Jan 112019
 
 January 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Hieronymous Bosch The Haywain Triptych c.1516 (click to enlarge)

 

The Stock Market Just Got Off To Its Best Start In 13 Years (MW)
78% of US Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)
Fed’s Powell Says He Is ‘Very Worried’ About Growing Amount Of US Debt (CNBC)
Trump Digs In As Shutdown Continues (BBC)
Michael Cohen To Testify Publicly Before Congress In February (G.)
China Set To Lower GDP Growth Target In 2019 (R.)
Can The Chinese Consumer Be Resurrected? (Jim O’Neill)
Why I Asked May If She Is On The Side Of Putin Or The People (Moran)
May’s Brexit Deal ‘Threat To National Security’ – Former MI6 Chief (Ind.)
May Begs Unions To Help Salvage Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
US Defenses No Match For Russian Hypersonic Missiles – Retired US General (RT)
Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report (Turse)
Oceans Warming Faster Than Expected, Set Heat Record In 2018 (R.)
Julian Assange’s Living Conditions Deteriorate (Cassandra Fairbanks)

 

 

And there’s still people who claim the stock market reflects the economy.

The Stock Market Just Got Off To Its Best Start In 13 Years (MW)

Things are coming up roses in the stock market, lately. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 index and Nasdaq Composite Index are off to their best starts to a year since 2006 after a powerful series of gains. The Dow closed up 0.5% on Thursday, pushing its year-to-date gain to 2.89%, which would mark the best first seven days to a year since 2006, when stocks burst 3.04% higher over the same period. The S&P 500 rose 0.5% on the day and has returned 3.58% thus far this year, its best start since a 3.68% gain 13 years ago, while the Nasdaq Composite booked a 0.4% gain, enough for a 5.3% year-to-date advance, representing its best seven-session to kick off a year since its 5.72% rise also in 2006.

A late-session rally helped to solidify Thursday’s gains, coming after investors digested comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who pronounced at the Economic Club in Washington on Thursday afternoon that the economy is in good health, while adding that the central bank would be cognizant of stresses to financial markets amid rate hikes. The comments were a reiteration of Powell’s remarks last week during a broad panel discussion of current and former Fed bosses that helped to placate anxious investors and reverse what was shaping up to be another dismal year.

Read more …

Why is everybody quoting a 2017 report?

78% of US Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)

The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has now stretched well into the new year. President Donald Trump said Friday that it would continue for “months or even years” until he receives the requested $5 billion in funding for a border wall. The shutdown has left approximately 800,000 federal workers in financial limbo. Around 420,000 “essential” employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 have been ordered to stay home, according to calculations provided to CNBC by Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. In some cases, the furloughs have forced government employees to tap into their savings, rely on credit cards or crowdsource funds to make ends meet.

Government workers are far from alone in feeling stressed about not getting paid. Nearly 80% of American workers (78%) say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81% of them report living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75% of men. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, tells CNBC that the group has heard from hundreds of frantic federal employees. “They’re scared,” he says. “They don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table.” Various #ShutdownStories making that point have gone viral on Twitter.

It’s not merely those earning low wages who are struggling. CareerBuilder reports that nearly 10% of Americans with salaries of $100,000 or more live paycheck to paycheck as well. That means that many workers aren’t able to put anything significant into savings. More than 50% of respondents say that they save less than $100 per month. And a comparable 2017 survey from GOBankingRates found that 61% of Americans don’t have enough money in an emergency fund to cover six months’ worth of expenses. [..] more than 70% of all respondents say that they’re in debt, and a quarter of workers say they weren’t able to make ends meet at the end of every month of the past year.

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Which his own Fed has encouraged like nobody else could.

Fed’s Powell Says He Is ‘Very Worried’ About Growing Amount Of US Debt (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is concerned about the ballooning amount of United States debt. “I’m very worried about it,” Powell said at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “From the Fed’s standpoint, we’re really looking at a business cycle length: that’s our frame of reference. The long-run fiscal, nonsustainability of the U.S. federal government isn’t really something that plays into the medium term that is relevant for our policy decisions.” However, “it’s a long-run issue that we definitely need to face, and ultimately, will have no choice but to face,” he added. The Fed chief’s comments came as the annual U.S. deficit reaches new sustained highs above $1 trillion, a fact many economists worry could spell trouble for future generations.

Annual deficits have topped $1 trillion before, but never during a time of sustained economic growth like now, raising concern about what would happen if a recession hits. Total U.S. debt is about $21.9 trillion, of which $16 trillion is owed by the public. In part because of continued rate increases under Powell, the interest cost on that debt could start to become a bigger and bigger burden. Wall Street’s “bond king” and respected financial prognosticator Jeffrey Gundlach said in December that the Fed seems to be on a “suicide mission,” raising rates while the government deficit increases as a share of GDP. Normally when the deficit is expanding, the Fed would be lowering interest rates.

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View from the MSM: Trump digs in, not the Dems.

Trump Digs In As Shutdown Continues (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has threatened again to declare a national emergency to fund a border wall without Congress’s approval. “I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” he told reporters. The White House has denied reports it is looking at diverting funds set aside for reconstruction projects. A political row over funding the wall has left the US government partially shutdown for 20 days, leaving about 800,000 federal employees without pay. President Trump has refused to sign legislation to fund and reopen the government if it does not include $5.7bn for a physical barrier along the US-Mexico border.

But budget talks have come to a standstill as Democrats – who control the House of Representatives – refuse to give him the money. Republican leaders insist the party stands behind the president, although some Republican lawmakers have spoken out in favour of ending the shutdown. On Thursday, Mr Trump visited a border patrol station in McAllen, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He said that if Congress did not approve funding for the wall, he would “probably… I would almost say definitely” declare a national emergency to bypass lawmakers. But such a move is likely to face legal challenges. The money would also have to come from funds allocated by Congress for other purposes – which some Republicans would also oppose.

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Planning a huge media spectacle. Imagine all the readers and viewers… Trump keeps on giving. Bread and circuses it is.

Michael Cohen To Testify Publicly Before Congress In February (G.)

Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and aide Michael Cohen says he has accepted an invitation from a top House Democrat to testify publicly before Congress next month. His testimony before the House oversight and reform committee on 7 February will be the first major public oversight hearing for Democrats, who have promised greater scrutiny of Trump after winning control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Cohen said in a statement: “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”

The New Yorker, who is to begin a three-year prison sentence in March, is a pivotal figure in investigations by the special counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and by federal prosecutors in New York into campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments to two women who say they had sex with Trump. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s chair, said the panel would avoid interfering with Mueller’s investigation. “We have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office,” Cummings said in a statement.

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But not to the 1.67% predicted by professor Xiang Songzuo, I’m sure.

China Set To Lower GDP Growth Target In 2019 (R.)

China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6% to 6.5% in 2019 compared with last year’s target of “around” 6.5%, policy sources told Reuters, as Beijing gears up to cope with higher U.S. tariffs and weakening domestic demand. The proposed target, to be unveiled at the annual parliamentary session in March, was endorsed by top leaders at the annual closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to four sources with knowledge of the meeting’s outcome. Data later this month is expected to show the Chinese economy grew around 6.6% in 2018 — the weakest since 1990. Analysts are forecasting a further loss of momentum this year before policy support steps begin to kick in.

“It’s very difficult for growth to exceed 6.5% (this year), and there could be trouble if growth dips below 6%,” said one source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. As the world’s second-largest economy loses steam, China’s top leaders are closely watching employment levels as factories could be forced to shed workers amid a trade war with the United States, despite a more resilient services sector, policy insiders said. Growth of about 6.2% is needed in the next two years to meet the ruling Communist Party’s longstanding goal of doubling gross domestic product and incomes in the decade to 2020, and to turn China into a “modestly prosperous” nation. [..] Local governments could be allowed to issue up to 2 trillion yuan worth of special bonds in 2019, up from 1.35 trillion yuan last year, they said.

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Goldman Sachs to the -image- rescue.

Can The Chinese Consumer Be Resurrected? (Jim O’Neill)

Last week, Apple published a letter to shareholders revising down its expected revenues for the first quarter of 2019, citing an economic slowdown in China, which has become an increasingly important market for iPhone, Mac, and iPad sales. Though tech industry analysts are debating whether internal dynamics at Apple might also explain the change, the company’s new guidance nonetheless adds to the evidence that Chinese consumption is slowing. A sustained decline in Chinese consumption would be even more worrying than the current US-China trade dispute.

Given that US trade policies and other external influences should not have much effect on domestic Chinese spending, the problem may be more deeply rooted in China’s economic model. To understand what is at stake, consider all that has changed just within the past decade. At the end of 2010, domestic consumption accounted for around 35.6% of Chinese GDP, according to official Chinese data. That was remarkably low compared to most other economies, not least the US, where consumption accounted for almost 70% of GDP. In nominal dollar terms, China’s domestic consumption thus was around $2.2tn, or almost five times lower than that of the US ($10.5tn).

Yet China’s high overall growth rate meant that Chinese consumers could potentially play a much larger role, with far-reaching benefits for global brands such as Apple, BMW, Burberry, Ford, and many others. As of 2017, Chinese consumption as a share of GDP had risen to 39.1%, representing just over $5tn in nominal dollar terms. That is an increase of almost $3tn in just seven years. And though Chinese consumer spending still lagged far behind that of the US ($13.5tn in 2017), the gap has narrowed. If China were to continue on the same trajectory in terms of nominal GDP growth and domestic consumption, its consumer spending could increase by another $2tn by 2020, putting it at around half that of the US. Chinese consumers would be more relevant to the global economy than anyone except Americans.

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From time to time you wonder what’s more hysterical, the Brexit mayhem or the UK’s fabricated Russophobia. This is pretty unbelievable, but it’s become normal.

Layla Moran is a Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

Why I Asked May If She Is On The Side Of Putin Or The People (Moran)

For all the farcical invoking of Blitz spirit, Brexit isn’t merely an absurdist experiment in English nationalist nostalgia – it is the most audacious example yet of a futuristic Russian nationalism that seeks to divide and rule Europe. If we can be judged by our friends then Brexit has no stauncher ally than Vladimir Putin. After all, Donald Trump has proved unreliable. But Putin? It is hard to think of anyone who has done more for the cause (and that is not to take anything away from the years of Brexit monologues by Tory MP Bill Cash). Russian bot farms have been exposed as having supported the Leave campaign. This comes on top of allegations of iffy Russian money funding Brexit campaigns, and Arron Banks’ almost comical inability to explain his donations to Leave.

Comical, that is, if his scarcely thought through Brexit wasn’t driving Britain to what Hilary Clinton has called the single biggest act of deliberate self-harm a nation has ever committed. As if Russian interference in the original referendum was not shocking enough, it is still going on. The Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War might have relegated Russian involvement to the briefest postscript, but in reality Putin is still in the trenches fighting for a hard Brexit. At a recent press conference Putin attacked the idea of a referendum on the deal, claiming the original result should be respected. Oh, the irony! Putin, the arch kleptocrat, giving advice on democracy. “Don’t steal Brexit,” he seemed to demand, while probably stealing (sorry, being gifted) another superyacht.

It should have been sufficiently chilling to make even Boris Johnson pause for thought. And all while using the Brexiteer message script of delivering the will of the people. As any student of Russian history could tell you, “the people” are often invoked by the Kremlin, including when justifying the mass murder of innocent people. But rarely does the Kremlin actually ask “the people” for anything so radical as an opinion. For Putin, “the people” are to be manipulated and even killed for his own ends. And Putin’s ends are clear. He wants a weak and divided EU. Ultimately, he seeks to break it up, with the Eastern bloc – brought into the European fold by Margaret Thatcher’s single market – dragged back into the lair of the Russian bear.

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And why not? If all else fails, scare them.

May’s Brexit Deal ‘Threat To National Security’ – Former MI6 Chief (Ind.)

The former head of MI6 has warned Theresa May’s Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country”, in a call for Tory MPs to reject it. The agreement would “place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands”, claims Sir Richard Dearlove, in an extraordinary letter to Conservative associations. It has also been signed by Lord Guthrie, a former chief of the defence staff, in a bid to stiffen grassroots resistance, ahead of next Tuesday’s vote.= Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie, who are both prominent Leave supporters, write: “Please ensure that your MP votes against this bad agreement.” The prime minister, a former home secretary, has insisted her agreement would protect national security by retaining existing cooperation arrangements during the 21-month transition.

However, she was forced to acknowledge the UK was likely to lose direct access to vital EU security databases after 2012, under the proposed long-term arrangements. In their letter, the ex-security chiefs argue the deal is dangerous because it would weaken membership of Nato and existing “close” defence and intelligence ties with the US. “This withdrawal agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways,” it says. Downing Street hit back immediately, insisting the letter was “completely wrong” and that the Brexit deal offered the broadest security agreement the EU has with any of its partners. But both sides of the Brexit divide seized on the intervention, arch-Brexiteer Owen Paterson calling it a “devastating warning”.

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After Tuesday all bets are off.

May Begs Unions To Help Salvage Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May has called the leaders of Britain’s biggest unions for the first time since becoming prime minister in a desperate bid to find backing for her Brexit deal. The calls to Unite leader Len McCluskey and the GMB’s Tim Roache – whose unions are Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest financial backers – mark just how far she is being forced to go in the hope of finding support for the deal expected to be rejected by MPs next week. She was scorned by second referendum-backing Mr Roache, who joked after his call that he was “glad the prime minister finally picked up the phone”. The unprecedented move came as she also sought to convince Labour MPs to back her by promising new commitments to maintain workers’ rights in line with EU standards after Brexit.

But expectations that she is heading for a heavy defeat on Tuesday simply grew further, with some estimates suggesting that opposition has actually grown since she delayed the vote on her deal in December. Capitalising on the deep Tory divisions, Mr Corbyn instead invited Conservative MPs to back a motion of no confidence in the government which he is promising to table if Ms May’s plans are defeated. Downing Street confirmed the calls to Mr Roache, whose union has 620,000 members, and Mr McCluskey, representing more than 1.4 million, and admitted it was the first time she had spoken to either of them since her arrival at No 10. The Independent understands the prime minister also attempted to call Dave Prentis, leader of Unison which also has some 1.4 million members, but could not get through because Mr Prentis was travelling.

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Click here for the original Hill article.

US Defenses No Match For Russian Hypersonic Missiles – Retired US General (RT)

A retired general and chief of staff has warned that the US’ missile defense systems are “simply incapable” of stopping the latest generation of Russian hypersonic missiles – some of which fly at 27 times the speed of sound. Now retired, Maj. Gen. Howard ‘Dallas’ Thompson was once Chief of Staff at US Northern Command in Ohio. In a column published by The Hill on Thursday, Thompson argues that military leaders have neglected to develop proper defenses against the hypersonic threat. There have been some calls for the US to pursue hypersonic weapons in defense policy circles, but America has lagged behind China – which conducted more tests in the last year than the US has is a decade – and Russia, which successfully tested such a missile in December. The ‘Avangard’ missile flew at Mach 27, and will be deployed in 2019.

At present, the US Missile Defense Agency’s sensors and radars are designed for one purpose: to counter an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fired by an adversary like Iran or North Korea. ICBMs have a predictable flight path, and the US’ Patriot and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries stand a reasonable chance of intercepting and destroying any incoming missiles. Not so with hypersonics. Missiles like ‘Avangard’ fly low and fast, evading radar detection. They can also engage in evasive maneuvers to dodge surface-to-air rockets or missiles, further lowering the chances of a successful interception.

“The stark reality is that our current missile defense systems, as well as our operational mindset, are simply incapable versus this threat,” Thompson wrote. The retired General’s words are backed up by a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, which concluded that there are “no existing countermeasures” against the threat. Thompson claims that a massive collaborative program between the Department of Defense and arms companies is needed to counter Russian and Chinese advances. “Countering this threat will require U.S. investment in an extensive defensive architecture,” he wrote. “…a highly robust ‘family of systems’ that nonetheless must be envisioned, designed, developed and deployed in a completely holistic manner.”

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800 bases, of which 300 are unreported?!

Bases, Bases, Everywhere… Except in the Pentagon’s Report (Turse)

Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, as it happens, al-Tanf was never actually on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015 and, until recently, home to hundreds of U.S. troops, it was one of the many military bases that exist somewhere between light and shadow, an acknowledged foreign outpost that somehow never actually made it onto the Pentagon’s official inventory of bases. Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries.

A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.

[..] According to David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, there could be hundreds of similar off-the-books bases around the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine

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The reporting on the issue seems broken.

Oceans Warming Faster Than Expected, Set Heat Record In 2018 (R.)

The oceans are warming faster than previously estimated, setting a new temperature record in 2018 in a trend that is damaging marine life, scientists said on Thursday. New measurements, aided by an international network of 3,900 floats deployed in the oceans since 2000, showed more warming since 1971 than calculated by the latest U.N. assessment of climate change in 2013, they said. And “observational records of ocean heat content show that ocean warming is accelerating,” the authors in China and the United States wrote in the journal Science of ocean waters down to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). Man-made greenhouse gas emissions are warming the atmosphere, according to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and a large part of the heat gets absorbed by the oceans.

That in turn is forcing fish to flee to cooler waters. “Global warming is here, and has major consequences already. There is no doubt, none!” the authors wrote in a statement. Almost 200 nations plan to phase out fossil fuels this century under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit warming. [..] Data due for publication next week will show “2018 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean, surpassing 2017,” said lead author Lijing Cheng, of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He told Reuters that records for ocean warming had been broken almost yearly since 2000. Overall, temperatures in the ocean down to 2,000 metres rose about 0.1 degree Celsius (0.18F) from 1971-2010, he said.

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Another issue on which reporting seems broken. We’re not getting anywhere.

Julian Assange’s Living Conditions Deteriorate (Cassandra Fairbanks)

I last visited Assange in March, days before the Ecuadorians placed the award-winning journalist in isolation for allegedly violating a draconian ban on all public political comments. [..] In order to visit the publisher last year, I simply organized it with him and his lawyer and went. This time I was required to provide details about my social media, my employer, and my reason for visiting in advance of my arrival and hope to be approved. If I wanted to bring my cell phone, I would have had to provide the brand, model, serial number, IMEI number and telephone number. Providing these details to a foreign nation with extreme surveillance seemed unwise, so I left it behind.

[..] Currently, Assange cannot even have a simple visit with a friend without it being monitored by some shadowy state actor. It’s like a scene from the Stasi spy drama The Lives of Others. While Ecuador presents this surveillance operation as a mission to “protect and support” Assange, this is contradicted by the fact that he isn’t even allowed to confidentially speak with a reporter and friend without being recorded. In May, the Guardian reported that there are “extraordinary reports” from these spies that include daily logs of Assange’s activities inside the embassy, even noting his “general mood.”

As John Pilger pointed out after his visit with Assange on New Year’s Eve, it could be any newspaper publisher or editor stuck in that embassy. For the crime of publishing journalism, Assange has not only had to give up his freedom, but also any semblance of privacy. It’s impossible to overstate how unsettling it feels to have multiple lenses pointed at you wherever you stand. Unable to speak privately, even with a noise machine attempting to muffle the microphones from picking up conversations, we resorted to passing notes. Assange is not only barred from sharing his views online under the new regulations — thanks to the constant surveillance, he can’t even do so among his friends in the embassy where he is arbitrarily detained.

If we value the principle of the freedom of speech — we must do something to stop this madness. While we do not know what Assange has been charged with by the U.S. as it remains under seal, we do know that it is related to his work as a publisher, the only publisher with a record of 100% accuracy. His dedication to truth is so profound that he has never once had to issue a correction or retraction.

Read more …

Jan 012019
 
 January 1, 2019  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Sisley Snow at Louveciennes 1878

 

Looking Forward To Dow 11,000 (Bear’s Lair)
US Stocks Post Worst Year In A Decade, S&P Falls More Than 6% In 2018 (CNBC)
European Stocks End 2018 With Deep Losses; Worst Year In A Decade (CNBC)
FTSE 100 Tumbles By 12.5% In 2018 – Its Biggest Fall In A Decade (G.)
Chinese Markets’ 2018 Performance Was Their Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
China December Manufacturing Activity Contracts Even More Than Expected (CNBC)
Lessons From Two Decades Of The Euro (Ind.)
The Delusional Leaders of the Eurozone (Steve Keen)
‘Nostradamus’ Macron Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter (RT)
France Starts Taxing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (RT)
Russia’s $75 Trillion In Resources Is Why Sanctions Are Impossible (RT)
“I See No Way Out”: Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)
Putin Says Still ‘Open To Dialogue’ With US (AFP)
Giuliani Says Assange Should Not Be Prosecuted (Lauria)

 

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Be sure to stay with the Automatic Earth in 2019 to keep up with the biggest possible picture. And do consider sponsoring us.

Here’s a good way to start the new year. Martin Hutchison explains the many advantages of a 50% drop in the Dow. A functioning economy for one.

The Dow’s at 23,000 right now.

Looking Forward To Dow 11,000 (Bear’s Lair)

[..] owing to decades of funny money the market has got far ahead of its equilibrium value, which is now around 11,000 on the Dow, half the present level. It is worth examining what a world with Dow 11,000 will look like. Dow 11,000 isn’t just a random number. The Fed changed monetary policy definitively at its meeting in February 1995, and on the same day, the Dow Jones Industrial Index broke through 4,000 for the first time — with the Fed changing its policy decisively to an easier trend, it was natural for the market to rise. Since stock prices should rise approximately in line with the economy’s expansion, that Dow 4,000 is equivalent to Dow 11,000 today, taking account the rise of around 175% in nominal GDP between the first quarter of 1995 and today.

So, if the Dow were around 11,000 today, it would be at the same relative valuation as it was in February 1995. That was not an ultra-low level; the Dow was almost 50% above its peak of October 1987 and after all, that day in February 1995 was the first time the Dow had ever reached the exalted level of 4,000. The world of Dow 11,000, after the next bear market and perhaps partial recovery, will have quite a lot of our current economic landscape missing. Far too many Fortune 500 companies have overindulged in stock buybacks, leaving them in some cases with no equity at all. As the stock market decline continues, many of those companies will be forced to recapitalize themselves, generally at share prices far below where they bought back shares.

For some of them, this emergency recapitalization will prove to be insufficient, and a second recapitalization will prove unavailable in the market. At that point, those companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy. The chances are, the victims will include some very large names indeed. [..] in our Dow 11,000 world it would no longer be attractive for companies to repurchase their shares in large volumes – the cost of debt and equity capital would be too great to be balanced by the modest short-term earnings boost from doing so. [..] A further consequence of our new Dow 11,000 world will be a re-balancing of the wealth distribution. Asset prices would be much lower, capital scarcer and borrowing more expensive, so there will be far fewer billionaires and the explosion in earnings of the Top 0.01% will reverse.

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A series of headlines depicts how many stats are at their owrst in 10 years.

US Stocks Post Worst Year In A Decade, S&P Falls More Than 6% In 2018 (CNBC)

Wall Street concluded a tumultuous 2018 on Monday as the major stock indexes posted their worst yearly performances since the financial crisis. After solid gains on Monday, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 6.2% and 5.6%, respectively, for 2018. Both indexes logged in their biggest annual losses since 2008, when they plunged 38.5% and 33.8%, respectively. The Nasdaq Composite lost 3.9% in 2018, its worst year in a decade, when it dropped 40%. The S&P 500 and Dow fell for the first time in three years, while the Nasdaq snapped a six-year winning streak. 2018 was a year fraught with volatility, characterized by record highs and sharp reversals.

This year also marks the first time ever the S&P 500 posts a decline after rising in the first three quarters. For the quarter, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq plunged 13.97% and 17.5%, respectively, their worst quarterly performances since the fourth quarter of 2008. The Dow notched its worst period since the first quarter of 2009, falling nearly 12%. A sizable chunk of this quarter’s losses came during a violent December. The indexes all dropped at least 8.7% for the month. The Dow and S&P 500 also recorded their worst December performance since 1931 and their biggest monthly loss since February 2009.

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US, EU, where did all that virtual wealth vanish into?

European Stocks End 2018 With Deep Losses; Worst Year In A Decade (CNBC)

European stocks closed higher on the final day of 2018 but marked the year as its worst in a decade. The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed 0.38% higher. The FTSE 100 closed trading on the final day of the year, down 0.2%. The French CAC, meanwhile, closed more than 1% higher. U.K.’s FTSE index is down more than 12% since the start of the year and has suffered its biggest one-year fall since the financial crisis in 2008 as investors digest uncertainty surrounding the country’s exit from the European Union. The pan-European Stoxx 600 has ended the year down 13% – its worst since the financial crisis. The DAX, has followed a similar trajectory, down more than 18% since the start of the year.

