Nov 242017
 
 November 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Migrant agricultural workers in California 1935

 

The Party Is Over for Australia’s $5.6 Trillion Housing Frenzy (BBG)
The UK’s Future Economic Storm Just Got Worse (CNBC)
UK Consumer Confidence Hits Lowest Level Since Aftermath Of Brexit Vote (BBG)
After Sudden Rout, China Stock Traders Question Beijing Put
China Bank Profits Face Squeeze From Tighter Rules – Fitch (BBG)
China Reports Breaking Up Gang That Moved $3 Billion Abroad (AP)
Bitcoin Mining Now Consumes More Electricity Than 159 Countries (PCUK)
Mexico Revokes Monsanto Permit To Market GMO Soy In Seven States (R.)
Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are Playing the New Silk Roads (Escobar)
Greek PM Tsipras ‘Proud’ Of Living Conditions Of Refugees (K.)
Greece Vows Greater Effort To Protect Refugees Over Winter (AP)
Greek Pensioners March Against Government That ‘Took Everything’ (R.)

 

 

In case you were wondering just how big the bubble has become. Look at New Zealand too.

The Party Is Over for Australia’s $5.6 Trillion Housing Frenzy (BBG)

The party is finally winding down for Australia’s housing market. How severe the hangover is will determine the economy’s fate for years to come. After five years of surging prices, the market value of the nation’s homes has ballooned to A$7.3 trillion ($5.6 trillion) – or more than four times gross domestic product. Not even the U.S. and U.K. markets achieved such heights at their peaks a decade ago before prices spiraled lower and dragged their economies with them. Australia’s obsession with property is firmly entrenched in the nation’s economy and psyche, fueled by record-low interest rates, generous tax breaks, banks hooked on mortgage lending, and prime-time TV shows where home renovators are lauded like sporting heroes. For many, homes morphed into cash machines to finance loans for boats, cars and investment properties. The upshot: households are now twice as indebted as China’s.

So far, the Reserve Bank of Australia has relied on banking regulators to apply the brakes with lending curbs. It reckons the financial system is well-placed to withstand any shocks, but isn’t so confident on consumers. That puts it out of step with developed-world peers that are incrementally tightening policy, with Governor Philip Lowe this week making clear local interest rates aren’t going anywhere soon. To be sure, there are key dynamics that differentiate Australia’s housing boom with those that soured in recent years around the world. Aussie banks can claim against other income and assets or chase individuals into bankruptcy if borrowers default. Tax deductions for interest paid on investment loans also support demand, as does a rich pipeline of demand from Asian buyers, especially Chinese. But with prices in major cities like Sydney finally leveling off and a wave of new apartments about to hit markets in Brisbane and Melbourne, it’s worth taking a look at housing’s out-sized influence on Australia’s economy.

The weight of Australian homes on the economy is heavier than policy makers would like. On one hand, the dizzy valuations reflect a desirable location and strong population growth. But they also reflect the massive liabilities that are now tied to these assets. “The risk is that it leaves the Australian economy extremely exposed, and a minor shock could become far more significant,” said Daniel Blake, an economist at Morgan Stanley in Sydney.

The increasing treatment of housing as a financial commodity has seen borrowers rush into a byzantine maze of mortgage-related products. That’s made banks very profitable, but very exposed. While the RBA is satisfied that lenders have adequate buffers to cope with any downturn, banks may find it harder to value their collateral in a falling market as investors look to consolidate their portfolios of multiple homes, said Blake.

Read more …

Projecting until 2070 may not be the most useful exercise. The next 10 years is wobbly enough.

The UK’s Future Economic Storm Just Got Worse (CNBC)

Britons should better get used to austerity. Even though the U.K. government has mostly fixed its short-run fiscal problems caused by the global financial crisis, the long-run challenge of keeping fiscal policy on a sustainable path has grown even bigger, according to the latest economic projections published alongside Wednesday’s Autumn Budget. Over the medium term, U.K. fiscal policy looks to be heading towards calm waters. Combining the progress made under then-Finance Minister George Osborne from 2010 until early 2016 with the tax and spending plans announced on Wednesday by the incumbent Philip Hammond, will manage to get the annual fiscal deficit down from a peak of 8% of GDP in 2009 to less than 2.5% this year, and eventually to close to 1% by early next decade.

This should be enough for debt as a percentage of GDP to begin to fall gradually from around 87% of GDP from next year onwards into the 2020s. This is good news. But looking further out, U.K. fiscal policy appears to be heading towards a storm. Back in January, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the U.K.’s independent fiscal watchdog, projected that U.K. public debt will rise again from the 2030s onwards to nearly 250% of GDP by the 2070s. Rising health, state pension and long-term social care costs linked to demographic factors are likely to cause the fiscal deficit to surge again. U.K. public sector debt is projected to reach highs not seen since World War II. It gets worse. Keep in mind that the projections made in January assumed that productivity growth, the major determinant of economic growth, would average 2% per year into the long run.

