May 272017
 
 May 27, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Paul Klee Limits of the Mind 1927

 

Global Pension Underfunding To Grow To $400 Trillion Over Next 30 Years (ZH)
UK Retirement Age Could Hit 80 As Pensions Deficit Sets Off Time Bomb (Ind.)
President Trump’s Disastrous Budget Plan (John T. Harvey)
Trump Prepares “War Room”, “Big White House Changes”, Loss Of Twitter (ZH)
Trump’s Allies, Convicted of High Crimes Without a Trial (BBG)
Millennials Want to Buy Homes but Aren’t Saving for Down Payments (WSJ)
Australia Economy Hit By Spending Strike, Cyclone (AFR)
Theresa May Launches Strongest Attack Yet On Jeremy Corbyn (Tel.)
No Exit (Jim Kunstler)
Libyan Coastguard Opened Fire At Refugee Boats: NGOs (AlJ)
Hopes For Refugee Crisis Plan Fall Into Chasm Between G7 And Trump (G.)

 

 

Long time coming, we’ve been warning about this for as long as the Automatic Earth exists. It’s slow motion, but it’s certain.

Global Pension Underfunding To Grow To $400 Trillion Over Next 30 Years (ZH)

Of course, as we’ve argued before, the current pension underfunding levels are sure to only get worse over the coming decades as the world will have to contend with a wave of retiring Baby Boomers and a period of lackluster, volatile returns. So how bad could the global funding gap get? Unfortunately, the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently set out to solve that impossible math equation and it turns out the answer is about $400 trillion…give or take a couple trillion. Not surprisingly, the WEF attributed their terrifying conclusion to an ageing population, lack of savings, low expected growth rates and financially illiterate citizens.

• Long-term, low-growth environment: Over the past 10 years, long-term investment returns have been significantly lower than historic averages. Equities have performed 3%-5% below historic averages and bond returns have typically been 1%-3% lower. Low rates have grown future liabilities, and at the same time investment returns have been lower than expected and unable to make up the growing pension shortfall.

• Inadequate savings rates: To support a reasonable level of income in retirement, 10%-15% of an average annual salary needs to be saved. Today, individual savings rates in most countries are far lower. This is already presenting challenges where traditionally defined benefit structures would have provided a guaranteed pension benefit. Now, as workers look at their defined contribution retirement balances, with no guaranteed benefits, they are realizing that the retirement income their savings will provide will be much lower than expected.

• Low levels of financial literacy: Levels of financial literacy are very low worldwide. This represents a threat to pension systems which are more selfdirected and which rely more on private savings in addition to employer- or government-provided savings. Of course, ignoring that minor ~20 year increase in life expectancy over the past 60 years without raising retirement ages can take a toll on those present value calculations of future liabilities.

Oh, and turns out that politicians creating massive ponzi schemes to promise citizens that their government would take care of their financial needs in perpetuity, while never really bothering to explain the true costs of such programs, was probably a bad idea. But luckily these politicians are exempt from being prosecuted for their financial crimes…so taxpayers will just have to deal with picking up the $400 trillion tab.

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And once you’re 80 everyhting’s gone, spent.

UK Retirement Age Could Hit 80 As Pensions Deficit Sets Off Time Bomb (Ind.)

The UK has been told to prepare for a workforce of 80-year-olds as the world’s leading economies struggle to deal with a £54 trillion pensions time bomb. The amount could balloon to an astonishing £334 trillion by 2050 unless policymakers take urgent action, the World Economic Forum has warned. An ageing population, falling birth rates and poor access to pension products were the main sources of the widening gap between what people are saving and the amount they would have to put away to adequately fund their retirement, the WEF said. The projection is based on the OECD’s recommendation that people should have retirement income of around 70% of their salary.

On this measure, the UK’s shortfall is higher than £6.2 trillion and set to increase by around 4% per year, reaching more than £25 trillion by 2050. To avoid the looming crisis, governments need to to improve financial literacy and increase access to pensions in order to boost the amount people save, the WEF said. “Policymakers do need to be thinking now about how to integrate 75- and even 80-year-olds in the workplace,” Michael Drexler, head of financial and infrastructure systems for the WEF told The Financial Times. The WEF said life expectancy has risen rapidly since the 1950s, increasing by two years every decade on average. Babies born now can expect to live longer than 100 years, according to the WEF report.

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Nobody, Rep. or Dem., is interested in actually understanding the economy, they just want their favorite people to do well.

President Trump’s Disastrous Budget Plan (John T. Harvey)

Several months ago, I graded President Trump’s economics. The standard I used was the extent to which various policies drained or refilled the swamp, with the assumption that the former represented acts that helped the middle class (or aspirants thereto). I marked him with two swamp drainers (+2) and five swamp refillers (-5) for a net of -3. His newly-announced budget plan, however — where I had given him the benefit of the doubt and a +1–just switched to a -1. It is absolutely disastrous. As much as I complained about Obama’s, this may be worse. You can do a quick Google search and find plenty of line-by-line analyses to see where the cuts will come. I won’t bother with that. Instead, I want you to take a step back and just look at the simple logic involved. What is the macro impact of Trump’s newfound conviction that we need to reduce the public deficit?

1. It lowers our savings. Ignoring for the moment the foreign sector, there are only two main actors in our economy: the public sector and the private sector. The inescapable accounting logic is that if the public sector spends more than it earns, then the private sector must earn more than it spends. Or put another way, the government’s deficit is your surplus. Period. No alternate interpretation is possible. Now add in the fact that we already spend more for foreign products than they spend for ours and you see that not only does the private sector need the government’s deficit if it is going to have any net savings, but that deficit needs to be even larger than our net outflow to China, et al!

2. It reduces profits. Actually, this is really part of the above, but it gets a little more concrete. When the government cuts spending, this isn’t just a number of a ledger somewhere. It’s someone’s income: a fireman, a librarian, a Marine, a park ranger, a university physics professor working with grant money, etc., etc. As it stands today, those people are buying bread, milk, gas, movie tickets, apartment rentals, cars, and so on. Who is going to buy those items if we lay off those government workers? No one. In fact, it would then logically lead to even more layoffs as those businesses lost profits. So much for helping the entrepreneur.

3. It burdens current generations (and does nothing to help future ones). Probably the most fundamental fact about the debt is also the least understood one: it is impossible — IMPOSSIBLE — for the U.S. to be forced to default on debt in dollars. I have written on this point extensively and will not go on about it here. The bottom line is that default is off the table, it can’t happen. Hence, the only impact of cutting the deficit is the reduction in savings and profits (and employment) mentioned above.

And so, without even considering the micro impacts of the various cuts he has in mind, it’s bad news all around and Trump’s grade has dropped from -3 (+2 – 5) to a -5 (+1 – 6). Of course, for the rest of us the impact is somewhat more significant than getting a bad report card.

Read more …

Big changes were always going to happen. Losing Twitter, Spicer, Goldman alumni, Bannon, now maybe Kushner, no surprises there.

Trump Prepares “War Room”, “Big White House Changes”, Loss Of Twitter (ZH)

In lieu of the Friday night “Trump bombshell” deliverable from the NYT-WaPo complex, today it was Reuters’ and the Wall Street Journal’s turn to lay out the suspenseful weekend reads, previewing major potential upcoming changes to the Trump administration. First, according to Reuters, Trump’s top advisors are preparing to establish a “war room” to combat negative reports and mounting questions about communication between Russia. Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisors to the president, will be involved in the new messaging effort, which also aims to push Trump’s policy agenda and schedule more rallies with supporters. This “most aggressive effort yet” to push back against allegations involving Russia and his presidential campaign, will launch once Trump returns from his overseas trip.
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[..] Second, in a separate but similar report from the WSJ, the paper writes that Trump is “actively discussing major changes” in the White House, including a shakeup of his senior team, after spending much of his free time during his overseas trip weighing the Russia investigation and the political crisis it poses for him. A flurry of meetings devoted to White House operations are scheduled for next week, officials said, and sparks are expected to fly. While this isn’t the first time a major shake up around Trump was announced as imminent, recalls Axios reporting two weeks ago that an “angry” Trump was planning a huge reboot, and that Priebus, Bannon and Spicer could be fired …

[..] The biggest change may be that Trump is about to lose his twitter privileges for good: One major change under consideration would vet the president’s social media posts through a team of lawyers, who would decide if any needed to be adjusted or curtailed. The idea, said one of Mr. Trump’s advisers, is to create a system so that tweets “don’t go from the president’s mind out to the universe.” Some of Mr. Trump’s tweets—from hinting that he may have taped conversations with Mr. Comey to suggesting without any evidence that former President Barack Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower—have opened him to criticism and at times confounded his communications team. Trump aides have long attempted to rein in his tweeting, and some saw any type of legal vetting as difficult to implement. “I would be shocked if he would agree to that,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide.

[..] most interesting is the alleged emerging tension between Trump and his Goldman advisors: “Some Trump advisers have also questioned the judgment of communications officials, citing as an example the rollout of a tax-plan outline in April that featured Goldman Sachs alumnae Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director. “The left is automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. And we just gave them an image of the rich and of Wall Street,” one Trump former campaign official said. In an amusing tangent, the WSJ also points out that Trump’s return to Washington will mark the end of a period which, White House staffers said, “brought some relief from the hectic pace of the news surrounding the administration and the Russia investigation. Some noted that it gave them a rare time to eat dinner at home.”

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Peeking out of the echo chamber.

Trump’s Allies, Convicted of High Crimes Without a Trial (BBG)

Heard any good Mike Flynn jokes lately? How about this one from “Morning Joe,” this week? “When it comes to legal issues, he’s like Charmin. You just keep squeezing.” Maybe you’ve seen Stephen Colbert’s segment from February about Trump’s former national security adviser: “It’s funny ’cause it’s treason.” Don’t miss the exchange in the New Yorker last month with former acting attorney general Sally Yates. Reporter Ryan Lizza asked Yates about how she informed the White House counsel that Flynn had lied to his colleagues about his monitored conversations with the Russian ambassador. “You didn’t just text, ‘Heads-up, your N.S.A. might be a spy’?” Lizza asked. Yates quipped: “Is there an emoji for that?” Well it’s nice to see our elites are in such good humor about something so grave. If there truly was treason, it’s no joking matter.

If there was not, then this man’s name is being tarnished unfairly. Ha. Ha. After all, Flynn has yet to be charged with a crime. If there is evidence that he betrayed his country, it has yet to be presented. None of the many news stories about Flynn’s contacts with Russians and Turks has accused him of being disloyal to his country. And yet a decorated general has already been tried and convicted in the press. None of this would be happening without some very dirty business from the national security state. It’s a two-pronged campaign. First there are the whispers. Anonymous officials describe in detail elements of an ongoing investigation: intercepts of conversations between Russian officials about how they could influence Flynn during the transition; monitored phone calls about how Flynn had lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to his colleagues; how Flynn failed to disclose his payment from the Russian propaganda network on his official forms.

This prong of the campaign is at least factual, but the facts don’t speak for themselves. The second and more insidious element here is the innuendo. Yates never says Flynn was a spy for Russia. But her public remarks to Congress and the media appear designed to leave that impression. As she told Lizza, Flynn was “compromised by the Russians.” This sounds far more sinister than Flynn’s explanation when he left his post in February. Back then he said he had forgotten elements of his discussion with the Russian ambassador that covered a wide range of issues.

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They aren’t because they can’t. This is what feeding bubbles leads to. This is the Fed for you.

Millennials Want to Buy Homes but Aren’t Saving for Down Payments (WSJ)

Most millennials have saved virtually nothing for a down payment on a home, according to a new study, suggesting many will face steep obstacles to homeownership in the years ahead. Nearly 70% of young people ages 18 to 34 years old said they have saved less than $1,000 for a down payment, according to a survey by Apartment List, a rental listing company, expected to be released Friday. About 40% said they aren’t saving anything on a monthly basis. Even senior members of the group are falling short. Nearly 40% of older millennials, those age 25 to 34, who by historical measures should already own or be a few years away from homeownership, said they are saving nothing for a down payment each month.

The study helps illuminate a tension at the heart of the housing market. The vast majority—some 80%—of millennials said they eventually plan to buy a home. But 72% said the primary obstacle is that they can’t afford it. “It’s encouraging that millennials do want to buy homes. It suggests that they are delaying forming households but they’re not giving it up,” said Andrew Woo, director of data science and growth at Apartment List. “The biggest reason [they aren’t buying] is because of affordability.” Catie Peterson, a 22-year-old graphic designer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she doesn’t expect to start saving for a down payment for another five years or so. “I barely have enough savings to cover my car if it were to break down,” she said.

Ms. Peterson said she pays $975 a month in rent for a small one-bedroom apartment, which is about one third of her paycheck, leaving little room to save. “Once I get settled in my career and settled in my family, I think buying a house would be reasonable,” she said. The reasons young people are falling behind include student loan debt, rising rents and the slow starts many got to their careers during the recession. Living in vibrant urban centers with ready access to restaurants, bars and entertainment might also make saving seem less urgent. Many are children of the affluent baby boomer generation and some expect their parents to give them a boost when the time comes. In all, about one-quarter of millennials ages 25 to 34 expect to receive help from friends or family, according to the survey. Still, three-quarters said they expect to receive less than $10,000, which might not be enough to close the gap.

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All the money that’s left is tied up in property.

Australia Economy Hit By Spending Strike, Cyclone (AFR)

Australia’s economy looks to have experienced its weakest start to a year since 2011 – narrowly skirting a contraction – as a growing consumer spending strike and a cyclone-driven slowdown in exports weighs on activity just as the government bets its budget strategy on a rebound. While the country is not at risk just yet of a technical recession – or two quarters of consecutive declines in gross domestic product – the economy looks set to continue in 2017 its whip-saw pattern of the past year. Combined with weak spending and a fall in shipments of iron ore and coal, as well as lower commodity prices, the first quarter is likely to have been weighed down by a sudden collapse in construction work – a sign that a regulatory squeeze on apartment lending may be starting to bite.

Weak retail spending, which this week saw the seventh retailer go under in recent months, sharply rising car loan delinquencies and falling new car sales all point toward a population clamping down on discretionary spending. ANZ Bank economists said next month’s national accounts may show the economy grew just 0.1% from the December quarter – raising the spectre of the second negative quarter in nine months after GDP shrank by 0.5% in the September quarter before rebounding by 1.1% in late 2016. Annual growth may have shuddered to just 1.5% in the opening months of the year from 2.4% last year. While they are in the minority, some analysts are starting to warn that the economy may have gone backwards, not just in the March quarter, but may be doing so in the current period.

[..] Commonwealth Bank of Australia senior economist Michael Workman cautioned that it was “too early to tell” if GDP would go negative. “There’s always a lot of worriers out there, and they’re very good for the market,” he said. But he isn’t one of them. “It could be as low as 0.1, but it’s too early to tell with any certainty.” ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said there was a growing realisation among households that low wage growth was here to stay. “That’s quite difficult for the household sector when they have very high levels of debt. In terms of the atmospherics, the business surveys do suggest quite positive, but the decline in consumer spending quite worrying.”

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Don’t be surprised if she loses.

Theresa May Launches Strongest Attack Yet On Jeremy Corbyn (Tel.)

Theresa May has accused Jeremy Corbyn of providing an “excuse for terrorism” in her strongest attack on the Labour leader to date. The Prime Minister said Mr Corbyn had suggested the Manchester suicide bombing and other terrorist attacks “are our own fault” by linking terrorism to British foreign policy. She also rounded on Mr Corbyn for the timing of his remarks – made in a campaign speech on Friday – just days after 22 children and adults were killed. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, Mr Corbyn repeated his claim that terrorism was partly caused by “the consequences of our interventions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya”. The Labour leader also would not withdraw his previous description of NATO as a “Frankenstein” organisation, and refused six times to guarantee a replacement of Trident.

It came as senior Tories expressed concern that Mrs May’s message of “strong and stable” leadership is not cutting through with voters after one poll found her lead over Labour had been reduced to just five points. Mrs May on Friday night claimed a victory in the war on terror as she convinced leaders of the G7 countries to sign up to plans she has drawn up for a crackdown on Facebook and other social media sites being used as recruiting tools by Isil. She also struck a deal to make countries pick up British jihadis before they get home, after it emerged that Manchester bomber Salman Abedi stopped in Germany on his way back from Libya just days before the attack. [..] Mr Corbyn was criticised by figures from across the political spectrum for linking the Manchester attack to British foreign policy in Libya and elsewhere.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said his comments were “absolutely obscene”, while Andy Burnham, the new Labour Mayor of Manchester, said Mr Corbyn was wrong when he pointed to “the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home”. Mrs May looked angry as she addressed Mr Corbyn’s speech during a press conference at the G7 summit in Sicily. She said: “I’m going to be very clear about what has been said today. “What has happened is I have been here at the G7 working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. “At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault – and he has chosen to do that just a few days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities we have experienced in the United Kingdom.

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“Do you suppose that, in the hothouse of Washington, incoming foreign policy officers of Obama’s government had no conversations with foreign diplomats between the election of 2008 and Obama’s inauguration? The idea is laughable. ..”

No Exit (Jim Kunstler)

A most curious feature in the current low state of American politics is the delusional thinking at both ends of the political spectrum. Both factions have gone off the rails mentally, and the parties they represent race toward oblivion like Thelma and Louise in their beater car. More ominously, there are no new factions with a grip on reality even beginning to form anywhere in the background — as in the 1850s when the Whigs foundered and the party of Lincoln segued into power. To see the Democrats go on about “Russian collusion” you would think we were watching a rerun of the John Birch Society in its heyday. Americans who have done business in Russia as private citizens are being persecuted as though they were trading with the enemy in wartime. Newsflash: we are not at war with Russia, which, by the way, is no longer the Soviet Union.

It is one of many European countries that Americans are entitled to do business in — even in the case of General Mike Flynn accepting a $20,000 speaking fee from the RT news company. Has anyone noticed that Ben Bernanke routinely takes $200,000-plus speaking fees in many foreign countries whose interests are not identical to ours and no one is persecuting him. Likewise, the insane idea that it is malfeasant for high public officials to speak to Russian officials, or for the president to share sensitive strategic information with them, especially about genuine mutual enemies such as the various Islamic jihad armies. Since when is that beyond the pale? Well, since January of this year when the Democrat Party ordained that members of the Trump transition team were forbidden to speak to Russian diplomats at the highest level.

Do you suppose that, in the hothouse of Washington, incoming foreign policy officers of Obama’s government had no conversations with foreign diplomats between the election of 2008 and Obama’s inauguration? The idea is laughable. [..] The party of the right, the Republicans, have made themselves hostages to the marginal personality of Donald Trump, who prevailed over a cast of Republican empty suits in the pathetic and appalling primary contests of last spring. The Republican party has not demonstrated that it has the dimmest idea what is going on “out there” in the very flyover districts its minions and flunkies pretend to represent, or that they believe in anything not cynically calculated to bamboozle the economically immiserated classes left behind by their deliberate asset-stripping approach to the public interest.

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Libyan Coastguard gets EU funding.

Libyan Coastguard Opened Fire At Refugee Boats: NGOs (AlJ)

Libyan coastguard officers opened fire on two boats loaded with refugees while rescue attempts were under way in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, according to nongovernmental organisations involved in the operations. The Libyan coastguard has rejected the accusations and demanded evidence. But those at the scene told Al Jazeera that at around noon, as rescue workers from four groups – French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Italian NGO Save the Children and German NGO Jugend Rettet – were trying to save refugees, a speedboat equipped with four machine guns and bearing the emblem of the Libyan coastguard arrived at the scene.

The speedboat approached the rescue operation at high speed, creating large waves that made it difficult for the refugees to board rubber dinghies, the witnesses said. Shortly after, a series of gunshots could be heard coming from near the dinghies, Laura Garel, a communications officer on the SOS Mediterranee’s rescue vessel Aquarius, told Al Jazeera. Jugend Rettet. “For us the situation was critical,” said Jonas. “We are here to help, but were forced to stand idly by as to avoid getting hit by a bullet ourselves.” [..[ The Libyan coastguard denied Tuesday’s incident took place, calling the accusations “illogical”. Ayob Amr Ghasem, a Libyan navy spokesman, challenged the rescue groups to produce evidence of their claims. “Why would we have shot at boats if we are the ones that always save them?” Ghasem was quoted by the Italian ANSA news agency as saying.

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The EU tries to blame its refugee failings on Trump. Same for its CON21 climate disaster.

Hopes For Refugee Crisis Plan Fall Into Chasm Between G7 And Trump (G.)

Divisions between Donald Trump and other members of the G7 at the summit in Sicily have become so broad and deep that they may be forced to issue a brief leaders’ statement rather than a full communique, dashing Italian hopes of engineering a big step forward on migration and famine. With the US president apparently reluctant to compromise with European leaders over climate change, trade and migration, the European council president, Donald Tusk, was forced to admit on Friday that this would be the most challenging G7 summit in years and there was a risk of events spiralling out of control. A draft statement shown to the Guardian reveals Trump wants world leaders to make only a short reference to migration and to throw out a plan by the Italian hosts for a comprehensive five-page statement that acknowledges migrants’ rights, the factors driving refugees and their positive contribution.

The Italian plans – one on human movement and another on food security – were set to be the centrepiece of its summit diplomacy. Italy had chosen Taormina in Sicily as the venue to symbolise the world’s concern over the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa. It had hoped the summit would end on Saturday with a bold statement that the world, and not just individual nations, had a responsibility for the refugee crisis. Italy is expected to take in 200,000 refugees in 2017; more than 1,300 have drowned so far this year while trying to make the perilous crossing from north Africa. Trump’s negotiators brought a new brief text of the final communique to a pre-meeting of the G7 on 26 April and said they were vetoing the Italian “human mobility” plan, which had been the subject of careful negotiation for months.

The new text, offered by the US on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, acknowledges the human rights of migrants, but affirms “the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels as key elements of their national security”. It also asserts the need for refugees to be supported as close to their home countries as possible. Diplomatic sources said intense talks were under way to rescue some of the Italian agenda on migration. Italian officials, faced with little option, insisted the brief wording on migration in the draft represented a good compromise and said there was no problem with the Americans. The communique did reference the idea of “upstream” action on the issue – but also supporting legal pathways to return individuals to their country of origin. In a sign of the immediacy of the refugee crisis, the Libyan coastguard said as many as 20 boats had been spotted off the Libyan coast on Friday carrying thousands of migrants.