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Not much of the FTSE losses can be Brexit-related, it’s very much in line with everyone else.

FTSE 100 Tumbles By 12.5% In 2018 – Its Biggest Fall In A Decade (G.)

Britain’s leading stock market index has suffered its worst year in a decade as economic worries, Brexit uncertainty and the trade war between the US and China all spooked investors. The FTSE 100 tumbled by 12.5% during 2018, its biggest annual decline since 2008, wiping out more than £240bn of shareholder value. The blue-chip index of top UK shares ended the year at 6,728 points, down from 7,687 on the last trading day of 2017. The sell-off has inflicted significant losses on pension funds, major fund managers and small investors alike.

[..] Some investors are deeply concerned that the US economy could be slowing, even as the country’s central bank raises interest rates despite protests from Donald Trump. “Markets are torn between recession fears and the hope that it is just another false alarm,” said Holger Schmieding of the German bank Berenberg. “As the saying goes, financial markets tend to predict nine out of five recessions. For economists, it is probably the other way around, though. Economic fundamentals remain mostly positive. What we may have to fear for 2019 is fear itself and the risk of extraordinary political stupidity well beyond the usual mishaps of life.”

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China’s numbers are even worse than the rest.

Chinese Markets’ 2018 Performance Was Their Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

This year has not been a great one for Chinese stocks. In fact, it’s been the worst in a decade. The Shanghai composite, the mainland’s major share average, ended the trading year at 2,493.90 — that was approximately 24.6% lower than its final close of 2017. All 10 sectors of the index were down significantly in the year, with information technology being the worst performer as it fell 34%, according to Chinese financial services firm Wind Information. Even the best performing sector, utilities, dropped 11%. That puts the Shanghai composite’s performance at its worst since 2008, the year of the global financial crisis, when it plunged more than 65%.

Those dramatic losses were also seen elsewhere in China, with the Shenzhen composite plummeting about 33.25% and the Shenzhen component plunging around 34.44% in 2018 as compared to their last close of 2017. The Shenzhen component’s performance was also its worst since 2008, when it dove 63%, according to Wind Information. As shares on the mainland were pummeled, Hong Kong stocks performed a bit better. The Hang Seng index notched a decline of only 13.61% for 2018.

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The question becomes whether China can lead everybody down.

China December Manufacturing Activity Contracts Even More Than Expected (CNBC)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector contracted for the first time in more than two years in the month of December amid a domestic economic slowdown and Beijing’s ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. The Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was 49.4 — lower than the 49.9 analysts expected in a Reuters poll. The December reading was the weakest since February 2016, according to Reuters’ record. That was worse than November’s official manufacturing PMI, which was 50.0. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that signals contraction. In particular, new export orders contracted for a seventh straight month, with that measure falling to 46.6 from 47.0 in the previous month.

Meanwhile, China’s official non-manufacturing PMI came in at 53.8, which was higher than the reading of 53.4 in November. The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and the “bright spot” of the improved on-month expansion in December points to a rebalancing of the Chinese economy toward more consumption, Nomura economists wrote in a note on Monday. [..] Even before the escalation in trade tensions with the U.S. this year, Beijing was already trying to manage a slowdown in its economy after three decades of breakneck growth. China’s worse-than-expected PMI reading on the last day of 2018 suggests a challenging start to 2019, said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian Economics Research at HSBC.

“China is a good gauge in terms of temperature about what’s going on in the global industrial cycle,” Neumann told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The “PMI numbers out today suggest the economy is still decelerating. That’s going to weigh down not just Chinese GDP growth but really global trade,” Neumann said. In fact, Nomura economists warned that “the worst is yet to come,” for China. “Looking ahead, we see more headwinds to growth from weakening domestic demand, the ongoing credit downcycle, a cooling property sector and lingering China-U.S. trade tensions,” the economists wrote.

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Watch the European elections in May. They will be like an earthquake.

Lessons From Two Decades Of The Euro (Ind.)

Twenty years ago an “accounting currency” was born. This was the single currency of what became known as the “eurozone”: the euro. Now this wasn’t the notes and coins that most of us associate with the euro. Those were only introduced three years later in January 2002. That was the moment when the single currency became tangible in the lives of hundreds of millions of people across Europe, and the old deutschmarks, guilders, francs, lira, pesetas and all the ancient constituents of the European monetary mosaic were consigned to history. What happened on 1 January 1999 was the creation of a rigidly fixed exchange rate and interest rate regime for all those national currencies, so they could all be valued in a common unit.

The euro was not yet tangible, but it existed in the ether and in the foreign exchange markets. It has been a turbulent two decades for the single currency since that launch. [..] many economists would snort at the very idea of the euro being a success. Since 2000 eurozone GDP growth per capita measured (at purchasing power parity) has underperformed that of the US and the UK, growing by 15% versus 19% and 20% respectively. Yet that’s less important than the fact that the single currency was in the throes of existential crisis between 2010 and 2015, when it looked like the eurozone was about to disintegrate as nations such as Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal came under unbearable pressure in the bond markets.

[Some] argue that the single currency has been unjustly scapegoated for failures of national governments, especially Italy, to reform their labour markets and wider domestic economies. This, they contend, is the reason, not the euro, that such a gulf has opened up between the economic performance of the strong economies such as Germany and the Netherlands and those such as Greece and Italy. Unemployment rates in the former countries are at record lows, while in the latter group they have still not recovered their pre-recession rates. But pessimists say that this ignores the extent to which the structure of the single currency facilitated destabilising investment booms in the peripheral states before the 2008 financial crisis and then prevented an appropriate monetary adjustment in its wake. Their view is that such are the structural contradictions within the single currency that the existential crisis is destined to re-emerge at some point – and it may not take 20 years.

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The Yellow Vests may well be the no. 1 political force across Europe for the May European elections.

The Delusional Leaders of the Eurozone (Steve Keen)

I had forgotten that this was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Euro. But the Eurocrats in Brussels hadn’t. Some hours before the New Year commenced, Juncker and friends put out a press release extoling the virtues of the Euro. Virtues such as “unity, sovereignty, and stability … prosperity”. Well so much for New Year cheer. With this one tweet, the EU put 2019 on track to be even worse than 2018. Using any of those words to describe the Euro—apart perhaps from “unity”, since the same currency is used across most of continental Europe now—is a travesty of fact that even Donald Trump might baulk at.

Sovereignty? Tell that to the Greeks, Italians or French, who have had their national economic policies overridden by Brussels. Stability? Economic growth has been far more unstable under the Euro than before it, and Europe today is riven with political instability which can be directly traced to the straitjacket the Euro and the Maastricht Treaty imposed. Prosperity? Let’s bring some facts into Juncker’s fact-free guff. I’ll start with Phil’s point about Greece. Greece’s GDP has fallen at Great Depression rates since the Eurozone imposed its austerity policies on it, and nominal GDP today is more than 25% below its peak.

Now of course that could be blamed on the Greeks themselves, so let’s look compare economic growth in the entire Eurozone to the USA (minus Ireland and Luxembourg, since in the former case their data is massively distorted by data revisions, and the latter has highly volatile data as well, and is so small—under 600,000 people—that it can safely be ignored).


Figure 2: Real economic growth rates

[ ..] the real comparison is with growth since the crisis. The USA’s average post-crisis growth rate has been anaemic at 1.4%, but this is positively dynamic in comparison to the entire Eurozone’s average post-crisis growth rate of 0.2%. Europe has basically been stagnant for a decade, thanks to the Euro and the austerity policies that are inseparable from it, courtesy of the Maastricht Treaty that Juncker is so proud to have signed. In reality, the Euro has brought low growth, economic instability, and political discord to Europe. Yet Europe’s unaccountable leaders spin it as an unbridled positive, at a time when ordinary citizens of Europe are donning Yellow Vests and bemoaning their plight.

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18% support. 82% not support.

‘Nostradamus’ Macron Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter (RT)

Looking back at 2018 and the French president’s vows to unite the nation, disappointed twitteratti noted the situation in the country, divided by the Benalla affair and the Yellow Vests riots, is not so rainbow-bright after all. “In my view, 2018 will be the year of national cohesion,” the centrist Macron ambitiously wrote in his New Year’s Eve message a year ago. That prediction hasn’t aged well, and Twitter noticed. We saw that [cohesion] with the Benalla affair and Yellow Vests,” one user noted, adding that “words are no longer enough to conceal poor management of the country and decisions that go against the interests of [French] people.” “What clairvoyance”,”#nostradamus”, the sarcastic comments went on.

And, if 2018 was thought to be the year of unity, many people got worried about imminent 2019. “And after the cohesion of the nation, what would you call Year 2019?” Others said that Macron was right, and there was “cohesion” in the country – against his government, that is. France has never been as fractured as it was in 2018, one more person noted, adding that the president probably divided the nation “to better reign” over it.

“King for the Rich,” “King of bling-bling”, “President of the Wealthy”, “Jupiter” – these are a few nicknames given to Macron both by fellow politicians and by ordinary folk online. Even his New Year’s trip to the posh resort of Saint-Tropez on the eve of planned Yellow Vests rallies came in for harsh criticism. “Saint-Tropez is the bling-bling symbol of France, it [embodies] success, the absence of problems,” Benjamin Cauchy, one of the Yellow Vests’ leaders, said, pointing out that it’s not as sunny in the rest of the protest-plagued country as in the French Riviera.

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Wonder how they arrive at their rates. And to what extent they’re bound to them if the EU decides to raise higher ones.

France Starts Taxing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (RT)

Tech giants will now pay more tax in France, after the country decided not to wait for the rest of the EU to introduce the measure. The so-called GAFA tax targeting major digital firms comes into force on January 1. The French government hopes to raise €500 million ($572 million) with levies specifically aimed at multinational tech firms, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, announcing the move in December. He stressed that “the tax will be introduced whatever happens.” Paris has been pushing for what it sees as fairer taxation of the big-tech firms in the European Union. Progress on the issue has stalled in Brussels, as the 28-member bloc is divided on imposing the levies on Silicon Valley giants.

Any changes must receive unanimous approval by member states. Critics say that the big-tech firms are making money from European countries’ economies, but use their complex structure to route some of their profits to low-tax member states. The opposing block is led by Ireland, which has become a sort of Mecca for US tech companies, and hosts many of their headquarters. Estonia and Sweden are also among those who do not favor France’s bid, fearing that the taxes could trigger US retaliation. The EU has been discussing plans for a three-percent tax on the revenues of large internet companies that make money from user data or digital advertising. However, the last round of talks on the matter in November resulted in no significant progress, apparently pushing France to move forward with it alone.

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Always interesting numbers, but says not a word about why sanctions are impossible.

Russia’s $75 Trillion In Resources Is Why Sanctions Are Impossible (RT)

The country with the largest mineral reserves in the world, Russia, is the second top exporter of rare earth minerals. Its natural resources are estimated at tens of trillions of dollars. It has abundant supplies of oil, natural gas, timber and valuable minerals, such as copper, diamonds, lead, zinc, bauxite, nickel, tin, mercury, gold and silver. Most of those resources are located in Siberia and the Far East. Russia’s mining industry, which is the country’s second largest after oil and gas, accounts for a significant share of its GDP and exports. The country is among the top three producers of mineral commodities such as platinum, gold and iron ore. It is also the world’s largest producer of diamonds and palladium.

The Ural Mountains have vast amounts of minerals while most deposits of coal, oil, gas and timber are located in Siberia. Russia is the world’s fifth largest producer of coal, with reserves of about 175 billion tons. Most of those mines are in Siberia and the Urals. The timber industry, which is worth about $20 billion annually, is also a significant economic contributor to the Russian economy. The country’s fishing industry is the fourth largest in the world. The value of Russia’s resources is huge and, according to statistics, is estimated at $75 trillion. In comparison, the US natural resources are worth approximately $45 trillion while China’s stand at $23 trillion.

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The entire political system guarantees this will get worse in 2019.

“I See No Way Out”: Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)

A recent Philly.com article noted that, despite the supposed economic “boom”, professionals like real estate agents, farmers, business executives and even computer programmers are all still living paycheck to paycheck. Responding to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter, millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers that work in a range of geographic areas claim that they have simply been unable to save as rent, childcare and student loans have all gotten in the way. Americans living paycheck to paycheck were highlighted in a recent report from the Federal Reserve that showed four in ten adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without going into debt or selling something. And now a partial government shutdown that is seeing nearly 800,000 federal workers not getting paid has fueled the discussion on Twitter about how brief income lapses can be disastrous for some households.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state. Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.” Those involved in the conversation on Twitter have been using the hashtag #ShutdownStories in response to Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who asked reporters last week: “Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor, has the answer: “It’s astronomical what people need just to make it month to month. Given the high cost of transportation, housing, health care. … There is often no wriggle room.”

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Always.

Putin Says Still ‘Open To Dialogue’ With US (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured his US counterpart Donald Trump that Moscow remains “open to dialogue” despite the year ending without the hoped-for warming of relations, the Kremlin said on Sunday. “Russian-US relations remain an important factor in order to guarantee strategic stability and international security,” the presidency said in a New Year statement. Putin “has confirmed that Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on the maximum number of subjects,” the statement added. In December 2017, Putin said he hoped to “normalise” relations with Donald Trump but the chances of that evaporated with multiple investigations of Moscow’s alleged meddling in US politics.

Washington this year dramatically announced its intention to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons deal – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty – to which Putin responded that Moscow would develop new missiles. Putin also sent messages to other heads of state including Britain’s Theresa May and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In his message to May, Putin wished the British people “wellbeing and prosperity” in 2019.

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Now let’s hear Trump say it.

Giuliani Says Assange Should Not Be Prosecuted (Lauria)

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, said Monday that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had done “nothing wrong” and should not go to jail for disseminating stolen information just as major media does. “Let’s take the Pentagon Papers,” Giuliani told Fox News. “The Pentagon Papers were stolen property, weren’t they? It was in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nobody went to jail at The New York Times and The Washington Post.” Giuliani said there were “revelations during the Bush administration” such as Abu Ghraib. “All of that is stolen property taken from the government, it’s against the law. But once it gets to a media publication, they can publish it,” Giuliani said, “for the purpose of informing people.”

“You can’t put Assange in a different position,” he said. “He was a guy who communicated.” The U.S. government has admitted that it has indicted Assange for publishing classified information, but it is battling in court to keep the details of the indictment secret. As a lawyer and close advisor to Trump, Giuliani could have influence on the president’s and the Justice Department’s thinking on Assange. Giuliani said, “We may not like what [Assange] communicates, but he was a media facility. He was putting that information out,” he said. “Every newspaper and station grabbed it, and published it.” Giuliani also said there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. “I was with Donald Trump day in and day out during the last four months of the campaign,” he said.

“He was as surprised as I was about the WikiLeaks disclosures. Sometimes surprised to the extent of ‘Oh my god, did they really say that?’ We were wondering if it was true. They [the Clinton campaign] never denied it.” Giuliani said: “The thing that really got Hillary is not so much that it was revealed, but they were true. They actually had people as bad as that and she really was cheating on the debates. She really was getting from Donna Brazile the questions before hand. She really did completely screw Bernie Sanders.” “Every bit of that was true,” he went on. “Just like the Pentagon Papers put a different view on Vietnam, this put a different view on Hillary Clinton.”

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Aug 252017
 
 August 25, 2017  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Passage Bavestrello 1952

 

78% of Americans Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)
Systemic Banking Fraud Means Next Crisis Will Be Worse (Feierstein)
Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff? (CHS)
Central Bank Balance Sheets Are Headed for a Great Divergence (BBG)
Low World Inflation Dogs Central Bankers, Even As Economies Grow (R.)
Amazon’s Plans to Cut Food Prices Will Be a Headache for the Fed (BBG)
Has The Fed Completely Lost Control (Roberts)
No Alternative To Austerity? That Lie Has Now Been Nailed (G.)
Germany Slammed For Domestic Under-Spending (Ind.)
EU States Begin Returning Refugees To Greece As German Reunions Slow (G.)
Yemen: The War No One Is Allowed To Know About (NS)
3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths (SA)
Hurricane Harvey Has All the Ingredients to Become a Monster (AP)

 

 

Forget about Jackson Hole. This is America.

78% of Americans Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)

No matter how much you earn, getting by is still a struggle for most people these days. 78% of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75% last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder. Overall, 71% of all U.S. workers said they’re now in debt, up from 68% a year ago, CareerBuilder said. While 46% said their debt is manageable, 56% said they were in over their heads. About 56% also save $100 or less each month, according to CareerBuilder. The job-hunting site polled over 2,000 hiring and human resource managers and more than 3,000 full-time employees between May and June.

Most financial experts recommend stashing at least a six-month cushion in an emergency fund to cover anything from a dental bill to a car repair — and more if you are the sole breadwinner in your family or in business for yourself. While household income has grown over the past decade, it has failed to keep up with the increased cost-of-living over the same period. Even those making over six figures said they struggle to make ends meet, the report said. Nearly 1 in 10 of those making $100,000 or more said they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, and 59% of those in that salary range said they were in the red.

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“Someone once alerted me to the Bohica syndrome. Bohica? I asked.

He sneered: “Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.”

Systemic Banking Fraud Means Next Crisis Will Be Worse (Feierstein)

Henry Paulson. Hank. Remember him? Of the crisis in 2008, he said: “Where I come from, if someone takes a risk and they’re going to make the profit from that risk, they shouldn’t have the taxpayer pay for the losses.” Quite the wisdom one expects from the 74th US Secretary of the Treasury. Yet, as Paulson played pass the parcel with the rest of us, it was he who unwrapped the final layer when the music stopped, and discovered that the prize within was a grenade. Understandable, therefore, that he offered a second opinion somewhat in contrast to his first: “It’s better to have the taxpayer pay for the losses than have the United States of America become an economic wasteland. If the financial system collapses, it’s really, really hard to put it back together again.”

Well, it did, and it was. Two years after the fall of Lehman Brothers, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan was still reflecting on the solution. “There are two fundamental reforms we need — to get adequate capital and… far higher levels of enforcements of… fraud statutes.” So what progress has been made in the efforts to reduce the risks of another crisis? Not enough. In a letter this year to Bank of England’s Governor, Mark Carney, (in his capacity as chairman of the Financial Stability Board), the Senior Supervisors Group reported that “firms’ progress toward consistent, timely, and accurate reporting of top counterparty exposures fails to meet supervisory expectations”. It said there is still too little reform, and too little essential knowledge of counterparty risk.

But what of Greenspan’s assertions of criminal behaviour in financial markets? Again, no change. Market manipulation is not a conspiracy theory. The Bank of Japan has manoeuvred its bond market to a point where bond futures no longer trade. Its interventions have distorted free-market pricing mechanisms to the point that risk is virtually impossible to quantify. But the most pressing concern is the behaviour of central banks, which had previously appeared a solid safe haven.

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Guess where the trillions went?!

Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff? (CHS)

The signs are everywhere for those willing to look: something has changed beneath the surface of complacent faith in permanent growth. This is more intuitive than quantitative, but my gut feeling is that the economy just stumbled off a cliff. Neither the cliff edge nor the fatal misstep are visible yet; both remain in the shadows of the intangible foundation of the economy: trust, animal spirits, faith in authorities’ management, etc. Since credit expansion is the lifeblood of the global economy, let’s look at credit expansion. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is a chart of total credit in the U.S. and a chart of the%age increase of credit. Notice the difference between credit expansion in 1990 – 2008 and the expansion of 2009 – 2017. Credit expanded by a monumental $40+ trillion in 1990 – 2008 without any monetary easing (QE) or zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP). The expansion of 2009 – 2017 required 8 long years of massive monetary/fiscal stimulus and ZIRP.

This chart of credit change (%) reveal just how lackluster the current expansion of credit has been, despite unprecedented trillions of stimulus pumped into the financial sector.

Back in the real world, have you noticed a slowing of animal spirits borrowing and spending? Have you tightened up your household budget recently, or witnessed cutbacks in the spending habits of friends and family? Have you noticed retail parking lots aren’t very full nowadays, and once-full cafes now have empty tables? According to the conventional economic statistics, everything’s going great: there are millions of job openings, unemployment is near historic lows, GDP is expanding nicely and of course, everyone’s favorite signifier of wonderfulness, the stock market, is hovering near all-time highs.

The possibility that the real economy just stumbled off a cliff creates instant cognitive dissonance, as the official narrative is the economy is expanding slowly but surely and everything is nominal: there’s plenty of everything, from oil/gas to consumer credit to jobs to student loans. Nonetheless, I feel a disturbance in the Force: once credit expansion slows or ceases, the economy will roll over into recession, as wages have been stagnant for the past 17 years, and the bottom 95% of households can only spend more if they borrow more.

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The Fed is going to raise rates as Japan and Europe continue to buy everything not bolted down? Boy, I’d like to see that happen…

Central Bank Balance Sheets Are Headed for a Great Divergence (BBG)

A brief convergence this year in the dollar value of the balance sheets of the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan has passed and the trio are now set to take very different paths. After all three touched $4.5 trillion in April, they’ve split, mostly due to a rally in the euro and strength in the yen. With expectations that Janet Yellen may begin whittling away at the Fed’s balance sheet in the next few months, and the BOJ set to carry on with its unprecedented asset purchases, the Japanese central bank may find itself carrying something approaching double the load of its American counterpart two years from now. The ECB’s picture is much more difficult to discern, and investors will be listening intently on Friday when Mario Draghi speaks at the annual Jackson Hole summit of central bankers in Wyoming. With Europe’s recovery gathering pace, officials may start talks this fall about a strategy for 2018 that could include gradually reducing net purchases to zero.

When it comes to the size of the balance sheets relative to the economies of the U.S., Europe and Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda’s BOJ is already the uncontested heavyweight, and will keep extending its lead. The BOJ doesn’t expect to hit its 2% inflation target until sometime around the fiscal year starting in April 2019, dictating the need for hefty asset purchases for years to come. This divergence has big implications for the central banks the next time crisis threatens the global economy. The Fed and the ECB are likely to have more room to dive back into asset purchases or cut interest rates, while the BOJ may find itself pinned down unless it can find a way out of its current predicament before the next problem comes along.

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Are central bankers really this dumb?

Low World Inflation Dogs Central Bankers, Even As Economies Grow (R.)

The world’s top central bankers gather in Jackson Hole, their confidence bolstered by a sustained return to economic growth that may eventually allow the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan to follow the Federal Reserve in winding down their crisis-era policies. Yet in one key area, none of the world’s central banks has found the answer. Inflation remains well below their 2% targets, stoking a debate about whether they are missing signals of a less than healthy economy and the need for a slower path of “rate normalization”, or that they simply don’t understand how inflation works in a globalized world. In Japan, officials have researched behavioral causes, wondering whether businesses and families are just slower to react to economic signals than thought. European officials have blamed slow-moving union wage contracts and online shopping, while U.S. policymakers have cited a lengthy sequence of “one-offs” in pricing from oil to cellphones to prescription drugs.

In each case the response of policymakers has been the same: wait it out and talk confidently about inflation’s return, as the Fed has put it since 2013, over “the medium term”. “Yes, our models aren’t perfect… Certainly the fact that we have had some low inflation readings is something that we take very seriously,” said Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester. Yet Mester is convinced the problem is not a weakening economy, but changes in how businesses set prices – a supply side issue she says leaves her comfortable pressing ahead with slow but steady interest rate increases. Not everyone is convinced by Mester’s approach. Concerns over the significance of a recent slide in inflation have renewed questions about whether a global tightening of monetary policy can proceed, with U.S. investors betting the Fed will have to hold off on more rate changes until later next year.

[..] The use of inflation targeting has been an important innovation in central banking, rooted in theories of how public expectations, central bank communication and other factors shape economic behavior. It was a recognition that how policymakers talked about inflation, and what households believed, would in part determine the outcome. But the developed world’s alignment around a 2% target has become a headache as much as a policy guide, with central banks trying to estimate and regulate something they acknowledge they don’t fully understand. Bank of Japan consultants have puzzled over whether people shop and save as if they fully see the future, or whether they look at the past and only slowly adapt to change. If the latter, then what central banks say is less important. [..] “Look, inflation is hard to forecast,” Mester said in an interview with Reuters, noting that the most elaborate models don’t do much better than simply saying inflation will be 2% and leaving it at that.

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Finance humor.