Yesterday, the OBR downgraded this judgement to 1.3%. While productivity growth has declined across the advanced world in the past decade, the Brexit-stricken U.K. is suffering an extra hit by weakening the economic ties with its biggest market, the EU. In this new context, the earlier forecast that debt would rise to 250% of GDP within 50 years looks like a significant underestimate, to put it mildly. By reducing projected growth rates for wages and profits, the new lower outlook for trend productivity growth steepens the U.K.’s future fiscal hill. Unlike revenues from taxation, which mostly rise and fall in line with the rate of economic growth, future costs coming from the ageing population are independent of economic factors.

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Everyone can see the clowns in the news everyday.

UK Consumer Confidence Hits Lowest Level Since Aftermath Of Brexit Vote (BBG)

U.K. consumer confidence tumbled in November, reaching the lowest level since the aftermath of the Brexit vote. YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research said optimism suffered its biggest monthly decline since the month after the referendum, with all eight measures that make up the index falling. The score for household financial situations in the past 30 days dropped to its lowest since January 2014, and a gauge of home owners’ expectations for values over the next 12 months slid to the least in a year following the Bank of England’s rate increase on Nov. 2. The report on Friday comes after official data this week highlighted the importance of consumers to the U.K. economy, as a jump in household spending offset slowing business investment and a drag from trade to drive a 0.4% expansion in the third quarter.

It also follows Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s announcement of a downgrade to the economic outlook as a result of a sluggish productivity and Brexit headwinds. Warnings of a consumer slowdown are coming ahead of the crucial Christmas shopping period as the squeeze on incomes from inflation continues. Figures last week showed retail sales fell in October from a year earlier, the first decline in more than four years. “Households are understandably worried.” said Christian Jaccarini, an economist at the CEBR. “The first interest-rate hike in over a decade triggered fears that higher borrowing costs will compound the inflation-induced squeeze on household incomes.”

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How do you go from running a casino to having actual stock markets?

After Sudden Rout, China Stock Traders Question Beijing Put

What happened to the Beijing put? That’s what investors in China are asking themselves after a gauge of large-cap stocks plunged 3% on Thursday, rattling a market that’s grown accustomed to state support when losses get extreme. While there were signs over the past week that the government was looking to cool gains in high-flying shares like Kweichow Moutai – along with concerns over rising corporate bond yields – the severity of Thursday’s slump caught some traders off guard. The biggest surprise was that losses accelerated into the close. The nation’s CSI 300 Index sank 52 points in the final 45 minutes of trading, the steepest afternoon decline since the depths of China’s stock market crash in January 2016. Such late-day selloffs have been rare this year, with the index rising an average 2.9 points.

While it’s unclear why state funds allowed shares to tumble this time, analysts said the episode may help wring some of the complacency out of China’s stocks. Before Thursday’s slump, the CSI 300 had climbed 28% this year to the highest level since July 2015. Margin debt, while still well below its bubble peak in 2015, has increased for six straight months. “Some investors might have been just taking profit in the morning, and that turned into a selling stampede in the afternoon,” said Wang Chen, Shanghai-based partner with XuFunds Investment Management Co. “Investments in blue chips were overcrowded, and a lot of them were bought with margin financing.”

[..] For Sun Jianbo, president of China Vision Capital Management, valuations among large-cap shares are too expensive for state-backed funds to intervene. The CSI 300 traded at its highest level relative to the broader Shanghai Composite Index in at least 12 years at the start of this week as investors flocked to large caps such as Moutai and Ping An Insurance. “There’s no need to prop up the market yet,” Sun said. “A lot of big caps are still expensive and it would do more harm than good to state-backed funds if they buy now.”

The divergence between large-cap shares and the rest of the market may be one reason why the government took aim at Moutai. Before Xinhua warned last week that gains in the liquor maker were excessive, the stock had more than doubled this year. Given that much of the gains in Chinese shares this year can be explained by improving earnings prospects, it’s likely that government’s bigger target is leverage, according to Ken Peng at Citi Private Bank in Hong Kong.

