Oct 282018
 
 October 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali City of drawers – The Anthropomorphic Cabinet 1936

 

OECD Countries’ Retirement Assets Surpass $43 Trillion In 2017 (PiO)
As The Housing Market Stagnates, American Homeowners Are Staying Put (MW)
Economist Slams ‘China Model’ That ‘Inevitably Leads To Confrontation’ (SCMP)
Rand Paul Seeks To Punish Saudi Arabia For Khashoggi Killing (Pol.)
Saudi Arabia Says It Is A Beacon Of Light Fighting ‘Dark’ Iran (G.)
EU To Make Contingency Plans For A Second Brexit Referendum (Ind.)
Germany’s Fragile Coalition Braced For More Upsets (G.)
Russia-Turkey-Germany-France Talks On Syria Kick Off (RT)
“My” Suspended Twitter Account (Paul Craig Roberts)
Mexico Honors Migrants At Day Of The Dead As Caravan Treks North (R.)

 

 

2/3(?!) of it is in the US.

OECD Countries’ Retirement Assets Surpass $43 Trillion In 2017 (PiO)

Retirement assets in OECD countries hit a record $43.4 trillion at the end of 2017, well above the pre-crisis level. The OECD said in its annual Pension Markets in Focus report that assets invested in all funded and private pension systems across 87 jurisdictions grew 12.1% over the year, and increased 53.9% compared with figures at the end of 2007. The report said assets are unevenly distributed worldwide, with less than $200 billion across 78% of the reporting countries, while 8% held more than $1 trillion each: the U.S. with about $28.2 trillion; the U.K. with $2.9 trillion; Canada at $2.6 trillion; Australia with $1.8 trillion; the Netherlands with $1.6 trillion; Japan at $1.4 trillion; and Switzerland with $1 trillion. The remaining 9% of assets, or about $3.9 trillion, are split among the other 29 OECD countries.

The largest amounts of assets are located in some of the biggest economies in the world and with a long history of retirement savings. High investment returns from equity markets partially explain the growth of these assets, said the report, with the real net investment rate of return on retirement assets exceeding 4% on average in 2017. U.S. retirement plans achieved a 7.5% real net investment rate of return in 2017, added the OECD. Funding levels for DB funds improved in the U.S., to 59.6% at end-2017 from 56% a year earlier; but worsened from 2007 figures of 68.6%. The funding ratio was calculated as the ratio of total investment and net technical provisions for occupational defined benefit plans using values reported by national authorities in the OECD template.

U.K. funding levels improved to 90.5% as of the end of 2017, up from 85.8% a year earlier, but down from 108.8% as of the end of 2007. Denmark had the highest funding level of OECD countries in the report, at 135.1%. However, that level was down from 146.1% a year earlier, but improved over the 127.4% funding level as of the end of 2007.

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Bad time to become a real estate agent.

As The Housing Market Stagnates, American Homeowners Are Staying Put (MW)

Housing-market headwinds are keeping American homeowners in their properties for the longest stretches on record, in a sharp distortion of the mobility Americans have for decades prized. Across the country, homes that sold in the third quarter of this year had been owned an average of 8.23 years, according to an analysis from Attom Data Solutions. That’s almost double the length of time a home sold in 2000, when Attom’s data begin, had been owned. It’s partly the long tail of the housing crisis that’s created stagnant conditions and a less dynamic housing market, Attom spokesman Daren Blomquist told MarketWatch.

As of the second quarter, 2.2 million homeowners were still underwater on their mortgages, meaning they owe more to their lending institution than the home is worth, according to data from CoreLogic. Another 550,000 have 5% equity or less, meaning that if that property were to be sold the transaction costs, such as a real-estate agent’s commission, would likely leave the homeowner with nothing. The hypercompetitive market that’s emerged from the wreckage of the crisis is also keeping people in place. Many homeowners have ample equity in their homes, but hesitate to list those homes because they’re worried about finding a property to buy if they do sell. A few others may be trapped by “rate lock” — enjoying the benefits of their ultralow mortgage rates, and unwilling to spend more on financing costs.

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Interesting that he gets to say it.

Economist Slams ‘China Model’ That ‘Inevitably Leads To Confrontation’ (SCMP)

Using the “China model” to explain the country’s economic success over the past four decades is wrong and dangerous, according to an influential Chinese economist, who says this misconception has inevitably led to antagonism between China and the West. Zhang Weiying, one of the most prominent liberal economists in the country and a professor at prestigious Peking University, made the comments in a lecture on October 14. An edited version of his speech was published on the university’s website on Wednesday. The speech is a wholesale negation of the “China model” theory that has gained traction in recent years, as the country becomes more confident in promoting its own development path under President Xi Jinping.

Zhang lashes out at those who attribute China’s economic growth to an exceptional “China model”, which includes a powerful one-party state, a colossal state sector and “wise” industrial policy, saying it is not only factually wrong, but also detrimental to the country’s future. “The theory of the ‘China model’ sets China as a frightening anomaly from the Western perspective, and inevitably leads to confrontation between China and the West,” he said. “The hostile international environment we face today is not irrelevant to the wrong interpretation of China’s achievement in the past 40 years by some economists.”

The economist’s rejection of the “China model” comes as debates about the country’s economic future are heating up. The world’s second largest economy is losing steam – growth is at its slowest pace since 2009 – as it marks 40 years since its market reforms. At home, it is grappling with a mountain of debt, plunging stocks and an ailing private sector. Abroad, tensions over the prolonged trade war with the United States appear to be spilling over into defence, diplomacy and politics. Zhang said the trade war not only reflected conflict between China and the US, but between China and the larger Western world. It also went beyond trade to reflect the clash over value systems, he said.

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Like his dad, strongly anti-war.

Rand Paul Seeks To Punish Saudi Arabia For Khashoggi Killing (Pol.)

Sen. Rand Paul says he’s not going to let Saudi Arabia off the hook after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Turkey by agents linked to the Saudi government. The Kentucky Republican said Saturday he’s intent on forcing another vote to block billions in arm sales to the autocratic Middle Eastern kingdom and won’t settle for targeted sanctions, seeking to capitalize on negative public sentiment surrounding the Oct. 2 killing. “Are we going to do fake sanctions? Are we going to pretend to do something by putting sanctions on 15 thugs. Or are we going to do something that hurts them?” Paul said in an interview here, explaining that he thinks Saudi Arabia is trying to wait him out until Khashoggi fades from the headlines before announcing the arms sale, which would allow him to try and stop it.

“They know if they have the vote they might lose. So they’re probably not going to make any announcement until this dies down,” Paul said. Rather than focusing simply on Khashoggi, Paul has made a broader critique of Saudi Arabia as supporting “violent Jihad” and a brutal civil war in Yemen. But he’s noticed a substantive shift in the way his colleagues are now talking about the country. [..] Paul, a longtime Saudi critic, has previously forced votes to block the arms sales, but they have failed given a strong hawkish wing in the Senate that wants to keep a key ally against Iranian influence in the Middle East. Paul says that has changed. “We would win the vote right now. It would be a very bad vote if 60, 65, or even 70 people voted to cut the arms sales for now and the president were to veto that, that would be bad,” he said.

President Donald Trump has been more circumspect when discussing arms sales, questioning the wisdom of canceling sales that he believes creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. Paul said he’s tried to convince the president to come to his position, but he’s not there yet. “He says he doesn’t want to disrupt the arm sales. And it’s something we have an honest disagreement on. I don’t think arms are jobs programs,” Paul said. He said their “discussions aren’t really that much that back and forth.” [..] Paul also broke further with the president on foreign policy. He called it a “terrible idea” for the United States to back away from nuclear and weapons agreements with Russia and said he’s asked Trump to appoint nuclear negotiators in a bid to preserve the NEW START treaty and the INF agreement.