Amazon’s Plans to Cut Food Prices Will Be a Headache for the Fed (BBG)

Amazon’s plans to cut prices at Whole Foods is great news for shoppers, but not so much for Federal Reserve officials wondering whether they’ll ever hit their 2% inflation target. A low unemployment rate is supposed to boost inflation, or so the economic theory goes. One possible reason it’s not happening, according to the minutes of the central bank’s latest meeting in July: “Restraints on pricing power from global developments and from innovations to business models spurred by advances in technology.” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans earlier this month mused that “people are utilizing newer technologies, competition is emerging from unexpected places – not necessarily your nearest competitor but somebody else – and that could lead to reduced margins and downward price pressure for some period of time.”

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Many years ago.

Has The Fed Completely Lost Control (Roberts)

An interesting thing happened on the way to World Domination, uhh, I mean “Stability” – the data quit cooperating with the Federal Reserve’s carefully devised plan. Just recently the Federal Reserve quit updating their carefully constructed “Labor Market Conditions Index” which failed to support their ongoing claims of improving employment conditions. The chart below is the last iteration before it was discontinued which showed a clear deterioration in underlying strength.

The problem for the Fed in making the decision to discontinue their own Labor Market Conditions Index, which is likely providing a more accurate picture of the real conditions, is being forced to remain tied to an outdated U-3 employment index. As noted recently by Morningside Hill:

“There is sufficient evidence to suggest the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculation method has been systemically overstating the number of jobs created, especially in the current economic cycle. Furthermore, the BLS has failed to account for the rise in part-time and contractual work arrangements, while all evidence points to a significant and rapid increase in the so-called contingent workforce as full-time jobs are being replaced by part-time positions, resulting in double and triple counting of jobs via the Establishment Survey. Lastly, a full 93% of the new jobs reported since 2008 and 40% of the jobs in 2016 alone were added through the business birth and death model – a highly controversial model which is not supported by the data. On the contrary, all data on establishment births and deaths point to an ongoing decrease in entrepreneurship.”

This last point was something I have addressed many times previously, the chart below shows the actual employment roles in the U.S. when stripping out the Birth/Death Adjustment model. With such a large overstatement of actual employment, the flawed model does support the idea of a tight labor market.

Unfortunately, despite arguments to the contrary, there is little support for why the bulk of Americans that should be working, simply aren’t.

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Not everyone is completely nuts.

No Alternative To Austerity? That Lie Has Now Been Nailed (G.)

Ever since the banks plunged the western world into economic chaos, we have been told that only cuts offer economic salvation. When the Conservatives and the Lib Dems formed their austerity coalition in 2010, they told the electorate – in apocalyptic tones – that without George Osborne’s scalpel, Britain would go the way of Greece. The economically illiterate metaphor of a household budget was relentlessly deployed – you shouldn’t spend more if you’re personally in debt, so why should the nation? – to popularise an ideologically driven fallacy. But now, thanks to Portugal, we know how flawed the austerity experiment enforced across Europe was. Portugal was one of the European nations hardest hit by the economic crisis. After a bailout by a troika including the IMF, creditors demanded stringent austerity measures that were enthusiastically implemented by Lisbon’s then conservative government.

Utilities were privatised, VAT raised, a surtax imposed on incomes, public sector pay and pensions slashed and benefits cut, and the working day was extended. In a two-year period, education spending suffered a devastating 23% cut. Health services and social security suffered too. The human consequences were dire. Unemployment peaked at 17.5% in 2013; in 2012, there was a 41% jump in company bankruptcies; and poverty increased. All this was necessary to cure the overspending disease, went the logic. At the end of 2015, this experiment came to an end. A new socialist government – with the support of more radical leftwing parties – assumed office. The prime minister, António Costa, pledged to “turn the page on austerity”: it had sent the country back three decades, he said. The government’s opponents predicted disaster – “voodoo economics”, they called it.

Perhaps another bailout would be triggered, leading to recession and even steeper cuts. There was a precedent, after all: Syriza had been elected in Greece just months earlier, and eurozone authorities were in no mood to allow this experiment to succeed. How could Portugal possibly avoid its own Greek tragedy? The economic rationale of the new Portuguese government was clear. Cuts suppressed demand: for a genuine recovery, demand had to be boosted. The government pledged to increase the minimum wage, reverse regressive tax increases, return public sector wages and pensions to their pre-crisis levels – the salaries of many had plummeted by 30% – and reintroduce four cancelled public holidays. Social security for poorer families was increased, while a luxury charge was imposed on homes worth over €600,000 (£550,000).

The promised disaster did not materialise. By the autumn of 2016 – a year after taking power – the government could boast of sustained economic growth, and a 13% jump in corporate investment. And this year, figures showed the deficit had more than halved, to 2.1% – lower than at any time since the return of democracy four decades ago. Indeed, this is the first time Portugal has ever met eurozone fiscal rules.

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But it’s about political power, not economics: “Germany has a bigger surplus even than China, they should spend it in the European economy.” By bleeding Europe dry, Germany expands its dominance.

Germany Slammed For Domestic Under-Spending (Ind.)

A Nobel economics laureate, Sir Christopher Pissarides, has hit out at Germany’s refusal to increase its domestic state spending in order to help entrench the eurozone’s recovery. Speaking at the Lindau meetings in Germany on Wednesday, Sir Christopher said that despite the bounce back in the single currency zone in recent months after years of crisis, the Continent’s largest economy was still exerting a damaging and unnecessary drag. “German fiscal policy is not at all what some countries still need,” he said, arguing that demand across the single currency zone was still too low. “Why is there no demand? Because of German fiscal policies! There is austerity, there is low infrastructure spending and therefore companies are hesitating [on] investment.” “Where is expansion going to come from? It’s going to come from the surplus countries spending more. Germany has a bigger surplus even than China, they should spend it in the European economy.”

The German government is running a fiscal budget surplus and its current account surplus (the difference between its total national spending and total national income) of $294bn in 2016 has drawn criticism from a host of economic bodies, including the IMF, for similar reasons as those advanced by Sir Christopher. Sir Christopher, who was awarded the Nobel in 2010 for his theoretical breakthroughs on labour market analysis, said that countries such as Spain had pushed through major and necessary job market reforms in 2010 and 2011 in the teeth of its sovereign debt crisis. The official headline Spanish unemployment rate currently stands at 17.3%, down from a 2013 peak of 27%. But Sir Christopher said it should be falling faster and that higher German state spending would help. “It’s certainly the case that if the European economy as a whole expanded faster we would see faster positive results from these [labour market] reforms,” he said.

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Completely nuts.

EU States Begin Returning Refugees To Greece As German Reunions Slow (G.)

European countries are poised to begin the process of returning refugees to Greece, as migrants seeking reunification with their family members – mostly in Germany – step up protests in Athens. In a move decried by human rights groups, EU states will send back asylum seekers who first sought refuge in Greece, despite the nation being enmeshed in its worst economic crisis in modern times. Germany has made nearly 400 resettlement requests, according to officials in Berlin and sources in Athens’ leftist-led government. The UK, France, the Netherlands and Norway have also asked that asylum seekers be returned to Greece. Greece’s migration minister told the Guardian the first returns were expected imminently.

“The paperwork has begun and we expect returns to begin over the next month,” said Yannis Mouzalas. “It will start with a symbolic number as an act of friendship [towards other EU nations]. Greece has already accepted so many [refugees], it has come under such pressure, that to accept more would be absurd, a joke if it weren’t such a tragedy.” Mouzalas said he had no idea where the returnees would be placed or whether they would ever leave Greece. “I don’t know where they will go. It could be Athens, it could be Thebes … they are accommodated in an apartment scheme,” he said. “Whatever [happens], conditions will be good, they have improved greatly and will meet EU criteria.”

[..] On Monday a reported 330 migrant arrivals were registered on Greece’s eastern Aegean isles, piling the pressure on overcrowded and vastly overstretched reception centres in Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Leros and Samos. An estimated 14,335 people are currently in limbo in accommodation centres on the Greek islands, according to figures released by the country’s interior ministry on Thursday. Conditions in the centres are described as deplorable, and protests and riots are commonplace. Human Rights Watch recently said self-harm and suicide attempts along with aggression, anxiety and depression were all on the rise. Local services complain about being unable to cope.

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Our friends and allies.

Yemen: The War No One Is Allowed To Know About (NS)

Ten thousand people have died. The world’s largest cholera epidemic is raging, with more than 530,000 suspected cases and 2,000 related deaths. Millions more people are starving. Yet the lack of press attention on Yemen’s conflict has led it to be described as the “forgotten war”. The scant media coverage is not without reason, or wholly because the general public is too cold-hearted to care. It is very hard to get into Yemen. The risks for the few foreign journalists who gain access are significant. And the Saudi-led coalition waging war in the country is doing its best to make it difficult, if not impossible, to report from the area. Working in Sana’a as a fixer for journalists since the start of the uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 has sometimes felt like the most difficult job in the world.

When a Saudi-led coalition started bombing Yemen in support of its president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in March 2015, it became even harder. With control of the airspace, last summer they closed Sana’a airport. The capital had been the main route into Yemen. Whether deliberately or coincidentally, in doing so, the coalition prevented press access. The media blackout came to the fore last month, when the Saudi-led coalition turned away an extraordinary, non-commercial UN flight with three BBC journalists on board. The team – including experienced correspondent Orla Guerin – had all the necessary paperwork. Aviation sources told Reuters that the journalists’ presence was the reason the flight was not allowed to land. The refusal to allow the press to enter Yemen by air forced them to find an alternative route into the country – a 13-hour sea crossing.

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Sorry, Greece… (btw, it took a century to figure this out)

3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths (SA)

A Babylonian clay tablet dating back 3,700 years has been identified as the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, suggesting the Babylonians beat the ancient Greeks to the invention of trigonometry by over 1,000 years. The tablet, known as Plimpton 322, was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now southern Iraq, but researchers have always been baffled about what its purpose was. Thanks to a team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, the mystery may have been solved. More than that, the Babylonian method of calculating trigonometric values could have something to teach mathematicians today. “Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” says one of the researchers, Daniel Mansfield.

“It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius.” Experts established early on that Plimpton 322 showed a list of Pythagorean triples, sets of numbers that fit trigonometry models for calculating the sides of a right-angled triangle. The big debate has been about what those triples were actually for. Are they just a series of exercises for teaching, for example? Or are they something more profound? Babylonian mathematics used a base 60 or sexagesimal system (like the minute markers on a clock face), rather than the base 10 or decimal system we use today. By applying Babylonian mathematical models, the researchers were able to show that the tablet would originally have had 6 columns and 38 rows. They also show how the mathematicians of the time could’ve used the Babylonian system to come up with the numbers on the tablet.

The researchers suggest that the tablet may well have been used by ancient scribes to make calculations for building palaces, temples, and canals. But if the new study is right, then the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived about 120 BC, is not the father of trigonometry that he’s long been regarded as. Scholars date the tablet to around 1822-1762 BC. What’s more, because of the way the Babylonians did their maths and geometry, it’s the most accurate trigonometric table as well as the oldest. The reason is that a sexagesimal system has more exact fractions than a decimal system, which means less rounding up. Whereas only two numbers can divide 10 with nothing left over – 2 and 5 – a base 60 system has far more. Cleaner fractions means fewer approximations and more accurate maths, and the researchers suggest we can learn from it today.

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Don’t want to cry wolf, but.. Be safe!

Hurricane Harvey Has All the Ingredients to Become a Monster (AP)

Hurricane Harvey is following the perfect recipe to be a monster storm, meteorologists say. Warm water. Check. Calm air at 40,000 feet high. Check. Slow speed to dump maximum rain. Check. University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Harvey combines the worst attributes of nasty recent Texas storms: The devastating storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008; the winds of Category 4 Hurricane Brett in 1999 and days upon days of heavy rain of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Rainfall is forecast to be as high as 35 inches through next Wednesday in some areas. Deadly storm surge — the push inwards of abnormally high ocean water above regular tides — could reach 12 feet, the National Hurricane Center warned, calling Harvey life-threatening. Harvey’s forecast path is the type that keeps it stronger longer with devastating rain and storm-force wind lasting for several days, not hours.

“It’s a very dangerous storm,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini told AP. “It does have all the ingredients it needs to intensify. And we’re seeing that intensification occur quite rapidly.” Warm water is the fuel for hurricanes. It’s where storms get their energy. Water needs to be about 79 degrees (26 Celsius) or higher to sustain a hurricane, McNoldy said. Harvey is over part of the Gulf of Mexico where the water is about 87 degrees or 2 degrees above normal for this time of year, said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane hunter meteorologist and meteorology director of Weather Underground. A crucial factor is something called ocean heat content. It’s not just how warm the surface water is but how deep it goes. And Harvey is over an area where warm enough water goes about 330 feet (100 meters) deep, which is a very large amount of heat content, McNoldy said.

“It can sit there and spin and have plenty of warm water to work with,” McNoldy said. If winds at 40,000 feet high are strong in the wrong direction it can decapitate a hurricane. Strong winds high up remove the heat and moisture that hurricanes need near their center and also distort the shape. But the wind up there is weak so Harvey “is free to go nuts basically,” McNoldy said.

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Apr 062017
 
 April 6, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Oyster luggers along Mississippi, New Orleans 1906

 

Euro Saves Germany, Slaughters the PIGS, & Feeds the BLICS (Hamilton)
Greece Wants Eurozone Summit If Deal On Bailout Doesn’t Happen Soon (AP)
Half Of American Working Families Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (MW)
Trump Top Economic Adviser Cohn Backs Split Of Lending, Investment Banks (BBG)
IMF Explains How To Subvert Resistance Against Elimination Of Cash (Häring)
Precursors to the ’08 Crisis are Repeating Now (Nomi Prins)
Former Fed Advisor Says Central Bank Shouldn’t Comment On Equities (CNBC)
Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper? (DiMartino Booth)
Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts (WS)
Interest-Only Loans ‘To End In Tears’ (Aus.)
China Is More Fragile than You Realize (DR)
Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag? (Ron Paul)
Reports In Unmasking Controversy Were Detailed (Fox)
We Are Heading For The Warmest Climate In Half A Billion Years (Conv.)

 

 

Absolutely brilliant by Chris Hamilton. Many more graphs in the article. h/t Tyler

Euro Saves Germany, Slaughters the PIGS, & Feeds the BLICS (Hamilton)

Germany was well aware of it’s post WWII collapsing birth rate and the impact of this on economic growth as this shrinking population of young made it’s way into the Core.  Consider Germany’s Core population peaked in 1995 and it’s domestic consumer base has been shrinking since, now down over 3.3 million potential consumers (about a 9% Core decline…remember a depression is a 10% decline in economic activity, which a 9% and growing decline in German consumers would have almost surely induced).

GERMANY

The chart below shows Germany’s Core population from 1950–>2040…but understand this is no guestimate through 2040.  This is simply taking the existing 0-24yr/old population (plus anticipated immigration) and sliding them into the Core through 2040.  Germany’s Core population is set to fall by over 30% or 10+ million by 2040 (far more than the 7 million Germans of all ages who died in WWII).

 

But Germany had a plan.  With the advent of the EU and Euro just as Germany’s Core began shrinking, Germany was able to avoid the pitfalls of a shrinking domestic consumer base, circumvent the strong German currency, and effectively quadruple it’s effective export market across Europe.  German exports, as a % of GDP, have essentially doubled since the advent of the Euro (22% in ’95 to almost 50% in ’16).  The chart below highlights Germany’s shrinking Core vs. rising GDP (primarily via exports) since 1995.

[..] the German motivation for the EU and Euro are fairly plain as are the resultant economic transfusion from South to North.  But for Germany to be a winner, there had to be a loser in this shrinking pie game.  Hello PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), you lost.  As the old poker adage goes, when you don’t know who the sucker at the table is…it’s you.  Particularly when you “win big” at first and it all seems so easy…but then it all turns.

PIGS

The chart below shows the PIGS Core population peaking about 15 years later than in Germany but likewise clearly rolling over.  By 2040, the PIGS Core population will be back at it’s 1960 levels…down from the 2010 peak by 17 million or about a 30% decline.

But if we look at the PIGS combined GDP and Core population…we see a very different picture than in Germany.  The chart below shows the PIGS GDP turned down ahead of the Core population peak.  The rise in GDP in these nations was a credit bubble premised on cheap EU wide interest rates more appropriate for Germany.  Exports as a % of GDP (which were higher than Germany’s in ’95) have risen less than half of Germany’s increase (rising as a % primarily due to declining PIGS GDP).  Low German wage increases and high quality German goods helped displace PIGS domestic manufacturing base.

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The logical consequence of the article above. Economic warfare. Tsipras complains about the Troika “moving the goalposts”, but that’s exactly the game, Alexis.

Greece Wants Eurozone Summit If Deal On Bailout Doesn’t Happen Soon (AP)

Top Greek and European officials indicated Wednesday that it’s possible to reach a breakthrough in the country’s difficult bailout talks over the next two days. Greece’s prime minister said that if a deal on paying Athens the next bailout installment fails to materialize, the eurozone should hold a special summit. Alexis Tsipras said negotiators are “just a breath away” from an agreement at Friday’s scheduled meeting in Malta of the so-called eurogroup, the gather of finance ministers from countries that use the euro. But Tsipras blamed unnamed negotiators among Greece’s European creditors and the IMF for “moving the goalposts” each time Greece was getting close to meeting approval conditions for the bailout. “We are not playing games here … that must stop,” he said, after talks in Athens with EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Greece has to agree on budget measures to get access to its loans. But the talks have dragged on for months, freezing the latest loan payout and hurting chances of a Greek economic recovery after years of recession and turmoil. Without the bailout payment, Greece would struggle to make a debt payment in July, raising anew the prospect of default. Tsipras’ left-led government is pushing for a comprehensive deal that would cover more than just spending cuts and harsh reforms by Greece, but also alleviate the country’s debt burden and ease its access later this year to international bond markets. “If the eurogroup is not in a position to (reach an agreement) on Friday, I have asked President Tusk to convene a eurozone summit to achieve an immediate agreement,” Tsipras said. “I don’t think that will be needed, because there will be a result on Friday, but these delays cannot continue.”

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Is it just me, or do we see similar surveys once a week these days? How can anyone maintain that the US economy is doing fine?

Half Of American Working Families Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (MW)

More than seven years after the Great Recession officially ended, there is yet more depressing research that at least half of Americans are vulnerable to financial disaster. Some 50% of people is woefully unprepared for a financial emergency, new research finds. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Americans have nothing set aside to cover an unexpected emergency, while nearly 1 in 3 (31%) Americans don’t have at least $500 set aside to cover an unexpected emergency expense, according to a survey released Tuesday by HomeServe USA, a home repair service. A separate survey released Monday by insurance company MetLife found that 49% of employees are “concerned, anxious or fearful about their current financial well-being.”

One explanation: Americans are crippled under the same amount of debt as they had during the recession. The New York Federal Reserve on Monday predicted that total household debt will reach its previous peak of $12.68 trillion in 2017. The last time it reached that level was in the third quarter of 2008, during the depths of the Great Recession. Indeed, it’s already close: Total household debt in the fourth quarter of 2016 was $12.58 trillion. Fewer borrowers have housing-related debt in 2017 and, instead, have taken on auto and student loans.

One illness can push people to the brink of financial ruin. Wanda Battle, a registered nurse for four decades, was recently hit with a $100,000 medical bill. She has visited her local emergency room on more than one occasion due to severe migraines and mini-strokes. Battle, who is based near Nashville, Tenn., managed to reduce her latest hospital bill to $32,000 based on her relatively low income, but still faces $650 monthly payments for a previous $22,000 medical bill. “There were times I couldn’t work,” she told MarketWatch. “I have not held a job that is continuous.”

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Glass Steagall. Interesting.

Trump Top Economic Adviser Cohn Backs Split Of Lending, Investment Banks (BBG)

In a private meeting with lawmakers, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said he supports a policy that could radically reshape Wall Street’s biggest firms by separating their consumer-lending businesses from their investment banks, said people with direct knowledge of the matter. Cohn, the ex-Goldman Sachs executive who is now advising President Donald Trump, said he generally favors banking going back to how it was when firms like Goldman focused on trading and underwriting securities, and companies such as Citigroup primarily issued loans, according to the people, who heard his comments. The remarks surprised some senators and congressional aides who attended the Wednesday meeting, as they didn’t expect a former top Wall Street executive to speak favorably of proposals that would force banks to dramatically rethink how they do business.

Yet Cohn’s comments echo what Trump and Republican lawmakers have previously said about wanting to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that kept bricks-and-mortar lending separate from investment banking for more than six decades. In the years after the law’s 1999 repeal, banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase gobbled up rivals and pushed into all sorts of new businesses, becoming one-stop-shopping financial behemoths. Many banking executives believed that the inclusion of former finance executives like Cohn in Trump’s White House would temper major changes such as a Glass-Steagall return. But his Wednesday remarks suggest he could be a wildcard should Congress get serious about reinstating the law. White House officials haven’t said what an updated version of Glass-Steagall might look like.

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They actually wrote a manual.

IMF Explains How To Subvert Resistance Against Elimination Of Cash (Häring)

The IMF has published a Working Paper on “de-cashing”. It gives advice to governments who want to abolish cash against the will of their citizenry. Move slowly, start with harmless seeming measures, is part of that advice. In “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing”, IMF-Analyst Alexei Kireyev recommends in his conclusions:

“Although some countries most likely will de-cash in a few years, going completely cashless should be phased in steps. The de-cashing process could build on the initial and largely uncontested steps, such as the phasing out of large denomination bills, the placement of ceilings on cash transactions, and the reporting of cash moves across the borders. Further steps could include creating economic incentives to reduce the use of cash in transactions, simplifying the opening and use of transferrable deposits, and further computerizing the financial system. The private sector led de-cashing seems preferable to the public sector led decashing. The former seems almost entirely benign (e.g., more use of mobile phones to pay for coffee), but still needs policy adaptation.

The latter seems more questionable, and people may have valid objections to it. De-cashing of either kind leaves both individuals and states more vulnerable to disruptions, ranging from power outages to hacks to cyberwarfare. In any case, the tempting attempts to impose de-cashing by a decree should be avoided, given the popular personal attachment to cash. A targeted outreach program is needed to alleviate suspicions related to de-cashing; in particular, that by de-cashing the authorities are trying to control all aspects of peoples’ lives, including their use of money, or push personal savings into banks. The de-cashing process would acquire more traction if it were based on individual consumer choice and cost-benefits considerations.”

Note, that the author is not talking about unreasonable objections and imagined disadvantages: He does count it among the advantages of de-cashing in the very next paragraph that personal savings are pushed into banks and he also does count total control of all aspects of financial life under the pros, as in the last sentence of the last quote below.

“As de-cashing gives incentives to economies’ agents to convert their currency in bank deposits, the deposit base of the banking system will increase, which can help reduce the lending rates and expand credit.”

And finally the advice to do it together:

“Coordinated efforts on de-cashing could help enhance its positive effects and reduce potential costs. At least at the level of major countries and their currencies, the authorities could coordinate their de-cashing efforts. Such coordinated efforts are, in particular, important in the decisions to phase out large denomination bills for all major currencies, to use ceilings and other restrictions on cash transactions, and to introduce the reporting requirements for cash transactions or their taxation. For currency areas, a single decashing policy would be clearly preferable to a national one. Finally, consensus between the public and the private sector and outreach on the advantages and modalities of gradual decashing should be viewed as key preconditions for its success.”

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They’re all over the place.

Precursors to the ’08 Crisis are Repeating Now (Nomi Prins)

The biggest banks are still as dangerous as they were before the last crisis, even as they push for less regulation. The big six banks U.S. banks are JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. Despite their belly-aching about heinous Dodd-Frank Act regulations cramping their betting style, they have all done damn good recently. Since Trump was elected and started talking about deregulation, the big six bank stock values have collectively skyrocketed 33.5% (as of March 10th). Bank of America tops that rise with an eye-popping increase of 48.8% in three months. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley shares shot up 36.6%. Of course, most stocks have been moving up since the election. But keep in mind that the S&P 500 rose just 10.9% during that same period.

Beyond a few extra capital requirements (mostly in the form of a set of rules called Basel III coming from Europe), the need to establish a “living will” in case of another financial emergency, and some limitations on risky trading, not much has changed for these banks. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the big six banks’ total assets have increased by 21%. The big four by 25%. Yet, of the total Global Derivatives Notional amount of $544 trillion, the big six U.S. banks carry $168 trillion of it. Comparing that figure to their total assets, we get a leverage amount of 24 times. To put that in perspective, that’s only slightly less than the leverage their derivatives positions before the 2008 crisis. The biggest banks are still the ones most at risk, and most threatening to anyone with money in the stock market. Cracks have started popping up that make it clear to us that the next financial crisis is just around the corner.

