Apr 132019
 
 April 13, 2019  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Standing nude 1928

 

The Assange Arrest Is a Warning From History (John Pilger)
The 7 Years Of Lies About Assange Won’t Stop Now (Cook)
UK MPs Want Assange Extradited To Sweden (G.)
Labour Urges PM To Block Julian Assange Extradition To US (G.)
Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished (Fair)
Cascading Cat Litter (Jim Kunstler)
Is Julian Assange Another Pentagon Papers case? (Alan Dershowitz)
Facebook Removes Page of Rafael Correa on Same Day as Assange’s Arrest (MU)
Second Brexit Referendum Vote ‘Very Likely’ – Philip Hammond (Ind.)
What Went Wrong With Pensions And Why The Whole World Must Be Worried (Rubino)
Italy’s Fiscal Health Is Once Again In Serious Decline (DQ)
Uber Discloses 3-Yr $10-Billion Loss from Operations (WS)

 

 

“Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs [..] Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis.”

The Assange Arrest Is a Warning From History (John Pilger)

The glimpse of Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London is an emblem of the times. Might against right. Muscle against the law. Indecency against courage. Six policemen manhandled a sick journalist, his eyes wincing against his first natural light in almost seven years. That this outrage happened in the heart of London, in the land of Magna Carta, ought to shame and anger all who fear for “democratic” societies. Assange is a political refugee protected by international law, the recipient of asylum under a strict covenant to which Britain is a signatory. The United Nations made this clear in the legal ruling of its Working Party on Arbitrary Detention.

But to hell with that. Let the thugs go in. Directed by the quasi fascists in Trump’s Washington, in league with Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, a Latin American Judas and liar seeking to disguise his rancid regime, the British elite abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice. Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs, for onward dispatch to the dock in The Hague. By the standard of Nuremberg, Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis. Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with truth.

The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all who, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “sew the seeds of discontent [without which] there would be no advance towards civilisation”. The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast. Assange’s principal media tormentor, the Guardian, a collaborator with the secret state, displayed its nervousness this week with an editorial that scaled new weasel heights. The Guardian has exploited the work of Assange and WikiLeaks in what its previous editor called “the greatest scoop of the last 30 years”. The paper creamed off WikiLeaks’ revelations and claimed the accolades and riches that came with them.

With not a penny going to Julian Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, turned on their source, abused him and disclosed the secret password Assange had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing leaked US embassy cables. With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding joined the police outside and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. The Guardian has since published a series of falsehoods about Assange, not least a discredited claim that a group of Russians and Trump’s man, Paul Manafort, had visited Assange in the embassy. The meetings never happened; it was fake.

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We just get more. But it’s what NOT being said that reveals more.

The 7 Years Of Lies About Assange Won’t Stop Now (Cook)

For seven years, from the moment Julian Assange first sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, they have been telling us we were wrong, that we were paranoid conspiracy theorists. We were told there was no real threat of Assange’s extradition to the United States, that it was all in our fevered imaginations. For seven years, we have had to listen to a chorus of journalists, politicians and “experts” telling us that Assange was nothing more than a fugitive from justice, and that the British and Swedish legal systems could be relied on to handle his case in full accordance with the law. Barely a “mainstream” voice was raised in his defence in all that time.

From the moment he sought asylum, Assange was cast as an outlaw. His work as the founder of Wikileaks – a digital platform that for the first time in history gave ordinary people a glimpse into the darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep States – was erased from the record. Assange was reduced from one of the few towering figures of our time – a man who will have a central place in history books, if we as a species live long enough to write those books – to nothing more than a sex pest, and a scruffy bail-skipper. The political and media class crafted a narrative of half-truths about the sex charges Assange was under investigation for in Sweden.

They overlooked the fact that Assange had been allowed to leave Sweden by the original investigator, who dropped the inquiry, only for it to be revived by another investigator with a well-documented political agenda. They failed to mention that Assange was always willing to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors in London, as had occurred in dozens of other cases involving extradition proceedings to Sweden. It was almost as if Swedish officials did not want to test the evidence they claimed to have in their possession. [..] It was a freedom of information request by an ally of Assange, not a media outlet, that unearthed documents showing that Swedish investigators had, in fact, wanted to drop the case against Assange back in 2013. The UK, however, insisted that they carry on with the charade so that Assange could remain locked up. A British official emailed the Swedes: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

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There’s some confusion here. Some say because Sweden dropped charges, the US is now first in line. Others deny this.

UK MPs Want Assange Extradited To Sweden (G.)

Political pressure is mounting on Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape. More than 70 MPs and peers have written to Javid and the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, urging them to focus attention on the earlier Swedish investigations that Assange would face should the case be resumed at the alleged victim’s request.


In a letter coordinated by Labour’s Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips and seen by the Guardian, the MPs declare: “We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the [Swedish] complainant should see justice be done.” They call on Javid and Abbott to “champion action” to ensure that extradition is a possibility should Swedish authorities choose to pursue it. Assange first entered the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has always denied. While the statute of limitations on one of the allegations has expired, the other will not be reached until August 2020.

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May did it before in 2012, but I understand laws have changed since. Labour better make sure that block counts.

Labour Urges PM To Block Julian Assange Extradition To US (G.)

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has urged Theresa May to block the extradition of Julian Assange to the US in the same way she intervened in the case of the computer hacker Gary McKinnon. In 2012, as home secretary, May halted McKinnon’s extradition on human rights grounds after doctors warned he was at risk of suicide if sent to face trial in the US. Abbott said similar grounds should be used to block Assange’s extradition. On Thursday, the Wikileaks founder was arrested on behalf of the US authorities, who have charged him with involvement in a computer hacking conspiracy.

The 47-year-old faces up to 12 months in a British prison after he was found guilty of breaching his bail conditions. The US charge could attract a maximum jail sentence of five years, according to the US Department of Justice. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Abbott said: “If you remember the Gary McKinnon case, the Americans insisted on extraditing him. He had done this massive computer hack, but his real crime was to have embarrassed the American military and security service. “In the end the then home secretary, Theresa May, blocked his extradition on what she said were human rights grounds. We think there may be human rights grounds in relation to Assange.”

Abbott described the allegations facing Assange from two women in Sweden as “serious”, but said charges were never brought. She said: “If the Swedish government wants to come forward with those charges I believe that Assange should face the criminal justice system.” But she added: “It is not the rape charges, serious as they are, it is about WikiLeaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public. “He is at the very least a whistleblower and much of the information that he brought into the public domain, it could be argued, was very much in the public interest.”

[..] “It is this whistleblowing into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale, that has put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US administration. “It is for this reason that they have once more issued an extradition warrant against Mr Assange.” In response, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Why is it whenever someone has a track record of undermining the UK and our allies and the values we stand for, you can almost guarantee that the leadership of the party opposite will support those who intend to do us harm? You can always guarantee that from the party opposite.”

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“The point of journalism is to expose horrific crimes like this so that the powerful people who order them pay legal consequences, not the ones who expose them.”

Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished (Fair)

In 2010, the Guardian, like the New York Times and a few other corporate newspapers, briefly partnered with WikiLeaks to publish the contents of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables, known as Cablegate. That year, WikiLeaks released other confidential US government information as well: the Afghanistan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, the infamous “Collateral Murder” video. The material exposed atrocities perpetrated by the US military, as well as other disgraceful acts—like US diplomats strategizing on how to undermine elected governments out of favor with Washington, spying on official US allies and bullying poor countries into paying wildly exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs.

One US soldier involved in the “collateral murder” airstrike that Manning and Assange exposed, Ethan McCord, was threatened and reprimanded by a superior officer for requesting psychiatric help after the atrocity. (“Get the sand out of your vagina,” he was reportedly told.) McCord had tended to wounded children during the massacre. He was soon expelled from the military, apparently now “unsuited” for it. The point of journalism is to expose horrific crimes like this so that the powerful people who order them pay legal consequences, not the ones who expose them. Presumably that is why “press freedom” is considered important, and why it’s guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The law should have protected Manning from punishment, the same way it protects somebody who uses violence in justifiable self-defense or in defense of others. In Manning’s case, that was especially true, because she exposed grave crimes while stationed in Iraq, as the US perpetrated an even higher-level crime—a war of aggression based on a fraudulent pretext. If the law should have protected Manning, who was at the very heart of the “conspiracy” to expose gruesome crimes, then it obviously should protect Assange, and any of the outlets that worked with him.

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“I’d like to see The New York Times’s front page headline on that story: Russian Colluder Wins Nobel Prize, Put on Trial in Federal Court.”

Cascading Cat Litter (Jim Kunstler)

And so now Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been dragged out of his sanctuary in the London embassy of Ecuador for failing to clean his cat’s litter box. Have you ever cleaned a litter box? The way we always did it was to spread some newspaper — say, The New York Times — on the floor, transfer the used cat litter onto it, wrap it into a compact package, and put it in the trash. It was interesting to scan the Comments section of The Times’s stories about the Assange arrest: Times readers uniformly presented themselves as a lynch mob out for Mr. Assange’s blood. So much for the spirit of liberalism and The Old Gray Lady who had published The Pentagon Papers purloined by Daniel Ellsberg lo so many years ago.

Reading between the lines in that once-venerable newspaper — by which I mean gleaning their slant on the news — one surmises that The Times has actually come out against freedom of the press, a curious attitude, but consistent with the neo-Jacobin zeitgeist in “blue” America these days. Anyway, how could anyone expect Mr. Assange to clean his cat’s litter box when he was unable to go outside his sanctuary to buy a fresh bag of litter, and was denied newspapers this past year, as well as any other contact with the outside world? US government prosecutors had better tread lightly in bringing Mr. Assange to the sort of justice demanded by readers of The New York Times — which is to say: lock him up in some SuperMax solitary hellhole and throw away the key. The show trial of Julian Assange on US soil, when it comes to pass, may end up being the straw that stirs America’s Mickey Finn as a legitimate republic.

The bloodthirsty hysteria among New York Times readers is a symptom of the mass confusion sown by agencies of the US government itself when its own agents ventured to meddle in the national election of 2016 and then blame it on “the Russians.” As you will learn in the months ahead, it was The Times itself, and other corporate news organizations, who colluded with officers of the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, and the Obama White House to concoct a phony narrative about Mr. Trump being in cahoots with Vladimir Putin, thus depriving Hillary Clinton of her “turn” in the White House; and then to join those agencies, and the grotesquely dishonest two-year investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a cover-your-ass operation to hide their nefarious and criminal acts.

In the meantime, Mr. Assange may receive a Nobel Prize as a symbol of a lone conscience standing up against the despotic deceits of the world’s deep states. Wouldn’t that gum up the works nicely? I’d like to see The New York Times’s front page headline on that story: Russian Colluder Wins Nobel Prize, Put on Trial in Federal Court. By then, the United States of America will be so completely gaslighted that it will pulsate in the darkness like a death star about to explode.

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Michael Malice on Twitter: “Let’s be clear: Julian Assange is not a journalist.
He uncovered and released information that the political establishment and government wanted to stay hidden.
Does that sound like the work of a journalist?”

Is Julian Assange Another Pentagon Papers case? (Alan Dershowitz)

Before WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gained asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, he and his British legal team asked me to fly to London to provide legal advice about United States law relating to espionage and press freedom. I cannot disclose what advice I gave them, but I can say that I believed then, and still believe now, that there is no constitutional difference between WikiLeaks and the New York Times. If the New York Times, in 1971, could lawfully publish the Pentagon Papers knowing they included classified documents stolen by Rand Corporation military analyst Daniel Ellsberg from our federal government, then indeed WikiLeaks was entitled, under the First Amendment, to publish classified material that Assange knew was stolen by former United States Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning from our federal government.

So if prosecutors were to charge Assange with espionage or any other crime for merely publishing the Manning material, this would be another Pentagon Papers case with the same likely outcome. Many people have misunderstood the actual Supreme Court ruling in 1971. It did not say that the newspapers planning to publish the Pentagon Papers could not be prosecuted if they published classified material. It only said that they could not be restrained, or stopped in advance, from publishing them. Well, they did publish, and they were not prosecuted.

[..] the problem with the current effort is that, while it might be legally strong, it seems on the face of the indictment to be factually weak. It alleges that “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records” from federal government agencies, that “Manning provided Assange with part of a password,” and that “Assange requested more information.” It goes on to say that Assange was “trying to crack the password” but had “no luck so far.” Not the strongest set of facts here!

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Nice going, Zuck.

Facebook Removes Page of Rafael Correa on Same Day as Assange’s Arrest (MU)

Facebook has unpublished the page of Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, the social media giant confirmed on Thursday, claiming that the popular leftist leader violated the company’s security policies.[..] In March, WikiLeaks published a tranche of documents dubbed the INA Papers linking President Lenin Moreno to the INA Investment Corporation, an offshore shell company used by Moreno to procure furniture, property, and various luxury items. The account number for the offshore account allegedly used by the president to launder money was shared across Ecuadorean social networks by netizens of all political stripes, including by Correa – who had about 1.5 million followers and whose Facebook page enjoyed more interactions and attention than that of President Moreno himself.


[..] The removal of Correa’s page for violating Facebook’s “community standards” is an unprecedented move, and the former statesman is the most high-profile public political figure to ever be removed from the social platform–placing the economist and icon of Latin American “socialism of the 21st century” in the same unlikely category as right-wing conspiracy theorist and broadcaster Alex Jones.

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What would that solve?

Second Brexit Referendum Vote ‘Very Likely’ – Philip Hammond (Ind.)

A second referendum on Brexit is “very likely” to be put before parliament, Philip Hammond has said. Speaking in Washington on Friday, the chancellor said a fresh public vote was a “proposition that could and, on all the evidence, is very likely to be put to parliament at some stage”. However, he also said about six months would be needed to hold a referendum, and that there would not be enough time before Britain is due to leave the EU on the new deadline of 31 October. Mr Hammond also stressed that the government was still opposed to a second referendum, although he said other Labour demands – such as a customs union with the EU – were up for debate.