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Aimed at the shadows, but…

China Bank Profits Face Squeeze From Tighter Rules – Fitch (BBG)

Profit margins at Chinese banks will be squeezed next year and credit growth is likely to slow as increasing regulation eats up capital, Fitch Ratings said. The lending businesses of the country’s smaller banks face the most pressure and they will rely more on larger state-owned rivals for liquidity, the ratings company said in a statement Friday. At the same time, the shadow-banking sector, which one brokerage values at about $19 trillion, will attract even more regulatory scrutiny in 2018, Fitch said. Chinese regulators are sweeping through the country’s $40 trillion financial sector in a bid to contain risk after total debt ballooned to about 260 percent of the size of the economy. In the past week alone, they’ve proposed rules governing returns from asset-management products, laid out limits on bank shareholdings and unveiled a purge of cash micro-lenders.

“Credit growth is likely to decelerate next year, given the tighter regulatory stance,” Fitch said. “Funding conditions are likely to remain tight, pointing to continued margin pressure at smaller banks which rely more on non-deposit funding.” The predictions from Fitch and S&P Global Ratings on Thursday suggest the cost of the system-wide measures will be sluggish profit growth at domestic banks, which include Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest by assets. New rules pushing shadow-banking items back on to lenders’ balance sheets will lead to an increase in risk that could weigh on bank capital, Fitch said. Net income growth in the banking sector will remain in the “low single digits” in 2018, it said. The ratings company kept its outlook on Chinese banks at stable, saying sovereign support for the sector remains “very strong.”

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“..as many as 10,000 people might have been involved..”

China Reports Breaking Up Gang That Moved $3 Billion Abroad (AP)

Chinese police say they have broken up a gang that smuggled 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) out of the country, evading financial controls imposed by Beijing to stem an outflow of capital from the economy. Seven suspects were detained in the case centered in the southern city Shaoguan near Hong Kong but as many as 10,000 people might have been involved, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Chinese authorities have steadily tightened foreign-exchange controls to stem a multibillion-dollar outflow of capital that they say hampers financial management in the world’s second-largest economy. The group in Shaoguan is accused of moving money illegally using 148 bank accounts opened in 20 provinces with stolen identity cards, according to Xinhua.

It said they made unspecified “huge profits” by trading on the difference in exchange rates between Hong Kong dollars and the mainland’s yuan. Beijing allowed an informal financial industry to flourish over the past two decades to support entrepreneurs but is tightening controls due to mounting concern about financial stability. Regulators are especially worried about unauthorized cross-border movement of money at a time when they are trying to stem an outflow of capital. Companies and investors rushed to export money after a change in the mechanism used to set the government-controlled exchange rate in 2015 prompted expectations the yuan would weaken in value. That forced the Chinese central bank to spend heavily to shore up the yuan.

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“In the past month alone, Bitcoin mining electricity consumption is estimated to have increased by 29.98%..”

Bitcoin Mining Now Consumes More Electricity Than 159 Countries (PCUK)

Bitcoin’s ongoing meteoric price rise has received the bulk of recent press attention with a lot of discussion around whether or not it’s a bubble waiting to burst. However, most the coverage has missed out one of the more interesting and unintended consequences of this price increase. That is the surge in global electricity consumption used to “mine” more Bitcoins. According to Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, as of Monday November 20th, 2017 Bitcoin’s current estimated annual electricity consumption stands at 29.05TWh. That’s the equivalent of 0.13% of total global electricity consumption. While that may not sound like a lot, it means Bitcoin mining is now using more electricity than 159 individual countries. More than Ireland or Nigeria. If Bitcoin miners were a country they’d rank 61st in the world in terms of electricity consumption.

Here are a few other interesting facts about Bitcoin mining and electricity consumption:

• In the past month alone, Bitcoin mining electricity consumption is estimated to have increased by 29.98%
• If it keeps increasing at this rate, Bitcoin mining will consume all the world’s electricity by February 2020.
• Estimated annualised global mining revenues: $7.2 billion USD (£5.4 billion)
• Estimated global mining costs: $1.5 billion USD (£1.1 billion)
• Number of Americans who could be powered by bitcoin mining: 2.4 million (more than the population of Houston)
• Number of Britons who could be powered by bitcoin mining: 6.1 million (more than the population of Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Bradford, Liverpool, Bristol, Croydon, Coventry, Leicester & Nottingham combined) Or Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
• Bitcoin Mining consumes more electricity than 12 US states (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming)

Read more …

Gracias Mexico.

Mexico Revokes Monsanto Permit To Market GMO Soy In Seven States (R.)

Monsanto said on Thursday that Mexico’s agriculture sanitation authority SENASICA had revoked its permit to commercialize genetically modified soy in seven states, criticizing the decision as unjustified. Monsanto said in a statement that the permit had been withdrawn on unwarranted legal and technical grounds. The company said it would take the necessary steps to safeguard its rights and those of farmers using the technology, but did not elaborate. Mexican newspaper Reforma cited a document saying the permit had been withdrawn due to the detection of transgenic Monsanto soya in areas where it was not authorized. Monsanto rejected that argument, saying in its statement that authorities had not done an analysis of how the soy on which their decision was based was sown. The revocation applies to the states of Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Veracruz, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo and follows a 2016 legal suspension of the permit.