[..] The Fed’s data shows bank lending to businesses has been strong, perhaps too strong. That’s why it’s just now starting to trail off. We’ve had an epic credit expansionary cycle on the back of cheap, central bank fabricated money and ultra-loose monetary policy — what I call “artisanal” money. But defaults and distressed credit activity is rising. Last year, corporates posted their fifth-highest yearly default volume. According to Forbes, “62 companies defaulted on $59.3 billion in debt — 57% higher than the $37.7 billion of defaults in 2015.” That’s an ominous trajectory.

Bank of America just revealed that its 30-90 day consumer credit delinquencies are rising significantly again. So are delinquencies at Wells Fargo. The bank card default rate is at a 42 month high. U.S. subprime auto loan losses are at their highest level since the ’08 crisis. Banks that had been offering more commercial real estate loans now say they will tighten standards. Fears are rising that a greater%age will become delinquent just as they did in the lead up to the last financial crises. A downturn is inevitable. It’s a matter of when, not if.

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Of course it shouldn’t.

Former Fed Advisor Says Central Bank Shouldn’t Comment On Equities (CNBC)

Federal Reserve officials commented on the stock market in March, as minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting revealed the central bank is working to reduce its $4.5 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet this year. Danielle DiMartino Booth, a former Dallas Fed advisor and president of Money Strong, said on CNBC’s Power Lunch on Monday, “It always makes me uncomfortable,” when the central bank comments on U.S. equities. In the summary of the March meeting, Fed members “commented that the recent increase in equity prices might in part reflect investors’ anticipation of a boost to earnings from a cut in corporate taxes or more expansionary fiscal policy, which might not materialize.

They also expressed concern that the low level of implied volatility in equity markets appeared inconsistent with the considerable uncertainty attending the outlook for such policy initiatives.” “I don’t think it’s necessarily the purview of central bankers to comment on this,” DiMartino Booth said. She said the Fed’s comments on the market shows “they are also verbally concerned about financial instability,” and may consider it when the Fed makes fiscal policy decisions, in addition to labor and inflation mandates. David Nelson, chief strategist at Belpointe Asset Management, agreed, “I don’t think the Fed should be commenting on stock prices.”

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“..getting from Point A ($4.5 trillion) to Point B ($2 trillion based on balance sheet contracting just over a tenth the size of the country’s GDP) will take at least five years.”

Is the Fed’s Balance Sheet Headed for the Crapper? (DiMartino Booth)

The good news, for those fearing having to enter monetary rehab, is that it’s going to take a mighty long time to shrink the balance sheet. The fine folks over at Goldman Sachs figure that getting from Point A ($4.5 trillion) to Point B ($2 trillion based on balance sheet contracting just over a tenth the size of the country’s GDP) will take at least five years. (An aside for you insomniacs out there: Have a look back at Mind the Cap, penned back on December 16, 2015, released hours before the Fed hiked rates for the first time in order to raise the cap on the Reverse Repo Facility (RRP) to $2 trillion. (Mind The Cap via DiMartinobooth.com) Come what may, you can consider Goldman’s estimate of the terminal value of a $2 trillion balance sheet and the size of the RRP to be anything but coincidental.)

In any event, things change. As per Goldman, by 2022, “…changes in Fed leadership, regulation, Treasury issuance policy, or macroeconomic conditions could alter both the near-term path and the intended terminal size of the balance sheet.” Indeed. It is entertaining to watch market pundits shift in their skivvies trying to assure the masses that a shrinking balance sheet will be welcomed by risky assets. It was downright comical to read that the Fed’s strategically allowing only long-dated Treasuries to expire and not be replaced would prevent the yield curve from inverting, thus staving off recession. Pardon the interruption, but domestic non-financial sector debt stood at about 140% of GDP in 1980. Today, it’s crested 250% of GDP and keeps rising.

Interest rate sensitivity, especially in commercial real estate, household finance and junk bonds is particularly acute. Oh, and by the way, monetary policy is a global phenomenon. At last check, the European periphery and emerging market corporate bond market were not in the best position to weather a rising rate environment. The best performance, though, was delivered by Chair Janet Yellen herself. In the spirit of giving credit its due, Business Insider’s Pedro da Costa highlighted this delightful nugget from testimony Yellen presented to Congress in February: “Waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting the financial markets and pushing the economy into recession.” Isn’t the rapidly flattening yield curve communicating that ‘removing accommodation’ today is one and the same with ‘pushing the economy into recession’?

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Better do something, Justin. This is going to blow up in YOUR face.

Toronto House Price Bubble Goes Nuts (WS)

Residential property sales in Greater Toronto soared 17.7% year-over-year to 12,077 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). New listings jumped 15.2% to 17,052. Prices for all types of homes, based on the MLS Home Price Index Composite “Benchmark,” soared 28.6%. The “average” selling price soared 33.2%! That average selling price of C$916,567 is up from C$688,011 a year ago. Over the past five years, it has doubled! The heavenly manna was spread across the spectrum. For condos, the average price in Greater Toronto soared 33.1% to C$518,879; for townhouses it soared 32.9% to C$705,078; for semi-detached houses, 34.4% to C$858,202; and for detached houses, 33.4% to C$1,214,422. Even the house price bubble in Beijing cannot compete with this sort of miracle; new house prices there increased only 22% year-over-year in February.

And Sydney’s fabulous house price bubble just flat out pales compared to the spectacle transpiring in Toronto, with prices up only 19% in March. Vancouver has its own housing bubble to deal with. But there, the government of British Columbia has tried to tamp down on wild speculation with various measures, including a transfer tax aimed squarely at foreign non-resident investors, with “mixed” success. Now the great fear in Toronto’s real estate circles is that the government of Ontario might impose similarly cruel and unusual punishment on the participants in this spectacle. Some measures are on the table, with folks wondering how to stop the bubble from inflating further and causing even greater harm to the real economy when it deflates, as all bubbles eventually do.

They’re reluctant. It seems they want to see how BC’s measures are washing out in Vancouver. The central government too is trying to fine-tune some macroprudential measures, but they’ve had absolutely no effect on Toronto’s housing bubble. And the Bank of Canada, which has been fretting about the housing bubble for a while – always couched in its very careful terms – refuses to raise rates. Everyone is talking. No one dares to do anything real about Toronto’s house price bubble. In Toronto, according the real estate folks, it’s all based on fundamentals. It’s based on supply and demand and very rational calculated thinking, and there is no bubble in sight, lenders are just fine, and if Canadians are locked out of the housing market, so be it, it’s just a shortage of housing, really.

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We’re supposed to believe Australia never got the memo? Get real.

Interest-Only Loans ‘To End In Tears’ (Aus.)

Former National Australia Bank boss Don Argus has added to warnings about the overreliance of interest-only loans, declaring it is going to “lead to tears” as interest rates eventually move higher. After a widely expected decision by the Reserve Bank to leave its official cash rate unchanged at a record low 1.5% at its monthly board meeting yesterday, Mr Argus declared that borrowers had “forgotten” the cyclical nature of interest rates. “You can only hope that some of these dizzy values that you see people paying for houses now, you hope that they stand up on any correction, any economic correction”, Mr Argus told The Australian. Backing a tightening of so-called macroprudential controls on home lending announced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority last week, Mr Argus, a former BHP Billiton chairman, said the capacity of borrowers to repay loans “was always a primary concern in housing loans of yesteryear”.

“If you progressed to just an interest-only environment, that’s only going to lead to tears.” However, in a speech given in Melbourne last night, RBA governor Philip Lowe took aim at banks and other lenders for making overly generous serviceability assessments. “Despite the focus on this area over recent times, too many loans are still made where the borrower has the skinniest of income buffers after interest payments”, Dr Lowe said. “In some cases, lenders are assuming that people can live more frugally than in practice they can, leaving little buffer if things go wrong. So APRA quite rightly has said lenders can expect a strong supervisory focus on loans with a very low net income surplus.” Dr Lowe also noted that the prevalence of interest-only lending was “unusual” globally.

“A reduced reliance on interest-only loans in Australia would be a positive development and would help improve our resilience. With interest rates so low, now is a good time for us to move in this direction,” he said. Almost 40% of residential mortgage lending in Australia is interest-only, where the borrower pays off the interest rather than the principal.

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“It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces existential risk if they stumble.”

China Is More Fragile than You Realize (DR)

China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces existential risk if they stumble. Given the systemic problems inherent in trying to run an economy in the absence of the accurate price signals only free markets provide (a problem for both Chinese socialism and the West’s corrupt crony markets), their challenges are worsening every day. Malinvestments the size of ghost cities are not lost on the world’s central bankers who fear a systemic collapse of China’s economy, nor on the brilliant investors who are betting on China’s collapse like they bet against the corrupt banking products in the U.S. housing bubble. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese debt-to-GDP ratio was 147%; now, it is at about 250%.

Quietly, the Chinese leadership has begun to lower growth expectations but even those numbers should be taken with skepticism. The methodology used to calculate their GDP figures is not publicly known but uses economic data that can be manipulated for sake of appearances. Declining growth impacts China’s financial market as well. Local banks are struggling with non-performing debt rapidly increasing. Non-bank financial institutions referred to as the “shadow banking system” are spreading, with little regulation or recognition of the risks. The government’s attempts to better regulate the system is stymied by local corruption where exaggerated assets and little documentation mask a wave of malinvestments. Like the appearance of no-doc “liar” loans in the U.S. in 2004-2006, the entire shadow banking system is signalling risk of systemic collapse.

Another source of malinvestment is the real estate market. Commercial real estate bubbles are breathtaking and residential real estate values have begun to fall. This seriously threatens social unrest as many Chinese families have put their life savings into real estate believing well intended but nonsensical government assurances of support to an ever increasing housing market. As is typical with most countries, the Chinese government tries to mask the ravages of inflation by adjusting their public measurement downwards. Doing so conceals the impact it has on households. But when values collapse wiping out the entire family savings for their old age, there will be a terrifying political backlash.

Yet another concern is that the 2008 Lehman bankruptcy marked a plateau in world trade. This has been particularly difficult for China as exports accounted for more than 40% of their GDP. With reduced global trade, China began to lose competitiveness in the market place. Inflation of the money supply in the Chinese economy required higher wages to offset rising prices. In turn, China tried to move into higher value exports by manufacturing more technologically advanced and complicated products. Unfortunately, in the transition, quality suffered and foreign markets began to look for alternatives to Chinese components.

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Good to see I’m not the only one who questions the narrative (see Any of this Sound Familiar?).

Syria Gas Attack: Assad’s Doing…Or False Flag? (Ron Paul)

Just days after the US Administration changed course on Syrian President Assad, saying he could stay, an alleged chemical weapon attack that killed dozens of civilians has been blamed on the Syrian government. Did Assad sign his own death warrant with such an attack…or does some other entity benefit?

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“Sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night and then you try to piece it together later on.”

Reports In Unmasking Controversy Were Detailed (Fox)

The intelligence reports at the center of the Susan Rice unmasking controversy were detailed, and almost resembled a private investigator’s file, according to a Republican congressman familiar with the documents. “This is information about their everyday lives,” Rep. Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence committee said. “Sort of like in a divorce case where lawyers are hired, investigators are hired just to find out what the other person is doing from morning until night and then you try to piece it together later on.” On the House Intelligence Committee, only the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, and the ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, also of California, have personally reviewed the intelligence reports. Some members were given broad outlines.

Nunes has consistently stated that the files caused him deep concern because the unmasking went beyond the former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the information was not related to Moscow. Schiff said in a statement, “I cannot comment on the content of these materials or any other classified documents, and nothing should be inferred from the fact that I am treating classified materials the way they should be treated – by refusing to comment on them. Only the Administration has the power to declassify the information and make it available to the public.” Former National Security Adviser Rice is under scrutiny after allegations she sought to unmask the identities of Trump associates caught up in surveillance – such as phone calls between foreign intelligence targets. Rice denies ever having sought such information for political purposes and has defended her requests as routine.

[..] During his March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers said only 20 individuals within the agency are authorized to approve those requests. “They receive specific training, there are specific controls put in place in terms of our ability to disseminate information out of the databases associated with U.S. persons,” Rogers said at the time. What it appears to suggest is that the NSA itself agreed that the instances in which Rice requested unmasking warranted that action. FBI Director James Comey was less direct. “I don’t know for sure. As I sit here, surely more, given the nature of the FBI’s work,” he testified.

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What’s a 100 million more or less?

We Are Heading For The Warmest Climate In Half A Billion Years (Conv.)

Carbon dioxide concentrations are heading towards values not seen in the past 200m years. The sun has also been gradually getting stronger over time. Put together, these facts mean the climate may be heading towards warmth not seen in the past half a billion years. A lot has happened on Earth since 500,000,000 BC – continents, oceans and mountain ranges have come and gone, and complex life has evolved and moved from the oceans onto the land and into the air. Most of these changes occur on very long timescales of millions of years or more. However, over the past 150 years global temperatures have increased by about 1ºC, ice caps and glaciers have retreated, polar sea-ice has melted, and sea levels have risen.Some will point out that Earth’s climate has undergone similar changes before. So what’s the big deal?

Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years. In terms of geological time, 1ºC of global warming isn’t particularly unusual. For much of its history the planet was significantly warmer than today, and in fact more often than not Earth was in what is termed a “greenhouse” climate state. During the last greenhouse state 50m years ago, global average temperatures were 10-15ºC warmer than today, the polar regions were ice-free, palm trees grew on the coast of Antarctica, and alligators and turtles wallowed in swamp-forests in what is now the frozen Canadian Arctic.

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Sep 222016
 
 September 22, 2016  Posted by at 8:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 22 2016


Harris&Ewing Harding inauguration 1921

The Global Economic Outlook: Dark Clouds Ahead (Guardian Ed.)
UN Fears Third Leg Of Global Financial Crisis – With Epic Debt Defaults (AEP)
Major Trend Forecast For The Rest Of 2016 (Celente)
Report Highlights Rising US Poverty (D&C)
In Places With Fraying Social Fabric, a Political Backlash Rises (WSJ)
Greek Bakers Unite To Give Away Bread To Those Too Poor To Afford It (KTG)
Young Britons Live In ‘Suspended Adulthood’ (G.)
It’s Not Just Consumers That Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (BBG)
Divided Fed Holds Fire, Signals 2016 Rate Increase Still Likely (BBG)
Bank of Japan’s Inflation Overshoot Deepens Policy Innovation (BBG)
Real Estate Gets Its Seat At The S&P 500 Table (Forbes)
With Mortgage Rates So Low, Why Are So Many People Still Renting? (Time)
House-Flippers Are Back, With Anonymous Funding (BBG)
China Chalks Up $667-Billion Debt Pile Over Toll Roads (R.)
Wells Fargo Too Arrogant To Own Up To Its Fraudulent Ways (WaPo)
27 US Senators Rebel Against Arming Saudi Arabia (I’Cept)
A First Step for Syria? Stop the Killing (Jimmy Carter)
Apologizing to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War (Van Buren)

 

 

Actually not all that bad from the Guardian Ed. staff. Though they predictably conclude with plain silliness: In the long run, this failed globalisation needs to be turned into something more sustainable and more inclusive, built on higher wages, robust tax systems and strong public safety nets.

The Global Economic Outlook: Dark Clouds Ahead (Guardian Ed.)

Eight years ago this month, a bank collapsed, Wall Street went into meltdown and the world economy plunged into crisis. Trillions were lost in output ($22tn in the US, within just five years), millions of workers were made redundant (8.8 million in America’s great recession, 1.2 million in the UK) and thousands of promises were made by politicians and policymakers – everyone from Barack Obama and Gordon Brown to David Cameron and Christine Lagarde – that things would change. Yet, nearly a decade later, what is most striking is how little has changed. In the US, the UK and the rest of the developed world, policymakers talk of the “new mediocre”, so tepid is economic performance. And in the developing world things look even worse.

Such is the message from two of the world’s leading economic thinktanks, the OECD and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad). Both their reports on Wednesday were thick with cloud and short on silver lining. Yes, the OECD believes that Brexit Britain will have a slightly easier time this year – but that will be followed by a far choppier 2017. And the Unctad report is even more troubling. The biggest single warning it makes is that the world is on the verge of “entering a third phase of the financial crisis”. What began in the US subprime housing market before roiling Europe’s governments is likely to rear its head again – this time in Latin America, Africa and other poor countries. What will do for them, believe the Unctad researchers, is what also did for America and Europe: debt.

Much of the cheap money created by the Fed, the BOE and the ECB has been pushed by financial speculators into the higher-yielding markets of South Africa, Brazil and India, among others. Economists at the Bank for International Settlements, the central banks’ central bank, reckon that $9.8tn was pumped out in foreign bank loans and bonds in the first half-decade after the Lehman Brothers collapse. Unctad calculates that around $7tn of that was pushed through to emerging markets. By any standards, that is a flood of credit – one that was encouraged by panicky policymakers.

Wasn’t it the turn of China and the rest to pick up the slack in the global economy? Except now developing countries are lumbered with a gigantic private debt mountain to pay down. The private, non-financial sector across the developing world has debt service obligations worth nearly 150% of its income. The comparable figure for the developed world, by contrast, is just above 80%. And now developing countries are hobbling along rather than sprinting ahead, while commodity prices have tanked. To make matters worse, companies will typically have borrowed in US dollars and invested in their local currencies – but the strength of the dollar will make those loans all the harder to repay.

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“What is clear is that world will soon need a massive and coordinated spending push by governments to create demand and bring the broken global system back into equilibrium. UNCTAD is entirely right about that. If this does not happen, it is sauve qui peut.”

UN Fears Third Leg Of Global Financial Crisis – With Epic Debt Defaults (AEP)

The third leg of the world’s intractable depression is yet to come. If trade economists at the United Nations are right, the next traumatic episode may entail the greatest debt jubilee in history. It may also prove to be the definitive crisis of globalized capitalism, the demise of the liberal free-market orthodoxies promoted for almost forty years by the Bretton Woods institutions, the OECD, and the Davos fraternity. “Alarm bells have been ringing over the explosion of corporate debt levels in emerging economies, which now exceed $25 trillion. Damaging deflationary spirals cannot be ruled out,” said the annual report of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). We know already that the poisonous side-effect of zero rates and quantitative easing in the US, Europe, and Japan was to flood developing nations with cheap credit, upsetting their internal chemistry and drawing them into a snare.

What is less understood is just how destructive this has been. Much of the money was wasted, skewed towards “highly cyclical and rent-based sectors of limited strategic importance for catching up,” it said. Worse yet, these countries have imported the deformities of western finance before they are ready to cope with the consequences. This has undermined what UNCTAD calls the “profit-investment nexus” that ultimately drives growth and prosperity. The extraordinary result is that some countries are slipping backwards, victims of “premature deindustrialisation”. Many of them have fallen further behind the rich world than they were in 1980 despite opening up their economies and following the global policy script diligently.

The middle income trap closed in on Latin America and the non-oil states of the Middle East a long time ago, but now it is beginning to close in such countries as Malaysia and Thailand, and in some respects China. “The benefits of a rushed integration into international financial markets post-2008 are fast evaporating,” it said. Yet the suffocating liabilities built up over the QE years remain. UNCTAD says corporate debt in emerging markets has risen from 57pc to 104pc of GDP since the end of 2008, and much of this may have to written off unless there is a world policy revolution. “If the global economy were to slow down more sharply, a significant share of developing-country debt incurred since 2008 could become unpayable and exert considerable pressure on the financial system,” it said.

“There remains a risk of deflationary spirals in which capital flight, currency devaluations and collapsing asset prices would stymie growth and shrink government revenues. As capital begins to flow out, there is now a real danger of entering a third phase of the financial crisis which began in the US housing market in late 2007 before spreading to the European bond market,” it said. These are deeply-disturbing assertions. The combined US subprime and ‘Alt-A’ property exposure before the Lehman crisis was just $2 trillion, and Greece’s debts were trivial. What UNCTAD is talking about is an order of magnitude larger.

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Haven’t featured Celente in ages…

Major Trend Forecast For The Rest Of 2016 (Celente)

Central bank policies rule the financial world. Their never-in-the-history-of-the-world negative and historically low interest rate policies, plus massive government and corporate bond buying schemes have enriched equity markets but not the general economy… “In fact, what we have been forecasting and reporting since 2010, the Bank for International Settlements confirmed this week with its warning that central bank behavior, not economic fundamentals, hold sway over markets. Claudio Borio, head of the monetary and economic department of the BIS questioned whether “market prices fully reflect the risk ahead,” and “doubts about valuations seem to have taken hold in recent days.” Indeed true price discovery is dead.

Despite massive Federal Reserve intervention in the US that has driven the Dow and NASDAQ to new highs, S&P 500 companies reported five straight quarters of year-over-year declines. Also on the market fundamental front, with retail sales down 0.3% in August, there was no back-to-school-splurge. The service sector, the main economic driver of the United States economy, fell to its lowest level since 2010. Despite “experts” forecasting US GDP to rise 3% in 2016, it’s slogged along at an annualized 1% for the first two quarters. Just yesterday it was reported that housing starts in the US came in at an annualized rate of 1.14 million in August, well below the expected 1.19 million while construction permits fell 0.4% to a 1.14 million-unit rate last month.

And while President Obama chastised “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” US economic growth since the recession ended is tracking at its weakest pace of any expansion since 1949. As the BIS report concludes, “A more balanced policy mix is essential to bring the global economy into a more robust, balanced and sustainable expansion.” Yet, today, all equity eyes are concentrated more on central bank maneuvers than market fundamentals. In Japan, with new data showing exports falling 9.6% and imports down 17.3% in August, the focus is on what new schemes the Bank of Japan will invent to boost the economy despite its long proven track record of failure.

Similarly, later today in the US, the markets await news of if, and when, the Fed will raise interest rates. Yet, as the data proves since the Panic of ’08, central banks’ “policy mix” has failed …and we forecast despite pending measures, they will continue to fail to generate true economic growth. Thus we forecast continued equity market volatility with increasing prospects for a market meltdown.

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There should have been much more of this. People would have understood the world they live in so much better. The lack of this sort of analysis gives birth to Brexit and the Donald.

Report Highlights Rising US Poverty (D&C)

Among the troubling statistics in a new report released Tuesday was the rising concentration of poverty in city neighborhoods, and expanding number of census tracts where the poverty rate stood at 40% or higher. The count of high-poverty census tracts has nearly doubled in the city, from 19 to 37 since 2000. Fully one-third of Rochester residents live in poverty, and nearly another third require some outside assistance to get by, according to estimates in the ACT Rochester and Rochester Area Community Foundation update to its 2013 report on the state of poverty and self-sufficiency across the Greater Rochester region. The numbers are a near mirror-image of the suburbs, where more than two-thirds of residents are self-sufficient. And while the poverty rate in the nine-county Greater Rochester region continues to creep upward, it remains below state and national averages, the report shows.

“We don’t really have a poverty problem,” said Edward Doherty, a Strategic Community Intervention associate who served as project manager and editor of the report, and is active in local efforts to combat poverty. “We have a concentration of poverty problem.” Rochester has the third-highest concentration of poverty in the nation. And a significant segment of that population is female-headed families with children younger than 18. Though accounting for 17% of the population, the report found, the city has 36% of such households, and that population has a staggering poverty rate of 59.9%. Doing the math, the report estimates these families account for nearly half of all people living in poverty in the city, and these children account for more than 80% of all poor children in the city.

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This is changing the world, all over the world. Poverty and loss hidden from us by media and political propaganda.

In Places With Fraying Social Fabric, a Political Backlash Rises (WSJ)

Reading, Pa.— The buckling of social institutions fundamental to American civic life is deepening a sense of pessimism and disorientation, while adding fuel to this year’s rise of political populists like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Here and across the U.S., key measures of civic engagement ranging from church attendance to civic-group membership to bowling-league participation to union activity are slipping. Unlocked doors have given way to anxiety about strangers. In Reading, tension between longtime white residents and Hispanic newcomers has added to the unease. For Mr. Martin, social and economic setbacks led him to support Mr. Sanders, who he figured would stick it to the big businesses Mr. Martin feels have sold out working people.