“The government’s position has not changed,” he said. “The government is opposed to a confirmatory referendum and therefore we would not be supporting it.” The idea of a new referendum was among several Brexit alternatives to Theresa May’s deal that were put to lawmakers in the last month – but which all fell short of a majority in parliament. The prime minister has so far failed to get her own party behind the Brexit divorce deal she agreed with other European Union leaders last year. She was forced to ask the bloc for a delay and to start talks with Labour about how to break the impasse in parliament.

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It says a lot about the human attention span that this doesn’t receive a lot more scrutiny.

This is where Fed policies will be found to have hurt people most.

What Went Wrong With Pensions And Why The Whole World Must Be Worried (Rubino)

As baby boomer teachers, police and firefighters retire, the required pension payouts are soaring. Combine this with inadequate contributions, and the liabilities of major U.S. public pensions are up 64% since 2007 while assets are up only 30%. This math is simple enough for even a politician or fund trustee to grasp, but because there’s no immediate penalty for underfunding a pension system, it has become normal practice in a long list of places. Another, related problem is also mathematical, but it’s harder to manage in a boom-and-bust world: When pension plans suffer a big loss, as they tend to do in bear markets, the next few years’ returns have to go towards making up that loss before plan assets can start growing again. The following chart, from a recent Wall Street Journal article, shows pension fund assets falling behind in the past two bear markets and having increasing trouble catching up with steadily-growing liabilities.

In some cases this puts funds permanently behind the curve and can only be fixed with massive infusions of taxpayer cash or draconian benefit cuts, neither of which are feasible in a system that punishes hard choices. The next chart shows how much more the worst offenders would have to contribute to their plans to get by with honest future return assumptions. For Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey this will never happen.

What does all this mean? A few things: In the next bear market the pension funds that are already wildly underfunded will fall into a financial black hole from which they’ll never be able to escape. Those states and cities – many of which are issuing bonds to cover their day-to-day expenses – will be exposed as junk credits (as Chicago was recently) and will have to either pay way up to borrow or enact some combination of tax increases (politically almost impossible) or pension benefit cuts (legally impossible in many places) which will cause chaos without fixing the underlying problem. The weakest cities and the states in which they reside will be forced to default on some of their obligations, stiffing suppliers, creditors, and/or employees.


This will throw the municipal bond market into chaos as investors, worried that the next Chicago is lurking in their portfolios, dump the whole muni sector. Faced with a cascade failure of a crucial part of the fixed income universe, the federal government will react the way it did when the mortgage market imploded in 2008, with a massive taxpayer funded bailout. At which point there’s a good chance of the crisis spreading from pensions to currencies, as the world finally realizes that the bailouts are just beginning, with US states and cities soon to be followed by student loans, emerging markets, and European failed states.

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Drip. Drip.

Italy’s Fiscal Health Is Once Again In Serious Decline (DQ)

On Wednesday, Italy’s coalition government slashed its growth forecast for the Italian economy in 2019 to 0.2% – the weakest forecast in the Eurozone – from a previous forecast of 1%. Italy is already in a technical recession after chalking up two straight quarters of negative GDP growth in the second half of 2018. The government’s budget for this year was based on the assumption that the economy would expand by 1% this year. Now, it seems the economy may not grow at all; it could even shrink. One direct result of this is that Italy’s current account deficit for 2019 will be substantially higher than the 2.04% of GDP Italy’s government pledged to stick to late last year. And that can mean only thing: another standoff between Rome and Brussels over the direction of fiscal policy is in the offing.

Italy already boasts the largest public debt pile in Europe in nominal terms, clocking in at €2.14 trillion, as well as the second largest in relative terms after Greece’s twice bailed out economy. Rome just forecast that public debt would hit a new record high of 132.6% of GDP this year. That record is unlikely to last very long given Italy’s stagnating economy and the government’s determination to cut taxes, reduce the retirement age and introduce a citizens’ basic income.

The biggest problem with Italy’s economy is that many of its problems are chronic and deep seated. Many of them date back to the adoption of the euro, in 2000, or in the case of Rome’s massive addiction to public debt, to the 1980s. As the OECD points out, real GDP in Italy is still well below its pre-crisis peak. Italy is also the only OECD country where incomes (as measured by GDP per capita) are no higher than in 2000. By contrast, in France, Spain, the UK and Germany they have risen during the same period by 13%, 17%, 21% and 23 respectively.

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Now imagine this WITHOUT interest rates at record lows. What was once a market has now turned into a slot machine.

Uber Discloses 3-Yr $10-Billion Loss from Operations (WS)

Uber Technologies’ IPO filing was made public today. The 330-page or so S-1 filing disclosed all kinds of goodies, including detailed but still unaudited pro-forma financial statements as of December 31, 2018, huge losses from operations, big tax benefits, large gains from the sale of some operations, stagnating rideshare revenues, and an enormous list of chilling “Risk Factors” that go beyond the usual CYA. The filing, however, didn’t disclose the share price, the IPO valuation, and how much money the IPO will raise for Uber. On Tuesday, “people familiar with the matter” had told Reuters that Uber plans to raise $10 billion in the IPO. Most of the IPO shares would be sold by the company to raise funds, and a smaller amount would be sold by investors cashing out, the sources said.


The filing did not confirm this and instead left blanks or used placeholder amounts. But if true, $10 billion in shares sold would make this IPO one of the biggest tech IPOs. And the rumored $90 billion to $100 billion valuation would make it the biggest since Alibaba’s $169 billion IPO. Uber will need every dime it raises in the IPO going forward because it’s got a little cash-burn situation in its operations that persists going forward, as it admitted in its “Risk Factors,” and it will need to raise more money, and if it cannot raise more money, it might not make it. Uber is upfront about this. The company has already raised – and mostly burned through – over $20 billion so far in its 10 years of existence. This includes $15 billion in equity funding and over $6 billion in debt.

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Mar 072019
 


Edward Hopper Le Bistro or The Wine Shop 1909

 

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)
Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)
Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)
Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)
Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)
Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)
Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)
EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)
Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)
Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)
Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)
Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)
China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)
Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

 

 

Let’s wind it down in an orderly fashion and call it a day. This is hopeless.

US Credit Card Debt Rises to Record $870 Billion (ET)

Americans expanded their credit card debt by $26 billion in the last quarter of 2018, making it reach $870 billion—a record. “The increase in credit card balances is consistent with seasonal patterns but marks the first time credit card balances re-touched the 2008 peak,” the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stated in a quarterly report (pdf) released Feb. 12. The credit card debt rose for the 24th consecutive quarter; and balances sliding into 90 or more days of delinquency have increased since 2017. Total household debt increased by $32 billion in the last quarter and finished the year at more than $13.5 trillion. The largest chunk of that sum is mortgages at $9.1 trillion—virtually unchanged from the quarter before. Student loans stood at nearly $1.5 trillion and auto loans at almost $1.3 trillion.

