May 142018
 
 May 14, 2018  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

S&P 500 Should Be 1,000+ Points Lower Than Today – David Rosenberg (MW)
Why I Think the Stock Market Cannot Crash in 2018 (WS)
Italy’s Nascent Government Has Tough Economic Circles To Square (R.)
US Threatens European Companies With Sanctions After Iran Deal Pullout (G.)
May Faces Deadlock Over Brexit Customs Rules As Both Options Rubbished (Ind.)
Shoppers Desert UK High Streets (G.)
UK Metropolitan Police’s Facial Recognition Technology 98% Inaccurate (Ind.)
UK To Host Summit On Why Six Other Countries Should Join The EU (Ind.)
Xi Might Join Trump And Kim In Singapore (MS)
Prosecutors Seek Complete Media Ban On Cardinal George Pell Trial (NM)
Greek Pensions Under €1,000 Will Also Be Cut In 2019 (K.)
Greece Considers Boosting Capacity Of Refugee Centers

 

 

“..there are some serious people out there saying some very serious things about the longevity of the cycle..”

S&P 500 Should Be 1,000+ Points Lower Than Today – David Rosenberg (MW)

A reversion to the mean in U.S. stock prices could mean the market will fall by at least 20%, according to David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff and Associates, who gave his prediction at the Strategic Investment Conference 2018 in San Diego. Rosenberg, the chief economist and strategist at Toronto-based Gluskin Sheff, said this is one of the strangest securities-market rallies of all time. That’s because all asset classes have gone up, even ones that are inversely correlated. He thinks a breaking point is a year away, and so investors should start taking precautions now.

The beginning of this year started off great for investors. The S&P 500 Index hit record highs at around 2,750 points, and stocks had their best January since 1987. As if that was not enough, Rosenberg pointed out, many Wall Street strategists raised their target to 3,000. The media extrapolating record returns only added to the rise in investors’ unreasonable expectations. However, increasingly more hedge fund managers and billionaire investors who timed the previous crashes are backing out.

One of them is Sam Zell, a billionaire real estate investor, whom Rosenberg says is a “hero” of his. Zell predicted the 2008 financial crisis, eight months early. But, essentially, he was right. Today, his view is that valuations are at record highs. Then we have Howard Marks, a billionaire American investor who is the co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management. He seconds Zell’s view that valuations are unreasonably high and says the easy money has been made. “And I don’t always try to seek out corroborating evidence. But there are some serious people out there saying some very serious things about the longevity of the cycle,” said Rosenberg.

According to Rosenberg’s calculations, the S&P 500 should be at least 1,000 points lower than it is today based on economic growth. In spite of this, equity valuations sit at record highs. Another historically accurate indicator that predicts the end of bull cycles is household net worth’s share of personal disposable income. As you can see in the chart below, the last two peaks in this ratio almost perfectly coincided with the dot-com crash and the 2008 financial crisis.

Read more …

There is no market.

Why I Think the Stock Market Cannot Crash in 2018 (WS)

The 85% of S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far disclosed they’d bought back $158 billion of their own shares in Q1, according to the Wall Street Journal. The quarterly record of $164 billion was set in Q1 2016. If the current rate applies to all S&P 500 companies, they repurchased over $180 billion of their own shares in Q1, thus setting a new record. At this trend, including a couple of slower quarters, S&P 500 companies are likely to buy back between $650 billion and $700 billion of their owns shares in 2018. This would handily beat the prior annual record of $572 billion in 2007.

Here are the top buyback spenders in Q1: Apple: $22.8 billion, Amgen: $10.7 billion, Bank of America: $4.9 billion, JPMorgan Chase: $4.7 billion, Oracle: $4 billion, Microsoft: $3.8 billion, Phillips 66: $3.5 billion, Wells Fargo: $3.34 billion, Boeing: $3 billion, Citigroup: $2.9 billion. Buybacks pump up share prices in several ways. One is the pandemic hype and media razzmatazz around the announcements which cause investors and algos to pile into those shares and create buying pressure. Since May 1, when Apple announced mega-buybacks of $100 billion in the future, its shares have surged 11%. The magic words.

Other companies with big share buyback programs have also fared well: Microsoft shares are up 14% year-to-date. And if buybacks don’t push up shares, at least they keep them from falling: Amgen shares are flat year-to-date. Shares of the 20 biggest buyback spenders in Q1 are up over 5% on average year-to-date, according to the Wall Street Journal, though the S&P 500 has edged up only 2%.

Read more …

Basic income AND a parallel currency. How can this fit inside the eurozone?

Italy’s Nascent Government Has Tough Economic Circles To Square (R.)

The Italian coalition taking shape 10 weeks after March’s inconclusive election has made economic promises that seem incompatible with Europe’s fiscal rules and will be hard, if not impossible, to keep. These include slashing taxes for companies and individuals, boosting welfare provision, cancelling a scheduled increase in sales tax and dismantling a 2011 pension reform which sharply raised the retirement age.The marriage being sealed between the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League was seen as an unlikely and worrying prospect by most analysts before the March 4 election ended in a hung parliament.

The pre-election adversaries have spent the last few days trying to fuse their very different programs into a “contract” of mutually acceptable policy commitments. What they have in common is that they are extremely expensive. On the face of it their plans, which they say may also include a form of parallel currency, could push the budget deficit far above targets agreed with the EU, setting up a clash with the European Commission and Italy’s partners. “We will need to renegotiate EU agreements to stop Italy suffocating,” League leader Matteo Salvini said on Saturday after a day of talks with his 5-Star counterpart Luigi Di Maio.

5-Star’s flagship policy of a universal income for the poor has been costed at around 17 billion euros ($20 billion) per year. The League’s hallmark scheme, a flat tax rate of 15 percent for companies and individuals, is estimated to reduce tax revenues by 80 billion euros per year. Scrapping the unpopular pension reform would cost 15 billion euros, another 12.5 billion is needed to head off the planned hike in sales tax, and the parties are also considering printing a new, special-purpose currency to pay off state debts to firms. “If implemented, it would be the biggest shake-up of the Italian economic system in modern times,” said Wolfgang Munchau, head of the London-based Eurointelligence think-tank.

[..] olfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence, said taking on Brussels would be popular with Italian voters, and the new government had little to fear from a European Commission which “is very weak and on its way out”. The Commission, with just a year of its term remaining, “can’t really do much other than put Italy’s finances under greater scrutiny, and markets don’t care about that”, he said.

Read more …

Bolton.

US Threatens European Companies With Sanctions After Iran Deal Pullout (G.)

Donald Trump is prepared to impose sanctions on European companies that do business in Iran following his withdrawal of the US from the international nuclear deal, his administration reiterated on Sunday. Trump’s most senior foreign policy aides signalled that the US would continue pressuring allies to follow Washington in backing out of the pact, which gave Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for halting its nuclear programme. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, predicted that “the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests to come along with us” rather than continue with the 2015 deal, under which major European corporations have signed billions of dollars of contracts in Iran.

Asked on CNN’s State of the Union whether that meant the Trump administration would impose sanctions against those firms, Bolton said: “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.” US sanctions on Iran reimposed following Trump’s withdrawal not only block American firms from doing business in the country, but also bar foreign firms that do business there from accessing the entire US banking and financial system. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, said on Sunday wealth created in Iran under the terms of the nuclear deal “drove Iranian malign activity” in the region. He declined to rule out sanctions against European firms. “The sanctions regime that is in place now is very clear on what the requirements are,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday.

Read more …

Britain better get rid of her.

May Faces Deadlock Over Brexit Customs Rules As Both Options Rubbished (Ind.)

Theresa May faces deadlock over the key controversy of customs rules after Brexit, after senior politicians rubbished both of the options being studied by her warring cabinet. Michael Gove – picked by the prime minister to examine her preferred “customs partnership” model – warned there were “significant question marks over the deliverability of it”. Meanwhile, the Irish deputy prime minister insisted Dublin would block a Brexit withdrawal agreement if she pursued an alternative technology-based solution, saying: “It won’t work.” The warnings left Ms May with few apparent options to resolve the impasse, with a deadline set by the EU just six weeks away.

Two working groups of key ministers have been set up to study both the customs partnership – under which the UK would collect tariffs on behalf the EU – and the tech-based “max-fac” proposal. Mr Gove, the environment secretary, speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, declined to back Boris Johnson’s description of the partnership model as “crazy”. But he said: “Boris pointed out that because it’s novel, because no model like this exists, there have to be significant question marks over the deliverability of it on time.” Crucially, Mr Gove also suggested the proposal would break Ms May’s key promise – stated again today – to ‘take back control” of borders and laws.

“What the customs partnership requires the British government to do is in effect to act as the tax collector and very possibly the effective deliverer of regulation for the European Union,” he claimed. A proposal to seek EU agreement to keep the UK in the single market and customs union past the end of 2020, while a solution is found, was also stamped on by Mr Gove. “I don’t believe in an extension,” he said – arguing it was “critical to meet that deadline” of ending the post-Brexit transition period after 21 months.

Read more …

Slowly, people are starting to get very afraid of Brexit.

Shoppers Desert UK High Streets (G.)

Shoppers are deserting the high street in greater numbers than during the depths of the recession in 2009, creating a brutal climate that is putting thousands more retail jobs at risk. The coming days will be crucial to the future of a handful of household names, including Mothercare and Carpetright, which are trying to persuade investors to make vital cash injections so they can jettison unwanted stores. There is also the spectre of job losses at Poundworld, the struggling discount chain, which is being cut adrift by its American owners. Dwindling shopper numbers tally with weak spending figures for April, which show Britons slashed spending on gadgets, furniture and even nights out.

Consumer spending dropped 2% last month, according to Visa’s consumer spending index, which has recorded declines in 11 of the past 12 months. “With inflation beginning to fall and wages growing faster than expected in recent months, it would have been easy to assume we might be over the worst of the consumer squeeze,” Mark Antipof, the chief commercial officer at Visa, said. “Yet there has been no corresponding improvement in spending. It is clear that consumers remain in belt-tightening mode.” High street visits declined 3.3% in April, according to the BRC-Springboard monthly tracker, which also highlighted nearly one in 10 town centre shops are lying empty.

The drop in footfall came on the back of a disastrous performance in March, when shopper numbers declined by 6%. Taken together there has been an unprecedented 4.8% drop over the two months – a bigger decline than was recorded in the same months of 2009 when the UK was mired in recession. “Not since the depths of recession in 2009 has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%,” said the Springboard analyst Diane Wehrle. “Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March but even looking at March and April together still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted.”

Read more …

Priceless.

UK Metropolitan Police’s Facial Recognition Technology 98% Inaccurate (Ind.)

Facial recognition software used by the UK’s biggest police force has returned false positives in more than 98 per cent of alerts generated, The Independent can reveal, with the country’s biometrics regulator calling it “not yet fit for use”. The Metropolitan Police’s system has produced 104 alerts of which only two were later confirmed to be positive matches, a freedom of information request showed. In its response the force said it did not consider the inaccurate matches “false positives” because alerts were checked a second time after they occurred. Facial recognition technology scans people in a video feed and compares their images to pictures stored in a reference library or watch list. It has been used at large events like the Notting Hill Carnival and a Six Nations Rugby match.

The system used by another force, South Wales Police, has returned more than 2,400 false positives in 15 deployments since June 2017. The vast majority of those came during that month’s Uefa Champion’s League final in Cardiff, and overall only 234 alerts – fewer than 10 per cent – were correct matches. Both forces are trialling the software. The UK’s biometrics commissioner, Professor Paul Wiles, told The Independent that legislation to govern the technology was “urgently needed”. He said: “I have told both police forces that I consider such trials are only acceptable to fill gaps in knowledge and if the results of the trials are published and externally peer-reviewed. We ought to wait for the final report, but I am not surprised to hear that accuracy rates so far have been low as clearly the technology is not yet fit for use.

Read more …

Irony is dead.

UK To Host Summit On Why Six Other Countries Should Join The EU (Ind.)

The British government will host a summit encouraging six European countries to join the EU for the sake of their “security, stability and prosperity”, months before it is due to sign its own Brexit withdrawal deal with Brussels. London will in July play host to Western Balkans governments including Serbia and Albania, as well as existing EU member states, to discuss reforms to pave the way to future EU enlargement. The summit is part of the so-called Berlin Process – a series of meetings aimed at supporting the region towards joining the bloc and described by the European parliament’s research arm as “bringing a new perspective and impetus to the enlargement process”.

Critics said the UK government must have “a sense of humour” for hosting a conference on EU enlargement and extolling the benefits of accession as Britain itself headed towards the exit door. The leaders of EU candidate countries Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia will attend, as well as those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo – two states who have both expressed an interest in joining the bloc but have not yet been accepted as candidates. They will be joined by representatives of the governments of EU countries with an interest in the region such as Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

Read more …

Makes sense.

Xi Might Join Trump And Kim In Singapore (MS)

The prospect of China’s president Xi Jinping coming to Singapore on June 12, 2018 to meet with United States President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has been raised. This is according to mainstream media reports in Singapore on May 11, which re-reported a Japanese newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, that cited American diplomatic sources. In the Friday report, Mainichi Shimbun quoted a senior international negotiator with the National Security Council saying that “there is a possibility” the leader of a third country may take part. It is understood that this leader is Xi. The suggestion that the three leaders will descend upon Singapore at the same time is not without merit.

On Tuesday, May 8, Trump spoke to Xi about Kim’s recent visit to China. The Chinese president and North Korean leader met Monday and Tuesday, May 7 and 8, in China again in a second meeting. This meeting followed Kim’s first visit to Beijing in March. However, as of Friday morning, there were no news reports on North Korean media outlets of the date and venue of Kim’s meeting with Trump, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported. Previously, Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in issued a joint declaration to say that both sides aim to realise complete denuclearisation for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, at the historic inter-Korea summit on April 27. They also agreed to pursue three-way talks involving the two Koreas and the US, or four-way talks involving the two Koreas, the US and China.

Read more …

People no longer have a right to know?

Prosecutors Seek Complete Media Ban On Cardinal George Pell Trial (NM)


On Friday, the Victorian Department of Public Prosecutions lodged an application with the Country Court of Victoria for a ‘super injunction’ against media coverage of the trial of Cardinal George Pell, who is accused of a number of historical sexual offences. Cardinal Pell – the Vatican’s treasurer and the third highest ranked Catholic in the world – was committed to stand trial a fortnight ago. The orders being sought by the DPP, which will be decided on Wednesday morning in the County Court in Melbourne before Chief Judge Peter Kidd, are:

(1) Publication is prohibited of any report of the whole or any part of these proceedings and any information derived from this proceeding and any court documents associated with this proceeding. (2) The prohibition on publication applies within all States and Territories of Australia and on any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia. (3) For the purpose of this order, ‘publication’ has the meaning attributed to it by s3 of the Open Courts Act, that is to say, it means the dissemination or provision of access to the public by any means including, publication in a book, newspaper, magazine or other written publication, or broadcast by radio or television; or public exhibition; or broadcast or electronic communication. (4) The order will expire upon a jury verdict in respect of the charges on the final indictment, or by further order of the court.

Ordinarily, an injunction against media reporting of a trial prevents outlets from reporting the details of the trial. But they can report the existence of the injunction and explain to readers why they’re not reporting the matter. The order that the DPP is seeking in the Pell matter is so broad that it will operate as a super injunction. The suppression order would be ‘any part of’ the proceedings, meaning the trial could not be reported, nor could media report the fact they’re not allowed to report. If Wednesday’s application for a super injunction is successful, this story will have to be removed from publication. [..] Cardinal Pell, aged 76, is the most senior Catholic charged with sexual offences anywhere in the world. Cardinal Pell has strongly denied the allegations levelled against him.

Read more …

We’re on a road to nowhere..

Greek Pensions Under €1,000 Will Also Be Cut In 2019 (K.)

The planned pension cuts for people who have already retired and which will be implemented as of January 2019 will also affect pensions under 1,000 euros, Deputy Minister for Social Security Tasos Petropoulos admitted on Sunday. “In October we will see the exact cuts in pensions […] and will improve them,” he told broadcaster Skai. “We have seven months ahead.” Petropoulos said the 18 percent cut in pensions includes benefits, and estimated that about 25-30 percent of pensioners will be affected by the new reductions. He also pledged to pay all pending main pensions by August, “except in some particular cases.”

Read more …

Now Turkish citizens fleeing Erdogan are added.

Greece Considers Boosting Capacity Of Refugee Centers

The Migration Policy Ministry is reportedly considering increasing the capacity of existing refugee and migrant centers on the mainland as a first step in managing a recent spike in arrivals from neighboring Turkey, in a plan ministry sources say the European Union agrees with. “Practically, this means tents will be set up between the containers, exacerbating the already difficult situation for the residents,” a nongovernmental organization official said. Increasing capacity also means that the current logistics involved in running the camps will have to be adjusted. For example, if daily food costs are €3.50 per person per day (according to the specifications cited in official announcements), an additional 16,478 additional refugees will mean an extra €57,673 per day.

According to official data, 6,632 refugees crossed into Greece in April alone and 16,478 people in the first five months of the year, of whom 9,375 arrived on the islands and 7,103 from the Evros border in northeastern Greece. The government is also hoping to reduce arrivals and overcrowding on the islands by investing in diplomacy with Turkey and speeding up the asylum process through a bill which is being discussed in Parliament. At the same time, the reactions of residents on the islands that have borne the brunt of migration, even if they do not reflect the views of the entire population, show their patience is wearing thin. Authorities have also recorded increased arrivals of Turkish nationals from Evros. About 30 Turks have been arriving on a daily basis since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called elections for next month, versus zero arrivals previously.

Read more …

Apr 232018
 
 April 23, 2018  Posted by at 12:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte La trahison des images 1929

 

“[Price discovery] is the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace through the interactions of buyers and sellers”, says Wikipedia. Perhaps not a perfect definition, but it’ll do. They add: “The futures and options market serve all important functions of price discovery.”

What follows from this is that markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is.

Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all. Also, if you don’t have functioning markets, you have no investors. Who’s going to spend money purchasing things they can’t determine the value of? (I know: oh, wait..)

 

Ergo: we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function?

Or is it because they once started out as ‘investors’ or finance journalists, bankers or politicians, and wouldn’t know what to call themselves now, or simply can’t be bothered to think about such trivial matters?

Doesn’t a little warning voice pop up, somewhere in the back of their minds, in the middle of a sweaty sleepless night, that says perhaps they shouldn’t get this one wrong? Because if you think about, and treat, a ‘thing’, as something that it’s not at all, don’t you run the risk of getting it awfully wrong?

A cow is not a dinner table; but both have four legs. And “Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know”. And when you base million, billion, trillion dollar decisions, often involving other people’s money, on such misconceptions, don’t you play with fire -or worse?

 

This may seem like pure semantics without much practical value, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s essential. What comes to mind is René Magritte’s painting “La Trahison des Images”, better known as “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, (The Treachery of Images – this is not a pipe). People now understand -better- what he meant, but they were plenty confused in the late 1920s when he painted it.

An image of a pipe is not a pipe. In Magritte’s words: “The famous pipe! How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”.

But isn’t that what the entire financial community is doing today? Sure, they’re making money right now, but that doesn’t mean there are actual markets. They don’t have to go through “the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace..” I.e. they don’t have to check if the pipe is a real pipe, or just a picture of one.

 

 

What killed price discovery, and thereby markets? Central banks did. What they did post-2008 is two-fold: they bought many, many trillions in ‘assets’, mortgage-backed securities, sovereign bonds, corporate bonds, etc., often at elevated prices. It’s hard to gauge how much exactly, but it’s in the $20+ trillion range. Just so all these things wouldn’t be sold at prices markets might value them at after going through that terrible process of ‘price discovery’.

Secondly, of course, central banks yanked down interest rates. Until they arrived at ultra low interest rates (even negative ones), which have led to ultra low yields and the perception of ultra low volatility, ultra low risk, ultra low fear, which in turn contributed to ultra low savings (in which increasing household debt also plays a major role). As a consequence of which we have ultra high prices for stocks, housing, crypto(?), and I’m sure I still forget a number of causes and effects.

People wanting to buy a home are under the impression they can get “more home for their buck” because rates are so low, which in turn drives up home prices, which means the next buyers pay a lot more than they would have otherwise, and get “less home for their buck”. In the same vein, ultra-low rates allow for companies to borrow on the cheap to buy back their own stock, which leads to surging stock prices, which means ‘investors’ pay more per share.

 

Numbers of the S&P 500 and its peers across the world are still being reported, but what do they really represent? Other than what central banks and financial institutions have bought and sold? There’s no way of knowing. If you buy a stock, or a bond, or a home, you no longer have a means of finding out what they are truly worth.

Their value is determined by central banks printing debt out of thin air, not by what it has cost to build a home, or by what a company has added to its value through hard work or investment in labor, knowledge or infrastructure. These things have been rendered meaningless.

Central banks determine what anything is worth. The problem is, that is a trap. And your money risks being stuck in that trap. Because you’re not getting any return on your savings, you want to ‘invest’ in something, anything, that will get you that return. And the only guidance you have left is what central banks purchase. That is a much poorer guidance than an actual market place. The one thing you can be sure of is that you’re paying more for ‘assets’ -probably much more- than you would have had central banks remained on the sidelines.

The Fed may (officially?) have quit purchasing ‘assets’, but the Bank of Japan and ECB took over with a vengeance (oh, to be a fly on the wall at the BIS); in Q1 2017 the latter two bought over $1 trillion in paper. The Bank of Japan has effectively become its nation’s bondmarket. The European Central Bank is not far behind that role in Europe.

And the ‘market’, or rather the 2-dimensional picture of a market, depends only on what they do. The one remaining question then is when will this end? Some say it can go on forever, or, you know, till these policies have restored growth and confidence. But can, will, anyone have confidence in a market that doesn’t function? Martin Armstrong recently addressed the issue:

 

The Central Bank Crisis on the Immediate Horizon

While the majority keep bashing the Federal Reserve, other central banks seem to escape any criticism. The European Central Bank under Mario Draghi has engaged in what history will call the Great Monetary Experiment of the 21st Century – the daring experiment of negative interest rates. A look behind the scenes reveals that this experiment has been not just a failure, it has undermined the entire global economic structure.