Other people here find resonance in Mr. Trump’s message that the U.S. has skidded so far off course that it needs to lock out immigrants and block imports to recover an era of greatness. “When you lose the family unit and you lose the church community, you are losing a whole lot,” says Bonnie Stock, a retired teacher in Reading and Trump supporter, who says the church where she was baptized is dying from lack of young members. “People are looking at Trump because most of us see this [country] isn’t working,” she says. Ms. Stock figures Mr. Trump’s business experience would help him better attack societal problems like drug addiction.

Across the U.S., the Republican presidential nominee has his firmest support among the white working class. In the Republican primaries, he carried all but nine of the country’s 156 counties where at least 85% of the adult population was whites without four-year college degrees. Mr. Trump won 64% of the vote in Berks and Schuylkill counties, where noncollege whites were 66% of the adult population as of 2014. In Berks County, once famous for the Reading Railroad stop on the Monopoly board game, social ills have been exacerbated by a 30% decline in manufacturing jobs and 6% fall in inflation-adjusted median income since 1995.

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In case you’re wondering why the Automatic Earth tries so hard to help the poorest Greeks. These are the very people your generous donations assist. The problem is their numbers are rising fast.

But we’re not going to give up. I’m breaking my head over the next steps in the process. We need to do something big for Christmas. Meanwhile, please keep donating through our Paypal widget, top left corner of the site, in amounts that end in $0.99 or $0.37.

Greek Bakers Unite To Give Away Bread To Those Too Poor To Afford It (KTG)

Did you know that there are people in Greece who cannot afford to buy even a loaf of bread at a cost of €0.60 – €0.70? Almost a year after Greece surrendered into the arms of the international lenders and the IMF and the austerity cuts started to affect people’s lives, a bakery in our neighborhood was offering a bread at a special price for pensioners and unemployed. The special price was just half a euro. At one point, I remember that more and more people were going to this bakery and asking for bread from the previous day for a couple of cents or even free of charge. Two days ago, the grim Greek reality hit me again. I was at the bakery sometime at noon. All different kinds of bread loafs were waiting for customers, nicely set in order, one by one, next to each other.

Yet, somewhere, in a corner at one of the lower shelves there was a group of breads: several loaves, long and round, white and wholewheat, a couple of baguettes. “What are these?” I asked the baker and he answered “This is bread from yesterday, for the poor. We give it free of charge.” He told me further, that he had 6-7 returning customers who come every second day for the bread from yesterday. Mostly elderly, pensioners. And “maybe 2-3 people per day,” people he does not know who just step in and ask for “old bread for free.” The problem of poverty is not widespread only in Athens, where the cost of living is much higher than in the countryside. Today, I read about the action of the Bakers’ Association in Kozani, in Northern Greece. Customers can buy extra bread for those in need, while the bakers will keep records of the “Bread on the waiting” – as they call their action – and give it to those who cannot afford it.

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As I’ve written before: and still everyone says they love their kids.

Young Britons Live In ‘Suspended Adulthood’ (G.)

Despair, worries about the future and financial pressures are taking a toll on millions of young Britons, according to a poll which found young women in particular were suffering. Low pay and lack of work in today’s Britain are resulting in “suspended adulthood”, with many living or moving back in with their parents and putting off having children, according to the poll of thousands of 18 to 30-year-olds. Large numbers describe themselves as worn down (42%), lacking self-confidence (47%) and feeling worried about the future (51%).

The Young Women’s Trust, the charity that commissioned the polling by Populus Data Solutions, warned that Britain was facing a “generation of young people in crisis” as it called on the government to take steps including creating a minister with responsibility for overall youth policy. Young women are being particularly affected. The percentage of women reporting that they lacked self-confidence was 54%, compared with 39% of young men. While four in 10 young people said they felt worn down, the percentage for young women was 46% compared with 38% of men. One in three said they were worried about their mental health, including 38% of young women and 29% of young men.

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US small business dances on the edge. They account for 50% of GDP and more than 50% of new job creation.

It’s Not Just Consumers That Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (BBG)

As Federal Reserve officials gather to issue their monthly assessment of the world’s largest economy, a new study lays bare the extent to which many small firms are pressed for cash. “Most small businesses are operating on very small margins,” Diana Farrell, CEO of the JPMorgan Chase Institute, an in-house think tank that uses data from the bank to analyze the economy. “The small business sector is less full of future Googles and Ubers and tons and tons of very small operators living month to month,” she said in a phone interview. The companies in question may be small, but they represent an outsized share of the U.S. economy.

According to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, they account for roughly 50% of GDP and more than 50% of new job creation — a metric that’s closely watched by the Fed in determining whether the economy can withstand a constriction in financing conditions. Yet even though they’re contributing a great deal to the economy there remains ignorance about their financial health, Farrell added. On average, the companies surveyed have just 27 days worth of cash reserves — or money to cover expenses if inflows suddenly stopped — according to the JPMorgan study, which analyzed 470 million transactions by 570,000 small business last year. Restaurants typically hold the smallest cash buffers, with just 16 days of reserves, while the real-estate sector boasts the biggest, at 47 days.

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These people get far too much attention. That makes them feel much too important. We should ignore them. After taking their undemocratic powers away.

Divided Fed Holds Fire, Signals 2016 Rate Increase Still Likely (BBG)

A divided Federal Reserve left its policy interest rate unchanged to await more evidence of progress toward its goals, while projecting that an increase is still likely by year-end. “Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in its statement Wednesday after a two-day meeting in Washington. “The Committee judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened but decided, for the time being, to wait for further evidence of continued progress toward its objectives.” The sixth straight hold extends U.S. central bankers’ run of getting cold feet amid risks from abroad and inconsistent signs of economic strength.

Now the focus will shift to December as the Fed’s likely last chance to raise interest rates in 2016 – a move that depends on how the economy, inflation and markets fare in the months surrounding a contentious presidential election. “The statement is much more hawkish than I thought it would be,” said Stephen Stanley at Amherst Pierpont Securities in New York, who said he expects a rate increase in December. “That just tells you they are revving up the engines.” Three officials, the most since December 2014, dissented in favor of a quarter-point hike. Esther George, president of the Kansas City Fed, voted against the decision for a second straight meeting. She was joined by Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester – in her first dissent – and Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Fed, whose previous dissents called for easier policy.

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Uh, no: The need for yet another overhaul of the BOJ’s policy framework [..] speaks to the deep-seated challenges facing policy makers. Actually, it speaks to the utter failure of all ‘policies’ up till now.

Bank of Japan’s Inflation Overshoot Deepens Policy Innovation (BBG)

The first major central bank to adopt quantitative easing in the modern era has innovated again. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his colleagues adopted a pledge of “overshooting” their 2% inflation target, an idea floated by central bankers including Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans, but not formally adopted up to now. They also unveiled a strategy of targeting short- and longer-term rates to provide the economy with cheap borrowing costs. Since taking the helm in 2013, Kuroda had previously pursued a QE-on-steroids policy to shock Japan out of deflation. Yet after three and a half years, he was running into increasing concerns about the sustainability of the purchases of government bonds, which have run at about 15% of gross domestic product annually.

The adoption of a negative interest rate on some bank reserves resulted in an outcry from banks, and – for a time – an alarming plunge in yields even on longer-dated securities. The Federal Reserve had a cap on long-term yields back in the 1940s, as part of the U.S. government’s efforts to keep down wartime and postwar debt financing. But a strategy of targeting the yield curve as a reflation initiative is new to the major central banks of today. “The BOJ had to do something revolutionary out of necessity – they are concerned about sustainability,” said Yuji Shimanaka at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. The need for yet another overhaul of the BOJ’s policy framework – this is the third iteration under Kuroda alone – speaks to the deep-seated challenges facing policy makers. Japan’s consumer prices slumped 0.5% in July from a year before, far from the 2% gains targeted “at the earliest possible time.”

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There are still scores of greater fools out there… This time lured by low rates.

Real Estate Gets Its Seat At The S&P 500 Table (Forbes)

In case you haven’t noticed, the S&P 500 Index is looking a little different these days. Once a sub-industry of the financial sector, real estate now has its own zip code in the universe of blue chip stocks. It’s the first time since 1999 that such a change has been made to the S&P’s composition. The new sector has a weighting of nearly 3%, all of it taken out of financials. Real estate’s promotion should attract more institutional and individual investors to the space. It tells them this is no longer a niche market but one with a distinct and significant presence, with its own unique business drivers.

This has been a long time coming, to be perfectly honest. Ever since the housing and financial crisis, real estate investment trusts (REITs) have been pulling in some serious cash as more become available for trading on the New York Stock Exchange and elsewhere. Altogether, REITs currently have a market cap of over $1 trillion, according to REIT.com. With investors on the hunt for yield, it’s not hard to see why. As of August 31, the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITs Index yielded an average of 3.61%, compared to the S&P 500’s 2.11%. During 2015, stock exchange-listed REITs paid out a whopping $46.5 billion in dividends.

Looking just at the residential housing market, business is definitely booming. With 30-year mortgage rates at below 3.5%, the market is scorching hot in many parts of the U.S.—so much so, some builders are reporting a shortage in construction workers to meet demand. New construction starts rose to 1.2 million in July, beating analysts’ forecasts and suggesting the U.S. housing market appears to have finally made a full recovery eight years following the recession, with Bloomberg calling this the “strongest home sales since the start of the economic expansion.”

Trouble could be brewing, however. As I shared with you last month, millennials just aren’t buying homes at the same rate we’ve historically seen from 18- to 34-year-olds. There are many theories as to why this is, from millennials delaying starting families to focus on careers, to a loss of trust in homeownership as a reliable investment or even as an institution, to a preference to rent. This trend has contributed to the lowest U.S. homeownership rate in five decades. How can this be? How could there be both massive housing demand and yet declining home ownership?

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“On average, homeowners paid 28% more in mortgage payments than renters did in monthly rent.”

With Mortgage Rates So Low, Why Are So Many People Still Renting? (Time)

With interest rates lower than they have been for years, many people still find that renting is more budget-friendly than a monthly mortgage payment. This is not true in all parts of the U.S., but a study by Robert W. Baird & Co. shows that living in one of the biggest housing markets in the country is often more expensive. The study looked at 28 different cities, and found that U.S. homeowners in 24 of the cities paid more than those who rent. On average, homeowners paid 28% more in mortgage payments than renters did in monthly rent. The study looked at properties with ratings of four or five stars to keep variables to a minimum.

The study also made some assumptions, such as that all mortgages were 30-year fixed loans, that all homeowners made a down payment of 15%, and that all mortgages included private mortgage insurance, homeowners’ insurance, and taxes. Of the 28 different markets examined, it was more affordable to own than to rent in Baltimore, Maryland, Tampa, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, and Norfolk/Richmond, Virginia. Of the remaining 24 cities, 15 showed a 20% or higher difference in the cost of renting versus the cost of owning. These differences were due to factors such as the increase in housing prices and the fact that there are few houses on the market in many of these areas.

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More fallout from the war on interest rates.

House-Flippers Are Back, With Anonymous Funding (BBG)

Alex Sifakis never raised this much money this fast. The house flipper from Jacksonville, Florida, crowdfunded nine deals totaling more than $9 million through RealtyShares over the last two and a half years. A July deal for $1 million took him just 12 hours. “Generally, raising money takes so much time,’’ said Sifakis, 33. “This offers so much flexibility and time savings. It’s so much better than going to family offices, banks or Wall Street firms.’’ House flippers and property developers are increasingly crowdfunding — tapping the virtual wallets of anonymous internet backers on platforms such as RealtyShares, LendingHome, PeerStreet and Patch of Land. For riskier ventures, such as building new homes and buying, renovating and selling existing ones, they’re finding quick financing can be easier to get online than from banks.

That’s contributed to an increase in home flipping. In the second quarter, 39,775 investors bought and sold at least one house, the most since 2007, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. The crowdfunding sites are part of the multibillion-dollar ecosystem of marketplace lenders, like LendingClub Corp. and Prosper Marketplace Inc., that match users who need money with people who want to provide it for anything from debt consolidation to elective medical procedures. That business hasn’t always run smoothly. LendingClub is going through a rough stretch after years of rapid growth. In May, its founder and chief executive officer resigned amid an internal probe into a botched loan sale, sending LendingClub’s shares tumbling. So far, there have been few defaults in real estate crowdfunding deals. When they happen, the platforms say they’ll pay investors the proceeds from property sales.

The business has other potential pitfalls. When it comes to real estate, faster isn’t always better. Wall Street’s home-mortgage machine of the mid-2000s valued speed over accuracy, with disastrous results, though most crowdfunding sites cater to investors and not homebuyers. Also, clicking for capital can be exploited by fraudsters who may not be who they say they are, according to Sara Hanks, co-founder and CEO of CrowdCheck, which provides due-diligence services for online investors. “We’ve seen some things where the entity that’s supposed to own the property doesn’t actually own it,’’ she said.

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“..40% of China’s expressways were built between 2010 and 2015..”

China Chalks Up $667-Billion Debt Pile Over Toll Roads (R.)

China’s toll roads have stacked up a debt pile of 4.45 trillion yuan ($666.96 billion), with almost 80% of their annual income last year going to repay loans, the transport ministry said, as the country accelerates road building. Beijing has cranked up state spending on infrastructure to support economic growth as private sector investment falters, and efforts to lure investors into private-public partnerships to build projects such as toll roads have had few successes. The ministry published the 2015 figures late on Tuesday in a report that comes as global investors express growing concern over China’s overall credit, much of which has gone to build infrastructure. The toll road network’s debt grew an annual 15.7% last year, far outpacing income growth of 4.6%, the ministry said in the report.

“Although China’s toll road debt is relatively large, this is just a phase,” state newspaper the People’s Daily quoted Sun Yonghong, an official of the ministry’s highway division, as saying. “In the long run, the risks are controllable.” About three-quarters of 2015 revenue of 409.78 billion yuan went to paying down debt and interest, as banks sought payment of the principal one year after project completions, Sun said. Toll roads make up less than 4% of China’s road network, which stretches 4.5 million km (2.8 million miles). Sun said much of the debt was incurred to build expressways, and accumulation would slow as the road network matured. Almost 40% of China’s expressways were built between 2010 and 2015, at a cost of 3.32 trillion yuan, about 2.23 trillion yuan of which was paid through loans, he said.

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Sickening.

Wells Fargo Too Arrogant To Own Up To Its Fraudulent Ways (WaPo)

The 2008 financial collapse was eight years ago this month — and the big banks are back to their old shenanigans. Venerable Wells Fargo has engaged in behavior that would have made a robber baron blush: It pressured low-wage workers with unrealistic sales targets, so these workers created 2 million bogus accounts over five years, causing customers to be hit with fees and damage to their credit ratings. About 5,300 workers have been fired and $185 million in penalties assessed to the bank, but not a single high-level executive has been sacked or even forced to give back the tens of millions of dollars in pay earned based on the fraud. When Wells Fargo chairman and CEO John Stumpf sat before the Senate Banking Committee this week, he represented a bank too big to fail, too sprawling to manage and too arrogant to own up to its failures.

Can’t Wells Fargo take back some of the executive payouts? “I’m not an expert in compensation,” Stumpf said. Would he commit to investigate whether the fraud began in earlier years? “I can’t tell you that today.” Did he learn about the fraud before reading about it in the Los Angeles Times? “I don’t remember the exact time frame.” Stumpf informed the senators that what Wells Fargo did “was not a scam,” disputed that “this is a massive fraud” and said he had no idea “why people did this.” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., encouraged Stumpf to “make certain that the employees are not the scapegoat for behavior at higher levels.” Stumpf repeated that “the 5,300, for whatever reason, they were dishonest, and I’m not scapegoating.” If high-level bankers didn’t go to prison for the subprime high jinks that caused the 2008 crash, it’s a safe bet that none will in the Wells Fargo scandal either.

But if arrogance were a criminal offense, Stumpf would be looking at a life sentence. The bank’s fraud, and the executive’s insolence, may have one salutary result: It takes off the agenda any plan to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the post-2008 regulatory creations and a top target of Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. The Los Angeles city attorney and the Los Angeles Times may deserve more credit for exposing the wrongdoing, but the audacity at Wells Fargo shows that the industry isn’t about to police itself. Stumpf also managed to create rare bipartisan unity on the Banking Committee – in condemnation of his actions. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was “stunned.” Dean Heller, R-Nev., compared him to Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes.” Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called the actions “despicable.” Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., told Stumpf: “This isn’t cross-selling, this is fraud.”

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“Let’s ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with the United States getting slowly, predictably, and all too quietly dragged into yet another war in the Middle East.”

27 US Senators Rebel Against Arming Saudi Arabia (I’Cept)

A Senate resolution opposing a $1.15 billion arms transfer to Saudi Arabia garnered support from 27 senators on Wednesday, a sign of growing unease about the increasing number of civilians being killed with U.S. weapons in Yemen. A procedural vote to table the resolution passed 71-27. The Obama administration announced the transfer last month, the same day the Saudi Arabian coalition bombed a potato chip factory in the besieged Yemeni capital. In the following week, the Saudi-led forces would go on to bomb a children’s school, the home of the school’s principal, a Doctors Without Borders hospital, and the bridge used to carry humanitarian aid into the capital. Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, four months after Houthi rebels from Northern Yemen overran the capitol, Sanaa, and deposed the Saudi-backed ruler, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In addition to providing Saudi Arabia with intelligence and flying refueling missions for its air force, the United States has enabled the bombing campaign by supplying $20 billion in weapons over the past 18 months. In total, President Obama has sold more than $115 billion in weapons to the Saudi kingdom – more than any other president. After the White House failed to respond to a letter from 60 members of Congress requesting that the transfer be delayed, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a resolution condemning the arms sale. Paul and Murphy said they had planned to pursue binding legislation if their resolution was successful. “It’s time for the United States to press ‘pause’ on our arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Murphy said. “Let’s ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with the United States getting slowly, predictably, and all too quietly dragged into yet another war in the Middle East.”

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Carter’s a real man. No Clinton, Bush or Obama is fit to shine his shoes.

A First Step for Syria? Stop the Killing (Jimmy Carter)

The announcement this month of a new cease-fire agreement in Syria is good news. But a lack of trust among the Syrian belligerents and their foreign supporters means this agreement, like the one that came before it, is vulnerable to collapse. It is already showing severe signs of strain. Over the weekend, the United States accidentally bombed Syrian government troops. On Monday, the Syrian military declared it would no longer respect the deal, resumed airstrikes on Aleppo, and even a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed. Still, there is reason for hope. If Russia and the United States were willing to come far enough in their negotiations to reach this deal, these setbacks can be overcome. The targeting of the humanitarian convoy, a war crime, should serve as an added impetus for the United States and Russia to recommit to the cease-fire.

The two parties were well aware of the difficulties as they spent a month negotiating the cease-fire’s terms. The agreement can be salvaged if all sides unite, for now, around a simple and undeniably important goal: Stop the killing. It may be more likely than it sounds. Reliable sources estimate the number of Syrians killed to date at almost half a million, with some two million more people wounded. Well over half of the country’s 22 million prewar population has been displaced. These shocking numbers alone should convince all concerned that war itself is the greatest violation of human rights and the ultimate enemy of Syria. If this cease-fire is to last, the United States and Russia must find ways to work beyond the lack of trust that undermined the previous cease-fire, in February.

The countrywide cessation of hostilities that began then started to crumble within two months, with battles in much of the countryside around Damascus, central and northern Syria, and Aleppo. The resumption of the conflict led in April to the suspension of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. However, a strong effort was made earlier in the year when the United States and Russia pressed their respective allies to pause the fighting and give the negotiations a chance. But the American and Russian expectation that they reach an agreement on issues of transitional governance by Aug. 1 was unrealistic. After five years of killing, and before any semblance of trust could be established, pushing the Syrian parties and their supporters to agree on power-sharing was seen as too threatening by some and too inadequate by others. Unsurprisingly, they reverted to violence.

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A lovely letter.

Apologizing to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War (Van Buren)

I recently sent my last kid off for her senior year of college. There are rituals to such moments, and because dad-confessions are not among them, I just carried boxes and kept quiet. But what I really wanted to say to her — rather than see you later, call this weekend, do you need money? – was: I’m sorry. Like all parents in these situations, I was thinking about her future. And like all of America, in that future she won’t be able to escape what is now encompassed by the word “terrorism.” Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn’t work that way. There’s no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or “if you see something, say something” signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms.

So I felt no need to apologize for lightning. But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth. Want the numbers? Some 40% of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001 – the highest%age ever. Want the apocalyptic jab in the gut? Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said earlier this month that the threat remains just as grave: “Those people, those enemies, those members of that terrorist group, still intend – as they did on 9/11 – to destroy your freedoms, to kill you, kill your families, they still intend to destroy the United States of America.” All that fear turned us into an engine of chaos abroad, while consuming our freedoms at home.

And it saddens me that there was a different world, pre-9/11, which my daughter’s generation and all those who follow her will never know. [..] After the last cardboard boxes had been lugged up the stairs, I held back my tears until the very end. Hugging my daughter at that moment, I felt as if I wasn’t where I was standing but in a hundred other places. I wasn’t consoling a smart, proud, twenty-something woman, apprehensive about senior year, but an elementary school student going to bed on the night that would forever be known only as 9/11. Back home, the house is empty and quiet. Outside, the leaves have just a hint of yellow. At lunch, I had some late-season strawberries nearly sweet enough to confirm the existence of a higher power. I’m gonna really miss this summer.

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Jan 072016
 
 January 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Army Day Parade, Memories of the World War, Washington DC 1939

China Stock Markets Shuttered -Again- After Falling 7% (FT)
China Jolts Markets With Sharply Lower Yuan Fix (CNBC)
Offshore Yuan Rises From Five-Year Low as PBOC Puzzles Markets (BBG)
Global Oil Prices Hit 12-Year Low (Reuters)
Shanghai Fund Manager Dumps All Holdings in ‘Insane’ Market (BBG)
It’s All Bad News for Markets Buckling Under China, Fed, Economy (BBG)
George Soros Sees Crisis in Global Markets That Echoes 2008 (BBG)
Fears Mount Over Rise Of Sovereign-Backed Corporate Debt (FT)
A $500 Car Repair Bill Would Send Most Americans Scrambling (WSJ)
If A Basic Income Works For The Royal Family, It Can Work For Us All (Guardian)
Macy’s To Cut Jobs, Shut Stores Amid Weak Holiday Sales (Reuters)
Note To Joe Stiglitz: Banks Originate, Not Intermediate (Steve Keen)
BIS Says Central Banks’ Stimulus Strategy Is Based On A False Premise (AEP)
One Map That Explains the Dangerous Saudi-Iranian Conflict (Intercept)
Massive US Tax Grab Coming in 2016 at All Levels of Government (FRA)
Deal Paves Way For Thousands Of Cuban Immigrants Heading To US (CNN)
EU Fails to Defuse Passport-Free Clash in Northern Europe (BBG)
Drop In Refugees Due to Weather, Not Turkey’s Crackdown, Germany Says (Reuters)

This won’t stop until everyone who wants to sell, has. That’s the difference between markets and central control.

China Stock Markets Shuttered -Again- After Falling 7% (FT)

China’s entire equity market was shuttered within half an hour of opening after falling 7% on further currency weakness as government rescue efforts failed to deter the tide of sellers. China’s stock market meltdown and currency depreciation have spooked international investors in a replay of last summer’s rout that reverberated around the globe. So far this year — just four days — the bluechip CSI 300 index is down 12%. Newly minted circuit breakers, introduced and first tripped on Monday, kicked in again on Thursday after the CSI 300 fell 7%. Trading was halted for 15 minutes after the index lost 5%, but as stocks continued to fall the full-day closure was triggered. Investors were rattled by further weakening of the renminbi, said Wang Jun at China Securities in Beijing. “It was a panicked response to the forex market,” he said.

“Accelerating exchange-rate depreciation could lead to liquidity problems. Valuations can’t help but take a pounding.” The renminbi fell to its weakest level in nearly five years on Thursday, with capital outflow pressure still heavy even after more than a year of nearly uninterrupted outflows. The renminbi was 0.6% weaker on Thursday morning at 6.5928 per US dollar after falling by roughly the same amount on Wednesday. Policymakers appear uncertain about whether to wade back in to buy stocks with state funds or to stand back. On Tuesday, the “national team” of state-owned financial institutions appeared to re-enter the stock market after remaining on the sidelines since late August. Goldman Sachs estimated in September that the government had spent Rmb1.5tn ($234bn) to support the stock market in July and August, when the main index was down by as much as 45% from its late-June high.