Read more …

 

 

May 052017
 
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Fred Stein Under the El New York 1949

 

Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own (BBG)
Cost Of Interest On US Government Debt Tops Half A Trillion Dollars (ZH)
Oil Extends Slump Below $45 (BBG)
Emerging-Market Companies Binge On Dollar-Denominated Debt (BBG)
Chemchina Clinches Landmark $43 Billion Takeover of Syngenta (R.)
Brexit Talks Could Become ‘Impossible’: EU Council President Tusk (Ind.)
Italy’s Bankrupt National Airline Is Being Put Up For Sale (Ind.)
Italy’s Rescue Of Its Airline Comes At Great Cost To The Economy (BBG)
Baumol’s Cost Disease Explains A Lot About Our Economies (Vox)
Russia Set to Police Syria Safe Zones Backed by Iran, Turkey (BBG)
Syria Safe Zones To Be Shut For US, Coalition Planes (R.)
EU Wants China’s Help To Stop Boats Being Used By Migrants (R.)
EU Seeks to Ward Off New Refugee Crisis (Spiegel)
Tensions Boiling Over On Greece’s Chios Amid Absence Of Migrant Facility (K.)
Greece Paying Asylum Seekers To Reject Appeals (EUO)
Greece Says Has Done Its Bit, Now Wants Debt Relief (R.)
Greek Pensioners’ Network Lists 23 Cuts Inflicted On Benefits (K.)

 

 

This could take a while. And that’s a good thing.

Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own (BBG)

Several key Senate Republicans said they will set aside the narrowly passed House health-care bill and write their own version instead, a sign of how difficult it will be to deliver on seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate health committee, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership, both described the plan, even as the House was celebrating passing its repeal after weeks of back and forth. The decision will likely delay even further the prospect of any repeal bill reaching President Donald Trump’s desk. Hospital stocks dipped on the House vote, but quickly bounced back on the news the Senate would start over with its own version, with the BI North America Hospitals Index up 0.9% at 2:39 p.m. Hospitals fear the winding-down of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will leave them with more customers who can’t afford to pay.

Trump celebrated the House vote with a news conference at the White House, standing alongside dozens of Republican lawmakers. “This has really brought the Republican Party together,” he said. But in the wake of the House’s razor-thin 217-213 vote, the Senate made clear it was going in a different direction. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who has been very critical of the House bill, said Thursday she hopes they start with “a clean slate” in the Senate. To get some kind of bill through his chamber, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need to unite moderate and conservative wings of the party that want to pull the measure in entirely different directions. The GOP controls the chamber 52-48, meaning he can lose no more than two Republicans and still pass it, given the united Democratic opposition.

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At ZIRP.

Cost Of Interest On US Government Debt Tops Half A Trillion Dollars (ZH)

With debt ceilings, spending plans, and tax reforms focusing all eyes on Washington, we thought it notable that for the first time in US history, the cost of interest on US government debt has risen above half a trillion dollars… One wonders, given the grandiose spending plans, if we will ever get back below half a trillion dollars?

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We’ve been saying all along OPEC cuts were fantasy. US shale is a minor factor. Lack of demand is a major one.

Oil Extends Slump Below $45 (BBG)

Oil slid below $45 a barrel for the first time since OPEC agreed to cut output in November as U.S. shale confounds the producer group’s attempts to prop up prices. Futures have collapsed 11% this week, slumping to the lowest since Nov. 15 – two weeks before OPEC agreed to production curbs to boost prices and ease a global glut. The decline is being driven by expanding U.S. output that’s countering the group’s curbs. Energy companies in Asia slumped on Friday, after their American counterparts were hammered in the previous session. While news of OPEC’s cuts drove prices in early January to the highest since July 2015, that increase encouraged U.S. drillers to pump more.

The result has been 11 straight weeks of expansion in American production in the longest run of gains since 2012. Prices are still more than 50% below their peak in 2014, when surging shale output triggered crude’s biggest collapse in a generation and left rival producers such as Saudi Arabia scrambling to protect market share. “There’s disappointment that the production cuts we’ve seen from OPEC and others has not had any impact at this stage on global inventory levels,” said Ric Spooner, a chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “The market seems to be much further away from a balanced situation than some had previously forecast. There is a possibility that oil could be headed to the low $40s range from here.”

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Expecting the dollar to fall. Doesn’t look all that wise.

Emerging-Market Companies Binge On Dollar-Denominated Debt (BBG)

Emerging-market companies are showing up to the U.S. debt market at the fastest pace ever, and finding plenty of appetite for their bonds. Sales of dollar-denominated notes have climbed to about $160 billion this year, more than double offerings at this point in 2016 and the fastest annual start on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 1999. Emerging-market assets tanked after Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, but they’ve quickly recovered, with bonds returning 4% this year and outperforming U.S. investment-grade and high-yield debt. The deluge of issuance began when companies anticipating a surge in borrowing costs amid economic stimulus from Trump rushed to sell notes before his inauguration Jan. 20.

But the expected jump never materialized, extending the window for companies like Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Petroleos Mexicanos to pursue multi-billion-dollar deals. They found plenty of demand from investors keen to buy shorter-dated debt that’s better insulated against rising U.S. interest rates. Jean-Dominique Butikofer, the head of emerging markets for fixed income at Voya Investment Management in Atlanta, said he’s seen new interest in emerging markets from investors who already own U.S. high-yield bonds or emerging market sovereign debt that’s more vulnerable to rising interest rates. “You want to be less sensitive to U.S. rates, but you still want to diversify and you still want to play the EM catch-up growth story,” said Butikofer, whose firm manages $217 billion. “You’re going to gradually add emerging-market corporates.”

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There should never be something like a pesticides and seeds group. Break them up.

Chemchina Clinches Landmark $43 Billion Takeover of Syngenta (R.)

ChemChina has won more than enough support from Syngenta shareholders to clinch its $43 billion takeover of the Swiss pesticides and seeds group, the two companies said on Friday. The deal, announced in February 2016, was prompted by China’s desire to use Syngenta’s portfolio of top-tier chemicals and patent-protected seeds to improve domestic agricultural output. It is China’s biggest foreign takeover to date. It is one of several deals that are remaking the international market for agricultural chemicals, seeds and fertilisers. The other deals in the sector are a $130 billion proposed merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont, and Bayer’s plan to merge with Monsanto. The trend toward market consolidation has triggered fears among farmers that the pipeline for new herbicides and pesticides might slow.

Regulators have required some divestments as a condition for approving the Syngenta deal. Based on preliminary numbers, around 80.7% of Syngenta shares have been tendered, above the minimum threshold of 67% support, the partners said in a joint statement. [..] The transaction is set to close on May 18 after the start of an additional acceptance period for shareholders and payment of a special 5-franc dividend to holders of Swiss-listed shares on May 16. Holders of U.S.-listed depositor receipts will get the special dividend in July. Syngenta shares will be delisted from the Swiss bourse and its depository receipts from the New York Stock Exchange. Chief Executive Erik Fyrwald played down the transition from publicly listed group to becoming part of a Chinese state enterprise, stressing that Syngenta would remain a Swiss-based global company while under Chinese ownership.

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May has nothing, election or not. “..the 30-minute slot that we are going to devote to Brexit per week, for this week it’s up.”

Brexit Talks Could Become ‘Impossible’: EU Council President Tusk (Ind.)

The President of the EU’s ruling Council has intervened to calm Brexit tensions 24 hours after Theresa May launched a vicious attack on “Brussels bureaucrats” on the steps of No 10. Donald Tusk warned that talks would become “impossible” if emotions got out of hand between the UK and EU and called for “mutual respect” between the negotiating parties. The call for calm comes after Theresa May accused the EU’s bureaucracy of trying to influence the result of Britian’s general election by maliciously leaking the content of discussions to the media. In an aggressive speech on Wenesday she tore into officials, warning that her government would not let “the bureaucrats of Brussels run over us”.

The European Commission this morning reacted indignantly to Ms May’s conspiracy theory, with a spokesperson telling reporters that the organisation was “rather busy” and preoccupied with more important matters than trying to fix the poll. But Mr Tusk, a Polish national who represents the EU states’ heads of government in Brussels, said on Thursday afternoon: “Brexit talks [are] difficult enough. If emotions get out of hand, they’ll become impossible. Discretion, moderation and mutual respect needed. “At stake are the daily lives and interests of millions of people on both sides of the Channel.”

The call for calm contrasts with that of a Commission spokesperson earlier today, who said: “We are not naive, we know that there is an election taking place in the United Kingdom. People get excited whenever we have elections. “This election in the United Kingdom is mainly about Brexit. But we here in Brussels, we are very busy, rather busy, with our policy work. “We have too much to do on our plate. So, in a nutshell, we are very busy. And we will not Brexitise our work. “To put it in the words of an EU diplomat, the 30-minute slot that we are going to devote to Brexit per week, for this week it’s up.”

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10 years too late? 20?

Italy’s Bankrupt National Airline Is Being Put Up For Sale (Ind.)

Alitalia will be put up for sale in two weeks having earlier this week fallen into administration. In a radio interview cited by the Financial Times, Carlo Calenda, the country’s economic development minister, said that the priority is for the whole company to get bought. “Within 15 days the commissioners will be open to expressions of interest,” he said. On Tuesday, Alitalia started bankruptcy proceedings for the second time in a decade after employees rejected job cuts and concessions linked to a €2bn recapitalisation plan. Shareholders voted unanimously to file for special administration. According to the Financial Times, the government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has extended a bridge loan of €600m to keep Alitalia afloat for the next six months, but has ruled out nationalisation.

This loan should give the commissioners appointed by the government time to come up with a strategy that will ensure the airline’s fleet is not grounded. Speaking to the broadcaster, Mr Calenda said the €600m loan would be the “maximum” of state aid on offer. Speaking about possible buyers, Mr Calenda said “any idea is welcome”. He stressed, however, that “Alitalia needs an alliance with a big European group”. Alitalia, whose major shareholders are Abu-Dhabi based Etihad Airways and Italian banks, has about 12,500 employees. It has been struggling ever since a previous bankruptcy in 2008.

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Somone will buy it for pennies on the buck. China?

Italy’s Rescue Of Its Airline Comes At Great Cost To The Economy (BBG)

Given its rich history, Italy is rightly attached to its relics. Unfortunately, this affection for the past does not stop at the Colosseum: It applies to failing companies too. Take Alitalia, Italy’s loss-making flag carrier, which has survived for years thanks to a string of public and private rescues. On Tuesday, the airline went into administration, prompting the government to provide a fresh loan worth €600 million ($655 million) to guarantee another six months of operation. Surely the time has come for Italy to stop losses. Unless Alitalia can find a buyer, the government should allow it to go bust. Politically, that is a tall order, of course. Politicians want to protect workers, who stand to lose their jobs if a company shuts down. But every euro used in a bailout is one that can’t be spent elsewhere; what economists call “opportunity cost.” How many more jobs could have been created had the government invested €600 million into upgrading Italy’s digital infrastructure?

Keeping Alitalia alive is also a burden on productivity, since it takes resources that might be deployed by more efficient competitors. Last year, a study for the European Commission found that the misallocation of workers and capital in Italy has steadily worsened since 1995, accounting for a large fraction of Italy’s productivity slowdown. If the government is serious about Italy returning to sustainable growth, it should stop helping losers get in the way of productive companies. There are also questions of financial stability. Between 1974 and 2014, Italian taxpayers have spent €7.4 billion propping up Alitalia, according to Mediobanca. Italy’s addiction to helping companies in trouble has contributed to its huge government debt, which now stands at nearly 133% of GDP, exposing Rome to the risk of a financial crisis.

The same problem also applies to banks. From UniCredit to Intesa Sanpaolo, many of Italy’s big lenders have granted hundreds of millions in credit lines to Alitalia, only to see their loans go up in smoke. The list also includes Monte Dei Paschi di Siena, the troubled bank which in December had to apply for a multi-billion euro government bailout. The reason? It was struggling under the weight of non-performing loans, like those it provided to Alitalia. While European rules on state aid will make it difficult for Rome to help Alitalia beyond the initial six months, one should never underestimate the ability of the Italian government to find a way to stitch together another flawed rescue. But if Italy is to finally start focusing on future growth, it will have to stop dwelling on the ruins of the past.

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A great economist died.

Baumol’s Cost Disease Explains A Lot About Our Economies (Vox)

William Baumol — an economist who just died at the age of 95 — had a famous idea, commonly known as Baumol’s cost disease, that explains a lot about our modern world. It explains why barbers make more in San Francisco than in Cleveland and why services such as health care and education keep getting more expensive. And it provides a possible explanation for why rich countries like America are devoting more and more of their workforces to low-productivity services, dragging down the economy-wide rate of productivity growth. In the 1960s, Baumol was trying to understand the economics of the arts, and he noticed something surprising: Musicians weren’t getting any more productive — playing a piece written for a string quartet took four musicians the same amount of time in 1965 as it did in 1865 — yet musicians in 1965 made a lot more money than musicians in 1865.

The explanation wasn’t too hard to figure out. Rising worker productivity in other sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, was pushing up wages. An arts institution that insisted on paying musicians 1860s wages in a 1960s economy would find their musicians were constantly quitting to take other jobs. So arts institutions — at least those that could afford it — had to raise their wages in order to attract and retain the best musicians. The consequence is that rising productivity in the manufacturing sector of the economy inevitably pushes up the cost of labor-intensive services like live musical performances. Rising productivity allows factories to cut prices and raise wages at the same time. But when wages rise, music venues have no alternative but to raise ticket prices to cover the higher costs.

This became known as Baumol’s cost disease, and Baumol realized that it had implications far beyond the arts. It implies that in a world of rapid technological progress, we should expect the cost of manufactured goods — cars, smartphones, T-shirts, bananas, and so forth — to fall, while the cost of labor-intensive services — schooling, health care, child care, haircuts, fitness coaching, legal services, and so forth — to rise. And this is exactly what the data shows. Decade after decade, health care and education have gotten more expensive while the price of clothing, cars, furniture, toys, and other manufactured goods has gone down relative to the overall inflation rate — exactly the pattern Baumol predicted a half-century ago.

Baumol’s cost disease is a powerful tool for understanding the modern economic world. It suggests, for example, that the continually rising costs of education and health care isn’t necessarily a sign that anything has gone wrong with those sectors of the economy. At least until we invent robotic professors, teachers, doctors, and nurses, we should expect these low-productivity sectors of the economy to get more expensive. While some argue that prices keep rising because the government subsidizes health care through programs like Medicare and college educations through student loans and grants, you see the same basic pattern with services like summer camps, veterinary services, and Broadway shows that aren’t hamstrung by government regulations and subsidies.

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Putin keeps his enemies close.

Russia Set to Police Syria Safe Zones Backed by Iran, Turkey (BBG)

Russia said it’s ready to send peacekeepers to Syria as it won backing from Turkey and Iran for a plan to establish safe zones inside the war-torn country in an effort to shore up a shaky cease-fire brokered by the three powers. The three countries signed a memorandum on the creation of so-called de-escalation areas on Thursday after two days of talks in Kazakhstan that also included representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups. Opposition leaders distanced themselves from the plan, saying they can’t accept Iran as a guarantor of the truce and that they want “clear and tangible” guarantees the deal will be enforced. The U.S. also expressed doubts. “Russia is ready to send its observers” to help enforce the safe zones, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters in the Kazakh capital, Astana. “We believe the Syrian crisis can only be resolved through political methods.”

Putin said on Wednesday that he’d secured the backing of U.S. President Donald Trump for the proposal, which could include a ban on bombing raids. But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the U.S. has “concerns” about the accord, “including the involvement of Iran as a so-called “guarantor,”’ and said Russia should do more to stop violence. [..] The latest initiative would establish four zones patrolled by foreign forces – possibly including Russian ones – in the northwestern Idlib province, Homs province in the west, the East Ghouta suburb of the capital Damascus and southern Syria. It will take a month to finalize the maps of the proposed safe zones, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari said. The United Nations’ Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who also attended the Astana talks, described the agreement as a “step in the right direction.”

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That’ll go down well with Wolfowitz et al.

Syria Safe Zones To Be Shut For US, Coalition Planes (R.)

The safe zones which are being created in Syria will be closed for warplanes of the United States and those of the U.S.-led coalition, Russian news agencies quoted Russian envoy at Syria peace talks Alexander Lavrentyev as saying on Friday. Turkey and Iran agreed on Thursday to Russia’s proposal for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, a move welcomed by the United Nations but met with scepticism from the United States.

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Stop selling rubber boats, problem solved!

EU Wants China’s Help To Stop Boats Being Used By Migrants (R.)

The European Union wants China to help prevent migrants and refugees using Chinese-made inflatable boats to get into the bloc by stopping the boats reaching them, the European Commissioner for Migration said on Thursday. Dimitris Avramopoulos, speaking to reporters in Beijing after meeting Chinese Minister for Public Security Guo Shengkun, said the rubber boats used by people smugglers were made in China. “The rubber boats used by the smuggler networks in the Mediterranean are fabricated somewhere in China, they are exported to the countries in Asia and they are used by them,” Avramopoulos said.

“So I requested the support and cooperation from the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it, because what they produce is not serving the common good of the country. It is a very dangerous tool in the hands of ruthless smugglers.” He gave no further details, but said he and Guo had not discussed the possibility of China taking any of the refugees or migrants. More than a million people sought asylum in Europe’s rich north in 2015, mostly in Germany but also in large numbers in Sweden, straining the capacity of countries to cope. A contentious deal with Turkey to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Greece and the overland route to Germany, in return for EU funds, has reduced flows to a trickle, though thousands of migrants still try to reach Europe from Libya via sea routes.

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Who cares about the law? “..a more restrictive interpretation of asylum rights..”

EU Seeks to Ward Off New Refugee Crisis (Spiegel)

Merkel has promised that the refugee crisis seen two years ago will not be repeated: Never again will Europe see an uncontrolled inflow of millions of people. The refugee deal with Turkey is working, we are repeatedly told, and the crisis is over. That, though, could turn out to be wrong. With German voters set to go to the polls on Sept. 24, Merkel’s re-election campaign hinges on there not being a repeat of the refugee crisis, even if it’s not as substantial as the 2015 influx. But west of the closed Balkan route, a new migrant stream has been growing since the beginning of the year. From Jan. 1 to April 23, 36,851 migrants have followed the central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy. That represents a 45% increase over the same period last year, when a record 181,000 people crossed the Mediterranean on the route.

Even more concerning is the fact that summer hasn’t even begun. Experience has shown that most migrants only climb into the boats once the Mediterranean grows calmer. Italian authorities estimate that a quarter million people will arrive on its shores this year. “There are challenges ahead,” says a senior German security official. Berlin is particularly concerned because it’s not just Africans who are taking the Mediterranean route to Italy. An increasing number of South Asians are as well, which could mean that the route across the sea to Italy is now seen as a viable alternative to the defunct Balkan route. People from Bangladesh now represent the second largest group of migrants that have crossed over from Libya this year. From January to March 2016, by contrast, exactly one Bangladeshi was picked up on the route. Pakistanis have also chosen the Mediterranean route more often in recent months.

[..] The EU is currently working on an emergency plan in case a “serious crisis situation” develops. The discussions are focusing on a scenario under which more than 200,000 refugees would have to be redistributed each year. An unpublished report by Malta, which currently holds the rotating European Council presidency, calls for a more restrictive interpretation of asylum rights in such a case. In other words, should too many migrants begin arriving, the EU will increase efforts at deterrence. Controversial proposals for reception camps to be established in North Africa also remain under discussion. Most of those currently fleeing from countries like Nigeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast are doing so to escape grinding poverty and in the hopes of finding better opportunities in Europe. Very few of them have much chance of being granted asylum. That reality has made redistribution within the EU even more difficult. According to current law, those with no chance at asylum are supposed to be sent back home as quickly as possible and not sent to other European countries.

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Now add a huge rise in arrival numbers.

Tensions Boiling Over On Greece’s Chios Amid Absence Of Migrant Facility (K.)

Tensions are rising on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, which is currently favored by human smugglers ferrying migrants over from neighboring Turkey, with an increasing number of brawls at overcrowded state reception centers and local residents’ tolerance wearing thin. Clashes between migrants of different ethnicities are an almost daily occurrence, residents said following a violent confrontation on Tuesday night between Afghan and Algerian nationals at the Vial reception facility. That incident started as a fight between two small groups throwing stones at each other and escalated into a full-blown brawl involving around 60 people. Riot police stationed nearby were eventually obliged to enter the facility and break up the fight.

According to sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, migrants have been arriving in greater numbers on Chios as it still lacks a so-called pre-departure camp due to protests by local residents against the creation of new facilities on the island. As a result, migrants landing on Chios and deemed ineligible for asylum are not being deported to Turkey as foreseen in an agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in March last year. Around 200 migrants have arrived on Chios this week, according to government figures, compared to virtually none on other islands in the eastern Aegean. And, according to a top-ranking police official, the problem is unlikely to be resolved until a center is set up. “The message being sent to those deciding to make the journey is that if you get to Chios they won’t send you back,” he said.

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NGOs to be thrown off the islands this summer, Greek army and the Greek Red Cross to take over.

Greece Paying Asylum Seekers To Reject Appeals (EUO)

The Greek government is giving cash incentives for rejected asylum seekers on the islands to forgo their legal rights to appeal their cases. Some €1,000 and free plane tickets home are now part of a largely EU-financed package to send them packing as quickly as possible. “This is quite complicated and quite immoral,” a Greek lawyer working for Save the Children, an international NGO, told EUobserver on Tuesday (2 May). The move is part of a larger effort to return people to Turkey and free up administrative bottlenecks, but the plan has generated criticism from human rights defenders who say asylum seekers are being pushed into taking the money. People have five days to decide whether to take the cash, with reports emerging that even that short delay was not being respected by authorities. Previously, people were entitled to the assistance even if they appealed.