We are looking at pension funds being driven into insolvency as the traditional asset allocation model of 60% equity 40% bonds has failed to secure the future with negative interest rates. Then, the ECB has exceeded 40% ownership of Eurozone government debt. The ECB realizes it can not only sell any of its holdings ever again, it cannot even refuse to reinvest what it has already bought when those bonds expire. The Fed has announced it will not reinvest anything.

Draghi is trapped. He cannot stop buying government debt for if he does, interest rates will soar. He cannot escape this crisis and it is not going to end nicely. When this policy collapses, forced by the free markets (no bid), CONFIDENCE will collapse rapidly. Once people no longer believe the central banks can control anything, the end has arrived. We will be looking at the time at the WEC. We will be answering the question – Can a central bank actually fail?

 

So where do you go from here? Everything you -think you- know about markets is potentially useless and doesn’t apply to what you see before you today. There are many voices who talk about similarities and comparisons with what happened to markets for instance in 1987, but what’s the value of that?

Back then, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, markets were functioning. There was price discovery. There were some ‘novel’ instruments, such as portfolio insurance, that you could argue influenced markets, but nothing on the scale or depth of what we see today with high-frequency trading, robots, Kurodas and Draghis.

The temptation is obvious, and large, to compare today’s financial world with that of any point in the past that seems to fit, even if not perfectly. But the lack of price discovery means any such comparisons must of necessity be way off the mark; you cannot stuff that 2-D pipe.

The BIS-designed unity in central bank policies is under threat, as Armstrong indicates. The Fed has moved towards quantitative tightening, not investing or even re-investing, and raising rates, but it doesn’t look like the ECB will be able to follow that change of direction. It can’t stop ‘investing’ because it has become too big a player. The Bank of Japan appears to be in that same bind.

Central bankers jumped into the markets to save them (or so goes the narrative), but they will instead end up killing them. In fact, they killed them the minute they entered the fray. Markets can’t survive without price discovery, and vice versa. The moment it becomes clear that Draghi MUST keep buying sovereign debt from countries with failing economies, the game is up.

 

All those trillions created by central banks, and the even much bigger amounts conjured up by the creation of loans by commercial banks, will have to be eradicated from the system before markets and price discovery can return. And return they will. There are lots of things wrong with our economic and financial machinery, but functioning markets are not wrong.

Things run off the rails when governments and central banks start interfering, not when markets are allowed to function. But it’s long turned into a giant game of whack-a-mole, in which economists and other know-it-betters are forced to plug one hole by digging another, and so forth.

The best we can hope for is some sort of controlled demolition, but the knowledge and intelligence required to make that happen don’t appear to be available. The political climate certainly isn’t either. A politician who campaigns on “let’s take this sucker down slowly” will always lose out to one who claims to know not only how to save it, but to let it bloat even more.

The Draghis of the world will continue to believe they are in control until they are not. At first, some people will start taking out their money while it’s still there, and then after that the rest will trample over each other in a bloody stampede on the way to the exits trying to save what’s left. After the first $100 trillion is gone, we’ll be able to survey the terrain, but by then we won’t, because we’ll be too busy trying to save ourselves.

And I know you’ve heard this before, and I know central banks bought us 10 years of respite. But it was all fake, it was all just a picture of a pipe. They had to pile on insane amounts of debt on your heads, kill off your pension systems and make markets a meaningless term, to achieve that respite.

They had to kill the markets to create the illusion that there still were markets. With the implied promise that they would be able to get out when they had ‘restored growth’.

But you can’t buy growth. And yet that is the only trick they have up their sleeves, and the only thing the emperor is wearing. Next up: a rabbit and a hat. And a pipe. And then the lights go out and someone shouts “FIRE!”.

 

 

 

 

Feb 272018
 
 February 27, 2018  Posted by at 11:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Mother and child, Ellis Island, New York 1907

Stock Market Rests Happily on Smoldering Powder Keg (WS)
China’s Bailouts Won’t End With Anbang (Balding)
US January New Home Sales Crash As Rates Spike (ZH)
US Gross National Debt Spikes $1 Trillion in Less Than 6 Months (WS)
Dark Money: The Secret Force Behind Today’s Rigged Markets (Nomi Prins)
Problem With Rising Rates: Corporate America Has Binged On Debt (CNN)
European Companies’ Alarming Leverage (BBG)
Central Banks Need To Stay Vigilant For Further Volatility – Lagarde (BBG)
US Will Overtake Russia As Top Oil Producer By 2019 (R.)
The Matrix? Alice In Wonderland? Praise For Corbyn From UK Business (Ind.)
Generational Battle Lines Harden Over Pensions (G.)
The Real Reason Behind The US Student Debt Problem (F.)
20 US States Sue Federal Government, Seeking End To Obamacare (R.)
US Supreme Court Rebuffs Trump, Won’t Hear Immigration Appeal (BBG)
And Now the Schiff Memo (Jim Kunstler)
East Ghouta: The Last Great Battle Of The Syrian War? (Duran)
Women ‘Sexually Exploited In Return For Aid’ in Syria (BBC)

 

 

The beauty of low rates.

Stock Market Rests Happily on Smoldering Powder Keg (WS)

There is nothing like a big shot of leverage to fire up the stock market. And that’s what the market got in 2017, when the S&P 500 surged 26%, and in January 2018, when the index soared another 7.5% through January 26 – until suddenly something happened. One measure of leverage in the stock market is margin debt – the amount individual and institutional investors borrow from their brokers against their portfolios – which surged $22.9 billion in January to a new record of $665.7 billion, according to FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), which regulates member brokerage firms and exchange markets, and which has taken over margin-debt reporting from the NYSE.

For the 12-month period through January, margin debt soared $112.2 billion, among the largest 12-month gains in the history of the data series, behind only the 12-month periods ending in: • December 2013 ($123 billion) • July 2007 ($160 billion) • March 2000 ($133.7 billion) • November 1997 ($132 billion). But it’s not just the recent surge; it’s the length of the surge. With only a few noticeable down periods, margin debt has soared for nine years in a row and now exceeds the prior peak of July 2007 ($416 billion) by 60%. By comparison, over the same period, nominal GDP (not adjusted for inflation) has grown 32%, and the Consumer Price Index has grown 20%.

In other words, margin debt has ballooned twice as fast from peak to peak as GDP and three times as fast as the Consumer Price Index. The chart below shows margin debt based on the FINRA data, which includes margin debt from its own member firms and from NYSE Member firms, and is therefore more complete and larger than the NYSE data was. For example, NYSE margin debt in November 2017, the last month available, was $580.9 billion while FINRA’s data for November showed margin debt of $627.4 billion. And in January, FINRA warned about the levels of margin debt – marked in green on the chart. Note the spike that started in June 2016:

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Xi’s main problem: he can’t let these companies go belly-up. And there’s lots of them, some big, some smaller.

China’s Bailouts Won’t End With Anbang (Balding)

When the China Insurance Regulatory Commission announced last week that it was seizing Anbang, the only surprise was that it took so long. Last year, the company was told to sell its overseas assets, its founder was placed behind bars, and banks were ordered to stop offering its products. So what, if anything, does this latest incident tell us about China’s economy and its attempt to crack down on debt? Anbang is often referred to as an insurance company, but this is misleading. Although the company does offer some run-of-the-mill products, such as property and casualty insurance, what really drove its growth were unusually structured life-insurance products. At the end of 2016, shortly before regulators intervened, property and casualty premiums made up a mere 4% of the group’s revenue. Life insurance made up 96%.

The growth in this business stunned even China analysts accustomed to tales of fabulous growth. From 2010 to 2016, Anbang’s annual life-insurance premium revenue increased from 1 million yuan to 114.2 billion yuan, or total growth of 11 million %. Even during a period of rapid economic expansion, annualized growth of 593% is amazing. The problem was that the life-insurance products were actually high-yielding debt instruments; investors could opt out of the insurance portion in as little as two years. With some products yielding more than 5% in the first three years, this essentially made Anbang a highly leveraged investor taking on significant risks to cover its cost of capital. Customers were basically extending loans to Anbang that it used to overpay for assets. Regulators finally stepped in to prevent a collapse that could have led to significant instability – with some 35 million customers demanding their money back.

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Econ 101 redux: “..prices will be forced to adjust lower as affordability collapses..”

US January New Home Sales Crash As Rates Spike (ZH)

Following the significant disappointment of January’s existing home sales, hopes were high for a rebound in new home sales (+3.5% expected after December’s 9.3% plunge) but those hopes were crushed as January new home sales crashed 7.8% MoM. This is the lowest level since August, even as the supply of homes at current sales rate climbed to 6.1 months from 5.5 months.

This is the biggest two-month drop in new home sales SAAR since August 2013. The Median price dropped from $336,700 to $323,000 – the lowest since October…

16% of new homes sold in January cost more than $500,000, down from 22% last month. As sales in the Northeast collapsed: • Northeast -33.3%, from 36K to 24K • Midwest +15.4%, from 65K to 75K • South -14.2%, from 351K to 301K • West +1.0%, from 191K to 193K So we are sure NAR will blame ‘inclement’ weather – as opposed to soaring rates and plunging affordability. Just as we warned previously, the following chart shows, that surge in rates will have a direct impact on home sales (or prices will be forced to adjust lower) as affordability collapses… This won’t end well.

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When trapped by crazy, go crazier.

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1 Trillion in Less Than 6 Months (WS)

As of the latest reporting by the Treasury Department, the US gross national debt rose by $41.5 billion on Thursday, February 22, to a grand total of $20.8 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, five-and-a-half months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.8 trillion. At that time, I was holding my breath waiting for the gross national debt to take a huge leap in a single day – as it always does after the debt ceiling gets lifted or suspended – and jump to the next ignominious level. It sure did the next day, when it jumped $318 billion. And it continued. Over a period of 8 weeks, the gross national debt jumped by $640 billion.

Four weeks after that, it had ballooned by $723 billion, at which point Fed Chair Yellen – whose cheap-money policies had enabled Congress to do this for years – said that she was “very worried about the sustainability of the US debt trajectory.” Then Congress served up another debt ceiling – a regular charade lawmakers undertake to extort deals from each other, beat the White House into submission, and keep the rest of the world their on their toes. It goes like this: First they pass the spending bills, directing the Administration to spend specific amounts of money on a gazillion specific things spread around specific districts. Then they block the means to pay the credit card bill. That debt ceiling was suspended on February 8, at which point the gross national debt began to surge again, adding $960.4 billion, a 5% jump in the gross national debt in just 5.5 months:

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Dark money will end up killing everything.

Dark Money: The Secret Force Behind Today’s Rigged Markets (Nomi Prins)

Markets were up again big today and volatility was down. But we haven’t seen the last of rising volatility, nor of the central banks’ attempts to thwart it. This week, new Fed Chair Jerome Powell will be giving his first congressional testimony, and you can be sure that markets are waiting on his words with bated breath. Before his testimony, the Fed will be releasing its Monetary Policy Report, which will also give an indication to the direction of Fed policy. Because these will be his first official comments as Fed chair, Powell will want to both make a personal mark and make sure markets don’t panic over his remarks. I believe he will temper his comments to neutralize any negative market impact the report could have. Wall Street wants to hear that Powell’s not going to aggressively hike rates.

The risk is that, as an article from CNBC reports, “Powell may not clarify anything,” in which case, “traders could be stuck with the same dilemma that shook stocks and sent bond yields spiking [last] Wednesday after the release of the minutes from the Fed’s January meeting.” I think Powell will sound as dovish as he can to avoid that outcome. So even if he confirms rate hikes will be executed at the already forecast pace of three rates this year, he won’t indicate there could be more, which should keep markets calmer and bullish. In other words, I don’t believe that Powell will implement dramatically different monetary policy from his predecessors Janet Yellen or Ben Bernanke. The Fed will do whatever the markets need. Banks have grown accustomed to what I call “dark money” and don’t want Powell to rock the boat.

What is dark money? Dark money basically means money coming from central banks. In essence, central banks “print” money or electronically fabricate money by buying bonds or stocks. They use other tools like adjusting interest rate policy and currency agreements with other central banks to pump liquidity into the financial system. That dark money goes to the biggest private banks and financial institutions first. From there, it spreads out in seemingly infinite directions, affecting different financial assets in different ways. These dark money flows stretch around the world according to a pattern of power, influence and of course, wealth for select groups. Dark money is the No. 1 secret life force of today’s rigged financial markets. It drives whole markets up and down. It’s the reason for today’s financial bubbles.

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CNN wakes up.

Problem With Rising Rates: Corporate America Has Binged On Debt (CNN)

Corporate America, egged on by ridiculously-low borrowing costs, has built up more debt than any time since the end of the Great Recession. The credit binge has allowed companies to grow faster, invest in the future and reward shareholders with huge dividends and share buybacks. Yet elevated levels of debt will also make businesses vulnerable when the next recession strikes or if borrowing costs spike because of rising interest rates. Either outcome will make it harder for Corporate America to pay back the $4 trillion of debt coming due by 2022. This risk has been underlined by the recent surge in Treasury yields and rising concerns that inflation could force the Federal Reserve to consider aggressive rate hikes.

“Removing the easy money punch bowl could trigger the next default cycle,” S&P Global Ratings wrote in a recent report titled “Debt high, defaults low – something’s gotta give.” For nearly a decade, companies have taken advantage of extremely cheap money set by the Fed and foreign central banks trying to pump up sluggish growth. Excluding the highly leveraged financial sector, corporate debt relative to GDP matched an all-time high during the third quarter of 2017, according to an analysis of the most recent numbers by Informa Financial Intelligence. “It’s certainly a reason to be cautious, particularly when we are long into this growth cycle and the Fed is raising rates,” said David Ader, chief macro strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence. “Everything is fine and well – until it isn’t,” he said.

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US, China, Europe et al. Leverage is all that’s left.

European Companies’ Alarming Leverage (BBG)

Much has been written recently about whether companies are going to look overstretched as monetary policy is tightened and bond yields rise. Some excellent research on European non-financial corporates by our Bloomberg Intelligence colleagues Laurent Douillet and Tim Craighead shines more light on the subject. It’s a slightly worrying picture. First off, they looked at cumulative free cash flows over the five years between 2012 and 2016, and then compared them with shareholder payouts and M&A spending. In every sector, except telecoms, free cash flow was exceeded by combined dividends, buybacks and deal-making, as this chart shows:

Consumer companies, drugs makers and industrials have splurged the most on dividends and takeovers. When you take a first glance at leverage, this doesn’t appear to be the end of the world. When you look at the most recent period, net debt to Ebitda looks pretty undemanding, except for the utilities – which are something of a problem child in Europe generally. Even if you look at free cash flow as a proportion of total debt, utilities are probably the only real outlier. Yet if you take a stricter view of what makes up debt, and include pension deficits and operating lease obligations, things start to look less benign. Operating leases are something that Gadfly’s Chris Bryant has looked at before, as companies will have to include them as part of their assets and associated debts when the new IFRS 16 accounting rules come in next year. If you use an adjusted measure of debt by including pensions and leases, as our BI colleagues have done, you get this:

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Blah blah.

Central Banks Need To Stay Vigilant For Further Volatility – Lagarde (BBG)

Central banks need to stay vigilant as uncertainty remains over the impact of the normalization of monetary policies in advanced economies, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. “We have known for some time that this is coming, but it remains uncertain as to how exactly it will affect companies, jobs, and incomes,” Lagarde told a conference in Jakarta on Tuesday. “Clearly, policy makers need to stay vigilant about the likely effects on financial stability, including the prospect of volatile capital flows.” Stock markets from the U.S. to Asia were in turmoil in recent weeks on concerns that the U.S. could raise interests rates at a faster pace than previously thought. Investors are awaiting Jerome Powell’s first public comments in the role of Fed chairman on Tuesday.

The global economy is on a broad-based upswing, involving about two-thirds of the world, and it offers an opportunity to reform financial markets, upgrade labor laws, and lower barriers to entry in overly protected industries, Lagarde said. The IMF forecasts global economic growth of 3.9 percent this year and in 2019. “As I have been saying recently, the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” Lagarde said. “Repairing the roof also means using fiscal reforms to generate higher public revenues, where needed, and improve spending. By boosting public finances, countries can increase infrastructure investment and development spending, especially on social safety nets for the most vulnerable.‘”

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Burn baby burn.

US Will Overtake Russia As Top Oil Producer By 2019 (R.)

The United States will overtake Russia as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2019 at the latest, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday, as the country’s shale oil boom continues to upend global markets. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at an event in Tokyo the United States would overtake Russia as the biggest crude oil producer “definitely next year”, if not this year. “U.S. shale growth is very strong, the pace is very strong … The United States will become the No.1 oil producer sometime very soon,” he told Reuters separately. U.S. crude oil output rose above 10 million barrels per day (bpd) late last year for the first time since the 1970s, overtaking top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said early this month that U.S. output would exceed 11 million bpd by late 2018. That would take it past top producer Russia, which pumps just below that mark. Birol said he did not see U.S. oil production peaking before 2020, and that he did not expect a decline in the next four to five years. The soaring U.S. production is upending global oil markets, coming at a time when other major producers — including Russia and members of the Middle East-dominated OPEC — have been withholding output to prop up prices. U.S. oil is also increasingly being exported, including to the world’s biggest and fastest growing markets in Asia, eating away at OPEC and Russian market share.

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Briatin’s much further down the rabbit hole than it wants to see.

The Matrix? Alice In Wonderland? Praise For Corbyn From UK Business (Ind.)

A Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn as the party of business? JC as the last, best hope for the business community? It’s the sort of thing that would make even one of those nutty internet conspiracy theorists who believe that contactless payments are a satanic plot scoff. Now? Now we’re in Terri May’s Brexit wonderland and the Cheshire Cat is pissing himself. Madness is part of everyday life and nothing seems strange anymore, not even the CBI’s director general Carlyn Fairbairn saying this: “The Labour leader’s commitment to a customs union will put jobs and living standards first by remaining in a close economic relationship with the EU. It will help grow trade without accepting freedom of movement or payments to the EU.”

Or Stephen Martin, the director general of the Institute of Directors, saying this: “Labour has widened the debate today on the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit, and many businesses, particularly manufacturers, will be pleased to hear the Opposition’s proposal to keep a customs union on the table.” You remember the scene from the Wachowskis’ Matrix where Morpheus references Lewis Carroll’s most famous work? “You take the blue pill, you stay in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” With the Tory party having taken leave of its senses in favour of plunging us into a nightmare beyond anything either Carroll or the the brothers could have conceived, the red pill suddenly doesn’t seem quite as scary as it once did, not now the Tories’ mad ideologues are making merry. The Corbyn rabbit hole might actually be the better option.

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Prediction: no-one’s even going to try to control this, because it would mean having to admit that pensions are Ponzis.

Generational Battle Lines Harden Over Pensions (G.)

A report by the Intergenerational Foundation, a charity that funds research into issues that divide the generations, has found that far from losing out to younger people, baby boomers have proved themselves adept at ensuring they are the winners across many areas of public policy. Governments, say the authors, have been “tempted by short-term pressures to set rates that clearly disadvantage the young and favour the older generations” – compare university fees charged at an interest rate of 6.1% with the 2% the elderly are charged on loans to pay for residential care costs. Another example can be found in the rates of interest offered on state-sponsored savings bonds. The pensioner bond, which was launched by George Osborne and proved so popular it was credited with helping the Tories secure a majority in the 2015 general election, paid a 4% rate of interest.

National Savings bonds for everyone else pay a maximum 2.2%. Worst of all is the huge bill in store for younger people in 30 or 40 years’ time by virtue of the current calculations of future liabilities. Pension liabilities are top of the list, with public sector pensions in particular carrying a heavy cost. The foundation’s concern is that the government overestimates the state’s capacity to pay for future liabilities by exaggerating how fast the UK’s income will grow over time. If GDP growth is forecast at an absurdly high rate then the income will supposedly be in place to pay generous pension payments in 30 years. If that growth fails to materialise, those who are in their 20s and 30s today will need to find large sums of cash to fill the hole when they are in their 50s and 60s.

The debate centres on the discount rate, which is the calculation of a fund’s long-term growth, which is used to reflect how much money should be set aside today to pay for tomorrow. Downgrade the discount rate by 0.5% and the government will need to set aside additional pension contributions worth 3% of salaries, it says. “From this you can see very starkly why representatives of older workers have been lobbying strongly for higher discount rates. If they succeed in keeping discount rates 1% above what they should be, they have essentially transferred 6% of the total pension bill for each of these years from the old to the young, so the young will have to pay this bill,” the authors say.

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Failed education systems.

The Real Reason Behind The US Student Debt Problem (F.)

The New York Fed publishes the always-interesting Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit. The Q4 2017 version came out recently. In total, Americans carried $13.15 trillion in debt as of year-end 2017. Most of it is mortgage debt—about 71% of the total, if you include home equity loans. Much to our surprise, the next-largest category isn’t auto loans or credit cards. It’s student loans, which are now 10% of total debt. Their share has been growing steadily. This might be okay if the debt enhanced the student’s financial security, but for millions of Americans, that’s not what has happened. Borrowers don’t achieve the desired results but remain stuck with the debt anyway. While delinquency rates for other forms of debt fell after the recession, student loans didn’t. As of year-end 2017, about 11% of nearly $1.4 trillion in student debt was at least 90 days delinquent.

It’s actually worse than that. Roughly half of student debt is held by borrowers who aren’t required to make payments yet. That’s because they are still in school, unemployed, or otherwise excused. Much of that debt would likely be delinquent too. Also important: The delinquent loans tend to be small (less than $10,000) and held by borrowers who never earned degrees. These borrowers probably thought they were doing the right thing. They wanted decent jobs and saw that having a college degree was necessary to get one. So why is college the key to gainful employment? It hasn’t always been so. It’s because employers require a degree as a job qualification… and that’s partly the fault of IQ tests.

[..] College degrees are convenient, legal substitutes for the kind of testing employers haven’t been able to use since the 1970s. So apart from whatever you learn in college, merely having the credential became necessary to career success. As a result, everyone in the equation made certain choices. • Employers: demand a college degree even for jobs that don’t require college-level skills. • Workers: get a college degree even if you must take on debt. Colleges: Raise prices since so many students are begging for degrees.
This made college more expensive, forcing students to borrow more and more money.

Politicians jumped in to promote and guarantee those loans. And here we are.

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Thw two parties will have to come together to solve this. Just blaming the other won’t do it.