Americans hold about 480 million credit cards, which is about 100 million more than in 2010, but still a bit fewer than at the precipice of the 2008 recession. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of growth in the world’s largest economy and is expected to hold strong this year. However, credit inquiries, which are one sign of consumer demand, slipped in the second half of 2018 to the lowest level recorded by the New York Fed. Another signal of weaker demand, the closing of credit cards and other accounts, jumped to its highest level since 2010. [..] The report also showed that Americans have continued to turn away from home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, which can free up funds for other purchases. HELOC balances dropped to $412 billion in the fourth quarter, the lowest level in 14 years.

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And while we’re at it let’s scrap the Fed.

Fed Scraps ‘Qualitative’ Test For US Banks In 2019 Stress Tests (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve said on Wednesday it would no longer flunk banks based on operational or risk management lapses during its annual health check of the country’s domestic banks. The “qualitative” portion of the 2019 test, however, will still apply to the U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign banks subject to the annual exam. The move, which is a big win for major banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citigroup, forms part of a broader effort by the Fed to overhaul its annual “stress-testing” process, which the industry has long criticized as too onerous and opaque. Since the 2007-09 global financial crisis, the Fed has put the country’s lenders through strict annual tests to see whether they would have enough capital to withstand a major economic downturn.

For the largest lenders, that test also included a so-called “qualitative objection,” that gives the Fed the discretion to fail banks due to risk management or operational failures, even if they have sufficient capital. Most banks that have failed the tests in the past stumbled on the qualitative objection. Banks that receive an objection from the Fed are required to adjust their capital distribution plans. [..] The Fed will still examine domestic banks for operational and risk management problems, but will address them through enforcement actions rather than a public flunking. The U.S. subsidiaries of five foreign lenders – Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS, Barclays and TD Bank – would also still be subject to the qualitative objection.

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And scrap the ECB and BOJ too. Their only goal is to preserve zombies.

BTW, does anyone seriously think it’s not too late yet for Europe? Asking for a friend.

Beware The ‘Japanification’ Of Europe – ING Economists (MW)

The eurozone is beginning to resemble Japan with its low-growth and low-inflation environment, coupled with still very loose monetary policy, according to economists at ING. This raises questions about the European Central Bank’s tool kit and firing power. Interest rates haven’t gone up in either the eurozone or Japan since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Conversely, the Federal Reserve has raised rates nine times since the crisis years, presumably giving it room to cut them again should the economy need a boost. The Bank of Japan is considered the most hesitant of its peers to normalize monetary policy. And already since the mid-1990s, Japan has been struggling with a high public debt ratio and stubbornly low inflation and growth rates.

None of that bodes well for a hawkish central bank approach. The eurozone looks like it entered a similar trend of late, said ING economists Carsten Brzeski and Inga Fechner, one day ahead of the European Central Bank’s next policy update. “An end to current unconventional monetary policy, i.e. the negative deposit rate and ample liquidity, is not insight and the ECB is expected to do everything it can to avoid an unwarranted tightening of its monetary stance.” “Last year, Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 238%, and since 1994, headline inflation has been negative for almost half of the time. This trend has also emerged in the eurozone in recent years,” said Brzeski and Fechner, pointing at Greece, as well as Spain and Italy, in the aftermath of the European sovereign debt crisis. Though deflationary risks have disappeared in the eurozone, consumer prices haven’t exactly been soaring.

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The power of US intelligence.

Huawei Hits Back, Sues America, Claims US Hacked Its Servers (Age)

Huawei has accused the US of hacking its computers in a defiant press conference where the Chinese telecommunications giant announced it had taken legal action in a Texas court to overturn a US ban. Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping said in China that the US Congress had failed to produce any evidence to justify its ban which prevents US agencies, private companies that deal with US agencies and recipients of US loans or grants from using Huawei’s gear. The Trump Administration has accused Huawei of being a national security risk because it was a tool of the Chinese government. But Guo fired back, saying the US “has hacked our servers and stolen our emails and source code”.

“Despite this, the US has never produced any evidence supporting their allegations that Huawei poses a cyber security threat.” He added: “The US is trying to block us from 5G markets in other countries.” Guo said that a section of the US National Defense Authorisation Act that names Huawei not only damages the company’s reputation but stops Huawei from servicing customers outside the US. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly urged other countries, particularly in Europe, to ban Huawei from 5G if they want to continue to deal with the US. Germany and Britain are due to make decisions this month.

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They’ll simply shift from collusion to -now- obstruction to yet another term. Just as long as it takes.

Nadler’s ‘Obstruction’ Quest (WSJ Ed.)

Well, we’re off on the march to impeachment, as we predicted last year even as Democrats said it wasn’t on their minds. With Chairman Jerry Nadler’s subpoena swarm from House Judiciary this week, and his assertions that President Trump obstructed justice, the articles of impeachment are apparently awaiting only the collection of the readily available details to fill in the blanks. “Do you think the President obstructed justice?” asked ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “Yes, I do,” replied Mr. Nadler. “It’s very clear that the President obstructed justice. It’s very clear—1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt, he tried to—he fired—he tried to protect [Michael] Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired [FBI director Jim] Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News.”

Credit Mr. Nadler for candor that Democrats didn’t display when they campaigned last year. Then they talked only about holding the President “accountable.” Now they claim they already have enough to impeach Mr. Trump, though as Mr. Nadler admitted Sunday, “you have to persuade enough of the opposition party voters, Trump voters . . . that you’re not just trying to steal the last—to reverse the results of the last election.” That may be harder than he imagines, and not only because of Mr. Nadler’s Freudian slip there of “steal.” Based on the public evidence so far, Mr. Trump hasn’t obstructed justice in any of the examples Mr. Nadler cited. Mr. Nadler wants to turn the President’s exercise of his normal constitutional powers into impeachable offenses.

The case against Mr. Nadler’s obstruction theory has been made in these pages by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and appellate lawyer and our contributor David Rivkin. Attorney General William Barr also made the case in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department when he was still in private life. A President can obstruct justice while in office but only if he is committing a per se illegal offense. That is, if he suborns perjury or destroys evidence, or commits “any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence,” as Mr. Barr put it. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton committed such acts in Mr. Barr’s view, but Mr. Trump has not as far as we can see.

On the other hand, a President cannot obstruct justice when he takes actions that are consistent with his Article II powers under the Constitution. That includes in particular firing inferior executive-branch officers such as Mr. Comey. Such acts may be politically stupid, but they aren’t obstruction.

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Less than 100% truthful.

Michael Cohen Asked His Former Lawyer To Seek Pardon From Trump (WSJ)

Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump, directed his attorney last spring to inquire about the possibility of a presidential pardon, weeks after federal agents raided his properties, Cohen’s lawyer said Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s attorney at the time, discussed the possibility of a pardon with lawyers for Trump in the weeks after the Federal Bureau of Investigation in April raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. The president’s lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Joanna Hendon, dismissed the idea of a pardon at the time, people familiar with the discussions said.

But at least one of them, Giuliani, left open the possibility that the president could grant Cohen one in the future, they said. In testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said: “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, said Wednesday that in the months after the FBI raid, Cohen was open to a pardon from the president. “During that time period, he directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump,” Davis said. He referred to the discussions with the president’s lawyers as the “ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon.”

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It’s all about money, nothing else.

