in a country already grappling with bombings by Kurdish insurgents and spillover of violence from neighboring Syria. The man shouted “traitor” before firing at least two shots in quick succession. A reporter covering the trial appeared to have been wounded. A Reuters witness said the assailant was detained by police. Before the shooting, he had approached reporters, saying he had been waiting since early morning and hoped Dundar would be found guilty. His motives and background were not immediately clear.

“We experienced two assassination attempts in two hours: one by firearms, the other by law,” Dundar told reporters following the trial. “There will always be concerns that the orders of the highest office played a role in this ruling.” The two journalists are free pending appeal. The court also decided to postpone a hearing on separate charges of links to a terrorist group until the outcome of a related case. [..] Dundar and Gul had faced up to life in jail on espionage and other charges for publishing footage purporting to show the state intelligence agency taking weapons into Syria in 2014.

Erdogan has acknowledged that the trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border in January 2014, belonged to the National Intelligence Organisation and said they were carrying aid to Turkmen battling both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State. He has accused the journalists of undermining Turkey’s international reputation and vowed Dundar would “pay a heavy price”, raising opposition concerns about the fairness of any trial. “We say the incident we covered was a crime, not our coverage,” Dundar said. “And for that we were confronted by the president. He acted like the prosecutor of this case. He threatened us and made us targets.”

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A deal with a country that jails its journalists is labeled a ‘success’. 2016 European values. In June the British can vote to be part of this. Or not.

EU’s Juncker Sees Refugee Crisis At ‘Turning Point’ (R.)

Europe’s migrant crisis is at a “turning point” thanks to a deal with Turkey to stem the number of new arrivals which is showing its first successes, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in comments published on Saturday. Under an accord struck with the EU, Turkey has agreed to help stop illegal migrants reaching the continent in return for accelerated EU accession talks, visa liberalization, and financial aid. Juncker told the Funke Media Group that the deal, which came into force last month, was already enabling Europe to better manage the flow of migrants. “We at a turning point,” he said. “The deal with Turkey is having an effect and the number of migrants is sinking significantly.”

He added there still needed to be a sustainable drop in the numbers before the “all-clear” could be sounded, but said the deal had given the 28-member bloc room for maneuver to create a fair and efficient asylum system in the medium term. Europe is grappling with its largest migration wave since World War Two, as a traditional flow of migrants from Africa is compounded by refugees fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and South Asia. The deal sealed off the main route by which a million migrants crossed the Aegean into Greece last year, but some believe new routes will develop through Bulgaria or Albania as Mediterranean crossings to Italy from Libya resume. Juncker criticized the decision to build a fence between Greece and Macedonia. “I don’t share the view of some that this fence – or building fences in Europe in general – can contribute anything to the long-term solution of the refugee crisis,” he said.

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Apr 142016
 
 April 14, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Butler’s dredge-boat, sunk by Confederate shell, James River, VA 1864

SocGen: Corporate America Is Nearing A ‘Toxic’ Debt Crisis (BI)
US Corporations Have $1.4 Trillion Hidden In Tax Havens: Oxfam (G.)
US Banks Not Prepared For Another Financial Crisis (G.)
The Beginning of the End of Central Bank Easing (BBG)
Negative Swap Rates Impede Kuroda’s Push To Boost Japan Lending (BBG)
Currencies Across Asia Fall Sharply Against US Dollar (WSJ)
China’s Trade Data Has Never Been This Fake (ZH)
China’s Leaders Are Blowing Their Last Chance To Avert An Economic Crisis (AEP)
Panama Papers Reveal Hong Kong’s Murky Financial Underbelly (AFP)
IMF: $1.3 Trillion In Corporate Bank Loans At Risk Of Default In China (Sky)
Is The IMF ‘Consistently Wrong’? (CNBC)
OPEC Warns of Deeper Cuts to Oil Demand (BBG)
Seen From The Future, Ours Is The Era Of Plastic (BBG)
Greenland’s Melt Season Started Nearly Two Months Early (CC)
EU Nations Use Foreign Aid Budgets To Pay For Refugee Costs (G.)

Where would they be without a stock market bubble, and without ZIRP?

SocGen: Corporate America Is Nearing A ‘Toxic’ Debt Crisis (BI)

US companies have a looming problem of their own making, and it may soon come back to crush them. According to Andrew Lapthorne, head of quantitative analysis at Societe Generale, the amount of debt that businesses have accumulated over the last five to six years has put them on the verge of a serious crisis. Lapthorne wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday: “This level of borrowing in some sectors of the economy is now booming (with the risk of spinning out of control) to such an extent that we think that the build-up of debt on US non-financial corporate balance sheets represents one of the largest mispriced risks in terms of future market stability, downside risk and future economic growth.”

Lapthorne’s argument is essentially that US corporations have decided to borrow money in order to fuel growth larger than that warranted by economic demand. But now with the assets backing this debt starting to decline in value, the wheels are going to fall off. Lapthorne believes there has been one cause of this behavior: central banks. “Aggressive monetary policy in the form of QE and zero or negative interest rates is all about encouraging (forcing?) borrowers to take on more and more debt in an attempt to boost economic activity, effectively mortgaging future growth to compensate for the lack of demand today,” he wrote. From the supply end, making financing debt easier through low interest rates and quantitative easing “encouraged” corporations to take on the debt loads.

On the demand end, investors loved the higher-yielding corporate debt, since US Treasury yields remained so low. Put it together and you have a central-bank-fueled bubble, which Lapthorne called “toxic.” And so with little economic growth to speak of or invest in, corporations have funneled this debt-financed money into share buybacks and mergers in order to improve profitability and the illusion of growth. In fact, Lapthorne said, companies are spending 35% more than their incoming cash flows, higher than previous peaks in 1998 and 2008. The upside is that as stock prices have risen, companies have been able to pay back debt either through raising new debt or still-growing profits. But now with profits on the decline and shakier asset markets, the danger is coming to a head.

So no matter how you look at it, argued Lapthorne, companies have mountains of debt. And as profits and eventually stock prices start to get squeezed from all-time highs, the ability of companies to pay back their debt will get worse.

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Something tells me the real number is much higher.

US Corporations Have $1.4 Trillion Hidden In Tax Havens: Oxfam (G.)

US corporate giants such as Apple, Walmart and General Electric have stashed $1.4tn (£980bn) in tax havens, despite receiving trillions of dollars in taxpayer support, according to a report by anti-poverty charity Oxfam. The sum, larger than the economic output of Russia, South Korea and Spain, is held in an “opaque and secretive network” of 1,608 subsidiaries based offshore, said Oxfam. The charity’s analysis of the financial affairs of the 50 biggest US corporations comes amid intense scrutiny of tax havens following the leak of the Panama Papers. And the charity said its report, entitled Broken at the Top was a further illustration of “massive systematic abuse” of the global tax system. Technology giant Apple, the world’s second biggest company, topped Oxfam’s league table, with some $181bn held offshore in three subsidiaries.

Boston-based conglomerate General Electric, which Oxfam said has received $28bn in taxpayer backing, was second with $119bn stored in 118 tax haven subsidiaries. Computing firm Microsoft was third with $108bn, in a top 10 that also included pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, Google’s parent company Alphabet and Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company not owned by an oil-producing state. Oxfam contrasted the $1.4tn held offshore with the $1tn paid in tax by the top 50 US firms between 2008 and 2014. It pointed out that the companies had also enjoyed a combined $11.2tn in federal loans, bailouts and loan guarantees during the same period. Overall, the use of tax havens allowed the US firms to reduce their effective tax rate on $4tn of profits from the US headline rate of 35% to an average of 26.5% between 2008 and 2014.

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A bit moot as long as they’re TBTF?!

US Banks Not Prepared For Another Financial Crisis (G.)

Some of the US’s biggest banks still lack a proper plan for bankruptcy, in the event of another major financial crisis, US regulators said on Wednesday. In the wake of the great recession banks were required to come up with “living wills” to prove they had a credible plan for bankruptcy that would not require another bailout from the taxpayers. But after reviewing the plans of five institutions – JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Corp – the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) have determined that the banks have yet to meet that requirement. “The goal to end too big to fail and protect the American taxpayers by ending bailouts remains just that: only a goal,” said Thomas Hoenig, FDIC vice-chairman. The banks are to submit revised proposals by 1 October.

According to feedback from the regulators, one of the main concerns with JP Morgan’s proposal was the bank’s liquidity in a time of need. Regulators were concerned the bank would not be able to shift money around to fund some of its operation during a time of stress or bankruptcy. “Obviously we were disappointed,” said Marianne Lake, JP Morgan’s chief financial officer. “The most important thing is that we work with our regulators to understand their feedback in more detail.” Bank of America also needs better processes for estimating its liquidity needs, the regulators said. And while Wells Fargo was deemed to have “firm-wide, high-quality liquid assets”, regulators raised concerns over “quality control, senior management oversight, and recovery and resolutions planning staffing”. In its statement, Wells Fargo said it was disappointed its plan was “determined to have deficiencies” but the feedback was “constructive and valuable to our resolution planning process”.

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As confidence recedes…

The Beginning of the End of Central Bank Easing (BBG)

Traders are now taking the long view on central bank easing, shifting focus to which monetary policymakers will be the first to change course and withdraw stimulus, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch FX Strategist Athanasios Vamvakidis. The euro-area, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, and Sweden are the five major developed economies in which central banks have eased policy this year—and by some financial metrics, they don’t have much to show for it. In all of these instances, currencies have strengthened relative to the U.S. dollar in the wake of more accommodative monetary policy (denoted by a circle on the chart below.)

A possible counterpoint: it’s not necessarily that fighting central banks has worked, but that the Federal Reserve’s dovish surprise in March has meant more to these currency pairs than outright easing. That argument might not fully pass the smell test, however, as most of these domestic stocks markets have also declined since monetary policy became more accommodative. So with currencies getting stronger and equities falling (with the exception of New Zealand), Vamvakidis argues “that positioning for a scenario in which some central banks give up easing is worth the cost.” His observations support the notion that the marginal efficacy of stimulus is waning—or as this worry is more commonly expressed, that central banks are running out of ammunition.

He adds, “It is unlikely, in our view, that the next big FX trade will be from a central bank that surprises markets by easing policies more, which was the case in recent years.” A soft global economic backdrop prompted the Federal Reserve to telegraph a slower path for higher interest rates in March. As such, this shift to a focus on exit strategies might seem premature or optimistic, but the opposite may also be true. For instance, in the case of Japan, there are technical limits to the amount of sovereign bonds that can be bought, a dynamic which might force the central bank to begin dialing down this part of its asset-purchasing program. “Markets have already started testing central banks and have been reacting counterintuitively to policy easing,” concludes Vamvakidis. “Central banks can fight back, as the Fed has successfully done recently, but we do not believe that this is sustainable as long as the global recovery continues.”

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Boomerang.

Negative Swap Rates Impede Kuroda’s Push To Boost Japan Lending (BBG)

Negative rates for swapping interest payments are hindering the ability of corporate borrowers to hedge their liabilities – another way in which the Bank of Japan’s unorthodox attempt to revive lending could backfire. The fixed rate paid in exchange for floating-rate payments for a year in Japan’s interest rate swap market fell below zero after the BOJ started charging banks for reserves in February, and was at minus 0.049% on Thursday. Floating-rate loans in Japan aren’t allowed to have repayment rates below zero, causing a disconnect with traditional hedging methods. “Interest-rate swaps aren’t functioning properly” as hedging tools, said Satoshi Oda at Credit Agricole in Tokyo. “Without swaps, banks will have trouble making floating-rate loans and will need to extend fixed-rate loans, but most banks don’t like lending at fixed rates, so they’re becoming hesitant about making new loans.”

Lending growth in Japan excluding trusts slowed to 2% in March from a year earlier, the weakest pace in three years, according to BOJ data released Tuesday. Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank sees a drop in swap-market activity as companies avoid using the contracts amid uncertainty about whether regulators will allow floating-rate repayments below zero. When companies take out such loans, they often enter into a derivative deal to hedge, agreeing to pay the fixed swap rate in return for a floating-rate payment that protects them if borrowing costs rise. However, while loan deals stipulate that repayment rates won’t be negative, depriving companies of that benefit, swap transactions do allow for negative payments, meaning the hedger could wind up exposed to risks in both the swap and loan market.

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Can’t keep the greenback down forever. It’s too costly.

Currencies Across Asia Fall Sharply Against US Dollar (WSJ)

Currencies across Asia including the Chinese yuan dropped sharply against the U.S. dollar Thursday, with markets caught off-guard as the Singapore central bank restrained the appreciation of its currency to stoke growth. The yuan saw its biggest one-day depreciation since January, and the Singapore dollar fell by the most within a day this year. Meanwhile, the South Korean won weakened after the ruling party lost its parliamentary majority. Asian currencies had firmed up against the greenback in recent weeks, partly thanks to the Federal Reserve having signaled it would raise interest rates at a slower rate this year than previously expected. Economic policy makers from the Group of 20 nations had pledged at a meeting in February to avoid sparking a currency war through competitive devaluation.

A weakening of the yuan against the U.S. dollar in its daily fix weighed on currencies across the region, after a 0.46% depreciation—the biggest since January. The region’s currency markets had started the day on the back foot as traders assessed first the impact of South Korea’s elections, followed by a surprise easing of monetary policy by Singapore’s central bank. Movements of the yuan fix, which determines the levels at which the currency can trade inside mainland China, have recently been more determined by market forces. Today’s depreciation reflects strength in the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. Thursday’s yuan depreciation was the biggest since Jan. 7, when markets had speculated that moves to weaken the yuan could trigger a global currency war. Competitive currency devaluation hasn’t materialized among major economies since then, but other central banks in smaller countries in Asia are loosening policy in the meantime.

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“China’s March imports from Hong Kong soared an implausible 116% YoY!”

China’s Trade Data Has Never Been This Fake (ZH)

The narrative is set – today’s rally is predicated on “strong” Chinese trade data. So what happens when one chart explodes that narrative as totally fallacious for three simple reasons… First, the data is clearly cooked… As Bloomberg’s Tom Orlik notes, China’s March imports from Hong Kong soared an implausible 116% YoY! As it is clearly disguising capital flows… “Trade mis-invoicing as a way to hide capital flows remains a factor. In the past, over-invoicing for exports was used as a way to hide capital inflows. The latest data show the reverse phenomenon, with over-invoicing of imports as a way of hiding capital outflows.” Does this look “real”?

Second, there is the base effect which EVEN CHINA warned would be a factor: “But beware two factors; the government itself has warned that the base line from March 2015 is low. A reminder that observers shouldn’t get complacent about the downward pressures still threatening China’s economy”. And then finally, there’s the figures themselves, can they be trusted? But did anyone really need an excuse to buy the record highs in stocks, or send Trannie sup 3% on the day? Of course not!

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Ambrose loses faith.

China’s Leaders Are Blowing Their Last Chance To Avert An Economic Crisis (AEP)

China panic has abated. The Shanghai Composite index is back above 3,000. The much-feared devaluation never happened. The yuan has strengthened against the dollar this year, to the consternation of Western macro-tourists. Outflows of money have slowed as dollar debt is paid off and Chinese investors wind down ‘carry trade’ positions. The central bank (PBOC) is no longer depleting the country’s $3.2 trillion foreign reserves to defend the exchange rate, and thereby tightening monetary policy as a nasty side-effect. China has the apparatus of an authoritarian state to curb capital flight, and is not shy about using it. The IMF has just raised its forecast for Chinese growth this year to 6.5pc, insisting that it is still far too early to talk about a hard-landing. Yet that is where the good news ends, for there is a poisonous sting in the tail.

Maurice Obstfeld, the IMF’s chief economist, said the trade-off for this year’s growth spurt is even more trouble down the road. “While we have upgraded near-term projections, we have downgraded the farther out projections,” he said. “Our concern is some of the stimulus is likely to take the form of higher credit growth, more support for sectors that are in a secular sense declining and not that productive. We worry about the quality of growth more than the quantity of growth,” he said. There you have the nub of the matter. Stripped of IMF circumlocutions, he is telling us that the Communist Party has once again let rip with debt-driven stimulus for the housing market and rust-bowl industries already chocking with overcapacity, stoking yet another mini-cycle to put off the day of reckoning.

The likelihood that China will fail to grasp the nettle of reform in time to avert a structural crisis is rising from probable to almost certain. As the well-meaning premier Li Keqiang keeps warning his colleagues in the Standing Committee, the current course leads straight into the middle income trap. We can put away those charts projecting China’s ‘sorpasso’, the moment when the country overtakes the US to become the world’s biggest economy. It is not going to happen in 2020, and will look even less likely in 2030, when China’s demographic dividend turns to deficit and the workforce goes into precipitous decline. “Implementation of a more ambitious and comprehensive policy agenda is urgently needed to stay ahead of rising financial sector vulnerabilities,” said the IMF today in its Global Financial Stability Report.

The section on China reads like a horror story. The “credit overhang” has exploded to 25pc of GDP, perpetuating a vicious circle of falling factory gate prices and plunging profits. While the IMF does not use the term, China is basically in a ‘debt-deflation’ trap. Earnings have been dropping more quickly than nominal interest rates, automatically tightening the noose. “The ability of many Chinese listed firms to service their debt obligations is eroding,” it said. The ratio of gross debt to earnings (EBITDA) has doubled to four since 2010. Debt at risk – where earnings do not cover interest payments – has risen from 4pc to 14pc in five years. It has reached 39pc for steel, 35pc for mining and retail, and 18pc for manufacturing and transport.

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And thereby China’s.

Panama Papers Reveal Hong Kong’s Murky Financial Underbelly (AFP)

Jasmine Li was still a student when she opened her first offshore bank account through Mossack Fonseca Hong Kong, but the shady world she entered that day had been part of the city’s underbelly for decades. The granddaughter of China’s then fourth-ranked politician was among dozens named in a vast cache of documents leaked from the Panama law firm that have given a glimpse into how the rich and powerful hide their money. But the so-called Panama Papers, released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists this month, have also exposed the key role played by Hong Kong and Singapore in funnelling that wealth into tax havens.

Mossack Fonseca’s Hong Kong offices were their busiest in the world, the ICIJ analysis showed, setting up thousands of shell companies including some linked to China’s top political brass, the city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and movie star Jackie Chan. Experts say the Asian financial hubs have already channelled billions into tax havens, and the Boston Consulting Group predicts they will be the world’s fastest-growing offshore centres over the next five years. “Hong Kong is set up to make it easy for people to do business, and it is very easy to do business here,” said Douglas Clark, a barrister with one of Hong Kong’s largest chambers.

“But when it’s easy to do business then it’s easy to do any type of business, legal or illegal.” Offshore companies are not necessarily illegal, but they operate on the fringes of what is allowed and their opaque structures make it easy to conceal ill-gotten or politically inconvenient wealth. They have proved a boon for Hong Kong and Singapore, which are known not only for their financial expertise but also light-touch regulation, discretion and non-cooperation with foreign tax authorities. Both are already on regulators’ radars – the EU briefly added Hong Kong to its tax blacklist last year – but experts say they are unlikely to do anything to jeopardise the lucrative offshore business.

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For what it’s worth (It’s IMF, after all): “These loans could translate into potential bank losses of approximately 7% of GDP..”

IMF: $1.3 Trillion In Corporate Bank Loans At Risk Of Default In China (Sky)

The IMF has warned that $1.3tn (£913bn) in corporate bank loans are at risk of default in China. The fund’s latest Global Financial Stability Report said the figure was recognised by the authorities in Beijing and was “manageable” given the country’s rate of economic growth – currently running just below 7%. But the world’s lender of last resort said the situation underlined the concerns of financial markets over the sustainability of China’s economic model, given the volatility witnessed last summer and in January when stock values plunged. It said: “The magnitude of these vulnerabilities calls for an ambitious policy agenda”.

The IMF said the issue of corporate debt could not be ignored and it called for a further strengthening of China’s financial institutions, suggesting that another global stock market rout could knock world GDP growth by as much as 4%. Investor confidence has been damaged by a slowdown in the world economy – blamed on the deterioration in Chinese growth as it moves to rebalance its economy from a heavy infrastructure and industrial powerhouse towards a more services-based model. The IMF said falling profitability in China, linked to lower GDP growth, was behind its concern for borrowings at risk of default. There was clear evidence, it said, that a growing number of companies were not earning enough to cover interest payments. “These loans could translate into potential bank losses of approximately 7% of GDP,” it added.

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All these parties chiming in on Brexit will achieve the opposite of what they want.