Read more …

China will build much of it all, but it won’t pay for it. It’s exporting a Ponzi.

Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are Playing the New Silk Roads (Escobar)

Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani will hold a summit this Wednesday in Sochi to discuss Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iran are the three power players at the Astana negotiations – where multiple cease-fires, as hard to implement as they are, at least evolve, slowly but surely, towards the ultimate target – a political settlement. A stable Syria is crucial to all parties involved in Eurasia integration. As Asia Times reported, China has made it clear that a pacified Syria will eventually become a hub of the New Silk Roads, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – building on the previous business bonanza of legions of small traders commuting between Yiwu and the Levant. Away from intractable war and peace issues, it’s even more enlightening to observe how Turkey, Iran and Russia are playing their overlapping versions of Eurasia economic integration and/or BRI-related business.

Much has to do with the energy/transportation connectivity between railway networks – and, further on the down the road, high-speed rail – and what I have described, since the early 2000s, as Pipelineistan. The Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a deal brokered in person in Baku by the late Dr Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, was a major energy/geopolitical coup by the Clinton administration, laying out an umbilical steel cord between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Now comes the Baku-Tblisi-Kars (BTK) railway – inaugurated with great fanfare by Erdogan alongside Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, but also crucially Kazakh Prime Minister Bakhytzhan Sagintayev and Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov. After all, this is about the integration of the Caucasus with Central Asia.

Erdogan actually went further: BTK is “an important chain in the New Silk Road, which aims to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe.” The new transportation corridor is configured as an important Eurasian hub linking not only the Caucasus with Central Asia but also, in the Big Picture, the EU with Western China. BTK is just the beginning, considering the long-term strategy of Chinese-built high-speed rail from Xinjiang across Central Asia all the way to Iran, Turkey, and of course, the dream destination: the EU. Erdogan can clearly see how Turkey is strategically positioned to profit from it.

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Alexis, Alexis, we know you don’t mean it that way, so why risk getting caught with your foot in your mouth?

Greek PM Tsipras ‘Proud’ Of Living Conditions Of Refugees (K.)

Prime Minister has said he is “proud” of living conditions for refugees on the Greek mainland, although he admitted that “the situation remains difficult” for those stranded on the islands of the eastern Aegean. Speaking to France’s Le Figaro newspaper on the occasion of his visit to Paris, Tsipras also defended a deal between the European Union and Ankara to stem migrant flows in the Aegean. “The deal between the EU and Turkey is hard but necessary; it helped put an end to the daily deaths in the Aegean. We have received more than 60,000 refugees on mainland Greece who live in good conditions, with access to health and education. It is something I am proud of,” Tsipras said.

“The situation on the islands remains difficult. There is a large number of migrants and refugees and asylum procedures are time-consuming,” he said. Greece has seen a surge of migrant arrivals in recent months. With winter fast approaching and migrant reception centers on the Aegean islands reaching breaking point due to overcrowding, 20 human rights groups this week sent a letter to the Greek government calling for immediate action.

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People are dying already. It’s only autumn.

Greece Vows Greater Effort To Protect Refugees Over Winter (AP)

Greece has promised to step up efforts to protect migrants and refugees over the winter on the Greek islands, but defended a 2016 deal between Turkey and the European Union to stop the westward flow of migrants into Europe. On a visit to France, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the country’s Figaro newspaper on Thursday that the agreement was difficult but necessary. His remarks followed strongly criticism from aid agencies and human rights groups over conditions at migrant shelters on Lesvos and other Greek islands. Greece has seen a surge of migrant arrivals in recent months. On Thursday, Greek border police recovered the body of a man believed to be a migrant in a river that divides Greece and Turkey – the second such incident in two days.

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“They’re killing us and they’re mocking us at the same time..”

Greek Pensioners March Against Government That ‘Took Everything’ (R.)

Several hundred elderly Greeks marched through Athens on Thursday, protesting against a government they say “took everything” with a new round of cuts to pensions and crumbling health care benefits. Greece’s three bailouts since 2010 have repeatedly taken aim at the pension system. Cuts have pushed nearly half its elderly below the poverty line with incomes of less 600 euros ($710.70) a month. With nearly a quarter of the workforce unemployed, a quarter of children living in poverty and benefits slashed, parents have grown dependent on grandparents for handouts. But after the cuts to pensions, some Greeks have seen their monthly cheque fall between 40 and 50 percent in seven years. After rent, utility bills and health care, they barely make ends meet.