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Not sure how this would help their case at this point.

Saudi Arabia Says It Is A Beacon Of Light Fighting ‘Dark’ Iran (G.)

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has described the kingdom as a “vision of light” in the region as it tries to control the fallout from Jamal Khashoggi’s killing – its biggest diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks. After more than two weeks of international outrage over the journalist and dissident’s death, Adel al-Jubeir sought to portray the country as the moral beacon of the Middle East, in stark opposition to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival. “We are now dealing with two visions in the Middle East,” Jubeir told a security summit in Bahrain on Saturday. “One is a [Saudi] vision of light … One is [an Iranian] vision of darkness which seeks to spread sectarianism throughout the region. History tells us that light always wins out against the dark.”

Condemning the media coverage of Khashoggi’s killing as “hysterical”, Jubeir rejected a call from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, to try the 18 suspects in Turkey, stressing that they would be “held accountable” on Saudi soil. [..] Erdogan reiterated during an address to parliament on Friday that Riyadh must disclose the location of Khashoggi’s body and identify who ordered his killing – a sign that Ankara is willing to keep up the pressure on the beleaguered kingdom and its de facto ruler, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. [..] Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, who also spoke at the summit in Manama, said that Khashoggi’s killing had “undermined regional stability”. Washington was considering additional punitive measures against those responsible after issuing visa bans for the suspects in the case, Mattis added.

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5 months left. Nothing decided on.

EU To Make Contingency Plans For A Second Brexit Referendum (Ind.)

The EU’s chief negotiator has been warned to make contingency plans for a second Brexit referendum, as pressure builds to give the public a final say on leaving. Prominent Remain politicians met with Michel Barnier in Brussels this week and said it was time to start “serious contingency planning”, as The Independent’s petition neared one million signatures and the future of Brexit looks increasingly uncertain. In a visit on Friday, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, told Mr Barnier that the negotiating period should be extended so Britain could have “time to have a referendum”. The warning comes after 700,000 people took to the streets of London last weekend to make the case for a vote on the final deal.

For there to be time to hold a referendum, the EU would likely have to extend the Article 50 negotiating period, which will automatically expire on 29 March 2019, leaving Britain to slide out with a no-deal Brexit. The calls for an extension came from across a number of parties. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said following a meeting with Mr Barnier on Thursday: “My message to Michel Barnier was clear: it’s time to start serious contingency planning for a People’s Vote. We know the UK government has started making such plans as a result of the growing demand for such a vote, demonstrated by last weekend’s march. “The EU should do the same, because MPs who back the People’s Vote are fast forming the biggest and most cohesive bloc in Westminster.”

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This will have an increasing effect on Europe as a whole. Who’s going to listen to Merkel as she’s fading at home?

Germany’s Fragile Coalition Braced For More Upsets (G.)

[..] voters in the central state of Hesse have the power to deliver a second electoral upset within a fortnight to Germany’s embattled ruling parties, potentially plunging both into fresh crises. The regional election is seen as decisive for the future of Merkel’s rickety coalition government. Last-minute polling showed support plummeting for both her Christian Democrat Union (CDU) and coalition partner the Social Democrats (SPD) in a swing state traditionally seen as a bellwether for national politics. Both parties were predicted to drop 10 points each since the state’s last regional election in 2013. Such a trouncing would come on the heels of a disastrous result in Bavaria that was widely seen as a protest against the failings of the Berlin government.

“None of the parties are there for us,” said Müller, who has voted for both CDU and SPD in the past, but was still undecided. “What should I do? I have to vote, it’s my duty to stop the far right getting into power. But I also know I won’t be heard. I can vote for whoever I like; the politicians will still do whatever they want.” Hesse, home to Germany’s financial centre, Frankfurt, has been governed by CDU-led coalitions for the past two decades. But polls have the party nosediving to 28%, a result that would end the state’s CDU-Green coalition and leave a question mark over the future of CDU state premier and close Merkel ally Volker Bouffier.

With tensions running high in the CDU, mutinous members have implied that if Bouffier falls, it may cost the chancellor vital votes when she stands for re-election as party leader at its conference in early December. But Merkel, who joined Bouffier on the campaign trail last week, was at pains to play down the significance of the regional vote for her party, government and chancellorship. “Hesse, and what happens here, is being watched and considered from far beyond Germany’s borders,” Merkel told supporters on Thursday in Fulda. “I want to point out once again that on Sunday the vote is about Hesse. Afterwards we’ll talk again about Berlin.”

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The fighting in Idlib must cease. It’s the only outcome.

Russia-Turkey-Germany-France Talks On Syria Kick Off (RT)

Leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France have gathered in Istanbul to discuss the Syrian peace process. While the outcome of such tricky talks is hard to predict, the new format appears to be, at least, quite refreshing. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Istanbul on Saturday to talk Syrian reconciliation. The host, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has put high expectations on the gathering. “The whole world is watching this meeting. I hope, that the hopes will be met,” Erdogan said, while opening the summit. The four leaders are also expected to be joined by UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The four-way summit is an entirely new format of talks on the war-torn country, which has endured years-long conflict. The meeting is all about testing the waters and trying to bring about different formats of talks on Syria, as if the leaders were to “synchronize watches” rather than reach a breakthrough, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Similar opinion was expressed by Germany, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stating that the summit effectively brings different sides together for the very first time. “There are Russians and Turks, who have been at the same format of talks with Iran. And on the other side, there are French and us, who partake in the so-called ‘Friends of Syria’ group,” Maas said ahead of the event, adding that having a “joint conversation” was a viable idea.

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Turns out, the story was a bit different than many reported.

“My” Suspended Twitter Account (Paul Craig Roberts)

Dear Readers:

It is all over the internet and international media that Twitter has suspended my account. This is not the case. I do not use social media. I discovered that a Twitter account was operating in my name. I requested that the account be taken down. I have no recollection of giving anyone permission to operate a Twitter account in my name. I am still extremely busy trying to help family relatives impacted by Hurricane Michael and could only quickly look at the Twitter postings. It seemed to be mainly innocuous, consisting of links or quotes from my posted columns.

However, there were other things, such as appeals that money be sent to Alex Jones InfoWars and other things. I have no objection to Alex Jones. However, my webmaster and I were concerned that things could be posted that would be dangerous for me, such as libel, death threats to others, and so forth. To repeat, the account was closed at my request. To repeat, I do not use social media.

Paul Craig Roberts

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There’s something cynical about this, but also beautiful.

Mexico Honors Migrants At Day Of The Dead As Caravan Treks North (R.)

Mexico City dedicated its Day of the Dead parade on Saturday to migrants, just as thousands of Central Americans were trekking from the country’s southern border toward the United States under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to disband. In an a twist on the traditional dancing skeletons and marigold-adorned altars making their way down the capital’s main thoroughfare, the parade also referenced Mexicans who emigrated as well as foreigners who settled in the capital. “The parade… is dedicated to migrants, who in their transit to other countries have lost their lives, and who in their passing through the country have contributed to a true ‘Refuge City,’” the Mexico City government said on Twitter.

In one segment, gray metallic panels representing the Mexico side of the U.S. border wall were stenciled with the phrase, “There are also dreams on this side.” Other presentations honored exiled Spaniards, Argentineans and Jews, Mexico City’s culture ministry said. The event ahead of Nov. 1 and 2, when Mexicans observe Day of the Dead in town squares, homes and cemeteries, coincided by chance with the journey of a migrant caravan traveling into Mexico, many fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras and Guatemala.