Is The IMF ‘Consistently Wrong’? (CNBC)

Supporters of a British exit from the European Union were left enraged this week after a new report by the IMF led to calls of inaccuracy and political bias. The Washington D.C.-based organization said the U.K. referendum on its membership of the EU had already created uncertainty for investors and said a so-called “Brexit” could do “severe regional and global damage by disrupting established trading relationships.” U.K. Prime Minister Cameron and Finance Minister George Osborne both used their Twitter accounts Tuesday to promote the IMF’s latest assessment with the latter calling it “one of most important interventions yet in EU debate.” Bookmaker Ladbrokes is currently predicting there’s a 33% chance that Britons will vote to leave the European bloc in an upcoming referendum on June 23.

The fierce debate has strained relationships and seen major political heavyweights put forward opposing views. The warning – just weeks before the June 23 vote – was heavily criticized by John Longworth, a former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who resigned from his role in March after being drawn into the political row. The British government is officially campaigning to stay within a renegotiated EU and Longworth claimed that it had “friends in high places” with this latest backing by the IMF. The IMF did not respond immediately when asked by CNBC about claims of bias and inaccuracy. “I’m fully expecting a whole series of international organizations to make comments saying we ought to stay in the EU running up to the 23rd of June, no doubt orchestrated by the U.K. government,” Longworth told CNBC Wednesday.

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Real demand cuts will be much deeper than OPEC lets on.

OPEC Warns of Deeper Cuts to Oil Demand (BBG)

OPEC said it may deepen cuts to its forecast for global oil demand growth due to slowing economic expansion in emerging markets, warmer weather and the removal of fuel subsidies. OPEC trimmed estimates for demand growth in 2016 by 50,000 barrels a day because of a slowdown in Latin America, projecting worldwide growth of 1.2 million barrels a day. Weakness in Brazil’s economy, the removal of fuel subsidies in the Middle East and milder winter temperatures in the northern hemisphere could prompt further cutbacks, the group said. “Current negative factors seem to outweigh positive ones and possibly imply downward revisions in oil demand growth, should existing signs persist going forward,” the organization’s Vienna-based secretariat said in its monthly market report.

“Economic developments in Latin America and China are of concern.” Oil climbed to a four-month high in London on Tuesday as OPEC nations prepare to meet with Russia and other non-members in Doha this weekend to complete an accord on freezing oil production, an effort to tame the global crude surplus. OPEC’s report said that “positive market sentiments continue to arise” from the freeze plan. The group’s data shows that the 11 OPEC members who are confirmed to attend the Doha talks are pumping 487,000 barrels a day below January levels, the benchmark proposed for the freeze deal.

Libya has said it won’t attend the meeting, and Iran has yet to decide. Saudi Arabia’s output has remained stable since January, the report showed. All 13 members pumped 32.25 million barrels a day in March, up 14,900 a day from February, according to external estimates compiled by OPEC. Global oil demand will average 94.18 million barrels a day in 2016, according to the report. This year’s growth rate of 1.2 million barrels a day is down from 1.54 million a day in 2015 amid a slowdown in consumption of industrial fuels and middle distillates in China and Latin America.

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The era of plastic is in fact simply the era of oil.

Seen From The Future, Ours Is The Era Of Plastic (BBG)

Historians may soon be looking back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as the time of computers and the Internet, bold ventures into space and the splitting of the atom. But what will scholars in the distant future find worthy of note? If there’s anyone around with a penchant for paleontology hundreds of thousands of years from now, a surprise awaits in the stratigraphic layers containing the remains of our time. Anyone digging into the earth would find a sudden, explosive increase in a new kind of material – plastic. Once underground, plastic will fossilize well, leaving a distinct signature. And there’s plenty of it. Until the 20th century, plastic was virtually nonexistent. Since then, humans have created 5 billion tons. The paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has calculated that if it were all converted into cling wrap, there would be enough to wrap the globe.

Until about 20 years ago, Zalasiewicz said, the idea that people could permanently change the planet was considered nonsense. Human beings were too puny and the planet too vast. “The scale of geological processes such as mountain building and volcanic eruptions have been held to be much greater than anything humans can rustle up,” he said. But over the last several decades, he added, it’s become clear that human-generated effects “can be big on a geological scale and can be more or less permanent.” Geologic maps of the future might refer to our time as the Slobocene era, or the Trashiferous period. Or maybe the name scientists recently coined – Anthropocene – will stick. It refers to the time when humankind started to make an indelible mark. Changes that characterize the Anthropocene include the widespread production of aluminum and concrete as well as plastics, and distinct changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans.

Plastics have been important for distributing clean food and water, for medical devices, surgical gloves and affordable clothing. They’ve played a big role in health and sanitation. The fact that they don’t dissolve or decay is a plus for most of their intended uses. But there are unintended consequences. Some plastics are recycled, but most go into landfills or become litter. Recently, scientists have come to realize that much of the plastic in the environment is in the form of invisible particles. Some of these come from the breakdown of bags and other floating trash in the oceans, some from toothpaste and cosmetics, and much of it from clothes, which are mostly made from synthetic materials and give off plastic fibers every time they go through a wash. These “microplastics” can be measured in sand from beaches around the world, and in the guts of many fish.

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Scary graph of the day.

Greenland’s Melt Season Started Nearly Two Months Early (CC)

To say the 2016 Greenland melt season is off to the races is an understatement. Warm, wet conditions rapidly kicked off the melt season this weekend, more than a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule. It has easily set a record for earliest melt season onset, and marks the first time it’s begun in April. Little to no melt through winter is the norm as sub-zero temperatures keep Greenland’s massive ice sheet, well, on ice. Warm weather usually kicks off the melt season in late May or early June, but this year is a bit different. Record warm temperatures coupled with heavy rain mostly sparked 12% of the ice sheet to go into meltdown mode. Almost all the melt is currently centered around southwest Greenland.

According to Polar Portal, which monitors all things ice-related in the Arctic, melt season kicks off when 10% of the ice sheet experiences surface melt. The previous record for earliest start was May 5, 2010. This April kickoff is so bizarrely early, scientists who study the ice sheet checked their analysis to make sure something wasn’t amiss before making the announcement. “We had to check that our models were still working properly” Peter Langen, a climate scientist at the Denmark Meteorological Institute (DMI), told the Polar Portal. But alas, the models are definitely working and weather data and stories coming out of West Greenland have borne that out. According to DMI, temperatures at Kangerlussuaq, a small village in southwest Greenland, set an April record for that location when they reached 64.4°F (17.8°C) on Monday. That’s just a scant .4°F (.2°C) off the all-time Greenland high for April. Heavy rain have also inundated local communities.

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As long as their own people don’t pay a penny….

EU Nations Use Foreign Aid Budgets To Pay For Refugee Costs (G.)

The amount of foreign aid money rich nations spend on dealing with the impact of the refugee crisis at home has almost doubled over the past year and now accounts for 9% of all development expenditure, according to the latest official figures. The preliminary statistics, from the OECD, show that wealthy donor countries spent a net total of $131.6bn (£92.5bn) on aid in 2015, compared with $135.2bn the previous year. Of that, $12bn went on domestic spending – or “in-donor refugee costs”, up from $6.6bn in 2014. Many of the European countries most affected by the mass migration of people recorded surges in their official development assistance (ODA) in 2015: Greece’s aid spending rose by 38.7%; Sweden’s by 36.8%; Germany’s by 25.9%; the Netherlands’ by 24.4%, and Austria’s by 15.4%. The OECD says that all these rises, to greater or lesser extents, were caused by growing in-donor refugee costs.

According to the organisation, members of its development assistance committee (DAC) spent 6.9% more in real terms in 2015 than they did the previous year, making it “the highest level ever achieved for net ODA”. It said ODA as a share of gross national income was 0.3%, putting it on a par with 2013, when aid reached a record, real terms high of $135.1bn. However, the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) said many EU countries are now the biggest recipients of their own aid, adding that the latest figures had been “dramatically inflated” by the diversion of aid to cover the domestic costs of the refugee crisis. “While it is very important that we care for refugees arriving on our shores, our own costs should not be classed as international development aid, and money to cover this must come from other sources,” said Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Eurodad’s policy and advocacy manager.

“We must stop raiding aid budgets to solve our own problems at the expense of the poorest people who desperately need more and better aid. The figures presented today show clear issues with the reporting rules as the largest increases were for domestic budget gaps related to the refugee crisis.” Amy Dodd, of the Concord AidWatch initiative, said: “Unfortunately, official figures today confirm that despite some positive exceptions, the EU once again missed its overall aid target in 2015. “The figures are a real blow to the credibility of the EU and its member states at precisely the moment they should be demonstrating their commitment to implementing the promises they made to provide sufficient, high quality sustainable development financing for [the sustainable development goals].”

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 April 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Butter bean vines across the porch, Negro quarter, Memphis, Tennessee 1938

US Banks’ Dismal First Quarter Spells Trouble For 2016 (Reuters)
US Faces ‘Disastrous’ $3.4 Trillion Pension Funding Hole (FT)
Abenomics Rebuked As BlackRock Joins $46 Billion Japan Pullout (BBG)
Beijing Risks ‘Sterling-Style’ Currency Crisis As Deflation Persists (AEP)
Chinese Buyers Double Their Aussie Property Investments, Again (BBG)
In BP’s Final $20 Billion Gulf Settlement, US Taxpayers Pay $15.3 Billion (F.)
British Banks’ ‘Misconduct Bill’ Has Reached Nearly $75 Billion (Reuters)
The 1% Hide Their Money Offshore – Then Use It To Corrupt Our Democracy (G.)
Hit By Panama Row, Cameron Announces New Tax Evasion Law In 2016 (Reuters)
Italy Pushes For ‘Last Resort’ Bank Rescue Fund (FT)
Austria Regulator Imposes 54% Haircut, Long Wait On Heta Bank Creditors (R.)
As Ukraine Collapses, Europeans Tire of Us Interventions (Ron Paul)
State Of Emergency Over Suicide Epidemic In Canada’s First Nations (G.)
Mass Coral Bleaching Now Affects Half Of Great Barrier Reef (G.)
Fewer Than 0.1% Of Syrians In Turkey In Line For Work Permits (G.)
Hundreds Hurt As Refugees Confront FYROM Border Police Tear Gas (AP)

When TBTF starts failing, watch your wallet.

US Banks’ Dismal First Quarter Spells Trouble For 2016 (Reuters)

It is only April, but some on Wall Street are already predicting a rotten 2016 for U.S. banks. Analysts say it has been the worst start to the year since the financial crisis in 2007-2008 and expect poor first-quarter results when reporting begins this week. Concerns about economic growth in China, the impact of persistently low oil prices on the energy sector, and near-zero interest rates are weighing on capital markets activity as well as loan growth. Analysts forecast a 20% decline on average in earnings from the six biggest U.S. banks, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data. Some banks, including Goldman Sachs, are expected to report the worst results in over ten years.

This spells trouble for the financial sector more broadly, since banks typically generate at least a third of their annual revenue during the first three months of the year. “What’s concerning people is they’re saying, ‘Is this going to spill over into other quarters?'” Goldman’s Richard Ramsden said in an interview. “If you do have a significant decline in revenues, there is a limit to how much you can cut costs to keep things in equilibrium.” Investors will get some insight on Wednesday, when earnings season kicks off with JPMorgan, the country’s largest bank. That will be followed by Bank of America and Wells Fargo on Thursday, Citigroup on Friday, and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, in the following week.

Banks have been struggling to generate more revenue for years, while adapting to a panoply of new regulations that have raised the cost of doing business substantially. The biggest challenge has been fixed-income trading, where heavy capital requirements, new derivatives rules, and restrictions on proprietary trading have made it less profitable, leading most banks to simply shrink the business. Bank executives have already warned investors to expect major declines across other areas as well. Citigroup CFO John Gerspach said to expect trading revenue more broadly to drop 15% versus the first quarter of last year. JPMorgan’s Daniel Pinto said to expect a 25% decline in investment banking. Several bank executives have warned about declining quality of energy sector loans.

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“California, Illinois, New Jersey, Chicago and Austin, would need to put at least 20% of their revenues into their pension plans to prevent a rise in their deficits, while Nevada would have to contribute almost 40%.”

US Faces ‘Disastrous’ $3.4 Trillion Pension Funding Hole (FT)

The US public pension system has developed a $3.4tn funding hole that will pile pressure on cities and states to cut spending or raise taxes to avoid Detroit-style bankruptcies. According to academic research shared exclusively with FTfm, the collective funding shortfall of US public pension funds is three times larger than official figures showed, and is getting bigger. Devin Nunes, a US Republican congressman, said: “It has been clear for years that many cities and states are critically underfunding their pension programmes and hiding the fiscal holes with accounting tricks.” Mr Nunes, who put forward a bill to the House of Representatives last month to overhaul how public pension plans report their figures, added: “When these pension funds go insolvent, they will create problems so disastrous that the fund officials assume the federal government will have to bail them out.”

Large pension shortfalls have already played a role in driving several US cities, including Detroit in Michigan and San Bernardino in California, to file for bankruptcy. The fear is other cities will soon become insolvent due to the size of their pension deficits. Joshua Rauh, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think-tank, and professor of finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who carried out the study, said: “The pension problems are threatening to consume state and local budgets in the absence of some major changes. “It is quite likely that over a five to 10-year horizon we are going to see more bankruptcies of cities where the unfunded pension liabilities will play a large role.” The Stanford study found that the states of Illinois, Arizona, Ohio and Nevada, and the cities of Chicago, Dallas, Houston and El Paso have the largest pension holes compared with their own revenues.

In order to deal with the large funding shortfall, many cities and states will have to increase their contributions to their pension funds, either by raising taxes or cutting spending on vital services. Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told FTfm last month that US public pension plans face “grave difficulties”. “I do believe that US cities and towns will continue to suffer, and there will be additional bankruptcies following the examples of Detroit,” she said. Currently, states and local governments contribute 7.3% of revenues to public pension plans, but this would need to increase to an average of 17.5% of revenues to stop any further rises in the funding gap, the research said. Several cities and states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, Chicago and Austin, would need to put at least 20% of their revenues into their pension plans to prevent a rise in their deficits, while Nevada would have to contribute almost 40%.

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“A lot of people are starting to doubt Abenomics.” Very few have ever believed in it. But there was free money to be had.

Abenomics Rebuked As BlackRock Joins $46 Billion Japan Pullout (BBG)

For global equity investors and Shinzo Abe, it’s splitsville. Starting in the first days of 2016, foreign traders have been pulling out of Tokyo’s stock market for 13 straight weeks, the longest stretch since 1998. Overseas traders dumped $46 billion of shares as economic reports deteriorated, stimulus from the Bank of Japan backfired and the yen’s surge pressured exporters. The benchmark Topix index is down 17% in 2016, the world’s steepest declines behind Italy. Losing the faith of foreigners would be a blow to the Japanese prime minister – they’re the most active traders in a market Abe has held up as a litmus on his growth strategies. “Japan is back,” and “Buy my Abenomics!” he proclaimed during a visit to the New York Stock Exchange in September 2013, when shares were marching to an eight-year high.

Now about half of those gains are gone and BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, is among firms ending bullish calls on Japan equities. “Japan has been disappointing,” said Nader Naeimi, Sydney-based head of dynamic markets at AMP Capital Investors, which oversees about $115 billion. He’s a long-time fan of Tokyo equities who says he’s now looking for opportunities to sell. “A lot of people are starting to doubt Abenomics.” While markets elsewhere are climbing back from a global selloff, investors in Japan see fewer reasons for optimism. Growing concern that Abenomics – the three-pronged strategy of fiscal and monetary stimulus and structural reform – is falling flat has spurred speculation the nation will slip into deflation, setting back efforts to end three decades of malaise.

Masahiro Ichikawa, a senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui, fears a downward spiral. Foreigners are needed to boost the stock market, and if equities don’t rise the public will lose confidence and curb spending, as he sees it. That could send Japan back into deflation. “If foreigners don’t come back, the future of Abenomics could be jeopardized,” he said.

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“Reserves will continue to fall until we devalue. Once we get towards $2 trillion the markets will start to panic. They won’t believe that the government can control it any longer..”

Beijing Risks ‘Sterling-Style’ Currency Crisis As Deflation Persists (AEP)

A top adviser to the Chinese government has warned that Beijing risks a currency blow-up akin to Britain’s traumatic ordeal in 1992, if it continues trying to defend its exchange rate peg amid a deepening deflation crisis. Yu Hongding, a director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China is caught in two concurrent “deflationary spirals” that are feeding on the other. A major devaluation and a blast of well-targeted fiscal stimulus will be needed to break out of the trap. “They must stop intervening on the exchange market. China needs to devalue by 15pc. They are creating conditions for speculators,” he told the Daily Telegraph, speaking at the Ambrosetti forum of global policymakers on Lake Como.

Prof Yu, a former rate-setter for the PBOC and currently a member of the national planning committee, said the government is making a serious mistake in trying to defend the yuan by burning through foreign exchange reserves, already down to $3.2 trillion from $4 trillion in mid-2014. He warned that the slowdown in capital outlows in March may prove fleeting. “Reserves will continue to fall until we devalue. Once we get towards $2 trillion the markets will start to panic. They won’t believe that the government can control it any longer,” he said. Prof Yu said Beijing had been caught off guard by the relentless slowdown over the last five years. “In 2011 we thought the economy would stabilize, and we thought the same thing in 2012, and again in 2013, and it continued to slide,” he said.

It is far from clear whether the world could handle a 15pc devaluation given the vast scale of Chinese overcapacity, or that the US Treasury and Congress would tolerate such a move. Fears of uncontrollable capital flight and a yuan devaluation were key reasons for the plunge in global equity markets earlier this year, and are clearly what prompted the US Federal Reserve to delay rate rises. The fate of China’s currency has become the most neuralgic issue in global finance. One worry is that a sharp drop in the yuan would set off a second round of ‘currency wars’ across East Asia, transmitting a deflationary shock through the international system as cheap Asian exports flooded into Western markets.

Prof Yu’s life is a remarkable story of achievement in Maoist China. He worked for ten years in a machine factory, wrestling with Marx’s Das Kapital at night before discovering western economics. He devoured Paul Samuelson’s classic text, ‘Foundations of Economic Analysis’, first in a Chinese translation and then in the original after teaching himself English, no easy feat in the Cultural Revolution. He went onto to earn a doctorate at Oxford University, and was still in England when sterling was blown out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992. He still recalls the exact details of the debacle, including the two desperate rate rises by the Bank of England in a single day. “The British experience is very interesting for us,” he said.

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Keeps the bubble alive until it doesn’t.

Chinese Buyers Double Their Aussie Property Investments, Again (BBG)

Chinese appetite for property in Australia shows no sign of waning after buyers doubled investment in the nation’s homes and offices for a second straight year. Spending on Australian residential and commercial real estate rose to A$24.3 billion ($18.4 billion) in the 12 months through June 2015, up from A$12.4 billion a year earlier and A$5.9 billion in 2013, according to the Foreign Investment Review Board’s annual report. All Chinese investors in a survey conducted by KPMG and the University of Sydney want to allocate more money to Australia, a separate report showed on Monday. Real estate is fueling inflows from the world’s second largest economy, which last year overtook the U.S. as Australia’s largest foreign investor.

“Overall we are seeing a strong story of Chinese investment into Australia’s broader economy which is in line with premium products, services and lifestyle-oriented themes,” Doug Ferguson, head of KPMG Australia’s Asia and International Markets and co-author of the report, said in a statement. Purchases by foreigners, many with a connection to China, helped drive an almost 55% jump in home prices across Australia’s capital cities in the past seven years as mortgage rates dropped to five-decade lows. The rising demand has triggered community concern that locals are being priced out of the property market, prompting the government to tighten scrutiny of foreign investment.

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Like so many other things these days, perfectly legal.

In BP’s Final $20 Billion Gulf Settlement, US Taxpayers Pay $15.3 Billion (F.)

Now that a judge has approved BP’s $20 billion settlement over the 2010 gulf oil spill, it is appropriate to look at the overall societal costs, as well as the bottom line to BP. And at tax time, people understandably think about their own taxes, too. The government struck a $20 billion settlement with BP, which is a big number. Yet BP should be able to deduct the vast majority, a whopping $15.3 billion, on its U.S. tax return. That means American taxpayers are contributing quite a lot to this settlement, whether they know it or not. BP can write off the natural resource damages payments, restoration, and reimbursement of government costs. Only $5.5 billion is labeled as a non-tax-deductible Clean Water Act penalty. One big critic of the deal is U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which often rails against tax deductions by corporate wrongdoers.