The scheme only applies to those in so-called eu hotspots on the Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesvos, and Samos islands, where arrivals are screened, given that Turkey does not accept people back from mainland Greece. Greek minister of migration Ioannis Mouzalas has said the financial bait was needed to prevent bogus claimants from abusing the asylum system. The new rules on excluding people who appeal their cases, imposed last month, also come after the European Commission pressured Athens into shortening its appeal process and removing administrative barriers to send more people home. The EU-Turkey deal last year was supposed to ensure that new asylum arrivals whose applications have been declared unfounded would be returned to the country. But only around 1,500 have been sent back since its launch, with the Greek appeals system consistently ruling in favour of initially rejected asylum seekers over broader concerns that Turkey was not safe.

[..] The whole appears to be part of bigger plan to squeeze asylum-seeker rights on the islands and get them out of Greece as fast as possible. It also comes on the heels of a new plan that aims to boot NGOs from the islands. “Many NGOs will longer be on the islands after July, it means there is going to be a lot less scrutiny and a lot less visibility on what is going on as well,” said Claire Whelan from the Norwegian Refugee Council, an independent humanitarian organisation. NGOs working in the medical field in the Vial hotspot in Chios island have already been replaced by the Greek army and the Greek Red Cross. All were informed earlier this year that DG ECHO, the EU Commission’s humanitarian branch, would no longer fund them. Instead, the money will be coming from the Commission’s interior and security department, DG Home. “One of the biggest gaps we see, that remains, is access to legal assistance and legal counseling. And I don’t know if that will be funded under DG Home and the government,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Whelan said.

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Europe doesn’t care what Greece wants.

Greece Says Has Done Its Bit, Now Wants Debt Relief (R.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Greece’s international lenders on Thursday to reach an agreement on easing its debt burden by May 22, when eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the country’s bailout progress. Athens and its creditors reached a long-awaited deal at staff-level this week on a series of bailout reforms Greece needs to unlock loans from its €86 billion rescue package, the country’s third since 2010. The EU and the IMF, which has yet to announce if it will participate in the bailout, have now started negotiations over Greece’s post-bailout fiscal targets, a key element for granting it further debt relief. Greece is being firm that it has done what was asked of it and now wants to see movement from the other side. “Medium-term debt relief measures must be clearly defined by the May 22 Eurogroup meeting,” Tsipras told his cabinet on Thursday.

“Greece has done its part and all parties must now fulfill their commitments.” The creditors have been not been quite as upbeat and there is no guarantee that the May 22 meeting will actually sign off on the new tranche of loans, let alone draft up debt relief. But Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramenga did cite progress when speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Luxembourg. “We’re one step closer. They [Greece] over-performed last year, they are on track this year, we have now an agreement looming that we will hopefully agree on in Eurogroup,” he said. “Those who have been pessimistic all the time have been proved wrong. I’m very pleased about that. The worst case is not always the scenario that plays out.” Greece’s economy and budget have improved markedly recently, although major problems of poverty and unemployment persist.

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Additional 18% cuts to come.

Greek Pensioners’ Network Lists 23 Cuts Inflicted On Benefits (K.)

At least 23 cuts have been inflicted on pensioners since 2010, with losses adding up to more than €50 billion. For some, their benefits have fallen by as much as 50%. The United Pensioners network has just added a 23rd cut to its list – the reduction of up to 18% of main and supplementary pensions agreed by the government this week. Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos says the cuts have impoverished pensioners. The other 22 cuts on the list are as follows:

– In 2010, Christmas, Easter and holiday bonuses ended.

– In 2011, all pensioners under the age of 60 took a 6-10% cut.

– In the same year, pensioners were also slapped with a solidarity levy ranging from 3 to 13% for monthly pensions over €1,400. Also cuts to supplementary pensions started, from 3 to 10%.

– Main pensions to under-60s were slashed in 2011 and supplementary pensions of more than 150 euros a month fell by 15-30%.

– From January 2012, there were fresh cuts to any “high” pensions not affected until then.

– In 2012, monthly pensions over 1,000 euros were hit with a new cut.

– Summer 2014 saw a 5.2% cut to all supplementary pensions.

– In 2015, minimum pensions fell.

– In the same year, all early retirements incurred a 10% cut.

– From last May, all new pensioners were informed they would get up to 30% less.

– Some 250,000 supplementary pensions fell by up to 40%.

– The EKAS benefit to 160,000 low-income pensioners was ended.

– Civil servants’ share fund dividends were slashed 45%.

– High pensions took a retroactive cut from late 2016 to end-2018.

– Widows’ benefits fell and stricter criteria were introduced.

– The pensions of people with employment were slashed 60%.

– Early retirees took big cuts.

– Retirement lump sums shrank 15-20%.

– New disability pensions were slashed last May.

– The healthcare levy on main pensions rose.

– A similar 6% levy was imposed on supplementary pensions.

– Since January, 650,000 farmers have had to pay a 14% income levy.

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May 022017
 
 May 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Grand Central Station NY WWII

 

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising Gas Tax (BBG)
Life After Oil Makes Real Estate Canada’s New Economic Crutch (BBG)
How Did Home Capital Get Into Trouble? (BBG)
China Leverage Rising At ‘Alarming Pace’: Central Bank Official (R.)
UBS, BNP, RBS Get Subpoenas in US Treasuries Probe (BBG)
The US Health Care Industry Is Bound To Collapse Soon (NYP)
Exhaustion Gaps and the Fear of Missing Out (John Hussman)
Barack Obama Cashes In, But Harry Truman And Jimmy Carter Refused (IC)
The Sound of One Wing Flapping (Jim Kunstler)
Emmanuel Macron Has Taken French Voters For Granted. Now He Risks Defeat (G.)
How Juncker’s Downing Street Dinner Turned Sour (G.)
Greece Reaches Deal With Creditors To Pave Way For Bailout Talks (G.)
Greece: Any Better Times Or More Pitfalls Ahead? (LSE)

 

 

Don’t hold your breath for breaking up banks. Gas tax is more interesting: keep oil prices low and off you go. Could be a huge source of revenue, and Trump needs a few of those.

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising Gas Tax (BBG)

President Donald Trump said he’s actively considering a breakup of giant Wall Street banks, giving a push to efforts to revive a Depression-era law separating consumer and investment banking. “I’m looking at that right now,” Trump said of breaking up banks in a 30-minute Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News. “There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right? So we’re going to look at that.” Trump also said he’s open to increasing the U.S. gas tax to fund infrastructure development, in a further sign that policies unpopular with the Republican establishment are under consideration in the White House. He described higher gas taxes as acceptable to truckers – “I have one friend who’s a big trucker,” he said – as long as the proceeds are dedicated to improving U.S. highways.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a “21st century” version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall law that required the separation of consumer and investment banking. The 2016 Republican Party platform also backed restoring the legal barrier, which was repealed in 1999 under a financial deregulation signed by then-President Bill Clinton. A handful of lawmakers blame the repeal for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis, an argument that Wall Street flatly rejects. Trump couldn’t unilaterally restore the law; Congress would have to pass a new version. Trump officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, have offered support for bringing back some version of Glass-Steagall, though they’ve offered scant details on an updated approach. Both Mnuchin and Cohn are former bankers who worked for Goldman Sachs.

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A deeply unstable economy.

Life After Oil Makes Real Estate Canada’s New Economic Crutch (BBG)

Two things happened last week that were a reminder of just how vital real estate has become to Canada’s economy. On Friday, Statistics Canada released GDP data that showed February was a banner month for sectors linked to housing. The real estate industry, residential construction, financial and legal services generated a combined 0.5% increase in output, the biggest one-month gain since 2014. Without those, the overall economy would have contracted slightly in February. A day earlier, the Ontario government released a budget that projects land transfer taxes will surpass C$3 billion ($2 billion) in the current fiscal year, from C$1.8 billion three years ago. For the province, it’s the difference between a balanced budget and a deficit.

Measures of housing’s contribution to the economy are imprecise, but estimates largely put the direct contribution in excess of 20%. It’s much more than that once you add all the indirect effects, with benefits spread widely from lawyer fees to government revenue and increased retail purchases through so-called wealth effects as rising home equity values prompt households to ramp up consumption. The big worry is that Canada has moved from a reliance on oil to a reliance on real estate. The influence of housing on the economy is so pervasive that it won’t take much of a slowdown to act as a major drag on the economy, said Mark Chandler, head of fixed-income research at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.

“You don’t need a collapse in house prices, you don’t need housing starts to be cut in half for weaker real estate sector to have a significant effect on GDP and incomes,” Chandler said. RBC’s ballpark estimate is that a 10% decline in national home prices would knock a full percentage point off growth. A Toronto Dominion Bank report from 2015 found the housing wealth effect has been responsible for about one-fifth of all growth in consumption since 2001. “A lot of the strength we have seen in consumption is housing related,” said Brian DePratto, the economist who wrote the 2015 report. If you strip out the direct and indirect impact from housing on the economy, “you are talking about a much lower trend pace of growth.”

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Subprime.

How Did Home Capital Get Into Trouble? (BBG)

The world is suddenly paying attention to Home Capital, the tiny Canadian mortgage lender that’s on the ropes. The stock is plunging, it faces a run on deposits and regulators are probing management’s disclosure of fraudulent mortgages. Its troubles are raising questions: Is this an isolated case of a struggling mortgage company, or early signs of cracks forming in Canada’s red-hot housing market?

1. How did Home Capital get into trouble? It started in 2014 when the company, formed 31 years ago by Gerald Soloway, failed to screen a pile of questionable mortgages brought in by outside brokers. Some 45 brokers falsified income information on borrowers, prompting Home Capital to cut ties with them, leading to a drop in new business. This eventually led to an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission, which said on April 19 that Home Capital had misled investors by not disclosing the fraud until five months after they became aware of the problem.

2. Will Home Capital fail? There are plenty of signs of stress. The stock has plunged almost 75% this year, cutting its market value to about C$515 million, from C$3.5 billion in 2014. Most pressing is the run on deposits. Customers pulled C$1.5 billion from high-interest savings accounts in four weeks, cutting the balances to C$500 million. The company has another C$13 billion in GICS. As these 30- and 60-day deposits come due, more withdrawals may follow. Without a deposit base, Home Capital can’t fund new mortgages. Home Capital hired investment bankers for a possible sale, though there is likely as much interest in the loan book as the company itself. Commercial banks may be interested, precluding any need for a government bailout. Financial regulators say they are watching closely.

3. Will this fallout spread to other lenders? Possibly. Home Capital competes with other companies in the so-called alternative mortgage space. They cater to small-business owners, new immigrants and other people who can’t get mortgages from the big commercial banks. It’s a niche segment but growing, accounting for almost 13% of the market. Unlike in the U.S. housing crash when loan defaults soared, there is little evidence of faulty loans so far. Home Capital’s delinquency rate, for example, was just 0.20% as of February. Still, shares of rivals First National and Equitable have been dragged lower by the Home Capital woes as investors fear contagion.

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Beijing sends a lot of signals, but it cannot make good on them without risking the economy, and everybody knows it. It’s all based on the idea that a centralized economy can be forced into a smooth descent, but that’s just a fallacy.

China Leverage Rising At ‘Alarming Pace’: Central Bank Official (R.)

China’s level of leverage is rising at an “alarming pace”, particularly in the finance sector, a senior central bank official said in a commentary, amid growing concern by the country’s senior leaders over financial security. The official Xinhua news agency on Monday cited Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, as saying the country needed to deleverage at a “proper pace” to reduce financial sector debt and avoid systemic financial risk. “China’s overall leverage level is reasonable but is rising at an alarming pace, especially in the financial sector,” Xu said. The original commentary was published in business journal Caijing Magazine. Xu said high levels of stimulus spending from government paired with poor corporate management and financial supervision were key factors causing rising levels of leverage, Xinhua said.

He added the government should stick to “prudent and neutral” monetary policy, reduce emphasis on economic growth targets, and improve corporate governance so authorities did not have to step in so frequently to help companies out. “Financial security is achieved via reforms, not bail-outs,” Xinhua reported Xu as saying. Last week President Xi Jinping called for increased efforts to ward off systemic risks and help maintain financial security. Analysts say financial risk and asset bubbles pose a threat to the world’s second-largest economy if not handed well. Former Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei also said last month that high leverage was the biggest risk facing China’s economy because debt has piled up despite government efforts to deleverage. The Bank for International Settlements warned last year that excessive credit growth in China is signaling an increasing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years.

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Well, maybe they’ll get serious because it’s about Treasuries this time, and foreign banks. Then again, these are primary dealers in Treasuries.

UBS, BNP, RBS Get Subpoenas in US Treasuries Probe (BBG)

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed several banks as part of a criminal investigation into possible manipulation of the U.S. Treasuries market, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department issued subpoenas last month to banks including UBS, BNP Paribas and the Royal Bank of Scotland seeking information on the $14 trillion market, said two people, who asked not to be named because the investigation is confidential. U.S. authorities have been examining the U.S. Treasuries market for roughly two years. In November 2015, Goldman Sachs disclosed that U.S. authorities had sought information related to its trading of when-issued securities, which are among the least transparent instruments in the world’s largest debt market. When-issued securities act as placeholders for bills, notes or bonds before they’re auctioned. The instruments change hands over the counter, with lifespans of just days. There’s scant public information on trading volumes or the market’s biggest players.

[..] The Justice Department in late 2015 asked about when-issued securities as part of broader requests for documents it sent to most or all of the roughly two dozen primary dealers in U.S. Treasuries, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News at the time. UBS, BNP Paribas and RBS are primary dealers in U.S. Treasuries. Authorities haven’t accused any of the banks of wrongdoing. Trading of these instruments is also the subject of several lawsuits against primary dealers filed since July 2015. In them investors allege that traders at global banks colluded to artificially inflate the price of the when-issued securities, which allow the banks to sell U.S. debt before they own it. Then they bought the debt at auctions for an artificially suppressed price, unfairly profiting at investors’ expense, the lawsuits contend. The banks are scheduled to file motions to dismiss those lawsuits once the lead counsel for the plaintiffs is chosen.

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Increased health care spending presumably adds to GDP, so why worry?

The US Health Care Industry Is Bound To Collapse Soon (NYP)

As industry spending and debt servicing rage out of control, health care is ranked as the No. 1 US “systemic recession risk” in a new report. The sums at stake are staggering: Spending in the sector accounted for $3.3 trillion in 2015, and is 18% of the US economy today. The industry generates 16% of private sector jobs nationwide, up from 10% in 1990. US health care spending is forecast to grow by an average 5.6% annually in the coming decade, according to a report by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a projection based on no changes out of Washington and in the Affordable Care Care through 2025. Meanwhile, national spending on health care is forecast to outpace US GDP growth by 1.2%. CMS has estimated that spending will comprise 19.9% of GDP by 2025, up from 17.8% in 2015.

“There’s no question that rising health care costs are hurting our overall economy,” said New York-based financial adviser Michael Mondiello. “With consumer spending accounting for some 70% of economic activity, the more we spend on health care, the less we have to purchase other things like a vacation or to save for retirement.” [..] The first murmurs of early trouble may have been detected. “Companies in the health care sector are starting to lay people off,” said John Burns, CEO of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.. [..] “Health care companies borrowed too much money, and have grown their debt faster than their revenue, so you have to have a pullback.”

[..] In a report published by Burns, health care is identified as the largest systemic risk to the economy, of the three sectors Burns examined, which also included technology and automotive. The conventional wisdom points to US demographic trends, and an aging population, as supportive of the long-term strength, but the report shows industry growth has surpassed what is sustainable:
• Health care company debt is up 308% since 2009.
• The number of hospitals in health systems has expanded by 26% since 1999.
• The yearly medical costs for a family of four have jumped 189% since 2002, from $9,000 to $26,000.
“It could be like a Lehman Brothers scenario, where a couple of big health care companies take the economy down,” Burns told The Post.

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As usual, a long essay from John. A few bites:

Exhaustion Gaps and the Fear of Missing Out (John Hussman)

To offer a sense of the market return/risk profile that has typically been associated with exhaustion gaps at overvalued, overbought, overbullish extremes, the chart below shows the maximum gain and maximum loss in the market as measured from each instance to the subsequent bear market low. Multiple exhaustion gaps in the same market cycle are depicted separately. I recognize that my regular comments about the likelihood of the S&P 500 losing half or more of its value over the completion of this cycle may seem preposterous. A review of market history may help to understand these expectations, which are consistent with both the valuation evidence later in this comment, and with the outcomes that have typically completed prior speculative market cycles.

Two caveats are important here. First, given the simplicity of the conditions that define an exhaustion gap above, and their reliance on daily market behavior, it’s not clear that investors should wait for such gaps in future market cycles if other danger signs are already present. The best way to view these exhaustion gaps, I think, is that they represent points, late in a bull market cycle, where investors become overwhelmed by fear of missing out (FOMO), leaving a lopsided equilibrium where the remaining pool of potential buyers evaporates and the pool of potential sellers becomes saturated. Conversely, it seems likely that simple daily signals like the exhaustion gaps above could be misleading in the future, if more robust measures still indicate persistent risk-seeking among investors.

As a reminder of where market valuations stand, based on what actually works across market cycles, the chart below presents several of the most historically reliable equity valuation measures we track. We can form expectations about the likely range of market losses over the completion of this cycle by asking what amount of retreat would be required to bring these measures to either: a) the highest level of valuation reached at any previous bear market low, or b) the historical norm of each measure. Emphatically, these estimates do not assume that valuations will move below their historical norms at the next bear market low (as they did, in fact, as recently as the 2009 low). The smallest expected loss estimate comes in at -45.6%, while the largest loss estimate (taking each measure to its respective historical norm) is -62.1%. The average range of estimated market losses is -47.7% to -60.1%, while the median range is -45.6% to -62.0%.

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I think I already know which way Trump will lean.

Barack Obama Cashes In, But Harry Truman And Jimmy Carter Refused (IC)

It used to be the norm for presidents to retire to ordinary life after their stint in the White House — just ask Harry Truman. When the Democratic president was getting ready to leave the White House in 1953, he was approached by many employers. The Los Angeles Times noted that if he was “unemployed after he leaves the White House it won’t be for lack of job offers … but [he] has accepted none of them.” One of those job offers was from a Florida real estate developer, asking him to become a “chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than $100,000” — the sort of position that is commonplace today for ex-politicians. Presumably, had Truman taken the position, it would have been a good deal for both parties: the president’s prestige and connections would also enrich the company.

Truman declined. “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency,” he wrote of his refusal to influence-peddle. Although he had access to a small pension from his military service, Truman had little financial support after leaving office. He moved back into his family home in Independence, Mo., and insisted on being treated like anyone else. He would tell people not to call him “Mr. President,” and settled on a fairly ordinary routine once he was back in Independence. He would take a morning walk through the town square. He kept an office nearby where he would answer mail from Americans. He chose to engage with just about anyone who walked into his office — not only people who wrote him big checks, or invited him onto their private yachts and private islands.

“Many people,” he once said, “feel that a president or an ex-president is partly theirs — they are right to some extent — and that they have a right to call upon him.” Indeed, his office number was even listed in a nearby telephone directory. He eventually agreed to write a memoir for Life magazine, but it was a lengthy project that provided far from luxurious stipends. Truman’s modest life post-presidency moved Congress in 1958 to establish a pension system that provides an annual cash payout as well as expenses for an office and staff. Gerald Ford nevertheless shattered precedent when he joined the boards of corporations such as 20th Century Fox, hit the paid speech circuit, and was made an honorary director by Citigroup.

But his successor, Jimmy Carter, who grew up in a modest home in Plains, Georgia, did not follow Ford’s example. He refused to become a professional paid speaker or join corporate boards. He moved back to Plains, and was welcomed home by a crowd of neighbors and supporters. He quickly made himself busy as a nonprofit founder and a volunteer diplomat. He did make money post-presidency — but by serving ordinary people, not elites. He wrote dozens of best-selling books bought by millions of people across the world — the post-presidency equivalent of small donors. Carter explained his thinking to the Guardian in 2011, telling them that his “favorite president, and the one I admired most, was Harry Truman. When Truman left office he took the same position. He didn’t serve on corporate boards. He didn’t make speeches around the world for a lot of money.”

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“Rest easy America… oh, and buy every dip.”

The Sound of One Wing Flapping (Jim Kunstler)

And suddenly the storms of early Trumptopia subside, or seem to. The surface of things turns eerily placid as the sweets of May sweep away the toils of an elongated mud season. Somebody stuffed Kim Jong Un back in his bunker with a carton of Kools and the Vin Diesel video library. France appears resigned to Hollandaise Lite in the refreshing form of boy wonder Macron. It’s been weeks since The New York Times complained about the Russians stealing Hillary’s turn as leader of the free world. We’re given to understand that Congress managed overnight to cook up a spending bill that will avert a Government shut-down until September. Rest easy America… oh, and buy every dip.

A calm surface is exactly what Black Swans like to land on, though by definition we will not know they’re out there until our reveries are broken by the sound of wings flapping. Some kind of dirty bird showed up on Canada’s thawing pond last week when that country’s biggest home loan lender suffered a 60 percent pukage of shareholder equity and had to be bailed out — not by the Canadian government directly, but by the Ontario Province’s Health Care Workers Pension Fund, a neat bit of hocus pocus that amounts to a one-year emergency loan at ten percent interest. If that’s a way for insolvent public employee pension plans to find enough “yield” to meet their obligations, then maybe that could be the magic bullet for the USA’s foundering pension funds.

The next time Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and friends get a case of the Vapors, let them be bailed out by the Detroit School Bus Drivers’ Pension Fund at ten percent interest. That ought to work. And let Calpers take care of Wells Fargo. The situation across Western Civilization is as follows: virtually every major financial institution has become a check-kiting operation or a Ponzi scheme, and we’ve reached the point where they can only pretend to be rescued. Bailout or not, the Toronto-based Home Capital Group is still stuck with shit-loads of non-performing sub-prime mortgage loans — its specialty — and Canada’s spectacular real estate bubble has hardly begun to pop. The collateral is starting to turn, like dead meat in the May sunshine, and the odium will waft across the border.

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“It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new.”

Emmanuel Macron Has Taken French Voters For Granted. Now He Risks Defeat (G.)