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Oct 222018
 
 October 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Autumn landscape with four trees 1885

 

5 Companies That Spent Big On Stock Buybacks As Pension Funding Lagged (MW)
How Everything Has Changed Since Trump Became President (CNBC)
Trump Right To Blame Fed for Next Market Crash – Dave Janda (USAW)
Democrats Slide In Battle For Senate (Hill)
Erdogan Says Will Reveal Details Of Khashoggi Case Tuesday (DS)
No Arms For Riyadh While Khashoggi Questions Remain – Merkel (R.)
Germany Urges Other EU States To Also Stop Arms Exports To Saudi Arabia
Merkel to Resign: ‘Wants To Replace Juncker As European Commission Chief’ (VoE)
Italian Bank Fears Expected To Grow After Debt Downgrade (G.)
Brexit Deal Is 95% Settled, Theresa May To Tell Commons (G.)
Sydney Property Slowdown Bites As Auction Clearance Rates Tumble (G.)

 

 

Madness. Should never be allowed. Why do you have a pension fund when you are free not to contribute to it?

5 Companies That Spent Big On Stock Buybacks As Pension Funding Lagged (MW)

Even as corporate executives engage in a spree of share buybacks to spur stock prices higher, many have eschewed adding to their employee’s pension pots. That’s according to Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence who picked out a few of the more standout firms whose “enthusiasm for funding pensions was subpar compared to buybacks.” She lined up five of the worst offenders to illustrate that in the pursuit of higher stock prices and shareholder value corporations often left other pressing needs to languish. They include the likes of Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin. In the chart below, the amount of buybacks and pension contributions between 2009 and 2017 for the five companies is compared alongside their respective pension funding ratio, which represents how much the company can deliver on its future pension obligations as a percentage of the plan’s total assets.

One case Booth highlights in the chart is American Airlines. Though, the airline carried around $18.3 billion of pension obligations, its pension system was only 62% funded even after a nine-year bull market. Market participants have cited the prevalence of share repurchases to the stock market’s searing rise in the past few years, even as equities retreated from their record highs in October. A report by Goldman Sachs said share buybacks could hit a record $1 trillion this year, nearly doubling last year’s haul.

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For now.

How Everything Has Changed Since Trump Became President (CNBC)

Since Donald Trump won the presidency, he has presided over both one the most tumultuous political times in recent memory, as well as the best economy the country has seen since well before the financial crisis. Consumer and small business confidence is up — but so are both the national debt and budget deficit. The chart below, using mostly data compiled by Goldman Sachs, quantifies just how much things changed from the days just before the election in November 2016 through September 2018. Of course, the stock market has weakened in October, which has been its historically most volatile month. The chart doesn’t include GDP, which has averaged 2.72 percent since Trump took over, compared to the 1.6 percent gain in 2016. But the numbers provide a solid overview of how conditions have evolved during the 45th president’s time in office.

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No, it’s the low interest rates that will cause a market crash. It’s the manipulation.

Trump Right To Blame Fed for Next Market Crash – Dave Janda (USAW)

Radio host Dr. Dave Janda says everybody in Washington knows the next big crash is right around the corner. It’s been 10 years since the Fed reflated the last meltdown, and Dr. Janda says President Trump is already blaming the Federal Reserve for killing the economy that his policies revived. Dr. Janda explains, “President Trump has been pointing the finger at the Fed. He’s been pointing the finger at the Fed, and that is exactly where he should be pointing. The globalist syndicate’s tentacle is the central banking system, and, in particular, in the United States, the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is one of the entities that is directly responsible for this financial mess our country is currently in.

You would never see Obama or the Bushes, or Bill Clinton, point at the Fed and say what Trump has said. Trump said, ‘I think the Fed has gone crazy. I think the Fed is making a mistake. They’re so tight with interest rates. I think the Fed has gone crazy.’ Just the other day, Trump said, ‘My biggest threat is the Fed. . . . The Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s too independent.’ Now, wait a minute, listen to that. It’s too independent. When was the last time a president of the United States said the Fed was too independent? . . . . Banking groups, that is their priority. So, when the President says the Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s my biggest enemy, and too independent, what he is saying is they are looking out for their own interests.

They are not looking out for the interests of our country or for you or for me or for any American, and he’s right. I don’t know of any other president that has had the guts to say this.” So, what happens next? Dr. Janda says, “Trump knew this thing was rigged to blow, the economy, the financial system, and when the right time came, he would start pointing the finger at the globalists, the Fed. I believe that’s where we are right now.”

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As predicted.

Democrats Slide In Battle For Senate (Hill)

The battle for control of the Senate is looking worse and worse for Democrats, who just a month ago saw a path to the majority but now increasingly look like they could lose more seats and have a smaller minority next year. Republicans have seen a bump in the polls in several key races since Labor Day. They believe momentum has flipped to their party since the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President Trump is popular. Two states where Democrats had hopes of pulling major upsets — Texas and Tennessee — have moved in favor of Republicans.

Races in Nevada and Arizona, two other states where Democrats had hoped to make gains, remain tight, but Republicans feel more confident about their candidates. Meanwhile, the tide has moved against Democratic candidates in a couple of states that Trump won by double digits in 2016. In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D), who seemed poised for victory a month ago, has seen his race tighten amid attacks by the president. There is some good news for Democrats in the polls. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has maintained a healthy average lead of 9 points in the polls, despite running in a state that Trump won by a whopping 42 points in 2016.

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Do the US and Riyadh know what he knows?

Erdogan Says Will Reveal Details Of Khashoggi Case Tuesday (DS)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that he will make important statements on Tuesday at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting regarding the investigation on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, who was admittedly killed by Saudi authorities. “We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth. This is not an ordinary case. I will make statements on Tuesday at the AK Party parliamentary group meeting. The incident will be revealed entirely,” said Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul.

His comments are likely to heighten speculation that Turkey may be about to reveal some of the results of its investigations into the killing of the dissident journalist [..] Turkish newspapers have released information detailing a 15-member team that purportedly arrived in Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate. “Why did these 15 people come here (to Istanbul), why were 18 people arrested (in Saudi Arabia)? These need to be explained in detail,” Erdogan said. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Saturday said 18 people were arrested in connection with the incident. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate.

“If the incident transpired as it has been told across the world, there is no way Saudi officials can cover this up by saying a team from Saudi Arabia came and two or three men among them murdered him,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AK Party, told broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview. “A crime committed in a consulate cannot be carried out without the knowledge of the senior state officials of that country. If this crime was really carried out as has been said, if the evidence really leads to that conclusion, the situation will be dire and this must have very serious legal consequences.”

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Not that Germany sells all that much.

No Arms For Riyadh While Khashoggi Questions Remain – Merkel (R.)

Germany will not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi persists, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday. Campaigning for her party in a regional election, Merkel repeated to a news conference her earlier condemnation of Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi Arabia admitted had taken place inside its consulate in Istanbul. “First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she said. “Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened – we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account … As far as arms exports are concerned, those can’t take place in the current circumstances.”

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But look at the UK. Will they stop arms exports?

Germany Urges Other EU States To Also Stop Arms Exports To Saudi Arabia

Germany wants other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as uncertainty remains over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. Riyadh has given multiple and conflicting accounts on what led to Khashoggi’s death on Oct. 2 at its consulate in Istanbul. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the killing a “huge and grave mistake” but sought to shield Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as the uncertainty around Khashoggi’s death persisted.

Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel, said Riyadh’s explanations on the case so far had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Altmaier told ZDF broadcaster. So far this year the German government had approved weapons exports worth more than 400 million euros ($462 million) to Saudi Arabia, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria. [..] Altmaier said other EU states should stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia in order to increase pressure on Riyadh over the Khashoggi case. “For me it would be important that we come to a joint European stance,” Altmaier said.

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A popular job.

Merkel to Resign: ‘Wants To Replace Juncker As European Commission Chief’ (VoE)

Bavaria’s state election last weekend proved painful for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In yet another election next week, Ms. Merkel is expected to see further discomfiture. The German leader could resign from her post at the December CDU party conference in December in order to take another senior European position. “Rumours are swirling in Brussels that Merkel could run for the European Commission next year”, Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen tells the BBC. As Jean-Claude Juncker gets ready to retire as European Commission President next year, there have been suggestions that French President Emanuel Macron is considering a run, Italy’s fierce and most popular politician in Italy’s history Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has also been asked to run, and now Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel could potentially be throwing her hat into the ring.

May the best Italian win!

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What happens when the vigilantes decide it’s time?

Italian Bank Fears Expected To Grow After Debt Downgrade (G.)

Fears that Italy’s banks face a black hole in their finances are expected to grow this week following a debt downgrade that could send the value of bank reserves plummeting. Despite efforts to shore up Italian banks’ reserves, a downgrade by the ratings agency Moody’s on Friday following a row between Rome and Brussels over the government’s budget could send them into freefall again. A senior government official added to the tension on Sunday by issuing a warning that Italy should not ignore the deteriorating financial situation and its effect on the country’s banks, including possible capital needs. Giancarlo Giorgetti said in a newspaper interview that a fire sale of Italian government bonds over the last five months had put huge pressure on bank reserves and could trigger a second crisis in two years.

The budget plans of Italy‘s populist government, which breach EU borrowing rules, have prompted investors to shed €67bn ($77bn) of Italian government bonds since May. The effect has been to push values down and the interest rate on government bonds, referred to as the yield, to more than three percentage points higher than safer German bonds. “The increase in the [bond yield] spread, the amount of public debt banks hold and new European Union banking rules put the industry under pressure and may generate the need to recapitalise the most fragile lenders,” said Giorgetti, who is an influential member of the far-right League, one of the two parties in Italy’s ruling coalition.

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But the remaining 5% were always the hardest, so nothing really changed.

Brexit Deal Is 95% Settled, Theresa May To Tell Commons (G.)

Theresa May will tell the Commons on Monday that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its protocols are settled as she seeks to demonstrate to anxious MPs in her own party that she is making headway in the increasingly fraught divorce talks. The prime minister is expected to confirm she has resolved with the EU the future status of Gibraltar, developed a protocol around the UK’s military base in Cyprus and agreed a mechanism for resolving any future disputes with the EU.

Taking the unusual step of briefing planned remarks to the Commons in advance, May will conclude that “taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled” in talks that she has until now largely insisted on keeping secret. The prime minister is scheduled to make a statement on Monday afternoon, after intense criticism from the Tory right for appearing to have made no progress other than indicating at last week’s European summit that she was open to extending the post-Brexit transition period, prompting renewed speculation about a leadership challenge.

A clearly rattled Downing Street held two conference calls with cabinet ministers over the weekend to update them on the European summit before a cabinet discussion on Brexit on Tuesday. Concerns were raised about the transition period and time-limiting the Irish backstop. “No one is in the mood to be bounced,” said one cabinet source. May intends to show the progress made by highlighting all the specific areas of agreement already reached, including settling the divorce bill at £39bn, having an implementation period until at least the end of 2020 and recognising the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa.

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Down under goes further down.

Sydney Property Slowdown Bites As Auction Clearance Rates Tumble (G.)

Sydney’s housing market is facing the toughest conditions since the global financial crisis after auction rates slumped again at the weekend, with analysts predicting that the slowdown could get much worse in the months ahead. Australia’s biggest city saw only 44% of 567 listed properties sold at the weekend, according to Domain, the lowest preliminary clearance rate for a decade. The figure is likely to be revised down below 40%, a level of downturn not seen for a decade. The last time rates were in the 30% range was November 2008, at the peak of the global financial crisis. The two instances before that were May 2004, when New South Wales introduced vendor stamp duty, and July 1989, when interest rates were 17%.

Equally striking is the collapse in the total amount changing hands at auctions across the city, which sank to $160m at the weekend compared with $484m on the same weekend a year ago – a drop of about two-thirds. The decline in the property market, which AMP’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, thinks could fall 20% before bottoming out in 2020, has been most marked in Sydney where prices are down around 6.3% from the peak in 2017 as buyers drop out owing to tougher credit standards and falling confidence. The clearance rate in Melbourne at the weekend was below 50% on a much greater number of properties (nearly 1,000). But the dollar volume of auction sales shows a similar decline across the country, where buyers spent $453m at the weekend compared with $1.3bn the same weekend last year.

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Aug 172018
 
 August 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Brick factory at Tortosa 1909

 

Emerging Markets and US Treasuries (Albert Edwards)
Asia the Next Source of Downside Systemic Risk for Financial Markets (WS)
Trump Says US ‘Will Pay Nothing’ To Turkey For Release Of Detained Pastor (R.)
Lira Rallies As Turkey Pledges Spending Cuts To Avoid IMF Bailout (G.)
Turkish Tremors Will Cause Shocks In Britain (Times)
$125,000: The Pension Debt Each Chicago Household Is On The Hook For (WP)
Russian Oil Industry Would Weather US ‘Bill From Hell’ (R.)
NATO Repeats the Great Mistake of the Warsaw Pact (SCF)
Italy’s NATO Racket… A Bridge Too Far (SCF)
Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral And Ethical” Crisis (IC)
Jury in Paul Manafort’s Case Asks Judge to Redefine ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (BBG)

 

 

From an email sent to Mish.

Emerging Markets and US Treasuries (Albert Edwards)

Turkey has discovered that high and rising foreign-denominated debt never sits well with a huge current account deficit and a reluctance to raise interest rates. The problem though is that this is not about Turkey or even EM. It is as always, about the Fed. When the most important person in the free world starts lobbing macro hand-grenades in an effort to drain the swamp, the financial markets will always eventually react badly. No, I am not talking about President Trump with his tweets about imposing tariffs on Turkey. I am actually talking about Fed Chair Jerome Powell draining the global liquidity swamp.

Make no mistake, whatever the macro-idiosyncrasies of Turkey, the key to the current turmoil that is spreading into EM generally, is Fed tightening and the strong dollar. As we have repeated ad infinitum, since 1950 there have been 13 Fed tightening cycles, 10 of them ended in recession and the others usually saw the EM blow up – such as the 1994 collapse in the Mexican peso. The Fed always tightens until something breaks. It is usually its own economy, but sometimes it is the EM’s. And when the liquidity tide goes out we always find out who is swimming naked. If it hadn’t been Turkey it would eventually have been someone else.

To be sure the unfolding EM crisis has been building for many years. And just as investors ignored the naysayers in the run-up to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), they have ignored the IMF and BIS, who have been cautioning for some years about the explosive build-up in EM debt and especially dollar-denominated debt. According to the BIS, total dollar-denominated debt outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, and about a third of this debt is owed by the EM nonfinancial sector. EM specialists, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), have also warned about this build-up in EM foreign-denominated debt. They too note that the EM corporate sector has been leading the explosion of debt, with Turkey standing out for the increase in its exposure since the GFC. Turkey has never managed to escape membership of ‘The Fragile Five’ EM country club.