20 US States Sue Federal Government, Seeking End To Obamacare (R.)

A coalition of 20 U.S. states sued the federal government on Monday over Obamacare, claiming the law was no longer constitutional after the repeal last year of its requirement that people have health insurance or pay a fine. Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, which was eliminated as part of the Republican tax law signed by President Donald Trump in December, Obamacare was unlawful. “The U.S. Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional,” Paxton said in a statement.

“With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all,” he said. The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the Trump administration would defend the law in court. The individual mandate in Obamacare was meant to ensure a viable health insurance market by forcing younger and healthier Americans to buy coverage. Republicans have opposed the 2010 law formally known as the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic policy achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, since its inception.

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The Supreme Court is wise enough to keep its distance from executive and legislative branches.

US Supreme Court Rebuffs Trump, Won’t Hear Immigration Appeal (BBG)

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Trump administration appeal aimed at ending deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants, steering clear for now of the debate over the fate of hundreds of thousands of people. The justices, without published dissent, turned away the administration’s appeal of a ruling that has kept the Obama-era program in place. The rejection buys time for the so-called dreamers even as Congress has been unable to agree on legislation to give them permanent protection. The Senate earlier this month blocked three proposals that would have shielded the dreamers. The administration was asking the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of bypassing an appeals court and granting fast-track review of a federal trial judge’s decision.

The court’s rebuff leaves open the possibility that the justices could consider the case later, after a San Francisco-based federal appeals court hears it. “It is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case,” the Supreme Court said in its two-sentence order. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “is clearly unlawful,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement. “We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail,” he said. DACA, begun under President Barack Obama, protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Applicants are shielded from deportation and allowed to apply for work permits.

The first group of DACA recipients had been set to lose their protected status in March before U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup’s Jan. 9 order. The Trump administration appeal argued that the judge’s order “requires the government to sanction indefinitely an ongoing violation of federal law being committed by nearly 700,000 aliens.” The administration resumed accepting DACA renewal applications after the order. Congress is at an impasse over legislation to protect the dreamers, as President Donald Trump and many Republicans insist that it must be combined with strict new limits on legal immigration. Even though the judge’s order means the prior March deadline isn’t in force, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said this month, “we want to operate on deadlines. We clearly need to address this issue in March.”

Alsup said the Department of Homeland Security based its decision to end the program on the “flawed legal premise” that Obama lacked the authority to set it up in the first place. In issuing his temporary order, which extends the protection while the lawsuit goes forward, Alsup said the “public interest” would be served by keeping the program in place. The judge pointed to Trump tweets that suggested he actually supported DACA. A September tweet read: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really! . . . .” Alsup wrote: “We seem to be in the unusual position wherein the ultimate authority over the agency, the chief executive, publicly favors the very program the agency has ended.”

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” Can I be alone in wondering how these agencies can mount massive prosecutions of nobodies like George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates while ignoring the much better documented intrigues?..”

And Now the Schiff Memo (Jim Kunstler)

The excruciating quandary President Trump presents to the nation is dragging the sad remnant of the thinking class ever-deeper into a netherworld of desperation, paranoia, and mendacity that may exceed even their own official fantasies about the enemy in the White House. Everything about the lumbering, blundering occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue drives his Dem/Prog opponents — or #Resistance, if you will — plumb batshit: his previous incarnations as a shady NYC real estate schmeikler, as a TV clown, as a business deadbeat, as a self-described pussy-grabber… his vulgar casinos, his mystifying hair-do, his baggy suits and dangling neckties, his arrant, childish, needless lying about trivialities, his intemperate tweets, his unappetizing associates, his loutish behavior in foreign lands, his fractured, tortured syntax, his obvious insincerity, his sneery facial contortions… and lots lots more — and of course that doesn’t even touch the actual policy positions he struggles to articulate.

In sum, Trump represents such a monumentally grotesque embarrassment to the permanent Washington establishment that they will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the removal of this odious caitiff. And in the process abandon all reason and decency. To complicate matters, there really are policy differences that, despite Mr. Trump’s oafish profferings, must somehow be faced for the sake of the country’s future — two of the clearest, just for example, being whether we will have coherent, enforceable immigration laws and whether we will continue to allow the sale of tactical military rifles to the general public. These are matters, by the way, which people of sound mind and honorable intentions could actually resolve through open legislative debate.

[..] in creating this horror movie, the #Resistance is dangerously perverting institutions that may not recover from being written into the script. For instance, the Department of Justice, its subsidiary, the FBI, and sundry intel outfits whose highest officers have been enlisted as cast members. Can I be alone in wondering how these agencies can mount massive prosecutions of nobodies like George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates while ignoring the much better documented intrigues of officials such as Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Sally Yates, James Comey, Loretta Lynch, John Brennan, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Hillary Clinton, and possibly even the sainted Barack Obama?

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All the west has left is fabricated narratives.

East Ghouta: The Last Great Battle Of The Syrian War? (Duran)

Just as was the case with the crisis in Aleppo in 2016, the crisis in east Ghouta today is the subject of much handwringing in the Western media. There are also – just as there were in 2016 – pleas to President Putin to “show mercy”. In 2016 these pleas came mainly from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. This time they are coming from German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron. Meanwhile – as in 2016 – there is grandstanding against Russia at the UN Security Council by the US’s UN ambassador. In 2016 it was Samantha Power; this time it is Nikki Haley. Just as in 2016 we are now seeing overheated and hysterical demands for ‘military action’ to ‘bring the killing to a stop’, with all concerns about what that might lead to brushed aside.

To complete the truly extraordinary parallels, there has even been a US bombing raid on Syrian forces far away in eastern Syria in Deir Ezzor province, just as there was during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016. Moreover the Russian response to the US threats and to the US bombing raid appears to be the same as it was in 2016: the deployment of further powerful additional military forces to Syria and to Khmeimim air base. In 2016 it was S-300VM Antey 2500 anti aircraft missiles; today it is additional S-400 anti aircraft missiles and (reportedly) SU-57 fighters. As to what is really behind the furious campaign to stop the attack on east Ghouta, it is the same as was the case with the furious campaign to stop the attack on eastern Aleppo in 2016: to prevent a Jihadi enclave which threatens one of Syria’s two great cities – Aleppo in 2016, Damascus today – from being destroyed.

As to what would actually happen if – or rather when – that Jihadi enclave is finally destroyed, I can do no better than quote Marcus Papadopoulos “Once East Ghouta is liberated from Al-Qaeda, the world will see the same response from its inhabitants as the world saw once East Aleppo was liberated: jubilation. And, like with East Aleppo, East Ghouta will serve as another testimony about the facade that is the White Helmets.” Why all these frantic attempts to save an Al-Qaeda controlled Jihadi enclave from being destroyed near Damascus? The short answer is that just as the destruction in 2016 of the Jihadi enclave in eastern Aleppo showed to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria could not be won, so the destruction of the Jihadi enclave in east Ghouta near Damascus today would show to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria is irretrievably lost.

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The UN is just as guilty as Oxfam etc.

Women ‘Sexually Exploited In Return For Aid’ By Charities In Syria (BBC)

Women in Syria have been sexually exploited by men delivering aid on behalf of the UN and international charities, the BBC has learned. Aid workers said the men would trade food and lifts for sexual favours. Despite warnings about the abuse three years ago, a new report shows it is continuing in the south of the country. UN agencies and charities said they had zero tolerance of exploitation and were not aware of any cases of abuse by partner organisations in the region. Aid workers told the BBC that the exploitation is so widespread that some Syrian women are refusing to go to distribution centres because people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home. One worker claimed that some humanitarian agencies were turning a blind eye to the exploitation because using third parties and local officials was the only way of getting aid into dangerous parts of Syria that international staff could not access.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) conducted an assessment of gender based violence in the region last year and concluded that humanitarian assistance was being exchanged for sex in various governorates in Syria. The report, entitled “Voices from Syria 2018”, said: “Examples were given of women or girls marrying officials for a short period of time for ‘sexual services’ in order to receive meals; distributors asking for telephone numbers of women and girls; giving them lifts to their houses ‘to take something in return’ or obtaining distributions ‘in exchange for a visit to her home’ or ‘in exchange for services, such as spending a night with them’.” It added: “Women and girls ‘without male protectors’, such as widows and divorcees as well as female IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), were regarded as particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.” Yet this exploitation was first reported three years ago.

Danielle Spencer, a humanitarian adviser working for a charity, heard about the allegations from a group of Syrian women in a refugee camp in Jordan in March 2015. [..] “I remember one woman crying in the room and she was very upset about what she had experienced. Women and girls need to be protected when they are trying to receive food and soap and basic items to live. The last thing you need is a man who you’re supposed to trust and supposed to be receiving aid from, then asking you to have sex with him and withholding aid from you.” She continued: “It was so endemic that they couldn’t actually go without being stigmatised. It was assumed that if you go to these distributions, that you will have performed some kind of sexual act in return for aid.”

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Feb 252018
 
 February 25, 2018  Posted by at 11:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jerome Liebling Snow, Clothes, Roof Brooklyn New York 1948

 

The US Mortgage Market Is Moving Into the Shadows (BBG)
Regulators Are Laying The Groundwork For The Next Housing Crisis (ZH)
This is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like (Atlantic)
‘CalPERS Is Near Insolvency; It Needs A Bailout Soon’ (ZH)
‘We Can’t Continue to Run the World’ – Ron Paul (Sputnik)
Resist That (Jim Kunstler)
China Seeks to Repeal Term Limit, Opening Way for Xi (BBG)
Greece Creditors Return To Athens For Fourth Bailout Review (K.)
‘Greece Is Neither Iraq Nor Syria,’ FM Tells Turkey (K.)
EU Hints At Outlawing Single-Use Plastics By Summer (Ind.)

 

 

They’re simply doing it again. Anything to beep the bubble floating. Is Angelo Mozilo on the board of Quicken or something, or the FHA?

The US Mortgage Market Is Moving Into the Shadows (BBG)

The last financial crisis occurred in part because unregulated lending in the mortgage market got out of hand. Believe it or not, it’s starting to happen again, and could ultimately precipitate another disaster unless regulators get their act together. Make no mistake, regulators have done plenty to rein in the mortgage business since the 2000s. New rules require that lenders carefully assess borrowers’ ability to pay, and that mortgage servicers – which process payments and manage other relations with borrowers – give troubled customers plenty of opportunity to renegotiate their debts before resorting to foreclosure. The Federal Reserve performs regular stress tests to ensure that banks have enough capital to weather defaults. Problem is, the requirements have weighed most heavily on traditional, deposit-taking banks.

The added hand-holding required in mortgage servicing, for example, has roughly quadrupled the cost of handling delinquent loans, turning them into major loss-makers. Together with stringent capital requirements, this has all but guaranteed that banks will lend only to people with the most pristine credit. In some cases, they have given up the business entirely: Late last year, Capital One announced it was exiting mortgage origination because it was “structurally disadvantaged.” So who has the advantage? Well, much of the regulation doesn’t apply to non-bank lenders, which typically originate mortgages and quickly sell them onward to be packaged into securities for investors. These “shadow banks” don’t take deposits, don’t have much capital, and are usually overseen by state banking authorities, which tend to be less stringent. They are also considerably more aggressive than their bank counterparts.

The non-banks’ growth has been breathtaking. At the end of 2016, such unaffiliated mortgage companies accounted for more than 40% of new conventional mortgages (those eligible for sale to government-controlled guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), twice the share they accounted for just eight years earlier. They’re also responsible for a decline in credit standards: The average FICO score at origination stood at 730 at the end of 2017, down from 750 five years earlier. For loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration – an area where the non-banks’ share is greatest – the average FICO score has fallen to 680.

The shift has been even more extreme in mortgage servicing. Non-banks now service about 51% of all loans packaged into new Freddie Mac securities, according to mortgage analytics firm Recursion Co. That’s more than double the share of just five years ago. For securitized FHA loans, the share stands at a staggering 83%. Again, banks are leaving the business: Last year, CitiMortgage announced it would exit by the end of this year, transferring the servicing rights for about 780,000 mortgages.

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Tyler inserted the term ‘inadvertently’ in that headline. Really?

Regulators Are Laying The Groundwork For The Next Housing Crisis (ZH)

Only a few weeks ago, we pointed out a remarkable development in the US mortgage market that has significant implications not only for mortgage borrowers, but perhaps the broader economy as a whole: Wells Fargo, formerly America’s foremost mortgage lender, had seen its share of the market eclipsed by Quicken Loans – the Detroit-based, nonbank lending behemoth that pioneered applying for mortgages on the Internet with its now-famous Rocket Mortgage (readers will remember RM’s celebrity-packed SuperBowl spot). Many factors (aside from Wells’ own criminality, which recently drew a strong, but ultimately meaningless, rebuke from the Fed) have contributed to this shift, as Bloomberg points out.

But as it turns out, the rising dominance of nonbank lenders like Quicken could portend a massive, bad-debt fueled binge reminiscent of the circumstances that led up to the housing crisis. That is to say, a wave of bad debt could create a cascading wave of defaults with repercussions far beyond the housing market. Considering all the restrictions that Dodd-Frank and other post-crisis regulations slapped on mortgage lenders, one might wonder how this might be possible.

Of course, as Bloomberg explains, instead of making the market safer, regulators are inadvertently enabling the rise of lenders like Quicken who aren’t bound by many of the rules that restrict banks’ mortgage-lending practices. As a result, Quicken Loans is effectively free from many of the regulations that have forced some of the biggest mortgage lenders into a period of retrenchment… [..] Because they’re not FDIC-backed, the shadow (aka “nonbank”) mortgage lenders have much more latitude to approve mortgages to borrowers with lower credit scores. This is a huge advantage in a market where supply is limited, which has helped squeeze home prices to their highest levels on record – surpassing even the pre-crisis peak from June 2006.

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There is no bigger blind spot in today’s society: “Increasingly, we’re seeing folks who are becoming poor for the first time in old age.”

This is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like (Atlantic)

Many people reaching retirement age don’t have the pensions that lots of workers in previous generations did, and often have not put enough money into their 401(k)s to live off of; the median savings in a 401(k) plan for people between the ages of 55 and 64 is currently just $15,000, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit. Other workers did not have access to a retirement plan through their employer. That means that as people reach their mid-60s, they either have to dramatically curtail their spending or keep working to survive. “This will be the first time that we have a lot of people who find themselves downwardly mobile as they grow older,” Diane Oakley, the executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, told me. “They’re going to go from being near poor to poor.”

The problem is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age—between 8,000 to 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, according to Kevin Prindiville, the executive director of Justice in Aging, a nonprofit that addresses senior poverty. Older Americans were the only demographic for whom poverty rates increased in a statistically significant way between 2015 and 2016, according to Census Bureau data. While poverty fell among people 18 and under and people 18 to 64 between 2015 and 2016, it rose to 14.5% for people over 65, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which is considered a more accurate measure of poverty because it takes into account health-care costs and other big expenses. “In the early decades of our work, we were serving communities that had been poor when they were younger,” Prindiville told me.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing folks who are becoming poor for the first time in old age.” This presents a worrying preview of what could befall millions of workers who will retire in the coming decades. If today’s seniors are struggling with retirement savings, what will become of the people of working age today, many of whom hold unsteady jobs and have patchwork incomes that leave little room for retirement savings? The current wave of senior poverty could just be the beginning. Two-thirds of Americans don’t contribute any money to a 401(k) or other retirement account, according to Census Bureau researchers. And this could have larger implications for the economy. If today’s middle-class households curtail their spending when they retire, the whole economy could suffer.

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And this is during the longest recovery ever.

‘CalPERS Is Near Insolvency; It Needs A Bailout Soon’ (ZH)

Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the February 5 volocaust, we quoted David Hunt, CEO of $1.2 trillion asset manager PGIM, who said ignore the volatility spike, the real financial timebomb was and remains public pensions: “if you were going to look for what’s the possible real crack in the financial architecture for the next crisis, rather than looking in the rearview mirror, pension funds would be on our list.” In a brief discussion wondering what municipalities and states will do when local tax revenues decline and unemployment worsens, Hunt said “we’re worried about those pension obligations.” He is hardly alone: having reported over and over and over (and over, and over) again that public pensions are in deep trouble, two days ago none other than Steve Westly, former California controller and Calpers board member – manager of the largest public pension fund in the US, made a stunning admission, confirming everything:

“The pension crisis is inching closer by the day. CalPERS just voted to increase the amount cities must pay to the agency. Cities point to possible insolvency if payments keep rising but CalPERS is near insolvency itself. It may be reform or bailout soon.” Westly was referring to an editorial laying out “the essence” of California’s pension crisis, exposed last week when the $350 billion California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) made a “relatively small change” in its amortization policy. Specifically, the CalPERS board voted to change the period for recouping future investment losses from 30 years to 20 years. While this may not sound like much, the bottom line is that it would require the California state government and thousands of local government agencies and school districts “to ramp up their mandatory contributions to the huge trust fund.”

As author Dan Walters observes, with client agencies – cities, particularly – already complaining that double-digit annual increases in CalPERS payments are driving some of them towards insolvency, the new policy – which kicks in next year – will raise those payments even more. “What we are trying to avoid is a situation where we have a city that is already on the brink, and applying a 20-year amortization schedule would put them over the edge,” a representative of the League of California Cities, Dane Hutchings, told the CalPERS board before its vote. CalPERS, however, has no choice because as both Walters and Westly claim, America’s largest public pension fund itself is on the brink, “and the policy change is one of several steps it has taken to avoid a complete meltdown.”

As we have reported previously, the Calpers system, once more than 100% funded, now has scarcely two-thirds of what it would need to fully cover all of the pension promises to current and future retirees. And that assumes it will hit an investment earnings target of 7% per year, that many authorities criticize as being too optimistic.

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Those pesky Russian propagandists are at it gaian.

‘We Can’t Continue to Run the World’ – Ron Paul (Sputnik)

Sputnik: Donald Trump has been in office for over a year. What is your general assessment of his job as president? Ron Paul: Mediocre; probably not worse than the other options. But I don’t think presidents really have much control. I think the deep state – the people behind the scenes and the shadow government, who control the monetary system, who control our foreign policy and the welfare state, and are connected to the media and the military-industrial complex. – I don’t think the presidency is as important as it’s made out to be. But everybody talks about it; it’s a political thing, and they keep churning the issue and directing everybody to ask ‘is Trump a good guy or a bad guy, and are we going to impeach him or what’s going to happen’, rather than [asking] what kind of philosophy do we have: why do we have this philosophy of welfare-warfare, spend money, run up debt and let the central bank print all that money.

They don’t even talk about it; the major parties, including Trump, they sign even more controls on us when it comes to FISA courts and spying on us. In spite of the fact that government officials like the FBI and others actually spy on our own president, he supports this; he passes and signs bills on that. So that really raises questions about ‘does the president really have much to say’, and I think he has much less to say than a lot of people believe. I believe that if he had stuck to his guns and had a different relationship with Russia and started bringing troops home and not aggravating things, he wouldn’t have been tolerated. Something would have happened.

[..] Sputnik: There’s an ongoing campaign in the east of Demascus in Eastern Ghouta, with media portrayals of it in the West comparing the ongoing campaign to Srebrenica and what happened in Bosnia. Why do you think this is, and how is the situation being portrayed in the West? Do Americans know what’s actually going on? Ron Paul: I think this, indirectly, may be a subtle bit of good news…You know Aleppo was seen as a return of Syrian territory, and a lot of people moved back! Everybody said that ‘it’s Assad who wants to kill his people and gas his people,’ and yet they all moved back after the fighting stopped. So maybe this is one of the last desperate stands [for the anti-Damascus forces], at least for the part of Syria where Assad is stronger…

Sputnik: The UN has been commenting on this to emphasize how bad things are in Syria, and particularly in Eastern Ghouta. But the situation was also really bad in Mosul in Iraq, with recent video footage showing the results of US airstrikes. Where do you think the UN was then? Ron Paul: Probably cheering them on. We often have a foreign policy, especially in the last several decades, of being the dominant power. We pressure people; if they do what we tell ’em, we send them more money, since we can print the world currency. And if they don’t do what we tell ’em, then we have to participate in a little aggression by bombing and doing these kinds of things. My argument from the day they started, back to 1998 – I argued don’t mess around with sanctions on Iraq, it’ll lead to war.

Someday, we’ll go broke. I don’t think that we all of a sudden will have a reasonable foreign policy. I think it’s going to be financial. I believe it was the financing of the Soviet system that brought it down as much as anything; that’s the way most authoritarian empires end, and I think that’s the way our system is going to end. Who knows when that’s going to happen, but we can’t continue to do what we’re doing. We can’t continue to run the world. Our deficit’s exploding. I think the sentiment toward the United States has started to shift too; there was a time when we were welcome, and were on the side of trying to help people, but right now it’s on the side of expanding our controls around the world.

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Ever more people are sick of the narrative.

Resist That (Jim Kunstler)

Perhaps because a weary public was underwhelmed by his indictment last week of thirteen ham sandwiches with Russian dressing, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has returned to an old baloney sandwich with American cheese named Paul Manafort, and slathered on some extra mayonnaise to lubricate his journey to federal prison. The additional charges specify tax evasion and money-laundering shenanigans around Manfort’s activities in Ukraine between 2006 and 2015, a period that included the USA’s active participation in the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected president, Victor Yanukovych, who had declared a desire to join the Russian Customs Union instead of being shanghaied into an expanded NATO.

Scrupulous observers may note that all this took place well in advance of the 2016 US presidential election, when Manafort was candidate Donald Trump’s campaign manager for several months before being thrown overboard for reasons still publicly unknown — but probably the awareness that Manafort’s personal financial affairs were a smoldering wreck. Meanwhile, Manafort’s business colleague, Rick Gates, has also been charged by Mueller, and this week an associate of Gates, one Alex Van Der Swaan, son-in-law of a Russian billionaire, was persuaded to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Gates.

All of this suggests that there were fabulous opportunities for American profiteering in the sad-sack, quasi failed state of Ukraine, and that the feckless Manafort circle will be doing Chinese fire drills in the federal courts until the cows come home, but it doesn’t say a whole lot about Russian interference in the 2016 US election. One might surmise that there is enough pressure on Manafort and company to get them to say anything now to save their asses. On the other hand, it could lead in open court to the airing of all sorts of dirty laundry about surreptitious US meddling in Ukraine, and about the corps of camp-following money-grubbing American grifters who raced in after 2014 to steal anything that wasn’t nailed down there by the homegrown kleptocrats.

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Oh man, first thing that comes to mind is Trump proposing the same thing. That would be so much fun!