U.S. Public Interest Research Group has asked the Justice Department to deny tax deductions for BP and other corporate defendants. U.S. PIRG’s has a research report on settling for a lack of accountability that details the tax deductions corporations can claim for legal settlement. However, a change to the tax code may be the only way to get there. The proposed Truth in Settlements Act (S. 1898) would require agencies to report after-tax settlement values. Another bill, S. 1654, would restrict tax deductibility and require agencies to spell out the tax status of settlements. The present tax code allows businesses to deduct damages, even punitive damages. Restitution and other remedial payments are also fully deductible. Only certain fines or penalties are nondeductible. Even then, the rules are murky, and companies routinely deduct payments unless it is completely clear that they cannot.

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No bankers have been indicted, and no shareholder has taken them to court.

British Banks’ ‘Misconduct Bill’ Has Reached Nearly $75 Billion (Reuters)

Lawsuits and misconduct fines have cost Britain’s largest retail banks and customer-owned lenders almost 53 billion pounds ($74.86 billion) over the past 15 years, a new study has found. The scale of the payouts has hampered banks’ efforts to rebuild capital, restricted the amount they are able to lend and reduced dividends for investors. Britain’s banks have been hit by scandals ranging from the manipulation of foreign exchange and benchmark interest rates to the mis-selling of loan insurance and complex interest-rate hedging products. While lenders have struggled to return money to shareholders because of the charges, they have continued to pay billions of pounds in bonuses to staff, the study by the independent think-tank New City Agenda said.

“The profitability of UK retail banks has been imperilled by persistent misconduct,” said John McFall, a director of New City Agenda and former Treasury Committee chairman. “This has made every citizen poorer through our pension funds and our ownership of the bailed out banks.” The report said the mis-selling of payment protection insurance alone cost banks at least 37.3 billion pounds in Britain’s costliest consumer scandal. Lloyds had to set aside 14 billion pounds to cover misconduct between 2010 and 2014, almost twice the amount of any other British lender, the report said.

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Yup, that’s how it works.

The 1% Hide Their Money Offshore – Then Use It To Corrupt Our Democracy (G.)

Over the past 72 hours, you have seen our political establishment operating at a level of panic rarely equalled in postwar history. Britain’s prime minister has had yanked out of him some of his most intimate financial details. Complete strangers now know how much he’s inherited so far from his mum and dad, and the offshore investments from which he’s profited. Yesterday he even took the unprecedented step of revealing the taxes he’d paid over the past six years. Leaders of other parties have responded by summarily publishing their own HMRC returns. In contemporary Britain, where one’s extramarital affairs are more readily discussed in public than one’s tax affairs, this is jaw-dropping stuff. And it will not stop here.

Whatever the lazy shorthand being used by some commentators, David Cameron has not released his tax returns, but merely a summary certified by an accountants’ firm. That halfway house will hardly be enough. If Jeremy Corbyn, other senior politicians and the press keep up this level of attack, then within days more details of the prime minister’s finances will emerge. Nor will the flacks of Downing Street be able to maintain their lockdown on disclosing how many cabinet members have offshore interests: the ministers themselves will break ranks. Indeed, a few are already beginning to do so. But the risk is that all this will descend into a morass of semi-titillating detail: a string of revelations about who gave what to whom, and whether he or she then declared it to the Revenue.

The story will become about “handling” and “narrative” and individual culpability. That will be entertaining for those who like to point fingers, perplexing for those too busy to engage in the detail – and miss the wider truth revealed by the leak which forced all this into public discussion. Because at root, the Panama Papers are not about tax. They’re not even about money. What the Panama Papers really depict is the corruption of our democracy. Following on from LuxLeaks, the Panama Papers confirm that the super-rich have effectively exited the economic system the rest of us have to live in. Thirty years of runaway incomes for those at the top, and the full armoury of expensive financial sophistication, mean they no longer play by the same rules the rest of us have to follow. Tax havens are simply one reflection of that reality.

Discussion of offshore centres can get bogged down in technicalities, but the best definition I’ve found comes from expert Nicholas Shaxson who sums them up as: “You take your money elsewhere, to another country, in order to escape the rules and laws of the society in which you operate.” In so doing, you rob your own society of cash for hospitals, schools, roads… But those who exited our societies are now also exercising their voice to set the rules by which the rest of us live. The 1% are buying political influence as never before. Think of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose fortunes will shape this year’s US presidential elections. In Britain, remember the hedge fund and private equity barons, who in 2010 contributed half of all the Conservative party’s election funds – and so effectively bought the Tories their first taste of government in 18 years.

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He will have to reveal a lot more of his own finances, no matter what laws he has lying on the shelf.

Hit By Panama Row, Cameron Announces New Tax Evasion Law In 2016 (Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron will say on Monday that new legislation making companies criminally liable if employees aid tax evasion will be introduced this year, as he seeks to repair the damage from a week of questions about his personal finances. Cameron published tax records on Sunday to try and defuse criticism over his handling of the fallout from the Panama Papers, in which his late father was mentioned for setting up an offshore fund. After four carefully worded statements in four days, Cameron bowed to pressure and admitted that he had benefited from selling his share in his father’s fund in 2010. He recognized on Saturday that he had mishandled the disclosure. Cameron is leading efforts to persuade British voters to stay in the EU in a June 23 referendum that the polls suggest will be tight, and the tax row has raised concerns among the “in” camp that their cause may have been damaged.

The prime minister will attempt to regain the upper hand when he appears in the House of Commons later on Monday. “This government has done more than any other to take action against corruption in all its forms, but we will go further,” Cameron will say, according to advance excerpts of his statement circulated by his Downing Street office. “That is why we will legislate this year to hold companies who fail to stop their employees facilitating tax evasion criminally liable,” he will say. The plan had already been announced by finance minister George Osborne in March 2015, but previously the commitment was to introduce the legislation by 2020, Downing Street said. The decision to speed up that particular measure is unlikely to satisfy Cameron’s many critics in opposition parties and in some campaign groups that say Britain already has the tools it needs to crack down on tax evasion but lacks the will.

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Debt restructuring is still a four letter word in Europe.

Italy Pushes For ‘Last Resort’ Bank Rescue Fund (FT)

Italy is rushing to cobble together an industry-led rescue to address mounting concerns over the solidity of a banking sector whose woes pose a risk to the wider eurozone economy. Finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan has called a meeting in Rome on Monday with executives from Italy’s largest financial institutions to agree final details of a “last resort” bailout plan. Yet on the eve of that gathering, concerns remain as to whether the plan will be sufficient to ringfence the weakest of Italy’s large banks, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, from contagion, according to people involved in the talks. Italian bank shares have lost almost half their value so far this year amid investor worries over a €360bn pile of non-performing loans — equivalent to about a fifth of GDP. Lenders’ profitability has been hit by a crippling three-year recession.

The plan being worked on, which could be officially announced as soon as Monday evening, recalls the Sareb bad bank created in 2012 by the Spanish government to deal with financial crisis in its smaller cajas banks, say people involved. Although the details remain under discussion, it foresees the establishment of a private vehicle that will include upwards of €5bn in equity contributions – mostly from Italy’s banks, insurers and asset managers – and then a larger debt component. The fund will then mop up shares in distressed lenders. A second vehicle will seek to buy non-performing loans at market prices. “It is a backstop fund,” said one person involved in the talks. The Italian government can provide only limited financial backing because of EU state aid rules and because it is already struggling under a public debt load that amounts to 132.5% of GDP.

The bailout marks the latest and most wide-reaching attempt by Italy to shore up confidence having already sponsored the rescue of four small banks last year and passed a law intended to speed up the sale of bad loans. Both earlier measures failed to eradicate market concerns. [..] people involved in the talks question whether the plan would have the financial scope to provide a buffer of last resort for Monte dei Paschi di Siena. Italy’s third-largest bank was the worst performer in the 2014 European stress tests, with about €170bn in assets and about €50bn in bad loans. It is considered by many bankers to be the major risk to Italian financial stability and regarded as too big to fail. “Monte Paschi is the elephant in the room,” says one of Italy’s top bankers.

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Is this an attempt to let Carinthia go broke after all?

Austria Regulator Imposes 54% Haircut, Long Wait On Heta Bank Creditors (R.)

Austria’s financial markets regulator FMA on Sunday cut the nominal value of “bad bank” Heta Asset Resolution’s senior bonds by more than half, highlighting the long struggle creditors face for repayment if a settlement is not reached. The FMA, which is overseeing the wind-down of Heta, on Sunday announced measures including the bail-in, or haircut, of 54%, the extension of bonds’ maturities to 2023 and the cancellation of coupon payments as of March of last year.The announcement is the latest chapter in a standoff between the province of Carinthia and Heta’s creditors, many of which insist on repayment in full because their bonds were guaranteed by Carinthia, which could push the province into insolvency.

Carinthia guaranteed the bonds of local lender Hypo Alpe Adria before it collapsed and Heta was formed to wind it down. Carinthia says it cannot afford to fully honour the remaining guarantees, which the FMA put at €11.1 billion. Creditors are likely to sue Carinthia to recover the difference between what is paid out to them under Heta’s wind-down and their bonds’ full face value. The FMA put that difference at €6.4 billion, roughly three times the annual budget of Carinthia, a southern province of about 560,000 people that borders Italy and Slovenia and was long the stronghold of far-right politician Joerg Haider. The haircut’s size is based on the amount the FMA expects will be recovered from the sale of Heta’s assets by 2020.

It had said the estimate would be conservative to ensure that, if it is wide of the mark, there is extra revenue to be shared out. Only by the end of 2023 will it be possible to pay out all funds owed, the FMA said, partly in anticipation of many court cases, meaning creditors face a wait of seven years for their repayment of 46% of senior bonds’ face value. Carinthia offered to buy back the bonds it guaranteed, with loans from the Austrian government, for 75% of senior bonds’ face value, plus a last-minute sweetener by the Austrian government that brought the offer to around 82%. Too few creditors accepted the offer when it expired last month, and the question is now whether a compromise can be found or whether the dispute will be settled in court.

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Ron Paul doesn’t capture the entire picture, but from a US perspective he’s largely right.

As Ukraine Collapses, Europeans Tire of Us Interventions (Ron Paul)

On Sunday Ukrainian prime minister Yatsenyuk resigned, just four days after the Dutch voted against Ukraine joining the European Union. Taken together, these two events are clear signals that the US-backed coup in Ukraine has not given that country freedom and democracy. They also suggest a deeper dissatisfaction among Europeans over Washington’s addiction to interventionism. According to US and EU governments – and repeated without question by the mainstream media – the Ukrainian people stood up on their own in 2014 to throw off the chains of a corrupt government in the back pocket of Moscow and finally plant themselves in the pro-west camp. According to these people, US government personnel who handed out cookies and even took the stage in Kiev to urge the people to overthrow their government had nothing at all to do with the coup.

When Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was videotaped bragging about how the US government spent $5 billion to “promote democracy” in Ukraine, it had nothing to do with the overthrow of the Yanukovich government. When Nuland was recorded telling the US Ambassador in Kiev that Yatsenyuk is the US choice for prime minister, it was not US interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine. In fact, the neocons still consider it a “conspiracy theory” to suggest the US had anything to do with the overthrow. I have no doubt that the previous government was corrupt. Corruption is the stock-in-trade of governments. But according to Transparency International, corruption in the Ukrainian government is about the same after the US-backed coup as it was before.

So the intervention failed to improve anything, and now the US-installed government is falling apart. Is a Ukraine in chaos to be considered a Washington success story? This brings us back to the Dutch vote. The overwhelming rejection of the EU plan for Ukrainian membership demonstrates the deep level of frustration and anger in Europe over EU leadership following Washington’s interventionist foreign policy at the expense of European security and prosperity. The other EU member countries did not even dare hold popular referenda on the matter – their parliaments rubber-stamped the agreement.

Brussels backs US bombing in the Middle East and hundreds of thousands of refugees produced by the bombing overwhelm Europe. The people are told they must be taxed even more to pay for the victims of Washington’s foreign policy. Brussels backs US regime change plans for Ukraine and EU citizens are told they must bear the burden of bringing an economic basket case up to European standards. How much would it cost EU citizens to bring in Ukraine as a member? No one dares mention it. But Europeans are rightly angry with their leaders blindly following Washington and then leaving them holding the bag.

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This continues to make my half-Canadian heart bleed. It’s been going on for so long.

State Of Emergency Over Suicide Epidemic In Canada’s First Nations (G.)

A Canadian First Nation community of 2,000 people has declared a state of emergency after 11 of its members tried to take their own lives, national media reported. CTV News reported on Sunday that the remote northern community of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario experienced an additional 28 suicide attempts last month. More than 100 people in the community have attempted suicide since last September, and one person died, according to CTV. The youngest was 11, the oldest 71. Charlie Angus, the local member of parliament, told the Canadian Press it was part of a “rolling nightmare” of more and more suicide attempts among young people throughout the winter. The Canadian Press said the regional First Nations government was sending a crisis response unit including social workers and mental health nurses to the community following the declaration.

The Health Canada federal agency said in a statement that it had sent two mental health counsellors as part of that unit. Attawapiskat resident Jackie Hookimaw told The Canadian Press that the epidemic started in the autumn when her 13-year-old niece Sheridan killed herself after being bullied at school. “There’s different layers of grief,” she said. “There’s normal grief, when somebody dies from illness or old age. And there’s complicated grief, where there’s severe trauma, like when somebody commits suicide.” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter: “The news from Attawapiskat is heartbreaking. We’ll continue to work to improve living conditions for all Indigenous peoples.” Another Canadian First Nation community in the western province of Manitoba appealed for federal aid last month, citing six suicides in two months and 140 suicide attempts in two weeks.

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“..three to four times worse than in 1998 or the second great bleaching in 2002.”

Mass Coral Bleaching Now Affects Half Of Great Barrier Reef (G.)

The mass coral bleaching event smashing the Great Barrier Reef has severely affected more than half its length and caused patches of bleaching in most areas, according to scientists conducting an extensive aerial survey of the damage. “The good news with my last flight is that I found 50 reefs that weren’t bleached, so that may be the southern boundary,” said Terry Hughes from James Cook University. Hughes is the head of the national coral bleaching task force, which has been conducting flights over the length of the reef, mapping bleached areas and recording the severity of the damage. Climate change and a strong El Niño have caused hundreds of kilometres of the reef to bleach, as the higher water temperatures stress the coral, and they expel their symbiotic algae.

If the bleaching is bad enough, or the temperatures remain high for long enough, the corals die, putting the future of reefs at risk. The mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is part of what the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has called the third global bleaching event – the first occurred in 1998. Initial reports suggested only the most northern and remote areas of the Great Barrier Reef were bleaching, but as aerial surveys have continued, scientists have struggled to find a southern boundary. The latest find of a stretch of unaffected reefs around Mackay was a small piece of good news, Hughes said. But he said its significane would be unclear until reefs further south were examined. “It may be a false southern boundary,” Hughes said.

The reefs around Mackay have unusually large tides, which might have pulled in cooler water and saved the coral there. [..] Two weeks ago, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reported half the coral in the northern parts of the reef were dead. Hughes said that was consistent with reports from divers north of Port Douglas. Hughes said this was by far the worst bleaching event to have hit the Great Barrier Reef. He said it was three to four times worse than in 1998 or the second great bleaching in 2002. Last year, the Great Barrier Reef narrowly escaped being listed as “in danger” by Unesco, even though environmental groups said it clearly met the criteria. Hughes said the “outstanding universal value” of the reef was now “severely compromised”.

Ariane Wilkinson, a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, said the bleaching might cause Unesco to reconsider its decision. “[Unesco] weren’t scheduled to examine the reef this year but in light of the terrible bleaching it is entirely possible that they may decide to look at the reef,” she said. “If the World Heritage system is to have any value, it must address the most serious threats to the most iconic examples of world heritage,” she said. “If any site falls into this category, it is the … Great Barrier Reef.”

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Safe third country.

Fewer Than 0.1% Of Syrians In Turkey In Line For Work Permits (G.)

Fewer than 0.1% of Syrians in Turkey currently stand to gain the right to work under much-vaunted Turkish labour laws, undermining EU claims that the legislation excuses a recent decision to deport Syrian asylum-seekers back to Turkey. Turkish employers have allowed roughly 2,000 – or 0.074% – of Turkey’s 2.7 million Syrians to apply for work permits under new legislation enacted two months ago, according to government figures provided to aid workers at a meeting in late March. The number of permits granted has not yet been disclosed. More applications are expected in the coming months, but the statistic nevertheless highlights how the new law, enacted in January, does not offer blanket access to the labour market for all Syrians in Turkey.

Instead work permits can only be given to those who have the blessing of their employers, many of whom may still be unaware of the law, or unwilling to comply with it since it would require them to pay their employees the minimum wage. The figure was revealed in a speech to aid groups by the head of Turkey’s general directorate for migration management, who said he hoped the number would rise once more people became aware of the law. The news will complicate the new EU-Turkey deal to deport all asylum-seekers arriving to Greece back to Turkey, since the EU has justified the controversial agreement by claiming Turkey was a place that upheld internationally agreed obligations to refugees, including access to legal work. While Turkey is not a full signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention, EU politicians have sometimes cited the January law as an example of how Turkey maintains the values of the convention by other means.

But in reality the law does not automatically offer most refugees a route out of the black market, several Syrians argued in interviews. Most problematically, the law requires an employer to give his employees a contract before they can apply for a permit. But this is an unattractive proposition for many employers, since they often employ Syrians precisely because they are easily exploited, said Hussam Orfahli, CEO of an Istanbul-based firm that helps Syrians apply for paperwork in Turkey. “If he wants you to have a work permit, then you can get it – but if he doesn’t, then you won’t,” said Orfahli, who has applied for permits on behalf of 60 wealthy clients, but has yet to hear whether any of them have been successful. “The minimum wage is 1,300 Turkish lira [£320] and most employers refuse to give contracts so that they can pay less, and don’t have to pay your health insurance.”

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Children injured by (8 hours of!) tear gas. Europe 2016.

Hundreds Hurt As Refugees Confront FYROM Border Police (AP)

Migrants waged running battles with Macedonian police Sunday after they were stopped from scaling the border fence with Greece near the border town of Idomeni, and aid agencies reported that hundreds of stranded travelers were injured. Macedonian police used tear gas, stun grenades, plastic bullets and a water cannon to repel the migrants, many of whom responded by throwing rocks over the fence at police. Greek police observed from their side of the frontier but did not intervene. More than 50,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece after Balkan countries closed their borders to the massive flow of refugees pouring into Europe. Around 11,000 remain camped out at the border with Macedonia, ignoring instructions from the government to move to organized shelters as they hold out hope to reach Western Europe.

Clashes continued in the afternoon as migrant groups twice tried to overwhelm Macedonian border security. The increasing use of tear gas reached families in their nearby tents in Idomeni’s makeshift camp. Many camp dwellers, chiefly women and children, fled into farm fields to escape the painful gas. Observers held out hope that evening rainfall, which began about seven hours into the clashes, would dampen hostilities. The aid agency Doctors Without Borders estimated that their medical volunteers on site treated about 300 people for various injuries. Achilleas Tzemos, deputy field coordinator of Doctors Without Borders, told the AP that the injured included about 200 experiencing breathing problems from the gas, 100 others with cuts, bruises and impact injuries from nonlethal plastic bullets.

He said six of the most seriously injured were hospitalized. The clashes began soon after an estimated 500 people gathered at the fence. Many said they were responding to Arabic language fliers distributed Saturday in the camp urging people to attempt to breach the fence Sunday morning and “go to Macedonia on foot.” A five-member migrant delegation approached Macedonian police to ask whether the border was about to open. When Macedonian police replied that this wasn’t happening, more than 100, including several children, tried to scale the fence. Greece criticized the Macedonian police response as excessive. Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for the government’s special commission on refugees, said Macedonian forces had deployed an “indiscriminate use of chemicals, plastic bullets and stun grenades against vulnerable people.”

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Apr 102016
 
 April 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Bridge with 5-ton coal bucket, Milwaukee Western Fuel Co 1942

Britain Is The Heart And Soul Of Tax Evasion (RT)
How a US president and JP Morgan Made Panama and Turned It Into A Tax Haven (G.)
Cameron Faces Questions Over £200,000 Gift From Mother (Observer)
Panama Papers: Act Now. Don’t Wait For Another Crisis (Piketty)
The Next Recession Will Blow Out the US Budget (Mauldin)
Schäuble: Time is Near to End Central Banks’ Easy-Money Policies (WSJ)
Why US Infrastructure Costs So Much (BBG)
SYRIZA, IMF and EU: Gambling With The Future Of Greece (SE)
Lesbos Hopes Pope’s Visit Will Shine Light On Island’s Refugee Role (Observer)
Greece Says It Will Take At Least Two Weeks To Fix Deporation System (Kath.)