The rise of Macron is characteristic of the age of spin doctors: it illustrates both their power and their limits. It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new. To achieve this feat, spin doctors resorted to celebrity-building in ways previously unknown in French political life. Macron was new because he was young and handsome, and because he had never been elected before. He appeared repeatedly on the front pages of Paris Match with his wife, whose name is chanted by his supporters at his rallies. In the final weeks of the campaign Macron was so careful not to expose the true nature of his programme (which amounts to little more than the unpopular liberalism-cum-austerity implemented by Hollande) that his speeches degenerated into vacuous exercises in cliche and tautology.

The strategy worked up to a point: he qualified for the second round. Yet its limits are also clear. Last spring, France saw nationwide protests against the labour laws that Macron had largely designed. The opposition was not only to their content, but also to the manner in which they were passed: the government bypassed a parliamentary vote. During these demonstrations police used high levels of violence, yet Macron never uttered a word to calm things down. He has already announced that he would resort to governing by decree if needed, and it is easy to anticipate increased social tensions by the autumn. To those who would oppose him, Macron would answer that he is implementing the programme on which he was elected. Theoretically, Macron should defeat Le Pen hands down. The problem is that the meaning of such a result would be unclear: how many would have voted for him, and how many against her?

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The EU can do what it wants with the UK, because whatever it is, the Brits will blame each other for anything that goes wrong. No need for divide and conquer, there’s a hopeless divide already; Brussels can focus on conquer.

How Juncker’s Downing Street Dinner Turned Sour (G.)

The meeting last Wednesday started with a kiss on the cheek, gratefully immortalised by the photographers on Downing Street’s pavement. It ended with a withering putdown: “I’m leaving Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before,” Juncker told his host. It is said that the talks started pleasantly enough. During half of an hour of chit-chat in an anteroom, before taking their place at the dinner table, May told Juncker that she didn’t want just to talk Brexit during the evening but there were other matters of world affairs to discuss. “Like what?”, Juncker asked. In fact, little else seemed to be on the prime minister’s mind. Juncker did have a topic to raise though, and the issue at hand may just explain some of the current iciness between the two leaders.

That very morning the EU should have been shuffling around its money to deal with issues such as the migration crisis, which could not have been expected a few years ago when the bloc’s budget had been set. But on Monday morning Juncker had been made aware of an email from the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels explaining that because a general election had been announced, the British government couldn’t give its support to any changes in how the EU was going to spend its cash. Juncker smelled mischief – maybe it was a way to show the EU what trouble Britain could cause if it didn’t get its way? “What on earth is all this supposed to mean?” he is said to have asked May. Perhaps you won’t be able to talk about Brexit then, he queried, when May explained the rules of purdah, under which governments in an election are to avoid binding the hands of the next administration.

[..] it was the substance of the talks that were to cause Juncker the most unease. And it was Juncker’s despair that got to his colleagues. This was the man who through the trickiest of negotiations had always seen a path through. But when presented with May’s insistence that EU citizens in the UK would be treated in the future like any other foreign national, that trade talks needed to start before the issue of Britain’s divorce bill was settled or her claim that technically the UK owed nothing at all to the union, his lack of optimism for the future became clear. “Theresa May started by stating that the UK wanted to discuss first future arrangements, then article 50 stuff,” one source with knowledge of the dinner said.

“It felt to the EU side like she does not live on planet Mars but rather in a galaxy very far away.” She was “deluded” and appeared to be “living in a parallel universe”, Juncker told the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in a phone call said to have taken place just moments after the delegation left Downing Street.

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Absolute insanity: “..pensions are to be cut by 9% on average..”

Greece Reaches Deal With Creditors To Pave Way For Bailout Talks (G.)

Greece has reached a preliminary deal with its creditors that should pave the way for long-awaited debt relief talks, the Greek finance minister said on Tuesday. “The negotiations are concluded,” Euclid Tsakalotos told reporters, according to state agency ANA. After overnight talks, Tsakalotos said a “preliminary technical agreement” had been achieved ahead of a 22 May meeting of eurozone finance ministers, which is required to approve the deal. Tsakalotos added he was “certain” that the agreement would enable Greece to secure debt relief measures from its creditors, which he has said is vital to spearhead recovery in the country’s struggling economy. A compromise is required to unblock a tranche of loans Greece needs for debt repayments of €7bn ($7.6bn) in July.

Under pressure from its creditors – the EU, ECB and the IMF – the government agreed earlier this month to adopt another €3.6bn in cuts in 2019 and 2020. Athens conceded fresh pension and tax break cuts in return for permission to spend an equivalent sum on poverty relief measures. A government source on Tuesday said pensions are to be cut by 9% on average, ANA said. The measures are to be approved by parliament by mid-May. However, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will not apply these cuts without a clear pledge later this month on debt-easing measures for Greece. Athens also hopes to be finally allowed access to the ECB’s QE asset purchase programme, to help its return to bond markets.

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So many numbers it’s easy to forget this is about people.

Greece: Any Better Times Or More Pitfalls Ahead? (LSE)

In 2015, Greece, an EU state member since 1981 with a population of 10,846,979 people, recorded the highest level of GGD (General Government Gross Debt to GDP ratio) in the EU-28, at 176.9%. Concerning the volume index of GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Parity Standards) we find Greece’s GDP per capita dropped from 4% lower than the EU-28 average in 2004 to 29% lower in 2015. However, GDP is a measure of a country’s economic activity, and therefore it should not be considered a measure of a country’s well-being. If we take the AIC (Actual Individual Consumption) per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standard) as a better indicator to describe the material welfare of households, Greece showed an AIC index per capitalower by some 19% than the EU-28 average in 2015. Labour productivity per hour worked expressed in US $ (which means GDP per hour worked expressed in US $) was estimated among the lowest in the EU-28, at $32 in 2015.

Curiously, Greece has the highest average hours worked per year in the EU-28, at 2,042 hours, its average hourly labour cost is among the lowest in the EU-28, at €14.5, its average annual wages at US $25,211 and unemployment rate of 24.90%. 43% of pensioners live on €660/month on average, and many Greek pensioners are also supporting unemployed children and grandchildren. [..] Unemployment is a tragedy for Greece. The highest jobless rate was recorded in 2014, at 27.8%. The current level of unemployment, the highest in the EU, is about 24%. Unemployed workers between 45 and 64 years of age (currently almost one in three unemployed, around 347,400 people, whereof 280,000 are long-term unemployed, in 2009 they were one in five, or 99,000 people)- , and young unemployed people aged 15-24 (close to 50% of the total) are the most adversely affected demographics.

According to ELSTAT (Hellenic Statistical Authority) – GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers), nine out of ten Greeks without job do not receive unemployment benefits and 71.8-73.8% (around 807,000 people) of all unemployed (1,124,000 people) have been out of work for more than twelve months, while only 1.5% of them receive the 700 euro/month applicable to the long-term registered unemployed. In the last quarter report for 2016, ELSTAT shows that the amount of Greeks facing long-term unemployment has risen some 146% (from 327,700 to 807,000 people) over the 6-year period. Additionally, there are 350,000 Greek families without a single member working, and unemployment has led some 300,000 highly skilled professionals and workers to leave the country.

[..] According to a study carry out by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research, poverty rate in Greece increased by 40% from 2008 to 2015, the largest increase among EU countries. A new multidimensional poverty index was used to calculate poverty, which is not based on income alone but on other factors such as the deprivation of material goods, quality of education, underemployment and, access to healthcare. In 2015, according to Eurostat, more than one in three residents of Greece experienced conditions of poverty and/or social exclusion. The percentage of those within this group had risen from 29.1% in 2008 to 35.7% in 2015, or 3.8 million people. 21.4% of the Greek population are living below the national poverty line (with an income less than 60 % of the national average), 22.2 % are severely materially deprived,

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Apr 262017
 
 April 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1906

 

There’s a Huge Disagreement Between Bonds and Stocks (BBG)
Trump May Pick Gary Cohn To Replace Janet Yellen At The Fed (CNBC)
Trudeau’s Reward for Courting Trump Is a Trade War on Lumber (BBG)
Apartheid Without the Racism’: How China Keeps Rural Folks Down (WSJ)
Chinese Stock Market Roller Coaster Looks To Be Back In Full Force (CNBC)
Cataclysm (Robert Gore)
Currency Markets Suggest Traders Get Early Glimpse at UK Government Data (WSJ)
Draghi’s Stimulus Could Blunt Populism (BBG)
Juncker Against ‘Major Cuts’ To Greek Pensions (K.)
As Bailout Negotiations Resume, Tsipras Tries To Sweeten Pill (K.)
Trump On Greece: “They Are In Such A Terrible Situation There” (NM)
EU Auditors Say Refugee Centers In Greece, Italy Overwhelmed (AP)
Amnesty Calls For Shutdown Of Greece’s Elliniko Refugee Camp (K.)

 

 

“The rates market is pricing in the death of tax reform and dimming 2018 economic prospects..”

There’s a Huge Disagreement Between Bonds and Stocks (BBG)

Markets are taking sides when it comes to the direction of the U.S. economy. In the green corner are stocks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is just 0.2% away from a record high reached in March on bets that Donald Trump’s administration will push through tax-code changes to spark growth. In the red corner sit U.S. government bonds, where benchmark 10-year Treasury yields have unwound almost half of their post-election increase, suggesting a far more pessimistic view the economy. “The increasing divergence between global equity market performance and bond markets has raised questions as to whom is right,” Jefferies Group analysts led by Sean Darby wrote in a note.

Figuring out which market will be on the right side of history is a pressing issue for analysts, investors and traders. If government bonds prove correct, risk appetite may soon vanish; if the optimism displayed by stocks and corporate bonds is vindicated, then interest-rate markets are likely to sell off in coming months, according to strategists. The issue is gaining added urgency as Trump nears his 100th day as president with plans to unveil Wednesday a proposal to lower the corporate rate to 15%. Optimism that the new U.S. administration would deliver tax cuts and boost corporate earnings may account for the resilience of bullish equity sentiment, according to strategists at Rabobank.

“The post-election jump in stocks could at least in part have been due to this mechanistic response rather than an optimistic view of the future,” strategists led by Richard Macguire wrote in a note. A cut in the corporate tax rate would automatically boost earnings per share, justifying an advance in stock prices, they argue. Still, interest-rate markets are flashing warning signals. Money markets such as the London interbank offered rate and interest rate swaps, for instance, show some alarm over growth prospects next year, according to Bank of America. “The rates market is pricing in the death of tax reform and dimming 2018 economic prospects,” strategists led by Shyam Rajan wrote in a note to clients.

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Haven’t heard that term in a while: “He also has emphasized the need for a cheap dollar and low interest rates as the economy seeks escape velocity..”

Trump May Pick Gary Cohn To Replace Janet Yellen At The Fed (CNBC)

Should President Donald Trump choose to replace Fed Chair Janet Yellen when her term expires next year, he could well turn to someone close by to fill the void. Speculation is building on Wall Street that a likely replacement to run the central bank would be Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council and Trump’s closest economic advisor. Cohn also is a former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs. “The buzz among those who claim Cohn confides in them is that he would like to eventually replace” Yellen, assuming Trump decides to move in a different direction when the chair’s term ends in early February, Beacon Policy Advisors said in its daily report for clients Tuesday.

“On paper, Cohn likely meets Trump’s expected top two requirements for a Fed chair candidate,” the Beacon analysis said, specifically citing Cohn’s advocacy for deregulation and his likelihood to keep interest rates low as Trump seeks to implement his pro-growth economic policies. Trump has had an awkward relationship with Yellen. During the campaign in 2016, he openly chided the central bank chief, accusing her of keeping interest rates low and using monetary stimulus to prop up the economy under former President Barack Obama. However, he’s been relatively mum about Yellen since taking office in January. He also has emphasized the need for a cheap dollar and low interest rates as the economy seeks escape velocity from an extended period of low growth.

“If Trump wants rates to be as low as possible, (Yellen’s) still the best choice,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments and a widely followed expert on the Wall Street-Washington connection. “In my career, I’ve never seen a president who favored higher interest rates. That’s pretty unusual.” Cohn, though, also would be more likely to endorse monetary policy that would fit the Trump agenda. [..] “He’s the leading contender,” said Christopher Whalen, an insider in the banking world and currently head of Whalen Global Advisors. “Every Fed chairman in recent memory going back even to (Paul) Volcker went through the White House in one way or the other. … It would certainly make sense.” A White House spokeswoman said the chatter was “entirely speculation” and called the Beacon report and any others “inaccurate.”

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Softwood lumber is a forever problem.

Trudeau’s Reward for Courting Trump Is a Trade War on Lumber (BBG)

Justin Trudeau has always played nice with Donald Trump. The refugee-hugging liberal bit his tongue, flooded Washington with envoys, feted Ivanka Trump on Broadway and relentlessly talked up Canada-U.S. ties. It hasn’t worked. On Monday, Trump teed off a fresh trade war by slapping tariffs of up to 24% on Canadian softwood lumber as battles brew over the North American Free Trade Agreement and the dairy industry. After winning praise for his Trump strategy, with Angela Merkel and others pressing the Canadian prime minister for advice, Trudeau finds himself a target – or an example. “Think of this as the violin Trump gets to play and set the mood of the place,” said Eric Miller, a former Canadian diplomat who is now with the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group.

“It’s a great way to underline America First to the Europeans, Japanese and others, if you actually take a hard line with Canada.” Canada is hardly a poster-child trade offender for Trump. It’s the number-one buyer of U.S. goods with a largely balanced trade relationship (totaling $635 billion in 2016, according to U.S. census data), a peaceful next-door neighbor and among the closest U.S. allies. Trudeau moderated his message, re-calibrated his domestic agenda to court Trump and even helped him dial back G-20 commitments on trade. Trump himself pledged only a “tweaking” of ties before turning on Canada this month.

[..] Canada looks set to stick to its play-nice strategy, and Trudeau had fair warnings on all this. His father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, famously described Canada-U.S. relations as “sleeping with an elephant,” with Canada “affected by every twitch and grunt.” This elephant is now wide awake, but Trump’s commerce chief says the softwood dispute is strictly business. Describing Canada as “generally a good neighbor,” Ross distanced Trump from the softwood decision during a White House briefing Tuesday. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the personal relationship between Mr. Trudeau and the president,” he said.

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A story full of craziness: “Over the past decade, housing prices have increased as much as 700% in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.”

Apartheid Without the Racism’: How China Keeps Rural Folks Down (WSJ)

An epic property boom restricted to city dwellers has opened a wealth gap that continues to widen in China, setting back a state campaign to ease poverty and shunting rural dwellers from the middle-class dream. China’s system of hukou, or household registration, a decades-old legacy of the planned economy, binds most Chinese to their place of birth, and denies those outside China’s booming megacities the right to buy property inside them. That has largely shut them out of one of history’s biggest wealth transfers: 98% of Chinese housing is now in private hands from virtually none a generation ago. Over the past decade, housing prices have increased as much as 700% in cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Property now accounts for 70% of personal wealth in the country.

“Housing is everything in China,” said Li Gan, a professor at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. Unless the Communist Party privatizes land, which is unlikely, farmers will continue to lose ground, he said. Meanwhile, home prices keep rising at a faster pace, with March the quickest in the past five months. China has recently stepped up efforts to fight poverty, including extending medical insurance to the poor and resettling them from areas prone to landslides and other geological threats. It also said it is building a new megacity two hours from Beijing, bringing whirlwind growth to a dusty backwater. Both initiatives suggest leaders’ awareness of the deep inequities along rural-urban lines.

In 1978, when China embarked on economic overhauls, city dwellers earned about twice as much as rural residents; they now earn about 3.5 times as much, according to a study released in April by Paris School of Economics professor Thomas Piketty and World Bank consultant Li Yang. Studies by the Asian Development Bank and the University of Michigan suggest China’s rich-poor gap is even higher once property and hukou status are taken into account. “The urban-rural wealth divide is much greater than the income divide,” Southwestern University’s Mr. Gan said.

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Never left.

Chinese Stock Market Roller Coaster Looks To Be Back In Full Force (CNBC)

The roller coaster that is the Chinese stock market seems to be back in full force. Stocks in Shanghai had been in a period of relative calm so far this year, but a relatively precipitous drop of 2.7% this month has refocused attention on the markets. This year, investors have been buoyed by stronger economic data — first quarter GDP growth came in at 6.9%, which was better than expected. Specific sectors like property and construction also got a boost after Beijing announced the creation of a new special economic zone, dubbed Xiongan New Area, in Hebei province. But, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. Since late last week, Shanghai stocks have been on a bit of a losing streak. Monday’s drop of more than 1% was the worst thus far this year, and Tuesday saw an uptick that left numbers little changed.

The Shanghai Composite was up about 0.3% by 11 a.m. SIN/HK. This recent volatility complicates government efforts to keep calm in the markets ahead of a major leadership change this fall. Only about 10 days ago, Liu Shiyu, the chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, delivered a speech at the Shenzhen exchange, making an explicit call to maintain market stability, connecting the financial markets to politics directly. Consultancy Eurasia Group pointed out that Liu said, “today there is no finance without politics, and no politics that does not closely watch finance,” noting sensitivities around the coming change in top Communist Party brass and protecting the 100 million investors in China.

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” The costs of failure are borne by the victims.”

Cataclysm (Robert Gore)

Very few people foresaw its failure when it was imminent, even purported experts. The small group who said Soviet communism wouldn’t work because it couldn’t work were disparaged right up until it didn’t work. However, the deck is always stacked in favor of those predicting this or that government will fail. Ultimately they all do because they all come to rest on a foundation of coercion and fraud, which doesn’t work because it can’t work. There is both a quantitative and qualitative calculus for individuals subject to a government: what the government takes versus what individuals get back. Government is a protection racket: turn over your money and it promises physical security from invasion and crime, and adjudication and restitution in the event of civil or criminal wrongs. The quantitative calculus: am I getting more back than I put in? The qualitative calculus: what activities and people does the government help or hinder?

Protection rackets are often indistinguishable from extortion rackets, the “protector” a bigger threat to the “protected” than the threats against which they’re supposedly protected. Such is the case with the US government, as it was with the former Soviet government. Blessed with naturally defensive geographies and huge nuclear arsenals, the chances of the US being attacked are (or were, in the case of the former Soviet Union) remote. The cost for actual protection provided by those governments has been a tiny fraction of what’s been extracted by force or fraud from their citizenries, the very definition of an extortion racket. Freedom militates against stupidity; coercion compounds it. Competitive markets and a wide-open intellectual climate either kill the worst ideas or impel their improvement.

Power corrupts so completely because those who hold it rarely face negative feedback or consequences. Critics are mocked, stifled, imprisoned, or murdered. The costs of failure are borne by the victims. The perpetrators blame those failures on lack of funding or authority and receive more of the same. Nothing succeeds like failure in coercive systems. Just look at the US governments “wars” on poverty, drugs, and terrorism. For rational people in free, competitive systems an ever-expanding gap between shining intentions and dismal reality prompts psychological turmoil. The powerful salve outbreaks of cognitive dissonance with arrogance, which expands apace with their failing programs. Just look at Obamacare, which its progenitor hails as his greatest accomplishment.

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Bit of a problem?

Currency Markets Suggest Traders Get Early Glimpse at UK Government Data (WSJ)

A comparison of trading data for the Swedish krona and British pound may provide further evidence that some investors could be trading with knowledge of U.K. official statistics before they are published. Sweden and Britain, two European countries with widely traded currencies, have very different approaches when it comes to policy on who sees official economic data before it goes out. In Sweden, nobody outside the statistics office, not even the country’s prime minister, is allowed to see sensitive data before release, according to Statistics Sweden, the country’s official data provider. In Britain, over a hundred lawmakers, advisers and press officers get to see some numbers up to a day before it comes out.

The British pound often moves sharply in the hour before data is released, but the krona shows no signs of moving ahead of Swedish numbers, an analysis of trading data between January 2011 and March 2017 suggests. During the hour before unexpectedly strong or weak U.K. data is made public, the pound moved 0.065% versus the dollar on average in the same direction it subsequently did after those numbers came out, according to an analysis prepared for The Wall Street Journal by Alexander Kurov, associate professor of finance at West Virginia University. It showed that the average change in the pound’s value one hour before and after such economic data announcements is 0.127%, meaning around half the shift associated with the statistics came ahead of their official release.

The Swedish krona moved by an average of 0.163% versus the dollar over the same period before and after unexpectedly strong and weak data releases, according to the analysis. But in the hour ahead of public dissemination, the krona drifted only 0.003% in the direction it would end up going after publication. “The evidence of informed trading before U.K. macroeconomic news is very strong,” said Prof. Kurov. “The data offers no indication that informed trading is taking place before comparable Swedish announcements.” [..] Previous research by Prof. Kurov has also shown that traders in the U.S. aren’t anticipating government released statistics with the same precision as those in Britain appear to be. In the U.S., only the president and the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers receive that data a day in advance.

Read more …

So what if the stimulus stops?

Draghi’s Stimulus Could Blunt Populism (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s stimulus didn’t prevent the rise of populists who want to reject the euro, but it might be taking the edge off the economic pain that fueled their support. The European Central Bank president has pushed through measures that have led the currency bloc out of a double-dip recession and cut unemployment, a key source of discontent among voters, by 4 million people in the past four years. Satisfaction with the single currency has been rising in most nations over the same period. Yet as the French presidential election shows, politicians calling for an exit from the bloc are far from out of touch. The National Front’s Marine Le Pen made it past the first round and is on track for a 40% share of the vote in May’s runoff — not enough to win, but still a reminder that an ECB-inspired economic upturn won’t sway everyone.

The recovery “will take away some fuel from populist parties but it is not sufficient to make them disappear,” said Joerg Kraemer, chief economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. “It would be wrong to follow a strategy saying: we only have to stimulate the economy enough, to create growth, to solve the problem.” Draghi, who will hold a press conference on Thursday after the Governing Council sets monetary policy, has previously called the ECB’s policies “socially progressive” because they boost consumption, investment and jobs. That addresses one of the key attractions of populism. Le Pen was bolstered by people out of work, winning nine of the 10 mainland French departments that have the highest jobless rates by anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of Sunday’s vote.

The country has barely managed to bring down unemployment since the financial crisis. While polls predict her defeat in the May 7 run-off, Le Pen’s chances of becoming president might hinge on how much voter disaffection reduces turnout, according to analysts who sifted through first-round results. Despite France’s woes, support for the euro there has been recovering. In Italy, where unemployment actually rose last year, it continues to languish and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has a realistic chance of power.