China Seeks to Repeal Term Limit, Opening Way for Xi (BBG)

China’s Communist Party proposed removing from the constitution language limiting the president to two terms, the clearest sign yet that Xi Jinping intends to extend his tenure as state leader. The party’s decision-making Central Committee wants to strike language from the document that says the country’s head of state “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms,” the official Xinhua News Agency said Sunday. The announcement came a day before the committee plans to meet in Beijing to consider key personnel appointments and government-restructuring moves. The constitutional provision barring the president from serving more than 10 years is the only formal barrier keeping Xi, who also serves as party leader and commander-in-chief of the military, from ruling after 2023. Speculation that Xi, who came to power in 2012, would seek to rule for longer has intensified since he declined to line up a clear successor at a twice-a-decade party reshuffle in October.

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Can’t let the pressure slip.

Greece Creditors Return To Athens For Fourth Bailout Review (K.)

With the third bailout review still pending, the heads of the creditors’ representatives are set to arrive in Athens on Monday for the start of talks on the fourth and final review of the program, while technical discussions on the issue of lightening the Greek debt are also ongoing. Talks on the fourth review will begin with only 11 or 12 of the prior actions having been implemented to date, out of a total 88. However, there are still two milestones from the third review to be implemented, concerning the development of the Elliniko plot in southern Athens and the increase in and expansion of online auctions. Only when these are seen to have been fulfilled will the creditors approve the disbursement of the first subtranche of €5.7 billion from the third installment, to be followed by the remaining €1 billion at a later date.

Therefore discussions on the fourth review next week will, according to sources, only be of a provisional nature, with the main issues being set out and a timetable determined for the process. The heads of the creditors’ mission will leave next Saturday and return to Greece in April, probably after the spring meeting of the IMF on April 20-22. Technical talks on the easing of Greece’s debt and its association with the implementation of reforms are also continuing, as the head of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, confirmed on Friday, reiterating his statements in an interview with Kathimerini last month.

The technical team of the eurozone is expected to present its provisional conclusions at the Euro Working Group meeting of March 1 for an early assessment, with the issue set to be revisited at the March 12 Eurogroup meeting. Eurozone sources stress that the discussion will continue in the following months and that there will be more clarity on the debt relief matter at April’s Eurogroup, adding that one should not expect an agreement before May or June, as such decisions “require more than one debate at a Eurogroup level.”

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“Greece is an organized country, it has all the means to defend its borders and its territory.”

‘Greece Is Neither Iraq Nor Syria,’ FM Tells Turkey (K.)

“Turkey must think about what I have been saying for two years, that Greece is neither Syria nor Iraq,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said on Saturday, referring to recent tension emanating from Turkey. “I honor and respect these two states and do not say this in a derogatory manner,” he said in radio comments on Saturday, adding that Ankara cannot violate international law in the way it does in the Middle East. “Greece is an organized country, it has all the means to defend its borders and its territory.” Kotzias insisted that Turkey’s behavior in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will not block Nicosia’s energy plans. “I don’t think Turkey can do this. Ankara knows that Cyprus’s energy plans are linked to France and the US,” he said, adding that Turkey will not be able to display its recent bravado towards these two countries. Kotzias also described a statement on Friday by the European Union backing Greece and Cyprus as “the most powerful one yet.”

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No, it doesn’t. Bad journalism. Their conveniently far enough away date is 2030.

EU Hints At Outlawing Single-Use Plastics By Summer (Ind.)

The European Commission has hinted the EU could ban single-use plastics after Michael Gove said there was “some concern” Europe may prevent the UK from outlawing plastic straws. Frans Timmermans, vice president of the EU’s executive cabinet, told Mr Gove on Twitter: “One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us?” The announcement came shortly after the Environment Secretary announced he was looking into the legal basis for ditching single-use straws. Mr Gove told Sky News: “Plastic straws are a scourge. They’re just one example of the ways in which we pollute the oceans and damage marine wildlife. I want to do everything we can to restrict the use of plastic straws and we’re exploring at the moment if we can ban them.”

He added: “There is some concern that EU laws mean that we can’t ban straws at moment, but I’m doing everything I can to ensure that we end this scourge and I hope to make an announcement shortly. “Straws are not just another example of plastic waste – they can be lethal… I believe we need to act and I’m exploring now what we can do as quick as possible within the law.” But Dr Viviane Gravey, lecturer in European politics at Queens University Belfast, told The Independent Mr Gove’s comments were “basically nonsense”. “It is especially nonsense for just that example of plastic straws,” she said. ”We know that the Scottish government – within the EU – is saying that they are going to ban them by the end of 2019. That means during the transition or implementation period… still while being bound by all EU law.”

The move comes just a day after official figures revealed the number of straws purchased by Parliament has doubled in the last three years. [..] On Wednesday, Mr Timmermans told a conference there is “urgent work to do” following China’s decision to limit imports of plastic waste. “We will find ways to reuse and recycle more plastic and avoid microplastic leakage,” he said. During an announcement on EU plans to ensure all plastic is recyclable or reusable by 2030, Mr Timmermans specifically mentioned plastic straws as something that needed to be outlawed. “If children knew what the effects are of using single-use plastic straws for drinking sodas, or whatever, they might reconsider and use paper straws or no straws at all,” he told The Guardian.

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Feb 012018
 
 February 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frederic Edwin Church The Parthenon 1871

 

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)
Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)
Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)
Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)
Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)
More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)
Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields Could Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)
‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)
Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

 

 

Bad theater. But not releasing the memo is no longer an option.

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)

Update 1240ET: In what CNN described as a “rate public warning,” the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying it has “grave concerns” over the accuracy of the House Intel Committee’s memo describing purportedly egregious FISA abuses. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in a statement.
* * *
Update 1130ET: Bloomberg reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of course, given the allegedly terrible picture the memo paints of The FBI, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Wary would oppose its release, however, if this sourced reporting proves correct, it plays very badly for Republicans as it would seem to confirm Rep. Schiff’s accusations.
* * *
As we detailed earlier, just before President Trump headed to the Capitol for last night’s “State of the Union”, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea on Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing the memo. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. But those pleas from Rosenstein – who isn’t exactly the West Wing’s favorite lawman, and whose name apparently appears in the memo – have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Last night, President Trump promised a lawmaker that the memo would “100%” be released now that the House Intel Committee has voted to approve its release. And during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Chief of Staff John Kelly added that the memo would be publicly released “pretty quick.” “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds,” he said.

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He should know, he created them both.

Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)

The man who made the term “irrational exuberance” famous says investors are at it again. “There are two bubbles: We have a stock market bubble, and we have a bond market bubble,” Alan Greenspan, 91, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu. Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve from 1987 until 2006, memorably used the phrase to describe asset values during the 1990’s dot-com bubble. Greenspan’s comments come as stock indexes remain near record highs, despite selling off in recent days, and as the yields on government notes and bonds hover not far from historic lows. Interest rates are expected to move up in coming years as the Fed continues with a campaign to gradually tighten monetary policy.

“At the end of the day, the bond market bubble will eventually be the critical issue, but for the short term it’s not too bad,” Greenspan said. “But we’re working, obviously, toward a major increase in long-term interest rates, and that has a very important impact, as you know, on the whole structure of the economy.” The Fed on Wednesday opted to leave rates unchanged and markets are pricing in an increase at the central bank’s March meeting. Greenspan sounded an alarm on forecasts that the U.S. government deficit will continue to climb as a share of GDP. He said he was “surprised” that President Donald Trump didn’t specify how he would fund new government initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president last month signed into law about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that critics say will further balloon the budget gap.

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The nonsense is deafening. Great solid economy, but no rate hikes.

Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials, meeting for the last time under Chair Janet Yellen, left borrowing costs unchanged while adding emphasis to their plan for more hikes, setting the stage for an increase in March under her successor Jerome Powell. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday in Washington, adding the word “further” twice to previous language. The changes to the statement, collectively acknowledging stronger growth and more confidence that inflation will rise to their 2% target, may spur speculation that the Fed will pick up the pace of interest-rate increases.

Officials also said inflation “is expected to move up this year and to stabilize” around the goal, in phrasing that marked an upgrade from their statement in December. At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.” “It opens the door to four hikes for them, but I don’t think they have walked through it,” said Michael Gapen at Barclays in New York. “It closes the door to two hikes.” Fed officials penciled in three rate moves this year in quarterly forecasts they updated last month, according to their median projection.

With her term ending later this week after President Donald Trump chose to replace her, Yellen is handing the reins to Powell, who has backed her gradual approach and is widely expected to raise interest rates at the FOMC’s next meeting for the sixth time since late 2015. Fed officials are hoping to keep a tight labor market from overheating without raising borrowing costs so fast that it would stifle the economy. “Gains in employment, household spending and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low,” the Fed said, removing previous references to disruptions from hurricanes. “Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low.”

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People won’t understand their pensions are Ponzis until there are no payments.

Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)

Two out of three pension funds are in the red – to the tune of a combined £210 billion, it has been revealed. Some 3,710 schemes are in deficit according to the Pension Protection Fund watchdog, putting a serious question mark over the retirement plans of millions of workers. The PFF has been called into action on two high profile occasions of late – working with Toys R Us to secure a near £10m injection into its ailing fund to protect the company’s short-term future and also sorting through the debris of the Carillion collapse. The giant contractor folded earlier this month with debts of above £1.3bn, including an estimated £800m hole in its pension fund. The PFF monitors the health of 5,588 pension pots, with some of the biggest names on the FTSE 100 running schemes with major shortfalls.

The biggest include £9.1billion at BT, as well as deficits of £6.9billion at Royal Dutch Shell, £6.7billion at BP and £6.6billion at both Tesco and BAE Systems. Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister under the recent coalition government, said Carillion would not be the last big company to fold leaving its pension scheme in jeopardy. “The question isn’t if there will be another Carillion – it’s when,” said Webb, who is now director of policy at pensions group Royal London. “With two-thirds of schemes in deficit it is inevitable there will be more insolvencies and more schemes ending up in the PPF.”

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They had more than 60 active working groups.. And thought it’d remain secret? Anyone going to jail?

Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)

The Federal Cartel Office suspects that major carmakers and a few of their suppliers have been fixing prices for years, and possibly even decades. It’s not the prices at which the companies sell their cars or car parts that is at issue, but rather a significant component of the prices they pay for steel. “The aim of the suspected collusion,” the court ruling that granted the search warrants read, was to “unify the purchasing price for steel in the automobile industry and, by doing so, create a commonality of costs.” The Federal Cartel Office believes that the alleged collusion existed back in the 1990s and that “it existed again from March 2007 until February 2013.” Investigators have also found indications there may have been collusion in 2016.

Collusion of that nature is the antithesis of competition. It means that VW, Daimler and BMW were no longer competing to buy steel cheaper than their rivals and passing their savings down to customers – as is normally the case in a functioning market economy. And steel is one of the most important supplies purchased by carmakers. The nationwide searches didn’t remain secret, with the media quickly reporting on them. But until now, the background and details of the raids have remained largely unknown, the case having been overshadowed by a European Commission investigation into another case that also involves the automobile industry – a case that DER SPIEGEL exposed last summer.

That case was triggered when Daimler and Volkswagen essentially admitted wrongdoing, and since then the Brussels authority has been looking into suspicions that the companies engaged in collusion for several years with BMW, Porsche and Audi, in the form of more than 60 working groups covering areas such as technological development, suppliers and how to deal with environmental protection authorities. The companies had created working groups for almost every part of a vehicle. They existed for “gasoline engines,” “diesel engines,” “car body,” “chassis,” “total vehicle” and many more areas. With five brands involved – Daimler, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW – the groups were referred to internally as “groups of five.” All together, they met more than 1,000 times in past years.

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Say no more: “Desired ambiguities..”

Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron will be disappointed if he expects Germany’s next government to drum up more goodwill for his European reform plans in this week’s talks, according to four people familiar with the current coalition negotiations. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and its prospective Social Democratic Party partner are not planning any fundamental changes to their proposals on Europe’s future as set out in a preliminary agreement reached Jan. 12, according to the people, who represent all three parties involved in the talks. All asked not to be named as the negotiations are private and ongoing. Representatives of Merkel’s CDU, its Christian Social Union sister party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats met in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss Europe policy.

While Schulz hailed the outcome as a “fresh start” for Europe, details were in short supply. The negotiators didn’t go much beyond those measures already agreed, one of the people attending the meeting said. These include higher German contributions to the EU budget; expanding the European Stability Fund (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund; and a European framework for minimum wages. The SPD proposed giving the EU its own means to raise revenue, whether by taxes or tolls, prompting Merkel’s bloc to warn against a debate over tax increases. On a visit to Macron in Paris on Jan. 19, Merkel said the coalition’s common Europe plans contained “desired ambiguities,” since any attempt to agree on the final details now would reduce the room to negotiate.

In reality, her CDU/CSU and the SPD, as the Social Democrats are known in German, have different interpretations of the proposals, and these divergent positions are likely to bubble up in the coming months in the debate over euro-area reform.

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Hungary won’t be easy to strong-arm. But Brussels will try. The only people who want more Europe are politicians.

Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to bring to heel renegade European Union nations as part of a drive to reform the bloc smacks of arrogance and will fail, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said. Unanimity is required both to change the EU constitution and approve a multi-year, post-2020 EU budget. That means proposed sanctions on countries like Hungary and Poland for alleged rule-of-law violations won’t gain traction, according to Gergely Gulyas, parliamentary leader of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. Governments are drawing battle lines as the EU mulls plans to re-invent itself, with some members saying the euro crisis, Brexit, the biggest refugee influx since World War II and ex-communist members ditching the bloc’s liberal values have necessitated a revamp.

Macron has presented the most ambitious proposals, with a plan to deepen integration in everything from defense to the economy. He has also called for sanctions against member states seen as backsliding on democracy. “If we’re going to play the game that western European countries want to launch rule-of-law procedures against eastern European countries because of differences over values, then that’s not going to work,” said Gulyas, 36. “That would destroy the Union.” Hungary received 3.6 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in net EU funding in 2016. That made it the fourth-biggest beneficiary in the 28-member bloc after Poland, Romania and Greece and underscores the risk to its economy if Macron can make good on his pledge. Gulyas dismissed proposals aimed at punishing Hungary and Poland, arguing that France has for years failed to meet EU spending limits yet has escaped penalties for fiscal offenders.

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Under an alleged left-wing government.

More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)

More than 1 million Greeks are now trapped in programs to pay off their tax and social security dues in installments, a situation likely to continue for years to come. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry announced taxpayers can apply for a 12- or 24-installment payment scheme, which under certain circumstances can include non-expired dues, on the website of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Citizens are resorting to various payment programs offered by the ministries of Finance and Labor because they would otherwise be unable to meet their obligations. In many cases taxpayers are forced to pay additional installments in order not to default on their plans.

The million-plus taxpayers and businesses that are trapped in the various schemes they have entered to pay off the tax authorities and the social security funds have no other choice but to keep paying, otherwise they will have their assets confiscated. The payment schemes are the outcome of the growth in taxation and of social security contributions in recent years. Worse, as of this year, if anyone delays the payment of an installment by more than 24 hours, the debt will be classified as overdue and the process of the monitoring mechanism will be triggered for the state to safeguard its interests. Particularly in the case of the 100-payment program for dues to the tax authorities, missing a deadline means the entire amount due is classified as expired and becomes immediately payable along with fines and penalties.

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You mean, monoculture is not the greatest thing ever?!

Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields To Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)

Long strips of bright wildflowers are being planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Concern over the environmental damage caused by pesticides has grown rapidly in recent years. Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields. But until now wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

“If you imagine the size of a [ground beetle], it’s a bloody long walk to the middle of a field,” said Prof Richard Pywell, at CEH. GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, meaning strips of wildflowers planted through crop fields can be avoided and left as refuges all year round. Pywell’s initial tests show that planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

“It’s a real acid test – we scientists are having to come up with real practical solutions,” said Pywell, who led a landmark study published in 2017 showing that neonicotinoids insecticides damage bee populations, not just individual insects. In the new trials, the researchers will be looking out for any sign that drawing the wild insects into the centre of fields, and therefore closer to where pesticides are sprayed, does more harm than good.

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Old threat. But a real one.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)

[..] scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters. The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.

Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.

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A lot more timeless than most other pics of this.

‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)

A ‘super blue blood moon’ rises behind the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens on Wednesday evening, when thousands of city residents took to the streets and balconies to witness the rare spectacle. People in many parts of the world caught a glimpse of the moon as a giant reddish globe thanks to a rare lunar phenomenon that combines a total eclipse with a blue moon and super moon. The spectacle – the first in 152 years – has been coined a ‘super blue blood moon’ by NASA. [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

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Just refuse to do any trade with any country that imports the horns. For starters.

Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

Dr Ian Player, the veteran South African game ranger and doyen of global rhino conservation, would be turning in his grave today were he to discover that another 1,000 rhinos had been slaughtered in the last calendar year. The African-wildlife warrior died just over three years ago aged 87, at a point when poaching had just exploded to record levels in South Africa – with nearly three rhinos gunned down daily. Annual government statistics announced last week complete the picture of 7,130 rhino carcasses piled up in South Africa over the last decade. Shortly before his death, I visited Player at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to ask him about his thoughts on the poaching crisis and the future of one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) species he devoted most of his life to protecting.

Frail and dispirited, he had reached a point in life where he should have been taking things easy, after more than six decades of service to nature conservation. Instead, his cellphone rang incessantly as colleagues from all corners of the country reported the discovery of yet another rhino butchered for its horns. Having worked so hard to save rhinos from extinction once before, there was no way Player could hang up his conservation boots amidst this new crisis. He also told me about a dream that haunted him. “My dream was about a young white rhino which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation – the rhinos still need our help more than ever before,” he explained.

Player first came across a rhino in Imfolozi Game Reserve in the early 1950s when he joined the Natal Parks Board as a learner game ranger. A disciple of Carl Jung and Sir Laurens van der Post, Player went on to spearhead a global operation to safeguard the world’s second-largest land animal from extinction. Less than a decade ago, poaching deaths were limited to roughly 20 rhinos per year in South Africa, the country that provides sanctuary to 93% of Africa’s white rhinos and nearly 40% of the continent’s black rhinos. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. But in 2008 that tally rose steeply to 80 deaths; to 333 in 2010 and then to a record level of 1,205 during 2014. Last year the death toll topped the 1,000 mark for the fifth year in a row.

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Jan 242018
 
 January 24, 2018  Posted by at 11:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Florida, Buenos Aires 1936

 

Rising Rates and Decelerating Deficits Spell Doom For US Housing -Again (CH)
Global Pension Ponzi – Carillion Collapse One Of Many To Come (GCore)
South Korea Bans Anonymous Cryptocurrency Trading (BI)
South Korea Is Banning All Foreigners From Trading Cryptocurrency (F.)
Mueller Wants To Question Trump On Comey, Flynn Firings (ZH)
Sessions, Comey Questioned By Mueller In Russia Probe (ZH)
Evidence Suggests A Massive Scandal Is Brewing At The FBI (NYPost)
Behind the Money Curtain: Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory (CP)
Turkey Lodges Third Extradition Request For Eight Servicemen in Greece (K.)
German Politicians Decry Arms Sales To Turkey Amid Attack On Syrian Kurds (RT)
Nearly Half Of Children In London, Birmingham Live In Poverty (Ind.)
UK Opposes Strong EU Recycling Targets Despite Plastics Pledge (G.)
Monsanto Faces A Fight For Soy Market (R.)
Number Of New Antibiotics Has Fallen Sharply Since 2000 (G.)

 

 

Chris Hamilton tends to get stuck in a multitude of data and graphs. Bit of a shame. Sometimes it’s about what you leave out.

But point taken: Demographics, Housing and Debt.

Rising Rates and Decelerating Deficits Spell Doom For US Housing -Again (CH)

I recently wrote an article explaining why a 30% to 50% decline in household net worth is imminent (HERE). No shocker that the primary asset for most in figuring household net worth is real estate, particularly primary residences. This article details why US housing starts and job creation are set to decelerate and a recession will almost surely follow… sending home prices tumbling (and likely equity and bond prices, to boot) severely negatively impacting US households net worth’s. First, the year over year change in housing starts (one unit variety) is highly indicative of the subsequent change (in 12 to 18 months) of full time employees (chart below…year over year change in full time employees blue shaded area) vs. YoY change in housing starts (red line)). As goes housing, so goes subsequent jobs creation.

[..] If you think interest rate changes and housing creation look interdependent…you’re right (chart below).

Again, total annual total population growth, 0-65yr/old population growth, housing starts (1-unit)…but this time including annual change in full time employees.

I believe the interest rate hikes and decelerating deficits will slow housing and jobs creation…but even if I’m wrong, there is still trouble dead ahead as the US is simply running out of employable persons as the percentage of employed 15-64yr/olds is nearing all time highs (also known as potential homebuyers).

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Pensions problems are literally everywhere. But they come to light only when companies themselves collapse first.

Global Pension Ponzi – Carillion Collapse One Of Many To Come (GCore)

The looming pension crisis has been signalled in the collapse of Carillion. The deficit of latest private sector dead-on-arrival Carillion is officially £580 million. However, private reports suggest it could be as high as £2.6 BILLION. According to a Sky News investigation: ‘the £2.6 billion figure relates to the cost to Carillion of paying an insurance company to guarantee all of its pension liabilities, and is significant because it is likely to be the sum claimed on behalf of the pension schemes as part of the liquidation process.’ Nearly 30,000 UK workers’ pensions are at risk thanks to Carillion management’s total mismanagement of a company that has seen its share price collapse 94% in the last 12 months. Carillion’s 27,500-member pension scheme was placed on an ‘at risk list’ in autumn 2017. Arguably, it like many other pension funds should have been there many months ago.

Sadly, Carillion is just the latest in a very long string of serious company collapses that have highlighted the major pension crisis in the UK and around the Western world. It also likely signals that we may be on the verge of many, many more very large corporate bankruptcies in the UK due to massive debt levels and unfunded liabilities. This is not a situation unique to the private sector. It will be repeated in the years ahead – both in the public and the private sector. In November 2017, the OECD warned that the UK’s defined benefit workplace pension plans (final salary schemes) as ‘persistently underfunded’ and the state pension as seriously lacking. Everyone is exposed by this and it emphasises the importance of saving for retirement and ensuring your pension is both funded and properly diversified. These ongoing disasters in the UK’s pension pots are also a threat to the efforts of prudent individuals who have worked hard to set aside enough for their hard-earned retirements.