Why the City of London got so big.

Britain Is The Heart And Soul Of Tax Evasion (RT)

The British government’s claim to be tackling tax evasion is about as credible as Al Capone claiming to be leading the fight against organized crime. In fact, Britain is at the heart of the global tax haven network, and continues to lead the fight against its regulation. The 11 and a half million leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have proven, once again, what we have already known for some time – that the ‘offshore world’ of tax havens is a den of money laundering and tax evasion right at the heart of the global financial system. Despite attempts by Western media to twist the revelations into a story about the ‘corruption’ of official enemies – North Korea, Syria, China and, of course, Putin, who is not even mentioned in the documents – the real story is the British government’s assiduous cultivation of the offshore world.

For whilst corruption exists in every country, what enables that corruption to flourish and become institutionalized is the network of secretive financial regimes that allow the world’s biggest criminals and fraudsters to escape taxation, regulation and oversight of their activities. And this network is a conscious creation of the British state. Of the 215,000 companies identified in the Mossack Fonseca documents, over half were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, one single territory in what tax haven expert Nicholas Shaxson calls a “spider’s web” of well over a dozen separate UK-controlled dens of financial chicanery. In addition, the UK was ranked number two of those jurisdictions where the banks, law firms and other middlemen associated with the Panama Papers operate, only topped by Hong Kong, whose institutional environment is itself a creation of the UK.

And of the ten banks who most frequently asked Mossack Fonseca to set up paper companies to hide their client’s finances, four were British: HSBC, Coutts, Rothschild and UBS. HSBC, recently fined $1.9bn for laundering the money of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels, used the Panamanian firm to create 2,300 offshore companies, whilst Coutts – the family bank of the Windsors – set up just under 500. And, of course, David Cameron’s own father was named in the papers, having “helped create and develop” Blairmore Holdings, worth $20million, from its inception in 1982 till his death in 2010.

Blairmore, in which Cameron junior was also a shareholder, was registered in the Bahamas, and was specifically advertised to investors as a means of avoiding UK tax. The Daily Mail noted that: “Even though he lived in London, the Prime Minister’s father would leave the country and fly to Switzerland or the Bahamas for board meetings of Blairmore Holdings – to ensure it would not have to pay UK income tax or corporation tax. He hired a small army of Bahamas residents, including a part-time bishop, to sign its paperwork – as part of another bid to show his firm was not British-based.”

That Britain should emerge as central to this scandal is no surprise. For as Nicholas Shaxson, a leading authority on tax havens put it when I interviewed him in 2011, “The City of London is effectively the grand-daddy of the global offshore system.” Whilst there are various different lists of tax havens in existence, depending on how exactly they are defined, on any one of them explains Shaxson, “you will see that about half of the tax havens on there, of the ones that matter, are in some way British or partly British.” Firstly, are “Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man: the crown dependencies. They’re very fundamentally controlled by Britain.” Then there are the Overseas Territories, such as the Caymans, Bermuda, and the Virgin Islands, in which “all the things that matter are effectively controlled by Great Britain.”

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History counts too.

How a US president and JP Morgan Made Panama and Turned It Into A Tax Haven (G.)

This goes back a long way. The Panamanian state was originally created to function on behalf of the rich and self-seeking of this world – or rather their antecedents in America – when the 20th century was barely born. Panama was created by the United States for purely selfish commercial reasons, right on that historical hinge between the imminent demise of Britain as the great global empire, and the rise of the new American imperium. The writer Ken Silverstein put it with estimable simplicity in an article for Vice magazine two years ago: “In 1903, the administration of Theodore Roosevelt created the country after bullying Colombia into handing over what was then the province of Panama. Roosevelt acted at the behest of various banking groups, among them JP Morgan, which was appointed as the country’s ‘fiscal agent’ in charge of managing $10m in aid that the US had rushed down to the new nation.”

The reason, of course, was to gain access to, and control of, the canal across the Panamanian isthmus that would open in 1914 to connect the world’s two great oceans, and the commerce that sailed them. The Panamanian elite had learned early that their future lay more lucratively in accommodating the far-off rich than in being part of South America. Annuities paid by the Panama Railroad Company sent more into the Colombian exchequer than Panama ever got back from Bogotá, and it is likely that the province would have seceded anyway – had not a treaty been signed in September 1902 for the Americans to construct a canal under terms that, as the country’s leading historian in English, David Bushnell, writes, “accurately reflected the weak bargaining position of the Colombian negotiator”.

Colombia was, at the time, riven by what it calls the “thousand-day war” between its Liberal and Historical Conservative parties. Panama was one of the battlefields for the war’s later stages. The canal treaty was closely followed by the “Panamanian revolution”, which was led by a French promoter of the canal and backed by what Bushnell calls “the evident complicity of the United States” – and was aided by the fact that the terms of the canal treaty forbade Colombian troops from landing to suppress it, lest they disturb the free transit of goods. The Roosevelt/JP Morgan connection in the setting-up of the new state was a direct one. The Americans’ paperwork was done by a Republican party lawyer close to the administration, William Cromwell, who acted as legal counsel for JP Morgan.

JP Morgan led the American banks in gradually turning Panama into a financial centre – and a haven for tax evasion and money laundering – as well as a passage for shipping, with which these practices were at first entwined when Panama began to register foreign ships to carry fuel for the Standard Oil company in order for the corporation to avoid US tax liabilities.

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He’s not done answering. In his circles, everyone has offshore accounts. That being PM means holding a higher standard is a mere nuisance to him.

Cameron Faces Questions Over £200,000 Gift From Mother (Observer)

The prime minister took the unprecedented decision to release his personal tax records on Saturday, as growing anger over revelations in the Panama Papers threatened to derail his premiership. But the extraordinary move seems set to plunge David Cameron into further controversy, as it emerged that his mother transferred two separate payments of £100,000 to his accounts in 2011, allowing the family estate to avoid a potential £80,000 worth of inheritance tax. Four years after first promising to open his financial affairs to public view, Downing Street published a document detailing Cameron’s income and tax payments from 2009-10 to 2014-15. The move came after an emotional Cameron admitted to the Conservative party’s spring forum that he alone was to blame for the furore caused by his failure to be frank about his profits from an offshore investment fund.

On Monday, Cameron will announce the establishment of a taskforce, led by HM Revenue & Customs and the National Crime Agency, to examine the legality of the financial affairs of companies mentioned in the Panama Papers, where documents relating to his father’s offshore fund were discovered by the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The taskforce will draw on investigators, compliance specialists and analysts from HMRC, the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority. There will be new money provided of up to £10m. But following the release of the prime minister’s tax records, Cameron now faces questions over whether his family took elaborate steps to minimise the amount of inheritance tax that would eventually be due on their estate.

The records show that the prime minister received a considerable boost to his savings in 2011. Following the death of his father in 2010, Cameron was left £300,000 tax free as an inheritance. However, his mother also transferred two payments of £100,000 to him in May and July 2011. Inheritance tax is not payable on gifts up to £325,000 that are paid at least seven years before the source of the possession dies, be it property or money. A spokesman for the prime minister said that Cameron’s mother and father had “some years earlier” transferred the family home to their eldest son, Alexander Cameron, and the sums paid in 2011 were considered to be Cameron’s share.

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Not going to happen. Too much money means too much power.

Panama Papers: Act Now. Don’t Wait For Another Crisis (Piketty)

The question of tax havens and financial opacity has been headline news for years now. Unfortunately, in this area there is a huge gap between the triumphant declarations of governments and the reality of what they actually do. In 2014, the LuxLeaks investigation revealed that multinationals paid almost no tax in Europe, thanks to their subsidiaries in Luxembourg. In 2016, the Panama Papers have shown the extent to which financial and political elites in the north and the south conceal their assets. We can be glad to see that the journalists are doing their job. The problem is that the governments are not doing theirs. The truth is that almost nothing has been done since the crisis in 2008. In some ways, things have even got worse.

Let’s take each topic in turn. Exacerbated fiscal competition on the taxing of profits of big companies has reached new heights in Europe. The United Kingdom is going to reduce its rate to 17%, something unheard of for a major country, while continuing to protect the predatory practices of the Virgin Islands and other offshore centres under the British Crown. If nothing is done, we will all ultimately align ourselves on the 12% of Ireland, or possibly on 0%, or even on grants to investments, as is already sometimes the case. In the meantime, in the United States where there is a federal tax on profits, that rate is 35% (not including the taxes levelled by states, ranging between 5% and 10%). It is the political fragmentation of Europe and the lack of a strong public authority which puts us at the mercy of private interests.

The good news is that there is a way out of the current political impasse. If four countries, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, who together account for over 75% of the GDP and the population in the eurozone put forward a new treaty based on democracy and fiscal justice, with as a strong measure the adoption of a common tax system for large corporations, then the other countries would be forced to follow them. If they did not do so they would not be in compliance with the improvement in transparency which public opinions have been demanding for years and would be open to sanctions.

There is still a complete lack of transparency as far as private assets held in tax havens are concerned. In many areas of the world, the biggest fortunes have continued to grow since 2008 much more quickly than the size of the economy, partly because they pay less tax than the others. In France in 2013 a junior minister for the budget calmly explained that he did not have an account in Switzerland, with no fear that his ministry might find out about it. Once again, it took journalists to reveal the truth.

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“Next year, the US national debt will top $20 trillion. The deficit is running close to $500 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to rise. Add another $3 trillion or so in state and local debt.”

The Next Recession Will Blow Out the US Budget (Mauldin)

The weakest recovery in modern history has stretched on for 69 months. By 2017, it will be the third-longest recovery without a recession since the Great Depression. By 2018, it will be the second longest. Only during the halcyon economic days of the 1960s have we seen a longer recovery; but that record, too, will be eclipsed sometime in 2019—if we don’t see a recession first. And note that we were growing at well over 3% in the 1960s, not the anemic 2% we have averaged during this recovery and certainly not the positively puny 1.5% we have endured lately. Global growth is slowing down. Given the limited number of arrows left in the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy quiver, the US is going to have a difficult time dealing with the fallout from a recession. Even worse, a number of factors are coming together that will require serious crisis management.

Next year, the US national debt will top $20 trillion. The deficit is running close to $500 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to rise. Add another $3 trillion or so in state and local debt. As you may imagine, the interest on that debt is beginning to add up, even at the extraordinarily low rates we have today. Sometime in 2019, entitlement spending, defense, and interest will consume all the tax revenues collected by the US government. That means all spending for everything else will have to be borrowed. The CBO projects the deficit will rise to over $1 trillion by 2023. By that point, entitlement spending and net interest will be consuming almost all tax revenues, and we will be borrowing to pay for our defense. Let’s look at the following chart, which comes from CBO data:

By 2019, the deficit is projected to be $738 billion. There are only three ways to reduce that deficit: cut spending, raise taxes, or authorize the Federal Reserve to monetize the debt. At the numbers we are now talking about, getting rid of fraud and wasted government expenditures is a rounding error. Let’s say you could find $100 billion here or there. You are still a long, long way from a balanced budget. But implicit in the CBO projections is the assumption that we will not have a recession in the next 10 years. Plus, the CBO assumes growth above what we’ve seen in the last year or so.

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Trouble with Berlin is brewing.

Schäuble: Time is Near to End Central Banks’ Easy-Money Policies (WSJ)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called on governments in Europe and the U.S. to encourage their central banks to gradually exit easy-money policies, in the strongest sign yet of Berlin’s growing impatience with the ultralow interest rates of the ECB. “There is a growing understanding that excessive liquidity has become more a cause than a solution to the problem,” Mr. Schäuble said, comparing the move away from easy-money policies to ending a drug addiction. The unusually blunt comments from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closest political ally come as the ECB has repeatedly ramped up its stimulus in recent months, seeking to support economic growth in the face of rising global headwinds and financial-market volatility.

While Mr. Schäuble’s opposition to the ECB’s monetary policy is well known, the veteran politician has voiced his criticism more openly lately, suggesting Berlin is growing impatient amid a mounting popular backlash against a policy that has depleted the returns on the savings of millions of Germans. Government officials and central bankers are preparing to converge on Washington, D.C., next week for the Spring meetings of the IMF, where they are expected to discuss policies to revive global growth. Speaking in Kronberg near Frankfurt late Friday at a prize ceremony organized by a German economic think tank, Mr. Schäuble said he had just discussed central-bank policies with his U.S. counterpart, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. “I just said to Jack Lew that you should encourage the Federal Reserve and we should encourage the ECB and the Bank of England in a concerted action, to carefully but slowly exit,” Mr. Schäuble said.

In the U.S., the Treasury secretary doesn’t have authority over the Federal Reserve, which is tasked with setting monetary policy. The ECB has twice ramped up its €1.5 trillion stimulus since December, most recently in March, when it rolled out a series of rate cuts, cheap loans for banks and an acceleration of bond purchases. Top ECB officials have stressed in recent days that they are ready to do even more to support the bloc’s economy. Meanwhile Federal Reserve officials have signaled that the U.S. central bank will raise rates only gradually until the global economy picks up steam, according to the minutes of their March policy meeting. Japan’s central bank stunned the markets in January by setting the country’s first negative interest rates.

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Not sure this explains the entire issue.

Why US Infrastructure Costs So Much (BBG)

The U.S. ought to be spending more on infrastructure. This is the view of all right-thinking people, and as a right-thinking person I of course endorse it. With interest rates near record lows and the working-age population still, by historical and international standards, underemployed, governments (or in some cases entrepreneurs) should be borrowing much more to repave roads, shore up bridges, expand mass-transit systems, build new sewage-treatment plants, replace water mains, you name it. Such borrowing and spending would make the nation richer by stimulating economic activity now and paving the way for stronger economic growth in the future.

That said, the U.S. probably also ought to be spending less on infrastructure. Not overall, but on something like a per-mile basis. Broad international cost comparisons across all kinds of infrastructure don’t seem to be available, but there is a growing body of evidence on one particular infrastructure area that matters a lot to me as a New York City commuter: subways and other rail systems. And it shows that U.S. construction costs are among the world’s highest.

Transportation blogger Alon Levy has probably done the most to raise awareness of this, with five years of posts documenting the cost differences. And last year, Tracy Gordon of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and David Schleicher of Yale Law School examined 144 planned and finished rail projects in 44 countries and found that the four most expensive on a per-kilometer basis (and six of the top 12) were in the U.S. To put these numbers in global perspective, New York’s Second Avenue Subway will cost roughly eight times more than Tokyo’s Koto Waterfront line and 36 times more than Madrid’s Metrosur tunnels on a per-kilometer, purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

Why is this? It’s actually pretty hard to answer. Here’s Levy, writing in November 2014: “I try to avoid giving explanations for these patterns of construction costs. If I knew for certain what caused them, I would not be blogging; I would be forming a consultancy and teaching New York and other high-cost cities how to build subways for less than $100 million per kilometer.” Still, others have been willing to offer explanations. In a 2012 Bloomberg View piece, New York land-use and transit writer Stephen Smith blamed over-reliance on outside consultants, overly ambitious station architecture and a legal system that favors contractors over the agencies paying them to build things.

Gordon and Schleicher agreed that the legal system may be an issue, but for other reasons: “Many of the world’s most expensive projects are in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, which, like the United States, have common-law systems. So it might be that common-law systems provide legal protections for property owners – allowing more lawsuits over noise, smoke, and other nuisances, as well as limits on eminent domain – that increase costs by forcing the government to pay off opponents or to locate projects inefficiently to avoid angering property owners.” They also cite political fragmentation as a factor that drives up costs – U.S. commuter rail systems often cross city and state lines, which brings coordination challenges – and note that when regional authorities are created to manage these challenges, they can bring a whole new set of problems.

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“The agreement is effectively dead and all parties involved are aware of that, even if they are not openly admitting it.”

SYRIZA, IMF and EU: Gambling With The Future Of Greece (SE)

The latest flare up regarding Greece has followed publication by Wikileaks of illegally taped discussions among IMF officials. To analyse the significance of this event it is vital to bear one point in mind: Greece cannot meet the terms of the bailout agreement struck on July 2015 by Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. The agreement is effectively dead and all parties involved are aware of that, even if they are not openly admitting it. To establish this point there is no need to engage either in Debt Sustainability Analysis, or in macroeconomic projections of output. Suffice to mention that the agreement requires Greece to ensure a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP in 2018.

The Greek economy actually returned to recession in the last quarter of 2015 and the available indicators since the end of 2015 have ranged from bad to appalling: industrial turnover in December was down 13.5%, retail turnover in January down 3.8%, unemployment in the last quarter of 2015 up to 24.4%, job vacancies for the whole of the economy in the last quarter of 2015 stood at a pitiful 3119, and the banking system currently has perhaps €115bn of non-performing exposure, roughly 50% of its loan book. Once the austerity measures of the bailout agreement kick in, substantially reducing aggregate demand for 2016-17 via tax increases and lower pensions, the recession will become deeper. There is no way that this ruined economy could generate a 3.5% primary surplus in 2018. The problems thereby created for all parties to this disastrous bailout are legion.

In the worst position is the Greek government, which signed up to the bailout in direct contravention of everything that it had promised to do in 2015. As the reality of its deception and the harshness of the squeeze have begun to sink in, electoral support for Tsipras has vanished. All competent polls show the opposition New Democracy – with a new leader – comfortably ahead. The outlook has become even worse for SYRIZA via the refugee wave, which has turned Greece into a kind of EU repository for refugees and migrants. For the time being the country has avoided a major crisis, but the situation remains extremely fraught as the deportation of migrants to Turkey has just started.

In this context, the last thing that the Tsipras government would like to do is to impose further pressure on wage earners, or tax payers in an attempt to meet the impossible target of 3.5%. On the contrary, it is extremely keen to complete the first review of the bailout programme on a nod and a wink, pretending that current measures are sufficient to hit the bailout targets. It then hopes to receive a tranche of bailout money that will give it breathing space for a few months. The government’s further hope is that investment will pick up by the end of 2016, possibly through foreign capital inflows, thus allowing the economy to recover somewhat.

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He should put his money where his mouth is.

Lesbos Hopes Pope’s Visit Will Shine Light On Island’s Refugee Role (Observer)

The island of Lesbos tends to go to town when celebrities descend. The last time it welcomed a VIP, the razorwire running along large parts of its infamous detention centre was hastily removed. Angelina Jolie got a brief glimpse of it as she walked in, but reportedly not as she later walked around the camp greeting migrants and refugees. The superstar special envoy of the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) was instead given an edited view of the camp, volunteers say. It will be different when Pope Francis flies in on Saturday. The purpose of the pontiff’s visit to the Aegean is to see the migrant emergency up close, and the authorities are keen that no blinkers are involved. This time, the island on the frontline of the biggest movement of people in modern times intends to show it as it is.

“We won’t be changing anything,” says mayor Spyros Galinos when asked if municipal workers will at least be cleaning up the graffiti on the camp’s walls. “His visit has huge symbolism. It is what we have wanted, what we have seen in our sleep, what we have dreamed of for years.” For four hours, Francis will grant that wish when he arrives in Greece for what will be a rare papal visit. The leader of the worldwide Catholic church will be accompanied by the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, and Ieronymos II of Athens, head of the Greek Orthodox church. It will be a whirlwind tour of the island traversed by many of the 1.1 million men, women and children who have streamed into Europe, mostly from Syria but also from other parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia last year.

The pope has long had refugees in his sights – and encyclicals. The trip, say Vatican officials, is aimed squarely at drawing attention to the centre of Europe’s migration crisis. By highlighting the “increasingly precarious living conditions for thousands of refugees and migrants” who have reached Lesbos, the Holy See’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said Francis hoped to offer a “Christian response to the tragedy that is unfolding”. [..] “His visit is not going to do anything for one single refugee in this country,” laments Alison Terry-Evans, who runs Dirty Girls, an organisation in Lesbos that launders blankets distributed by the UNHCR and the wet clothes of arriving refugees. “It is so hypocritical that a man who heads a multibillion-dollar corporation like the Vatican is unlikely to take any action that will contribute financially. That is the pity of it. ”

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It won’t be fixed. Wanna bet? Europe goes for chaos as a deterrent. The use of the term ‘deportation system’ says it all in all its ugliness.

Meanwhile, this morning FYROM started shooting dozens of tear gas cannisters across its border with Greece to disperse the refugees camped out there.

Greece Says It Will Take At Least Two Weeks To Fix Deporation System (Kath.)

Greece says it will take at least two weeks to fix the process of deporting migrants from the eastern Aegean islands to Turkey. The country’s deputy foreign minister for European affairs, Nikos Xydakis, admitted as much at a press conference attended also by his colleagues from France, Italy, Malta and Portugal, as well as the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and Slovakia. Deportations from Greece to Turkey have been temporarily halted as most of the 6,750 migrants in the Greek islands are applying for asylum and there is a lack of qualified officials such as translators to process the applications.