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While his underlings demand a lot more of it.

Juncker Against ‘Major Cuts’ To Greek Pensions (K.)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has voiced skepticism over plans to impose further pension cuts in Greece while addressing the need to outline possible measures on debt relief next month. “No major cuts in the pension sector should be pursued by the institutions,” Juncker said in an interview with euro2day.gr financial website on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings in Washington, adding that “the poor part of the Greek society – the pensioners and the retirees – are suffering.” “We have to acknowledge that Greece is making a huge progress and it will be a bad development if we insist on major cuts in pensions,” Juncker said.

Asked about the reaction of Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, Juncker said: “I did not get the impression that she was in total opposition to what I was telling her.” The head of the Commission also said EU governments should take steps toward securing a Greek debt relief. “I think that as far as debt relief is concerned, we don’t need other poems… Debt relief measures – reasonable ones – are heavily needed, Juncker said. “I don’t think that this can be done in May. But the eurogroup in May must give a design for future possible debt relief measures,” he said.

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Tsipras says no measures unless debt relief. Want to bet he’ll capitulate on that too?

As Bailout Negotiations Resume, Tsipras Tries To Sweeten Pill (K.)

As Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos resumed bailout negotiations in Athens with representatives of the country’s creditors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared on Tuesday that his government will legislate new tough measures in mid-May but will not enforce them if Greece does not get debt relief. “We entered a negotiation that does not relate strictly to the program itself but also has to do with the debt,” Tsipras told ANT1 channel. He said his government would approve a new raft of measures in Parliament in good faith, anticipating that creditors will follow suit by honoring pledges to offer medium-term debt relief, but will change course if those promises are not met. “A sovereign government can take back something it has voted if an agreement is not honored,” he said, noting that the only reason coalition MPs will approve a new agreement is to secure debt relief.

Tsipras defended his government’s performance in negotiations despite vehement criticism by the opposition, which, he insisted, has offered no viable alternative. “We won some things, we lost some things, but overall the negotiation ended with a positive score as the government secured the countermeasures and labor rights,” he said, referring to reforms that Athens has said will lighten the load of austerity. Noting that a “political agreement” is already in place, Tsipras said he was sure the technical details of the detail will be hammered out by a May 22 Eurogroup summit. He insisted that the new package of measures would be a “ticket out of the program,” referring to the austerity measures underpinning Greece’s bailout. Greek officials gave little detail about negotiations in Athens on Tuesday apart from saying they were “on a good course.”

The premier admitted to having “delusions” when his leftist SYRIZA was in opposition, hoping that a major change in Europe could be brought about by an uprising of the Greek people. “I didn’t hesitate to say that I had illusions,” he said. “We hit a wall,” he said, noting however, that “this battle was not in vain.” As for his one-time battle cry, “Go back Madame Merkel,” Tsipras said he still believed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should not have championed such tough austerity across Europe but remarked that she showed herself to be a responsible politician in her response to the refugee crisis.

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Will he understand the importance of a stable Greece in the region? Don’t count on it.

Trump On Greece: “They Are In Such A Terrible Situation There” (NM)

Less than 24 hours after the International Monetary Fund closed its four-day meeting in Washington the president himself told Newsmax Monday night that he would soon reveal his policy toward the financial colossus. Although he offered no details, Mr. Trump nonetheless signaled — in announcing his IMF policy sooner rather than later — that he would most likely support keeping the current level of U.S. financial support for the IMF rather than ask Congress to rescind it. “We’ll have something on the IMF in a few days,” Trump said in response to a question from Newsmax, strongly hinting that he was aware of the questions about what the policy of the fund’s largest shareholder would be under its new president. The president spoke to us at a private meeting for conservative journalists in the West Wing of the White House.

Trump also made it clear he was sympathetic to the plight of Greece, now in its eighth year of grappling with a debt that is now at 323 billion euros. Along with the European Central Bank and Eurogroup (the 19 members of the Eurozone that exercise control over the Euro currency), the IMF is one of the members of the troika — the three creditors who provided loans to keep the Greek economy afloat since 2010. “Greece!” Trump exclaimed to us, “They are in such a terrible situation there. It’s awful. Are you Greek?” Trump’s statements came one month after he dealt a jolt to IMF supporters by naming David Malpass, a longtime critic of the fund, as the top U.S. Treasury official overseeing international finance. He subsequently named another IMF skeptic, former investment banker and American Enterprise Institute Visiting Scholar Adam Lerrick, as deputy to Malpass.

During the recent IMF/World Bank spring meeting in Washington, participants made it clear they had a nervous apprehension about how they would be treated by the Trump administration. “It is important that the IMF and the creditors reach an honorable compromise ensuring the sustainability of the Greek debt,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told me. “We are waiting to see what the new administration in the U.S. thinks. We don’t want this to drag on.”

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This is a solvable problem.

EU Auditors Say Refugee Centers In Greece, Italy Overwhelmed (AP)

European Union auditors say that centers set up in Greece and Italy to fast-track the registration of migrants are overwhelmed and urgently require more experts, particularly to help children. In a report released Tuesday, the auditors say that two more centers known as “hotspots” are needed to process migrants in Italy and that facilities on Greek islands where people arrive from Turkey must be improved. It says that in Greece “there are still more migrants arriving at the hotspots than leaving, and they are seriously overcrowded.” Some children have been held in “restrictive conditions” there for more than three months. The auditors say the hotspots in Greece and Italy are designed to process about 8,000 people but are routinely dealing with 15,000-16,000 migrants.

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No, transfer them to northern Europe, not to other camps in Greece.

Amnesty Calls For Shutdown Of Greece’s Elliniko Refugee Camp (K.)

Amnesty International has made an urgent appeal for the shutdown of the Elliniko migrant and refugee camp on Athens’s southern coast and is calling for the transfer of its 1,200 occupants to alternative shelters. The rights organization is decrying appalling living conditions at the facility and says that women and underage girls live in constant fear of sexual and verbal abuse. According to Amnesty, women at the camp feel that they might come under attack at any moment in their tents, toilets and showers. Many avoid leaving their tents altogether for fear of harassment. The camp at the site of Athens’s former airport is inhabited mainly by Afghans who have been living in squalor in tents for over a year, with an insufficient number of toilets and showers, and limited privacy.

The situation has reportedly led to increased rates of depression and anxiety, as well as suicide attempts. Meanwhile, European Union auditors said in a report released on Tuesday that the centers set up in Greece and Italy to fast-track the registration of migrants are in urgent need of more expert help – particularly with regard to children – as they are overcrowded. “There are still more migrants arriving at the hotspots than leaving, and they are seriously overcrowded,” the report said, adding that children are being held in “restrictive conditions” for more than three months. The auditors called for the improvement of facilities on the Greek islands and said two more hotspots are needed to process migrants in Italy. Hotspots in Greece and Italy, the report said, are designed to process some 8,000 people but routinely deal with 15,000-16,000 migrants.

Read more …

Apr 232017
 
 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 2:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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René Magritte Le Cri du Coeur 1960

 

Austerity is over, proclaimed the IMF this week. And no doubt attributed that to the ‘successful’ period of ‘five years of belt tightening’ a.k.a. ‘gradual fiscal consolidation’ it has, along with its econo-religious ilk, imposed on many of the world’s people. Only, it’s not true of course. Austerity is not over. You can ask many of those same people about that. It’s certainly not true in Greece.

IMF Says Austerity Is Over

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor.

In Greece, the government did not increase spending in 2016. Nor is the country’s era of spending cuts at an end. So did the IMF ‘forget’ about Greece? Or does it not count it as part of the rich world? Greece is a member of the EU, and the EU is absolutely part of the rich world, so that can’t be it. Something Freudian, wishful thinking perhaps?

However this may be, it’s obvious the IMF are not done with Greece yet. And neither are the rest of the Troika. They are still demanding measures that are dead certain to plunge the Greeks much further into their abyss in the future. As my friend Steve Keen put it to me recently: “Dreadful. It will become Europe’s Somalia.”

An excellent example of this is the Greek primary budget surplus. The Troika has been demanding that it reach 3.5% of GDP for the next number of years (the number changes all the time, 3, 5, 10?). Which is the worst thing it could do, at least for the Greek people and the Greek economy. Not for those who seek to buy Greek assets on the cheap.

 

But sure enough, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) jubilantly announced on Friday that the 2016 primary surplus was 4.19% (8 times more than the 0.5% expected). This is bad news for Greeks, though they don’t know it. It is also a condition for receiving the next phase of the current bailout. Here’s what that comes down to: in order to save itself from default/bankruptcy, the country is required to destroy its economy.

And that’s not all: the surplus is a requirement to get a next bailout tranche, and debt relief, but as a reward for achieving that surplus, Greece can now expect to get less … debt relief. Because obviously they’re doing great, right?! They managed to squeeze another €7.3 billion out of their poor. So they should always be able to do that in every subsequent year.

The government in Athens sees the surplus as a ‘weapon’ that can be used in the never-ending bailout negotiations, but the Troika will simply move the goalposts again; that’s its MO.

A country in a shape as bad as Greece’s needs stimulus, not a budget surplus; a deficit would be much more helpful. You could perhaps demand that the country goes for a 0% deficit, though even that is far from ideal. But never a surplus. Every penny of the surplus should have been spent to make sure the economy doesn’t get even worse.

Greek news outlet Kathimerini gets it sort of right, though its headline should have read “Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Economy“.

Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market

The state’s fiscal performance last year has exceeded even the most ambitious targets, as the primary budget surplus as defined by the Greek bailout program, came to 4.19% of GDP, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced on Friday. It came to €7.369 billion against a target for €879 million, or just 0.5% of GDP. A little earlier, the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Thanos Thanopoulos, announced the primary surplus according to Eurostat rules, saying that it came to 3.9% of GDP or €6.937 billion.

The two calculations differ in methodology, but it is the surplus attained according to the bailout rules that matters for assessing the course of the program. This was also the first time since 1995 that Greece achieved a general government surplus – equal to 0.7% of GDP – which includes the cost of paying interest to the country’s creditors. There is a downside to the news, however, as the figures point to overtaxation imposed last year combined with excessive containment of expenditure.

The amount of €6-6.5 billion collected in excess of the budgeted surplus has put a chokehold on the economy, contributing to a great extent to the stagnation recorded on the GDP level in 2016. On the one hand, the impressive result could be a valuable weapon for the government in its negotiations with creditors to argue that it is on the right track to fiscal streamlining and can achieve or even exceed the agreed targets. On the other hand, however, the overperformance of the budget may weaken the argument in favor of lightening the country’s debt load.

Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem sees no shame in admitting this last point :

Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF

“That will be a tough discussion with the IMF,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch Finance Minister in a caretaker cabinet, “There are some political constraints where we can go and where we can’t go.” The level of Greece’s primary budget surplus is key in determining the kind of debt relief it will need. The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

That’s just plain insane, malicious even. Greek PM Tsipras should never have accepted any such thing, neither the surplus demands nor the fact that they affect debt relief, since both assure a further demise of the economy.

Because: where does the surplus come from? Easy: from Troika-mandated pension cuts and rising tax levels. That means the Greek government is taking money OUT of the economy. And not a little bit, but a full 4% of GDP, over €7 billion. An economy from which so much has already vanished.

The €7.369 billion primary surplus, in a country of somewhere between 10 and 11 million people, means some €700 per capita has been taken out of the economy in 2016. Money that could have been used to spend inside that economy, saving jobs, and keeping people fed and sheltered. For a family of 3.5 people that means €200 per month less to spend on necessities (the only thing most Greeks can spend any money on).

I’ve listed some of the things a number of times before that have happened to Greece since the EU and IMF declared de facto financial war on the country. Here are a few (there are many more where these came from):

25-30% of working age Greeks are unemployed (and that’s just official numbers), well over 1 million people; over 50% of young people are unemployed. Only one in ten unemployed Greeks receive an unemployment benefit (€360 per month), and only for one year. 9 out of 10 get nothing.

Which means 52% of Greek households are forced to live off the pension of an elderly family member. 60% of Greek pensioners receive pensions below €700. 45% of pensioners live below the poverty line with pensions below €665. Pensions have been cut some 12 times already. More cuts are in the pipeline.

40% of -small- businesses have said they expect to close in 2017. Even if it’s just half that, imagine the number of additional jobs that will disappear.

 

But the Troika demands don’t stop there; they are manifold. On top of the pension cuts and the primary surplus requirement, there are the tax hikes. So the vast majority of Greeks have ever less money to spend, the government takes money out of the economy to achieve a surplus, and on top of that everything gets more expensive because of rising taxes. Did I ever mention businesses must pay their taxes up front for a full year?

The Troika is not “rebalancing Greece’s public finances in a growth-friendly manner”, as Dijsselbloem put it, it is strangling the economy. And then strangling it some more.

There may have been all sorts of things wrong in Greece, including financially. But that is true to some degree for every country. And there’s no doubt there was, and still is, a lot of corruption. But that would seem to mean the EU must help fight that corruption, not suffocate the poor.

 


Yes, that’s about a 30% decline in GDP since 2007

 

The ECB effectively closed down the Greek banking system in 2015, in a move that’s likely illegal. It asked for a legal opinion on the move but refuses to publish that opinion. As if Europeans have no right to know what the legal status is of what their central bank does.

The ECB also keeps on refusing to include Greece in its QE program. It buys bonds and securities from Germany, which doesn’t need the stimulus, and not those of Greece, which does have that need. Maybe someone should ask for a legal opinion on that too.

The surplus requirements will be the nail in the coffin that do Greece in. Our economies depend for their GDP numbers on consumer spending, to the tune of 60-70%. Since Greek ‘consumers’ can only spend on basic necessities, that number may be even higher there. And that is the number the country is required to cut even more. Where do you think GDP is headed in that scenario? And unemployment, and the economy at large?

The question must be: don’t the Troika people understand what they’re doing? It’s real basic economics. Or do they have an alternative agenda, one that is diametrically opposed to the “rebalancing Greece’s public finances in a growth-friendly manner” line? It has to be one of the two; those are all the flavors we have.

You can perhaps have an idea that a country can spend money on wrong, wasteful things. But that risk is close to zilch in Greece, where many if not most people already can’t afford the necessities. Necessities and waste are mutually exclusive. A lot more money is wasted in Dijsselbloem’s Holland than in Greece.

In a situation like the one Greece is in, deflation is a certainty, and it’s a deadly kind of deflation. What makes it worse is that this remains hidden because barely a soul knows what deflation is.

Greece’s deflation hides behind rising taxes. Which is why taxes should never be counted towards inflation; it would mean all a government has to do to raise inflation is to raise taxes; a truly dumb idea. Which is nevertheless used everywhere on a daily basis.

In reality, inflation/deflation is money/credit supply multiplied by the velocity of money. And in Greece both are falling rapidly. The primary surplus requirements make it that much worse. It really is the worst thing one could invent for the country.

For the Greek economy, for its businesses, for its people, to survive and at some point perhaps even claw back some of the 30% of GDP it lost since 2007, what is needed is a way to make sure money can flow. Not in wasteful ways, but in ways that allow for people to buy food and clothing and pay for rent and power.

If you want to do that, taking 4% of GDP out of an economy, and 3.5% annually for years to come, is the very worst thing. That can only make things worse. And if the Greek economy deteriorates further, how can the country ever repay the debts it supposedly has? Isn’t that a lesson learned from the 1919 Versailles treaty?

The economists at the IMF and the EU/ECB, and the politicians they serve, either don’t understand basic economics, or they have their eyes on some other prize.

 

Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fra Filippo Lippi 1406-1469 The Virgin Mary

 

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)
Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)
IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)
Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)
Telling the Truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)
You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)
Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)
The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)
Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)
40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)
Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)
Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)
So It Goes (Oliver Stone)
A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

 

 

Yeah, sure, just come look in Greece. Where the IMF itself demands ever more austerity. While claiming austerity is over.

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor. “Their aggregate fiscal stance is expected to remain broadly neutral in 2017 as well as in the following years.” The British Government is still trying to reduce the deficit but at a slower pace, as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, wanted to ease spending cuts following the vote for Brexit last year.

Although extra spending may be welcomed by those who want funds for specific projects or public services, the IMF is worried that governments are still heavily indebted and need to be careful with their budgets. The US government, for instance, should use the current economic growth spurt as a chance to get its finances under control. “In the United States, where the economy is close to full employment, fiscal consolidation could start next year to put debt firmly on a downward path,” the IMF said. That contrasts heavily with President Donald Trump’s plans to spend more on infrastructure and defence while cutting taxes, a combination that risks ramping up the budget deficit. “These policies are expected to generate rising deficits over the medium term.

As a result, the US debt ratio is projected to increase continuously over the five-year forecast horizon,” the IMF warned. Overall the IMF believes government debts “should stabilise in the medium term, averaging more than 100pc of GDP, rather than decline as previously expected.” With debts that high, governments have to walk a fine line to use fiscal policy to support sustainable economic growth, but avoid dangerous over-indebtedness. “Fiscal policy is generally seen as a powerful tool for promoting inclusive growth and can contribute to stabilising the economy, particularly during deep recessions and when monetary policy has become less effective,” said the IMF.

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How can anyone get this right if they can’t even properly define inflation?

Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)

Stocks, bond yields and the dollar are all falling, yield curves are flattening and sterling is marching higher. The “reflation” trades of 2016 that were supposed to mark a turning point in global markets are fading. Fast. The question for investors is whether this is the play book for the rest of the year, or whether the trends of 2016 will resume in the second half of the year. What is clear is that much of the conviction with which investors went into 2017 has been lost. This week, Goldman Sachs ditched its long-standing bullish call on the U.S. dollar, and Deutsche Bank did likewise with their gloomy sterling outlook. Following the developed world’s two most seismic events last year – the U.S. presidential election and Brexit – investors around the world had positioned for a broad-based reflation trade.

Trump’s surprise election victory was supposed to unleash a wave of tax cuts, banking deregulation and fiscal largesse that would lift U.S. – and global – growth. Meanwhile, sterling’s 20% plunge after the Brexit vote was supposed to pave the way for a surge in UK equities and inflation. This, indeed, is how it played out as 2017 got underway. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates twice, the dollar reached a 14-year peak, Wall Street hit record highs, and government bond yield curves around the world steepened to the benefit of banks and financial stocks. But it is now unraveling, in large part due to a clear slowdown in U.S. growth and signs that global inflation is leveling off. Flatter yield curves where short- and long-term bond yields are close to each other suggest economic uncertainty.

[..] Citi’s economic surprises indexes for most of the world’s major economies have been heading south for the past month. The U.S. index has suddenly tumbled to lows not seen since November, and is below all its peers apart from Japan’s. And inflation expectations are showing signs of peaking too. The dollar is now down 2.5% year-to-date (but still up 2% since the U.S. election; U.S. bank stocks are down 10% from their February peak (but still up 20% from the election); and sterling is down 13% against the dollar since the Brexit vote last June (but it has been down as much as 20%). Estimates of first quarter U.S. growth have been slashed in recent weeks, with the Atlanta Fed’s closely-watched GDPNow model pointing to just 0.5% compared with around 2.5% less than two months ago.

Read more …

All it takes is a few rate hikes.

IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)

U.S. corporate debt has ballooned on cheap credit to levels exceeding those prevailing just before the 2008 financial crisis, a potential threat to financial stability, the IMF warned in its latest review of the top threats to markets and banks. High corporate leverage could become problematic as the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates, the IMF warned, since higher borrowing costs could hinder the ability of firms to service debts. While borrowing costs remain low, debt servicing as a proportion of income has risen to its highest level since 2010, raising questions over firms’ ability to service their debts, according to the IMF’s study of nearly 4,000 U.S. firms accounting for about half of the economywide corporate sector balance sheet.

Companies have added $7.8 trillion of debt and other liabilities since 2010, while issuing $3 trillion of equity, net of buybacks, according to the IMF. The IMF’s message stands in contrast to the one being sent by the corporate bond market, which has been rallying for more than a year now. In early March, the average spread between junk-rated corporate bond yields and U.S. Treasury yields reached 3.44 percentage points, its lowest point since July 2014, according to Bloomberg Barclays data. It was most recently at 3.92 percentage points, still a very low level by historical standards, indicating that investors don’t see the debt as very risky.

Read more …

So you buy mortgage backed securities, and then use them as collateral for a loan that lets you buy more securities. The serpent and the tail.

Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)

Forget subprime mortgages – one of Wall Street’s biggest risks doesn’t even show up on most banks’ balance sheets. Financial insiders are getting increasingly worried over the popularity of securities-based loans, or SBLs – a risky form of debt marketed to wealthy investors who typically use it to buy big assets like houses. The loans, which are taken against pools of stocks and bonds, offer borrowers cheap money fast without having to sell their underlying securities – an attractive option when the Dow is rising. But if markets crash, brokers can unload their clients’ holdings at fire-sale prices – and go after the house to cover the the vig. Fears of such ugly scenarios are growing as the Fed hikes interest rates, stocks are hitting all-time highs, and high-net-worth individuals are using this form of “shadow margin” to borrow more against stocks and bonds in their portfolios than ever before.

It’s not clear how much debt has been taken out in the form of SBLs, and a lack of regulatory oversight is partly to blame. Finra, the brokerage regulator, doesn’t track it, nor does the Securities and Exchange Commission — even though both have warned investors about the risks. However, several advisers surveyed by The Post estimated there is between $100 billion and $250 billion in outstanding SBLs among all brokerages. At least one concerned financial executive is in talks with lawyers to file a whistleblower case over the issue against a major bank with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Post has learned. “When the market does turn, and it will at some point, it will be a major disaster,” said the exec, who requested confidentiality in exchange for speaking on the issue with The Post.

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Here’s what I think will lead to UBI: poor old people. I skipped all the examples and links provided here. Do read them. “Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency.”