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This will be copied across the world.

South Korea Bans Anonymous Cryptocurrency Trading (BI)

South Korea has made moves to ban anonymous cryptocurrency accounts from being used for financial transactions. Financial authorities have already banned banks from offering virtual accounts that are needed to buy or sell cryptocurrency. New regulations set for next week will further the ban already in place by introducing a system to verify a person’s identity before they can make a transaction. Planned regulation also prevents foreigners and underage investors from opening cryptocurrency accounts in South Korea, Yonhap reported, citing financial officials. South Korea’s senior financial regulator Kim Yong-beom told reporters that six South Korean banks will begin issuing new trading accounts next week after the system is implemented. Those banks include Shinhan Bank, NH Bank and the Industrial Bank of Korea.

Existing crypto bank accounts not linked to verified users will be banned on the same day, Kim said. Officials also announced on Sunday that cryptocurrency traders would be required to share user data with the banks, according to Yonhap. Newly proposed regulations would require banks to check whether cryptocurrency exchanges comply with the new transparency measures. The government will also be able to access users’ transaction data through compliant banks, according to officials, which may point to the government looking to enforce taxes on cryptocurrency transactions. Stricter trading regulations are part of a government system to curb speculative investment into virtual money, as many fear that the cryptocurrency bubble may soon burst. The government also hopes to prevent the use of cryptocurrency in illegal activity.

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“Kang noted a loophole. In the new system, foreigners and minors can’t possibly make investments as it operates on a bank’s real-name account, but they could potentially use corporate accounts to make additional investments. “There’s no limit to that for now. We haven’t come up with measures to ban that as there is no actual way to do so,” he said.”

South Korea Is Banning All Foreigners From Trading Cryptocurrency (F.)

The system aims to tackle money laundering and related crimes, along with speculation-driven overheating in the market, Kang Young-soo, head of the FSC’s cryptocurrency response team, said by phone on Tuesday after the announcement. “The government is concerned about manipulation of market conditions and injection of illegal funds while market funds are leaked into speculative investments,” he added. “We view that foreigners’ and minors’ investments contribute to our areas of concern.” All foreigners, including residents, nonresidents and “kyopo” ethnic Koreans with foreign citizenship, will be banned from trading cryptocurrencies in Korea, the FSC’s foreign media department said by email. Minors are banned after Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon earlier claim the cryptocurrency craze could lead the youth toward crime.

The government first suggested last month to ban minors and nonresident foreigners. But the final decision nets all foreigners regardless of resident status. “If they’re not Korean citizens, then they can invest in exchanges provided in their countries. Why do they have to invest in ours?” Kang quipped. [..] “The government is creating boundaries for instances of foreigners injecting in coins into the country and a phenomenon of more Bitcoins and other cryptocurrency circulating within the Korean market,” says Kim Jin-hwa, corepresentative of the Korea Blockchain Association, which has about 30 member companies including several exchanges. “With the current conditions of our market, higher supply would equate to higher speculation.”

The targets of the latest regulation, says blockchain startup BlockchainOS Choi Yong-kwan, are Chinese investors who have flooded the cryptocurrency market since their country banned cryptocurrency trade last year. Digital coins from China enter Korean exchanges, then are illegally changed into foreign currencies, which are sent back to China, he explained. “These cases are surprisingly high, and difficult to track or identify. This measure can be viewed as a response to ban these illegal activities,” he said by phone, but suggested the ban would have little effect on existing investors. “The biggest problem lies on Chinese cryptocurrency investors, so this matter is an important focus.”

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Trump can simply say NO. But he probably won’t.

Mueller Wants To Question Trump On Comey, Flynn Firings (ZH)

Following the news earlier this month that special counsel Mueller is seeking to question President Trump – and following today’s NYT report that Mueller had interviewed AG Jeff Sessions – moments ago the Washington Post reported that Mueller wants to question Trump over his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn from the White House. According to two WaPo sources, Trump’s legal team could present conditions for Trump to interview with Mueller’s investigators as soon as next week. The Post also adds that Trump’s lawyers hope to have Trump answer some of Mueller’s questions in an in-person interview and some in writing.

Within the past two weeks, the special counsel’s office has indicated to the White House that the two central subjects that investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings. Mueller has also reportedly expressed interest in Trump’s efforts to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general or pressure him into quitting, “according to a person familiar with the probe who said the special counsel was seeking to determine whether there was a “pattern” of behavior by the president.” Earlier this month, Trump declined to say whether he would grant an interview to Mueller and his team, deflecting questions on the topic by saying there had been “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked directly about meeting with the special counsel. While Trump has told has allegedly told his lawyers that he is not worried about a face to face meeting with the special counsel, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole. Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, said he should try to avoid an interview at all costs, saying agreeing to such a session would be a “suicide mission.” “I find it to be a death wish. Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Stone said. “The president would be very poorly advised to give Mueller an interview”, Stone said.

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I googled Sessions. All articles on this are from WaPo, NYT, CNN etc. Where is the balance?

Sessions, Comey Questioned By Mueller In Russia Probe (ZH)

The leaks from the special counsel’s office just keep coming. After reporting earlier today that AG Jeff Sessions sat for an interview with Mueller last week, the paper is now reporting that Mueller interviewed former FBI Director James Comey last year. The interview with Comey focused on the infamous memo he wrote where he alleged that Trump had asked him to take it easy on Michael Flynn. Many of the special counsel’s critics have warned that Mueller should recuse himself from all dealings with Comey, who is believed to be a key witness in the probe. Comey and Mueller have a long history of working together, and also share a personal friendship, having vacationed together. A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed that he had appeared before the committee. Circling back to Sessions, the NYT pointed out that Sessions is perhaps one of the most important witnesses to be interviewed by Mueller.

For Mr. Mueller, Mr. Sessions is a key witness to two of the major issues he is investigating: the campaign’s possible ties to the Russians and whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation. Mr. Mueller can question Mr. Sessions about his role as the head of the campaign’s foreign policy team. Mr. Sessions was involved in developing Mr. Trump’s position toward Russia and met with Russian officials, including the ambassador. Along with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions led a March 2016 meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where one of the campaign’s foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, pitched the idea of a personal meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Mr. Papadopoulos plead guilty in October to lying to federal authorities about the nature of his contacts with the Russians and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office.

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The FBI is confident it won’t be investigated. There’s no-one to do it.

Evidence Suggests A Massive Scandal Is Brewing At The FBI (NYPost)

During the financial crisis, the federal government bailed out banks it declared “too big to fail.” Fearing their bankruptcy might trigger economic Armageddon, the feds propped them up with taxpayer cash. Something similar is happening now at the FBI, with the Washington wagons circling the agency to protect it from charges of corruption. This time, the appropriate tag line is “too big to believe.” Yet each day brings credible reports suggesting there is a massive scandal involving the top ranks of America’s premier law enforcement agency. The reports, which feature talk among agents of a “secret society” and suddenly missing text messages, point to the existence both of a cabal dedicated to defeating Donald Trump in 2016 and of a plan to let Hillary Clinton skate free in the classified email probe.

If either one is true -and I believe both probably are- it would mean FBI leaders betrayed the nation by abusing their powers in a bid to pick the president. More support for this view involves the FBI’s use of the Russian dossier on Trump that was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. It is almost certain that the FBI used the dossier to get FISA court warrants to spy on Trump associates, meaning it used the opposition research of the party in power to convince a court to let it spy on the candidate of the other party – likely without telling the court of the dossier’s political link. Even worse, there is growing reason to believe someone in President Barack Obama’s administration turned over classified information about Trump to the Clinton campaign. As one former federal prosecutor put it, “It doesn’t get worse than that.” Joseph diGenova, believes Trump was correct when he claimed Obama aides wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower.

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Quite literally nobody seems to understand that governments are not households.

Behind the Money Curtain: Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory (CP)

Taxes do not fund government spending. That’s a core insight of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) whose radical implications have not been understood very well by the left. Indeed, it’s not well understood at all, and most people who have heard or read it somewhere breeze right past it, and fall back to the taxes-for-spending paradigm that is the sticky common wisdom of the left and right. This, despite the fact that the truth of the proposition is obvious if you think through just a few steps about the process of money-creation. What makes it hard to see is the dense knot of conventional theory and discourse in which we are entangled, and which seems impossible to cut as cleanly as MMT suggests.

But the discussion around the newly-enacted Republican tax bill has brought the issue of tax policy to the forefront again, and it’s time for the left to realize how fundamentally wrong that common wisdom is, and how continuing to argue within the phony terms of the taxes-for-revenue paradigm occludes and reproduces a persistent reactionary fiction regarding what taxes are for. The argument of the common-wisdom economic paradigm is that the government must collect taxes (or borrow money—we’ll get to that) to spend on whatever programs it wants to fund. In this paradigm, the government extracts money from an external, economically prior source, and uses it to pay for government programs. For both the left and the right in this paradigm, taxes are for funding government spending: money first flows into the government through taxes collected, and is then spent into economy in various programs and purchases.

The arguments that ensue are over how much money to collect in taxes, from which sources, and which government programs to fund with the money collected. Most leftists take their stance within this paradigm. Bernie Sanders, for instance, says his Medicare-for-all plan would “raise revenue” from various taxes such as income and capital gains, and from limiting “deductions for the rich.” Dean Baker suggests a 4% increase in payroll taxes to “fully fund” Social Security and Medicare. These kinds of analyses, typical of the left, make points that are helpful in immediate political fights, and they’re also grounded in the conventional paradigm about, money, taxes, and government spending. That paradigm not only informs most thinking—whether conservative, liberal, or left-radical—about money in our society, it also informs the legal and institutional policy framework. It’s the paradigm of the household.

We’re comfortable with the household paradigm because it reflects everyday reality. The household has to get money from somewhere to spend it. It’s obvious. But, also obvious, the household (or business or state) does not create money. That teensy little huge fact makes the household-government finance analogy wrong and wildly misleading. Unless we take that fact as of no significance—And how could we?—we need another paradigm. Analyses and critiques—no matter how radical—of government financing as if it worked like household financing are based on false premises, and false premises lead down meandering dead-end paths to wrong conclusions. We have to reject the household analogy whenever it comes up from any source, including our own minds, where it will sneak in. Most leftists, I’m afraid, do end up assuming it, and ignoring the huge little fact that it cannot be right.

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Governments rejecting Supreme Court decisions. Well, perhaps in Turkey that’s the rule.

Turkey Lodges Third Extradition Request For Eight Servicemen in Greece (K.)

Ankara on Tuesday lodged a third request for the extradition of the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in July 2016 following a failed coup in the neighboring country, sources said. The request by Ankara was lodged just a few hours after Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis received in Athens a delegation from the Turkish Justice Ministry where, according to sources, the Turkish officials underlined Turkey’s insistence on the return of the eight men who are accused of treason. The same sources indicate that Ankara has included new claims about the servicemen in its third request for their extradition.

Speaking after a meeting with Turkey’s Deputy Justice Minister Bilal Ucar in Athens, Kontonis said that the eight could not be send back given that the country’s Supreme Court has rejected the original extradition request. Kontonis said the ruling was “fully respected by everyone and the Greek government.” However, he said, a proposal to try them in Athens was still on the table, adding that it would be up to Ankara “to take the appropriate legal steps.”

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German weapons fight US allies.

German Politicians Decry Arms Sales To Turkey Amid Attack On Syrian Kurds (RT)

German politicians have widely opposed plans to provide Turkey with tank modernization upgrades after Leopard 2 combat vehicles were spotted taking part in the military operation against the Kurds in Syria’s Afrin. Amid rumors of potential resumption of arms sales to Turkey, German opposition parties, the Greens and the Left, urged the government to reconsider such deals with Ankara, pointing out that German weapons are now killing innocent people in Syria. “An immediate halt to all arms exports to Turkey is long overdue,” Agnieszka Brugger, a Greens lawmaker told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper. “This intense situation should be a wake-up call for the German government.”

Since the 1980s Germany has sold Turkey some 751 Leopard tanks, including 354 modern Leopard 2 type, which has been previously used by Turkey an a cross border operation against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and US-supported Kurdish militias in Syria. Throughout its military campaign in the neighboring country, Turkey lost a number of 60-ton Leopard 2 tanks, built by Bavaria’s Krauss-Maffei, due to mine explosions. Ankara has recently pressed Berlin and German arms companies to retrofit the hardware to offer better protection against enemy mines. The tanks used by Turkey come from decommissioned stocks of the Bundeswehr. The frontal armor on the hull and turret on the Leopard 2 is much thicker than on the sides and rear of the tracked vehicle.

[..] The massive outcry from the German politicians was caused by the publication of pictures which allegedly showed German tanks used against the Kurds in Syria. An expert from the Bundeswehr confirmed to the German Press Agency in Berlin on Monday that pictures, distributed by the state-owned Anadolu Turkish news agency, showed Leopard 2 A4 tanks of German production. [..] “Angela Merkel must explain her Turkey policy,” said Jan Korte, an MP from the Left. He noted that German soldiers are directly involved in the war of aggression against the Kurds by flying Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft missions and not doing anything to stop the bloodshed on the ground.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) MP Graf Alexander Lambsdorff also expressed sharp criticism of the Turkish action against the Kurds in Syria. “This invasion is not legitimized by international law. There is no mandate from the United Nations and it is not self-defense. All states should call on Turkey to end the campaign and ask them to work on a political solution instead.”

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When seeing stats like this, one must fear for what is yet to come in Britain.

Nearly Half Of Children In London, Birmingham Live In Poverty (Ind.)

Almost half of all children in some UK cities are estimated to be living in poverty, new figures reveal, amid warnings that welfare reforms are leading to an “emerging child poverty crisis”. An analysis of data indicates the most deprived areas in the country have experienced the biggest increases in child poverty over the past two years, with parts of London and Birmingham seeing levels rise by 10 percentage points to above half of all children. The “shocking” figures have been attributed to the benefit freeze – which has been in place since 2015 and leaves children’s benefits frozen until the end of the decade – as well as the high cost of credit for low income families, leaving many “spiralling into debt”.

A report by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) last month found that Britain’s record on tackling poverty had reached a turning point and was at risk of unravelling, with nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners living in poverty than five years ago. The JRF stated that while poverty levels fell in the years to 2011-12, changes to welfare policy – especially since the 2015 Budget – saw the numbers creep up again. Their report showed a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population.

Now the latest figures, collated by the End Child Poverty coalition through analysis of tax credit data and national trends in worklessness, estimate that child poverty in Manchester and Birmingham stands at 44% and 43% respectively. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets this reaches 53%. [..] A child is said to live in poverty if they are in a family living on less than 60 per cent of median household income. According to the latest official statistics, 60 per cent of median income, after housing costs, was around £248 per week.

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EU targets are for 2035. Ergo, they are not ‘strong’. They’re just as bad and weak as the UK 2042 targets. Don’t be fooled.

UK Opposes Strong EU Recycling Targets Despite Plastics Pledge (G.)

The UK government is opposing strong new recycling targets across the EU despite its recent pledge to develop “ambitious new future targets and milestones”, confidential documents have revealed. A 25-year environment plan was launched earlier in January by the prime minister, Theresa May, who particularly focused on cutting plastic pollution. The plan, aimed partly at wooing younger voters, says “recycling plastics is critical”. A target to recycle 65% of urban waste by 2035 was agreed by the European council and parliament in December and now awaits a vote of approval by member states. But the UK’s opposition is revealed in a record of a subsequent briefing for EU ambassadors, obtained by Greenpeace’s Unearthed team and seen by the Guardian. “The UK cannot support a binding target of 65% for 2035,” said the record, compiled by officials from one member state and confirmed by others. Furthermore, the UK said its opposition meant it would not support the overall waste agreement.

The recycling target had already been watered down from the 70% by 2030 initially sought by the European parliament. The UK’s own environment officials estimated that meeting ambitious recycling targets would bring benefits totalling billions of pounds, according to a July 2017 internal presentation, also obtained by Greenpeace. It suggested a 65% target by 2030 would save almost £10bn over a decade in waste sector, greenhouse gas and social costs. “This Conservative government must be judged on what they do, not on what they say,” said Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary. “It comes as no surprise that the government are trying to scupper progress on recycling behind the scenes. “Recycling rates have stagnated on this government’s watch and we are way behind meeting our national targets. [Environment secretary] Michael Gove needs to clarify the government’s position on this matter without delay.”

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Fighting GMO resistance with more GMO. A road to nowhere but mass starvation.

Monsanto Faces A Fight For Soy Market (R.)

Monsanto is facing major threats to its historic dominance of seed and herbicide technology for the $40 billion U.S. soybean market. Rivals BASF and DowDuPont are preparing to push their own varieties of genetically modified soybeans. At stake is control over seed supply for the next generation of farmers producing the most valuable U.S. agricultural export. The market has opened up as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready line of seeds – engineered to tolerate the weed killer glyphosate – has lost effectiveness as weeds develop their own tolerance to the chemical. Compounding the firm’s troubles is a national scandal over crop damage linked to its new soybean and herbicide pairing – Roundup Ready 2 Xtend seeds, engineered to resist the chemical dicamba.

The newly competitive sector has sown confusion across the U.S. farm belt, particularly among smaller firms that produce and sell seeds with technology licensed from the agrichemical giants. Many of these sellers told Reuters they are amassing a surplus of seeds with engineered traits from multiple developers – at substantial extra cost – because they can only guess which product farmers will buy. “Our job is to meet our customers’ needs, and we don’t know what those are going to be,” said Carl Peterson at Peterson Farms Seed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.” Monsanto has much to lose. Soybeans are the key ingredient in feed used to fatten the world’s cattle, pigs, chickens and fish. Net sales of Monsanto’s soybean seeds and traits totaled almost $2.7 billion in fiscal 2017, or about a fifth of its total net sales. Gross profits from soybean products climbed 35% over 2016, beating 15% growth of its bigger corn seed franchise.

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No, the solution is not more and new antibiotics. The solution is to stop using the present ones the way we do. It can be legislated by tomorrow morning.

Number Of New Antibiotics Has Fallen Sharply Since 2000 (G.)

The number of new antibiotics being developed has fallen sharply since 2000 and drugmakers need to do much more to tackle the rise of superbugs, according to a report. Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, and its US rival Johnson & Johnson are leading efforts to combat antibiotic resistance, according to the report, which was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation assessed 30 of the world’s biggest drugmakers, including pharma companies, biotech firms and generic drugmakers, and produced the first independent report on the industry’s efforts to address drug-resistant infections.

Overprescription of antibiotics, along with their overuse in animals, has caused growing drug resistance in humans with serious health implications – leading to the rise of superbugs such as MRSA that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics. England’s chief medical officer has repeatedly warned that antibiotic resistance could spell the “end of modern medicine”. Caesarean sections and cancer treatments would become very risky without the drugs used to fight infection. In Europe, an estimated 25,000 people a year die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the US, at least 2m illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year can be attributed to antibiotic resistance, according to the foundation’s report.

New antibiotics are urgently needed but there is little incentive for drugmakers to develop them as they will be tightly controlled once they reach the market to limit the risk of resistance emerging. The number of new antibacterial drugs approved in the US dropped from 33 between 1985 and 1999 to 13 between 2000 and 2014. Jayasree Iyer, the head of the foundation, said: “If we don’t use antibiotics in the right doses or for the right bugs, we risk giving bacteria a chance to adapt and strengthen their defences, which will make it harder to kill them the next time. The threat that once-deadly infections could again become life-threatening is intensifying. “Pharmaceutical companies have a critical contribution to make to the effort to tackle superbugs.”

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Jan 172018
 


Eugene de Salignac Painters suspended on cables of the Brooklyn Bridge Oct 7 1914

 

If Bull Market For Stocks Ends In 2018, Blame The Credit Market Bubble (MW)
Dramatic Stock Market Reversal Signals More Volatility Ahead (CNBC)
Bitcoin, Ethereum Suffer Massive Drops, Many Crypto’s Fare Even Worse (CNBC)
South Koreans Sign Petition To Stop Crackdown On Bitcoin ‘Happy Dream’ (CNBC)
‘Black Swan’ Event Could Threaten China’s Financial Stability (R.)
US and China Brace For Trade War That Could Rattle Global Economy (ZH/WSJ)
The New Cold War In 2018 (Stephen Cohen)
The One Fact Which Disproves Russiagate (CJ)
Carillion’s Failure: The Many Questions That Need Answers (Coppola)
After Carillion How Many Firms Can UK Pensions Lifeboat Rescue? (G.)
No Way Around Sorry Shape Social Security Is In (Newsmax)
Britain Is Being Stalked By A Zombie Elite (G.)
Dutch Say Nations Hit By Brexit Shouldn’t Plug EU Budget Hole (BBG)
Nomi Prins’ New Book: Central Banks Have Become the Markets (Martens)
New Zealand Fisheries Want Images Of Dead Penguins Caught In Nets Censored (G.)

 

 

Blame the Everything Bubble.

If Bull Market For Stocks Ends In 2018, Blame The Credit Market Bubble (MW)

Will 2018 be the year the stock market rally screeches to a halt? It may be, if those analysts who are cautioning that a bubble is forming in credit markets are right and companies are overextending themselves to a degree that could spell trouble ahead. Most analysts agree that the credit market has been speeding ahead at a bubble-like pace. Companies have been piling on debt in recent years to take advantage of low interest rates, or more recently, to get ahead of a series of well-telegraphed interest-rate hikes. If their borrowing is simply to refinance existing debt at lower interest rates, it’s a positive for balance sheets. But many companies have borrowed to raise funds for shareholder rewards, and that may come back to bite them if rates were to spike.

For example, Apple debt may be highly rated, just two notches below triple-A at AA+ at S&P Global Ratings, but the technology giant continues to ride the borrowing bandwagon as it looks to fund its massive share buyback program. Apple issued $7 billion of debt in November, two months after selling $5 billion worth of corporate bonds and several months after adding more debt. The U.S. primary corporate bond market is currently at record levels. The investment-grade market saw $1.44 trillion of issuance in 2,127 deals through December 26, topping the record $1.34 trillion recorded in 2016, according to data analytics company Dealogic. The high-yield market has chalked up $266.3 billion of debt in 469 deals, making it the fourth-biggest year for issuance, according to Dealogic. The high-yield record goes to 2012 when issuers sold $321 billion of debt in 604 deals.