 

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Dollar shortages.

Asia the Next Source of Downside Systemic Risk for Financial Markets (WS)

“Except for an expected short-term reprieve, we expect these tighter USD conditions to remain in place for the rest of the year,” the strategists write. “That is unless policy makers react soon to stimulate financial markets with liquidity.” “Southeast Asia stands out again as in 1997/8, with a large amount of USD denominated debt outstanding,” the write. “The only difference is then Asia had fixed exchange rates and now they are floating! We believe Asia will be the next source of downside systemic risk for financial markets.” The chart below shows dollar-denominated debt in the EMs, in trillion dollars. This does not include euro-denominated debt which plays a large role in Turkey. The fat gray area represents Asia without China:

Asia’s dollar-denominated debt, relative to its foreign exchange reserves and exports, has risen significantly since 2009, they note. The chart below shows the ratio between dollar-denominated debt and foreign exchange reserves in Asia, with China (green line) and without China (black dotted line). Values over 50% mean that there is more dollar-debt than foreign exchange reserves:

“This leaves these nations susceptible to a shortage in USDs,” they write: “Notably, the Asian nations that have amassed record amounts of USD debt are also home to the largest technology companies i.e. Tencent (China), Alibaba (China), TSNC (Taiwan), Samsung (South Korea). The tech sector is now 28% of the MSCI EM index. The rally in the US Dollar, dented global growth prospects, credit growth in China slowing down and escalating political tensions from the US leaves these nations very exposed to a shortage in USDs.”

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More sanctions. Yesterday’s relief is gone.

Trump Says US ‘Will Pay Nothing’ To Turkey For Release Of Detained Pastor (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States “will pay nothing” to Turkey for the release of detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, who he called “a great patriot hostage.” “We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!” Trump said on Twitter. The U.S. warned Turkey on Thursday to expect more economic sanctions unless it hands over Brunson, as relations between the two countries took a further turn for the worse. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Trump at a Cabinet meeting that sanctions were ready to be put in place if Brunson was not freed. “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” Mnuchin said during the meeting.

The United States and Turkey have exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt by Trump to induce Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan into giving up Brunson, who denies charges that he was involved in a coup attempt against Erdogan two years ago. “They have not proven to be a good friend,” Trump said of Turkey during the Cabinet meeting. “They have a great Christian pastor there. He’s an innocent man.” Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had issued a blunt warning to Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic when he met him on Monday at the White House, an administration official said on Thursday. When Kilic sought to tie conditions to Brunson’s release, Bolton waved them aside and said there would be no negotiations.

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But that was yesterday. Today, the lira’s lost 4% already.

Lira Rallies As Turkey Pledges Spending Cuts To Avoid IMF Bailout (G.)

Turkey’s finance minister sparked a recovery in the lira after he addressed thousands of international investors, pledging to protect beleaguered local banks and cut public spending to prevent the country defaulting on its loans. Berat Albayrak, who has faced criticism for failing to tackle the country’s growing financial crisis, spoke to around 6,000 investors on a conference call to rebuff concerns that a funding squeeze on Turkey’s banks and a damaging trade war with the US would force him to seek a rescue bailout from the IMF. Albayrak, who was appointed as finance minister last month by his father-in-law, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey will not hesitate to provide support to the banking sector, which was capable of accessing funds itself during the current turmoil in financial markets.

He added that deposit withdrawals by panicked investors remained low and manageable. “We are experiencing unfavourable conditions but we will overcome,” he said. The Turkish lira was up 4% against the US dollar following the conference call and after reassuring words from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Turkey’s stability was important. However, Albayrak’s attempt to shore up confidence in the lira was quickly undermined by the US Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who reportedly told president Donald Trump in a cabinet meeting that he was preparing further sanctions against Ankara. The lira slipped back to settle at just 1% up on the previous day.

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It’s not Spain or Italy. It’s Britain.

Turkish Tremors Will Cause Shocks In Britain (Times)

There are many strange things about Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but one of the oddest is his pet theory about interest rates. The Turkish president believes that high borrowing costs produce high inflation. “The interest rate is the cause and inflation is the result,” he said a few months ago. “The lower the interest rate is, the lower inflation will be.” No, you didn’t misread that. In defiance of economic orthodoxy (not to mention centuries of experience) which says that high interest rates tend to reduce inflation, President Erdogan believes the opposite. As one economist put it, this is a little like believing that umbrellas cause rain.

The Turkish president’s eccentric attitude towards monetary policy is not the only reason his country is now facing an economic crisis, but it is at least part of the explanation. Over the past decade or so, Turkey became one of the great bubbles of the modern era. Housing bubble? Check. Debt binge? Check. Yawning current account deficit? Check. Runaway inflation? Check. These traits alone qualified the Turkish economy for crisis candidacy some time ago. But as always, saying a country is due a crunch is far simpler than predicting when and how. And Turkey may well have muddled through a little longer were it not for four critical ingredients.

[..] Who is most exposed to this looming crisis? Conventional wisdom says Spain and Italy, whose banks have Turkish subsidiaries. However, this slightly misses the point, since much of that lending is in lira. Those banks should be able to survive even the loss of their stakes. The real question is: who has been lending Turkish companies all this foreign exchange debt? That brings us to the sting in the tail. For when you dig through Turkish treasury data, as the Deutsche Bank economist Oliver Harvey has, you discover that the country that lent most to Turkey, both short and long term, was the UK. That’s right: Britain, or more specifically the City of London, is by far the most exposed to a collapse in the Turkish economy.

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Creative accounting 101.

$125,000: The Pension Debt Each Chicago Household Is On The Hook For (WP)

Chicagoans have no idea how much pension debt Illinois politicians have saddled them with. Officially, Windy City residents are on the hook for $70 billion in total pension shortfalls from the city and its sister governments plus a share of Cook County and state pensions. But listen to Moody’s Investors Service, the rating agency that’s been most critical of Chicago’s finances, and you’ll get a different picture. Moody’s pegs the total pension debt burden for Chicagoans at $130 billion, nearly double the official numbers. (Yes, by chance the number is eerily similar to the official shortfall of $129 billion facing the five state-run pension funds. But don’t confuse the two.)

That’s scary news for Windy City residents. Barring real reforms, concessions from the unions or bankruptcy, Chicagoans can expect to be hit with whatever series of tax hikes politicians will try to enact to reduce that debt. That $130 billion is the total Moody’s calculates when adding up the direct pension debt owed by the city government, Chicago Public Schools, the park district and Chicago’s share of various Cook County governments and the five state pension funds. Moody’s takes a more realistic approach to investment assumptions than the city and county governments take.

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Russia’s had time to prepare.

Russian Oil Industry Would Weather US ‘Bill From Hell’ (R.)

Stiff new U.S. sanctions against Russia would only have a limited impact on its oil industry because it has drastically reduced its reliance on Western funding and foreign partnerships and is lessening its dependence on imported technology. Western sanctions imposed in 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea have already made it extremely hard for many state oil firms such as Rosneft to borrow abroad or use Western technology to develop shale, offshore and Arctic deposits. While those measures have slowed down a number of challenging oil projects, they have done little to halt the Russian industry’s growth with production near a record high of 11.2 million barrels per day in July – and set to climb further.