Telling the truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)

Telling the truth has never been popular with politicians. They believe that it would prevent them from getting elected. Making new promises that will never be kept, and covering up the unaffordability of old promises…is how politicians get elected. The pattern is well worn and predictable: they use promises to ‘bribe’ people to vote for them, then they fail to deliver, then they blame someone else, then they change the subject…rinse and repeat…meanwhile the really important stuff get’s brushed under the carpet or kicked down the road…choose your own metaphor. There are few greater examples of this than the approaching crisis in pensions: A tale that has been decades in the telling, the climax will be a calamity that the corporate media doesn’t want to look at, and politicians never mention or acknowledge. Short of being strapped to a metal chair and entertained with an electrical massage they never will…which is a nice thought but regrettably still illegal, at least on the mainland.

[..] Despite the dark pleasure it would give me to label our political and economic elites: ‘as thick as two short planks’…the truth is that many of them are not. It’s far worse than that I’m afraid. They are ‘liars’. The politicians, central bankers, economists and journalists who understand the situation we face, but do nothing to address it, are discrediting the positions of responsibility that they hold…by lying through omission, by obfuscation, through denial, by issuing false and/or misleading information, and via the good old fashioned ‘art’ of bull$hitting straight to camera. Finally, and on a slightly lighter note, for anyone reading this who has been brainwashed with the idea that any theory or observation that can’t be reduced to an equation, is not real ‘economics’…here is an equation for you (but don’t expect your professor to like it):

(P + G) – M = I

Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency. Throughout recorded history, this equation has never failed to balance eventually…ask any legionnaire.

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Another -more palatable?!- way of phrasing UBI.

You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)

Democrats have begun the presidency of Donald Trump exiled to the political wilderness. They’ve lost the White House, both houses of Congress, a shocking number of state governments, while the “blue state” vote has turned out to be really just the “blue city” vote. The party has cast about for solutions, battling it out over identity politics, the proper opposition strategy, and more. But Democrats might consider taking a cue from Trump himself. Namely, his relentless promises to bring back good-paying American jobs. “It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses,” observed Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, after reviewing Trump’s speeches. The President understands, as The New York Times’s Josh Barro noted, that most Americans think the purpose of private business is to provide good jobs, not merely turn a profit.

Even Trump’s xenophobia and white nationalism are not totally separate from this: Kicking out all the immigrants and rolling foreign competitors are critical components of how he would restore jobs. Democrats tend to treat jobs as the happy by-product of other goals like infrastructure revitalization or green energy projects. Or they treat deindustrialization and job dislocation as regrettable inevitabilities, offering training, unemployment insurance, health care, and so on to ameliorate their effects. All these policies are worthy. But a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another. There’s pretty clear evidence that losing this social identity matters as much as the loss of financial security.

The damage done by long-term joblessness to mental and physical health is rivaled only by the death of a spouse. It wreaks havoc on marriages, families, mortality rates, alcoholism rates, and more. The 2008 crisis drove long-term unemployment into the stratosphere, and today it remains near a historic high. Trump went right at this problem, telling Michigan in October of 2016: “I am going to bring back your jobs.” Period. Democrats should consider making the same moon shot promise. But unlike Trump, they should back it up with a policy plan. And there’s an idea that could do the trick. It emerges naturally from progressive values. It’s big, bold, and could fit on a bumper sticker. It’s generally called the “job guarantee” or the “employer of last resort.” In a nutshell: Have the federal government guarantee employment, with benefits and a living wage, to every American willing and able to work.

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More pension troubles. Today Japan, tomorrow your neck of the woods.

Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)

Their youth long gone, members of Japan’s generation of “parasite singles” face a precarious future, wondering how to survive once the parents many depended on for years pass away. Some 4.5 million Japanese aged between 35 and 54 were living with their parents in 2016, according to a researcher at the Statistical Research and Training Institute on a demographic phenomena that emerged two decades ago, when youthful singles made headlines for mooching off parents to lead carefree lives. Now, without pensions or savings of their own, these middle-aged stay-at-homes threaten to place an extra burden on a social welfare system that is already creaking under pressure from Japan’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

Hiromi Tanaka once sang backup for pop groups, and epitomized the optimism of youth. “I got used to living in an unstable situation and figured somehow it would work out,” Tanaka told Reuters as she sat at the piano in a small parlor of an old house connected to her elderly mother’s next door. Now aged 54, Tanaka relies on income from giving private singing lessons to a dwindling number of students, and her mother’s pension to make ends meet. She has no pension plan of her own, and has used up most of her savings. “My father died last year so pension income was halved,” she said. “If things go on like this, my mother and I will fall together.” Tanaka is one of the growing ranks of “life-time singles,” whose numbers hit a record in 2015, according to data released this month that showed that among 50-year-olds, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women were unmarried.

“During the ‘bubble economy’ until the mid-1990s, the 20-somethings were happily amusing themselves. They thought by the time they were in their 30s, they’d be married,” said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University sociologist who coined the term “parasite singles” in 1997. “But one-third never married and are now around age 50,” Yamada said. The trend is not only a factor behind Japan’s low birthrate and shrinking population. It also puts an extra damper on consumption since new household formation is a key driver of private spending. And since about 20% of the middle-aged stay-at-home singles rely on parents for support, they also threaten to weigh on social safety nets. “Once they use up inherited assets and savings, when nothing is left, they will go on the dole,” Yamada said.

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Casey gets lots of things spectacularly wrong. The EU did need trade pacts etc., to enhance, guarantee quality control. The EU did a lot of good things. But it got taken over by the shit that floats to the top: “The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway.”

The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)

A free trade pact between different governments is unnecessary for free trade. An individual country interested in prosperity and freedom only needs to eliminate all import and export duties, and all import and export quotas. When a country has duties or quotas, it’s essentially putting itself under embargo, shooting its economy in the foot. Businesses should trade with whomever they want for their own advantage. But that wasn’t the way the Europeans did it. The Eurocrats, instead, created a treaty the size of a New York telephone book, regulating everything. This is the problem with the EU. They say it is about free trade, but really it’s about somebody’s arbitrary idea of “fair trade,” which amounts to regulating everything. In addition to its disastrous economic consequences, it creates misunderstandings and confusion in the mind of the average person.

Brussels has become another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the national layers and local layers for the average European to deal with. The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway. The EU was built upon a foundation of sand, doomed to failure from the very start. The idea was ill-fated because the Swedes and the Sicilians are as different from each other as the Poles and the Irish. There are linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, and big differences in the standard of living. Artificial political constructs never last. The EU is great for the “elites” in Brussels; not so much for the average citizen.

Meanwhile, there’s a centrifugal force even within these European countries. In Spain, the Basques and the Catalans want to split off, and in the UK, the Scots want to make the United Kingdom quite a bit less united. You’ve got to remember that before Garibaldi, Italy was scores of little dukedoms and principalities that all spoke their own variations of the Italian language. And the same was true in what’s now Germany before Bismarck in 1871. In Italy 89% of the Venetians voted to separate a couple of years ago. The Italian South Tyrol region, where 70% of the people speak German, has a strong independence movement. There are movements in Corsica and a half dozen other departments in France. Even in Belgium, the home of the EU, the chances are excellent that Flanders will separate at some point.

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Another feature brought to you by the Troika.

Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)

People in Greece can’t afford to have more than one child, and many are opting to have none at all. Fertility doctor Minas Mastrominas tells the New York Times that some women have decided not to conceive, and single-child parents have been asking him to destroy their remaining embryos. He said: “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams.” It isn’t just Greece suffering low birth rates. In fact the trend spreads to most of Europe, with Spain, Portugal and Italy also reporting dangerously low rates. Unemployment continues to be a serious issue in Greece. Rates are slightly lower than in 2016 when they were 23.9%, but are still very high at 23.5%. The slump has affected women more, with unemployment rates at 27% compared to 20% of men.

Child tax breaks and subsidies for large families have decreased, and the country stands at having to lowest budget in the EU for family and child benefits. During the height of the crisis, women postponed childbirth in favour of working. As the years dragged on, the rate of fertility decreased, making it biologically more difficult to conceive. Additionally, gender equality came to a standstill, and many women of ‘childbearing age’ were denied employment, or had their contract changed to part time involuntarily, as soon as they got pregnant. One of the most prominent areas that will be detrimentally affected is pensions and the welfare system. Additionally, according to Eurostat, such low birth rates – under 2.1 – could create a demographic disaster. This will have a knock-on effect on pensions, with fewer young people working.

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And the children we do have, we treat like this. No wonder there are fewer of them.

40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)

Spain has the EU’s third highest rate of child poverty, after Romania and Greece. EURACTIV Spain reports. After the economic crisis and years of austerity, child poverty is on the rise in wealthy countries, according to Unicef. In Spain, the proportion of children living below the poverty line increased by 9 percentage points between 2008 and 2014, to reach almost 40%. While child poverty in general rose significantly, the sharpest increase (56%) was among households of four people (two adults and two children) living on less than €700 per month, or €8,400 per year. Spain has the third widest gap in the EU, behind Latvia and Cyprus, between the levels of social protection offered to children and people over 65. During the crisis, Spain’s oldest citizens were much better protected than its youngest.

According to the Spanish Statistical Office, cited by Unicef, investment in the social protection of families fell by €11.5 billion between 2009 and 2015. Unicef also highlighted that families with children, large families, single-parent families and teenagers suffered the most from the effects of poverty. As for Madrid’s response to the crisis, the UN’s agency for children criticised its failure to contain child poverty. “Social protection policies are very fragmented and very unequal, with little focus on children,” Unicef said. For the organisation, this is due, among other causes, to the strong link between social security and workers’ contributions, and the fact that many of the state’s family aid programmes take the form of tax credits, which have little impact on low earners.

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They’ll get it awfully wrong. It’s too late in the game.

Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)

Ontario is expected to impose a tax on “non-resident speculators” when it announces new measures Thursday to cool the red-hot housing market in Toronto, according to people familiar with the plans. The measures are intended to improve housing affordability, and address both supply and demand, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. The measures are also said to include a new tax aimed at curbing purchases from non-resident speculators. [..] Home prices in the Toronto area climbed 6.2% last month, the biggest one-month gain on record, according to a benchmark price index by the Canadian Real Estate Association, and are up almost 30% in the past 12 months. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last week the price gains are “divorced” from the typical measures of demand, such as income growth and demographics, and said they are unsustainable.

“The focus has to be on runaway prices, more so than affordability per se,” Robert Hogue, a senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said in a phone interview. “The risk now is about expectations in the market, or market psychology, as you have both sellers and buyers expecting much higher prices.” The Toronto Star reported earlier, without saying where it got the information, that Sousa will announce some 10 measures ranging from rent controls to a new tax on speculators. The move comes a week before the province tables its budget on April 27, and two days after Sousa said the government recognizes that “now” is the time to address runaway home prices. Sousa on Tuesday met Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said that possible steps include taxing homes left empty for speculative purposes. Rent increases on newer buildings may be limited to about 1.5% above the inflation rate, which was at 2% in February, the Star reported.

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Daddy, please tell the story again of why we have regulators!

Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)

America’s chief federal banking regulator admits it failed to act on numerous “red flags” at Wells Fargo that could have stopped the fake account scandal years earlier. One particularly alarming red flag that went unheeded: In January 2010, the regulator was aware of “700 cases of whistleblower complaints” about Wells Fargo’s sales tactics. An internal review published on Wednesday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that the regulator didn’t live up to its responsibilities. The report found that oversight of Wells Fargo was “untimely and ineffective” and federal examiners overseeing the bank “missed” several opportunities to uncover the problems that led to the creation of millions of fake accounts. The review painted a damning picture of the OCC’s ability to spot what in retrospect should have been obvious problems at one of the nation’s biggest banks.

The OCC did confront Carrie Tolstedt, then head of Wells Fargo’s community bank, about the stunning number of whistleblower claims. However, there are no records that show that federal inspectors “investigated the root cause,” or force Wells Fargo to probe it. It’s now clear that root cause of Wells Fargo’s problems – both the creation of fake accounts and the related 5,300 firings – was the notoriously aggressive sales goals targets set by senior management. At one point, rank and file bankers were asked to open as many as eight accounts per customer. That’s why the bank has eliminated them. From top management to Wells Fargo’s board of directors, everyone turned a blind eye to these issues. There’s evidence now that some of this was flagged as early as 2004 to management.

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Stone states the obvious.

So It Goes (Oliver Stone)

I confess I really had hopes for some conscience from Trump about America’s wars, but I was wrong – fooled again! – as I had been by the early Reagan, and less so by Bush 43. Reagan found his mantra with the “evil empire” rhetoric against Russia, which almost kicked off a nuclear war in 1983 – and Bush found his ‘us against the world’ crusade at 9/11, in which of course we’re still mired. It seems that Trump really has no ‘there’ there, far less a conscience, as he’s taken off the handcuffs on our war machine and turned it over to his glorified Generals – and he’s being praised for it by our ‘liberal’ media who continue to play at war so recklessly. What a tortured bind we’re in. There are intelligent people in Washington/New York, but they’ve lost their minds as they’ve been stampeded into a Syrian-Russian groupthink, a consensus without asking – ‘Who benefits from this latest gas attack?’

Certainly neither Assad nor Putin. The only benefits go to the terrorists who initiated the action to stave off their military defeat. It was a desperate gamble, but it worked because the Western media immediately got behind it with crude propagandizing about murdered babies, etc. No real investigation or time for a UN chemical unit to establish what happened, much less find a motive. Why would Assad do something so stupid when he’s clearly winning the civil war? No, I believe America has decided somewhere, in the crises of the Trump administration, that we will get into this war at any cost, under any circumstances – to, once again, change the secular regime in Syria, which has been, from the Bush era on, one of the top goals – next to Iran – of the neoconservatives. At the very least, we will cut out a chunk of northeastern Syria and call it a State.

Abetted by the Clintonites, they’ve done a wonderful job throwing America into chaos with probes into Russia’s alleged hacking of our election and Trump being their proxy candidate (now clearly disproved by his bombing attack) – and sadly, worst of all in some ways, admitting no memory of the same false flag incident in 2013, for which again Assad was blamed (see Seymour Hersh’s fascinating deconstruction of this US propaganda, ‘London Review of Books’ December 19, 2013, “Whose sarin?”). No memory, no history, no rules – or rather ‘American rules.’ No, this isn’t an accident or a one-off affair. This is the State deliberately misinforming the public through its corporate media and leads us to believe, as Mike Whitney points out in his brilliant analyses, “Will Washington Risk WW3” and “Syria: Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” that something far more sinister waits in the background.

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BBG can’t even run a story on climate anymore without adding “..the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire..”, and more of such useful hints.

A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

The story of the Arctic begins with temperature but it’s so much more—this is a tale about oil and economics, about humanity and science, about politics and borders and the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire. The world as a whole has warmed about 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. Arctic temperatures have risen twice that amount during the same time period. The most recent year analyzed, October 2015 to September 2016, was 3.5C warmer than the early 1900s, according to the 2016 Arctic Report Card. Northern Canada, Svalbard, Norway and Russia’s Kara Sea reached an astounding 14C (25F) higher than normal last fall. Scientists refer to these dramatic physical changes as “Arctic amplification,” or positive feedback loops. It’s a little bit like compound interest.

A small change snowballs, and Arctic conditions become much less Arctic, much more quickly. “After studying the Arctic and its climate for three-and-a-half decades,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data center, wrote recently. “I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme.” The heat is making quick work of its natural prey: ice. Scientists track the number of “freezing-degree days,” a running seasonal tally of the amount of time it’s been cold enough for water to freeze. The 2016-2017 winter season has seen a dramatic shortfall in coldness—more than 20% below the average, a record. Sea ice has diminished much faster than scientists and climate models anticipated. Last month set a new low for March, out-melting 2015 by 23,000 square miles.

Compared with the 1981-2010 baseline, the average September sea-ice minimum has been dropping by more than 13% per decade. A recent study in Nature Climate Change estimated that from 30-50% of sea ice loss is due to climate variability, while the rest occurs because of human activity. Receding ice decreases the Earth’s overall reflectivity, making the Arctic darker and therefore absorbing even more heat. The ice is not all the same age or thickness, although it has become somewhat more uniform. In 1985, about 45% of Arctic sea ice was made up of older and thicker multi-year ice. By 2016, that number shrank to 22%.

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Apr 132017
 
 April 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1944

 

Former GM Vice Chair: I Think Tesla Is Doomed (CNBC)
It’s Time for Bank Hardball (Tan)
America In the Age of Hypocrisy, Hubris, and Greed (Frank)
Trump Flips On Five Core Campaign Promises In Under 24 Hours (ZH)
Trump Lays Groundwork for Federal Government Reorganization (BBG)
The Politics of the IMF (WF)
If An Electorate Falls In The Forest, Is Their Voice Heard? (DDMB)
NY Fed Boss May Have Blabbed During Blackout (Crudele)
The Potential For The Disastrous Rise Of Misplaced Power Persists (Assange)
No Greek Pensions Expected To Avoid Cuts (K.)
IMF Chief Lagarde Says ‘Halfway’ There On Greek Talks (R.)
Stop Pretending on Greek Debt (BBG)
Detention Of Child Refugees Should Be Last Resort, Brussels Says (G.)
Crucified Man Had Prior Run-In With Authorities (Petri)

 

 

More on the Ponzi.

Former GM Vice Chair: I Think Tesla Is Doomed (CNBC)

GM’s former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz dropped a whole lot of reality on some unsuspecting Tesla cheerleaders on CNBC this morning. “I am a well known Tesla skeptic. Somehow it’s levitating and I think it’s Elon Musk is the greatest salesman in the world. He paints this vision of an unlimited future, aided and abetted by some analysts. It’s like Elon Musk has been beamed down from another planet to show us mortals how to run a company.” “The fact is it’s a constant cash drain. They’re highly dependent on federal government and state incentives for money which constantly flows in. They have capital raises all the time.” “Even the high-end cars that they build now cost more to build than they’re able to sell them for.” “Mercedes, BWM, Volkswagen, GM, Audi and Porsche are all coming out with 300-mile [range] electric luxury sedans…I think they’re doomed.”

“Their upside on pricing is limited because everybody else sells electric vehicles at a loss to get the credits to be able to sell the sport utility vehicles and the pickup trucks. So that puts a ceiling on your possible pricing.” “And if he can’t make money on the high-end Model S and Model X’s which sell up to $100,000, how in the world is he going to make money on a $35,000 small car? Because I have news for you, 42 years of experience, the cost of a car doesn’t come down proportional to it’s price.” “If you have a situation where the cost of producing a car, labor and materials, is higher than your sell price, your business model is flawed. And it’s doomed and it’s going to fail.”

“The battery plant, in my estimation, is a joke. There are no cost savings from making a lithium ion plant bigger than other people lithium ion plants, because making lithium ion cells is a fully automated process anyway. So, whether you got full automative in a small building or 10x full automation in a big building, you’re not saving any money.”

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Break up the banks!

It’s Time for Bank Hardball (Tan)

Wall Street’s top executives should be pressed for substantive answers to harder-hitting questions about long-term performance. That’s a notion being trumpeted by well-known bank analyst Mike Mayo, who has never been one to shy away from criticizing the companies he covers. And boy, does he have a point. On Wednesday, Mayo published some questions he plans to ask Citigroup’s Chairman Michael O’Neill and CEO Michael Corbat at its annual general meeting later this month. They haven’t truly been held accountable for the lender’s mediocre returns, which includes its inability to meet a targeted return on tangible common equity of 10% by 2015, a goal that has since been pushed to 2019. Mayo’s solutions include another round of restructuring, or, if something is structurally wrong, perhaps the bank should break up.

Another valid question is why Citi feels the need measure its financial and share price performance against European lenders Barclays, Deutsche Bank and HSBC? (The question is somewhat rhetorical: It’s so the bank doesn’t place dead last, which it would on most metrics if compared with U.S. rivals). And oddly enough, it removes its weaker European counterparts for compensation comparison purposes. The same can’t be said for Bank of America, which in addition to reviewing its closest five U.S. competitors, evaluates the performance at worse-off European banks such as Credit Suisse and Royal Bank of Scotland as well as similarly-sized U.S.-based companies such as Coca-Cola and General Electric. This seems unnecessary and almost like an easy way to justify Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan’s potentially outsized $20 million in annual pay.

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“For Americans who work for a living however, nothing ever seems to improve.”

America In the Age of Hypocrisy, Hubris, and Greed (Frank)

“The whole world wants to know about what the hell is happening with us. So let’s talk about it. I live in Washington now, and the people I live among have no idea how people live here in the Midwest, not the faintest idea… The last couple of years here in America have been a time of brisk prosperity according to official measurements, with unemployment down and the stock market up. For Americans who work for a living however, nothing ever seems to improve. Wages do not grow, median household income is still well below where it was in 2007. Economists have a way of measuring this, they call it the ‘labor share of the Gross National Product’ as opposed to the share taken by stockholders. The labor share of Gross National Product’ hit its lowest point since records were started in 2011, and then it stayed there right for the next couple of years.

In the fall of 2014, with the stock market hitting an all time high, a poll showed that nearly 3/4 of the American public believed that the economy was still in recession, because for them it was. There was time when average Americans could be counted upon to know correctly whether the country was going up or down, because in those days when America prospered, the American people prospered as well. These days things are different. Let’s look at it in a statistical sense. If you look at it from the middle of the 1930’s (the Depression) up until the year 1980, the lower 90% of the population of this country, what you might call the American people, that group took home 70% of the growth in the country’s income.

If you look at the same numbers from 1997 up until now, from the height of the great Dot Com bubble up to the present, you will find that this same group, the American people, pocketed none of this country’s income growth at all. Our share of these great good times was zero, folks. The upper 10% of the population, by which we mean our country’s financiers and managers and professionals, consumed the entire thing. To be a young person in America these days is to understand instinctively the downward slope that so many of us are on.”

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And gets away with it.

Trump Flips On Five Core Campaign Promises In Under 24 Hours (ZH)

Blink, and you missed Trump’s blistering, seamless transformation into a mainstream politician. In the span of just a few hours, President Trump flipped to new positions on several core policy issues, backing off on no less than five repeated campaign promises. In a WSJ interview and a subsequent press conference, Trump either shifted or completely reversed positions on a number of foreign and economic policy decisions, including the fate of the US Dollar, how to handle China and the future of the chair of the Federal Reserve.