Combined investment-grade, high-yield and FIG issuance—FIG is financial institutions group—is a record $1.71 trillion, topping the previous record of $1.57 billion set in 2015. What’s starting to worry some analysts is that despite the fact that the Federal Reserve and other central banks are draining liquidity from the marketplace and the yield curve is flattening, near-record credit market valuations suggest investors haven’t prepared for any potential speed bumps. One sign of this complacency, is how narrow the spread is between yields on speculative grade, or “junk” bonds, and corresponding risk-free Treasury notes. S&P Global Ratings said Tuesday its speculative-grade composite spread tightened by three basis points (0.03 percentage points) to 399 basis points, well below the five-year moving average of a 528 basis-point spread.

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How much longer can volatility remain ultra low?

Dramatic Stock Market Reversal Signals More Volatility Ahead (CNBC)

After a mostly one-way trade higher for weeks, Tuesdays’ dramatic stock market reversal signals the potential for more choppy trading ahead. The Dow rocketed 283 points Tuesday, before erasing those gains and heading down 100 points. It later recovered and closed just 10 points lower at 25,792 after its most volatile day since Dec. 1 and on the first day it traded above 26,000. Traders blamed Washington for some of the selling as lawmakers appeared to be having difficulty agreeing to a spending resolution and on reports that former White House advisor Steve Bannon will testify in the Russia investigation. But while the focus was on Washington, traders also looked at the morning market surge Tuesday as another sign that the market was getting too frothy and overbought.

“The healthiest thing would be some downward action for the next two or three sessions. Today you did have a somewhat bearish, outside reversal,” said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com, who follows the market’s short-term technicals. A reversal is when the market opens above a prior high and then closes below a prior low. “That happened in some sectors like small-caps. … You can’t get too bearish if you’re still above the 8- and 21-day moving average,” Redler said. Strategist Laszlo Birinyi on Tuesday said he expects a possible six weeks of consolidation and sideways trade, but he is not bearish on stocks. “Right now, the market is at the upper end of the trading range. It’s 5% over its 50-day moving average, and those are areas where the market tends to digest, consolidate, take a breather but not go down,” he said, as the market gyrated Tuesday.

Steve Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Securities, said the market has clearly become fatigued after its sharp move higher. The S&P 500 is up 4% since the beginning of the year and crossed above 2,800 for the first time Tuesday before closing down 9 at 2,776. “We’ve had a pretty significant move. It’s quite natural that this would be exhausted at some point. … A potential government shutdown is a handy excuse,” he said. But a government shutdown Friday is not likely, said Dan Clifton, head of policy research for Strategas. “My overall view on this is they’re preparing a temporary stop-gap measure. I just don’t think we’re going to shut down, but we’re trying to buy time until there could be a larger spending package. It was very much companies that were influenced by government spending that were selling off. The market is saying there is some risk of a government shutdown,” Clifton said.

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Closing in on $10,000 as we speak. Is that a psychological barrier?

Bitcoin, Ethereum Suffer Massive Drops, Many Crypto’s Fare Even Worse (CNBC)

Most major digital currencies sold off sharply on Tuesday, but the declines in bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin prices weren’t as bad as much of the rest of the market. All of the top 20 digital currencies — by market value — suffered double digit losses over the last 24 hours, according to data from industry website CoinMarketCap. For example, ripple was down 26%, bitcoin cash was down 24%, iota was down 27% and monero was down 22% as of 8:51 a.m. HK/SIN. In fact, at their low point on the day, many cryptocurrencies with large market caps saw their prices essentially halved. On the other hand, bitcoin was down 17% at that time, ethereum was down 19% and litecoin was down 19%, according to the same site.

The declines followed speculation in the market about what regulators in Asia may be planning for digital tokens. On Monday, a report from Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, said Beijing plans to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralized trading. Last week, South Korean Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said his ministry was preparing a bill that, if passed, could ban trading via cryptocurrency exchanges. His comments roiled the market and subsequently the justice ministry and other sections of South Korea’s government have softened their stance.

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Just perfect.

South Koreans Sign Petition To Stop Crackdown On Bitcoin ‘Happy Dream’ (CNBC)

A petition in South Korea against cryptocurrency regulation has reached the number of signatures that would induce a government response. As of Tuesday morning, ET, more than 212,700 had signed a petition launched Dec. 28 on the website of the South Korean presidential office. A Google translation of the website states that if more than 200,000 people support a petition within 30 days, officials will respond. “Our people have been able to make a happy dream that they have never had in Korea because of virtual money,” the anonymous author of the petition wrote, according to a Google translation. “People are not stupid. … virtual money is invested because it is judged to be the fourth revolution.” The petition did support South Korea’s recent actions on cryptocurrencies, such as banning anonymous trading accounts.

“However, I wish that the economy will not decline due to unjustifiable regulations in the present situation,” the Google translation of the petition said. Unemployment among South Korean youth, or those ages 15 to 29, is around 9%, nearly three times the national average, according to Statistics Korea. Young people are generally more interested in buying and selling digital currencies than their elders. In the last several months, South Korea has accounted for a significant portion of the trading volume in digital currencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and ripple. Earlier this month, ripple prices appeared to plunge in U.S. dollar terms after CoinMarketCap said it was excluding price information from some Korean exchanges due to “extreme divergences in price from the rest of the world.”

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No kidding.

‘Black Swan’ Event Could Threaten China’s Financial Stability (R.)

China’s banking regulator chief warned that a “black swan,” or an unforeseen event could threaten the country’s financial stability, official People’s Daily reported on Wednesday. In an interview with the paper, Guo Shuqing said that while risks in the financial system are manageable, they are still “complex and serious.” Since his appointment as the head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission early last year, Guo has introduced a flurry of new rules to reign in lender risks including from curbs on shadow banking activities to the crackdown on loan fraud. Guo said the dangers stem from the pressure of rising bad debt, imperfect internal risk systems at financial institutions, the relatively high levels of shadow banking activities and rule violations.

All of these risks could upend financial stability through a “black swan” event, Guo told the People’s Daily, referring to major, unexpected occurrences. “We need to focus on reducing the debt ratio of companies, restrict household leverage, strictly control cross-financial sector products, continue to dismantle shadow banking,” said Guo. China will step up oversight of the banking sector this year to reduce financial risks, the CBRC said on Monday, stressing that long-term efforts would be needed to control banking sector chaos.

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A trade war wouldn’t qualify as a black swan.

US and China Brace For Trade War That Could Rattle Global Economy (ZH/WSJ)

Once under way, the repercussions of a trade war would be felt well beyond the combatants themselves. US friends and allies along Asian supply chains would be early collateral damage. China is still to a large extent the final assembly point for imported high-tech components from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Navigating increasingly complex global supply chains in a constant state of disruption would be hugely problematic for businesses across industries. Furthermore, if it escalated far enough, a trade war could take down the entire global trading architecture. That could be Trump’s goal. Many in his administration, including trade representative Robert Lightizer, believe the biggest mistake the US ever made was to usher China into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Aides say Trump regularly threatens to pull out of the rules-setting body.

Trump has in the past suggested that Chinese help on North Korea could head off US trade action. In a phone call with the US president on Tuesday, Xi suggested that trade issues should be resolved by “making the cake of cooperation bigger.” Meanwhile, Trump expressed disappointment that the US trade deficit with China has continued to grow” and made clear that “the situation is not sustainable.” In private, however, senior Chinese officials believe Beijing has many tactical advantages: Some are cultural – the Chinese people, one says, are more prepared to endure economic hardship. [..] Many US trade experts don’t mince words: They believe China would prevail in a trade war with the US, and that the US economy would suffer lasting damage.

Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, thinks China would win. Among his reasons: China’s ability to concentrate pain, and the outcry from affected businesses in America’s more open political system. He argues that “the political costs to the Trump administration of maintaining new protectionist measures will be much higher than the costs of retaliation to the Xi regime.” Derek Scissors, a trade expert at the American Enterprise Institute argues that the major US advantage is that China is far more dependent on trade for its financial health. “A shorter, smaller-scale trade conflict favors China due to its comparative agility,” he says. “The more serious it gets, the worse China would fare because it’s badly outmatched monetarily.”

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Part of a podcast with America’s no.1 Russia scholar Stephen Cohen at TFMetalsReport.com.

The New Cold War In 2018 (Stephen Cohen)

I’m not a Trump supporter and I didn’t vote for him. However, we can actually support Donald Trump’s campaign promise which I think he’s tried to act on since he’s been president that it’s necessary to cooperate with Russia. This is what was called detente in the 20th century. I don’t know why Trump doesn’t make this point. I don’t think he has very good advisors in regard to Russia either in terms of what’s going on in Russia or in terms of his own policy making but Trump might say in his own defense because they’re indicting him for simply saying I want to cooperate with Russia and with Putin in particular. He could say look, every Republican president of consequence in the 20th century pursued detente with Russia.

First Eisenhower, the first detente the spirit of Camp David with Khrushchev, then the Nixon Kissinger attempt at a grand detente with Brezhnev and finally above all Ronald Reagan a detente with Gorbachev the last Soviet leader Soviet Russian leader so great that Reagan and Gorbachev ended the cold war. Trump could put himself in that tradition and say “I’m the traditional Republican. This is what Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan did. They did it wisely. They avoided nuclear war with Russia. We’re in a new Cold War. The dangers are grave. It’s not only my duty as the American president to pursue cooperation to ward off a catastrophe but I commend the honorable tradition of the Republican Party”. He doesn’t say that. I don’t know why as I say it because he doesn’t know what or because he wants to be the one and only I have no idea what he needs to say.

And if he said it it would compel a conversation in Washington that we’re not having. What’s happened to detente and what’s happened is we have if we ignore his own idiom and put it in again I speak as a story in the historical language of 20th century diplomacy. We have a pro-detente President who for the first time in history is not permitted to at least try because every time he has a sensible conversation with Putin, no matter whether it’s face to face or on the telephone, he’s accused not only by the traditionally crazies in American politics but by the New York Times of treason. So what we could do and it will be hard for a lot of people because of the loathing for Trump. Is so pervasive just and I didn’t vote for Trump is the fifth amendment I didn’t vote for Trump and I didn’t support President Trump. But about this he is not only right. He’s our only hope at the moment.

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Caitlin Johnstone is a delight to read. Summary here: Putin is supposed to have paid out many billions when no-one believed Trump was a viable candidate. Was he psychic?

The One Fact Which Disproves Russiagate (CJ)

Just a few days ago Russiagaters were having yet another “BOOM! We got him!” social media parade about an article from the Clinton-directed Daily Beast, claiming that a senior national security aide within the Trump administration had suggested scaling down the US troop presence along Russia’s border, a dangerous escalation which all peace advocates support eliminating. In the first sentence of the article’s second paragraph, the author Spencer Ackerman acknowledges that “the proposal was ultimately not adopted.” Huh? So President Trump, alleged to have been groomed early and at great expense by the Kremlin in anticipation of a presidential victory nobody else imagined possible at that time, was pitched a recommendation to scale down new cold war escalations with Russia… and he refused? That’s how you’re starting your article about the “return on Russia’s election-time investment in President Trump”?

Russiagate is so weird. You need to plug yourself into Louise Mensch and Rachel Maddow ramblings so extensively that you can contort your sense of reason to the point where it looks perfectly rational to believe that Putin was omniscient enough to know that Trump could defeat all primary opponents and take the fight to the heir apparent Hillary Clinton back when virtually no one else imagined such a thing was possible, recruited his team reportedly at the cost of billions of dollars, poured all kinds of intel and resources into ensuring Trump’s election using hackers and bots to influence American opinion, only to get a US president who is, when it comes to facts in evidence, already just a year into his administration demonstrably more hawkish towards Russia than his predecessor was. Again: huh?

Nobody wants to think about this because it doesn’t fit in with America’s stale partisan models; Democrats would have to admit that their best shot at getting a rival president impeached is pure gibberish, and Trump supporters would have to acknowledge that their swamp-draining populist hero is actually just one more corrupt globalist neocon like his predecessors.

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The next Carillion is already in sight: Interserve. The British privatization model is failing spectacularly. That will cost a lot of jobs.

Carillion’s Failure: The Many Questions That Need Answers (Coppola)

Britain is reeling from the shock collapse of one of its largest corporations, the giant construction and services company Carillion Group plc. In talks over the weekend, Carillion’s management was unable to persuade its lenders to provide any more funds, and the U.K. government refused to help. Carillion was left with no options. On Monday morning, Carillion filed for compulsory liquidation. This was a completely unexpected move. Discussions about Carillion’s fate over the previous week had centered around restructuring, bail-in of creditors and perhaps placing the company into administration, the U.K.’s equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. No one expected the company to be wound up. But that is what will now happen to it.

As Carillion has extensive U.K. Government construction and services contracts, the U.K.’s High Court appointed the Government’s Official Receiver to manage the liquidation. Among other things, the Official Receiver will be responsible for ensuring that public sector services currently provided by Carillion continue to run, and the staff providing them continue to be paid. Without this assurance, meals to hospital patients and schoolchildren might not be delivered, and prisons might not be staffed. But the future of Carillion’s 19,000 employees in the U.K. (43,000 worldwide) is still highly uncertain. Staff working on U.K. public sector service contracts are protected for the moment, but those working on other projects could lose their jobs within days.

The Official Receiver will be supported by six insolvency specialists from the accountancy firm PWC, who will act as “special managers”. PWC’s message to Carillion’s shareholders was blunt and immediate: Unfortunately, as a result of the liquidation appointments, there is no prospect of any return to shareholders. At least shareholders know where they stand. They have been wiped. Trading in Carillion’s shares has been suspended, of course.

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I see trouble in your future.

After Carillion How Many Firms Can UK Pensions Lifeboat Rescue? (G.)

The pensions lifeboat that comes to the rescue when firms go bust is about to get a lot more crowded following the collapse of Carillion. The sprawling construction and outsourcing firm had a pension deficit of £580m but is now likely to rise to at least £800m because it no longer has a solvent business standing alongside it. The company’s crash into liquidation has thrown the spotlight on other firms with huge pension scheme deficits such as IAG, BT and BAE. It has also raised questions about how many more big company failures the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) can absorb, and why companies with big deficits are allowed to pump out bumper dividend payouts to shareholders.

It is almost certain that the fund will now have to step in and bail out workers at Carillion, which has more than 28,000 defined-benefit – in this case, final salary – pension scheme members. Those already taking pensions will be protected, but those members below retirement age will face cuts of 10-20% because there is a cap on payouts to higher earners. It’s been a busy time for the PPF: in the spring, roughly 20,000 members of the British Steel pension scheme will start moving into the fund. They will eventually be joined by about 2,000 former BHS workers (the vast majority of the retailer’s staff chose to move their retirement funds into a new pension scheme).

Carillion’s liquidation has fuelled concern about the financial stability of other big companies. Last year a report by JLT Employee Benefits put the total deficit in FTSE 100 pension schemes at the end of 2016 at £87bn – £17bn worse than a year earlier, even though firms paid in around £11bn. 66 companies had deficits – ie their liabilities to pension scheme members were greater than their assets. Booming stock markets in 2017 helped narrow the gap. Mercer, the leading pensions consultancy, said deficits at the biggest 350 firms fell to £76bn from £84bn the year before. But even with the FTSE at a new peak, the deficits remain alarmingly high.

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Pensions, Social Security, it’s all stupidly overpromised. And that will remain so until it’s too late.

No Way Around Sorry Shape Social Security Is In (Newsmax)

If you want to know what makes people worry, here are four facts to make you lose your sleep whatever your age:

1. The Social Security Shortfall Is Growing Three Times Faster Than the US Economy. The imbalance of Social Security is measured by its shortfall, or the amount of money, that with interest earned, would enable the program to pay benefits over the next 75 years. That hole in the program’s finances is growing at three times the rate of our ability to fill it. Here are the numbers. Over the past 15 years, the system’s liabilities have grown at 9.6% compounded annually, while the trustees expect that even in a robust year real economic growth will not break 3%. Moreover, the trustees believe that the long-term growth rate of the economy is 2.1%. At the end of 2001, the Social Security shortfall was $3.157 trillion. At the end of 2016, it was $12.5 trillion. With the passage of yet another year of inaction on the program’s finances, the figure is more than $13 trillion.

2. People Turning 70 Today expect to Be Alive When Benefits are Reduced. If you think the problems of Social Security are limited to people under the age of 40 —think again. That assessment has not been a realistic concern in nearly two decades. The Social Security Administration believes that more than half of the people turning 70 today will be alive and well when the trust fund is exhausted. The exhaustion of the trust fund means that benefits will be reduced to the level of revenue collected. At this point, the trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds believe that benefits will fall by 23% in 2034, with cuts rising over time. The CBO believes that the reductions will rise to 30% over time.

3. In 2016, the Program Lost More Money than It Collected. Over the course of 2016, the program’s unfunded liabilities rose by nearly $1.2 trillion. That is a breathtaking jump considering that the program only collected about $950 billion in revenue. Mechanically, Social Security takes in money in exchange for the promise of future benefits. In the case of 2016, for every $1 that the program took in, the system generated more than $1.20 of promises that no one expects it to keep. In English, we could have reduced benefits to zero for the entire year of 2016, and the program would have finished the year in worse shape than it started.

4. Dependency on Social Security Rises with Age. Typically, worriers about Social Security say that Social Security accounts for 90% of the income of more than one-third of seniors. Politifact has largely confirmed this statistic.

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It’s a zombie nation.

Britain Is Being Stalked By A Zombie Elite (G.)

Britain in 2018 is stalked by zombie ideas, zombie politicians, zombie institutions – stripped of credibility and authority, yet somehow still presiding over our lives. Nowhere is this more true than in the way we run our economy. This September marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers. In autumn 2008, the banks broke, the governments stepped in – and the cast-iron premises that underpin our economic system were exposed as fiction for all to see on the Ten O’Clock News. Yet a decade later, those dead ideas still walk among us. They form what John Quiggin at the University of Queensland terms zombie economics – dogmas now cracked beyond repair, but which continue to shape British society.

Austerity – the policy that more than any other will define this decade – was lifted by George Osborne straight out of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag. He justified it with zombie rhetoric about how business was being “crowded out” by childcare centres and the rest of the public sector, and how 21st-century sovereign countries could be run just like household budgets. Tax cuts for “wealth creators” and privatisations of the few remaining national assets: all utter zombie-ism. And this was no one-party game. Labour frontbenchers from Andy Burnham to Chuka Umunna spent the first half of this decade pleading guilty to the trumped-up charge of creating a debt crisis.

Labour councils are among those pursuing outrageous privatisations. And over the past four decades both sides have adopted as an article of faith the idea that politics is about What Works – and that What Works is a mix of Potemkin markets and crude managerialism. From Tony Blair to David Cameron and Nick Clegg, politics was no longer about left battling right – but technocrats and open-necked Oxford philosophy, politics and economics graduate special advisers who “got it” versus the dinosaurs and well-meaning naifs. In this way, a broken economy has been force-fed more of the same ideas that helped to break it. The outcome has been almost predictably dire.

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Yeah, let’s get Greece to pay up for that. Show us some solidarity!

Dutch Say Nations Hit By Brexit Shouldn’t Plug EU Budget Hole (BBG)

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said European Union countries that are set to suffer the most from Brexit shouldn’t also have to help plug the hole it will tear in the bloc’s budget. “A small group of countries on the west coast of Europe is hit very hard in the economy by Brexit, which applies primarily to Ireland, but also to the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and a number of other countries,” Hoekstra said in interview with Dutch TV station RTL Z. “It cannot be the intention that those who already experience the damage of Brexit will also pay the bill.” While the remaining 27 EU countries are maintaining a united front in Brexit talks, national interests diverge when it comes to the future trading relationship and splits are starting to emerge.

The Netherlands is one of the EU countries keenest on securing a trade deal with the U.K. that doesn’t harm crucial commercial trade ties between the two countries, whose ports face each other across the North Sea. Hoekstra met his Spanish counterpart Luis de Guindos last week and the pair agreed they both wanted a Brexit deal that keeps the U.K. as close to the EU as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. A Spanish economy ministry official said last week the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. The U.K. will continue to pay into the current budget until the end of 2020; after that a new seven-year budget cycle comes into effect. The U.K. is a net contributor to the current budget, which redistributes funds across the bloc.

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The real collusion.

Nomi Prins’ New Book: Central Banks Have Become the Markets (Martens)

Nomi Prins’ latest book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, ensures her place as one of this century’s most informed Wall Street historians. It’s the perfect segue from Prins’ earlier “It Takes a Pillage,” and her 2014 book All the Presidents’ Bankers. If you are serious about understanding the corrupting influences that have left the U.S. vulnerable to another epic financial crash, buy all three books and read them as one. Prins is a veteran of Wall Street who has now written six books and dozens of articles to help Americans navigate the snake pit that has replaced the financial system of the United States. It all started with her first book in 2004, Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America, where she explained her motivation as follows:

“When I left Wall Street, at the height of a wave of scandals uncovering scores of massively destructive deceptions, my choice was based on a very personal sense of right and wrong…So, when people who didn’t know me very well asked me why I left the banking industry after a fifteen-year climb up the corporate ladder, I answered, ‘Goldman Sachs.’ “For it was not until I reached the inner sanctum of this autocratic and hypocritical organization – one too conceited to have its name or logo visible from the sidewalk of its 85 Broad Street headquarters [now relocated to 200 West Street] that I realized I had to get out…The fact that my decision coincided with corporate malfeasance of epic proportions made me realize that it was far more important to use my knowledge to be part of the solution than to continue being part of the problem.”

In Collusion, Prins walks us through the critically-important events occurring during the 2007-2009 financial crash, many of which would have been relegated to the dust bin of history if not for this book. Prins makes the case that the U.S. is headed toward another epic financial crash as a result of the unchecked powers of the U.S. central bank (the Federal Reserve) and its global counterparts who are creating dangerous new asset bubbles in an effort to paper over the last ones. Prins convincingly shows that colluding central bankers have effectively become the markets through a never-ending flow of cheap money to the mega banks which have deployed that cheap money to buy back and inflate their own stock – with a green light from their own regulator and money pimp (our term, not hers) – the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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The new PM should jump on this. She cannot afford to let this stand.

New Zealand Fisheries Want Images Of Dead Penguins Caught In Nets Censored (G.)