Most of the experts promised by the EU have not yet arrived. French European affairs minister Harlem Desir is urging refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq to follow legal procedures to seek asylum in Europe rather than risk their lives in the perilous sea crossing into Greece, which now leads only back to Turkey, since Balkan countries north of Greece have shut their borders. Desir says France will welcome 200 refugees directly from Turkey “in the coming days and weeks.”

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Apr 092016
 
 April 9, 2016  Posted by at 10:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Pedestrians ascending steep grade, San Francisco 1935

David Cameron’s Gift To The World: Trickle-Down Tax-Dodging (G.)
The Brexit Nightmare Is Becoming Reality (G.)
Swiss Finance Minister Offers Defense For Rich Caught Up In Panama Papers (R.)
Tax Scandal Reheats Iceland Politics (FT)
Germany Takes Aim at the European Central Bank (Spiegel)
The Eurodollar As An Economic No-Man’s Land (Kaminska)
Iran Steps Up Offense in Oil Market War With Price Discount (BBG)
China’s Robot Army Set To Surge (FT)
Shanghai Wealth Management Firm Crashes To Earth As Executives Arrested (R.)
Melting Ice Sheets Change The Way The Earth Wobbles On Its Axis (AP)
Weaknesses Emerge in EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Spiegel)
5 Refugees Drown Off Greek Island Of Samos In Aegean (AP)

Demonstrations as we speak in London for Cameron to stand down. He will release tax files instead. But will that stem the protests?!

David Cameron’s Gift To The World: Trickle-Down Tax-Dodging (G.)

An intriguing approach to damage limitation by Panama prat David Cameron, particularly considering the prime minister’s only real life job ever was as a PR. The prime minister appears to have been the last person to realise what everyone else in Westminster could see on Monday. Namely, that he’d be sitting down for an awkward tell-all – or at least a tell-some – by Thursday. My absolute favourite tale from Cameron’s era as press chief for the culturocidal Carlton Television comes courtesy of the Guardian’s then media correspondent, who rang him up on a story. Like all mediocre PRs, a large part of his strategy was ignoring calls, but having accidentally answered this one he was cornered – and consequently pretended to be his own cleaner. “I can’t prove it was him,” the journalist reflected later, “but it certainly sounded a lot like him.”

Well, he does have that central casting cleaner’s voice, so perhaps we ought to leave the case file open. Even so, for the journalists who recall the barefaced whoppers Cameron was able to tell them back in those days, this week has not been an occasion to break out the smelling salts. “I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not,” Cameron claimed to Robert Peston in his belated confession. What about a cleaner? Or a football fan? Evidently the PM judged it the wrong moment to bring up either impersonations of the help, or Aston Villa. Or, indeed, West Ham. Still, at some point, Fortune was always going to collect on the deal Cameron foolishly made when he called the comedian Jimmy Carr’s (also legal) tax arrangements “morally wrong”. Showbiz now joins football on the list of things upon which he ought never to comment again.

Explaining to Peston that “my dad was a man I love and miss every day”, Cameron admitted that he and his wife had in fact invested in Ian Cameron’s offshore firm Blairmore in 1997, then sold their stake in 2010 for “something like £30,000”. That Cameron’s shifty cover-up has been more damaging than his non-crime is almost too insultingly obvious to state. He will not be assisted by the subconscious dismissiveness in that styling – “something like £30,000”. There is a fine line between fastidious precision and sounding like something north of the average British salary is rather forgettable, and the PM fell on the wrong side of it.

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Cameron as PM now guarantees a Brexit vote. But who to replace him? Can’t be Osborne.

The Brexit Nightmare Is Becoming Reality (G.)

[..] Three years ago Cameron put the future of the UK – and even its territorial integrity (think Scotland) – at stake by setting off towards an in-out referendum on the EU as a way of managing his own party. It is obvious he has failed to put internal Tory dissent to rest. That Boris Johnson has sided with leave brings to mind how in 2005 Laurent Fabius, one of France’s socialist heavyweights, opted for no against his own party’s leadership in the referendum campaign on the EU constitution. That led to disastrous results – despite a majority of the French media calling for a yes vote. In Britain the media has long been Eurosceptic. Even the BBC seems hesitant these days. The Daily Telegraph describes the EU as either a threatening entity for Britain, or too weak an institution to protect it.

And long gone are the days when authoritative European voices could reach out to British voters in a convincing manner – as when Jacques Delors singlehandedly swayed the British left towards a pro-European position in 1988. The French president, François Hollande, is dismally weak, and Angela Merkel is less politically sturdy than she once was. Populist movements whose leaders believe they stand to benefit from a British exit are on the rise across the continent. The deeper phenomenon at work is a wider one. British society suffers from an identity crisis not unlike those that have hit other western countries in the wake of globalisation and the 2008 financial crisis. Fragmentation is spreading everywhere as nations become more inward-looking and worried about how the world is changing.

In the British case this general sense of disarray now has the opportunity to express itself in a referendum. Britain’s image has often been associated with common decency, sober assessment and cool-headedness. But this is an age of extremes when moderate voices are fast drowned out by radical slogans. Of course, Cassandras have been wrong before about the European project. The eurozone has held together. Grexit didn’t happen. Merkel may be weaker, but she has not lost power. Yet it would be foolish not to see that the omens for Britain remaining in the EU are very poor. But does anyone care? If they do, they need to wake up now and shout stop.

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Curious: in defense of tax evaders, saying that they pay so much tax.

Swiss Finance Minister Offers Defense For Rich Caught Up In Panama Papers (R.)

Switzerland’s finance minister has defended the use of offshore companies by the world’s wealthy to cut their tax bills, now under scrutiny after publication of the “Panama Papers”. “You have to create these opportunities,” Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), told Swiss newspaper Blick in an interview published on Friday. “Rich people pay a lot more tax than me,” said Maurer. “I am not rich – and without the rich I would have to pay more tax.” Four decades of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies and has offices in Zurich and Geneva, showed widespread use of those instruments by global banks and triggered investigations around the world.

Maurer’s comments were not echoed by the head of Switzerland’s financial watchdog Mark Branson on Thursday. He said the country’s banks must clamp down on money laundering in the wake of the Panama Papers. The Geneva prosecutor has also opened a criminal inquiry in connection with the millions of documents leaked to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. They then became part of a broader investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Switzerland is the world’s biggest international wealth management center with around $2.5 trillion in assets and has taken on more wealth of late from emerging markets, from which it is harder determine the origin of assets, Branson said.

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Iceland is all of us, on a more practical scale.

Tax Scandal Reheats Iceland Politics (FT)

In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland – one of its unlikely epicentres – has recovered far better than most. It is enjoying robust economic growth, low income inequality and a 4 per cent unemployment rate that would make southern Europe’s lost generation salivate. So why are so many Icelanders now trying to topple their government, hurling eggs, Skyr yoghurt and even fish heads at the parliament? The immediate answer is buried within the Panama Papers of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, which this week revealed prime minister Sigurdur David Gunnlaugsson’s links with an offshore company. In so doing, they prompted protests that rocked Reykjavik and eventually forced Mr Gunnlaugsson’s resignation.

Yet the episode has also laid bare the deep divisions and unresolved anger still festering beneath the subarctic island’s social surface since the 2008 crisis. The politics that have flowed from it are all the more intimate on an island of just 330,000 souls. There are two nations in this country, the ones who own everything… and the rest of us, said Kristjan Saevald, a 28-year-old graphic designer and keen participant in demonstrations outside Iceland’s parliament and presidential residence. “We are sick of it. It’s not just a change of government we want, it’s a change of the system,” Mr Saevald said. For him and others who feel that the pain of Iceland’s rebuilding has not been shared equally, the ruling coalition’s replacement of Mr Gunnlaugsson with his fisheries minister, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, is unlikely to assuage their anger.

Just minutes after Mr Johannsson’s appointment, Asdis Thoroddsen, a tour guide and film-maker, stood in a chill wind outside Iceland’s presidential residence on a spit of coastal land near Reykjavik to show the new prime minister a symbolic red card. Ms Thoroddsen accused Mr Johannsson’s Progressives and his coalition partner, the Independence party, of presiding over a longstanding political system of patronage and state favour. “The cronyism here is very deep rooted and very hard to get rid of,” she said. Iceland’s ills were papered over by the extraordinary boom that preceded the last crisis, when a fishing-dominated economy suddenly became a global banking hub — sucking in foreign money with promises of high returns. Its citizens suddenly enjoyed among the world’s highest per-capita GDP.

Of course, the country’s overly-leveraged banks ended up crashing in spectacular fashion. This week’s demonstrations have echoed Iceland’s 2009 “pots and pans revolution”, when large crowds bashing kitchen utensils together to make more noise besieged parliament in fury and eventually forced then Independence party-led government to resign.

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One delusion fights the other.

Germany Takes Aim at the European Central Bank (Spiegel)

There was a time when the German chancellor and the head of the ECB had nice things to say about each other. Mario Draghi spoke of a “good working relationship,” while Angela Merkel noted “broad agreement.” Draghi, said Merkel, is extremely supportive “when it comes to European competitiveness.” These days, though, meetings between the two most powerful politicians in the euro zone are often no different than their face-to-face at the most recent summit in Brussels. She observed that his forced policy of cheap money is endangering the business model of Germany’s Sparkassen savings banks and retirement insurance companies. He snarled back that the sectors would simply have to adapt, just as the American financial sector has. The alienation between Germany and the ECB has reached a new level.

Back in deutsche mark times, Europeans often joked that the Germans “may not believe in God, but they believe in the Bundesbank,” as Germany’s central bank is called. Today, though, when it comes to relations between the ECB and the German population, people are more likely to speak of “parallel universes.” ECB head Draghi doesn’t understand why he is getting so much resistance from the country that has profited from the euro more than any other. Yet Germans blame Draghi for miniscule yields on savings accounts and life/retirement insurance policies. Frustration is growing. Draghi has pushed the prime rate down to zero and now even charges commercial banks a fee for parking their money at the ECB. He has also bought almost €2 trillion worth of bonds from euro-zone member states, making the ECB one of the largest state creditors of all time.

During his most recent appearance before the Frankfurt reporter pool, he went even further. The idea of pumping money directly into the economy, he said, was a “very interesting concept,” with a helicopter to distribute the money across the country if necessary, as economists have half-jokingly recommended. Doing so is seen as a way of boosting the economy. German money being thrown out of a helicopter: It would be difficult to find a more fitting image to show people that the money they have set aside for retirement may soon be worth very little. The criticism of Draghi had already been significant, but his public ruminations about so-called “helicopter money” have magnified it to extreme levels.

Even economists that tend to back the ECB, such as Peter Bofinger, who is one of Merkel’s economic advisors, are now accusing Draghi of constantly “pulling new rabbits out of the hat.” Leading representatives of the banking and insurance sectors are openly speaking of legal violations. And strategists within Merkel’s governing coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), are concerned that Draghi is handing the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) yet another issue where they can score points with the voters. There is hardly any other issue that enrages Germans at town meetings and political party conventions as much as the disappearance of their savings due to the “unconventional measures” adopted by the ECB in Frankfurt.

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“..laissez-faire market experimentation intended to prove a fundamental point about the capacity of free markets to organise the economy without the necessary subjugation of free will..”

The Eurodollar As An Economic No-Man’s Land (Kaminska)

What’s the euro really? The collective currency of sovereigns subscribed to the European monetary system? Or an international bridging platform — a no man’s land if you will — for laissez-faire market experimentation intended to prove a fundamental point about the capacity of free markets to organise the economy without the necessary subjugation of free will? The euro-zone, we propose, is not what it seems. And if we see it as something it’s not, it’s mainly because we’ve forgotten the history which made it the thing it is today. That though is the story of the rise and dominance of European-brokered international capital markets from the 1960s onwards, a system itself predicated on the rise of the no-man’s land neutral security: Eurodollars. Euromoney. Eurocurrency. Eurobonds. Eurosecurities.

But also… Offshore arrangements. Through this particular looking glass, offshore doesn’t stand for a safe haven loophole which allows the elite to escape their social duties and obligations. It stands for something entirely different. A honey trap designed to lure capital away from outrageous spending in the consumption markets today, and over to the funding of much riskier development in territories or classes yet to be assimilated to westernised cultural norms. It also provides a neutral territory or common ground were capital can be ranked pari passu irrespective of where it’s come from, for the good of international agreement, trade and neutrality. Hence why the likes of James Quarmby, a wealth structuring expert at law firm Stephenson Harwood, argue the offshore system is the essential “grease on the wheels in international trade”.

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Let the price wars begin.

Iran Steps Up Offense in Oil Market War With Price Discount (BBG)

Iran ratcheted up its offense in the oil market after breaking a pricing tradition, signaling it’s seeking to win market share at a time when rival producers are trying to forge a deal on freezing output. State-run National Iranian Oil Co. will sell the Forozan Blend crude for May to Asia below the level offered by rival Saudi Aramco for Arab Medium, the third month the Persian Gulf state is giving the discount after setting it at a premium for almost seven years through February 2016, data compiled by Bloomberg show. NIOC will also sell the Iranian Light grade to Asian customers at 60 cents below Middle East benchmark prices, a company official said on Friday, asking not to be identified because of internal policy.

While producers including Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest member, and Russia are due to meet in Doha on April 17 to discuss a deal to freeze output in a step toward clearing a global glut, Iran is determined to regain market share lost over the past few years due to sanctions over its nuclear program. To pry away customers relishing oil that is cheaper than mid-2014 levels by more than 50 percent, the Persian Gulf state is expected to focus on pricing and boosting supply. “Unquestionably, since the lifting of sanctions, the Iranians have become a force to be reckoned with in global oil markets,” said John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services Pte, who has spent more than 30 years trading crude and petroleum in Singapore. “Their mission is to recapture market share, pure and simple.”

NIOC will sell the Forozan Blend in May for Asian customers at $2.43 a barrel below the average of the Oman and Dubai benchmark grades, according to the company official. That’s 3 cents lower than state-run Saudi Aramco’s price for the similar Arab Medium variety for a third month, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Forozan was at a premium of 7 cents to the Saudi oil for February sales. The Iranian Heavy grade will sell in May to Asia at a discount of $2.60 a barrel to the Oman-Dubai average while the Soroosh variety’s price was set at $5.65 a barrel below Iranian Heavy, according to the official.

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How about that consumer society, though?!

China’s Robot Army Set To Surge (FT)

China’s uptake of industrial robots is set to rise rapidly in the coming years as higher labour costs and the heightened aspirations of workers push manufacturers to embrace automation. The development may add to fears that workers in poorer countries are most in danger of being displaced by automation, with analysis by Citi and the Oxford Martin School, a research and policy unit of the UK university, published earlier this year suggesting that more than 75% of jobs in China are at a “high risk” of computerisation. Mirae Asset Management, an Asia-focused house with $75bn of assets, predicts that China’s robot army will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 35% until 2020.

Given that the International Federation of Robotics estimates that China had 260,000 industrial robots last year, Rahul Chadha, chief investment officer of Mirae, says: “Using the rule thumb that one industrial robot replaces four to five workers, this suggests that robots have rendered more than 1m people jobless.” This figure is set to rise sharply in the coming years. As the first chart shows, the number of robots per 1,000 employees in China, as of 2013, was just 30% of the level in North America, 11% of the German figure, 9% of Japan’s tally and 7% of that in South Korea. Mirae argues that China’s use of robots is tracing the path blazed by Japan a quarter of a century ago, and still has several years of rapid expansion ahead of it, as the second chart shows.

This concurs with forecasts from the IFR, which says China acquired 57,000 robots in 2014 but is likely to be buying 150,000 a year by 2018. Mr Chadha, who calculates that robots will replace around 3.5m Chinese workers over the next five years, says: “The message that comes from the leadership is on improving productivity via automation. They are paranoid about doing things quickly, they believe they have got to because their competitors will do the same. “When I meet companies on the ground, they say ‘the demand environment is not great, what we can do is improve our processes, improve our productivity’.”

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Shadow banking.

Shanghai Wealth Management Firm Crashes To Earth As Executives Arrested (R.)

Zhongjin Capital Management made a splash in the past couple of years in Shanghai. The wealth management firm’s imposing branch office on Shanghai’s historic Bund pulled in many eager investors seeking the double-digit returns it promised on short-term financing products. It had a big profile, sponsoring popular Shanghai TV dating program “Saturday Date” and signed up domestic billiards star Pan Xiaoting as a spokesperson. But this week, the image of riches and success that it had cultivated came crashing down. Police said they arrested 21 executives linked to Zhongjin Capital on April 5 on suspicion of “illegal fundraising,” a loosely defined term applied to irregular behavior in China’s energetic but opaque shadow banking sector.

The only person named by Shanghai police so far has been top executive Xu Qin, who local media said had been arrested at the Shanghai airport on his way to get married in the Vatican. Xu has been described by domestic media as a high roller, who is under 30 years of age. Chen Jiajing, the 29-year-old chairwoman of Zhongjin’s parent Guotai Investment Holdings, cannot be located. Public statements issued this week by two Hong Kong-listed companies in which Guotai is a major stakeholder indicated they had been unable to reach her. Zhongjin employees told Reuters that other senior managers had been arrested during a raid on company offices. They were interrogated, allowed to use the bathroom only if they had a police escort, then hauled off, the staff said.

Calls to Zhongjin and Guotai headquarters in Shanghai went unanswered. Both company websites were inaccessible on Friday. The authorities did not provide further information about the case, and what the investigation’s focus is. “The really strange part was that our business hit a new all-time high on April 5, but the next day the offices were closed,” one employee who gave her name as Jiang said in a phone interview, adding that investors had been paid off on schedule the day prior to the arrests, but were unable to withdraw funds that were scheduled to mature on April 6. “The victims are the small investors and the low-level employees. We all got our friends and family to invest in the company’s products,” she said.

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Playing God.

Melting Ice Sheets Change The Way The Earth Wobbles On Its Axis (AP)

Global warming is changing the way the Earth wobbles on its polar axis, a new Nasa study has found. Melting ice sheets, especially in Greenland, are changing the distribution of weight on Earth. And that has caused both the North Pole and the wobble, which is called polar motion, to change course, according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances. Scientists and navigators have been accurately measuring the true pole and polar motion since 1899, and for almost the entire 20th century they migrated a bit toward Canada. But that has changed with this century, and now it’s moving toward England, according to study lead author Surendra Adhikari at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “The recent shift from the 20th-century direction is very dramatic,” Adhikari said.

While scientists say the shift is harmless, it is meaningful. Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona, who wasn’t part of the study, said that “this highlights how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet.” Since 2003, Greenland has lost on average more than 272 trillion kilograms of ice a year, and that affects the way the Earth wobbles in a manner similar to a figure skater lifting one leg while spinning, said Nasa scientist Eirk Ivins, the study’s co-author. On top of that, West Antarctica loses 124 trillion kgs of ice and East Antarctica gains about 74 trillion kgs of ice yearly, helping tilt the wobble further, Ivins said. They all combine to pull polar motion toward the east, Adhikari said.

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“Monday was an expensive, but meaningless show..”

Weaknesses Emerge in EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Spiegel)

When the Greek authorities announced last week that they were unable to carry out additional mass deportations because some migrants had suddenly disappeared, they were referring to people like Mohammed. Just as quickly as the deportations had begun, they came to a halt. In the dawn hours on Monday, the EU began implementing the refugee deal it recently reached with Turkey. At least that’s the way things looked. That day, 202 migrants were deported from Lesbos and Chios to Dikili in Turkey. The action was intended to show that the major exchange of refugees had begun. The same day, Syrian refugees arrived in Germany legally on flights from Turkey. By the middle of the week, no more refugees were arriving on the Greek islands. The message appeared to be getting across.

So was the deal working? The short answer is: No. “Perhaps we should wait and see a bit longer,” Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy Greek defense minister responsible for addressing the refugee crisis, says. He says the weather may have played a part and that he doesn’t want to draw premature conclusions. “But the numbers do show that something is working.” But what? Is it the deal with Turkey or the PR machinery that has accompanied it? The deportations that took place on Monday aren’t very telling in terms of whether the mechanism will ultimately work or not. The EU had set April 4 as the day of implementation because it wanted to finally show that it could produce results. The overly hasty operation had one aim: that of sending a strong message.