“I have never seen the country in this state, not even during war,” said 80-year-old Nikos Georgiadis, a former hotel employee whose pension has been reduced by 40 percent. “Pensioners are impoverished, and not only can they not afford to buy medicines, some are looking for food in the trash,” he said, leaning on a tree to catch his breath. Fotini Karavidou, a 75-year-old retired accountant who joined the march in a wheelchair, said she had to “cut back on everything” to afford medicine. “It’s simple – many pensioners cannot afford to eat and to buy medicine,” said Yiannis Karadimas, 67, who heads a local pensioners association. Karadimas said it was “a joke” that the government had legalised marijuana for medical purposes while cutting back on health care spending. “They’re killing us and they’re mocking us at the same time,” he said.

The popularity of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has waned since he first won elections in 2015. In an effort to rebuild public support, the government gave Greece’s 1.3 million pensioners a one-off Christmas bonus last year, worth 300 to 500 euros each. But the handouts have failed to whip up any obvious increase in support. Pensioners have taken to the streets time and again in recent months. About 2,000 people joined Thursday’s march. “Unfortunately, I voted for them, and they turned out to be the biggest liars of all,” Georgiadis, the pensioner, said. “It [the government] promised us everything, and it took everything.”

Read more …

Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

Read more …

“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

Read more …

Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

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Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

Read more …

Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

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France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

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And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

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There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

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Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

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It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

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The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

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Aug 192017
 
 August 19, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Man in pushcart, New York 1944

 

We’re Racing Towards Another Private Debt Crisis (Graeber)
China Moves To Curb Overseas Acquisitions As Firms’ Debt Levels Rise (G.)
Wells Fargo Troubles Shift From Phony Bank Accounts To Real Ones (R.)
Total Eclipse (Jim Kunstler)
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand (Paul Craig Roberts)
The Truth Will Not Be Googled (Connelly)
Greek Pensioners Set For Another Blow (K.)
The Super Gangs Behind Africa’s Poaching Crisis (G.)
Want To Fight Climate Change? Don’t Invest In Tesla (MW)

 

 

David Graeber on the all too obvious. So yeah, let’s have that inquiry.

We’re Racing Towards Another Private Debt Crisis (Graeber)

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt. For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And – this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That’s what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don’t do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe. These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.” As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt. We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened. Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there’s a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90% of MPs don’t even understand where money comes from (they think it’s issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

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It’s getting serious.

China Moves To Curb Overseas Acquisitions As Firms’ Debt Levels Rise (G.)

The Chinese government has served notice on the country’s foreign investment spree in football clubs, skyscrapers and Hollywood as it moves to curb rising levels of debt among domestic companies. The announcement of restrictions in a range of sectors follows a buying spree around the globe during which Chinese firms and business tycoons have taken control of assets including Legendary Entertainment, the US film producer behind Jurassic World and Warcraft, buildings such as the Cheesegrater in London, and English football clubs including Southampton and Aston Villa. The curbs were announced in a document released on Friday by the state council, China’s cabinet, in the latest move to halt a string of foreign acquisitions. This week the IMF described China’s credit-fuelled economic strategy as dangerous, in a strongly worded statement warning that the country’s approach risks financial turmoil.

Raising concerns that some of the companies involved may be taking on too much debt, the council said: “There are great opportunities for our nation’s companies to embark on foreign investment, but they also face numerous risks and challenges.” It added that through the new guidance, the government hopes to promote the “rational, orderly and healthy development of foreign investment while effectively guarding against risks”. The document limits overseas investments in areas such as hotels, cinemas, the entertainment industry, real estate and sports clubs. It also bans outright investments in enterprises related to gambling and the sex industry. The Chinese government had already flagged hotels as an area of concern, having reportedly asked the insurance group Anbang to sell the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

One of China’s biggest conglomerates, Wanda Group, also bowed to pressure from the government when it abandoned the $1bn (£780m) purchase of the entertainment company Dick Clark Productions earlier this year. In 2016 Wanda bought Legendary Entertainment for $3.5bn, having become the world’s biggest cinema operator in 2012 with its purchase of a majority stake in US chain AMC for $2.6bn. At the same time, the document encourages companies to plough money into projects related to the “Belt and Road” project, President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative that seeks to link China with other parts of Asia and eastern Europe through multibillion-dollar investments in ports, highways, railways, power plants and other infrastructure.

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Why is Wells Fargo a going concern? Close it.

Wells Fargo Troubles Shift From Phony Bank Accounts To Real Ones (R.)