The seafood industry in New Zealand has asked the government to withhold graphic video of dead sea life caught in trawler nets as they are potentially damaging to fisheries and to brand New Zealand. A letter from five seafood industry leaders to the Ministry of Primary Industries highlights the fisheries’ growing unease with the government’s proposal to install video cameras on all commercial fishing vessels to monitor bycatch of other species and illegal fish dumping. The letter requests an amendment to the Fisheries Act, so video captured onboard cannot be released to the general public through a freedom of information request, frequently used by the media, campaign groups and opposition parties.

“They [the proposed videos] also raise significant risks for MPI and for ‘New Zealand Inc'”, the letter reads, also citing concerns about invading the privacy of employees onboard, and protecting commercial and trade secrets. There are no reliable figures on the numbers of penguins, sea lions, dolphins and seals that die in fishing nets or longlines in New Zealand, but according to some researchers and environmental groups the commercial fishing industry is the main culprit for declining populations of endangered sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins. Only 25% of deepwater trawlers in New Zealand have government observers onboard to record bycatch and discards, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa], which relies on statistical modelling techniques to generate bycatch estimates for the 75% of boats that work unobserved.

Niwa estimates for every kilogram of reported target catch (what the fishing boat aims to catch ) there is 0.2 kg of bycatch. “These are the images the fishing industry doesn’t want you to see”, said Forest & Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague. “What they [the seafood industry] are saying is catching endangered penguins, dumping entire hauls of fish overboard and killing Hector s dolphins looks really bad on TV. Well, the solution is to stop doing it, not to hide the evidence. It’s hard to think of a more credibility damaging activity than trying to change the law so the rest of us can’t see what’s really happening out there.” Deepwater fishing vessels account for 80% of New Zealand’s annual catch and earn NZ$650m per annum in export dollars.

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Jan 072018
 
 January 7, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Gloucester Beach, Bass Rocks 1924

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

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Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)
Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)
States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)
UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)
China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)
Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)
11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills
Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

 

 

So Why Are They Investing In The Exact Same Fashion?

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)

The average pension fund assumes it can achieve a 7.6% rate of return on its assets in the future. As noted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the majority of these assets are invested in the stock market. The rest are invested in bonds, real estate and alternatives. An aggregate bond index fund yields 2.5% today. Real estate investment trusts, as a group, yield nearly 4%. Alternatives are a mixed bag but the point is that, in order for pensions to meet this 7.6% rate of return they require that stocks (and, to a much lesser degree, alternatives) do far better than even that optimistic assumption because the balance of the portfolio is nearly guaranteed to fall short of that mark. The trouble is that for stocks to return anywhere near 8% they would need to fall more than 50% first.

Warren Buffett famously said, “the price you pay determines your rate of return.” John Hussman puts an even finer point on it this week showing that if you want an 8% rate of return over the coming 12 years you should not be willing to pay more than 1,281 for the S&P 500 today. Currently, the index trades at roughly 2,690 thus it would take a major stock market crash for investors to have the opportunity to invest at a level that would enable them to achieve anything close to what pensions now require. But if stocks were to crash again, as they did after the last two times valuations reached current extremes, that would obviously create other problems for pensions that are now fully invested in risk assets and already underfunded to the tune of several trillion dollars.

Even if they don’t crash, however, it is now almost inevitable that pensions will face a massive crisis sometime over the next decade or so. Still, it’s fascinating to note that even though this issue is common knowledge today, investors as a group have decided to ensure they will come to the very same fate. Passive investing, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, is essentially a way for individual investors to model pension investing, typically with an even greater exposure to equities.

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Of course they could. But Jeremy Grantham’s ‘Melt-Up’ is being criticized by quite a few voices. The question is not ‘could they rise’, but ‘how long until they will plunge’?

Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)

Shares are expensive – keep buying them. That appears to be investors’ consensus view. The storming run for stock markets in 2017 seemed almost too good to be trusted, but 2018 has started in similar style. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average soared past 25,000 last week, almost exactly 12 months after 20,000 was achieved. In the UK, the FTSE 100 index stands at a record high. Even the Japanese market, for years an international laggard, is back at a 26-year high. Last year the MSCI World index – a proxy for a global stock market – delivered a return of 20.1%. Optimists expect more of the same. The other camp warns that a dangerous bubble is about to burst. Both sides could probably agree that the recent run in stock markets has been astonishing.

Or, rather, the truly remarkable feature has been the steady and unbroken pace of the march upwards. Stock markets, we used to think, offered thrills, spills and rollercoaster rides. Individual shares still provide such excitement, of course, but the overall market seems bizarrely free of stress. Andrew Lapthorne, who crunches the market numbers for French bank Société Générale, called 2017 “the year volatility died” in his end-of-year round-up. He wrote: “Those of us expecting greater market turbulence in 2017 could not have been more wrong. Not only did global equity markets perform well, but they did so with such low volatility and consistency that, if this were a fund, it would perhaps merit a visit from the authorities to check exactly what you were up to.”

What happened? First, investors seem to have decided that rising interest rates in the US, a big worry a year ago, are not the bogeyman they seemed. The US Federal Reserve has been a protective nurse. Rate rises have been gradual, and ultra-cheap money has been followed by very cheap. A US rate of 1.5% ain’t so bad. Second, President Donald Trump’s administration, amid its chaos and crises, has delivered the policy investors in companies cared about most: corporate tax cuts. Maybe a growth-generating splurge on infrastructure, the second part of his economic agenda, will follow.

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More of a partisan thing.

States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)

The new year has only just begun, but already Democratic politicians in the country’s largest high-tax states are threatening lawsuits and publicly touting proposed workarounds to help compensate tax payers for the elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which were dramatically rolled back, along with deductions for mortgage interest, as part of the White House’s tax reform plan. During his state of the state address earlier this week, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue the federal government over the tax bill, claiming that the plan is unconstitutional and overly burdensome to New Yorkers. Cuomo said that the new law could raise some families’ taxes by as much as 25% and said the plan amounted to “double taxation.”

He later accused President Donald Trump of waging “economic civil war” on states that didn’t back him during the election, and promised to consider workarounds that would help lower residents’ federal tax bills, according to Bloomberg. Then, on Thursday, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon introduced a bill that the Washington Post said could become a model for how blue states push back against the Trump tax plan. According to the Trump tax plan, which took effect in January, taxpayers can only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes when they file their federal return.

“De Leon’s bill, if it became law, would essentially allow Americans to deduct much more than the $10,000 limit by redirecting state tax payments into a type of charitable contribution that would be later redirected to the state. The new federal tax law, which was supported only by Republicans, went into effect in January and does not include any caps on charitable deductions. “The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in a statement. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” Several states have said they are looking for ways to challenge or work around the law, particularly states such as California and New York where residents pay a higher level of local taxes that they have traditionally been able to deduct without any limits. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has said he is looking at a way of challenging the new law in court.”

Then on Friday, incoming New Jersey Gov. Democrat Phil Murphy said he’s working on a plan similar to California’s that would allow taxpayers to pay a percentage of their state income taxes as if they were a charitable donation. The money will eventually be redirected to the state. And there’s nothing in the Republican tax plan that limits charitable deductions. Predictably, the White House has threatened to push back against these strategies. During a televised interview this week, Gary Cohn said the administration would be looking into ways to stop states from implementing these work-arounds.

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Seems easy to avoid.

UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)

More than 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay VAT upfront for the first time on all goods imported from the European Union after Brexit, under controversial legislation to be considered by MPs on Monday. The VAT changes spelled out in the taxation (cross-border trade) bill – one of a string of Brexit laws passing through parliament – are causing uproar among UK business groups, which say that they will create acute cashflow problems and huge additional bureaucracy. Labour and Tory MPs and peers said that the only way to avoid the VAT Brexit penalty would be to stay in the customs union or negotiate to remain in the EU-VAT area. On Sunday night the Tory chair of the all-party Treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, said the committee would launch an urgent investigation.

She also said she would be writing to the head of HM Revenue and Customs to see what contingency plans were being made to avoid hitting UK firms. The bill, which has its second reading in the Commons on Monday, spells out clearly how VAT would have to be paid upfront by companies. The government’s own explanatory notes on the bill say the existing regime will end “so that import VAT is charged on all imports from outside the UK”. The Labour MP and former minister Chris Leslie said that the VAT hit to firms was “yet another aspect of Brexit that the Leave campaign failed to inform the public about”. He added that he would be tabling urgent amendments to ensure the UK remained in the EU VAT area – a move that would enrage pro-Brexit MPs.

UK companies that import machine parts or goods ready for sale from the EU can currently register with HMRC to bring them into the UK free of VAT. They register the VAT charge and reclaim it later, all as a paper exercise. VAT is added to the price of the product whenever it is sold to the final customer. Without a VAT deal with Brussels, importers will have to pay the VAT upfront in cash and then recover the money later, creating a huge outflow of funds before they can be recouped.

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“Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold..”

China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)

Over the next three years Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes. Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used. By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities. A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.

[..] Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne scholar who studies Beijing’s use of resettlements to fight poverty, attributed Xi’s focus on the issue partly to the seven years he spent in the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was born into China’s “red aristocracy” – the son of the revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun – but was exiled to the parched village of Liangjiahe in the 1960s after his father strayed to the wrong side of Mao. Wang claimed those years of rural hardship continued to shape Xi’s political priorities: “From the bottom of his heart he knows the Chinese farmers … He understands what they want … He even knows the dirty language the people use in the fields when they are farming.”

But hard-nosed political calculations also explained Xi’s bid to paint himself as a champion of the poor – an effort undermined by a recent crackdown on migrants in Beijing which has reportedly seen tens of thousands of poor workers forced from the capital. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you and say: ‘This is our strong leader?’” asked Wang, who argued one answer was waging war on poverty.

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Dunk.

Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he was open to talking to Kim Jong-un and hoped good could come from negotiations between North and South Korea over this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The US president also took credit for those talks, saying: “If I weren’t involved they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious.” North and South Korea have agreed to discuss cooperation on the games as well as other issues in rare meetings set to begin on Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village that straddles the demilitarised zone between the two countries. Amid international concern over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, the talks will be the first staged since December 2015. The discussions will be held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

[..] Speaking to reporters at Camp David in Maryland on Saturday, at the end of a week marked by the publication of an explosive book about his administration and his mental capacity for his job, the president was asked if he would speak to Kim on the telephone. “Sure, I believe in talking,” he said. “… Absolutely I would do that, no problem with that at all.” Asked if that meant there would be no prerequisites for such talk, the president said: “That’s not what I said at all.” Trump added: “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%. He understands that. “At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution, we’re working on it with [secretary of state] Rex [Tillerson], we’re working on it with a lot of people. “If something good can happen and come out of those talks it would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

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Prines have been arrested, tortured, forced to sign away their fortunes. But now they protest over water bills? And think they’ll win that one?

11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills

Saudi authorities made a fresh round of arrests of royal-family members as a group of princes staged a palace protest in the capital over the non-payment of their electricity and water bills. Security services on Thursday arrested the 11 princes after they refused to leave Qasr Al-Hokm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, said in an emailed statement. The princes, who objected to a decree that ordered the state to stop paying their utility bills, will be held at al-Ha’er prison pending their trial, Al Mojeb said. “No one is above the law in Saudi Arabia, everyone is equal and is treated the same as others,” Al Mojeb said. “Any person, regardless of their status or position, will be held accountable should they decide not to follow the rules and regulations of the state.”

In November, authorities swept up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people, including princes and government ministers, and detained them at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. The arrests were ordered by a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prince’s anti-graft drive appeared designed to tap into a popular vein among young Saudis who are bearing the brunt of low oil prices and complaining, privately and on social media, that the kingdom’s elite were above the rule of law. King Salman on Saturday ordered extra pay for Saudi government workers and soldiers this year after the implementation of value-added taxation and a surge in fuel prices stirred grumbling among citizens, highlighting the kingdom’s struggle to overhaul its economy without risking a public backlash.

The handouts will cost the state more than 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion), Saud Al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court, said on his Twitter account. The princes arrested at the palace were also seeking compensation for a death sentence that was issued against one of their cousins, who had been convicted of killing another man and executed in 2016, according to Al Mojeb’s statement. Earlier Saturday, the Jeddah-based newspaper Okaz reported the princes had been arrested. The Al-Ha’er facility south of Riyadh is one of Saudi Arabia’s maximum-security prisons. Many of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic militants who have fought abroad are held there.

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That’s where the life is.

Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. Hughes personally surveyed thousands of miles of the Great Barrier Reef during the 2015 and 2016 bleaching. “It broke my heart,” he told the Guardian last year. The new study finds that 94% of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared. The implications of these data in a warming world, taken together with other ongoing marine stressors like overfishing and pollution, are damning.

“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90% of the world’s reefs. For conservation biologists like Josh Drew, whose work focuses on coral reefs near Fiji, that loss of recovery time amounts to a “death warrant for coral reefs as we know them.” “I’m not saying we’re not going to have reefs at all, but those reefs that survive are going to be fundamentally different,” says Drew, who is not affiliated with the new study. “We are selecting for corals that are effectively weedy, for things that can grow back in two to three years, for things that are accustomed to having hot water.”

Reefs are incalculably important not only as a harbor for life — they shelter about one-quarter of all marine species in just a half-percent of the ocean’s surface area — but also for human nutrition and many nation’s economies.

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Jan 062018
 
 January 6, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Acrobat 1930

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 

 

 

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)
QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)
Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)
US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)
Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)
Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)
US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)
Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)
Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)
Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)
Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)
Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

 

 

“”In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly..”

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)

Wall Street’s eye-popping gains should be of great concern to global investors, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average broke above 25,000 on Thursday for the first time, following the release of stronger-than-expected jobs data. In terms of trading days, it was the fastest 1,000-point gain to a round number in the Dow’s history. The 30-stock index broke above 24,000 on Nov. 30, 23 trading days earlier. It took the Dow 24 trading days to go from 20,000 to 21,000 last year. “We’re really terrified,” Paul Gambles, managing partner at MBMG Group, told CNBC. When asked why he believed traders should avoid investing in stocks given the “Goldilocks” global growth conditions, Gambles said: “In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly, and we think that could well happen again [to stocks].”

Gambles said that collective global growth at the level seen through 2017 was the GDP equivalent to a “blow-off top.” He added that similar levels of concerted worldwide growth were seen during previous financial crises and therefore the current risk to investors is “exponential.” The Dow gained 152 points on Thursday to 25,075, while the broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq also hit milestones. Earlier Thursday, ADP and Moody’s Analytics reported that the U.S. private sector added 250,000 jobs in December, well above the expected 190,000. In 2017, prices were supported by a rebound in global economic growth and renewed investor optimism that looming corporate tax cuts would result in bigger dividends and share buybacks. A low interest rate environment was also believed to make stocks a relatively attractive investment.

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All central banks making the same moves, except perhaps for China. Rattling nerves.

QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)

An amazing – or on second thought, given how central banks operate, not so amazing – thing is happening. On one hand… Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda keeps saying that the BOJ would “patiently” maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy, so too in his first speech of 2018 in Tokyo, on January 3, when he said the BOJ must continue “patiently” with this monetary policy, though the economy is expanding steadily. The deflationary mindset is not disappearing easily, he said. On December 20, following the decision by the BOJ to keep its short-term interest-rate target at negative -0.1% and the 10-year bond yield target just above 0%, he’d brushed off criticism that this prolonged easing could destabilize Japan’s banking system. “Our most important goal is to achieve our 2% inflation target at the earliest date possible,” he said.

On the other hand… In reality, after years of blistering asset purchases, the Bank of Japan disclosed today that total assets on its balance sheet actually inched down by ¥444 billion ($3.9 billion) from the end of November to ¥521.416 trillion on December 31. While small, it was the first month-end to month-end decline since the Abenomics-designed “QQE” kicked off in late 2012. Under “QQE” – so huge that the BOJ called it Qualitative and Quantitative Easing to distinguish it from mere “QE” as practiced by the Fed at the time – the BOJ has been buying Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), corporate bonds, Japanese REITs, and equity ETFs, leading to astounding month-end to month-end surges in the balance sheet. But now the “QQE Unwind” has commenced. Note the trend over the past 12 months and the first dip (red):

JGBs, the largest asset class on the BOJ’s balance sheet, fell by ¥2.9 trillion ($25 billion) from November 30 to ¥440.67 trillion on December 31. In other words, the BOJ has started to unload JGBs – probably by letting them mature without replacement, rather than selling them outright. Some other asset classes on its balance sheet increased, including equity ETFs, Japanese REITs, “Loans,” and “Others” On net, and from a distance, the first decrease of the BOJ’s assets in the era of Abenomics was barely noticeable. Total assets are still a massive pile, amounting to about 96% of Japan’s GDP (the Fed’s balance sheet amounts to about 23% of US GDP):

[..] None of this – neither the 12 months of “tapering” nor now the “QQE Unwind” – was announced. They happened despite rhetoric to the contrary. During peak QQE, the 12-month period ending December 31, 2016, the BOJ added ¥93.4 trillion (about $830 billion) to its balance sheet. Over the 12-month period ending December 31, 2017, it added “only” ¥44.9 trillion to its balance sheet. That’s down 52% from the peak. This chart shows the rolling 12-month change in the balance sheet in trillion yen, going back to the Financial Crisis:

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You might as well. But do get out of the way.

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)

People are hard to please these days. Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot. They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions. The recently retired always seem to have the biggest axe to grind. Take Jack Lew, for instance. He started off the New Year by sharpening his axe on the grinding wheel of the GOP tax bill. On Tuesday, he told Bloomberg Radio that the new tax bill will explode the debt and leave people sick and starving. “It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt. “The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society. How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut? We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security. One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”

The tax bill, without question, is an impractical disaster. However, that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal. The Trump administration is merely doing what every other administration has done for the last 40 years or more. They’re running a deficit as we march onward towards default. We don’t like it. We don’t agree with it. But how we’re going to pay for it shouldn’t be a mystery to Lew. We’re going to pay for it the same way we’ve paid for every other deficit: with more debt. Of all people, Jack Lew should know this. If you recall, Lew was the United States Secretary of Treasury during former President Obama’s second term in office. Four consecutive years of deficits – totaling over $2 trillion – were notched on his watch.

[..] In truth, no one really cares about deficits and debt. Not former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Not current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Not Trump. Not Obama. Not your congressional representative. Not Dick Cheney. Plain and simple, unless there are political points to score like Lew was aiming for this week, no one gives a doggone hoot about the debt problem. That’s a problem for tomorrow. Not today. Quite frankly, everyone loves government debt – DOW 25,000! Aging baby boomers know they need massive amounts of government debt to pay their social security, medicare, and disability checks. On top of that, many employed workers are really on corporate welfare. They’re dependent upon the benevolence of government contracts to provide their daily bread.

What’s more, in this crazy debt based fiat money system, the debt must perpetually increase or the whole financial system breaks down. Specifically, more debt is always needed to keep asset prices inflated and the wealth mirage visible. By providing a quick burst to the rate of debt increase, President Trump expects to get a quick burst to the rate of GDP growth. We suspect President Trump and his followers will be underwhelmed by what effect, if any, the tax cuts have on the economy. Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t fret about government deficits and debt. The political leaders may say deficits don’t matter. But they do matter. In fact, soon they’ll matter a lot. We’re in the twilight of the debt bubble age. Embrace it. Love it. What choice do you have, really?

Read more …

The drop in retail jobs in the holiday season stands out.

US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)

The U.S. economy added a disappointing 148,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate held at 4.1%, according to a closely watched Labor Department report Friday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting nonfarm payrolls to grow by 190,000. The total was well below the November pace of 252,000, which was revised up from the initially reported 228,000. An unexpected loss of 20,000 retail positions during the holiday season held back the headline number. The unemployment rate for blacks fell to 6.8%, its lowest ever. “A little bit of a disappointment when you only get 2,000 jobs out of the government and get retail at the absolute busiest time of the year losing 20,000 jobs. It just goes to show the true struggle that traditional brick and mortar is having now,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Outside of that I actually thought it was a good report.”

Biggest gains came from health care (31,000), construction (30,000) and manufacturing (25,000). Bars and restaurants added 25,000, while professional and business services grew by 19,000. Average hourly earnings rose modestly to the same 2.5% annualized gain as in November. Federal Reserve policymakers were watching the jobs data closely, both for payroll gains and for wage growth. Though central bank economists estimate the jobs market is near full employment, wage pressures have remained muted. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, said of the lower-than-expected number. “I certainly don’t think this has any impact in terms of what the Fed will do in the future. The economy continues to be on solid footing.”

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Remember: we are the ones making big tech bigger by using their products. We don’t have to.

Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)

Last year was the year of the tech mega-cap, with the six most valuable companies in the world now coming from that industry. Yet, even with the consolidation of money and power, 2017 featured a notable dearth of large tech deals. Don’t expect 2018 to be so quiet. As Alphabet, Amazon and Apple expand their product portfolios and their market share, boards and CEOs of technology companies with less reach are being forced to consider if they can still thrive independently, said Robert Townsend, co-chair of global mergers and acquisitions at law firm Morrison & Foerster. On top of that, the tech giants are staring at a drop in corporate taxes starting in 2018, and they can bring some of the many billions of dollars they have stashed overseas back to the U.S. at a dramatically reduced tax rate.

“There’s truly getting to be a few companies at such a scale, like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Alibaba and Tencent that the world is going to be like a barbell, with a large gap in between with humongous tech and IT service providers on one side and everyone else on the other,” Townsend said. “That’s an uncomfortable place to be if you’re not at the very top.” There were only three technology deals of more than $5 billion announced last year involving a U.S. buyer or seller – Toshiba’s memory chip sale to a consortium led by Bain Capital, Intel’s purchase of Mobileye, and Marvell’s takeover of Cavium, according to FactSet. A fourth hostile offer – Broadcom’s $103 billion bid for Qualcomm – was rejected late in the year. That marked a big dip from 2016, when 12 tech deals over $5 billion were announced. Among them was Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn and Tencent’s $8.6 billion acquisition of game developer Supercell.

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All over the western world, this may be the no. 1 problem. Lies, ignorance and evaporated entitlements. Ponzi 2.0.

Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)

U.S. public pension fund members are generally unaware that their pension is underfunded and of the risk this poses, according to a survey released Thursday by Spectrem Group. The study also reveals a wide gap between how members want their pension funds managed and the actual approach many managers take. The survey, conducted online in the second half of November, compared CalPERS and NYC Retirement Systems (NYC Funds) against a “national” group, comprising individuals from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Florida Retirement System, the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, as well as a small group from other public pension plans.