What went unnoticed by most, though, is that the people sent back to Turkey from Lesbos and Chios on Monday were exclusively migrants who had wanted to continue their journey to Northern Europe and had not submitted applications for asylum in Greece. But Greece had already had the ability to deport these “illegal” migrants to Turkey since 2002 within the scope of a so-called readmission agreement that both countries had agreed to. So the new deal hadn’t even been necessary for the deportations to happen. “Monday was an expensive, but meaningless show,” says Angeliki Dimitriadi, a visiting researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “Now the truly delicate work begins.”

Of the more than 3,000 migrants who are still on Lesbos, almost all have since submitted asylum applications. They hope that doing so will enable them to prevent being deported. The refugees are assuming that it will take weeks or months to process their applications. With the submission of the applications, the Greek government no longer has the right to automatically deport them; the country is legally obligated to review every application. Refugees who have applied can only be deported once asylum status has been rejected. The worry now is that thousands of people may be stuck on the island for months to come without any certainty.

Things will get more difficult when Greece soon begins rejecting Syrian refugees as planned and sending them back to Turkey. At that point, a complicated legal dispute is expected to ensue. First, it remains questionable whether Greece will be capable of carrying out the asylum procedures within only a matter of days as planned. The country lacks both money and the necessary personnel. The Greek asylum agency currently has only 295 employees at its disposal across the entire country. It often takes months if not years before decisions are made.

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And the beat goes on..

5 Refugees Drown Off Greek Island Of Samos In Aegean (AP)

Greece’s coast guard says at least five refugees have drowned in the eastern Aegean Sea after a small plastic boat capsized. The five victims, four women and a child, were found around dawn Saturday northeast of the Greek island of Samos, close to the Turkish coast. A coast guard spokeswoman says there were also five survivors: two women, two men and a child. The spokeswoman spoke on customary condition of anonymity. She says the coast guard has no information about the ages and nationalities of the refugees or the children’s gender. The survivors, who are in a state of shock, told authorities a total of 11 people were aboard the 3.5-meter boat.

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Apr 082016
 
 April 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Golden Gate Bridge under construction 1935

US Braces for Worst Earnings Season Since 2009 (BBG)
Albert Edwards: Coming ‘Tidal Wave’ Will Throw The US Into Recession (BI)
Asian Shares Drop As Banks Come Under Pressure (Reuters)
KKR’s Chilling Message about the ‘End of the Credit Cycle’ (WS)
China Steel Exports Will Stay At High Levels For Years (BBG)
US Politics Is Closing The Door On Free Trade (FT)
VW Managers ‘Refuse To Forego Bonuses’ (AFP)
It’s Time To Start Worrying About The Health Of European Banks (BBG)
More Than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren’t Making Payments (WSJ)
UK’s Cameron Admits He Profited From Father’s Offshore Fund (AFP)
European Bankers Step Down as Panama Papers Pile on Pressure
Pirate Party Backed By Almost Half Of Iceland’s Voters (Ind.)
Turkey Will Ditch Migrant Deal If EU Breaks Promises: Erdogan (AFP)
Amnesty: ‘Serious Flaws’ Mar Greek Side Of EU-Turkey Migrants’ Deal (Reuters)
Questions Mount Over EU’s Role In Processing Greece Asylum Requests (IT)
Greece Ferries Second Boat Of Migrants To Turkey Under EU Pact (Reuters)
Refugees In Greece Warn Of Suicides (G.)

See under ‘Recovery’ in your dictionary.

US Braces for Worst Earnings Season Since 2009 (BBG)

U.S. corporate profits are expected to drop the most in 6 1/2 years in the first quarter, led by a wipeout in the embattled energy sector. Earnings for companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will fall 9.8% year-over-year, which would be the sharpest decline since the third quarter of 2009 and a fourth consecutive quarter of contraction, according to Bloomberg data. Results will be insufficient to justify current stock valuations, says Alex Bellefleur, head of global macro strategy and research at Pavilion Global Markets.

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“The US is in for a full-blown end to the economic cycle.”

Albert Edwards: Coming ‘Tidal Wave’ Will Throw The US Into Recession (BI)

A tidal wave is coming to the US economy, according to Albert Edwards, and when it crashes it’s going to throw the economy into recession. The Societe Generale economist, and noted perma-bear, believes that the profit recession facing American corporations is going to lead to a collapse in corporate credit. “Despite risk assets enjoying a few weeks in the sun our fail-safe recession indicator has stopped flashing amber and turned to red,” wrote Edwards in a note to clients on Thursday. He continued (emphasis added): “Whole economy profits never normally fall this deeply without a recession unfolding. And with the US corporate sector up to its eyes in debt, the one asset class to be avoided — even more so than the ridiculously overvalued equity market — is US corporate debt. The economy will surely be swept away by a tidal wave of corporate default.

Edwards said that many economic researchers discredit profits as a measure of the business cycle, and it is one of the reasons why they are so bad at predicting recessions. Profits are on the decline for two reasons, according to Edwards. On the one hand, they are dropping because of margin pressure from rising labor costs. But this sort of decrease because of higher wages does not always signal a recession, like in 1986. Additionally, much like the mid-1980s decline, an oil-price crash is disproportionately dragging down profits. The second reason is because companies cannot pass on these increasing wage pressures to consumers through prices. In turn, they decrease spending and hiring, and the most vulnerable cannot make debt payments.

Edwards enumerated three reasons why this time around is a recessionary decrease, not a 1986-style aberration. They are:
• “When the oil price slumped in 1986 the economy was steaming ahead at a 4% pace and so withstood the downturn in business investment.”
• “In 1986 Fed Funds were cut from over 8% to less than 6% at a time when the consumer was re-leveraging, i.e. not debt averse as now.”
• “Finally, companies in 1986 were not up to their necks in debt as they currently are, and their solvency now is far more vulnerable to a profits downturn.”

So this time will not be a quick, oil-driven recovery. The US is in for a full-blown end to the economic cycle. Edwards did include some advice to investors on how to weather the coming wave, though. “And if I had to pick one asset class to avoid it would be US corporate bonds, for which sky high default rates will shock investors,” he wrote. You’ve been warned.

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This will only lead to more stimulus until and unless financial markets start applying serious pressure.

Asian Shares Drop As Banks Come Under Pressure (Reuters)

Asian shares extended losses to three-week lows on Friday, while the yen soared to a 17-month high against the dollar as investors bet Japan would be hard pressed to drive down its currency in the face of widespread foreign opposition. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5%, heading for a weekly drop of 1.8%. Japan’s Nikkei pared earlier losses to near-two-month lows to trade 0.6% lower, with financials under pressure. It’s on track for a decline of 3.1% for the week. China’s Shanghai Composite slid 0.9%, poised for a similar drop for the week. The CSI 300 was down 0.8%, set for a 1.2% weekly decline. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.7%, headed for 1.9% loss for the week.

Bank shares led losses in Europe and the U.S. markets on Thursday, amid talk of more layoffs and cutbacks planned by Europe’s major lenders as they struggle with zero rates. The U.S. S&P 500 lost 1.2%, with financial shares falling 1.9%. In Europe, the FTSE closed down 0.8%, hurt by a drop of more than 2% in financials. “When bank shares are making big falls and their CDS spreads are rising like this, obviously you would think something is afoot. If they keep falling in today’s session, that is going to be really worrying,” said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank. U.S. stock futures slipped about 0.1% further in Asian trade after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, in a conversation with former Fed chairmen, said the U.S. economy is on a solid course and still on track to warrant further interest rate hikes.

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All vultures all the way.

KKR’s Chilling Message about the ‘End of the Credit Cycle’ (WS)

After seven years of “emergency” monetary policies that allowed companies to borrow cheaply even if they didn’t have the cash flow to service their debts, other than by borrowing even more, has created the beginnings of a tsunami of defaults. The number of corporate defaults in the fourth quarter 2015 was the fifth highest on record. Three of the other four quarters were in 2009, during the Financial Crisis. At stake? $8.2 trillion in corporate bonds outstanding, up 77% from ten years ago! On top of nearly $2 trillion in commercial and industrial loans outstanding, up over 100% from ten years ago. Debt everywhere! Of these bonds, about $1.8 trillion are junk-rated, according to JP Morgan data. Standard & Poor’s warned that the average credit rating of US corporate borrowers, at “BB,” and thus in junk territory, hit a record low, even “below the average we recorded in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 credit crisis.”

The risks? A company with a credit rating of B- has a 1-in-10 chance of defaulting within 12 months! In total, $4.1 trillion in bonds will mature over the next five years. If companies cannot get new funds at affordable rates, they might not be able to redeem their bonds. Even before then, some will run out of cash to make interest payments. A bunch of these companies are outside the energy sector. They have viable businesses that throw off plenty of cash, but not enough cash to service their mountains of debts! Among them are brick-and-mortar retailers that have been bought out by private equity firms and have since been loaded up with debt. And they include over-indebted companies like iHeart Communications, Sprint, or Univsion.

The “end of the credit cycle” has dawned upon the markets. As credit tightens, companies that can’t service their debts from operating cash flows may be denied new credit with which to service existing debts. The recipe of new creditors’ bailing out existing creditors worked like a charm for the past seven years. But it isn’t working so well anymore. What follows is a debt restructuring — either in bankruptcy court or otherwise. Money is now piling up in funds run by private equity firms, to be deployed at the right moment to profit from this. But not by playing the entire market, or to bail out existing investors. No way. This money will be deployed at the expense of existing investors. One of the biggest players is PE firm KKR, which just raised $3.35 billion to take advantage of opportunities in “distressed assets.” Existing investors, brace yourself!

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The west doesn’t stand a chance without protectionism.

China Steel Exports Will Stay At High Levels For Years (BBG)

Exports of steel from China will remain at high levels as local demand shrinks for years, according to Li Xinchuang, president of the country’s Metallurgical Planning Institute, who said mills in developed markets including the U.K. are struggling because their competitiveness is weak. While export volumes won’t increase from last year’s record, they won’t decline significantly either, Li said. Steel overcapacity is a global problem and China is already playing its part with proposals to close as much as 150 million tons that will put more than half a million people out of work, Li said, speaking in an interview and at a conference. Steel shipments from China surged in 2015 as Asia’s largest economy slowed and domestic demand shrank, with the flood of cargoes boosting global competition, hurting prices and squeezing profits. Britain faces an industry crisis after India’s Tata Steel said last week it was considering selling its unprofitable U.K. division, jeopardizing about 15,000 jobs.

Some steelmakers in the U.K. and U.S. “can’t meet local demand and they can’t compete globally,” Li said on Wednesday, rejecting claims that shipments from China are traded unfairly. “China is competitive for three reasons: good price, good service, good quality.” Tata Steel’s plan to sell its British plants has led to U.K. calls for tougher trade measures against China, which accounts for half of global output. China is prepared to defend itself at the World Trade Organization, according to Li, who’s also deputy secretary general of the China Iron & Steel Association. Fortescue CEO Nev Power sees the country becoming more competitive. “The new steel mills that are being built in China are very efficient, very energy-efficient, very productive,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Thursday. “China is setting itself up to be a very competitive supplier to other emerging economies throughout Asia.”

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Sign of the times.

US Politics Is Closing The Door On Free Trade (FT)

Donald Trump wants to slap punitive tariffs on China. Hillary Clinton opposes the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership she once hailed as a gold standard for a new generation of free trade deals. Republicans are embracing Democrat demands for “fair” trade. The US, the architect of the open global system, is turning inwards. The rest of the world should sit up. This is about more than the raw political emotions stirred by a US presidential race. The WTO’s failed Doha Round saw the end of the multilateral trade liberalisation that gave us the globalised economy. The failure of the TPP would read the rites over the big plurilateral deals that promised an alternative. Free trade has been a powerful source of prosperity. It has lost political legitimacy. And not only in the US: European populists of left and right share the Trumpian disposition to throw up the barricades.

Optimists hope the protectionist turn in the US is cyclical. Things will get back to normal once the cacophony of the presidential contest subsides. Freed from the primary challenge of Bernie Sanders, Mrs Clinton, the most likely successor to President Barack Obama, will find a way to change her mind again. The TPP could yet be smuggled through Congress during the lame-duck interlude after November’s elections. Such is the line from Mr Obama’s White House and from a diminishing band of Republicans true to their free trade heritage. All the evidence points the other way. Globalisation has gone out of fashion. Shrewd Washington observers have concluded that, as one puts it, “ there is not a chance in hell” of the next president or the next Congress – of whatever colour – backing the TPP.

As for the mooted, and now being negotiated, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) designed to integrate the US and European economies, dream on. Mr Trump has struck a powerful chord among his core constituency in blaming foreigners for America’s economic ills. The backlash against free trade, though, runs deeper than cheap populism. The middle classes have seen scant evidence of the gains once promised for past deals. Republicans, fearful that they have already lost the presidency, do not want to risk handing Congress to fair-trade Democrats. Some problems are specific to the TPP. The prospective wins for the US are heavily tilted towards technology businesses on the west coast.

Manufacturing America thinks it secures little in the way of better access to Asian markets and complains that the deal leaves US companies vulnerable to currency manipulation by overseas competitors. Many more Americans than would ever gift their votes to Mr Trump question whether they get anything out of trade deals. Free trade has always created losers, but now they seem to outnumber the winners. There is nothing populist about noticing that globalisation has seen the top 1% grab an ever-larger share of national wealth.

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Time for shareholders.

VW Managers ‘Refuse To Forego Bonuses’ (AFP)

Top executives at Volkswagen are refusing to forego their bonuses this year, despite prescribing belt-tightening for the carmaker’s workforce in the wake of the massive emissions-cheating scandal, the weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday. Without naming its sources, the magazine said that shortly before a supervisory board decision that executive board members had made it clear they were willing to “accept a cut in their bonuses, but not forego them entirely”, even though they have repeatedly told the workforce that the crisis threatens the group’s very existence. VW’s former chief executive Martin Winterkorn received a bonus of more than €3 million a year ago. A company spokesman told AFP that the board pay would be published in VW’s annual report on April 28.

“The management board is determined to set an example when it comes to the adjustment in the bonuses,” he said, dismissing the Spiegel article as “pure speculation.” Winterkorn’s successor Matthias Mueller was parachuted in last year to steer the carmaker out of its deepest-ever crisis which erupted when VW was exposed as having installed emissions-cheating software into 11 million diesel engines worldwide. At the time, Mueller told the workforce that there would have to be “belt-tightening at all levels” from management down to the workers. But according to Der Spiegel, the former finance chief Hans-Dieter Poetsch, who was appointed to the head of the supervisory board in October, pocketed nearly €10 million as “compensation” for the lower pay he would receive as a result.

The scandal is expected to cost VW still incalculable billions of euros in fines and possible legal costs. Unions are concerned that the belt-tightening needed to cope with the fallout from the engine-rigging scandal could lead to job cuts. “We have the impression that the diesel engine scandal could be used as a backdoor for job cuts that weren’t up for discussion until a couple of months ago,” the works council wrote in a letter to the management of VW’s own brand and published on the website of the powerful IG Metall labour union.

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“.. 90% of the world’s banks will have disappeared in the next 20 years..”

It’s Time To Start Worrying About The Health Of European Banks (BBG)

European banks have lost their mojo. A toxic combination of negative interest rates, comatose economies and a regulatory backdrop that might euphemistically be described as challenging is wreaking havoc with bank business models. Their collective market value has dropped by a quarter so far this year. The smoke signals emanating from the European Central Bank in recent weeks suggest regulators aren’t blind to this. Daniele Nouy, who chairs the ECB’s bank supervisory board, said earlier this week that the central bank “is aware that the low-interest-rate environment is putting pressure on the profitability of European banks.” Regulators may respond by going easier when drafting new rules.

Bank-failure rules to prescribe how banks design their balance sheets to absorb potential losses may be eased, according to a European Commission discussion paper prepared last month. Meanwhile, a global panel of regulators will hold a meeting in London this month to let banks give additional feedback on proposed rules about how much capital they must set aside to back their trading activities. This comes none too soon. The drop in industry capitalization, which reflects investor unease about future profitability, is rearranging the pecking order in European finance. Deutsche Bank, for example, was the most active manager of European bond sales in 2014 with a market share approaching 6.5%; last year it slipped to third, and so far this year it ranks fourth. At the end of 2015 the German lender was Europe’s 14th biggest bank; now it’s 20th:

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer John Cryan said last month that, burdened by restructuring and legal costs, he doesn’t expect his firm to be profitable this year. It’s far from the only one struggling; on Tuesday, Barclays warned that its first-quarter investment banking income will be worse than it was last year. In Italy, officials are scrambling to create a state-backed fund to prop up an industry burdened by more than €200 billion of the €1.2 trillion of bad loans hampering the euro zone’s recovery. No wonder ECB President Mario Draghi spent much of his press conference a month ago answering questions about the damage negative interest rates are doing to banks. They have to pay for the privilege of holding cash on deposit at the central bank, but can’t pass those costs onto their own depositors.

The current structure of the banking system is “unfeasible,” and 90% of the world’s banks will have disappeared in the next 20 years, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA Chairman Francisco Gonzalez said in an interview published by El Pais newspaper last week. Banks that can’t cover their cost of capital aren’t viable, making industry consolidation inevitable, he said.

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Subprime revisited. The weight will shift from borrowers to lenders.

More Than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren’t Making Payments (WSJ)

More than 40% of Americans who borrowed from the government’s main student-loan program aren’t making payments or are behind on more than $200 billion owed, raising worries that millions of them may never repay. The new figures represent the fallout of a decadelong borrowing boom as record numbers of students enrolled in trade schools, universities and graduate schools. While most have since left school and joined the workforce, 43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1, according to a quarterly snapshot of the Education Department’s $1.2 trillion student-loan portfolio. About 1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt, meaning they had gone at least a year without making a payment.

Three million more owing roughly $66 billion were at least a month behind. Meantime, another three million owing almost $110 billion were in “forbearance” or “deferment,” meaning they had received permission to temporarily halt payments due to a financial emergency, such as unemployment. The figures exclude borrowers still in school and those with government-guaranteed private loans. The situation improved slightly from a year earlier, when the nonpayment rate was 46%, but that progress largely reflected a surge in those entering a program for distressed borrowers to lower their payments. Enrollment in those plans, which slash monthly bills by tying them to a small%age of a borrower’s income, jumped 48% over the year to 4.6 million borrowers as of Jan. 1.

Advocacy groups, some members of Congress and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fault loan servicers—companies the government hires to collect debt—for not doing enough to reach troubled borrowers to offer such payment options. “The servicers aren’t quite promoting them in the way they should be—I think some of it’s information failure,” said Rachel Goodman, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Foot. Mouth.

UK’s Cameron Admits He Profited From Father’s Offshore Fund (AFP)

British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted Thursday he had held a £30,000 stake in an offshore fund set up by his father, after days of pressure following publication of the so-called Panama Papers. Cameron sold the stake in the Bahamas-based trust in 2010, four months before he became prime minister, he said in an interview with television channel ITV. Downing Street have issued four statements on the affair this week following Sunday’s publication of the leaked Panama Papers, which showed how Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca had helped firms and wealthy individuals set up offshore companies. “We owned 5,000 units in Blairmore Investment Trust, which we sold in January 2010. That was worth something like £30,000,” Cameron said.

“I sold them all in 2010, because if I was going to become prime minister I didn’t want anyone to say you have other agendas, vested interests.” He insisted he had paid income tax on the dividends from the sale of the units, which he bought in 1997. Downing Street first dismissed the story as a private matter on Monday before saying Cameron had no offshore funds, then saying he and his wife and children did not benefit from any offshore funds. It later added that Cameron would not benefit from such funds in the future. The row is the latest headache for Cameron, who faces a tight race to ensure Britain stays in the European Union in a referendum due to be held on June 23.

The prime minister has been under intense pressure from the main opposition Labour party and media this week to come clean over his financial arrangements past and present. Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson told Sky News that, while it was too early to say whether Cameron should quit, “he may have to resign over this but we need to know a lot more about what his financial arrangements have been”.

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A wave of lost jobs.

European Bankers Step Down as Panama Papers Pile on Pressure

European regulators pressed the region’s banks for details of their offshore business dealings, as two senior bankers resigned over allegations arising from the Panama document leak. Britain’s financial watchdog sent out letters asking banks and other financial companies to disclose any ties to Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, said a person with knowledge of the situation. Swiss regulator Finma said it would also investigate “suspicious” connections unearthed by the Panama Papers. “The leaked database from Panama is just the latest proof of how money flows like water through multiple jurisdictions, sometimes for legitimate purposes, sometimes not,” Finma director Mark Branson told reporters in Bern on Thursday.