The “national team” owned at least 6% of tradable market capitalisation in the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges at the end of the third quarter. On Wednesday, the stock market had clawed back some lost ground after state media said the securities regulator would extend a ban on share sales by large shareholders. After the trading halt on Thursday, the regulator published new permanent rules restricting share purchases by large shareholders, as well as by corporate management and directors. Starting January 9, large shareholders can sell a maximum of 1% of a company’s shares every three months. They also must disclose stake-cutting plans 15 days in advance. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said the new rules should help to stem panic-selling.

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Christine Lagarde will have to speak out.

China Jolts Markets With Sharply Lower Yuan Fix (CNBC)

China’s central bank guided the yuan lower on Thursday at the fastest pace since its shock devaluation in August, prompting a shuttering of mainland stocks and roiling markets elsewhere. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) set the yuan reference rate at 6.5646 against the dollar, down 0.51% from Wednesday’s fix. That represents the largest daily change in the fix since August 13, according to Reuters data. The yuan had finished at 6.5554 on Wednesday. China’s central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2% against the dollar, relative to the official fixing rate. Thursday’s fix jolted markets, with the more freely-traded offshore yuan plunging to a record low of 6.7511 against the dollar before recovering to 6.6910 on suspected intervention. The onshore yuan rate fell to as much as 6.5932.

Equity markets in the region tumbled, with Chinese stocks closing for the day after the CSI 300 index fell more than 7%, triggering a circuit breaker. “The PBOC said the fix will be based on the previous day’s close and a softer fix is therefore not inconsistent with market forces,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and markets strategy at Mizuho Bank’s Singapore office. “There is a sense in the market that the offshore market is getting carried away though and the PBOC would want to rein in excessively aggressive one-way bets,” he said. The currency moves have revived a litany of concerns in financial markets, from the health of the Chinese economy to the impact of a weaker yuan on capital outflows, which have accelerated in recent months. The more stocks fall on cues from a lower yuan, the more investors may be encouraged to yank funds out of China and park them overseas, in turn exerting further pressure on the yuan.

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Out of their hands.

Offshore Yuan Rises From Five-Year Low as PBOC Puzzles Markets (BBG)

The offshore yuan strengthened the most in two months amid speculation the central bank propped up the exchange rate after setting a weaker fixing that sent it into a tumble. The currency swung from a 0.3% gain to a 0.7% loss and back in the space of about 30 minutes, spurring intervention speculation and creating confusion about what the central bank is trying to achieve. The yuan turmoil sent mainland shares into a spiral, forcing an early trading halt for the second day this week. “China isn’t communicating its policy intentions in a clear manner,” said Sue Trinh at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. “It is sending confusing signals to the market. And it’s disappointing that their communication policy is less than transparent.”

The offshore yuan advanced 0.44% to 6.6837 a dollar as of 12:10 p.m. in Hong Kong, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, after reaching the weakest level since September 2010. The spot rate in Shanghai plunged 0.57% to a five-year low of 6.5923. The People’s Bank of China reduced its fixing, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, by 0.51% to 6.5646, the lowest since March 2011. “We saw aggressive intervention in the offshore yuan market,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank in Singapore. “We don’t really understand the rationale behind the market movements in the past few days. Obviously, these movements have reminded us of the market rout last year.”

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Article says 11-year low, but reality caught up.

Global Oil Prices Hit 12-Year Low (Reuters)

Brent crude futures fell to a fresh 11-year low on Thursday as a sliding yuan and an emergency halt in China’s stock trading left Asian markets in a turmoil, while a huge supply overhang and near-record output levels also continued to drag on oil prices. China accelerated the devaluation of the yuan on Thursday, sending currencies across the region reeling and domestic stock markets tumbling, as investors feared the Asian giant was kicking off a virtual trade war against its competitors. Trading on its stock markets was suspended for the rest of the day, the second time this week, and China’s securities regulator intervened heavily by issuing rules to restrict share sales by listed companies’ major shareholders.

Tracking the weakness across financial markets, the global benchmark Brent fell to $33.09 per barrel, the weakest since 2004 and below the previous 11-year low from Wednesday. Prices, however, edged back to $33.42 by 0440 GMT. “With oil markets producing 1 million barrels a day in excess (of demand) and very little sign of any rational response from the supply side, it’s little wonder we’re seeing pressure again,” said Michael McCarthy at CMC Markets in Sydney. Global oil prices have crashed 70% since mid-2014 as near-record output from major producers such as OPEC, Russia and North America has left storage tanks brimming with supplies. Exacerbating the oil market woes is a weakening demand, especially in Asia, home to the world’s No.2 oil consumer, China, that is seeing the slowest economic growth in a generation.

“The Chinese economy actually contracted in December and that’s adding fire to fears of a more rapid slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy,” McCarthy said. Financial markets fear the yuan’s rapid depreciation may accelerate, which would mean China’s economy is even weaker than had been imagined. Offshore yuan fell to a fresh record low on Thursday since trading started in 2010. With the global economy looking shaky due to China’s slowdown, analysts said the outlook for oil remains for cheap prices for much of this year. “We think low $30’s (per barrel) is a floor, but once positioning gets so biased anything can happen,” said Virendra Chauhan at Energy Aspects in Singapore.

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China already did pre-empt the stock sale ban that was supposed to expire: “The CSRC capped the size of stakes that major investors are allowed to sell at 1% of a company’s shares for three months effective Jan. 9..”

Shanghai Fund Manager Dumps All Holdings in ‘Insane’ Market (BBG)

A Shanghai fund dumped all its holdings as Chinese shares tumbled and triggered a circuit-breaker that halted trading in the world’s second-biggest stock market. “This is insane,” Chen Gang, CIO at Shanghai Heqi Tongyi Asset Management, said in an interview on Thursday. “We were forced to liquidate all our holdings this morning,” said Chen, whose firm manages about 300 million yuan ($45.5 million). China’s CSI 300 Index plunged 7.2% before trading was halted by automatic circuit-breakers for the second time this week, after a weaker-than-estimated yuan fixing fueled concern that slowing economic growth is prompting authorities to guide the currency lower. Many private funds and hedge funds in China have agreements with investors spelling out mandatory liquidation levels if their holdings drop below a certain value.

Chinese regulators have imposed a limit on the amount of stock major corporate shareholders can sell as authorities move to curb the nation’s market rout. The CSRC capped the size of stakes that major investors are allowed to sell at 1% of a company’s shares for three months effective Jan. 9, the regulator said in a statement on Thursday. The restriction replaces an existing six-month ban on any secondary market stock sales that is due to expire Friday, it said. Chen, who commented before the CSRC announced its new caps, said he “won’t consider getting back into the market until that overhang is gone and CSRC improves its circuit-breaker system, for instance by extending the 15-minute break to half an hour.”

The Shanghai Heqi Tongyi manager, whose fund started mid-year in 2015, regretted the timing of its launch and said it “couldn’t be worse.” Chen isn’t alone in criticizing the circuit-breaker rule introduced Monday, which many say exacerbates a liquidity squeeze as investors rush for the exits before trading halts kick in. Under the new rule, a drop of 5% suspends trading for 15 minutes, while a decline of 7% halts the market for the rest of the day. “A trading break of 15 minutes or even longer wouldn’t ease their nerves or get them a clear picture of the fundamentals,” said Polar Zhang at BOC International. “On the contrary, it’s draining liquidity as everybody tries to get out of the door before the door is closed.”

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Deflation.

It’s All Bad News for Markets Buckling Under China, Fed, Economy (BBG)

New year, same fears. Except now they’re hitting all at once. For U.S. stocks it’s meant the worst start since the financial crisis, while volatility in Europe has exploded to levels not seen in a decade. From China’s weakening currency to the rout in oil to the withdrawal of Fed stimulus and gains in the cost of financing business, things that keep investors up at night are climbing out from under the bed again in 2016. While little of it is new, the persistence is troubling, especially when buffers such as valuations and central bank support are turning against bulls. The result has been one of the fastest retreats from risk ever by investors coming back from New Year’s holiday. Just days into 2016, Wall Street firms from Citigroup to Royal Bank of Canada have already scaled back bullish calls for American equities this year, while single-stock analysts forecast fourth-quarter profits will shrink by more than 6% after predicting an expansion in August.

“The market obviously rises on the wall of fear, but right now the fear is looking a little bit more realistic,” said Brad McMillan at Commonwealth Financial Network. Over three days, more than $2 trillion has been wiped from the value of global equities, volatility in the broadest stock gauges has jumped 13% or more, and more than 8% was shorn from the price of oil. China’s Shanghai Composite Index plunged almost 7% to start the year while everything from junk bonds to cocoa and coffee has tumbled. As has been true before, the proximate cause is China. Data showing weakness in manufacturing this week sparked a tumble in the CSI 300 Index. Markets were roiled Wednesday when the nation’s central bank unexpectedly set the yuan’s daily reference rate at the lowest level since April 2011, fueling concern over the strength of the world’s second-largest economy.

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“Almost $2.5 trillion was wiped from the value of global equities this year through Wednesday, and losses deepened in Asia on Thursday..”

George Soros Sees Crisis in Global Markets That Echoes 2008 (BBG)

Global markets are facing a crisis and investors need to be very cautious, billionaire George Soros told an economic forum in Sri Lanka on Thursday. China is struggling to find a new growth model and its currency devaluation is transferring problems to the rest of the world, Soros said in Colombo. A return to positive interest rates is a challenge for the developing world, he said, adding that the current environment has similarities to 2008. Global currency, stock and commodity markets are under fire in the first week of the new year, with a sinking yuan adding to concern about the strength of China’s economy as it shifts away from investment and manufacturing toward consumption and services.

Almost $2.5 trillion was wiped from the value of global equities this year through Wednesday, and losses deepened in Asia on Thursday as a plunge in Chinese equities halted trade for the rest of the day. “China has a major adjustment problem,” Soros said. “I would say it amounts to a crisis. When I look at the financial markets there is a serious challenge which reminds me of the crisis we had in 2008.”

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Emerging markets will keep plummeting.

Fears Mount Over Rise Of Sovereign-Backed Corporate Debt (FT)

More than $800bn of emerging market sovereign debt is being camouflaged by the growing use of bonds that offer implicit state backing without always appearing on government balance sheets, according to new research. The stock of so-called quasi-sovereign bonds issued in dollars and other hard currencies by emerging markets has risen sharply in the past 12 months to overtake that of all external emerging market sovereign debt by the end of 2015. The growing use of such bonds suggests that developing countries are increasingly transferring debt obligations to third parties that have taken advantage of historically low interest rates to load up with cheap debt. Emerging markets are already under strain as the US dollar strengthens against the renminbi and other emerging market currencies, making the cost of servicing debt denominated in dollars harder to bear.

Although official debt-to-GDP levels of countries such as India, Russia and China remain low by global standards, the growth of less visible debt which they might still have to guarantee in a crisis underlines the potential scale of their liabilities. “This has been a source of worry for some time, in part because it does not always appear on government balance sheets.” said Lee Buchheit, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb and expert on sovereign debt default. “Emerging markets have benefited from interest rates at historic low levels and commodity prices at historic highs,” he said: “In the last year both of these have begun to unwind. If the resulting strains on a country compel a sovereign debt rearrangement of some kind, these contingent liabilities of the sovereign will need to be addressed.”

New figures from JPMorgan and Bond Radar show that issuance of quasi-sovereign bonds outpaced that of sovereign bonds in emerging markets last year, raising the stock of such debt from $710bn in 2014 to a record $839bn by the end of 2015. By comparison, the stock of all external emerging market sovereign debt stood at $750bn at the end of last year, according to JPMorgan. The cost of selling bonds with either an explicit or implicit guarantee of the government is lower than other corporate bonds. Quasi-sovereign borrowers include 100% state-owned entities such as Mexico’s Pemex, local governments in countries such as China, and entities in which the government owns more than 50% of the equity or has more than 50% of the voting rights — a description that encompasses Brazil’s Petrobras.

However, the treatment of such debt is not uniform. Bonds issued by Pemex are included in debt-to-GDP calculations for Mexico, but this is unusual, and only 19 of the 181 quasi-sovereign bonds tracked by JPMorgan carry an explicit sovereign guarantee. [..] Emerging markets’ quasi-sovereign bonds are now suffering from the same diminishing capital flows and rising borrowing costs plaguing the developing world, thanks to the strengthening US dollar, weakening commodity prices and fears of slowing Chinese growth. Poor performance has already hurt the credit ratings of countries that back them. Last year, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, two of the world’s three big credit rating agencies, cut Brazil’s rating to junk in part because of the growing risks associated with Petrobras. “What can really break the dam is the quasi-sovereign element in EM external debt,” says Gary Kleiman of Kleiman International, an emerging market investment consultant. “People have always assumed there is an implicit backing, but that capacity has not been called into question explicitly.”

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Paycheck to paycheck.

A $500 Car Repair Bill Would Send Most Americans Scrambling (WSJ)

An unexpected car repair or medical bill would cause the vast majority of Americans to scramble because they lack the needed funds in their savings accounts. Only 37% of adults have the necessary savings to cover a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill, according to a survey Bankrate.com released Wednesday. The finding is little changed from last year, when 38% said they didn’t have the cash on hand, despite a year of steady job creation and the unemployment rate falling to 5%. “Most Americans are ill-prepared for life’s inevitable curveballs,” said Sheyna Steiner, Bankrate.com’s senior investing analyst. She said that’s a concern because more than 40% of families experienced a similar unexpected cost during the past 12 months.

Without the savings, 23% of those surveyed said they would have to cut back on spending elsewhere, and 15% said they would turn to credit cards. The same share said they would have to borrow from friends or family. The data suggests that many households are still on uncertain financial footing more than six years after the recession ended. However, other figures indicate Americans are earning, and saving, more. The personal saving rate was 5.5% in November, the second-highest level since the start of 2013, the Commerce Department said last month. Lower gasoline prices and solid income gains in recent months are supporting savings. Wages increased 2.3% from a year earlier in November, the Labor Department said, even as consumer inflation held near zero.

The Bankrate survey found that preparedness for unexpected expenses varied widely by income level. Just 23% of those earning less than $30,000 annually had the needed savings, while 54% of those earning more than $75,000 annually said they would have the cash on hand.

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“In Britain we’ve already experimented with a system in which one group of people receive a guaranteed income with no obligation to work for it. But what if this was extended beyond the royal family?”

If A Basic Income Works For The Royal Family, It Can Work For Us All (Guardian)

My first response to the notion of a universal basic income (UBI) was: “Well, really. That is never going to happen! I mean, it’s completely unaffordable. I mean, it would be political suicide for any progressive party suggesting it.” And then I may have started to froth at the mouth slightly and ask if it would be paid to refugees. Yet this year will see a UBI paid to residents of Utrecht and 19 other Dutch municipalities. Everyone will get about £150 a week, whether working or not. The unemployed won’t find themselves penalised for finding work, and the hope is that the state will spend less money snooping on benefit claimants, moving on the homeless or locking up those driven to crime. Advocates of this radical idea are keen to quash any notion that recipients of free money will just use it to lie around all day getting stoned.

This is why it is being piloted in Holland. The idea is so refreshingly contrary to the petty conditionality that is killing the welfare state that it began to fill me with optimism that there may be a few people lying in this political gutter still looking at the stars. Once upon a time, universality was the underpinning principle of welfare. Every mother got child benefit; every child got free school milk, until that was snatched away by … Oh, I can’t remember – I’m not one to bear grudges. In Britain we’ve already experimented with a system in which one group of people receive a guaranteed income with no obligation to work for it. But what if this was extended beyond the royal family? Imagine now if everyone in the UK started out with a guaranteed minimal amount of money each week.

All other benefits would be done away with, along with the stigma and entrapment that came with the old system of welfare (and the expense of policing and administering it). The idea of the UBI is so contrary to everything that has been drummed into us about preventing the “something for nothing society”, it’s worth advocating it just to see the Daily Mail and Iain Duncan Smith implode with outrage. The predictable argument that will be rolled out is that it will turn the masses from “strivers into skivers”; it will lead to welfare dependency, a lack of initiative and lots of programmes on Channel 5 called Fat Ugly People Spending Your Money on Crisps and Big Tellies.

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Vanguard for a much bigger trend.

Macy’s To Cut Jobs, Shut Stores Amid Weak Holiday Sales (Reuters)

Macy’s said it will eliminate more than 2,000 jobs and consolidate operations after reporting weak holiday sales, highlighting a downturn in apparel demand that has likely taken a similar toll on other department stores and clothing chains. Macy’s said comparable sales at stores open for more than a year tumbled by 4.7% in November and December, far worse than what it had estimated in November, and it cut its earnings outlook for the second time in two months. Macy’s, which operates the upscale Bloomingdale’s chain as well as its namesake Macy’s department stores, estimated that 80% of the fall was due to unusually warm weather, which discouraged purchases of sweaters, coats and gloves. It also blamed the strong dollar for keeping tourists from visiting the United States and spending money at its flagship stores.

The company’s shares rose 2.8% to $37.15 in after-hours trading on Wednesday as investors cheered its plan to reduce costs by $400 million by consolidating regions and call-centers. The jobs to be eliminated include 3,000 store workers, though about half of those employees will be put in other positions, as well as hundreds of back-office and senior executive posts, the company said in a press release. “Macy’s is cutting the fat, becoming a leaner organization,” said Lisa Haddock, marketing lecturer at San Diego State University, of why the shares rose. But Haddock said Macy’s, like many other traditional bricks-and mortar retailers, faced an uncertain future as more and more consumer demand shifted online. “Macy’s doesn’t seem to have a unique spot in consumers’ minds,” she said.

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Essential: “..the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfil their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is. Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”..”

Note To Joe Stiglitz: Banks Originate, Not Intermediate (Steve Keen)

I like Joe Stiglitz, both professionally and personally. His Globalization and its Discontents was virtually the only work by a Nobel Laureate economist that I cited favourably in my Debunking Economics, because he had the courage to challenge the professional orthodoxy on the “Washington Consensus”. Far more than most in the economics mainstream—like Ken Rogoff for example—Joe is capable of thinking outside its box. But Joe’s latest public contribution—“The Great Malaise Continues” on Project Syndicate—simply echoes the mainstream on a crucial point that explains why the US economy is at stall speed, which the mainstream simply doesn’t get. Joe correctly notes that “the world faces a deficiency of aggregate demand”, and attributes this to both “growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity”, neither of which I dispute. But then he adds that part of the problem is that “our banks … are not fit to fulfill their purpose” because “they have failed in their essential function of intermediation”:

Between long-term savers (for example, sovereign wealth funds and those saving for retirement) and long-term investment in infrastructure stands our short-sighted and dysfunctional financial sector… Former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke once said that the world is suffering from a “savings glut.” That might have been the case had the best use of the world’s savings been investing in shoddy homes in the Nevada desert. But in the real world, there is a shortage of funds; even projects with high social returns often can’t get financing.

I’m the last one to defend banks, but here Joe is quite wrong: the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfil their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is. Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”, and they have every reason not to originate right now. In effect, Joe is complaining that banks aren’t doing what economics textbooks say they should do. But those textbooks are profoundly wrong about the actual functioning of banks, and until the economics profession gets its head around this and why it matters, then the economy will be stuck in the Great Malaise that Joe is hoping to lift us out of.

The argument that banks merely intermediate between savers and investors leads the mainstream to a manifestly false conclusion: that the level of private debt today is too low, because too little private debt is being created right now. In reality, the level of private debt is way too high, and that’s why so little lending is occurring. I can make the case empirically for non-economists pretty easily, thanks to an aside that Joe makes in his article. He observes that when WWII ended, many economists feared that there would be a period of stagnation:

Others, harking back to the profound pessimism after the end of World War II, fear that the global economy could slip into depression, or at least into prolonged stagnation.

In fact, the period from 1945 till 1965 is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. There was a severe slump initially as the economy changed from a war footing to a private one, but within 3 years, that transition was over and the US economy prospered—growing by as much as 10% in real terms in some years. The average from 1945 till 1965 was growth at 2.8% a year. In contrast, the average rate of economic growth since 2008 to today is precisely zero.

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“Schumpeterian creative destruction“: “The occurrence of a crisis greatly amplifies the impact of previous misallocations..”

BIS Says Central Banks’ Stimulus Strategy Is Based On A False Premise (AEP)

The world’s monetary watchdog has thrown down the gauntlet. It has challenged the twin assumptions of secular stagnation and the global savings glut that have possessed – some would say corrupted – the Western economic elites. It has implicity indicted the US Federal Reserve and fellow central banks for perverting the machinery of interest policy to conjure demand that may not, in fact, be needed, and ensnaring us in a self-perpetuating “debt-trap” with a diet of ever looser money. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the temple of monetary orthodoxy in Switzerland – has been waiting for this moment, combing through the archives of economic history to mount an unanswerable assault. The BIS believes it has found the smoking gun in a study of recessions in 22 rich countries dating back to the late 1960s.

The evidence suggests that the long malaise of the post-Lehman era – and the strange episode that preceded it – can be explained almost entirely by the destructive effects of boom and bust on productivity growth. Credit bubbles are corrosive. They gobble up resources on the upswing, diverting workers into low-productivity sectors and building booms. In Spain the construction share of GDP reached 16pc at the height of the “burbuja” in 2007, when teenagers abandoned school en masse to earn instant money erecting ghost towns. Parasitical wastage creeps in. “Financial institutions’ high demand for skilled labour may crowd out more productive sectors,” said the paper, acidly. The bubbles leave a long toxic legacy after the bust hits. This takes eight years or so to clear.

“The occurrence of a crisis greatly amplifies the impact of previous misallocations,” said the paper, racily titled “Labour reallocation and productivity dynamics: financial causes, real consequences”. Crippled economies have to make the switch back to healthier sectors against the headwinds of a credit crunch and a broken financial system, and typically amid austerity cuts in public investment. The BIS has long argued that a key reason why the US recovered more quickly than others is because it tackled the bad debts of the banking system early, forcing lenders to raise capital. This averted a long credit squeeze. It cleared the way for Schumpeterian creative destruction. The Europeans dallied, prisoners of their bank lobbies. They let lenders meet tougher rules by slashing credit rather than raising capital.

Europe’s unemployed have paid a high price for this policy failure. Claudio Borio, the paper’s lead author and the BIS’s chief economist, said the “hysteresis” effect of lost productivity is 0.7pc of GDP each year. The cumulative damage from the boom-bust saga over the past decade is 6pc. This more or less accounts for the phenomenon of “secular stagnation”, the term invented by Alvin Hansen in 1938 and revived by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Loosely, it describes an inter-war Keynesian world of deficient investment and demand. The theory of the global savings glut propagated by former Fed chief Ben Bernanke falls away, and so does the Fed’s central alibi. It can longer be cited as the canonical justification for negative real rates. The alleged surfeit of capital in the world proves a mirage. So does the output gap. If the BIS hypothesis is correct, there is no lack of global demand. The world faces a supply-side problem, impervious to monetary stimulus. The entire strategy of global central banks is based on a false premise.

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“..the Saudi royals would just be some broke 80-year-olds with nothing left but a lot of beard dye and Viagra prescriptions.”

One Map That Explains the Dangerous Saudi-Iranian Conflict (Intercept)

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday. Hours later, Iranian protestors set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. On Sunday, the Saudi government, which considers itself the guardian of Sunni Islam, cut diplomatic ties with Iran, which is a Shiite Muslim theocracy. To explain what’s going on, the New York Times provided a primer on the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam, informing us that “a schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632” – i.e., 1383 years ago. But to the degree that the current crisis has anything to do with religion, it’s much less about whether Abu Bakr or Ali were Muhammad’s rightful successor and much more about who’s going to control something more concrete right now: oil.

In fact, much of the conflict can be explained by a fascinating map created by M.R. Izady, a cartographer and adjunct master professor at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School/Joint Special Operations University in Florida. What the map shows is that, due to a peculiar correlation of religious history and anaerobic decomposition of plankton, almost all the Persian Gulf’s fossil fuels are located underneath Shiites. This is true even in Sunni Saudi Arabia, where the major oil fields are in the Eastern Province, which has a majority Shiite population. As a result, one of the Saudi royal family’s deepest fears is that one day Saudi Shiites will secede, with their oil, and ally with Shiite Iran.