Democrats Bar Fox From Hosting Primary Candidate Debates (AFP)

The Democratic Party said Wednesday it will not allow Fox News to host any of its primary candidate debates, after published revelations suggested the network is a “propaganda” vehicle for President Donald Trump. National Committee (DNC) chairman Tom Perez said a story in this week’s New Yorker magazine on the White House’s apparently close relationship with the channel prompted the decision. “Just to be clear, Fox News will not serve as a media partner for the 2020 Democratic primary debates,” Perez said on Twitter. “Recent reporting in the New Yorker on the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News has led me to conclude that the network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” he added in a statement to The Washington Post.

News of the move enraged Trump, who suggested on Twitter he would “do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats” — despite having no authority over Republican debate broadcasting rights. Trump often refers to CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC as “fake news.” US presidential debate and primary debate broadcast rights are coveted prizes for American media outlets. The events traditionally draw broad viewership, and the series of debates beginning this year – aimed at winnowing the Democratic field of over a dozen candidates – will likely have large television audiences.

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I’m thinking if they haven’t so far, what are the odds?

EU Urges UK To Offer ‘Acceptable’ Brexit Plan (BBC)

The UK has been urged to table fresh proposals within the next 48 hours to break the Brexit impasse. EU officials said they would work non-stop over the weekend if “acceptable” ideas were received by Friday to break the deadlock over the Irish backstop. The UK has said “reasonable” proposals to satisfy MPs’ concerns about being tied to EU rules had already been made. It comes as Jeremy Corbyn has met with Tory MPs to discuss possible alternatives to the PM’s deal. The Labour leader held talks with ex-Tory minister Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin, who favour a closer, Norway-style relationship with the EU.

He said he had discussed the so-called “Common Market 2.0 option” – which would see the UK remain in the EU’s single market by staying part of the European Economic Area – but would not commit to backing it at this stage. There have been few visible signs of progress ahead of Parliament’s second vote on the Brexit deal next Tuesday. MPs emphatically rejected the terms of withdrawal negotiated by Theresa May in January. If they do so again, they will get to choose between leaving without a deal or deferring the UK’s exit date from the EU beyond the scheduled 29 March. The PM is seeking legally-enforceable changes to the backstop – an insurance policy designed to prevent physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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Telegraph today: “Brexit deal ‘will be defeated by 100 votes’, ministers believe, after talks in Brussels collapse..”

Brexit Meaningful Vote Will Go Ahead, Says No 10 (G.)

Downing Street has insisted the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will go ahead as promised on Tuesday, despite negotiations in Brussels stumbling. The prime minister’s spokesman repeated the line on Wednesday that the government is determined to secure “legally binding changes” to the Irish backstop, despite the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, returning empty-handed from the talks. Shortly before leaving Brussels, he conceded “strong views” had been expressed during three hours of “robust” discussions. Downing Street said the talks had been “difficult”, but stressed the vote would take place on Tuesday, as committed by May.

If it is lost, MPs will vote on successive days on whether to block a no-deal Brexit and whether to extend the departure date. With it increasingly being assumed No 10 will not secure significant EU concessions on the backstop, May is expected to try to sell her plan to MPs and the public later in the week, potentially with a speech. There are no plans as yet for the prime minister or Cox to return to Brussels, but it is understood this could happen if required. Sunday night is the final deadline for any changes, as the government needs to publish and print copies of deal documents on Monday, and publish the motion MPs will then vote on.

[..] Cabinet ministers are pessimistic about the prospects of wooing enough waverers in parliament to win the second meaningful vote. May will then come under intense pressure to offer MPs a free vote on a no-deal Brexit, with her cabinet deeply divided. The opportunity to vote on this was only secured after scores of frontbenchers made it clear they were willing to resign, and the cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke wrote to the Daily Mail rejecting the idea of a no-deal departure.Senior EU diplomats said the bloc’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, offered a “gloomy” analysis of the talks. According to a diplomatic note, Weyand told the ambassadors: “Cox’s asks are going well beyond where Barnier can go.”

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“..49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income..”

Monthly Income Lasts Just 19 Days For Over Half of Greek Households (K.)

The Greek economy’s scars from the decade-long financial crisis and the internal devaluation are more than obvious. Despite the slight improvement in certain income-related indexes, three in 10 households get by on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros, while pensions comprise the main source of income for almost half of all households, according to a survey published on Wednesday by the Institute of Small Enterprises of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE). In this first survey after the completion of the bailout programs, GSEVEE found that 43.9 percent of households reported a decline in their incomes last year compared to 2017.

Almost half of the households surveyed (48.9 percent) reported income stability, up from one in three (35.6 percent) in 2017, while 7.1 percent said they had seen an increase, up from just 2 percent in 2017. At the same time, the share of households on an annual income of less than 10,000 euros remained quite high, at 31.7 percent, against 34.2 percent in 2017. The biggest income bracket is that of households with earnings of between 10,000 and 18,000 euros per year, accounting for 39.8 percent in 2018 against 37.5 percent in 2017. This illustrates the shift of a number of households that were in the bottom bracket to a higher one; however, it also points to declines in the incomes of some households that in 2017 had been in the over-18,000 euros per annum bracket.

The bulk of Greek households find themselves in the bottom two income tiers. More than one in eight (12.7 percent) households say their incomes do not suffice to cover their basic needs, and more than half (52.5 percent) say their monthly income is not enough to carry them through all 30 days, sufficing instead for an average of just 19 days per month. All this is explained by the fact that 49.1 percent of households have a main pension as their primary source of income, even if that has been significantly reduced in recent years.

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Neoliberalism is killing the EU as a project, maybe not in Germany, but certainly in Italy and Greece. Still, labeling a basic income project ‘welfare’ is leading, Reuters.

Italy’s Welfare Revolution Kicks Off As ‘Citizens’ Income’ Goes Live (R.)

Italy’s flagship welfare reform kicked off in busy but orderly fashion on Wednesday as thousands of poor and unemployed people applied in post offices and tax assistance centers for the “citizens’ income” scheme. The populist 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League and has long promoted the measure, hopes it will lift its flagging fortunes ahead of European Parliament elections in May. Despite a steady flow of applicants, warnings of chaos and long queues proved misplaced, as many people appeared to heed advice not to sign up on the scheme’s first day.

“This is so helpful, it will give me some breathing space to get to the end of each month,” said 36-year-old Svetlana Guerra as she left a small tax assistance center (CAF) in a densely populated quarter of south-eastern Rome. Guerra, a Ukrainian-born widow who has lived in Italy for 19 years and survives thanks to odd jobs paid under the counter, said she expected the citizens’ income to give her about 280 euros ($315) per month to help her pay her rent. Guerra is one of millions struggling to make ends meet in a country in its third recession in 10 years and where the economy has barely grown since the start of the century.

Italians in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money to buy a basket of basic goods and services, rose to 5.1 million in 2017, according to statistics office ISTAT. That is a more than threefold increase in a decade. Italy has traditionally had a generous pension system and offered limited-term state benefits for those laid off from work, but until last year it was virtually unique among rich countries in having no means-tested welfare scheme.