All told, 807 CalPERS members, 771 NYC Funds members and 1,687 “national” members responded to the survey. The survey results showed that 48% of members said they would rely on their pension for at least half of their retirement income. 92% of respondents considered their pension fund’s ability to generate returns at or above its target level important or very important, and 93% said the same about their fund’s ability to generate returns at or above overall market performance. In both instances, CalPERS members were the respondents most likely to identify these things as important or very important. 95% of respondents believed the fund’s ability to effectively manage risk was important or very important. “There’s a clear disconnect between pension fund managers, who are testing new investment styles and strategies, and members, who would prefer to see their pension fully funded,” Spectrem Group president George Walper said in a statement.

“Pension fund managers should refocus their efforts on the wants and needs of their investors, prioritizing investment decisions to maximize performance, while limiting votes to shareholder proposals that directly impact their fund and its members.” [..] 56% of members surveyed believed they are very well or moderately informed about their pension’s actual investment return, 54% about its target investment return, 60% about expenses and fees paid and 61% about the benefit structure. They were less confident in their knowledge of the costs associated with shareholder activism, the composition and investing experience of the fund’s board and the amount of time fund managers spent reviewing and voting on shareholder proposals.

However, the survey results uncovered a clear gap in how much members really knew about their pension’s actual performance and funding level. 40% of members believed their funds had performed in line with the market for the past few years — often not the case, according to Spectrem. 46% of NYC Funds members believe their pension fund has outperformed the market, when in fact their returns have been below both market performance and their target level. Likewise, 42% of CalPERS members held this mistaken belief.

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Yes, but MAGA…

US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)

Will 2018 be the year of the household hangover? The latest data on the saving rate, which broke under 3% to 2.9% in November, the lowest since 2007, suggest that an encore to the ebullient buying over the holidays will not happen in the new year. Without a doubt, households are as buoyant as they’ve been in years. In the most recent consumer confidence report, only 15.2% of those surveyed reported jobs were “hard to get,” a 16-year low. The few economists who have forecast that the unemployment rate would fall below 4% are looking prescient. So what’s to follow? Barring a repeat of 2017’s natural disasters, demand for employment seems likely to ebb headed into the second half of the year. Supply chains will be restored, tempering the need for emergency workers, and the auto recession disrupted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma appears set to resume.

In a recent report, Moody’s Vice President Rita Sahu maintained her stable outlook for the U.S. banking sector for 2018, citing the benefits of a rising rate environment and that ultralow unemployment rate. Aside from signs that the commercial sector is “overheating,” Sahu pointed to auto loans and credit cards as “negative outliers.” “Auto loan delinquencies are above pre-crisis levels at around 2.3%,” Sahu warned, “and credit card charge-offs have increased sharply to around 3.6% as of the third quarter 2017.” Those levels of distress are tame compared with dedicated non-bank lenders who are seeing 90-day serious delinquency rates run at four times those of conventional banks and credit unions.

Credit cards are merely the next step along households’ path to living beyond their means. The decline in the saving rate is the mirror image of consumer credit outstanding as it’s ballooned in recent years. As has been heavily reported, student loans have been responsible for the bulk of the buildup, followed by car loans. Over the last two years, however, credit card growth has acted as an accelerant, outpacing income growth at an increasing pace. By its very nature, credit card debt gets more expensive to carry with every rate hike the Federal Reserve pushes through. What is perhaps most unsettling in the lack of alarm among conventional economists is that so much of the debt in the current cycle is unsecured.

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Maybe the biggest problem is that there’s no successor for Merkel.

Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)

Across the cobbled square in the city of Weimar where Germany’s national assembly met in 1919, plans to mark that first, stumbling attempt at a democratic government have taken on greater significance in recent weeks. The new center for events dedicated to the short-lived Weimar Republic is due to open in 2020, but it’s already a timely reminder of the past as the country struggles with political gridlock and the rise of the far right. The upheaval that preceded World War II and the need to avoid any repeat have cast a long shadow since Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected in September with no obvious coalition partner. While no-one is predicting a return to fascism, the unexpected threat of instability at the heart of Europe’s biggest economy has alarmed business and political leaders alike.

“We couldn’t have imagined that the issue of the danger to democracy and the Weimar Republic would become so contemporary,” Weimar’s mayor, Stefan Wolf, said at his office overlooking a square flanked by the 16th century St. Peter and Paul Church. The historic echoes reflect Merkel’s tarnished election victory and Germany’s slipped halo as Europe’s anchor of liberal stability. But Weimar also serves as a powerful reminder of Germany’s sense of collective responsibility to ensure the lessons of the descent into Nazi dictatorship and war are learnt by each new generation. The current dilemma stems from the erosion of support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc and the Social Democrats, which have governed together for eight of her 12 years in office.

As backing for the two main parties ebbed, a wrench has been thrown into coalition-building, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany a prime beneficiary: it swept into parliament for the first time last year with almost 13% of the vote. According to a detailed account in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkel invoked Weimar to her party colleagues, reminding them of the reasons for the collapse of the grand coalition under Chancellor Hermann Mueller in 1930 in an attempt to steel them for compromise. Former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now Bundestag president, also recalled the need to remember the lessons of the Weimar Republic, whose collapse led to Adolf Hitler ramming through dictatorial powers three years later. “Too much polarization – meaning a competition for who’s the best anti-fascist combatant – ultimately only strengthens the right,” he said in an interview with Die Welt published on Dec. 27.

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Where would Twitter be without Trump?

Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)

Twitter on Friday reiterated its stance that accounts belonging to world leaders have special status on the social media network, pushing back against users who have called on the company to banish U.S. President Donald Trump. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said in a post on a corporate blog. Twitter had already said in September that “newsworthiness” and whether a tweet is “of public interest” are among the factors it considers before removing an account or a tweet. The debate over Trump’s tweeting, though, raged anew after Trump said from his @realDonaldTrump account on Tuesday that he had a “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Critics said that tweet and Trump’s continued presence on the network endanger the world and violate Twitter’s ban on threats of violence. Some users protested at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters on Wednesday. Twitter responded in its blog post that even if it did block a world leader, doing so would not silence that leader. The company said that it does review tweets by world leaders and enforces its rules accordingly, leaving open the possibility that it could take down some material posted by them. “No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions,” the company added. “We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.”

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Caitlin Johnstone provides balance.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)

Not a lot of people remember this, but George W Bush actually campaigned in 2000 against the interventionist foreign policy that the United States had been increasingly espousing. Far from advocating the full-scale regime change ground invasions that his administration is now infamous for, Bush frequently used the word “humble” when discussing the type of foreign policy he favored, condemning nation-building, an over-extended military, and the notion that America should be the world’s police force. Eight years later, after hundreds of thousands of human lives had been snuffed out in Iraq and Afghanistan and an entire region horrifically destabilized, Obama campaigned against Bush’s interventionist foreign policy, edging out Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries partly because she had supported the Iraq invasion while he had condemned it.

The Democrats, decrying the warmongering tendencies of the Republicans, elected a President of the United States who would see Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq and raise him Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, along with a tenfold increase in drone strikes. Libya collapsed into a failed state where a slave trade now runs rampant, and half a million people died in the Syrian war that Obama and US allies exponentially escalated. Eight years later, a reality TV star and WWE Hall-of-Famer was elected President of the United States by the other half of the crowd who was sick to death of those warmongering Democrats. Trump campaigned on a non-interventionist foreign policy, saying America should fight terrorists but not enter into regime change wars with other governments. He thrashed his primary opponents as the only one willing to unequivocally condemn Bush and his actions, then won the general election partly by attacking the interventionist foreign policy of his predecessor and his opponent, and criticizing Hillary Clinton’s hawkish no-fly zone agenda in Syria.

Now he’s approved the selling of arms to Ukraine to use against Russia, a dangerously hawkish move that even Obama refused to make for fear of increasing tensions with Moscow. His administration has escalated troop presence in Afghanistan and made it abundantly clear that the Pentagon has no intention of leaving Syria anytime soon despite the absence of any reasonable justification for US presence there. The CIA had ratcheted up operations in Iran six months into Trump’s presidency, shortly before the administration began running the exact same script against that country that the Obama administration ran on Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Maybe US presidents are limited to eight years because that’s how long it takes the public to forget everything.

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Trump depends on bubbles.

Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)

Is he fit for office? This question hangs in the air of the DC swamp like a necrotic odor that can’t be seen while it can’t be ignored. In a way, the very legitimacy of the republic comes into question — if Trump is the best we can do, maybe the system itself isn’t what it was cracked up to be. And then why would we think that removing him from office would make things better? How’s that for an existential quandary? We’re informed in The New York Times today that “Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot,” though “moron” (Rex Tillerson) and “dope” (General H.R. McMaster) figure in there as well. Imagine all the energy it must take for everyone in, say, the cabinet room to pretend that the chief executive belongs in his chair at the center.

It reminds me of that old poker game, “Indian,” where each player holds a hole card pressed outward from his forehead for all to see but him. Ill winds are blowing and dire forces are converging. Do you think that it’s a wonderful thing that the Dow Jones Industrial Average just bashed through the 25,000 gate? The President obviously thinks so. And, of course, he’s egged on by all the fawning economic viziers selling stories about a booming economy of waiters, bartenders, and espresso jockeys. But, I tell you as sure as there is a yesterday, today, and tomorrow, those stock indexes, grand as they seem, are teetering on the brink of something awesomely sickening. And when they go over that no-bid Niagara cascade into the maelstrom, Mr. Trump’s boat will be going over the falls with them.

It’s an unappetizing spectacle to watch such a tragic arc play out. After all, these are the lives of fragile, lonely, human creatures trying hard to fathom their fate. You have to feel a little sorry for them as you would feel sorry even for a sad little peccary going down one of those quicksand holes in the Okeefenokee Swamp. Surely, many feel that these are simply evil times in which goodness and mercy are AWOL. I’m not sure exactly how this story ends, but it is beginning to look like a choice between a bang and a whimper.

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How to sell your book: Make outrageous claims.

Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

The author of a book that is highly critical of Donald Trump’s first year as U.S. president said his revelations were likely to bring an end to Trump’s time in the White House. Michael Wolff told BBC radio that his conclusion in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” that Trump is not fit to do the job was becoming a widespread view. “I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview broadcast on Saturday. “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said. “Suddenly everywhere people are going ‘oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes’. That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.” Trump has dismissed the book as full of lies. It depicts a chaotic White House, a president who was ill-prepared to win the office in 2016, and Trump aides who scorned his abilities.

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Dec 232017
 
 December 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ansel Adams Boulder Dam 1941

 

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)
2017 Year In Review (David Collum)
2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)
Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)
Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)
Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)
What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)
Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)
Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

 

 

Keep the faith. It’s Christmas time after all.

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)

Bitcoin plunged Friday, taking the digital currency briefly below $11,000 and down 47% from a record high hit at the start of the week. Bitcoin had rallied to a record high above $19,800 on Sunday and was trading near $15,500 for much of Thursday New York time, according to Coinbase. But an afternoon selloff accelerated into the night, and bitcoin dropped 30.2% Friday morning to a low of $10,400 on Coinbase. It had recovered above $14,600 by Friday afternoon, off 27% from the all-time high. There were no immediately apparent explanation for the selloff and extreme volatility.

“I would say the drop in bitcoin is a result of the massive new inflows of retail investors who are relatively ‘weak hands’ and more prone to sell at the sight of falling prices than the capital that has been in the system for a while that has a longer term outlook,” Alex Sunnarborg, founding partner at cryptofund Tetras Capital, said in an email. Adding to the confusion, trading on Coinbase was disabled for more than two hours in the middle of the day. The company had more than 13 million users at the end of November. At its lows, bitcoin had fallen 47% in just five days and lost about $9,400. The digital currency erased more than $1,000 in one hour alone Friday morning.

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You’re on your own with Collum’s as always very very long review:

2017 Year In Review (David Collum)

A poem for Dave’s Year In Review

The bubble in everything grew

This nut from Cornell

Say’s we’re heading for hell

As I look at the data…#MeToo

[email protected]

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We have reviews in all sorts and sizes. But with Christmas still to come, can they be complete?!

2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)

2017 was the kind of year when no amount of showers could wash off the feeling of existential yeccchhhhh that crept over you day after day like jungle rot. You needed to go through the carwash without your car… or maybe an acid bath would get the stink off. Cinematically, if 2016 was like The Eggplant That Ate Chicago, then 2017 was more like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a gruesome glimpse into the twisted soul of America. And by that I do not mean simply our dear leader, the Golden Golem of Greatness. We’re all in this horror show together. 2017 kicked off with the report by “seventeen intelligence agencies” — did you know there were so many professional snoops and busybodies on the US payroll? — declaring that Russia, and Vladimir Putin personally, tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“Meddling” and “collusion” became the watch-words of the year: but what exactly did they mean? Buying $100,000 worth of Google ads in a campaign that the two parties spent billions on? No doubt the “seventeen intelligence agencies” the US pays for were not alert to these shenanigans until the damage was done. Since then it’s been Russia-Russia-Russia 24/7 on the news wires. A few pleas bargains have been made to lever-up the action. When and if the Special Prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, pounces, I expect the GGG to fire him, pardon some of the plea-bargained culprits (if that’s what they were and not just patsies), and incite a constitutional crisis. Won’t that be fun? Anyway, that set the tone for the inauguration of the Golden Golem, a ghastly adversarial spectacle.

Never in my memory, going back to JFK in 1960, was there such a bad vibe at this solemn transfer of power as with the sight of all those Deep State dignitaries gathering gloomily on the Capitol portico to witness the unthinkable. From the sour scowl on her face, I thought Hillary might leap up and attempt to garrote the GGG with a high-C piano wire right there on rostrum. The “greatest crowd ever” at an inauguration, as the new president saw it, looked pathetically sparse to other observers. The deed got done. Five days later, the Dow Jones stock index hit the 20,000 mark and began a year-long run like no other in history: 50 all-time-highs, and a surge of 5000 points by year’s end, with 12 solid “winning” months of uptick.

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That 15% foreign buyers tax didn’t help much.

Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)

Foreign buyers are driving up the prices of homes in Canada’s two largest housing markets, according to research which will intensify the debate around overseas property ownership in the expensive cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While people living outside Canada own less than 5% of residential properties in the two cities, those homes are worth significantly more than those held by residents, according to a Reuters analysis of data released this week by Statistics Canada. Public debate over the role of foreign investment in Canada has reached a fever pitch, with locals saying price increases of 60% in Vancouver and 40% in Toronto over the past three years are keeping them out of the market. In Toronto, the average value of a detached home built in 2016-2017 and owned by a non-resident is C$1.7m (US$1.3m), a whopping 48.7% higher than C$1.1m for residents.

Those values for Vancouver average a lofty C$2.5m for non-residents and C$1.8m for residents for a difference of 40.6%. Among all detached homes, not just new ones, those owned by non-residents were larger than residents’ houses by 13.1% in Vancouver and 2.2% in Toronto. The new data reinforces anecdotal evidence that foreign buyers tend to focus on the most affluent neighborhoods, said Jane Londerville, a real estate professor at the University of Guelph in Southern Ontario. “If the goal is to get a couple million dollars out of their country and put it in a very safe, calm economy, you might as well buy a C$2m house,” she said. “So they’re buying in Forest Hill in Toronto and Kerrisdale in Vancouver.” The Statscan data does not look at sales, or flow, but rather is a static snapshot of ownership of housing stock at the time of collection.

Foreign capital also targets new condos, with new Vancouver units owned by non-residents valued at 19.7% more than those owned by residents. In Toronto, the difference is 11.2%. “There’s been a huge spike in foreign ownership in newer buildings,” said Diana Petramala, senior researcher at Ryerson University’s urban policy centre in Toronto. [..] A 15% foreign buyers tax was imposed in Vancouver in 2016 and Toronto in 2017 amid a backlash against foreign buyers, particularly from China. This has cooled both markets at least temporarily.

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Canada doesn’t want to solve the issue anymore than any other country does.

Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)

“Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 27 year low for Canadian housing affordability. That’s right, real estate across Canada has not been this un affordable since the year 1990 per RBC. Spoiler alert house prices tumbled shortly thereafter. RBC Bank released their updated Q3 numbers for housing affordability. To no surprise, Vancouver leads the nation in the most unaffordable market to buy a home. Followed by Toronto and then Victoria. “The deterioration in the latest two quarters, in fact, put Vancouver buyers in the worst affordability position ever recorded in Canada.“ The area experienced the sharpest affordability drop among Canada’s major markets between the second and third quarters. RBC’s aggregate measure surged by 5.3 percentage points to 87.5%. This represents a new record high for any market in Canada. We see further downside to Vancouver’s home ownership rate in the period ahead. The rate fell from 65.5% in 2011 to 63.7% in 2016.”

What RBC didn’t mention in their report is the correlation between elevated house prices that cause affordability issues and recessions. When too much household money is spent servicing mortgage payments it eventually becomes a drag on consumer spending and ultimately triggers a recession. This is not to suggest a recession is imminent. But when the percent of income the median family would have to use to service debt pushes above 50% in Toronto and Vancouver, a recession typically follows in Canada. Currently Toronto is at 71.7%, and Vancouver is at 79.87%. With the Bank of Canada expected to follow our US counter parts in 2018, a couple more interest rate increases are sure to erode affordability even further. Across Canada, Household income would need to climb by 8.5% to fully cover the increase in homeownership costs arising from a 75 basis-point hike in mortgage rates. Buckle in.

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Would you bet on MBS?

Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)

In case you were wondering what the going-rate was for one of the world’s richest men’s freedom… it’s $6 billion… in unencumbered cash (not Bitcoin). That is the price that Saudi authorities are demanding from Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to free him from detention. The 62-year-old prince was one of the dozens of royals, government officials and businesspeople rounded up early last month in a wave of arrests the Saudi government billed as the first volley in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign against widespread graft. According to the Mail, al-Waleed, who is (or was, until recently) one of the richest men in the world, has also been hung upside down and beaten.

The Saudi government has disclosed few details of its allegations against the accused, but as The Wall Street Journal reports, people familiar with the matter said the $6 billion Saudi officials are demanding from Prince al-Waleed, a large stakeholder in Western businesses like Twitter, is among the highest figures they have sought from those arrested. While the prince’s fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion by Forbes – which would make him the Middle East’s wealthiest individual – he has indicated that he believes raising and handing over that much cash as an admission of guilt and would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years. Prince al-Waleed is talking with the government about instead accepting as payment for his release a large piece of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Co., people familiar with the matter said.

The Riyadh-listed company’s market value is $8.7 billion, down about 14% since the prince’s arrest. Kingdom Holding said in November that it retained the support of the Saudi government and that its strategy “remains intact.” According to a senior Saudi official, Prince al-Waleed faces accusations that include money laundering, bribery and extortion. The official didn’t elaborate, but said the Saudi government is merely “having an amicable exchange to reach a settlement.” The prince has indicated to people close to him that he is determined to prove his innocence and would fight the corruption allegations in court if he had to. “He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give MBS a hard time,” said a person close to Prince al-Waleed, referring to the crown prince by his initials, as many do.

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As I said yesterday, this won’t’ be as big as subprime houseing, but it’ll be much messier: “The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.”

What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)

Automotive credit has become easier in the last few years, and manufacturers are still seeking whatever growth they can come up with in our market at any cost. People are buying cars they can’t afford or shouldn’t even have been able to buy. Used car depreciation is at an all time high for many cars and yet everyday more and more people are trading them in. This whole scenario has a bleak end that became evident when I went to my buddy Paris’ repo lot. He called me to check out a 2016 BMW 435i he jacked for BMW Financial Services. It was a beautiful Estoril Blue M-Sport car with just under eight thousand miles on the clock. I could only imagine the circumstances where someone let go of a year old BMW, but as we walked through I noticed all of the cars seemed to be nearly new.

Paris confirmed my fears when he told my about nine-out-of-ten vehicles he’s repossessed in the last few months were model year 2016 or newer. To make matters worse Paris only does work for prime and a few captive lenders, meaning a majority of these cars went out to consumers with good credit. On the other end, every time I look up from my desk there is a customer who is absolutely drowned in their vehicle. Six thousand dollars in negative equity is the norm, but I’ve witnessed numbers as high as twenty thousand in the last year. Customers are always astounded by how their car has lost so much of its value so quickly. What they fail to realise is their car was worthless from the beginning. Rebates and incentives are at an all time high at many manufacturers, J.D. Power quoted an average around four thousand dollars earlier this year, and I’m sure that number has risen since then. The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.

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Keep squeezing, there’s still some blood left there.

Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)

Auxiliary pensions appear headed for a fresh cut in 2018, as the single auxiliary social security fund (ETEAEP) will end 2017 with a deficit, against the small surplus originally forecast. Crucially, while the ETEAEP budget for next year provides for a surplus of €176.01 million, expenditure on pensions will be reduced by 150 million euros. Based on the latest social security laws introduced by former minister Giorgos Katrougalos and current minister Effie Achtsioglou, the new auxiliary pensions – when they are finally issued – will be reduced by 22% on average, with a cut of up to 18% expected to existing pensions in 2019. The provisions of the ETEAEP budget that Kathimerini has seen suggest that existing pensions might be cut as early as next year. The single auxiliary social security fund is now projecting a deficit of €166.6 million for this year, compared to an original forecast for a €10.07 million surplus.

For next year’s surplus of 176.007 million euros to be attained, spending on auxiliary pensions will have to be reduced from €4.30 billion in 2016 and €4.17 billion this year to €4.02 billion in 2018. This means the sum of auxiliary pensions will decline by 3.59% next year. Revenues from next year’s social security contributions are estimated at €2.68 billion, against €2.566 billion this year (compared to a forecast for €2.581 billion). The ETEAEP budget also shows that the fund sold bonds worth €200 million this yea – at a considerable loss – while next year it will need to cash in bonds worth €80 million from the special fund at the Bank of Greece. In total, takings from the fund’s cash and bond handling for this year are estimated at €397.14 million, against an original projection of €200.54 million. Revenues from the utilization or sale of assets will amount to an estimated €311.65 million next year.

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How typical is this of mankind on the verge of 2018? The idea is environmental problems can be solved by putting monetary values on everything. The idea is as wrong as it is stupid. Cleaning the planet will not be done for monetary reasons.

Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said. Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS. The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create. Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050.

“Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.” In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste.

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