After paying customers millions of dollars for opening phony accounts they did not want, Wells Fargo has said it is now grappling with the possibility it harmed customers by closing real accounts they needed, leaving them without access to funds. Wells, the third-largest U.S. bank, disclosed in a regulatory filing on Aug. 4 that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is looking into the matter, one of many regulatory probes the bank faces over its treatment of depositors and borrowers. A Reuters review of the regulator’s complaints database found several instances of customers reporting financial hardship in recent years after Wells Fargo unexpectedly froze or closed their accounts. Some of the complaints described fraudulent deposits of unknown origin.

Others said they were victims of identity theft and Wells Fargo closed their accounts and refused to reopen them or open new ones. One customer said the bank closed an account after a hacker changed personal information, and then Wells Fargo improperly sent funds to the wrong address. The complaints had consistent themes of confusion about why accounts were frozen or closed, and reflected desperation over being unable to access money, as well as frustration over not getting help from Wells Fargo’s customer service. “I moved money from my mother’s savings account into her checking account the day before she passed away,” one Wells Fargo customer wrote. “This checking account has been ‘locked’ by the fraud department for almost 3 months … Now her debts are delinquent and mortgage about to go into foreclosure.”

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Rename the capital!

Total Eclipse (Jim Kunstler)

I’d like to hear to hear an argument as to why the Washington Monument should remain dedicated to that vicious slave-driver and rebellious soldier, and indeed the name of the city that is the federal seat of government. Or the District of Columbia (after Columbus, who initiated the genocide of Native Americans). Or America, cribbed out of Amerigo Vespucci, the wicked Florentine cartographer who ascertained that the place called Brazil today was not the east coast of Asia but actually a New World — and so all our troubles began![..] Just as empires tend to build their most grandiose monuments prior to collapse, our tottering empire is concocting the most monumentally ludicrous delusions before it slides down the laundry chute of history.

It’s as if the Marx Brothers colluded with Alfred Hitchcock to dream up a melodramatic climax to the American Century that would be the most ridiculous and embarrassing to our posterity. In the meantime, many citizens await Monday’s spectacle of a total solar eclipse in parts of the country. They apparently don’t realize that another eclipse has been underway for months: the total eclipse of reality across the entire landscape of the USA. Now that has been an event to behold, not just some twenty-minute freak of astronomy. What’s being blacked out is the perilously fragile condition of the financial system — a great groaning Rube Goldberg contraption of accounting fraud, grift, statistical deceit, and racketeering that pretends to support the day-to-day activities of our national life.

For months, the recognition of this oncoming financial monster has been blocked by the hallucination of gremlins from the Kremlin infiltrating the recent presidential election. But just as that mirage was dissolving, along comes the treacherous invasion of the Confederate statues. It begins to look like the final piece of the puzzle in the Deep State’s quest to eject Donald Trump from the oval office. His response to the deadly statue situation (“…why not Washington and Jefferson…?”) was deemed so obtuse and unfeeling that even the rodents of his own nominal Republican Party want to jump his ship of state.

So, the set-up could not be more perfect! The country will now get down to the business of a months-long 25th Amendment circle-jerk at the very moment that the financial system flies apart. The damage from the financial clusterfuck will be much more real, and much worse, than anything that might be spun out of the anti-statue crusade hogging the headlines today. It will be interesting to see whether the old legacy media even reports on it as it happens, or whether they will cook up new and more bizarre entertainments to distract the public from what might be the ultimate swindling of a lifetime.

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The echo chamber causes hearing damage.

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand (Paul Craig Roberts)

The liberal/progressive/left are enjoying their drunkfest of denunciation. I can’t say I have ever witnessed anything like it. These are the people who sat on their hands for 16 years while Washington destroyed in whole or part seven countries. Not being satisfied with this level of warmongering and crimes against humanity, Washington orchestrated a conflict situation with Russia. Americans elected a president who said he would defuse this dangerous conflict, and the liberal/progressive/left turned on him. In contrast, one person is killed after the hated Charlottesville protest event was over, and there is endless absurd outrage against the president of the US. Three New York Times presstitutes yesterday blamed the crisis on Trump, declaring him “increasingly isolated in a racial crisis of his own making.”

Apparently, Trump is responsible for the crisis because he blamed both protest groups for the violence. But isn’t that what happened? Wasn’t there violence on both sides? That was the impression I got from the news reporting. I’m not surprised that Trump got the same impression. Indeed, many readers have sent emails that they received the same impression of mutual violence. So Trump is being damned for stating the truth. Let’s assume that the impression Trump and many others got from the news is wrong. That would make Trump guilty of arriving at a mistaken conclusion. Yet, he is accused of instigating and supporting Nazi violence. How is it possible to transform a mistake into evil intent? A mistaken impression gained from news reporting does not constitute a “defense of white nationalist protesters.”