The previous center-left government aimed to fill that gap, but the “inclusion income” program it launched ahead of elections a year ago set aside just 2 billion euros and was widely deemed inadequate. The citizens’ income, a rallying call for 5-Star since its foundation in 2009, will cost 7 billion euros this year and is expected to go initially to 2.7 million people, according to ISTAT. Critics say Italy’s strained public finances cannot afford it. The 5-Star Movement was easily the biggest party at the March 2018 national election but has seen its support slide since then and been overtaken in opinion polls by the League.

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Make America Great Again must start with its wildlife. That’s much greater than millions working bullshit jobs where they drive an hour a day from the burbs. Nothing great about that.

First, define greatness.

Red Wolf: The Struggle To Save One Of The Rarest Animals On Earth (G.)

Attempting to locate one of the rarest animals on the planet, US government scientist Joe Madison pointed an antiquated VHF tracking antenna at a tangle of thick vegetation and twiddled some dials on the receiver. A red wolf, judging by the beeps, was in the vicinity but well-hidden. “Did you hear that beep? That’s a six-year-old male we just heard,” said Madison, a Tennessean with a sandy-coloured beard who is manager of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) red wolf program. “I mean, obviously I don’t see anything.” Sightings of red wolves are uncommon not only due to their elusive nature but also their plummeting population. Only around 30 of the creatures remain in the wild, in a corner of North Carolina, with 18 of them fitted with radio collars that Madison attempts to pick up with his antenna.


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

An FWS assessment in 2016 warned this vestige could completely vanish within eight years. The scenario now is even grimmer. “We’re already way ahead of where that projection was,” Madison said. “If we stay on the current trajectory it won’t be that long before we lose the population. In fact, we are down to one known breeding pair.” Faced with hardening opposition to the wolves’ presence from some nearby landowners, the FWS has gradually pulled back. Wild releases of captive pups have stopped, as has the sterilization of encroaching coyotes to avoid hybridization. In June, the Trump administration unveiled a plan, several years in the making, that would scale the red wolves’ protected area back to its federally owned core and allow people to shoot the species without repercussions on private land.

Conservation groups argue this plan will swiftly snuff out the red wolf and have taken the fight to the courts. “The impression we’ve gotten is that Fish and Wildlife have got tired of trying to save controversial species like wolves,” said Dr Ron Sutherland, an ecologist and red wolf expert at the Wildlands Network. “They don’t have the budget or the backing of Congress. It’s easier to let the wolves decline to the point where they can just pull the plug and we’re very nearly at that point. This wasn’t a thing started by Trump but Trump could certainly finish it off.”


Photograph: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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I’m sure this is a priority for Beijing. Stop trading with these countries or they won’t stop.

China Prosecutes 11 People In $119 Million Totoaba Fish Bust (AFP)

Chinese authorities have prosecuted 11 people for smuggling $119 million worth of Mexican totoaba fish swim bladders, one of the country’s biggest busts related to the trafficking of an endangered species used in traditional medicine. Mexico has urged China for years to crack down on totoaba smuggling over fears that illegal fishing operations in the Gulf of California are also killing off the world’s smallest porpoise, the near-extinct vaquita marina. The Jiangmen city procuratorate in southern Guangdong province said the 11 people are suspected of smuggling nearly 20,000 swim bladders worth more than 800 million yuan ($119 million) from Mexico. The group of smugglers, led by an individual named Liang Weihua, transported the fish parts in “large quantities” and sold them to consumers in China.

“This crime lasted for more than three years,” said the Guangdong-based procuratorate, a legal supervision agency, on its website. The smuggling route involved a number of neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, it said, adding that the case is currently under further investigation. The critically endangered totoaba fish has been in steep decline since the 1940s, largely because of its reputed healing powers in Chinese medicine. The fish’s swim bladder can fetch up to $20,000 on the black market in China, where it is believed to have beautifying properties and cure a host of ailments, from arthritis pain to discomfort during pregnancy. In fact, they are so prized that some Chinese simply display them in fancy cases in their homes.

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“..more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans..”

Microplastics Found ‘Absolutely Everywhere’ (G.)

Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain. Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes. The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.

“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic. “Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere [but] we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realised just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”

[..] “Microplastic has been found in our rivers, our highest mountains and our deepest oceans,” said Julian Kirby, a plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth who helped collect water samples for the new UK study. He urged MPs to back legislation “to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment”. Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

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Feb 052019
 
 February 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Meditation 1936

 

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)
Bill Gross Retires (R.)
SOTU (Jim Kunstler)
EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)
Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)
Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)
An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)
Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)
Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)
The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)
Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)
Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

 

 

As Trump has dinner with Powell, some San Francisco Fed theorist waxes enthusiastically about what more the Fed could have done. Not pre-2008, when the crisis caused by Fed policies erupted, but post-2008, when it tried to repair the damage it had done -and ‘failed’. Get these guys out of your economy or you’re going to see a real crisis. The Fed serves rich people only. All these people claim to defend a free market, but the Fed is the biggest enemy of a free market.

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)

The Federal Reserve responded aggressively to the most recent financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 by cutting the target for its benchmark short-term interest rate, known as the federal funds rate, to a range just above zero in December 2008, where it stayed until the end of 2015. Traditionally, it has been assumed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, known as the “lower bound.” Ever since 2008, researchers have debated how much monetary policy was constrained by this lower bound and how much it affected economic outcomes. To work around this constraint, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy tools such as forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases.

Other central banks—in Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, and the euro area—took unconventional policy one step further and challenged the traditional view on the lower bound by setting their target rates below zero. In this Economic Letter, I consider whether pushing rates below zero would have improved economic outcomes in the United States in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Model estimates suggest that reducing the effective lower bound for the federal funds rate to –0.75% would have reduced economic slack by as much as one-half at the trough of the recession and sped up the ensuing recovery. While the boost to the economy would have been negligible after 2014, inflation would have been higher throughout the recovery by about half a percentage point on average.

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Alternative headline: Fed policies killed Bill Gross. Can’t support stocks without killing bonds. It’s about pensions, don’t you know.

Bill Gross Retires (R.)

Bill Gross, once the bond market’s most influential investor, will retire from Janus in coming weeks, ending attempts to reclaim the stature he enjoyed leading the world’s largest fixed-income investing firm. Gross, who turned to investing after serving as U.S. naval officer, co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co in 1971, attaining rock-star status in investing circles as he attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Under his watch, Pimco blossomed into a $2 trillion asset-management powerhouse, one so influential that the U.S. Federal Reserve tapped it to help implement its program of emergency bond purchases in the financial crisis in 2008. At Janus, however, Gross was unable to repeat his earlier success, with the performance of the fund he managed ranking near the bottom. Gross told Reuters on Friday that low rates are distorting returns.

His tenure at Pimco ended abruptly and acrimoniously in September 2014, when he was ousted. His flagship Total Return Fund – which hit a peak of $292.9 billion in assets in April 2013 – was hemorrhaging assets. At the end of April 2015, the Pimco Total Return Fund had lost its title as the world’s biggest bond mutual fund to the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund, which had $117.3 billion of assets. “You have to give Bill a lot of credit because he was the prime mover, popularizing active management,” Dan Fuss, vice chairman at Loomis, Sayles & Co LP, and one of Gross’ biggest competitors, said in a telephone interview. “I had hoped he’d be out and about and stay in the business because I know he would have wound up doing a good job.”