Media reports this week based on millions of documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca revealed how its lawyers, including a Geneva team, worked with Credit Suisse, UBS and other banks to create offshore shell companies for world leaders, athletes and other rich clients. On Thursday, ABN Amro announced the resignation of supervisory board member Bert Meerstadt after his name appeared in the leaked records. He said in a statement that he had already planned to leave but was now resigning immediately “to prevent any detrimental effects to the bank.” Meerstadt was a shareholder of a British Virgin Island-based entity in March 2001, Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad reported Thursday. ABN Amro CEO Gerrit Zalm said he had never heard of Mossack Fonseca before the leak and that he doesn’t know the facts of the case but considers it a private matter. In Austria, the chief executive officer of Vorarlberger Landes- und Hypothekenbank, resigned after the province-owned bank was mentioned in reports about offshore companies.

Michael Grahammer cited “biased” local media reports about offshore accounts linked to Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire targeted by U.S. sanctions since 2014. “I’m still 100 percent convinced that the bank has at no time violated laws or sanctions,” Grahammer said. “At the end of the day, the media bias against Hypo Vorarlberg and myself that showed in the last few days was the main reason for me to take this step.” In its letters, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority gave firms an April 15 deadline to disclose any connections to Mossack Fonseca. In Sweden, the government will consider tightening laws against money laundering and tax evasion. Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund said. He said authorities are investigating allegations that Nordea Bank, the biggest bank in Scandinavia, helped clients evade tax through shell companies in low-tax countries.

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More signs of the times.

Pirate Party Backed By Almost Half Of Iceland’s Voters (Ind.)

The Pirate Party would receive nearly half of voters’ support if Iceland held a general election now, new statistics have revealed. The anti-establishment party received 43% of the vote according to research by Icelandic media organisations Frettabladid, Stod 2 and Visir. The Progressive Party, currently in a coalition with the Independence Party, would only receive 7.9% support, Iceland Monitor reports. The rising popularity of the Pirate Party, which campaigns in favour of transparency and direct democracy, among people in Iceland is in response to the leak of the Panama Papers. The documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca reportedly revealed that Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who stood aside as Prime Minister for an unspecified amount of time earlier this week, owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands with his wife.

Mr Gunnlaugsson did not declare Wintris, which held millions in the bonds of failed Icelandic banks, when he entered parliament, according to the International Consortium of Journalists. He has denied any wrongdoing and says he sold his shares in the company to his wife. But MPs in the opposition have said it is a conflict of interest with his duties. The government has named Fisheries Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as Prime Minister and he is due to meet Iceland’s president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson on Thursday. However the opposition in planning on pursuing a vote of no confidence in the government in parliament. Earlier, Pirate Party member Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson said: We will still push forward for a proposal to dissolve parliament and hold earlier elections. Elections have now been brought forward to autumn.

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The EU will cause the deaths of many more people.

Turkey Will Ditch Migrant Deal If EU Breaks Promises: Erdogan (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday warned the European Union that Ankara would not implement a key deal on reducing the flow of migrants if Brussels failed to fulfil its side of the bargain. Erdogan’s typically combative comments indicated that Ankara would not sit still if the EU fell short on a number of promises in the deal, including visa-free travel to Europe for Turks by this summer. Meanwhile, the Vatican confirmed that the pope would next week make a brief, unprecedented trip to the Greek island of Lesbos where thousands of migrants are facing potential deportation to Turkey under the deal. “There are precise conditions. If the European Union does not take the necessary steps, then Turkey will not implement the agreement,” Erdogan said in a speech at his presidential palace in Ankara.

The March 18 accord sets out measures for reducing Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II, including stepped-up checks by Turkey and the shipping back to Turkish territory of migrants who land on the Greek islands. In return, Turkey is slated to receive benefits including visa-free travel for its citizens to Europe, promised “at the latest” by June 2016. Turkey is also to receive a total of €6 billion in financial aid up to the end of 2018 for the 2.7 million Syrian refugees it is hosting. Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, described the visa-free regime as one of the “biggest benefits for Turkey” in the migrant deal. He told AFP that Turkey still has to fulfil 72 conditions on its side to gain visa-free travel to Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone and that the move would also have to be approved by EU interior ministers.

“We shall see if that is a realistic prospect,” he said. Turkey’s long-stalled accession process to join the EU is also supposed to be re-energised under the deal. But Pierini said there were many conditions still to be fulfilled here. “The worst reading of the EU-Turkey deal would be to imagine that Turkey is about to get a ‘discount’ on EU membership conditions just because of the refugees,” he said. Erdogan argued Turkey deserved something in return for its commitment to Syrian refugees, on whom it has spent some $10 billion since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. “Some three million people are being fed on our budget,” the president said. “There have been promises but nothing has come for the moment,” he added.

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Europe’s true character is being revealed.

Amnesty: ‘Serious Flaws’ Mar Greek Side Of EU-Turkey Migrants’ Deal (Reuters)

Migrants held on the Greek islands Lesbos and Chios live in “appalling” conditions with little access to legal aid or information about their fate under a European Union agreement that will send some back to Turkey, Amnesty International said on Thursday. Under a deal between the EU and Ankara in place since March 20, undocumented migrants who cross to Greek islands will be kept in holding centers until their asylum claims are processed. Those who do not qualify will be returned to Turkey. The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday.

“People detained on Lesbos and Chios have virtually no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their current status or possible fate,” said Amnesty Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik. “The fear and desperation are palpable,” she said. In a report published Thursday, Amnesty said among those held in the centers are a small baby with complications after an attack in Syria, heavily pregnant women, people unable to walk, and a young girl with a developmental disability. Many refugees spoke about the lack of access to doctors or medical staff. Legal aid is scarce and inaccessible to the vast majority, and asylum procedures are expected to be rushed, it said. Refugees told Amnesty that they did not get enough information about what the asylum process will entail. Many have received no or incomplete documentation of their registration.

“It is likely that thousands of asylum seekers will be returned to Turkey despite it being manifestly unsafe for them,” Amnesty wrote. Monitors visited the islands this week. One Syrian woman told Amnesty she and her family signed several documents despite not having an interpreter present, and were not provided with copies. “I don’t need food, I need to know what is happening,” the woman was quoted as saying. “Serious and immediate steps must be taken to address the glaring gaps we’ve documented in Lesbos and Chios,” Amnesty’s van Gulik said. “They show that in addition to Turkey not being safe for refugees at the moment, there are also serious flaws on the Greek side of the EU-Turkey deal. Until both are fully resolved, no further returns should take place.”

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Chaos is the MO.

Questions Mount Over EU’s Role In Processing Greece Asylum Requests (IT)

Four days after the deportation by the EU border agency Frontex of the first group of migrants from Greece to Turkey following the signing of the EU-Ankara deal, questions are mounting as to the EU’s role in processing asylum applications from the thousands of people who have arrived on Greece’s islands since March 20th, when the agreement came into force. While no more deportations have taken place since Monday, almost 5,500 people are now in detention on four Greek islands, 3,100 of them in the Moria hotspot on Lesbos alone, including women, children and other vulnerable groups. According to Boris Cheshirkov of the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, “close to everyone” in Moria has submitted an asylum application.

Under the new regime created by the EU-Turkey agreement, asylum applications from island detainees must be processed within two weeks, in a fast-tracked time frame that includes the appeal process. Previously, the Greek asylum service took an average of three months to adjudicate on each application. A key aspect sees the European Asylum Support Office (Easo), another EU agency, advise overburdened Greek asylum officials on the “admissibility” of each asylum seeker at the initial stage of processing. Easo spokesman Jean Pierre Schembri told the BBC: “This is a relatively short process involving our experts … accessing every applicant on his or her own merits. We then issue an opinion and the Greek authorities then issue the final decision.”

But human rights organisations fear the outcome of this truncated, two-step process, where Greek officials will essentially sign off on Easo recommendations, is predetermined to result in most applicants being returned to Turkey, a “safe third country” according to the agreement. Referring to Syrians, Schembri said Turkey “for one may be safe, but for the other it might not be”. Groups such as Amnesty International say that far too many questions remain about how Easo will make its recommendations. “You can’t have confusion or doubt around these procedures before you kick it off,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe.

“The biggest question for us is what information and which criteria will be used to decide whether someone is or isn’t at risk in Turkey . . . In some cases, it is quite random how some people are targeted, so it’s not about the individual’s experience or how long they’ve lived in Turkey, alone. It’s also about Afghans not getting any status legally in Turkey if they go back. “The bottom line is that here is no permanent protection for anyone [in Turkey]. There’s only temporary protection status for Syrians and then there’s the practice of certain groups being tolerated for a certain while, which is very different to having protection, access to work and access to social services.”

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After saying yesterday nothing would happen for 2 weeks…

Greece Ferries Second Boat Of Migrants To Turkey Under EU Pact (Reuters)

A ferry carrying 45 migrants left the Greek island of Lesbos for Turkey on Friday, the second such journey carried out under a controversial EU deal to stem mass irregular migration to Europe. A second boat carrying a larger group was scheduled to leave the island later in the morning, state TV reported. Those who left early on Friday were from Pakistan, it said. The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday. At the port of Mytilene, at least two activists jumped into the water close to the small ferry, dangling from the heavy chain of the anchor and flashing the ‘v’ sign for victory. They were hoisted out of the water by the Greek coastguard.

The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday. Under the EU-Turkey deal, Ankara will take back all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who enter Greece through irregular routes in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

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No decency, no mercy, no nothing.

Refugees In Greece Warn Of Suicides (G.)

Syrians and Afghans threatened with deportation from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios have said they would rather take their own lives than be expelled from the EU under its migration deal with Turkey. On Monday, 202 migrants were forcibly returned from Lesbos and Chios to the Turkish coast under the landmark deal aimed at halting “irregular” migration to Europe. But Souaob Nouri from Kabul, who is held in the high-security camp in Chios, said: “If they deport us, we will kill ourselves. We will not go back.” A man next to him warned of “terrible scenes” if Greek authorities insisted on pursuing policies that have already caused alarm among human rights groups.

“We are not terrorists,” said the man, who gave his name as Akimi. “We are refugees. The conditions here are very bad. There is no water. They hit pregnant women. Why do they treat us like this? All we want is asylum.” Similar threats of self harm were echoed on Lesbos this week. In a letter passed to the Guardian by aid volunteers on the island, inmates held in the Moria detention centre wrote that they would rather “accept death” than be deported to Turkey. “We will accept death but not return back,” the letter said, adding: “We will all commit suicide if they deport us.” The expulsions have been fraught with controversy.

Thirteen of the 66 deportees who were sent back across the Aegean Sea from Chios under armed guard are believed to have “expressed intent” to apply for asylum – enough, say UN officials, to have kept them in Greece until their requests were examined. “Between 20 March when the deal came into effect and 1 April when it was voted into legislation [by Greek MPs] we have seen limits in the ability of authorities to process claims,” said Katerina Kitidi with the UN refugee agency on Chios, an east Aegean island south of Lesbos. “There has been a definite lack of clarity.” The uncertainty has quickly fuelled tensions on the island. More than 800 inmates broke out of the vastly overcrowded detention facility last week in violent scenes that ultimately saw men, women and children march into Chios town.

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Apr 072016
 
 April 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


John M. Fox “The new Hudson” 1948

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)
Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)
How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)
China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)
China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)
Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)
David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)
Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)
How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)
London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)
US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)
US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)
Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)
Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)
Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)
Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)
Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

Ambrose sees inflation?!

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)

Be very careful. The US economic expansion is long in the tooth and starting to hit the time-honoured constraints that mark the last phase of the business cycle. Wall Street equities are more stretched by a host of measures than they were at the peak of sub-prime bubble just before the Lehman crisis. All it will take to bring the S&P 500 index back to earth is a catalyst, and that is exactly what is coming into view on the macro-economic horizon. This does not mean we are on the cusp of recession or racing headlong towards some imminent reckoning, but we are probably in the final innings of this epic asset boom. Didier Saint-Georges, from fund manager Carmignac, says the “massive and indiscriminate equity market rally” since February’s panic-lows is a false dawn driven by short-covering, telling us little about the world’s deformed economic, financial, and political landscape.

Corporate earnings peaked at $1.845 trillion (£1.3 trillion) in the second quarter of 2015, and recessions typically start five to seven quarters after the peak. “We will not be dancing on the volcano like so many others,” said Saint-Georges. If we are lucky it will be a slow denouement with a choppy sideways market going nowhere for another year as the US labour market tightens, and workers at last start to claw back a greater share of the economic pie. The owners of capital have had it their way for much of the post-Lehman era, exorbitant beneficiaries of central bank largesse. Now they may have to give a little back to society. Yet this welcome “rotation” spells financial trouble. Strategists Mislav Matejka and Emmanuel Cau, from JP Morgan, have told clients to prepare for the end of the seven-year bull run, advising them to trim equities gradually and build up a safety buffer in cash.

“This is not the stage of the US cycle when one should be buying stocks with a six to 12-month horizon. We recommend using any strength as a selling opportunity,” they said. Their recent 165-page report on the subject is a sobering read. The price-to-sales ratio (P/S) of US stocks is higher than any time in the sub-prime boom. Share buy-backs are at an historic high in relation to earnings (EBIT). Net debt-to-equity ratios have blown through their historical range. This is happening despite two quarters of tighter lending by US banks. Spreads on high-yield debt have doubled since 2014, jumping by 300 basis points even after stripping out the energy bust. The list goes on; the message is clear. “One should be cutting equity weight before the weakness becomes obvious,” they said.

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Hillary equals more of the same. The same disaster.

Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)

There aren’t a lot of certainties left in the US presidential race, but here’s one thing about which we can be absolutely sure: The Clinton camp really doesn’t like talking about fossil-fuel money. Last week, when a young Greenpeace campaigner challenged Hillary Clinton about taking money from fossil-fuel companies, the candidate accused the Bernie Sanders campaign of “lying” and declared herself “so sick” of it. As the exchange went viral, a succession of high-powered Clinton supporters pronounced that there was nothing to see here and that everyone should move along. The very suggestion that taking this money could impact Clinton’s actions is “baseless and should stop,” according to California Senator Barbara Boxer. It’s “flat-out false,” “inappropriate,” and doesn’t “hold water,” declared New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went so far as to issue “guidelines for good and bad behavior” for the Sanders camp. The first guideline? Cut out the “innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt.” That’s a whole lot of firepower to slap down a non-issue. So is it an issue or not? First, some facts. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including her Super PAC, has received a lot of money from the employees and registered lobbyists of fossil-fuel companies. There’s the much-cited $4.5 million that Greenpeace calculated, which includes bundling by lobbyists. One of Clinton’s most active financial backers is Warren Buffett, who is up to his eyeballs in coal. But that’s not all. There is also a lot more money from sources not included in those calculations. For instance, one of Clinton’s most prominent and active financial backers is Warren Buffett.

While he owns a large mix of assets, Buffett is up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. Then there’s all the cash that fossil-fuel companies have directly pumped into the Clinton Foundation. In recent years, Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have all contributed to the foundation. An investigation in the International Business Times just revealed that at least two of these oil companies were part of an effort to lobby Clinton’s State Department about the Alberta tar sands, a massive deposit of extra-dirty oil. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen have explained that if we don’t keep the vast majority of that carbon in the ground, we will unleash catastrophic levels of warming.

During this period, the investigation found, Clinton’s State Department approved the Alberta Clipper, a controversial pipeline carrying large amounts of tar-sands bitumen from Alberta to Wisconsin. “According to federal lobbying records reviewed by the IBT,” write David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff, “Chevron and ConocoPhillips both lobbied the State Department specifically on the issue of ‘oil sands’ in the immediate months prior to the department’s approval, as did a trade association funded by ExxonMobil.”

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“All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem.”

How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)

For months now, China’s regulators have been warning about the dangers of rapidly expanding credit and the need to deleverage. With new plans to clean up bad loans at the country’s banks, you might conclude that the government is getting serious about the risks it faces. But there’s reason to doubt the effectiveness of China’s approach. In fact, it’s running a serious risk of making its debt problems worse. After the financial crisis, China embarked on a credit binge of historical proportions. In 2009, new loans grew by 95%. The government offered cheap credit to build apartments for urban migrants, airports for the newly affluent and roads to accommodate a fleet of new cars. Yet as lending grew at twice the rate of GDP, problems started bubbling up. Companies gained billion-dollar valuations, then collapsed when they couldn’t profit.

Enormous surplus capacity drove down prices. Excessive real-estate lending led to the construction of “ghost cities.” Asset bubbles popped and bad loans mounted. China’s policy makers say they recognize these problems. The government’s most recent 5-year plan, released in December, notes the need for deleveraging. The PBOC has talked up the party line about slowing credit growth and making high-quality loans. Yet officials still say that only about 1.6% of commercial-banking loans are nonperforming. Some analysts put the real figure closer to 20%. And Beijing’s primary plan to address the problem – allowing companies to swap their debt with banks in exchange for equity – actually creates new risks. For one thing, while a debt-for-equity swap may help excessively indebted firms, it will wreak havoc with banks.

Directly, a given bank will no longer receive the cash flow from interest and principal payments. Indirectly, it won’t be able to sell equity to the PBOC or to other banks as it could with a loan. Valuing the equity could present a bigger problem. In China, banks must count 100% of loans made to non-financial companies against their reserve requirements. When they invest in equity, however, they must set aside 400% of the value of the investment. If the debt isn’t worth face value to the bank, it seems unlikely that the equity is worth far more – suggesting that large write-downs will be required. The swaps program also creates a number of big-picture problems. Consider the tight relationship between banks and large government-linked companies.

If banks were under pressure to roll over loans when they were creditors hoping to get repaid, what will their incentive be when they own the firm and have essentially unlimited lending capacity? Another problem is that Chinese industry exists in a deflationary debt spiral: Prices have been falling for years, raising the real cost of repaying loans. If companies are relieved of their debt, they’ll have an incentive to reduce prices to gain market share, thus worsening one of the primary causes of the current malaise. All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem. Debt-for-equity swaps and loan rollovers simply aren’t long-term solutions for ailing companies on the scale China faces.

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All that monopoly money behaves like liquid gas.

China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)

Cash is pouring into Hong Kong stocks from across the mainland border. Chinese investors have been net buyers of the city’s shares for 104 consecutive trading days, sinking 43.8 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) into equities from October through Tuesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg tracking investments via the exchange link with Shanghai. Mainland traders have now put more money into Hong Kong than global asset managers have invested in Shanghai, a reversal of flows in the link’s first year, the data show. As concern persists about a further slide in the yuan, Chinese investors are piling into cheaper shares across the border that have lagged behind mainland counterparts for years.

While the flows are small relative to estimates of the record capital flight from China in 2015, they’re another sign of what’s at stake for policy makers seeking to stabilize the currency and stem outflows by providing credible investment options at home. “In China, there is talk of an asset drought – people don’t find domestic assets particularly attractive,” said Tai Hui at JPMorgan. “They are investing overseas in any way possible including via the southbound stock connect.” Buying mainland Chinese stocks has been a losing proposition this year, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index down 14%. Other investment alternatives such as property are coming under scrutiny as authorities impose fresh curbs after home prices jumped in the biggest cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

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What’s next? Compete with OPEC?

China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)

China may be about to shock the global copper market by unleashing some of its stockpiles of the metal, which are near record highs, onto the global market. Four traders of copper, including two from state-owned Chinese smelters, said they expect China to raise its copper exports – which are usually tiny – in the next few months. China’s refined copper exports averaged less than 10,000 tonnes a month in the first two months of 2016, and around 17,000 a month in 2015. If higher exports materialize, they will be a major jolt to producers and investors in the metal across the world – in particular because it would come during what is traditionally the strongest period of demand for copper from China, the world’s largest consumer of the metal. It will also be a further sign that the Chinese economy is still struggling against headwinds. Some sectors that buy copper – such as construction and manufacturing – have been hit especially hard in the past couple of years.

Traders and analysts in China say slowing building construction and electronics manufacturing has stifled demand for refined copper from the nation’s massive smelting sector at a time when the country is already swimming in the metal. China’s copper consumption has been a crucial measure of the country’s economic growth as the metal forms the essential network of its infrastructure, carrying water, conducting electricity and comprising the circuits in its machines. “The situation for copper smelters in China is probably the worst it has been in 20 years. But they won’t admit it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least (if they start exporting),” said a source at an Asian copper producer, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Increasing Chinese exports would mark an abrupt turnaround in global copper trade flows as China’s refined copper imports hit a record in 2015.

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Looking at China, it’s hard not to think of 1789, Robespierre, Marie-Antoinette, Bastille. Napoleon next?

Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)

The eight members of China’s Communist party elite whose family members used offshore companies are revealed in the Panama Papers. The documents show the granddaughter of a powerful Chinese leader became the sole shareholder in two British Virgin Islands companies while still a teenager. Jasmine Li had just begun studying at Stanford University in the US when the companies were registered in her name in December 2010. Her grandfather Jia Qinglin was at that time the fourth-ranked politician in China. Other prominent figures who have taken advantage of offshore companies include the brother-in-law of the president, Xi Jinping, and the son-in-law of Zhang Gaoli, another member of China’s top political body, the politburo standing committee.

They are part of the “red nobility”, whose influence extends well beyond politics. Others include the daughter of Li Peng, who oversaw the brutal retaliation against Tiananmen Square protestors; and Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, the ex-politburo member jailed for life for corruption and power abuses. The relatives had companies that were clients of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. There is nothing in the documents to suggest that the politicians in question had any beneficial interest in the companies connected to their family members. Since Monday, China’s censors have been blocking access to the unfolding revelations about its most senior political families. There are now reports of censors deleting hundreds of posts on the social networks Sina Weibo and Wechat, and some media organisations including CNN say parts of their websites have been blocked.

The disclosures come amid Xi Jinping’s crackdown on behaviour that could embarrass the Communist party. Two more well-connected figures – the brother of former vice-president Zeng Qinghong and the son of former politburo member Tian Jiyun – are directors of a single offshore company. They have previously been linked in a court case that highlighted how some Chinese “princelings” have used political connections for financial gain. They have emerged from the internal data of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. [..] China and Hong Kong were Mossack Fonseca’s biggest sources of business, with clients from these jurisdictions linked to a total of 40,000 companies past and present. About a quarter of these are thought to be live: in 2015, records show the firm was collecting fees for nearly 10,000 companies linked to Hong Kong and China. The Mossack Fonseca franchise now has offices in eight Chinese cities, according to its website

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How much pressure will he get?

David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)

David Cameron personally intervened in 2013 to weaken an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of trusts, creating a possible loophole that other European nations warned could be exploited by tax evaders. The disclosure of the prime minister’s resistance to opening up trusts to full scrutiny comes as he faces intense pressure to make clear whether his family stands to benefit from offshore assets linked to his late father. Although Mr Cameron championed corporate tax transparency, he wrote in November 2013 to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council at the time, to argue that trusts widely used for inheritance planning in Britain should win special treatment in an EU law to tackle money laundering.

In the letter, seen by the Financial Times, Mr Cameron said: “It is clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts. This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies, such as central public registries, may well not be appropriate generally.” Britain has emerged as the strongest European rival to Switzerland for private banking and wealth management, administering £1.2tn of assets, according to Deloitte. The sector contributed £3.2bn to the economy, according to 2014 estimates from the British Bankers’ Association. A senior government source said that Mr Cameron’s letter reflected official advice that creating a central registry for trusts would have been complex and would have distracted from the main objective of shining a light on the ownership of shell companies.

“It would have slowed down the process because of the different types of trust involved,” the official said. “They are sometimes used to protect vulnerable people, so that would have been an extra complication. “As the directive went through we reached a position where trusts which generate tax consequences had to demonstrate their ownership to HM Revenue & Customs.” According to officials, the UK stance in 2013 prompted clashes with France and Austria as well as with members of the European Parliament, who accused Britain of double standards in the fight against tax avoidance. Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister at the time, had attacked Britain earlier that year as “the island of the blessed for tax evasion and money laundering”. She cited trusts as a specific problem.

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“London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world..”

Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)

As-well as shining a spotlight on the secret financial arrangements of the rich and powerful, the so-called Panama Papers have laid bare London’s role as a vital organ of the world’s tax-haven network. The files leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca exposed Britain’s link to thousands of firms based in tax havens and how secret money is invested in British assets, particularly London property. Critics accuse British authorities of turning a blind eye to the inflow of suspect money and of being too close to the financial sector to clamp down on the use of its overseas territories as havens, with the British Virgin Islands alone hosting 110,000 of the Mossack Fonseca’s clients. “London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world,” Nicholas Shaxson, author of the book “Treasure Islands”, which examines the role of offshore banks and tax havens, told AFP.

The political analyst said that Britain itself was relatively transparent and clean, but that companies used the country’s territories abroad – relics of the days of empire – to “farm out the seedier stuff”, often under the guise of shell companies with anonymous owners. “Tax evasion and stuff like that will be done in the external parts of the network. Usually there will be links to the City of London, UK law firms, UK accountancy firms and to UK banks,” he said, calling London the centre of a “spider’s web”. “They’re all agents of the City of London – that is where the whole exercise is controlled from,” Richard Murphy, professor at London’s City University, said of the offshore havens. The files showed that Britain had the third highest number of Mossack Fonseca’s middlemen operating within its borders, with 32,682 advisers.

Although not illegal in themselves, shell companies can be used for illegal activities such as laundering the proceeds of criminal activities or to conceal misappropriated or politically-inconvenient wealth. Around 310,000 tax haven companies own an estimated £170 billion (210 billion euros, $240 billion) of British real estate, 10% of which were linked to Mossack Fonseca. The files appeared to show that the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan owned London properties worth more than £1.2 billion and that Mariam Safdar, daughter of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was the beneficial owner of two offshore companies that owned flats on the exclusive Park Lane.

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“..the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”

How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)

For three-quarters of Londoners under 35, owning a home in the capital remains out of reach. But according to the leaked Panama Papers, buying property in London presented little problem for associates of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president; for a convicted embezzler who is also the son of a former Egyptian president; or for a Nigerian senator facing corruption charges. The leaks from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have brought back into focus the ownership of London property via offshore companies by people suspected of corruption overseas — a phenomenon that has helped to shape the capital’s housing market, where prices are up 50% since 2007. “We think it very likely that the influx of corrupt money into the housing market has pushed up prices,” said Rachel Davies, senior advocacy manager at Transparency International.

Donald Toon, head of the National Crime Agency, has gone further, saying last year that “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”. Since 2004 £180m of UK property has been subject to criminal investigation as suspected proceeds of corruption, according to Transparency International data from 2015. Yet this probably represented “only a small proportion of the total”, added the campaign group. Most of these properties were bought using anonymous shell companies based in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands. Overseas companies own 100,000 properties in England and Wales, Land Registry data show. Owning property through a company can present tax advantages but, depending where that company is based, it can also offer anonymity.

According to Transparency International figures, almost one in 10 properties in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea is owned through a “secrecy jurisdiction” such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man. “UK property can be acquired anonymously, anti-money-laundering checks can be bypassed with relative ease, and if you invest in luxury property in London you know your investment is safe. All that comes from the flaws in the UK anti-money-laundering system,” said Ms Davies. According to the documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Soulieman Marouf, an al-Assad associate whose assets in Europe were frozen for two years from 2012, holds luxury flats in London worth almost £6m through British Virgin Islands companies.

The family of a deceased former Syrian intelligence chief owns a £1.2m Battersea home, the Guardian reported. The documents also link Alaa Mubarak — a son of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president — who was jailed and released last year for corruption, to an £8m Knightsbridge property. Bukola Saraki, the president of the Nigerian senate who faces charges in his home country of failing to declare assets, owns a Belgravia property, while a second is held by companies in which his wife and former special assistant are shareholders. Mr Saraki denies any wrongdoing and says he declared his assets in accordance with the law.

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This bubble too will burst.

London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)

Developers in central London are offering institutional investors discounts of as much as 20% on bulk purchases of luxury apartments as demand from international buyers slumps amid higher taxes and low commodity prices. Concessions of about that magnitude are being offered to investors willing to take 100 homes or more, according to Killian Hurley, chief executive officer of London developer Mount Anvil. Broker CBRE is negotiating discounts of as much as 15% for bulk purchases on the fringes of the capital’s best districts, said Chris Lacey, head of U.K. residential investment. A record number of high-end homes are planned in London districts such as Nine Elms and Earls Court even as demand wanes.

Sales of properties under construction in the U.K. capital slumped 19% in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to researcher Molior, while the percentage of overseas buyers fell to 20% from about 33% a year earlier, broker Hamptons International data show. “We will see distress in prime central London and in Nine Elms, where there has been a lot of international investment,” Andrew Stanford at LaSalle Investment said in an interview. “There have been a number of house builders who have approached us directly with schemes as a direct result of off-plan sales falling, particularly in central London.” Bulk buyers may be hard to find because the apartments being built aren’t designed for the rental market, lacking features such as equal-size bedrooms, said Stanford, whose company has invested more than $457 million in U.K. multifamily housing on behalf of clients.

Many developers traveled to Asia to sell homes in advance of construction and secure cheaper development loans because the down payments made projects less risky. The imposition of higher purchase taxes has now reduced the appeal of the costliest properties, leaving developers wondering how they will secure funding, said Dominic Grace, head of London residential development at broker Savills. “It is a question everyone is asking, and the truth is no one really knows,” Grace said.

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Sure..

US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury Department intends to soon issue a long-delayed rule forcing banks to seek the identities of people behind shell-company account holders, after the “Panama Papers” leak provoked a global uproar over the hiding of wealth via offshore banking devices. A department spokesman said on Wednesday the rule would “soon” be turned over to the White House for review and issuance, but did not confirm any timetable for the initiative, which has taken years. Governments around the globe have launched probes into possible financial wrongdoing after 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, nicknamed the “Panama Papers,” were leaked to the media and reports emerged Sunday. Mossack Fonseca has said it was the victim of a computer hack, and that it has consistently acted appropriately.

The papers offer “validation for those who have been screaming for a decade” about the need for financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere to address risks of money laundering, terror finance and other crime by identifying people who clandestinely control legal entities, former Treasury official Chip Poncy told Reuters. The leaked documents may give banks a glimpse into the kind of information on true, or “beneficial” owners, that they regularly should be obtaining to better understand the cross-border money flows they facilitate, said Poncy, one of the architects of the Treasury rule, which has been in the works since 2012.

But simply having a client who is linked to the offshore shell companies highlighted in the Panama papers “doesn’t necessarily mean much,” said a former FinCEN official who asked not to be named due to his role in the private sector. What would be significant is “inconsistent information or payment flows that now connect” in ways that suggest possible illicit activity, he said.

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“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media..”

US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)

Washington is behind the recently released offshore revelations known as the Panama Papers, WikiLeaks has claimed, saying that the attack was “produced” to target Russia and President Putin. On Wednesday, the international whistleblowing organization said on Twitter that the Panama Papers data leak was produced by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “which targets Russia and [the] former USSR.” The “Putin attack” was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and American hedge fund billionaire George Soros, WikiLeaks added, saying that the US government’s funding of such an attack is a serious blow to its integrity. Organizations belonging to Soros have been proclaimed to be “undesirable” in Russia.

Last year, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recognized Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation as undesirable groups, banning Russian citizens and organizations from participation in any of their projects. Prosecutors then said the activities of the institute and its assistance foundation were a threat to the basis of Russia’s constitutional order and national security. Earlier this year, the billionaire US investor alleged that Putin is “no ally” to US and EU leaders, and that he aims “to gain considerable economic benefits from dividing Europe.” “The American government is pursuing a policy of destabilization all over the world, and this [leak] also serves this purpose of destabilization. They are causing a lot of people all over the world and also a lot of money to find its way into the [new] tax havens in America. The US is preparing for a super big financial crisis, and they want all that money in their own vaults and not in the vaults of other countries,” German journalist and author Ernst Wolff told RT.

Earlier this week, the head of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which worked on the Panama Papers, said that Putin is not the target of the leak, but rather that the revelations aimed to shed light on murky offshore practices internationally. “It wasn’t a story about Russia. It was a story about the offshore world,” ICIJ head Gerard Ryle told TASS. His statement came in stark contrast to international media coverage of the “largest leak in offshore history.” Although neither Vladimir Putin nor any members of his family are directly mentioned in the papers, many mainstream media outlets chose the Russian president’s photo when breaking the story.

“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media,” former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT. “This would be humorous if it weren’t so serious,” he added. “The degree of Putinophobia has reached a point where to speak well about Russia, or about some of its actions and successes, is impossible. One needs to speak [about Russia] in negative terms, the more the better, and when there’s nothing to say, you need to make things up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, commenting on anti-Russian sentiment triggered by the publications. WikiLeaks spokesman and Icelandic investigative journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson has called for the leaked data to be put online so that everybody could search through the papers. He said withholding of the documents could hardly be viewed as “responsible journalism.”

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Almost funny.

Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)

Whose scalp will the Panama Papers scandal claim next? Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has opened betting lines on which head of state could be the next to go. “Who needs the Grand National when you’ve got the Panama Papers to punt on?” the betting line boasted in a press release on Wednesday. Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, announced yesterday he was stepping down after Panama Papers revelations that he and his wife sought to hide their claims on Icelandic banks that were bailed out by his administration during the financial crisis. Paddy Power puts the odds of British Prime Minister David Cameron resigning next at 20-1. The leaked documents outed Cameron’s father Ian Cameron as a client of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, at the center of the scandal.

Cameron’s father used a secret but legal offshore structure to set up a fund for investors. After saying all day Monday that his tax affairs were a “private matter”, media questions about his family’s remaining interest in the fund forced Cameron’s office, according to BBC reports, to issue a statement affirming that his family “[does] not benefit from any offshore trusts.” A surer bet according to the bookmaker is Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri at 8-1 odds. Macri won last year’s general election campaigning on a platform promising to fight corruption but the leaked documents say he was a director of Fleg Trading Ltd, founded in 1998 by his father Franco Macri, one of the richest men in Argentina. The company was dissolved in January 2009. “It was an offshore company to invest in Brazil, an investment that ultimately wasn’t completed, and where I was director,” he said in a television interview with a local program.

A Paddy Power spokesman told MarketWatch that to pay off, the leader has to leave “after being implicated specifically in the Panama Papers.” There have already been a few bets made that Macri and Cameron are next, he said. Paddy Power also has laid odds that the President of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif will leave at 10-to-1 and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko almost as good at 12-1. Sharif is mentioned in the leak as the result of a £7 million loan from Deutsche Bank backed up by four London apartments owned by offshore companies established by Mossack Fonseca. Poroshenko – nicknamed the ‘chocolate king’ – hid his ongoing interest in his candy company, Roshen, in a blind trust offshore when he became president in 2014. He had promised to sell it after being elected. Longshots to leave include President Xi Jinping of China, Russia’s Putin and France’s Francois Hollande, all set at 33-1.

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Coming closer.

Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)

If Britain decides to leave the EU, a corner of the credit market may depart with it and European banks could be left having to replace as much as €108 billion ($123 billion) of securities. Lenders from the EU that bought bonds backed by U.K. mortgages, bank loans and credit-card debt may find themselves caught up in the fallout of a “Brexit” because the debt might no longer count toward their emergency cash reserves. While a settlement with the bloc would take years to reach, lawyers and analysts are beginning to flag concerns about holdings of the asset-backed securities, a market that’s already been hammered since the financial crisis.

“Banks could find themselves having a liquidity issue if these assets no longer count,” said Vincent Keaveny at law firm DLA Piper, who specializes in structured credit. “There are big risks out there, but there aren’t any easy fixes.” Under the Basel Accords, a set of agreements by global regulators, banks must meet minimum standards meant to make them more resilient to shocks after the financial crisis highlighted their weaknesses. One standard, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, requires banks maintain an adequate amount of high-quality assets that can be quickly converted to cash to meet liquidity needs for 30 days.

Certain securitized notes are counted, but their underlying assets must originate from a member state, according to the European Commission’s Delegated Act for the standard. That means some bonds backed by collateral from a newly go-it-alone Britain may be excluded. “‘Brexit’ could result in certain U.K. ABS no longer qualifying as eligible assets for current LCR purposes,” Angela Clist and Nicole Rhodes, London-based lawyers specializing in securitization at Allen & Overy LLP, wrote in a note to clients in February.

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“When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty proudly declares: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” To which Alice replies: “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty could have been an economist. The modern economics profession made a collective decision, long ago, to develop a system of jargon in which words have multiple, sometimes contradictory meanings. Unfortunately, the general public’s reaction tends to be similar to that of poor Alice. Want some examples? There’s no shortage. Let’s take the word “investment.” Most people think this means buying some financial assets, such as stocks or bonds. That’s basically a form of lending – you give someone money today, and you hope they’ll give you back more money tomorrow.

Economists call that “financial investment,” but the kind of investment they usually talk about is business investment, meaning a company’s purchase of capital goods. Since companies use debt to buy capital goods (or use their own cash, which is essentially the same thing), this kind of “investment” is actually a type of borrowing. So economists use the same word to mean both borrowing and lending! That couldn’t possibly result in any confusion, right? Two similar examples are “capital” and “equity.” “Equity” can mean stock – partial ownership of a company – or it can refer to “shareholders’ equity,” which is a measure of the value of a business. “Capital” in econ can mean financial capital, i.e. money in the bank. More commonly, it refers to capital goods – productive stuff such as buildings or machines that help you create more stuff.

Though economists usually use the term in the second way, many people outside the profession refer to financial capital as “economic capital.” Confused yet? We’re just getting started. Everyone knows that economists love models where rational agents interact in an efficient market that reaches equilibrium, right? Except that almost every word in that sentence is complete nonsense, thanks to econ’s Humpty Dumpty-like tendency to redefine words without telling anyone. So how about “equilibrium”? The word used to refer to a situation where prices adjust in order to clear markets, so that supply matches demand. Later, game theorists came up with “Nash equilibrium,” named after mathematician John Nash, which refers to a situation where everyone is responding optimally to everyone else in a strategic situation. Other concepts proliferated, and so by now the word has lost all meaning entirely. When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

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Will the EU survive?

Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)

The Dutch government said on Wednesday it could not ignore the resounding “No” in a non-binding referendum on the EU’s association treaty with Ukraine, but that it may take weeks to decide how to respond. Although the results were preliminary, they exposed dissatisfaction with the Dutch government and policy-making in Brussels – signalling a anti-establishment mood in a founding EU member weeks before Britain votes on membership. There could also be far-reaching consequences for the fragile Dutch coalition government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and which has lost popularity amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Exit polls indicated roughly 64% of Dutch voters voted “No” and 36% said “Yes”. Although turnout was too close to call, early tallies indicated it was just ahead of a turnout minimum of 30% required for the vote to be valid.

“It’s clear that ‘No’ have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised reaction. “If the turnout is above 30% with such a large margin of victory for the ‘No’ camp, then my sense is that ratification can’t simply go ahead,” Rutte added. That sentiment was shared by Diederik Samsom, leader of the Labour Party, the junior partner the governing coalition. “We can’t ratify the treaty in this fashion,” he said. A person familiar with internal EU discussions on how leaders in Brussels would respond said EU officials had been hoping for very low turnout that would disqualify or diminish the impact of a “No” vote. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, will play for time, waiting for the Dutch government to suggest a way forward, the official said. The political, trade and defence treaty is already provisionally in place, but has to be ratified by all 28 EU member countries for every part of it to have full legal force. The Netherlands is the only country that has not done so.

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Monday there was a lot of media and brouhaha, and then they have a 17-day hiatus? EU-Assclowns.

Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

A last-minute flurry of asylum applications by migrants desperate to avoid expulsion from Greece to Turkey will likely cause a two-week “lag” in an EU deportation plan slammed by rights groups, a Greek official said Wednesday. Nikos Xydakis, junior foreign minister for European affairs, indicated there would likely be few migrants sent back to Turkey over the next two weeks, following the first deportation of around 200 people on Monday. “We knew there would be a lag, an intermediate period before the program takes off, of at least two weeks to get through the first batch of (asylum) applications,” Xydakis told reporters. He nevertheless said the next set of expulsions would likely take place “from Friday onwards”, without going into further detail.

Athens stressed that the people shipped back to Turkey on Monday were migrants who had not claimed asylum. But the UN’s refugee agency has expressed concern that 13 of them, mostly Afghans, had expressed a wish to claim asylum but were not registered in time. Xydakis said some two dozen EU legal experts had arrived so far to assist the asylum process, compared to hundreds of security agents from EU border agency Frontex. “This is the weakness of the whole procedure. It is easier to deploy police officers than experts in refugee law, interpreters, debriefers,” he said. But he added: “They are coming.” Once the system is fully up and running, Greece has said it can process asylum claims in two weeks. “In two weeks (authorities) can get through 400 to 500 applications,” Xydakis said.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey since March 20 face being sent back, although the accord calls for each case to be examined individually. And for every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with numbers capped at 72,000. “It was overestimated that in five days everything would begin, it was crazy. We told them many times in Brussels, we knew,” Xydakis said. “Things must be done by the book, we cannot bundle people together, they have to be certified and checked,” the minister said. Out of around 6,000 migrants who have arrived on the islands of Chios and Lesvos after the March 20 deadline, more than 2,300 have now applied for asylum. And many others had previously complained of not having had access to the asylum procedure.

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