An assertion by the New York Times cannot turn the absence of intent into intent. What the Establishment is trying to do is to push Trump into the arms of white supremacists, which is where they want him. Clearly, there is no basis for this charge. It is a lie, an orchestration that is being used to delegitimize President Trump and those who elected him. The question is: who is behind this orchestration? The orchestration is causing people to run away from Trump or is being used as an excuse by them to further the plot to remove him from office. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum headed by Stephen A. Schwarzman ran away, just as members of the Carter Center’s board deserted President Jimmy Carter when he criticized Israel for its apartheid policy toward the Palestinians. The New York Times says that the armed services chiefs are running away. And the entire Republican Party.

The hypocrisy is stunning. For 16 years the armed services chiefs, the New York Times and the rest of the presstitute media, both political parties and the liberal/progressive/left have participated actively or passively in massive crimes against humanity. There are millions of dead, maimed, and displaced people. Yet one death in Charlottesville has produced a greater outpouring of protest. I don’t believe it is sincere. I don’t believe that people who are insensitive to the deaths of millions at the hands of their government can be so upset over the death of one person. Assume that Trump is responsible for the death of the woman. How much blood is it compared to the blood on the hands of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama?

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Too much monopoly, too much power.

The Truth Will Not Be Googled (Connelly)

While web-hosting services have been criticised for cancelling the registration of neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, progressive left-leaning sites are losing Google ranking and traffic because of a deliberate move to censor “fake” news by the internet search giant. New data released by World Socialist Websites (WSWS) revealed that sites such as Wikileaks, The Intercept, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Organisation, CounterPunch and many other organisations with the audacity to provide context about the activities of federal governments not reported in mainstream publications have experienced a significant drop in traffic after Google altered its algorithm. (WSWS is an online news and information service founded by the International Committee of the Fourth International, the leadership of the world socialist movement).

Earlier this week, internet hosting provider, GoDaddy, announced it had cancelled US neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, for posting an attack on Heather Heyer, the protester who was murdered at the Klan rally in Charlottesville last week. Google and CloudFlare likewise cancelled its registration after the site tried to move its hosting over to their respective services. But while these hosting services are being congratulated by some – and condemned by others on free-speech grounds – for ensuring that those looking to commit violence have to work slightly harder to get access to their like-minded Nazi communities, those who own the means of transmission – namely Google, Facebook and Twitter – are still preventing the rest of us from accessing information that allows people to make sense of the world around us.

Earlier this month, Google altered its algorithm – allegedly in an attempt to address the ‘fake news’ problem – and in doing so, a broad array of anti-establishment news organisations, whistleblower, civil-rights and anti-war websites were censored from its search listings. But most people were too distracted by the opinions of some low-level engineer on Google’s diversity hiring policies and its intolerance of conservative views in the workplace to take notice. The data released by WSWS shows that since Google altered its algorithm, Wikileaks experienced a 30% decline in traffic from Google searches. Democracy Now fell by 36%. Truthout dropped by 25%. Its own traffic dropped by 67% percent over the same period. Alternet saw a 63% decline in traffic. Media Matters saw a 36% drop in traffic. Counterpunch.org fell by 21%. The Intercept fell by 19%.

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Ongoing.

Greek Pensioners Set For Another Blow (K.)

Pension applications submitted after May 13, 2016 – after the so-called Katrougalos law was legislated – reveal significant cuts in pension payments. According to the relevant data, five categories of pensioners will suffer cuts due to the new way pensions are calculated. Overall, experts estimate that by the year 2020 some 200,000 retirees will receive pensions that do not correspond to the amount of money they contributed to the funds during their working lives. In some cases, pensioners will receive 30% less than what they would have received had the Katrougalos law not come into effect. The overall reduction is estimated at 12 to 16%. The hardest hit will be civil servants, especially those who have worked for more than 30 years and belong to the categories of University and Technological Education. Other categories of pensioners that will be negatively impacted are those who made above-average contributions to the IKA social security foundation for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, those who made medium or large contributions to the TEVE fund for the self-employed will also lose out. Others who can expect to be affected by pension cuts are people who contributed for 30 years to the retailer’ insurance fund (TAE) or the professional drivers’ pension fund (TSA). The new pension system, however, will favor retirees with monthly gross earnings below €700 and less than 30 years of insurance – in line with the declaration made by former labor minister Giorgos Katrougalos that the new system would be classless and favor people with low incomes. This category includes people insured for 20 to 30 years with IKA, who will retire with a gross remuneration of around €1,000, or the former social security fund for professional drivers (TSA). Those insured at several public enterprises (DEKO) and bank funds will also be entitled to an increase in their pension because they pay very high contributions.