This fear has only grown since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq overturned Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni regime, and empowered the pro-Iranian Shiite majority. Nimr himself said in 2009 that Saudi Shiites would call for secession if the Saudi government didn’t improve its treatment of them. As Izady’s map so strikingly demonstrates, essentially all of the Saudi oil wealth is located in a small sliver of its territory whose occupants are predominantly Shiite. (Nimr, for instance, lived in Awamiyya, in the heart of the Saudi oil region just northwest of Bahrain.) If this section of eastern Saudi Arabia were to break away, the Saudi royals would just be some broke 80-year-olds with nothing left but a lot of beard dye and Viagra prescriptions.


Map shows religious populations in the Middle East and proven developed oil and gas reserves. Click to view the full map of the wider region. The dark green areas are predominantly Shiite; light green predominantly Sunni; and purple predominantly Wahhabi/Salafi, a branch of Sunnis. The black and red areas represent oil and gas deposits, respectively. Source: Dr. Michael Izady at Columbia University, Gulf2000, New York

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Detailed and instructive article. Recommended reading.

Massive US Tax Grab Coming in 2016 at All Levels of Government (FRA)

The Financial Repression Authority sees the massive government tax grab already quietly underway accelerating in 2016 in most of the developed economies. This ‘grab’ will be a desperate political act driven by underfunded, and in a significant number of cases, unfunded public pension which will unfold at all three levels of government, Federal, State and City /Local government. It will be disguised by different focal emphasis and appear to evolve in an uncoordinated manner – but it will occur! To spot its telltale fingerprints we should expect the following words to become much more prevalent in the “public narrative” throughout 2016 and to see EACH of these which we explore in this article to increasingly and significantly extract money from taxpayer wallets:

• Capital Gains Tax,
• Property Tax,
• Global Wealth Tax (PFIC, FATCA, GATCA),
• Civil Forfeiture Fines,
• Means Testing,
• Licensing Fees,
• Usage, Tolls & Emergency Services Fees,
• Inspection Fees,
• Processing Fees,
• Fines (Police and Agency)
• Ticketing,
• School Activity, Equipment & Supply Fees,
• Inheritance Tax,
• Social Security Taxation Rate

The Wealth Effect is believed by the government to have pushed up taxpayer US Household Net Worth by $30 Trillion or 55% from the Financial Crisis low. The US government is coming after that money! They see it as a “Honey Pot” that can’t be resisted.

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Build a wall with Cuba?

Deal Paves Way For Thousands Of Cuban Immigrants Heading To US (CNN)

It’s a rare deal at a time when daily sparring over immigration is a worldwide reality. Five Central American countries and Mexico inked an agreement last week that will help thousands of stranded Cuban immigrants make their way to the United States. The group of Cubans, about 8,000 at the latest estimate, had been stuck in Costa Rica for weeks after Nicaragua closed its borders to them. Now a group of Central American countries say the Cubans will be flown to El Salvador, then transported on buses to Mexico. Then they’ll have a chance to cross into the United States. Officials have said they’ll start transporting the group of Cubans on flights this month. The first group of 180 will leave on a flight to El Salvador on Tuesday as part of a pilot program, Costa Rica’s foreign minister said Wednesday. It won’t be a free ride; the immigrants will have to pay about $550 to cover travel and visa costs, officials said.

The idea of 8,000 new immigrants showing up at America’s doorstep sounds like a large number. But experts say it’s in keeping with a trend they’ve observed. The number of Cubans coming to the United States has spiked dramatically, particularly after President Barack Obama’s announcement that relations between the United States and the island nation were on the mend. More than 43,000 Cubans entered the United States at ports of entry in the 2015 fiscal year, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, which cited U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. That represents a 78% increase over the previous year, according to Pew. Several factors are fueling the trend, said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute.

These include the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to families there, Cuba’s move in 2013 to relax exit controls on Cubans seeking to leave the island and – most importantly – the U.S. decision to normalize relations last year. Some fear the immigration policies that have welcomed Cubans into the United States could change now that relations between the countries are warming, Rosenblum said. “There is this concern that Cuba special privileges will be eliminated, so Cubans are trying to get out while the getting’s good,” he said. Not anymore. While the U.S. Coast Guard said last year it was seeing an increase in the number of Cubans trying to reach the United States in rafts, even more are taking a different route.

“Over the last several years, we’ve seen pretty sharp increases in the number of Cubans, especially traveling by land,” Rosenblum said. Until recently, many flew into Ecuador, which didn’t require a visa for Cubans until several months ago. From there, they trekked through Latin America until they reached the United States.

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Clueless.

EU Fails to Defuse Passport-Free Clash in Northern Europe (BBG)

German, Danish, Swedish and European officials blamed each other – and political leaders across the continent – for the refugee overruns that have led to the reintroduction of passport checks in northern Europe. A migration crisis session in Brussels on Wednesday ended with Germany identifying Greece’s lightly policed sea border as the cause of the problem, Denmark telling refugees to go elsewhere, Sweden confessing that it’s swamped and the EU’s head office appealing for “solidarity.” “Our problem at the moment in Europe is that we do not have a functioning border-control system, especially at the Greece-Turkey border,” German deputy interior minister, Ole Schroeder, told reporters afterward.

The latest threat to no-passport travel in much of the 28-nation EU started when Sweden began stopping traffic on its border with Denmark, leading to controls on the Danish-German frontier and prompting the bloc’s home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, to plead for a “return to normal as soon as possible.” The scale of the challenge was dramatized by data showing that EU governments have rehoused only 272 of a pledged 160,000 refugees, leaving Germany, Sweden, Greece and Italy as the main interim hosts of people fleeing wars in the Middle East. Sweden renewed its call for the equitable distribution of refugees, as required by EU laws passed last year, and invoked the rule – widely seen as broken beyond repair – that refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach.

“We cannot do everything, we have to share responsibility among all member states,” Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said. The largest movement of people since the dislocations after World War II has stirred tensions among commercially and culturally like-minded countries in Scandinavia. “We don’t wish to be the final destination for thousands and thousands of asylum seekers,” said Danish immigration minister, Inger Stoejberg. She said Denmark is ready “at very short notice” to sanction transport operators for bringing in illegal migrants.

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Still 4,000 a day arriving in Germany every day. Or 1.46 million per year. And that’s in winter.

Drop In Refugees Due to Weather, Not Turkey’s Crackdown, Germany Says (Reuters)


Migrant arrivals in Germany dropped significantly last month, but the reason was rough seas, not efforts by Turkey to crack down on illegal departures to Greece, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Wednesday. His remarks suggest that German efforts to stem the flow of arrivals with help from Turkey are not effective yet, which increases pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose popularity has fallen over her decision to welcome refugees. “Our impression is that the drop (in arrivals) is predominantly linked to the weather, namely a stormy sea in the Mediterranean,” de Maiziere, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told a news conference.

“We are also seeing efforts by Turkey to reduce the number of illegal migration departure from Turkey,” he said. “But we cannot confirm a sustainable, permanent, and visible reduction because of these activities and based on individual steps in December.” From 2,500 to 4,000 migrants entered Germany through Austria each day in December. That is far less than 10,000 daily arrivals recorded at the height of the crisis in autumn but still not low enough to silence Merkel’s critics. Most migrants reach Europe by making the short voyage from Turkey to Greece. Merkel wants Turkey to stem the flow and take back asylum seekers rejected by Europe.

In exchange, Turkey will get support for faster action on its bid to join the European Union and billions of euros in aid for Syrian refugees in border camps. The chancellor has rejected demands from members of her own conservatives to cap the number of refugees Germany is willing to take each year as well as calls to seal the border with Austria. Her multi-front approach to reducing the number of arrivals also includes providing aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and distributing asylum seekers across the EU.

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Jan 082015
 
 January 8, 2015  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Old Absinthe House, bar, New Orleans 1906

Most Americans Are One Paycheck Away From The Street (MarketWatch)
Ron Paul On Paris Attack: Bad Foreign Policy ‘Invites Retaliation’ (Breitbart)
Why Oil Will Go Even Lower (CNBC)
The Worrying Math From US Shale Plays (Ron Patterson)
White House Doesn’t Feel Pressure To Expand US Crude Exports (Reuters)
Oil Investors Pour Most Money Into Funds in 4 Years (Bloomberg)
World’s Best Forecaster Targets Euro-Dollar Parity (Bloomberg)
Are Bond Yields Flashing A Panic Signal? (CNBC)
Eurozone Deflation Is The Final Betrayal Of Southern Europe (AEP)
A Tale Of Two Record Unemployments: Italy vs Germany (Zero Hedge)
German Unemployment Falls to Record Low on Strengthening Economic Recovery (Bloomberg)
Italy Jobless Rate Rises to Record Amid Growth Outlook Concerns (Bloomberg)
Greek Crisis Jolts QE Juggernaut as ECB Ponders Deflation (Bloomberg)
German Lawmakers Say Greek Debt Talks Possible After Vote (Bloomberg)
ECB Wants New Greek Government To Quickly Reach Deal With Creditors (Reuters)
Here’s One Road Map For A Greek Eurozone Exit (MarketWatch)
We Are Entering An Era Of Shattered Illusions (Alt-Market)
Fed Bullish On US Recovery (Reuters)
Japan Household Mood Worsens To Levels Before ‘Abenomics’ (Reuters)
China Steps In To Support Venezuela, Ecuador As Oil Prices Tumble
Lawmakers Up Pressure On Obama To Release Secret 9/11 Documents (Fox)
‘France Wants To Mend Ties With Russia’ (RT)
Fight Over Keystone Pipeline is Completely Divorced From Reality (Bloomberg)
Most Fossil Fuels Are ‘Unburnable’ (BBC)
The ‘Untouchable Reserves’ (BBC)
US Antibiotics Discovery Labelled ‘Game Changer’ For Medicine (BBC)

A gutted society.

Most Americans Are One Paycheck Away From The Street (MarketWatch)

Americans are feeling better about their job security and the economy, but most are theoretically only one paycheck away from the street. Approximately 62% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a new survey of 1,000 adults by personal finance website Bankrate.com. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (26%), borrowing from family and/or friends (16%) or using credit cards (12%). “Emergency savings are not just critical for weathering an emergency, they’re also important for successful homeownership and retirement saving,” says Signe-Mary McKernan, senior fellow and economist at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on social and economic policy.

The findings are strikingly similar to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of more than 4,000 adults released last year. “Savings are depleted for many households after the recession,” it found. Among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used up some or all of their savings in the Great Recession and its aftermath. What’s more, only 39% of respondents reported having a “rainy day” fund adequate to cover three months of expenses and only 48% of respondents said that they would completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money. Why aren’t people saving? “A lot of people are in debt,” says Andrew Meadows, producer of “Broken Eggs,” a documentary about retirement. “Probably the most common types of debt are student loans and costs related to medical issues.”

He spent seven weeks traveling around the U.S. and interviewed over 100 people about why they haven’t saved enough money. “People are still feeling the heat from the Great Recession.” Some 44% of senior citizens have enough savings to cover unexpected expenses versus 33% of millennials, Bankrate.com found. On the upside, the Bankrate survey found that 82% of Americans keep a household budget, up from 60% in 2012. Even in the age of the smartphone, most people keep a budget the old-fashioned way, either with a pen and paper (36%) or in their heads (18%). Just 26% of those surveyed say they use a computer program or smartphone app.

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That’s exactly what I said yesterday in I Follow Charlie.

Ron Paul On Paris Attack: Bad Foreign Policy ‘Invites Retaliation’ (Breitbart)

On Wednesday’s “The Steve Malzberg Show” on NewsMax TV, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) tied the Paris shooting, along with other Western domestic terrorist attacks to the bad foreign policies of those countries. “Partially what the Secretary of State said is true,” Paul said. “This is pretty obscene, when it comes to violence, and libertarians are pretty annoyed by anybody who initiates violence. “The context of things, France has been a target for many, many years, because they’ve been involved in foreign affairs in Libya, and they really prodded us along in — recently in Libya, but they’ve been involved in Algeria, so they’ve had attacks like this, you know, not infrequently,” he added.

“So, it does involve, you know, their foreign policy as well. When people do this, you know, the rejection of the violence has to be made, and with that I agree. I put blame on bad policy that we don’t fully understand, and we don’t understand what they’re doing because the people who are objecting to the foreign policy that we pursue, they do it from a different perspective. They see us as attacking them, and killing innocent people, so yes, they, they have — this doesn’t justify, so don’t put those words in my mouth — it doesn’t justify, but it explains it.” Paul cited U.S. involvement in the Middle East that helped to inspire the rise of ISIS.

“And this is why we say if we had somebody do to us what we have done to so many countries in the Middle East, and how many people we’ve killed, and sending over drones, and bombing, being involved in all these wars, and supporting dictators one week, and taking away the support — and the stupidity of us sending all those weapons into Syria, ending up in the hands of ISIS — and right now we’re even sending more weapons. You know, because ISIS took all the American weapons. It’s that overall policy which invites retaliation, and they see us as intruders. But it’s a little bit more complex, you know, when they hit us, either here at home, and hit civilians, and what’s happening in France. But I don’t think you can divorce these instances from the overall foreign policy.”

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“The median estimate of more than 30 forecasters in a Bloomberg survey is $1.15 by the end of 2016.”

World’s Best Forecaster Targets Euro-Dollar Parity (Bloomberg)

Being more bearish on the euro than the consensus helped ING become the world’s most accurate currency forecaster in 2014. The Dutch bank sees no reason to change its strategy now, breaking from the pack to predict a drop to parity with the dollar within two years. After watching the 19-nation currency slide as low as $1.1792 today from last year’s high of $1.3993 in May, ING sees it continuing to weaken all the way to $1, a level last seen in 2002. The median estimate of more than 30 forecasters in a Bloomberg survey is $1.15 by the end of 2016. ING expects measures by the European Central Bank to boost the euro zone’s flagging economy and avoid deflation will have direr consequences for the currency than most other firms. Few investors will want the euro as policy makers expand the money supply, especially as the Federal Reserve makes dollar assets more attractive by raising interest rates.

“We are one of the most bearish houses on euro-dollar,” Petr Krpata, a foreign-exchange strategist at ING in London, said yesterday by phone. “It looks as if the Fed will start hiking rates sooner rather than later, potentially even late in the second quarter, and this will further fuel the divergence on policy.” ING topped Bloomberg’s rankings of foreign-exchange analysts for the four quarters ended Dec. 31, rising from second place previously and supplanting German lender Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg in the No. 1 slot. In one of its best calls, ING predicted at the start of 2014 the euro would fall 13% to $1.20 by Dec. 31, compared with a median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of $1.28 at the time. The shared currency ended the year at $1.2098, and traded at $1.1798 as of 9:39 a.m. in London.

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Or is it a loss of sanity signal?

Are Bond Yields Flashing A Panic Signal? (CNBC)

Government bond yields in the U.S., Europe and Japan are plumbing lows, suggesting a flight to safety, but analysts aren’t ready to hit the panic button. “This is the first time ever that rates are this low, as even during the 1930s rates were well above current levels,” Steven Englander, head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Citigroup, said in a note this week, noting the average G-3 10-year government bond yield is below 1%. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield was trading around 1.98% late Tuesday in the U.S. after starting the year around 2.17%. Germany’s 10-year bund was around 0.47%, around all-time lows, after ending 2014 around 0.54%, while the Japanese government bond (JGB) was around 0.30%, a tad up from the record low 0.265% touched earlier this week. Bond prices move inversely to yields.

“This is not happening during the panic phase of a crisis, but after the panic is over and we have had significant recoveries in asset prices globally,” he said. But rather than a panic signal, he calls it “more a sign that investors think we are going nowhere for a long time.” Others are also disregarding the idea that declines in already low bond yields may be a warning signal. “The markets seem to be suggesting that you have perhaps even a recessionary environment, not dissimilar to an emerging market crisis, an Asian crisis or even the GFC (global financial crisis),” Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS, said at a presentation for the bank’s private banking clients. He cited the 30-year U.S. Treasury’s around 40 basis point drop in yield in the first three trading days of this year, saying it may be the biggest drop in the 30-year’s yield since records began.

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“U.S. oil production rose again—to 9.132 million barrels a day, on par with the largest output in more than three decades.”

Why Oil Will Go Even Lower (CNBC)

New data showing a surge in U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel supplies spell more trouble for oil prices but is good news for consumers. The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday reported that U.S. gasoline stocks rose by 8.1 million barrels last week, compared with expectations for a 3.4 million barrel build. Distillate stocks, including diesel fuel and heating oil, rose by 11.2 million barrels, more than five times the amount expected. Gasoline futures for February slumped more than 2% on the Nymex to $1.32 per gallon, but West Texas Intermediate oil futures rose slightly to $48.62 per barrel even though the large supply of refined products means lower demand for oil in coming weeks.

The data showed a bigger-than-expected drop of 3.1 million barrels in crude inventories last week, but it also showed that U.S. oil production rose again—to 9.132 million barrels a day, on par with the largest output in more than three decades. Production was at 9.12 million barrels a day last week, and has been above 9 million barrels daily since early November. The surge in U.S. production, largely from shale drilling, is what set off a price war between OPEC and other producers as U.S. crude displaced that of other competitors. OPEC, at its last meeting on Thanksgiving, adopted a strategy of standing back and letting the market determine price. That has helped drive oil down further and faster than many analysts had expected.

Analysts see oil prices weakening further through the second quarter before leveling off and rising in the fourth quarter. “Despite the falling rig count, we tend to hover near 30-year highs in output,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. He said Wednesday’s weekly data reaffirmed his negative outlook for oil prices. U.S. oil production is expected to continue to grow over the next several months, as producers pump at current levels and some even more, particularly if they are cash strapped. Analyst say it will be several months before cutbacks in capital spending start to show up in decreased oil output. “My outlook’s pretty bearish. I don’t know if it can possibly get more bearish,” Kilduff said. “I still think we’re going to punch the clock on $33 and see what happens from there.”

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Decline rates even worse than thought.

The Worrying Math From US Shale Plays (Ron Patterson)

There has been considerable dispute over how many new wells required to keep production flat in the Bakken and Eagle Ford. One college professor posted, over on Seeking Alpha, figures that it would take 114 rigs in the Bakken and 175 in Eagle Ford to keep production flat. He bases his analysis on David Hughes’ estimate that the legacy decline rate for Bakken wells is 45% and 35% for Eagle Ford wells. And he says a rig can drill 18 wells a year, or about one well every 20.3 days. The EIA has come up with different numbers. The data for the chart below was taken from the EIA’s Drilling Productivity Report. The EIA has current legacy decline at about 6.3% per month for Bakken wells and about 7.7% per month for Eagle Ford wells. That works out to be about 54% per year for the Bakken and 62% per year for Eagle Ford. I believe the EIA’s estimate of legacy decline, in this case, is fairly accurate.

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“If you look at what’s going on in the market and actions that the Department took, I think that … there’s not a lot of pressure to do more.”

White House Doesn’t Feel Pressure To Expand US Crude Exports (Reuters)

The White House does not feel pressure to loosen restrictions on U.S. oil exports further and views debate over the issue as resolved for now, John Podesta, a top aide to President Barack Obama, told Reuters in an interview. The drop in oil prices and the Commerce Department’s move to allow companies to ship as much as a million barrels per day of ultra-light U.S. crude to the rest of the world has taken pressure off the administration to do more. “At this stage, I think that what the Commerce Department did in December sort of resolves the debate. We felt comfortable with where they went,” Podesta said from his West Wing office in the most substantive comments yet from a White House official on the contentious issue of exporting abundant U.S. shale oil. “If you look at what’s going on in the market and actions that the Department took, I think that … there’s not a lot of pressure to do more.”

His comments may disappoint some Republicans and energy companies such as Hess Corp. which have lobbied for more relief from a ban they view as a relic of the 1970s Arab oil embargo. While few analysts expected Obama to make a serious effort to repeal the ban – a delicate political topic due to widespread fears among Americans that doing so could inflate gasoline prices – some had hoped that further modest measures to ease its impact might emerge this year. By standing pat, however, Obama may avoid clashing with his environmentalist supporters who have begun to campaign against lifting the restrictions, hoping that might keep a lid on domestic oil drilling by depressing local prices. Some refiners such as PBF Energy, which have benefited from the abundance of U.S. shale oil, also oppose easing the ban. Podesta, who plans to leave the administration in early February and help Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president, has played a critical role on energy and climate policy during his one-year tenure with Obama.

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Well, if you need to gamble ..

Oil Investors Pour Most Money Into Funds in 4 Years (Bloomberg)

Investors betting oil will rebound from the lowest prices in 5 1/2-years poured the most money in more than four years into funds that track crude. The four biggest oil exchange-traded products listed in the U.S. received a combined $1.23 billion in December, the most since May 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Another $109.9 million was added this month through Jan. 5. Investors are piling into oil ETFs even after West Texas Intermediate crude tumbled the most since 2008 last year amid signs of rising supply and weak demand. Shares outstanding of the four funds surged to the highest since 2009. “Commodity investors can be contrarian investors,” said Matt Hougan, president of research firm ETF.com. “There are a lot of true believers in the commodity space. A lot of people are attached to the idea that oil’s natural price should be $100, not $50.”

The U.S. Oil Fund (USO), the biggest oil ETF, attracted $629.9 million in December and $100.4 million so far this month. The fund (DBO), which follows WTI prices, added 1.8% to $18.369 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange. The number of U.S. Oil Fund shares on loan to short sellers was 3.93 million on Jan. 5, down from as high as 9.53 million last month, data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg show. Money is pouring into oil ETFs even as commodity-linked index liquidations surged to a record $17 billion in the first 11 months of last year, Barclays said in a report yesterday. Total commodity assets under management fell to $276 billion in November, the lowest since early 2010, according to the bank.

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“There is a risk of a real economic vicious cycle: less investment, which in turn reduces potential growth, the future becomes even grimmer and investment is reduced even further ..”

Eurozone Deflation Is The Final Betrayal Of Southern Europe (AEP)

The eurozone has let it happen. Europe’s authorities have so mismanaged monetary and fiscal strategy that the whole currency bloc has tipped into deflation. The drop in the eurozone’s headline price index to -0.2% in December scarcely captures the significance of what is happening. Deflationary forces have been gaining a grip on all the crisis states of the South for 18 months. A chorus of economists began warning two years ago that the region was sailing close to the wind by letting inflation drift ever lower, leaving itself one shock away from a loss of policy traction. That shock is now hitting in successive waves: the Russia crisis; China’s over-investment glut; and now the collapse of oil prices. Textbook theory suggests that a halving of energy costs should be cause for celebration, a tax cut for consumers. It is very different calculus when inflation is already zero, bond yields are plummeting to 14th century lows across the world, and market psychology is becoming “unhinged” – to use central banking vernacular.

“Normally, any central bank would prefer to look through a positive supply shock,” said Peter Praet, the European Central Bank’s chief economist. “But we may not have that luxury at present. Shocks can change: in certain circumstances supply shocks can morph into demand shocks via second-round effects.” Mr Praet said families and firms are already adapting pre-emptively to the new order, describing what amounts to a classic deflation trap. “There is a risk of a real economic vicious cycle: less investment, which in turn reduces potential growth, the future becomes even grimmer and investment is reduced even further,” he told Börsen-Zeitung. Mr Praet warned that an “underemployment equilibrium” is setting in, invoking the term used by Keynes in the 1930s. He exhorted “all the authorities”, including governments, to step up to their responsibilities and take “urgent action”. This is a man who knows that monetary union is in deep crisis.

His boss, Mario Draghi, has been bending every sinew for a long time to head off this awful moment. He went to Berlin as far back as November 2013 to plead for understanding from Germany’s economic elites, warning even then that radical measures were needed to secure a “safety margin against deflationary risks”. He feared that the downward slide was pushing EMU crisis countries into a deeper rut as they tried to claw back competitiveness. “Real debt burdens rise,” he said. Mr Draghi did not invoke Irving Fisher’s classic text published in 1933 – Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions – but his message was the same. Falling prices are not benign in highly-leveraged economies. There comes a point when the sailing ship does not right itself by the normal swing of the cycle. It tips too far and capsizes. Try to right it then. The Japanese are still trying 15 years later.

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Zero Hedge noticed the same phenomenon I did earlier in yesterday’s I Follow Charlie. As I said: “If the European economy doesn’t magically recover, the north will – continue to – save its economies by strangling the south.”