Goodbye strong dollar and high interest rates In an announcement that rocked currency markets, Trump told the WSJ that the U.S. dollar “is getting too strong” and he would prefer the Federal Reserve keep interest rates low. “I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said. “I think our dollar is getting too strong, and partially that’s my fault because people have confidence in me. But that’s hurting—that will hurt ultimately,” he added. “Look, there’s some very good things about a strong dollar, but usually speaking the best thing about it is that it sounds good.”

Labeling China a currency manipulator Trump also told the Wall Street Journal that China is not artificially deflating the value of its currency, a big change after he repeatedly pledged during his campaign to label the country a currency manipulator. “They’re not currency manipulators,” the president said, adding that China hasn’t been manipulating its currency for months, and that he feared derailing U.S.-China talks to crack down on North Korea. Trump routinely criticized President Obama for not labeling China a currency manipulator, and promised during the campaign to do so on day one of his administration.

Yellen’s future Trump also told the Journal he’d consider re-nominating Yellen to chair the Fed’s board of governors, after attacking her during his campaign.” I like her. I respect her,” Trump said, “It’s very early.” Trump called Yellen “obviously political” in September and accused her of keeping interest rates low to boost the stock market and make Obama look good. “As soon as [rates] go up, your stock market is going to go way down, most likely,” Trump said. “Or possibly.”

Export-Import Bank Trump also voiced support behind the Export-Import Bank, which helps subsidize some U.S. exports, after opposing it during the campaign. “It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies,” Trump told the Journal. “Instinctively, you would say, ‘Isn’t that a ridiculous thing,’ but actually, it’s a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money.” Trump’s support will anger conservative opponents of the bank, who say it enables crony capitalism.

NATO Finally, Trump said NATO is “no longer obsolete” during a Wednesday press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, backtracking on his past criticism of the alliance. During the campaign, he frequently called the organization “obsolete,” saying did little to crack down on terrorism and that its other members don’t pay their “fair share.” “I said it was obsolete. It is no longer obsolete,” the president said Wednesday. Trump has gradually become more supportive of NATO after it ramped up efforts to increase U.S. and European intelligence sharing regarding terrorism.

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There could be some advantages to a clean-up, but guaranteed they’re going to screw this up by cutting at the wrong places.

Trump Lays Groundwork for Federal Government Reorganization (BBG)

President Donald Trump is issuing a presidential memorandum that will call for a rethinking of the entire structure of the federal government, a move that could eventually lead to a downsizing of the overall workforce and changes to the basic functions and responsibilities of many agencies. The order, which will go into effect Thursday, also will lift a blanket federal hiring freeze that has been in place since Trump’s first day in office almost three months ago and replace it with hiring targets in line with the spending priorities the administration laid out in March, said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget. The move is a part of Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” and get rid of what the administration views as inefficiencies in the federal government, Mulvaney said.

It comes as the White House also is trying to curb the size of many government agencies through a proposed budget that calls for historically deep spending cuts to everything from medical research to clean-energy programs. The push to reshape the government as well as the budget cuts are almost certain to draw opposition from Congress. “We think at the end of the day this leads to a government that is dramatically more accountable, dramatically more efficient, and dramatically more effective, following through on the very promises the president made during the campaign and that he put into place on day one,” Mulvaney said. He said the administration is starting with a “blank sheet of paper” as to how the government should operate and has set up a website to solicit ideas.

One solution may be to organize it by function, like putting all areas that deal with trade under one department, or to break up large departments into a number of smaller agencies. As an example, Mulvaney said there are 43 different workforce-training programs across at least 13 agencies – without a single point person in charge of them – that could be brought under one roof. “We’re now transitioning into the smarter, more surgical plans of running the government,” Mulvaney said in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning.

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Useful background. “..the US also claimed the right to remain fully informed about the financial comings and goings of every single member state, thenceforth and permanently.”

The Politics of the IMF (WF)

At the historic New Hampshire-based Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, delegates from 44 nations across the globe came together to create the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The former was officially founded on 27 December 1945 with 29 member countries; financial operations commenced on 1 March 1947. From that first meeting in New Hampshire, it was established that the thrust of the IMF’s mission would be to promote greater economic cooperation within the international arena. Though today the IMF maintains its mandate has remained as such, over the years the organisation has evolved alongside a changing global landscape, becoming an extraordinarily powerful organisation as a result.

[..] .. the US played an undeniably dominant role in establishing the IMF and dictating how it would operate. A crucial factor in its make up, and in the US’ ongoing influence within the organisation, was the distribution of voting power among member states. Rather than allocating votes in accordance with the size of a member’s population – which would be the most democratic approach to take – the US instead pushed for voting power to correspond with the volume of contributions made. Unsurprisingly, those contributions made by the US, the world’s biggest economy, were far greater than those of any other member state.

By contributing $2.9bn – double the amount made by the UK, the second biggest contributor at the time – the US was guaranteed twice the number of voting rights, together with veto privileges and a blocking minority. The manoeuvre enabled the superpower to secure near-absolute control of the IMF’s activities. In order to further consolidate its dominant role, the US also claimed the right to remain fully informed about the financial comings and goings of every single member state, thenceforth and permanently.

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“The longer the voices of the desperate go unheard, as just so many silently falling trees in the forest, the more piercing their cries will be in the end.”

If An Electorate Falls In The Forest, Is Their Voice Heard? (DDMB)

It was not until the June 1883 publication of the magazine The Chautauquan that the question was put as such: “If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?” Rather than pause to ponder, the answer followed that, “No. Sound is the sensation excited in the ear when the air or other medium is set in motion.” A vexatious debate has ensued ever since, one that eventually stumped the great Albert Einstein who finally declared “God does not play dice.” In recognizing this, Einstein also resolved himself to the quantum physics conclusion, that there is no way to precisely predict where individual electrons can be found – unless, that is, you’re Divine.

Odds are high that the establishment, which looks to ride away with upcoming European elections, is emboldened by quantum physics. The entrenched parties appear set to retain their power holds, in some cases by the thinnest of margins. What is it the French say about la plus ca change? Is it truly the case that the more things change the more they stay the same? Is this state of stasis sustainable, you might be asking? Clearly the cushy assumption is that the voices of those whose votes will not result in change will be as good as uncast, unheard and unremarkable. Except…and this is a big ‘except’ – time is on the side of the castigated and for one simple reason – they are young.

[..] And then there is the matter of the refugee crisis, the cost of which few in the United States fully appreciate. Faced with impossible living conditions and no access to work in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, hundreds of thousands have opted to risk the journey to Europe. In 2015, 1.3 million asylum seekers landed in Europe, half of whom traced their origins to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. That number plunged in 2016 to 364,000 owing mainly to a deal between the EU and Turkey which blocks the flow of migrants to Europe. The cost, not surprisingly, is enormous. Europeans spend at least $30,000 for every refugee who lands on her shores. By some estimates, the cost would have been one-tenth that, as in $3,000 per refugee, had the journey to Europe NOT been made in the first place.

[..] At some point demographics will start to matter. The situation in France is no doubt grave, with youth unemployment at nearly 24%. But that pales in comparison to Italy where 39% of its young workers don’t have jobs to go to, day in and day out. Older voters determined to keep the establishment intact will begin to die off. In their wake will be a growing majority of voters who are increasingly disenfranchised, disaffected and despondent. If there’s one lesson Europeans can glean from their allies across the Atlantic, it’s that bullets can be dodged, but not indefinitely. As we are learning the hard way, necessary reforms are challenging to enact. Avoidance, though, will only succeed in feeding anger and despair. The longer the voices of the desperate go unheard, as just so many silently falling trees in the forest, the more piercing their cries will be in the end.

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There’s a lot of that going on. Stanley Fisher does it too.

NY Fed Boss May Have Blabbed During Blackout (Crudele)

Back in 2011, I caught William Dudley, the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, having meetings he wasn’t supposed to have with some of Wall Street’s top players. And nobody cared. Nobody cared despite the fact that Dudley could have easily passed along all sorts of confidential information to these people, who would have immediately known how to profit enormously from what they were being told. I am mentioning this because the head of the Richmond, Va., Fed, Jeffrey Lacker, abruptly resigned last week for doing far less bad than Dudley might have done. Lacker says he took an October 2012 phone call from an analyst at an investment advisory firm and had a conversation about something the Fed was considering — the purchase of $40 billion worth of mortgage bonds — to try to help the economy.

[..]Lacker is a pipsqueak compared with Dudley, who has a permanent position on the Fed’s policymaking Open Market Committee — and whose bank controls the trading operations for the whole Fed. I looked it up, and Lacker’s conversation with the analyst didn’t occur during the Fed’s so-called blackout period, which starts a week before its policy meetings. As I wrote back in 2011, several of Dudley’s meetings did. During these blackout periods, Fed officials are supposed to clam up — and make no public pronouncements, which I assume would cover Dudley’s informal dinners. As I wrote back in January 2011, I have no way of knowing what Dudley discussed at his blackout-period meetings. But unless he and his guests sat mute and expressionless during their meetings, there’s a good likelihood that something could be gleaned from the New York Fed president’s remarks.

Just so those investigators in the “separate” investigation don’t have to go to any trouble, I’m going to repeat here some of what I wrote back then. At one of the questionable Dudley meetings, in March 2009, the Fed’s blackout period ran from March 10 to 18. On March 11, Dudley met with Jan Hatzius, chief economist of Goldman Sachs. Dudley had once worked at Goldman, so he and Hatzius were friends. Dudley’s calendar says it was an “informal meeting” that took place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pound and Pence restaurant near the New York Fed. That was on Dudley’s calendar, as was the notation “PRE-FOMC BLACKOUT PERIOD,” written in bold, all caps. So his assistant was clearly trying to warn him about restrictions. Let’s hope the separate investigation that Lacker mentioned is of the New York Fed. And, if they don’t already, investigators now know where to look.

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WikiLeaks wants the same thing as the WaPo? Are we sure?

The Potential For The Disastrous Rise Of Misplaced Power Persists (Assange)

The media has a long history of speaking truth to power with purloined or leaked material — Jack Anderson’s reporting on the CIA’s enlistment of the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro; the Providence Journal-Bulletin’s release of President Richard Nixon’s stolen tax returns; the New York Times’ publication of the stolen “Pentagon Papers”; and The Post’s tenacious reporting of Watergate leaks, to name a few. I hope historians place WikiLeaks’ publications in this pantheon. Yet there are widespread calls to prosecute me. President Thomas Jefferson had a modest proposal to improve the press: “Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, ‘Truths.’ 2nd, ‘Probabilities.’ 3rd, ‘Possibilities.’ 4th, ‘Lies.’

The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information.” Jefferson’s concept of publishing “truths” using “authentic papers” presaged WikiLeaks. People who don’t like the tune often blame the piano player. Large public segments are agitated by the result of the U.S. presidential election, by public dissemination of the CIA’s dangerous incompetence or by evidence of dirty tricks undertaken by senior officials in a political party. But as Jefferson foresaw, “the agitation [a free press] produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” Vested interests deflect from the facts that WikiLeaks publishes by demonizing its brave staff and me. We are mischaracterized as America-hating servants to hostile foreign powers.

But in fact I harbor an overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America. WikiLeaks’ sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths, which I remain convinced is the cornerstone of the United States’ remarkable liberty, success and greatness. I have given up years of my own liberty for the risks we have taken at WikiLeaks to bring truth to the public. I take some solace in this: Joseph Pulitzer, namesake of journalism’s award for excellence, was indicted in 1909 for publishing allegedly libelous information about President Theodore Roosevelt and the financier J.P. Morgan in the Panama Canal corruption scandal. It was the truth that set him free.

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Madness.

No Greek Pensions Expected To Avoid Cuts (K.)

The Labor Ministry’s main plan to save 1% of GDP from 2019 pension expenditure provides for reductions even to very low pensions if the recalculation process shows a difference from the original calculation according to the previous method, the so-called “personal difference.” The ministry is trying to avoid having to impose very big cuts – the personal difference is estimated to range up to 40% – and sources say it is hoping to cap the reductions at 20 or 25%. The final decisions will be made when the creditors’ representatives return to Athens later this month.

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Lagarde wants Greece on its knees. She keeps insisting on more pension cuts, without any regard for the effects on Greek people. That will make the economy worse, not better. And she knows it.

IMF Chief Lagarde Says ‘Halfway’ There On Greek Talks (R.)

IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said Greece was heading in the right direction on reforms but talks on its bailout and the IMF’s potential role in it were “only halfway through.” Greece and its international lenders are negotiating reforms the country needs to carry out to maintain a sustainable growth path in the years following the end of its bailout program, which ends in mid-2018. “What I have seen in the last couple of weeks is heading in the right direction. We are only halfway through in the discussions,” Lagarde told a conference in Brussels. Last week, eurozone finance ministers agreed the “overarching elements” of reforms needed in Greece in exchange for a new loan under its 86-billion-euro program, the third since 2010.

The new loan is needed to pay debt due in July. Talks are continuing and no date is fixed yet for the return of negotiators to Athens. The Greek government believes negotiators could go back to Greece after the IMF Spring Meetings on April 21-23. “We are still elaborating under what terms we could possibly give some lending to the country. We are not there yet,” Lagarde said, adding any IMF loan to Greece would have to abide by strict conditions. She said debt restructuring will be needed to guarantee the sustainability of Greek finances. The scope of the restructuring “will be decided at the end of the program,” but “the modalities have to be decided upfront,” Lagarde said.

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They have no interest in solving Greece’s problems.

Stop Pretending on Greek Debt (BBG)

Greece and its creditors say they’ve made progress in their endless negotiations over the country’s debts – enough to avoid a default on payments worth more than €7 billion in July. That’s good, but it was the easy part. The definitive settlement that Greece and the European Union both need still isn’t in sight. For the past seven years, the IMF and euro-zone institutions have supported Athens with loans in exchange for fiscal austerity and structural economic reform. This strategy has failed to break Greece’s vicious circle of a shrinking economy and higher debt. Europe needs to bring this spiral to an end without further delay – by putting Greece’s debts on a credibly downward path. The IMF has made it clear that it will only take part in a rescue program that includes a realistic assessment of debt sustainability.

This is a welcome break from the past: Time and again, creditors have deluded themselves that Greece can run implausibly high budget surpluses for years. Germany, especially, is keen to keep the IMF involved. With luck, Berlin might be willing to adjust the creditors’ proposals accordingly. Greece has gone through nearly a decade of punishing austerity. Its unemployment rate is still stuck near 25%. Last week’s deal includes further tax and pension reforms worth 2% of GDP. If consumers and companies are to spend and invest again, they must see an end to the tunnel. Economic necessity and political feasibility point to the same conclusion: Firm fiscal restraint is essential – but not so firm as to be self-defeating.

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It shouldn’t be a last resort, it should be no resort. This is the EU trying to deflect attention away from its own deplorable failings by pointing to Hungary. Don’t fall for it.

Detention Of Child Refugees Should Be Last Resort, Brussels Says (G.)

Detention of child refugees should be “a last resort”, the European commission has said, in remarks that will be seen as a rebuke to Hungary where asylum seekers, including minors, are being held in barbed-wire fenced camps. The statement from Brussels is part of a long awaited plan to protect child refugees in Europe. About 386,300 children made an asylum claim in the EU in 2016, a six-fold increase since 2010 that has left some countries struggling to cope. The EU plan comes one day after Germany announced it was halting refugee transfers to Hungary, until Budapest stops the systematic detention of all asylum seekers.

Under the EU’s Dublin regulation, asylum seekers are to be returned to the first country they registered in. Routine detention of refugees is banned. Hungary announced last month that all asylum seekers older than 14 would be kept in converted shipping containers on the border while their claims were assessed. About 110 people were living in the camps, including four unaccompanied children, and children with their families, when the UN refugee agency assessed the camps last week. The situation for asylum seekers had worsened since the new law came into effect, the UNHCR said, as the organisation also warned of “highly disturbing reports” of police violence meted out to refugees attempting to cross the border.

[..] Hungary already risks being taken to the European court of justice for failure to take in a mandatory quota of asylum seekers, a decision imposed on Budapest in September 2015. The clock is ticking towards a deadline to disperse 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU member states (excluding the UK) by September 2017. The EU’s most senior official on migration warned that Hungary risked being taken to the European court of justice if it failed to meet its target. “From September the relocation scheme is ending. This does not mean it is going to die. It will continue,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for home affairs, . “EU countries who do not want to be part of our policy, they will be confronted with measures we can take,” he said, in a coded reference to court action that could land governments with hefty fines.

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It’s that time of year.

Crucified Man Had Prior Run-In With Authorities (Petri)

The gentleman arrested Thursday and tried before Pontius Pilate had a troubled background. Born (possibly out of wedlock?) in a stable, this jobless thirty-something of Middle Eastern origin had had previous run-ins with local authorities for disturbing the peace, and had become increasingly associated with the members of a fringe religious group. He spent the majority of his time in the company of sex workers and criminals. He had had prior run-ins with local authorities — most notably, an incident of vandalism in a community center when he wrecked the tables of several licensed money-lenders and bird-sellers.

He had used violent language, too, claiming that he could destroy a gathering place and rebuild it. At the time of his arrest, he had not held a fixed residence for years. Instead, he led an itinerant lifestyle, staying at the homes of friends and advocating the redistribution of wealth. He had come to the attention of the authorities more than once for his unauthorized distribution of food, disruptive public behavior, and participation in farcical aquatic ceremonies. Some say that his brutal punishment at the hands of the state was out of proportion to and unrelated to any of these incidents in his record. But after all, he was no angel.

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Apr 072017
 
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Fred Stein Times Square at Night 1947

 

Eyewitness Says Syrian Military Anticipated US Raid (ABC)
The Biggest Stock Bubble In US History (IRD)
The Unavoidable Pension Crisis (Roberts)
Americans Are Taking Out The Largest Mortgages On Record (MW)
Global Debt Explodes At ‘Eye-Watering’ Pace To Hit £170 Trillion (Tel.)
Wall Street Doubts Trump Wants to Split Up Biggest US Banks (BBG)
Fed’s Asset Shift To Pose New Test Of Economy’s Recovery, Resilience (R.)
M5S Plans To ‘Revolutionize Democracy’ With Online Voting, E-petitions (LI)
Arms Sales Becoming France’s New El Dorado, But At What Cost? (F24)
Guns Are The True Cause Of Hunger And Famine (G.)
Greece’s Dark Age: How Austerity Turned Off The Lights (R.)
On Dimitris Christoulas: ‘He Is A Part Of History Now’ (AlJ)

 

 

“I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest…”

Eyewitness Says Syrian Military Anticipated US Raid (ABC)

Syrian military officials appeared to anticipate Thursday’s night raid on Syria’s Shayrat airbase, evacuating personnel and moving equipment ahead of the strike, according to an eyewitness to the strike. Dozens of Tomahawk missiles struck the airbase near Homs damaging runways, towers and traffic control buildings, a local resident and human rights activist living near the airbase told ABC News via an interpreter. U.S. officals believe the plane that dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib Province on Tuesday, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights killed 86 people, took off from the Shayrat airbase. The attack lasted approximately 35 minutes and its impact was felt across the city, shaking houses and sending those inside them fleeing from their windows. Both of the airport’s major runways were struck by missiles, and some of its 40 fortified bunkers were also damaged.

Local residents say the Russian military had used the airbase in early 2016 but have since withdrawn their officers, so the base is now mainly operated by Syrian and Iranian military officers. There is also a hotel near the airport where Iranian officers have been staying, though it was not clear whether it was damaged. The eyewitness believes human casualties, at least within the civilian population, were minimal, as there was no traffic heading toward the local hospital. [..] Former National Security Adviser and ABC News contributor Richard Clarke said this attack, one of the quickest displays of force by a new president in recent history, is largely “symbolic.”

Following a 2013 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1400 people outside of Damascus which a U.S. government intelligence assessment concluded likely used a nerve agent, the Obama administration threatened retaliation but ultimately called off planned airstrikes after Assad agreed to turn over the majority of his chemical weapons arsenal to an international watchdog group. Trump has attempted to blame Obama’s “weakness” for the worsening violence in Syria. “This attack on one air base seems more symbolic,” Clarke said. “I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest. It was a targeted attack not designed to overwhelm the Syrian military … I think the president was trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor.”

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“Tesla has never made money and never will make money. Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.”

The Biggest Stock Bubble In US History (IRD)

Please note, many will argue that the p/e ratio on the S&P 500 was higher in 1999 than it is now. However, there’s two problems with the comparison. First, when there is no “e,” price does not matter. Many of the tech stocks in the SPX in 1999 did not have any earnings and never had a chance to produce earnings because many of them went out of business. However – and I’ve been saying this for quite some time and I’m finally seeing a few others make the same assertion – if you adjust the current earnings of the companies in SPX using the GAAP accounting standards in force in 1999, the current earnings in aggregate would likely be cut at least in half. And thus, the current p/e ratio expressed in 1999 earnings terms likely would be at least as high as the p/e ratio in 1999, if not higher. (Changes to GAAP have made it easier for companies to create non-cash earnings, reclassify and capitalize expenses, stretch out depreciation and pension funding costs, etc).

We talk about the tech bubble that fomented in the late 1990’s that resulted in an 85% (roughly) decline on the NASDAQ. Currently the five highest valued stocks by market cap are tech stocks: AAPL, GOOG, MSFT, AMZN and FB. Combined, these five stocks make-up nearly 10% of the total value of the entire stock market. Money from the public poured into ETFs at record pace in February. The majority of it into S&P 500 ETFs which then have to put that money proportionately by market value into each of the S&P 500 stocks. Thus when cash pours into SPX funds like this, a large rise in the the top five stocks by market cap listed above becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The price rise in these stocks has nothing remotely to do with fundamentals. Take Microsoft, for example (MSFT). Last Friday the pom-poms were waving on Fox Business because MSFT hit an all-time high.

This is in spite of the fact that MSFT’s revenues dropped 8.8% from 2015 to 2016 and its gross margin plunged 13.2%. So much for fundamentals. In addition to the onslaught of retail cash moving blindly into stocks, margin debt on the NYSE hit an all-time high in February. Both the cash flow and margin debt statistics are flashing a big red warning signal, as this only occurs when the public becomes blind to risk and and bet that stocks can only go up. As I’ve said before, this is by far the most dangerous stock market in my professional lifetime (32 years, not including my high years spent reading my father’s Wall Street Journal everyday and playing penny stocks).