Since 2014, the Russian oil industry has effectively halted borrowing from Western institutions, instead relying on its own cash flow and lending from state-owned banks while developing technology to replace services once supplied by Western firms. Analysts say this is partly why Russian oil stocks have been relatively unscathed since U.S. senators introduced legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia over its interference in U.S. elections and its activities in Syria and Ukraine. The measures introduced on Aug. 2, dubbed by the senators as the “bill from hell”, include potential curbs on the operations of state-owned Russian banks, restrictions on holding Russian sovereign debt as well as measures against Western involvement in Russian oil and gas projects.

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Too expensive.

NATO Repeats the Great Mistake of the Warsaw Pact (SCF)

Through the 1990s, during the terms of US President Bill Clinton, NATO relentlessly and inexorably expanded through Central Europe. Today, the expansion of that alliance eastward – encircling Russia with fiercely Russo-phobic regimes in one tiny country after another and in Ukraine, which is not tiny at all – continues. This NATO expansion – which the legendary George Kennan presciently warned against in vain – continues to drive the world the closer towards the threat of thermonuclear war. Far from bringing the United States and the Western NATO allies increased security, it strips them of the certainty of the peace and security they would enjoy if they instead sought a sincere, constructive and above all stable relationship with Russia.

It is argued that the addition of the old Warsaw Pact member states of Central Europe to NATO has dramatically strengthened NATO and gravely weakened Russia. This has been a universally-accepted assumption in the United States and throughout the West for the past quarter century. Yet it simply is not true. In reality, the United States and its Western European allies are now discovering the hard way the same lesson that drained and exhausted the Soviet Union from the creation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to its dissolution 36 years later. The tier of Central European nations has always lacked the coherence, the industrial base and the combined economic infrastructure to generate significant industrial, financial or most of all strategic and military power.

[..] When nations such as France, Germany, the Soviet Union or the United States are seen as rising powers in the world, the small countries of Central Europe always hasten to ally themselves accordingly. They therefore adopt and discard Ottoman Islamic imperialism. Austrian Christian imperialism, democracy, Nazism, Communism and again democracy as easily as putting on or off different costumes at a fancy dress ball in Vienna or Budapest. As Russia rises once again in global standing and national power, supported by its genuinely powerful allies China, India and Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the nations of Central Europe can be anticipated to reorient their own loyalties accordingly once again.

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Case in point: the cost of NATO and Russiagate.

Italy’s NATO Racket… A Bridge Too Far (SCF)

What should be a matter of urgent public demand is why Italy is increasing its national spending on military upgrades and procurements instead of civilian amenities. As with all European members of the NATO alliance, Italy is being pressured by the United States to ramp up its military expenditure. US President Donald Trump has made the NATO budget a priority, haranguing European states to increase their military spending to a level of 2 per cent of GDP. Trump has even since doubled that figure to 4 per cent. Washington’s demand on European allies predates Trump. At a NATO summit in 2015, when Barack Obama was president, all members of the military alliance then acceded to US pressure for greater allocation of budgets to hit the 2 per cent target.

The alleged threat of Russian aggression has been cited over and over as the main reason for boosting NATO. Figures show that Italy, as with other European countries, has sharply increased its annual military spending every year since the 2015 summit. The upward trend reverses a decade-long decline. Currently, Italy spends about $28 billion annually on military. That equates to only about 1.15 per cent of GDP, way below the US-demanded target of 2 per cent of GDP. But the disturbing thing is that Italy’s defense minister Elisabetta Trenta reportedly gave assurances to Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton that her government was committed to hitting its NATO target in the coming years. On current figures that translates roughly into a doubling of Italy’s annual military budget. Meanwhile, the Italian public have had to endure years of economic austerity from cutbacks in social spending and civilian infrastructure.

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But the company’s become a secret service.

Google Staff Tell Bosses China Censorship Is “Moral And Ethical” Crisis (IC)

Google employees are demanding answers from the company’s leadership amid growing internal protests over plans to launch a censored search engine in China. Staff inside the internet giant’s offices have agreed that the censorship project raises “urgent moral and ethical issues” and have circulated a letter saying so, calling on bosses to disclose more about the company’s work in China, which they say is shrouded in too much secrecy, according to three sources with knowledge of the matter. The internal furor began after The Intercept earlier this month revealed details about the censored search engine, which would remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

It would “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, leaked Google documents disclosed. The search platform is to be launched via an Android app, pending approval from Chinese officials. The censorship plan – code-named Dragonfly – was not widely known within Google. Prior to its public exposure, only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 employees had been briefed about the project – around 0.35 percent of the total workforce. When the news spread through the company’s offices across the world, many employees expressed anger and confusion. Now, a letter has been circulated among staff calling for Google’s leadership to recognize that there is a “code yellow” situation – a kind of internal alert that signifies a crisis is unfolding.

The letter suggests that the Dragonfly initiative violates an internal Google artificial intelligence ethical code, which says that the company will not build or deploy technologies “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” The letter says: “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed with the [artificial intelligence] Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough. We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

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Don’t be surprised if he’s aquitted.

Jury in Paul Manafort’s Case Asks Judge to Redefine ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (BBG)

A Virginia jury deliberating the fraud charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort sent a note with four questions to the judge in the case. Near the end of the first day of deliberations on Thursday, the jury asked whether a report of foreign bank and financial accounts, known as an FBAR, needed to be filed by a person with less than a 50 percent ownership. Manafort is charged with four counts of failing to file FBARs for offshore companies. The jury also asked about the definition of a shelf company.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III replied that the jurors should rely on their collective memory. The jury also requested that the judge redefine “reasonable doubt.” Ellis replied that the government wasn’t required to prove its case beyond “all doubt,” just to the extent that a person would consider reasonable. Finally, the jury asked if the exhibit list could be amended to include the indictment. The jury was excused for the day and is to return Friday to continue deliberations.

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Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Félix Vallotton Sunset, Bronze-Purple 1911

 

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)
Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)
NATO Trumped (SCF)
Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)
Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)
Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)
The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)
Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)
End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)
Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)
Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

 

 

Yesterday around noon the skies here in Athens started turning brown. We learned this was due to a wildfire west of the city. In late afternoon winds began picking up, a lot. Then this happened throughout the evening and night, in a wildfire at the exact opposite side of the city. Latest number of dead is now 54. 26 of them died together just 30 meters from the beach.

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)

A wildfire killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled. The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames. “I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 meters from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area. Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

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They’re walking this back a little bit.

Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)

Speculation about Mr Assange’s future has grown this month after the Sunday Times said senior officials from Ecuador and Britain have been in discussions since last week about how to remove him from the embassy after revocation of his asylum. “The situation is very serious. Things are coming to a head,” the source, who spoke on condition on anonymity, told Reuters. He said the latest information from inside the embassy was, “It’s not looking good”. However, both the Ecuadorean government and British government sources played down suggestions there was likely to be any imminent movement to break the stalemate.

“The Ecuadorian state will only talk and promote understandings about Mr Assange’s asylum, within the framework of international law, with the interested party’s lawyers and with the British government,” Ecuador’s foreign ministry said in a statement ahead of the visit. “At the moment, due to the complexity of the topic, a short or long-term solution is not in sight.” A British government source also said there was no sign of immediate progress. Last month, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament that they were increasingly concerned about Mr Assange’s health. “It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly,” Mr Duncan said. “The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”

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“If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.”

NATO Trumped (SCF)

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report”; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly'”. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack”. “Europe’s Readiness Problem”. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements”. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it. He stomps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too: If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

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Their best shot may be if they can prove that Monsanto suppressed scientists.

Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)

Dewayne Johnson said that if he had known what he knew now about Roundup weedkiller, “I would’ve never sprayed that product on school grounds … if I knew it would cause harm … It’s unethical.” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper in northern California who is terminally ill, was testifying Monday in his landmark suit against Monsanto about the cancer risks of the company’s popular weedkiller. He is the first person to take the agrochemical company to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. He spoke for the first time during the trial in San Francisco, detailing his use of Monsanto’s products, his extensive exposure to herbicides, and his belief that the chemicals caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cell cancer.

He also described the suffering he endured as skin lesions took over his body. “I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” said Johnson, a father of three who goes by the name Lee. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.” His doctors have said he may have just months to live. Johnson’s lawyers have argued in court that Monsanto has “fought science” over the years and worked to “bully” researchers who have raised concerns about potential health risks of its herbicide product. At the start of the trial, the attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails that they said revealed the corporation’s repeated efforts to ignore expert’s warnings while seeking favorable scientific analyses and helping to “ghostwrite” positive papers.

Thousands have brought similar legal claims across the US, and a federal judge in California ruled this month that hundreds of cancer survivors or those who lost loved ones can also proceed to trial. Johnson’s case has attracted international attention, with the judge allowing his team to present scientific arguments about glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

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“We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.”

Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)

The Helsinki summit meeting has the look of a turning point in Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. One irony is that he may escape his enemies’ efforts to nail him on any Russia “collusion” rap only to be sandbagged by financial turmoil as the dog days of summer turn nervously toward autumn. Events will cancel the myth that his actions as president have produced a booming economy. If anything, the activities that make up our economy have only become more vicious rackets, especially the war industries, with all their inducements to counter the imagined Russia threat.

The financial markets are the pillars of the fantasy that the US economy is roaring triumphantly. The markets are so fundamentally disabled by ten years of central bank interventions that they don’t express the actual value of any asset, whether stocks, or bonds, or gold, oil, labor, currencies, or the folly known as crypto-currency. We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.

The revelation that Mr. Trump is not an economic genius will spur a deeper dive by chimerical Democrats into nanny state quicksand. They will make the new fad of a Guaranteed Basic Income the centerpiece of the midterm election — even though many Democrats will not really believe in it. They are pretending not to notice how broke the USA actually is, and how spavined by unpayable debt. The lurking suspicion of all this is surely behind fantasies such as Russia attacked us, the displacement of abstruse and impalpable fear onto something simple and cartoonish, like the President of the United States.

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“The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business…”

Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)

The amount investors must pay to insure their debt holdings in Tesla Inc against declining credit quality rose on Monday to its second-highest price ever, implying the company is at a greater risk of default following a report that sparked concern that Tesla may need to raise funds. Insurance on Tesla’s debt, which is sold as a credit default swap contract, increased from Friday by 13 cents to $5.96 per $100 of Tesla debt. That followed a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday that Tesla had turned to some suppliers for a refund of previously made payments in a bid to make a profit, citing a memo sent by a Tesla global supply manager.

A Tesla spokesperson said on Monday that the company had no comment on the credit default swaps, but said in a statement in response to the WSJ story that Tesla had asked fewer than 10 suppliers to reduce capital expenditure project spending. Tesla said that any changes with these suppliers would improve future cash flows but not affect its ability to achieve profitability in the third quarter. Company founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk may be obligated to tap debt or equity markets again this year, according to analysts, though he has said he would do neither. [..] It cost $5.96 to insure $100 of Tesla’s debt, plus an upfront cost of around 18%, representing a total of 24.1% of the face value of the 2025 bond on Monday. “The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business,” said Thomas Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

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Trying to outdo Orwell. First blow a ginormous bubble and then claim there are not enough cheap homes.

The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)

The nationwide housing shortage continues but is especially troublesome for homebuyers with a budget of $250,000 or less, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and of finance at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNBC on Monday. Rising labor, land and material costs are slowing down the supply, “except at higher prices, which is simply not affordable for the great middle, and that’s where we see the hit in … existing sales,” Wachter said on “Power Lunch.” Sales of existing homes are down for the third month in a row due to a shortage of properties, which results in higher prices and pushes some potential buyers out of the market.

Existing home sales fell 0.6% in June, or 2.2% from June 2017. And as prices for new home construction increase, construction in general is on the decline. Housing starts, or the number of new residential housing projects, decreased in June, plunging 12.3%. The loss represents the third month in a row of declines or a nine-month low. “That sets a price point for the existing sale market as well,” Wachter said. And with inventory at historic lows and a lack of new construction, existing homeowners are holding on to their homes longer, Wachter noted.

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I’ll leave this here.

Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)

The “founding fathers” deliberately arranged a system of governance that would protect the wealthy minority from the majority. Over time, as it fused with capitalism, this arrangement transformed the US government into a market. Railroad tycoons and robber barons forced their way into this market during the Gilded Age. Big business controlled the “public agenda” throughout the 20th century, with multinational firms taking root in the 1980s and 90s. Ronald Reagan ushered in the neoliberal era, which amounted to an all-out corporate coup of American politics. And, in 2010, the Supreme Court placed its stamp of approval on this system with its Citizens United decision, allowing anonymous donors unlimited access to politics through Political Action Committees (PACs).

In other words, the US government has been a traded commodity for a long time, in many ways since the beginning of the country’s founding. Wealth determines elections (over 90% of the time the campaign with the most money wins). Politicians are commodities that are bought by capitalists. Legislation is a commodity that is bought by lobbyists (employed by capitalists). This is the case for both parties and all politicians (because it is built into the system). The point: If you still believe your 5th-grade textbook and think you have a say in determining public policy in the US, you are furious right now. Because you believe democracy exists and that it was hijacked by a foreign government. However, if you realize democracy (or a republic) does not exist, the Russia/Trump revelations mean only one thing: the traded commodity known as the US government has gone global, following all of the other capitalist markets that have been globalized over the past 40 years.

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Anyone convinced by Corbyn?

End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)

British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn will call on the government on Tuesday to back his vision for a new customs union with the European Union to avoid a “botched” Brexit leaving the country “in hock to Donald Trump”. Unveiling a Labour Party campaign to boost manufacturing and keep public contracts in Britain, Corbyn will also increase the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit plans by suggesting she back his vision of “a brand new customs union”. May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to not only the competing factions in her governing Conservative Party but also across Britain just over eight months before the country is due to leave in March.

But Corbyn also faces dissent in his party, with many Labour lawmakers and members calling for him to back a second referendum on any deal and support keeping the closest possible ties with the EU by staying in its single market and customs union. “Theresa May and her warring cabinet should think again, even at this late stage, and reconsider the option of negotiating a brand new customs union,” Corbyn will tell the EEF manufacturers’ organisation in the city of Birmingham. “A botched…Brexit will sell our manufacturers short with the fantasy of a free trading buccaneering future, which in reality would be a nightmare of chlorinated chicken, public services sold to multinational companies and our country in hock to Donald Trump,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech.

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Extensive report h/t ZH

Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)

The real problem plaguing public pension funds nationwide has gone largely ignored. Most reporting usually focuses on the underfunding of state plans and blames the crises on a lack of taxpayer dollars. But a Wirepoints analysis of 2003-2016 Pew Charitable Trust and other pension data found that it’s the uncontrolled growth in pension promises that’s actually wreaking havoc on state budgets and taxpayers alike. Overpromising is the true cause of many state crises. Underfunding is often just a symptom of this underlying problem. Wirepoints found that the growth in accrued liabilities has been extreme in many states, often growing two to three times faster than the pace of their economies. It’s no wonder taxpayer contributions haven’t been able to keep up.