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Here’s hoping he rips them all another one. That the SOTU may be as exciting as the Super Bowl was dull.

SOTU (Jim Kunstler)

It’s conceivable, in a nation that absolutely can’t make sense of itself, that Mr. Trump’s annual report to congress will be as incomprehensible as this year’s Superbowl halftime show. Even the weather in Atlanta was a complete mystery with Maroon 5’s front man, Adam Levine, capering half-naked in tattoo drag amid artificial fires-of-hell, and then local hero rapper Big Boi’s triumphal entry in a limo, nearly lost inside what looked like the pelt of a giant ground sloth — an eight-year-old’s idea of what it means to be important. Or maybe it was just all code for two sides of the climate change debate. You can be sure the atmosphere will be frosty to the max when the Golden Golem of Greatness lumbers down the aisle of congress’s house on Tuesday night.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Democratic majority turns its backs on him during the always excruciating preliminaries and then just walks out of the chamber. Don’t expect the usual excessive rounds of applause from the president’s own party this time, either, in the big, half-empty room. They don’t know what to do about him at this point… or what to do with themselves, for that matter. The running theme for State of the Union (SOTU) messages going back to Ronald Reagan is American Wonderfulness, so expect at least forty minutes of national self-esteem therapy, which nobody will believe. Throw in another ten minutes of elevating sob stories about “special guests” up in the galleries. But leave a little time for Mr. Trump to roll a few cherry bombs down the aisles. He must be good and goddam sick of all the guff shoveled at him for two years.

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Smugglers rejoice!

EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)

GOODS shipped to Britain from the EU are to be waved through 20 UK ports without checks in a No Deal to avoid huge jams – HMRC has declared. In official advice released today, HM Revenue & Customs said that “for a temporary period” it would allow “most” shipments into the country before companies have even informed them they’ve arrived. Exporters would have just over 24 hours to then fill in an electronic declaration. The revelation comes just months after HMRC bosses warned the UK’s post-Brexit customs system would not work properly for two years in a No Deal. HMRC chief John Thompson told MPs last year that the Government would have a choice to make – whether to keep trade moving, ensure security at the border, or collect revenues.

Insiders said it appeared that HMRC had decided it was essential to keep trade moving rather than risk huge queues on the way to ports such as Dover or at Eurotunnel terminals. Hauliers have been furious at the lack of guidance from HMRC and the Government over how the customs system would work in the event of a No Deal. Today’s “updated guidance” warns that anyone importing into Brexit Britain will have to fill out a customs form before checking goods onto a ferry or train on the EU side. But it adds: “For a temporary period, HMRC will allow most goods moving from the listed roll on roll off locations to leave the UK port or train station before you’ve told us that the goods have arrived.”

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What other secret plans are there?

Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)

The business secretary has been forced to admit the existence of a previously secret package of state aid to Nissan that could have been worth up to £80m had the carmaker gone ahead with plans to manufacture a new model X-Trail in Sunderland after Brexit. Greg Clark released a letter dated October 2016 in which he pledged tens of millions of taxpayer support and promised the Japanese company it would not be “adversely affected” after the UK left the EU. Yet, at the time the commitments were first made, Downing Street had said “there was no special deal for Nissan” and Clark refused six times to answer a question about what was on offer when interviewed on the BBC. He even appeared to suggest no money was involved. Asked on BBC One’s Question Time about the deal, he said: “There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.”

Clark and the government had repeatedly refused to release the 2016 letter until the promises turned out to be worthless, because Nissan had abandoned its future investment plan, partly because of uncertainty over Brexit. The four-page document, sent by Clark to Nissan’s then chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, committed the government to “a package of support in areas such as skills, R&D and innovation” which “could amount to additional support of up to £80m”. The state aid package ultimately turned out to be worth £61m when it was formally awarded to Nissan in June 2018, a fact only acknowledged by Clark in a second letter sent on Monday to the Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the business select committee.

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Merkel seems to open a door just to slam it shut again the next instant.

“..she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.”

Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)

There is still time to find a solution to Britain’s exit from the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday, voicing optimism on a political deal over the tricky “backstop” that has stymied progress. Speaking to Japanese and German business leaders in Tokyo, Merkel stressed that “on the one hand, time is pressing” and businesses using “just-in-time” delivery processes could not afford lengthy customs procedures. However, she added: “From a political point of view, there is still time. Two months is not a long time but there is still time, and this should be used by all sides.” Britain is poised to leave the EU at the end of March following a 2016 referendum. Merkel acknowledged the issue of the unpopular Northern Ireland backstop provision was “complicating” Brexit talks.

The backstop is intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Ireland, but Brexit supporters fear it will keep Britain tied to EU customs rules. She said the issue with the backstop was a “problem that is precisely defined and therefore one should be able to find a precisely defined solution”. “But this solution depends on the question of what the future relationship between Britain and the EU will be like and what type of trade deal we sign with each other,” added the chancellor. Throwing the ball into London’s court, she stressed: “It will be very important for us to know what exactly the British side sees as its future relationship with the EU.” [..] she urged “creativity” and “goodwill” to find a solution. However, she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.

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French banks. And Wall Street.

An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)

Plagued by another run of bank bailouts and simmering tensions between the partners in its ruling coalition, Italy’s brief reprieve following the detente between its populist rulers and angry bureaucrats in Brussels is already beginning to fade. As Bloomberg reminded us on Monday, Italy’s $1.7 trillion pile of public debt – the third largest sovereign debt pool in Europe – is threatening to set off a chain reaction that could hammer banks from Rome, to Madrid, to Frankfurt – and beyond. Just the mention of the precarity of Italian debt markets “can induce a shudder of financial fear like no other” in bureaucrats and businessmen alike – particularly after Italy’s economy slid into a recession during Q4. While much of Italy’s debt burden is held by its banks and private citizens, lenders outside of Italy are holding some €425 billion ($486 billion) in public and private debt.

The Bloomberg analysis of Italy’s financial foibles follows more reports that Italy’s ruling coalition between the anti-immigrant, pro-business League and the vaguely left-wing populist Five-Star Movement has become increasingly strained. Per BBG, the two parties are fighting a battle on two fronts over the construction of a high speed Alpine rail and a legal case involving League leader Matteo Salvini over his refusal to let the Dicotti migrant ship to dock in an Italian port last summer. After M5S intimated that it could support the investigation, the League warned that such a move would be tantamount to “blackmail” against Salvini, whose lieutenants have been pushing for him to take advantage of the party’s rising poll numbers and push for early elections later this year. However, Salvini has rebuffed these demands, warning that there’s nothing stopping Italian President Sergio Mattarella from calling for a new coalition instead of new elections.