A Tale Of Two Record Unemployments: Italy vs Germany (Zero Hedge)

For the first time ever, Italy’s unemployment rate is more than twice that of its European Union (one region, one monetary policy) neighbor Germany. As Germany’s jobless rate fell for the 3rd month in a row to 6.5% (the lowest level in records going back more than two decades), Italian unemployment unexpectedly rose to a record high at 13.4% (well above the euro-region rate of 11.5%). Of course, while these two nations ‘economic’ state diverges by the most on record, bond yields are at record lows in both – leaving us (and everyone else) questioning, just what it is that ECB QE will do to help Europe’s economies?

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Here’s the German part:

German Unemployment Falls to Record Low on Strengthening Economic Recovery (Bloomberg)

German unemployment fell for a third month in December to a record low, signaling that growth in Europe’s largest economy will accelerate in 2015. The number of people out of work fell a seasonally adjusted 27,000 to 2.841 million in December, the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg said today. The adjusted jobless rate dropped to 6.5%, the lowest level in records going back more than two decades.

The rest of that article is just a whole load of nonsense, hubris and whale blubber. But then you contrast it with this:

Italy Jobless Rate Rises to Record Amid Growth Outlook Concerns (Bloomberg)

Italy’s unemployment rate increased more than forecast to a new high of 13.4% in November as companies failed to hire on concern the country’s longest recession on record isn’t about to end. The jobless rate rose from a revised 13.3% in October, the Rome-based national statistics office Istat said in a preliminary report today. The November reading is the highest since the quarterly series began in 1977.

Two more weeks of this endless discussion …

Greek Crisis Jolts QE Juggernaut as ECB Ponders Deflation (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi has more evidence than ever to start quantitative easing as soon as this month – if only he can find a way to deal with Greece. Two weeks before the first monetary-policy meeting of the year on Jan. 22, governors gathered yesterday and discussed the decision over dinner. Hours earlier, data showed the first annual drop in consumer prices since 2009 and stubbornly high unemployment, handing the European Central Bank president a stronger case for buying government bonds. Overshadowing their meal was the return of Greek tensions, with the prospect that elections three days after the meeting will bring a party to power that wants to restructure the nation’s debt. That threat adds a new dimension to the argument for Draghi, whose chief challenge in convincing opponents of quantitative easing is to show it won’t turn into a bailout for recalcitrant governments.

“The case for further ECB action is strong and the negative rates of inflation will provide great mood music for Draghi to push QE through the Governing Council,” said Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN Amro Bank NV in Amsterdam. “The Greek issue could complicate the announcement and the ECB may well hold off from providing the details until March, giving it a chance to see how the situation turns out.” Euro-area consumer prices dropped an annual 0.2% in December as oil costs plunged, and November unemployment remained near a record at 11.5%. Draghi has argued that slumping energy prices may worsen inflation expectations, a development the ECB won’t be able to ignore. A decision in favor of large-scale government-bond purchases still has hurdles to overcome.

Policy makers including Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann have spoken publicly against them, citing legal risks and the likelihood that a program would reduce the incentive for governments to reform their economies. The treatment of Greek bonds, which are rated junk by the three major credit-rating companies, demands particular attention by officials. The ECB already owns 8% of the nation’s debt, and has committed to accept it as collateral in refinancing operations as long as the country stays in a program to ensure its reform efforts stay on track. Greek opposition party Syriza, which leads in opinion polls, has campaigned on an anti-austerity platform that includes relief on the nation’s debt. That leaves the ECB facing a dilemma over whether to buy the bonds.

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Greece can get anything it wants, as long as Germany’s interests are secured. And that’s the whole problem.

German Lawmakers Say Greek Debt Talks Possible After Vote (Bloomberg)

Germany is leaving the door open to discussing debt relief with Greece’s next government, lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition said, signaling a more flexible stance than her administration has taken publicly. While writing off Greek debt isn’t on the table, talks on easing the repayment terms on aid that Greece received from European governments are possible after the country’s parliamentary elections on Jan. 25, the lawmakers from Germany’s two biggest governing parties said. The condition is that Greece sticks to its austerity commitments, they said.

The potential opening reflects scenarios under discussion in Merkel’s coalition for how to respond if Greek voters oust Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a Merkel ally who has enforced German-led demands for austerity, and elect anti-austerity leader Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party. “There should be talks with any government that emerges from the election,” Ingrid Arndt-Brauer, a Social Democrat who chairs the lower house’s finance committee, said in an interview. “You can talk about extending maturities and easing the interest rate on loans with a left-wing government, too.” A senior lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union said Germany will talk with any elected Greek government, including about an easing of aid conditions, as long as Greece doesn’t renege on its austerity commitments.

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If the creditors are willing to forgive enough debt, this shouldn’t be a problem. 😉

ECB Wants New Greek Government To Quickly Reach Deal With Creditors (Reuters)

The European Central Bank wants Greece’s new government to soon reach an agreement with its European partners to enable the country’s banks to continue to have access to funding, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Thursday. “The ECB sent clear and stern messages to Athens yesterday through Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras asking for an agreement with European partners soon after the election so that liquidity access to banks can continue,” the paper said. ECB funding to Greek banks rose 2.3% to €44.85 billion in November. Banks have reduced their exposure but still depend on ECB funding for liquidity.

Citing the country’s central banker, the paper said the ECB will maintain its funding access to the nation’s lenders as long as Athens remains under a bailout program and continues to meet its obligations. “As regards the upcoming election, the ECB is not taking any side but wants whatever government emerges to be formed soon and complete negotiations with the (EU/IMF/ECB) troika so that there is agreement on the day after,” Kathimerini said. The paper said business and household deposits dropped by about €2.5 billion in December, according to estimates by bankers who do not see the situation as a cause for concern.

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“.. preparations must be made in secret by a small group of officials and then acted on more or less straightaway ..”

Here’s One Road Map For A Greek Eurozone Exit (MarketWatch)

Remember Grexit? Looming elections in Greece have people again talking about the possibility of a country leaving the euro. If it were to come to that, it wouldn’t be a simple task. And some economists fear the turmoil that would surround a breakup could trigger another global financial crisis. While financial markets aren’t exactly up in arms over the prospect, it’s worth a closer look at exactly how a Greek exit might play out. One possible path was detailed by economist Roger Bootle, the founder of London-based research firm Capital Economics. In fact, the plan won the 2012 Wolfson Economics Prize, which was a contest for proposals on how to dismantle the eurozone. Here are some of the plan’s highlights:

Secret preparations, capital controls: This would be necessary because word of an exit would prompt a run on the banks. After all, who would want to leave their euros parked in a Greek bank to see them converted overnight into drachmas? “Accordingly, preparations must be made in secret by a small group of officials and then acted on more or less straightaway,” wrote Bootle and his associates. Temporary capital controls, including temporary closure of the banks, would be essential just before departure. Parity with the euro (at first): In order to maintain price transparency and boost confidence, it would be best to introduce the new currency at parity with the euro. In other words, if the price of an item was €1.35, it would now be 1.35 drachmas. They note that the drachma would, of course, be free to fall on foreign exchange markets and that it is actually crucial that it does so.

Redenominated debt, substantial default: The government should redenominate its debt in the new currency and make clear it plans to renegotiate the terms, which would likely include a “substantial default,” they wrote, while also making clear the intention to resume servicing remaining debt as soon as possible. Bootle and his team offered several other recommendations, including a call for the national central bank of an exiting country to implement inflation-targeting and stand ready to inject liquidity into its own banking system, using quantitative easing, if necessary. They must also make clear they’re ready to recapitalize banks, the plan recommends.

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“.. the idea that such things can happen despite a consensus of social and geopolitical health does not seemed to have soaked into the thick skulls of average people.”

We Are Entering An Era Of Shattered Illusions (Alt-Market)

The structure of history is held together by two essential and distinct kinds of links, two moments in time to which no one is immune: moments of epiphany, and moments of catastrophe. Sometimes, both elements intermingle at the birth of a singular epoch. Men often awaken to understanding in the midst of great crisis; and, invariably, great crises can erupt when men awaken. These are the moments when social gravity vanishes, when the kinetic glue of normalcy melts away, and we begin to see the true foundations of our world, if a foundation exists at all. Catastrophe occurs when too many people refuse to accept that around us always are two universes at work. There is the cold, hard reality that underlies everything. And on the surface is a veil of deceit and compromise. The more humanity compromises vital truths in order to enjoy the comfort of illusions, the more mind-shattering it will be when those illusions fall away. These two worlds can coexist only for short periods of time, and they will always and eventually collide. There is no other possible outcome.

I think it could be said that the more polarized our realities become, the more explosive and disastrous the reaction will be when the separation is removed. I feel it absolutely necessary to relate this danger because today humanity is living so historically far from the bedrock of reality, political reality, social reality and economic reality that the stage has been set for a kind of full spectrum destabilization that has never been seen before. Though my analysis tends to lean toward the economic side of things, I am not only speaking of shattered illusions in the financial realm. In my next article, one last time I plan to go over nearly every mainstream economic statistic used today to misdirect the public (from national debt to unemployment to inflation to retail sales and corporate profits) and expose why they are false while giving you the real numbers. For now, I want to discuss the core problem of self-deception, the problem that makes all the rest of our problems possible.

When the initial phase of the global collapse was triggered in 2007 and 2008, there was a substantial explosion in interest and education in terms of liberty issues and alternative economic awareness. I remember back in 2006 when I had just begun writing for the movement that the ratio of people on any given Web forum or in any given public discussion was vastly opposed to alternative viewpoints and information — at least 50-1 by my observations. We were at the height of the real estate frenzy; everyone was buying houses with money they didn’t have and borrowing on their mortgages to purchase stuff they didn’t need. Life was good. The shock of the credit crisis came quickly and abruptly for most people, and there has been a considerable shift in the kinds of discussions many are willing to entertain about our future. Yet the idea that such things can happen despite a consensus of social and geopolitical health does not seemed to have soaked into the thick skulls of average people.

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Setting the stage for rate hikes.

Fed Bullish On US Recovery (Reuters)

U.S. central bankers have looked beyond a global deflation threat, fear of energy-sector bond defaults, and a surge of oil patch layoffs to reach what appears to be a firm conclusion: the U.S. recovery is here to stay. New trade data released on Wednesday and signs of ever-stronger consumer spending confirmed the United States remains the bright spot in a global economy plagued by uncertainty. The trade deficit shrank in November to less than $40 billion, providing a boost to growth as Americans spent less on imported oil. Meanwhile, the first corporate reports from the Christmas season showed at least some of that money trickling into stores as J.C. Penney said same-store sales rose 3.7% in November and December, pushing the company’s stock up nearly 20%.

At its December policy-setting meeting, according to minutes released on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve took close stock of plunging world oil prices and turmoil in Europe and decided that those negative trends would not undo that underlying strength. “Several participants … suggested that the real economy may end up showing more momentum than anticipated, while a few others thought that the boost to domestic spending coming from lower energy prices could turn out to be quite large.” The minutes set the stage for what could be a key economic theme this year: how the global system will react as Fed policy diverges from that of other major central banks. The European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan are expected to further loosen monetary conditions in coming weeks or months, while the luster has fallen from emerging markets that had been attracting record levels of investment in recent years.

“These minutes defined the environment post-tapering,” said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at Prudential Fixed Income in New Jersey. “If the Fed moves aggressively it would suck up capital from emerging markets.” Global conditions have arguably weakened since the Fed’s Dec. 16-17 meeting, and the minutes note that the United States would not be immune if the world economy turns sharply down. There is already fallout. Credit analysts have honed in on the debts of companies involved in oil and gas exploration and production, with Standard & Poor’s downgrading half a dozen firms at the end of 2014 and concluding the entire sector will be under pressure if prices remain so low.

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Abecomics has been far worse than a mere failure.

Japan Household Mood Worsens To Levels Before ‘Abenomics’ (Reuters)

Japanese households’ sentiment worsened in December to levels last seen before premier Shinzo Abe unleashed radical stimulus policies two years ago, a central bank survey showed, underscoring the challenges he faces reviving the economy. The diffusion index measuring how households felt about the current state of the economy stood at minus 32.9 in December, down 12.5 points from September, the Bank of Japan’s quarterly survey on people’s livelihood showed on Thursday. Abe’s ruling party won a landslide victory in a snap poll in December last year, giving the premier a fresh mandate to proceed with his “Abenomics” mix of massive fiscal, monetary stimulus and structural reforms dubbed “Abenomics.”

That is the lowest level since December 2012, when Abe won the previous election and launched his radical program aimed at breaking the economy free of a long deflationary phase. While the policies helped weaken the yen and boost stock prices, the effect on the economy has been disappointing as companies remain hesitant over boosting wages and capital spending. Another index gauging households’ livelihood fell 3.1 points to minus 47.2, the worst level since 2011, the survey showed. A negative reading means respondents who feel they are worse off than three months ago exceed those who fell better off.

Many of those who replied that they are worse off complained of rising costs of living and stagnant wage growth, a sign households are feeling the pinch from a sales tax hike in April 2014 and rising import costs due to the weak yen. The weak reading suggests Abe’s decision last November to delay a second sales tax hike, initially planned for October 2015, did little to brighten sentiment. It also highlights the dilemma of the BOJ, which is printing money aggressively to achieve its 2% inflation target sometime during the fiscal year beginning in April. More than 80% of respondents expect prices to rise a year from now, roughly unchanged from September. But 83.8% of households consider rising prices as undesirable, up from 78.8% in September, the survey showed.

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More than happy to.

China Steps In To Support Venezuela, Ecuador As Oil Prices Tumble

China stepped up its courtship of Latin American countries Thursday, promising to double trade with the region by 2025 and offering fresh loans to support left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador. At a meeting in Beijing with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, President Xi Jinping said that annual bilateral trade would rise to $500 billion over the next 10 years, and that China would invest some $250 billion in the region in that period. That would threaten the U.S.’s traditional pre-eminence as the region’s biggest trading partner, inevitably diluting its political clout there. However, it’s not clear quite how Xi arrived at his figures. Although trade and investment have rocketed in the last 20 years as China has sucked up natural resources from around the world to fuel its industrialization, growth slowed sharply in the first 11 months of last year, as China refocused its economy on domestic demand.

According to CELAC figures, trade volumes grew only 1.3% year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2014. Despite that, China remains the biggest buyer for Venezuelan oil, Chilean copper and Argentinian soybeans, among other things. Of more immediate impact than Xi’s promises Thursday were agreements to bankroll the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador, two of the most viscerally anti-U.S. regimes in the region and two oil exporters who are struggling with the consequences of the 60% drop in oil prices since the start of last year. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was reported as saying that he had secured over $20 billion in investment from the state-owned institutions Bank of China and China Development Bank, adding to over $45 billion in the last 10 years. He didn’t give details of the loans’ terms. Ecuador, meanwhile, said it had agreed a new $5.3 billion credit line with China’s Export-Import Bank and $2.2 billion in other funding.

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Saudi involvement in the attacks.

Lawmakers Up Pressure On Obama To Release Secret 9/11 Documents (Fox)

Congressional lawmakers on Wednesday ramped up efforts to get President Obama to release 28 top-secret pages from a 9/11 report that allegedly detail Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the terror attacks. Lawmakers and advocacy groups have pushed for the declassification for years. The effort already had bipartisan House support but now has the backing of retired Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, a former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman whom supporters hope will help garner enough congressional backing to pressure Obama into releasing the confidential information. “The American people have been denied enough,” North Carolina GOP Rep. Walter Jones said on Capitol Hill. “It’s time for the truth to come out.”

Jones has led the effort with Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, among the few members of Congress who have read the 28 redacted pages of the joint House and Senate “Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terror Attacks,” initially classified by President George W. Bush. They introduced a new resolution on Wednesday urging Obama to declassify the pages. Jones and other lawmakers have described the documents’ contents as shocking. That 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens is already known. But Graham and the congressmen suggested the documents point to Saudi government ties and repeatedly said Wednesday that the U.S. continues to deny the truth about who principally financed the attacks – covering up for Saudi Arabia, a wealthy Middle East ally.

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Don’t be surprised if France moves quickly on this.

‘France Wants To Mend Ties With Russia’ (RT)

France intends to take a lead in de-escalating the confrontation with Russia as a face-saving measure while the EU is facing big economic challenges, John Laughland, Director of studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, told RT.

RT: Francois Hollande on Monday said that sanctions against Russia “must stop now.” What does this statement from the French leader mean for the upcoming talks?

John Laughland: I think that means that France is intending to take a lead in deescalating the confrontation with Russia and in seeing an end to sanctions, in seeing the sale of the Mistral helicopter carrier ships and also in seeing a de facto – at least – recognition of the annexation of Crimea. I said this back in December when Francois Hollande, the French president visited Vladimir Putin on the way back from Kazakhstan. It was clear that he was taking the lead then, taking a lead against Germany and against Mrs. Merkel of who many people thought that she would be pro-Russian force in Europe. She’s turned out to be very opposite. And we are seeing France assuming a relatively traditional position now in foreign policy and reassuming and reasserting its traditional friendship with Russia. So I’m relatively optimistic about these latest statements.

RT: Hollande added that progress has to be made at the talks. Moscow has been actively engaged in the peace process in eastern Ukraine. The latest talks saw hundreds of prisoners returned by both Kiev and eastern militias, but the sanctions still remain. So what exactly constitutes progress?

JL: He is saying that he wants to sell the Mistral, he wants to get rid of the problem, he would like, as he said, the end of the sanctions and so on. He assured himself, extremely understanding for the Russian position. He didn’t mention Crimea. He implied that Crimean annexation would be accepted, and he showed understanding as well for Russian opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine. When he says “progress” I regard that as purely a face-saving phrase. The fact is that Ukraine is off the headlines now. We haven’t had much news from Ukraine for many weeks now in the Western media. Quite frankly it is off people’s radar screen. Providing it stays off the radar screen, providing it stays off headlines it would be a good time – if that is indeed his intention – to move on from this unfortunate episode.

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As I said: why bother?

Fight Over Keystone Pipeline is Completely Divorced From Reality (Bloomberg)

In the six years since TransCanada Corp. first sought U.S. approval to build the pipeline, the debate over Keystone XL pipeline has, somewhat strangely, become one of the central fights in U.S. politics. It’s about to get even bigger. On Wednesday, Republicans will inaugurate the new Congress by taking up a Senate bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would connect oil producers in Western Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. The House will vote on the measure on Friday. Several years ago, liberals looking for a cause to rally around settled on Keystone because the oil it would transport, extracted from tar sands, is especially damaging to the environment. James Hansen, then the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, famously declared that if the pipeline goes forward and Canada develops its oil sands “it will be game over for the planet.”

Conservatives seized on Keystone because it offered a clear example of liberals prioritizing the environment over the jobs the pipeline’s construction would create, an effective political attack in a lousy economy. President Obama’s anguish over whether or not to approve it only added to the appeal. As a result, Keystone has attained tremendous symbolic importance for both Democrats and Republicans. But this is the opposite of how it should be — the political fight has become completely divorced from reality. The pipeline’s actual importance to oil markets, the economy and the environment has steadily diminished. Whoever wins, the “victory” will be pointless and hollow. The liberal claim that blocking Keystone would limit Canadian oil sands development, or even slow Canadian oil exports to the United States, has turned out to be wrong.

Over the last four years, Canadian exports to the Gulf Coast have risen 83%. Last year, U.S. oil imports from Canada hit a record. This year, Canadian oil producers expect shipments to double. One way producers achieved this is by building new pipelines, such as the Flanagan South pipeline, which can transport 600,000 barrels a day of heavy crude, and expanding old ones. At the same time, the Canadian government has approved two new lines as a fallback to Keystone—one running east to Quebec, the other west to the Pacific—that avoid the U.S. entirely. Collectively, these projects dwarf Keystone’s 800,000 barrel-a-day capacity. “Keystone is kind of old news,” Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Austin, Texas-based RBN Energy, told Bloomberg News. “Producers have moved on and are looking for new capacity from other pipelines.”

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“Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.”

Most Fossil Fuels Are ‘Unburnable’ (BBC)

Most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground if dangerous global warming is to be avoided, modelling work suggests. Over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are “unburnable” under the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2C, say scientists. University College London research, published in Nature journal, rules out drilling in the Arctic. And it points to heavy restrictions on coal to limit temperature rises. “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said lead researcher Dr Christophe McGlade, of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.

“Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.” Past research has found that burning all of the world’s fossil fuel resources would release three times more carbon than that required to keep warming to no more than 2C. The new study uses models to estimate how much coal, oil and gas must go unburned up to 2050 and where it can be extracted to stay within the 2C target regarded as the threshold for dangerous climate change. The uneven distribution of resources raises huge dilemmas for countries seeking to exploit their natural resources amid attempts to strike a global deal on climate change:
• The Middle East would need to leave about 40% of its oil and 60% of its gas underground
• The majority of the huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the United States would have to remain unused
• Undeveloped resources of unconventional gas, such as shale gas, would be off limits in Africa and the Middle East, and very little could be exploited in India and China
• Unconventional oil, such as Canada’s tar sands, would be unviable.

The research also raises questions for fossil fuel companies about investment in future exploration, given there is more in the ground than “we can afford to burn”, say the UCL scientists. “We shouldn’t waste a lot of money trying to find fossil fuels which we think are going to be more expensive,” co-researcher Prof Paul Ekins told the BBC. “That almost certainly includes Arctic resources. It will certainly include a lot of the shale gas resources in Europe, which have not really been explored or exploited at all.”

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Different take on same story.

The ‘Untouchable Reserves’ (BBC)

Is the “carbon bubble” wobbling in the face of a new assault? A paper in the journal Nature has lent support to the notion that combating climate change and developing more fossil fuels are mutually contradictory. Its key message is that keeping global temperature rise within 2C means leaving in the ground 80% of known coal reserves, 50% of gas and 30% of oil. The University College London authors invite investors to ponder whether $670bn, the amount they say was spent last year on seeking and developing fossil fuels, is a wise use of money if we can’t burn all the fuel we’ve already found.

The movement to divest from fossil fuel companies is being prompted by the small but increasingly influential NGO Carbon Tracker, which argues that investment has created a carbon bubble of fossil fuel assets that will be worthless if climate change is taken seriously. The managers of the Rockefeller fortune have heard its message and already divested from coal. The University of Glasgow’s investment fund will avoid fossil fuels altogether. NGO 350.org is gathering support for a similar campaign in the US, and Norway’s vast government pension fund is seeking to pressure companies to take their climate responsibilities more seriously.

Surprisingly, the Bank of England has also chipped in. It is conducting an enquiry into the risk of an economic crash if future climate change rules render coal, oil and gas assets worthless. The findings will be interesting; even if the enquiry team are alarmed by the potential extent of stranded assets, they can hardly make their case bluntly for fear of creating a stampede. To heap on the pressure, the talks leading to the prospective climate deal in Paris in December will debate whether fossil fuels can be completely phased out by 2050. Oil firms like Shell have stated their confidence in the energy status quo that has formed the economic bedrock of modern society and helped billions out of poverty. They say they see no risk to their business model (because executives privately do not believe that politicians will keep their promises on carbon limits). And they have hopes that technology to capture and store carbon will give their products a new lease of life.

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This would save a lot of lives in the future. Then again, we’d start feeing them to farm animals, and restart the whole cycle.

US Antibiotics Discovery Labelled ‘Game Changer’ For Medicine (BBC)

The decades-long drought in antibiotic discovery could be over after a breakthrough by US scientists. Their novel method for growing bacteria has yielded 25 new antibiotics, with one deemed “very promising”. The last new class of antibiotics to make it to clinic was discovered nearly three decades ago. The study, in the journal Nature, has been described as a “game-changer” and experts believe the antibiotic haul is just the “tip of the iceberg”. The heyday of antibiotic discovery was in the 1950s and 1960s, but nothing found since 1987 has made it into doctor’s hands. Since then microbes have become incredibly resistant. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis ignores nearly everything medicine can throw at it. The researchers, at the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, turned to the source of nearly all antibiotics – soil. This is teeming with microbes, but only 1% can be grown in the laboratory.

The team created a “subterranean hotel” for bacteria. One bacterium was placed in each “room” and the whole device was buried in soil. It allowed the unique chemistry of soil to permeate the room, but kept the bacteria in place for study. The scientists involved believe they can grow nearly half of all soil bacteria. Chemicals produced by the microbes, dug up from one researcher’s back yard, were then tested for antimicrobial properties. The lead scientist, Prof Kim Lewis, said: “So far 25 new antibiotics have been discovered using this method and teixobactin is the latest and most promising one. “[The study shows] uncultured bacteria do harbour novel chemistry that we have not seen before. That is a promising source of new antimicrobials and will hopefully help revive the field of antibiotic discovery.”

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