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Man is losing the world to his own greed. Selling mother earth.

The Super Gangs Behind Africa’s Poaching Crisis (G.)

“It’s not hundreds of groups involved in ivory trafficking – there are just a handful of networks operating across Africa,” says Paula Kahumbu, a conservationist and elephant expert who runs Wildlife Direct, a Kenyan organisation working to stop the ivory trade and which deploys teams to closely observe trials such as Ali’s. lose scrutiny of cases – including making copies of court documents and video recording proceedings – keeps courts and judges honest and prevents the disappearance of files that so often scuppers trials. Wildlife Direct’s pressure was instrumental in ensuring Ali’s case went the distance. At the end, says Kahumbu, there was “a phenomenal sense of achievement”. “It was a huge surprise,” says Ofir Drori, an Israeli wildlife activist and co-founder of the Eagle Network, a group responsible for the prosecution of hundreds of traffickers, big and small, over the years, and who was involved in tracking Ali.

“Every Kenyan will tell you: what’s supposed to happen is that if you belong to a strong syndicate, you’re out.” It was the syndicate aspect that interested Gretchen Peters. A former foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Peters had become fascinated by the links between drugs and terrorism that she saw in the Taliban’s heroin operation, and by the hidden connections between other forms of criminality. Ditching journalism, she decided to tackle wildlife crime. Peters set up the Satao Project – named after one of Kenya’s magisterial “tusker” bull elephants, killed by a poacher’s poisoned arrow in 2014 – to investigate criminal gangs in 2015 but quickly ran into the underlying problem: corruption. “If there’s a network that is moving illegal goods from one country to another, there are inevitably government officials involved, protecting them or looking the other way,” she says. “It is impossible for that not to be happening.”

Hired by the US department of state, Peters began by studying ivory supply chains in Tanzania and Kenya, but her investigations quickly enveloped Uganda too and spread into other forms of trafficking. There is in East Africa, she says, “a regional ecosystem moving ivory, drugs and guns … a matrix of different organisations that collaborate to move illegal goods along the Swahili coast.” The overlap between drugs and ivory smuggling came as no surprise to her. “I’m not aware of any syndicate trafficking ivory transnationally that is only moving ivory,” she says. No illicit commodity is as profitable as drugs, so: “When you get up to the traffickers they’re almost inevitably moving narcotics too.”

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Thermodynamics 101.

Want To Fight Climate Change? Don’t Invest In Tesla (MW)

Morgan Stanley identified 39 stocks that generate at least half their revenue “from the provision of solutions to climate change,” something it said was a central component of investing to make a difference, as opposed to just a making a buck. “In our view, impact investing needs to begin with companies whose products and services have a notable positive environmental or social impact,” wrote Jessica Alsford, an equity strategist at the investment bank. Not surprisingly, alternative-energy companies ranked the highest in terms of their positive impact, and the “top five climate-change impact stocks” were all manufacturers of solar and wind energy: Canadian Solar, China High Speed Transmission, GCL-Poly, Daqo New Energy and Jinko Solar. Not among the top companies? Electric-car makers, including Tesla. Elon Musk’s company has been an investor favorite for years, even eclipsing Ford and General Motors in market cap.

Tesla shares are up nearly 66% so far this year, but the good it may have been doing for portfolios may not translate to it doing good for the planet. Morgan Stanley said this was one of the “biggest surprises” of its study. The bank grouped the “climate-change impact stocks” into four sector categories: utilities, renewable manufacturers, green infrastructure companies and transportation stocks. It then analyzed them on a number of metrics, including “the CO2 [carbon dioxide] savings achieved from the products and services sold by the companies,” as well as secondary and tertiary factors centered around the environmental impact of the making of these products. This is where Tesla, along with China’s Guoxuan High-Tech, fall short.

“Whilst the electric vehicles and lithium batteries manufactured by these two companies do indeed help to reduce direct CO2 emissions from vehicles, electricity is needed to power them,” Morgan Stanley wrote. “And with their primary markets still largely weighted towards fossil-fuel power (72% in the U.S. and 75% in China) the CO2 emissions from this electricity generation are still material.” In other words, “the carbon emissions generated by the electricity required for electric vehicles are greater than those saved by cutting out direct vehicle emissions.” Morgan Stanley calculated that an investment of $1 million in Canadian Solar results in nearly 15,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide being saved every year. For Tesla, such an investment adds nearly one-third of a metric ton of CO2.

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