[..] To keep operating without massive budget cuts (something neither party in the ruling coalition has shown any sign of supporting) Italy must sell 400 billion euros ($457 billion) of debt per year. But since Italy’s banks hold so much of the country’s debt, declines in the price of Italian bonds inevitably hurts the shares of Italian banks, and also forces them to hold more capital on their books to ensure liquidity from the ECB. This creates the potential for a negative feedback loop known as the “doom loop”. Put another way, “a government crisis could drag down the banking system or a banking crisis could suck in the government.”

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And the Chinese withdraw.

Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)

Australia’s central bank warned of risks to growth on Tuesday but wrongfooted rate bears by steering clear from an explicit easing signal, even as data showed shoppers slashed spending during Christmas in another sign of cooling economic momentum. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left rates at a record low 1.50 percent for a 30th straight month, saying accommodative policy was supporting the economy and that further progress was expected in reducing unemployment and lifting inflation over time. The local dollar jumped as the statement sounded less dovish than the markets had wagered on.

“The main message from the RBA today was that they are still positive on the growth outlook, and particularly on the labor market, and they see the economy as still on track towards lifting inflation back to their target,” said HSBC Australia’s chief economist Paul Bloxham. Yet, interest rates futures continued to price in a 50-50 chance of a rate cut by the end of the year, reflecting the deteriorating growth momentum in the face of rising global and domestic risks. Lowe expects Australia’s A$1.8 trillion economy ($1.3 trillion) to expand at an above-trend rate of around 3 percent this year. That is a slightly more cautious view compared to “a little above 3 percent” in its previous statement.

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Temir Porras Ponceleon was chief of staff to Nicolás Maduro from 2007 to 2013. He is now a visiting professor at Sciences Po, Paris.

Stangely missing from this piece: the CIA.

Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)

Falsely presented as a “fresh face”, Guaidó first came to prominence in 2007, as a member of a generation of students who led protests against Chávez’s socialism, despite his landslide presidential victory in 2006. Guaidó is part of an opposition that never stopped challenging Chávez’s popular legitimacy even in his heyday, and who naturally doubled down as soon as the less assertive Maduro took office. The challenges to Maduro’s legitimacy began the moment he was elected. His presidential opponent, Henrique Capriles, labelled the 2013 election a fraud (without providing any supporting evidence). Capriles called on his followers to ventilate their “anger” in the streets, a move resulting in the killing of a number of Chavistas.

In January 2014 Guaidó’s political party, Voluntad Popular, launched a nationwide insurrectionary movement aimed at forcing Maduro out of office. This was only nine months into Maduro’s term, and long before the country faced any serious economic or social problems. In fact, in early 2014 oil prices were at record highs, and Venezuelans were still enjoying their highest levels of income ever, in terms of GDP per capita. [..] And then oil prices collapsed in June 2014, leaving an ill-prepared country frozen in inaction. Living standards started to deteriorate, and while a Maduro-led Chavismo remained a large and organised political force, it lost its dominance. Maduro suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 2015 legislative elections, which allowed an opposition coalition to seize a potentially devastating two-thirds supermajority in the national assembly.

[..] Unless the international community is willing to risk a needless war on the American continent, it must urgently create conditions for a national dialogue aimed at reaching a political agreement. [..] The idea that Maduro has managed to remain in office during the past six years solely through corruption and the use of force is a gross misrepresentation. It ignores that, beyond the president, the Chavismo social movement counts millions of supporters, primarily from lower-income communities, and is strongly embedded within the Venezuelan military.

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“The protests seen in France and the interference in the domestic politics of Venezuela highlight Western double standards, which stand in contrast to the respect for international law maintained by China, India and Russia.”

The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)

In France on November 17, 2018, hundreds of thousands of citizens, angered by the diminishing quality of their lives, the social iniquity in the country, and the widening gap between rich and poor, took to the streets in protest. The protests can easily be encapsulated in the following slogan: “We the people against you the elite.” This slogan has been a recurring theme throughout the West over the last three years, shaking up the British establishment with the pro-Brexit vote, discombobulating the United States with Trump’s victory, overturning Italy with the Lega/Five-Star government, and bringing Merkel’s star crashing down in Germany.

Now it is the turn of Macron and France, one of the least popular leaders in the world, leading his country into chaos, with peaceful protests drawing a bloody response from the authorities following ten weeks of unceasing demonstrations. In Venezuela, Western elites would like us to believe that the situation is worse than in France in terms of public order, but that is simply a lie. It is a media creation based on misinformation and censorship. In Europe, the mainstream media has stopped showing images of the protests in France, as if to smother information about it, preferring to portray an image of France that belies the chaos in which it has been immersed for every weekend over the last few months.

In Caracas, the right-wing, pro-American and anti-Communist opposition continues the same campaign based on lies and violence as it has customarily conducted following its electoral defeats at the hands of the Bolivarian revolution. The Western mainstream media beams images and videos of massive pro-government Bolivarian rallies and falsely portrays them as anti-Maduro protests. We are dealing here with acts of journalistic terrorism, and the journalists who push this narrative, instigating clashes, should be prosecuted by a criminal court of the Bolivarian people in Caracas.

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Good on them. All these EU countries don’t deem it needed to explain why they do it, other than: Maduro is a dictator. Well, his approval rating is higher than any of theirs.

Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)

Rome has effectively derailed an EU statement meant to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader if President Nicolas Maduro fails to set up snap elections, a Five Star Movement source confirmed to RT. Italy announced the veto at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that started on January 31 in Romania, the source said. The statement, which was supposed to be delivered by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini recognized Guaido as interim president if snap elections were not held. The European Parliament is the first European body to recognize Guaido “as the only legitimate interim president of the country until new free, transparent and credible presidential elections can be called in order to restore democracy.”

The parliament urged the EU to follow suit but the effort stalled due to internal discord. A range of European nations have separately recognized the opposition chief as Venezuela’s acting president, including the UK, France, Sweden, Spain, and Austria. The coordinated move came after an eight-day deadline for Maduro to call presidential elections expired on Monday. The US announced that it is backing the new interim leader and pledged their full support immediately after what has been labeled “a coup” by officials in Caracas. However Russia, China, Turkey and Iran said they see Maduro as the only legitimate leader, warning against meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

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Orwell.

Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

Nearly 2,000 pro-Venezuelan Twitter accounts have been removed for “engaging in a state-backed influence campaign,” the social media company said in a blog post on Thursday. A total of 1,196 social media accounts based in Venezuela suspected of attempting to “influence domestic audiences” were purged last week. Another 764 accounts were deleted, although the San Francisco-based company told users, “We are unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country.” Allegations of censorship soon filled the site’s timeline.

Television host for the investigatory series, Empire Files, Abby Martin tweeted, “While pro-coup Venezuelans & right-wing exiles dominate the media sphere, tech companies are actively censoring pro-government accounts they say are working to “influence” people.” Another journalist, Ben Norton, accused the company of catering to “U.S. government interests:” Twitter is now removing thousands of accounts supposedly linked to Venezuela’s sovereign government. This comes after Twitter suspended Venezuelan government accounts 1.5 years ago. Social media corporations act as an extension of US government interests.” In another blog post, Twitter announced the release of five new datasets which were allegedly created in relation to suspected foreign interference efforts it had encountered.

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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.

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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.

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 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!”.