The reasons for that growth vary state to state – from bigger benefits to reductions in discount rates – but the reasons don’t matter to ordinary residents. Regardless of how or when those increases were created, it’s taxpayers that are increasingly on the hook for them. Unsurprisingly, the states with the most out-of-control promises are home to some of the nation’s worst pension crises. Take New Jersey, for example. The total pension benefits it owed in 2003 – what are known as accrued liabilities – were $88 billion. That was the PV, or present value, of what active state workers and retirees were promised in pension benefits by the state at the time. Today, promises to active workers and pensioners have jumped to $217 billion – a growth of 176% in just 13 years. That increase in total obligations is four times greater than the growth in the state’s GDP, up only 41%.

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Oh yes, we really need censorship by a bunch of poorly educated kids.

Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

Rubens nudes have entranced those visiting the world’s great art galleries for some 400 years. Contemporaries on whom the Flemish master is said to have had a profound impact include Van Dyck and Rembrandt … but none of this has passed muster with Facebook’s censors. In a move that has prompted a semi-playful complaint to the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, it has taken down a series of promotions on social media for the Belgian region of Flanders because they feature works by the artist famous for his Baroque paintings of voluptuous women and cherubs. Advertisements containing sexually oriented content, including artistic or educational nudes, apart from statues, are prohibited on the site.

In an open letter signed by most of the museums in Flanders, the Flemish tourist board, Toerisme Vlaanderen, has written to Zuckerberg to ask for a rethink. “Breasts, buttocks and Peter Paul Rubens’ cherubs are all considered indecent”, the letter says. “Not by us, but by you … Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us.” Posts removed have even included an advert featuring Rubens’ The Descent from the Cross, in which Jesus is naked in his loincloth. The Flemish tourist board has pushed its point by releasing a short video in which the “nude police” drag away visitors at the Rubens House in Antwerp to stop them from gazing at the implicated paintings.

Read more …

Jun 012018
 
 June 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Nikolay Dubovsky Became Silent 1890

 

“European Stocks Surge Celebrating New Spanish, Italian Governments”, says a Zero Hedge headline. “Markets Breathe Easier As Italy Government Sworn In”, proclaims Reuters. And I’m thinking: these markets are crazy, and none of this will last more than a few days. Or hours. The new Italian government is not the end of a problem, it’s the beginning of many of them.

And Italy is far from the only problem. The new Spanish government will be headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who manoeuvred well to oust sitting PM Rajoy, but he also recently saw the worst election result in his party’s history. Not exactly solid ground. Moreover, he needed the support of Catalan factions, and will have to reverse much of Rajoy’s actions on the Catalunya issue, including probably the release from prison of those responsible for the independence referendum.

Nor is Spain exactly economically sound. Still, it’s not in as bad a shape as Turkey and Argentina. A JPMorgan graph published at Zero Hedge says a lot, along with the commentary on it:

The chart below, courtesy of Cembalest, shows each country’s current account (x-axis), the recent change in its external borrowing (y-axis) and the return on a blended portfolio of its equity and fixed income markets (the larger the red bubble, the worse the returns have been). This outcome looks sensible given weaker Argentine and Turkish fundamentals. And while Cembalest admits that the rising dollar and rising US rates will be a challenge for the broader EM space, most will probably not face balance of payments crises similar to what is taking place in Turkey and Argentina, of which the latter is already getting an IMF bailout and the former, well… it’s only a matter of time.

 

And now Erdogan has apparently upped the ante once more yesterday. Last week he called on the Turkish population to change their dollars and euros into lira’s, last night he ‘suggested’ they bring in their money from abroad (to profit from ‘beneficial tax rules’). Such things have, by and large, one effect only: the opposite of what he intends. He just makes his people more nervous than they already were.

It’s June 1, and the Turkish elections are June 24. Will Erdogan be able to keep things quiet enough in the markets? It’s doubtful. He has reportedly already claimed that the US and Israel are waging an economic war on Turkey. And for once he may be right. A few weeks ago Erdogan called on all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to boycott all Israeli products (and presumably America products too).

On April 30, the IMF warned that the Turkish economy is showing “clear signs of overheating”. On May 1, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Turkish economy to double-B-minus. Economic war? Feels a bit more like a political war. Erdogan has three weeks left to win that election. Don’t expect things to quieten down before then. But as the graph above shows, Turkey itself is the problem here first and foremost.

Expect Erdogan to say interest rates -usury- are immoral in Muslim countries. Expect much more pressure from the west on him. Erdogan has also been busy establishing Turkish ‘enclaves’ in Syria’s Afrin territory (where he chased out the original population) and in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus (where he added 100s of 1000s of Turks).

No, the West wouldn’t mourn if the man were defeated in the vote. They can add a lot more pressure in three weeks, and they will. Will it suffice? Hard to tell.

 

Back to Italy. Where the optimism comes from, I can’t fathom. The M5S-Lega coalition has never made a secret of its program and/or intentions. Just because pronounced eurosceptic Paolo Savona was shifted from Finance to EU minister doesn’t a summer make. New Finance minster Tria may be less outspoken than Savona, but he’s no europhile, and together the two men can be a woeful pain in Europe’s behind. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

The essence of the M5S-Lega program is painfully simple: they reject austerity as the basics of economic policy. And austerity is all that Europe’s policy has been based on for the past decade at least. That spells collision course. And there is zero indication that the new coalition is willing to give an inch on this. Tsipras may have in Greece, but Italy’s sheer size means it has a lot more clout.

To begin with, the program wants to do away with the Eurozone’s 3% deficit rule. It speaks of a 15-20% flat tax, and a €780 basic income. These two measures would cost between €109 billion and €126 billion, or 6 to 7% of Italian GDP. As Italy’s public debt stand at €2.4 trillion, 132% of GDP.

“The government’s actions will target a programme of public debt reduction not through revenue based on taxes and austerity, policies that have not achieved their goal, but rather through increased GDP by the revival of internal demand,” the program says. Yes, that is the opposite of austerity.

The parties want a roll-back of previously announced pension measures to a situation where the sum of a person’s age and years of social security contributions reach 100. If someone has worked, and contributed to social security for 40 years, they will be able to retire at 60, not at 67 as the present plans demand.

In an additional plan that will make them very popular at home amongst the corrupt political class, the parties want to slash the number of parliamentarians to 400 MPs (from 630) and 200 senators (from 318). They would be banned from changing political parties during the legislature.

 

And then there are the mini-Bots, a parallel currency system very reminiscent of what Yanis Varoufakis proposed for Greece. Basically, they would allow the government to pay some of its domestic obligations (suppliers etc.) in the form of IOUs, which could then in turn be used to pay taxes and -other- government services. They would leave what is domestic, domestic.

There’s a lot of talk about this being a first step towards leaving the euro, but why should that be so? The main ‘threat’ lies in the potential independence from Brussels it may provide a country with. But it’s a closed system: you can’t pay with mini-Bots for trade or other international obligations.

Italy, like an increasing number of Eurozone nations, is looking for a way to get its head out of the Brussels/Berlin noose that’s threatening to suffocate it. If the EU doesn’t react to this, and soon, and in a positive manner it will blow itself up. Yes, if Italy started to let its debt balloon, the European Commission could reprimand it and issue fines. But the Commission wouldn’t dare do that. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

Anyway, risk off, as the markets suggest(ed) this morning? Surely you’re joking. And we haven’t even mentioned Trump’s trade wars yet. Risk is ballooning.

 

 

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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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:

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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:

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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:

Read more …

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.‘”

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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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