Perhaps the loudest bell ringing and signaling a top is the market’s valuation of Tesla. On Monday the market cap of Tesla ($49 billion) surpassed Ford’s market cap ($45 billion) despite the fact that Tesla delivered 79 thousand cars in 2016 while Ford delivered 2.6 million. “Electric Jeff” (as a good friend of mine calls Elon Musk, in reference to Jeff Bezos) was on Twitter Monday taunting short sellers. At best his behavior can be called “gauche.” Musk, similar to Bezos, is a masterful stock operator. Jordan Belfort (the “Wolf of Wall Street”) was a small-time dime store thief compared to Musk and Bezos. Tesla has never made money and never will make money. Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. Without the massive tax credits given to the first 200,000 buyers of Tesla vehicles, the Company would likely be out of business by now.

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And to think even without demographics pensions look screwed too, just from financial engineering and insane debt levels.

The Unavoidable Pension Crisis (Roberts)

There is a really big crisis coming. Think about it this way. After 8 years and a 230% stock market advance the pension funds of Dallas, Chicago, and Houston are in severe trouble. But it isn’t just these municipalities that are in trouble, but also most of the public and private pensions that still operate in the country today. Currently, many pension funds, like the one in Houston, are scrambling to slightly lower return rates, issue debt, raise taxes or increase contribution limits to fill some of the gaping holes of underfunded liabilities in their plans. The hope is such measures combined with an ongoing bull market, and increased participant contributions, will heal the plans in the future. This is not likely to be the case. This problem is not something born of the last “financial crisis,” but rather the culmination of 20-plus years of financial mismanagement.

An April 2016 Moody’s analysis pegged the total 75-year unfunded liability for all state and local pension plans at $3.5 trillion. That’s the amount not covered by current fund assets, future expected contributions, and investment returns at assumed rates ranging from 3.7% to 4.1%. Another calculation from the American Enterprise Institute comes up with $5.2 trillion, presuming that long-term bond yields average 2.6%. With employee contribution requirements extremely low, averaging about 15% of payroll, the need to stretch for higher rates of return have put pensions in a precarious position and increases the underfunded status of pensions. With pension funds already wrestling with largely underfunded liabilities, the shifting demographics are further complicating funding problems.

One of the primary problems continues to be the decline in the ratio of workers per retiree as retirees are living longer (increasing the relative number of retirees), and lower birth rates (decreasing the relative number of workers.) However, this “support ratio” is not only declining in the U.S. but also in much of the developed world. This is due to two demographic factors: increased life expectancy coupled with a fixed retirement age, and a decrease in the fertility rate. In 1950, there were 7.2 people aged 20–64 for every person of 65 or over in the OECD countries. By 1980, the support ratio dropped to 5.1 and by 2010 it was 4.1. It is projected to reach just 2.1 by 2050. The table below shows support ratios for selected countries in 1970, 2010, and projected for 2050:

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Happy days!

Americans Are Taking Out The Largest Mortgages On Record (MW)

For the past few years, the housing market has been unbalanced. Strong demand and lean supply keep pushing prices higher and higher. On Wednesday, a fresh piece of data confirmed that trend. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly purchase loan data showed that the average size of a home loan was the largest in the history of its survey, which goes back to 1990. Higher prices have a few different effects on the market. Buyers have to make tradeoffs on the kinds of homes they can afford, or may be shut out of ownership altogether. They may also adjust their borrowing. Larger mortgage sizes may reflect not just more expensive properties, but also more leveraged ones.

The 20% down payment is a relic: the median down payment in 2016 was 10%. For first-time buyers, it was 6%. First-timers and other buyers of less-expensive homes are more leveraged now than they were at the height of the housing bubble a decade ago. Home loan sizes aren’t the only things that have changed in the years since MBA started its survey. Back at the start of the survey, the median mortgage size was only about 3.3 times the median annual income. It’s now over five times as big – though buyers get bigger homes and lower interest rates.

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Over $70 trillion since 2008.

Global Debt Explodes At ‘Eye-Watering’ Pace To Hit £170 Trillion (Tel.)

Global debt has climbed at an “eye-watering” pace over the past decade, soaring to a fresh high of £170 trillion last year, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The IIF said total debt levels, including household, government and corporate debt, climbed by more than $70 trillion over the last 10 years to a record high of $215 trillion (£173 trillion) in 2016 – or the equivalent of 325pc of GDP. It said emerging markets posed “a growing source of concern” to financial stability and the global economy as debt burdens in these countries climb at a rapid pace. The IIF data showed the increase was partly driven by a “spectacular rise” in emerging markets, where total debt stood at $55 trillion at the end of 2016, or 215pc of total emerging market GDP.

Debt has risen from $16 trillion in 2006 and $7.4 trillion in 1996. The body, which represents the world’s top financial institutions, said a wave of maturing debt this year presented a “growing refinancing risk”. It estimates that more than $1.1 trillion of emerging market bonds and loans will mature this year, with dollar-denominated debt accounting for a fifth of all redemptions. It said China faced around $40bn of dollar-denominated redemptions this year, while Russia faced redemptions of $20bn. International bodies including the IMF and OECD have warned that rising interest rates in the US could bring an end to an emerging market corporate debt binge as companies in these countries see their debt servicing costs rise in local currency terms. “While risks associated with currency mismatches may not be as acute as during past emerging market debt crises, the overall emerging market debt burden – particularly as global interest rates head higher – is a growing source of concern,” the IIF said in a note.

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Goldman is not a consumer bank. They might actually profit from this.

Wall Street Doubts Trump Wants to Split Up Biggest US Banks (BBG)

President Donald Trump and his advisers have vowed to bring back a Depression-era law that would cleave the biggest U.S. lenders in half by separating commercial and investment banking operations. Wall Street doesn’t expect that to happen. After chief economic adviser Gary Cohn reiterated the administration’s stance toward the Glass-Steagall Act in a private meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, analysts said they viewed any radical regulatory changes as unlikely. Shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which would be most affected by the rule, rose Thursday after Bloomberg first reported on Cohn’s comments. Reinstating Glass-Steagall, which was created after the banking crises of the 1930s and repealed in 1999, would require a rewriting of U.S. banking rules. The Dodd-Frank Act took more than a year of work by Congress.

The Trump administration hasn’t put forward a detailed plan and the revisions proposed by House Republicans don’t involve the return of Glass-Steagall. “Anything resembling Glass-Steagall is so far from happening that it’s hard to envision,” said Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha. “It simply isn’t a priority issue in Congress.” The Republicans who control the House and the Senate want to loosen banking regulations, not make them stricter, Katz wrote. The Republican Party made restoring Glass-Steagall part of its platform, and Trump sometimes criticized the big banks during the campaign, saying “I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder.” Since taking office, he’s appointed Cohn and several other former Goldman Sachs bankers to top posts, and said that he’ll look to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon for advice about regulatory reform.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during his confirmation hearing that he opposes the old Glass-Steagall, but supports a “21st Century” version. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant. “If you’ve listened to all the rhetoric on regulation, we’ve no real guidance on where we are going,” said Christopher Wheeler, an Atlantic Equities analyst in London. “The uncertainty is immense and what you have to believe is that things will continue as they are.” The regulation might not mean that commercial and investment banks have to be separated, Cowen Group analyst Jaret Seiberg wrote in a report. Instead, the government could require that broker-dealers be subsidiaries of holding companies, rather than banks, he said. That would mean that the brokerage arm would have to be separately funded. “Cohn was the most likely obstacle within the Trump White House,” Seiberg wrote. “With him supporting Glass-Steagall’s restoration, there is no one in the inner circle left to fight it.”

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More uncharted territory. We tend to forget, but for 10 years now they’re grasping in the dark. They have no idea what they do, all they have to go on are outdated textbooks that were flawed to begin with. Time to audit the Fed and then close it.

Fed’s Asset Shift To Pose New Test Of Economy’s Recovery, Resilience (R.)

The Federal Reserve’s coming decision to reduce its massive asset holdings will set off a complex dance with global investors and the U.S. Treasury as it tries to put a final end to policies used to fight the 2007 financial crisis without upending the economy along the way. It is a feat with no clear precedent, according to analysts and officials involved in the process: a central bank trying to squeeze trillions of dollars out of markets it has supported for a decade, and in the process likely pushing up the cost of home buying, corporate finance and an array of other activities. Though final decisions have not been made, the Fed may shift policy as soon as the end of this year, and over 2018 begin pulling anywhere from $20 billion to $60 billion a month out of bond markets, according to a review of current Fed asset holdings.

For several years during the crisis, the Fed added to its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds and securities backed by home mortgages to the tune of $85 billion a month before the program was slowed. The purchases were an emergency measure made necessary because the Fed’s short-term interest rate – its primary tool to encourage people and businesses to spend and invest – had already been cut to zero. With the economy still in freefall, the asset purchases added to demand for financial securities, and are thought to have held down long-term interest rates in general, a boost to the home-building and other industries in particular. The central bank is already raising its short-term interest rate and has managed a series of increases without slowing the economy. When it starts to scale back the size of its $4.5 trillion stockpile of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities – essentially reversing the purchases it made during the crisis – it will pose a stiff new test of the economy’s resilience.

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This was always the plan. Use technology to strengthen democracy.

M5S Plans To ‘Revolutionize Democracy’ With Online Voting, E-petitions (LI)

Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement party plans to introduce online voting and public referendums to increase “democracy and transparency” in the country’s capital. Five Star councillors presented the draft resolution at Rome’s city hall on Monday, where it will be debated. They claimed the proposed ideas would take the city “from Mafia Capitale [the ongoing corruption scandal which has seen dozens of Rome politicians and businessmen put on trial] to direct democracy and transparency in five years”. The ideas suggested included online consultations and participatory budgeting. The latter process would give citizens more say in how Rome money is spent, and has already been introduced by Five Star-led local authorities in some areas, including Mira and Ragusa.

In a blog post, leader Beppe Grillo said that within a year, a Five Star government would introduce public petitions which can be created online and sent directly to the Italian parliament for discussion – a system which already exists in the UK, for example. “It should be the citizens and the local community who govern cities through the Internet, using collective intelligence,” said Grillo. “The web is revolutionizing the relationship between citizens and institutions making direct democracy feasible, as applied in ancient Greece.” Angelo Sturni, one of the councillors behind the proposal, said: “We also want to experiment with electronic voting in referendums, using the American model.” Discontent over widespread corruption in Rome, as revealed in the Mafia Capitale trial, was one of the main factors in Five Star candidate Virginia Raggi’s victory in mayoral elections last June.

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UK, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium: merchants of death. Government sponsored murder.

Arms Sales Becoming France’s New El Dorado, But At What Cost? (F24)

When Qatar agreed to buy 24 French Rafale fighter jets in a €6.3 billion contract at the end of April, it represented yet another major success for France’s arms industry, coming hot on the heels of further multi-billion euro sales of Rafales to Egypt and India. The deals have been hailed by Hollande and his government. According to France’s Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian, in comments made to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper Sunday, the Qatar contract brought the value of the country’s arms exports to more than €15 billion this year so far. That sum is already more than the €8.06 billion for the whole of 2014, which itself was the highest level seen since 2009 – suggesting a continued upward trajectory for the French arms trade and one that is providing a much-needed salve to the country’s economic woes.

But some of these deals have raised more than a few eyebrows, with anti-arms trade campaigners critical of France’s willingness to sell weapons to countries with less than stellar human rights records. These concerns are only set to rise when Hollande heads first to Doha on Monday and then Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh the day after, where furthering the recent success of the French arms industry is likely to be one of his top priorities. Saudi Arabia has already proved a lucrative trading partner for French arms manufacturers, most recently in a deal signed in November that saw the kingdom buy $3 billion-worth (€2.7 billion) of French weapons and military equipment to supply the Lebanese army. The oil-rich country is currently on something of an arms spending spree. Last year, the Saudis surpassed India to become the world’s biggest arms importer, upping its spending by 54% to €5.8 billion, according to a report by industry analyst IHS.

France, thanks to some adept diplomatic manoeuvering in recent years, is well placed to take advantage of the Saudi cash cow. Paris has been an increasingly close ally of Riyadh ever since it was among the most vocal in backing military intervention against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Shiite Iran – one of Sunni Saudi Arabia’s main regional rivals. “You’re seeing political fractures across the region, and at the same time you’ve got oil, which allows countries to arm themselves, protect themselves and impose their will as to how they think the region should develop,” Ben Moores, author of the IHS report, told AP in March. France, of course, is not alone in striking lucrative arms deals in the region. The US remains the biggest arms exporter to the Middle East, with $8.4 billion (€7.5 billion) worth of weapon sales in 2014, while the UK and Germany are also major players.

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And this is what the merchants of death leave behind.

Guns Are The True Cause Of Hunger And Famine (G.)

Last year, the World Bank revised its position on conflict – upgrading it from being one of many drivers of suffering and poverty, to being the main driver. In Somalia, despite some political progress the conflict has put more than half the population in need of assistance, with 363,000 children suffering acute malnutrition. In north-east Nigeria, conflict with Boko Haram has left 1.8m people still displaced, farmers unable to grow crops, and 4.8 million people need food. In Yemen, an escalation in conflict since 2015 has worsened a situation already made dire by weak rule of law and governance. Now more than 14 million people need food aid. Only if we understand conflict can we understand hunger. South Sudan is another example. I worked there for two years following the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005.

Right now a place called Koch, where Mercy Corps works, is in what the famine early warning systems network calls a “level 4 emergency phase”. This means that people will start to die of hunger in a matter of months if they don’t receive enough aid. Until recent years, Koch was a thriving community with fertile land. It has been destroyed in armed clashes since conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. Families have had to move time and time again and disease is rampant due to the lack of clean water. As one father of five told our team in Koch: “My house was burnt, everything was looted and I do not know how to rebuild my life.” Across the places where we work and where people are facing starvation, the pattern is the similar.

Hunger is not some freak environmental event; it is human-made, the result of a deadly mix of conflict, marginalisation and weak governance. Yet watching some of the news and the crisis appeals, one could be forgiven for thinking that what we need is another Live Aid song and airdrops of food. Red Nose Day has been criticised for portraying Africa as a place where “nothing ever grows”. A recent social media campaign to send a plane filled with food to Somalia gathered support: a noble gesture, but not a long-term solution. Mercy Corps’ own emergency response is not the long-term answer either.

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It’s easy to label something ‘theft’, but for Greeks it’s either go illegal or sit in the dark, freeze etc. Still can’t believe this is the European Union.

Greece’s Dark Age: How Austerity Turned Off The Lights (R.)

Kostas Argyros’s unpaid electricity bills are piling up, among a mountain of debt owed to Greece’s biggest power utility. His family owe €850 to the Public Power Corporation (PPC), a tiny fraction of the state-controlled firm’s 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in unpaid bills. Argyros picks up only occasional work as an odd-job man. “When you only work once a week, what will you pay first?” said the 35-year-old, who lives in a tiny apartment in an Athens suburb with his unemployed wife and four small children. The Argyros family are emblematic of deepening poverty in Greece following seven years of austerity demanded by the country’s international creditors. They burn wood to heat their home in winter, food is cooked on a small gas stove, and hot water is scarce.

The only evening light is the blue glare of a TV screen, for fear of racking up more debt. Five-watt lightbulbs provide a dim glow and Argyros worries about the effect on their eyesight. More than 40% of Greeks are behind on their utility bills, higher than anywhere else in Europe. People in poor neighborhoods are also increasingly turning to energy fraud, meaning that the problem for PPC is much higher than the mountain of unpaid bills suggests. Power theft is costing PPC around €500-600 million a year in lost income, an industry official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the numbers. Public disclosures by the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator HEDNO, which checks meters, show that verified cases of theft climbed to 10,600 last year, up from 8,880 in 2013 and 4,470 in 2012.

Authorities believe theft is far higher than the cases verified by HEDNO, another official said, declining to be named. Households in the country are equipped with analog meters, which are easy to hack. One of the most common tricks is using magnets, which slow down the rotating coils to show less consumption than the real amount, a HEDNO official said. Some websites even offer consumers tips and tricks on power fraud. For households who have had their electricity cut off, a group of activists calling themselves the “I Won’t Pay” movement have taken it upon themselves to reconnect the supply. The group says it has done hundreds this year. PPC, which has a 90% share of the retail market and 60% of the wholesale market, is supposed to reduce this dominance to less than 50% by 2020 under Greece’s third, 86 billion euro bailout deal.

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It’s time to make this personal. Against Schäuble and Dijsselbloem, Merkel and Rutte and Hollande. They are killing people. There’s nothing innocent about that. Making it personal is the only thing that’ll work. Bring it to their doorstep. Literally to their doorstep.

On Dimitris Christoulas: ‘He Is A Part Of History Now’ (AlJ)

On the morning of April 4, 2012, a gunshot sounded amid the city’s hustle and bustle. As passers-by rushed to work through Syntagma Square in central Athens, Dimitris Christoulas had taken his life with a shotgun a few metres from the Greek parliament. The 77-year-old pensioner, a former pharmacist, had left a note in his pocket. “The occupation government literally annihilated my ability to survive,” he wrote. “I depended on my decent pension, which I alone and without the support of the state, paid for 35 years.” His only daughter, Emmy Christoula, had known nothing about his plans. But, speaking as the fifth anniversary of his death approached, she confidently described her father’s public suicide as a political act. Her father woke up in the morning, got dressed, and wrote two identical notes – putting one in his pocket and leaving the other on his kitchen table for his daughter to read.

He took the subway to the square, site of the country’s most important protests for more than a century. When Dimitris arrived at Syntagma, he texted his daughter – “It’s the end, Emmy,” he wrote – and switched off his phone. Greek morning television talk shows broke the news of Christoulas’s suicide a few minutes after it happened. Hundreds soon gathered to pay their respects. Flowers, letters and notes of resistance were left by the tree where he chose to take his life. Spaniards wrote songs of his resistance. Irish poets wrote odes to him. His funeral turned into a rally against the austerity measures imposed on Greece, when the country’s debt payments became too onerous to pay amid the worldwide recession. The country’s creditors called for harsh spending cuts and steep tax increases so that Athens could make the payments. Protests and riots became a staple of life in Athens in the years that followed.

Five years on from Christoulas’ suicide, the crisis has only grown deeper. Greece’s debt is 175% of its GDP. Greek officials have cut retirees’ pensions 17 times to around half of their value before the recession, according to the Greek Association of Pensioners. Budget cuts have also been implemented in education, health, and welfare services. Lenders must improve most government decisions. Unemployment stands at more than 23%. A fourth bailout agreement is expected soon. According to the Greek Statistical Service, suicides have increased by 68% since 2008, the first year Greek economic growth stagnated. “I’m of a certain age and don’t have the power of dynamically reacting,” wrote Christoulas in his suicide note. “I can’t find another solution to a dignified end, as soon I’d have to start scavenging through the garbage to find my own food.”

Christoulas’ suicide became a symbol of the devastating effects of austerity on the Greek people. Until then, the majority of the stories published in the international media on the issue were about lazy Greeks who deserved their comeuppance for living off debt for so many years. “[My father] taught me that you shouldn’t just follow history, you should write it,” said Emmy, adding that she has accepted her father’s decision but still aches from his absence. Emmy describes her father as a wiry and lean man who had long participated in public life. Her first childhood memories include sitting on his shoulders at pro-democracy rallies against Greece’s military government in the 1970s. The police brutality didn’t deter father and daughter from participating.

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Apr 042017
 
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Esther Bubley Child living in alley near US Capitol 1943

 

Living Standard Will Fall Without Productivity Boost, Warns IMF (G.)
67% Of Low-Income Americans Worry A Lot About Hunger, Homelessness (ZH)
The Issue With China Isn’t Trade, It’s Excess Savings (Pettis)
Toronto Bidding Wars So Fierce That Homebuyers Skip Inspections
Can Housing Bubbles Be Stopped? (WSJ)
Cernovich Explains How He Learned About Susan Rice (ZH)
The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)
The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)
Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives (Matt Taibbi)
Euro MPs ‘Unanimously’ Condemn Dijsselbloem’s No-Show (AFP)
Greek Pensions Hot Potato Puts Tsipras in Tight Spot on Bailout (BBG)
Austerity-Crushed Greek Households Keep Cutting Food Purchases (TNH)
Youth Unemployment Shows Euro-Area Recovery Not Working for All (BBG)
Erdogan Says Turks In Europe Should Defy ‘Grandchildren Of Nazism’ (R.)
Yes, Let’s Allow The Syrian People To Decide For Themselves (Ron Paul)
New Evidence Undermines EU Report Tying Refugee Rescue Group To Smugglers (IC)
The Vanishing Art Of Seizing The Day (Krznaric)

 

 

Interesting. I’m sure Lagarde has no idea why productivity fell. She has some textbook explanation, for sure, but her ‘solutions’ are bland: education and technology. But those were available all along as productivity was falling. Plus, technology costs jobs too. Then again, for the IMF there’s always ‘reforms’ of course: more globalization. But wait: that also costs jobs. Question then: if you lose enough jobs, will productivity rise?

Living Standard Will Fall Without Productivity Boost, Warns IMF (G.)

The head of the IMF has issued a stark warning that living standards will fall around the world unless governments take urgent action to increase productivity by investing in education, cutting red tape and incentivising research and development. Christine Lagarde used a speech in Washington to tell policymakers they could not simply wait for innovation to drive up productivity growth and help living standards recover from the legacy of the global financial crisis. She highlighted a poor global record on productivity growth in recent years and said IMF analysis suggested GDP in advanced economies would be about 5% higher today if the pre-crisis trend had continued for total factor productivity growth – a broad measure of what goes into production, such as research spending.

“That would be the equivalent of adding another Japan – and more – to the global economy,” the IMF managing director in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. Legarde warned the world could not afford to leave productivity growth in the doldrums. “Another decade of weak productivity growth would seriously undermine the rise in global living standards. Slower growth could also jeopardise the financial and social stability of some countries by making it more difficult to reduce excessive inequality and sustain private debt and public obligations. “Leaning back and waiting for artificial intelligence or other technologies to trigger a productivity revival is simply not an option.”

[..] In the UK, productivity growth has been sluggish for years and is behind most other big economies, prompting the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to pledge more investment in infrastructure and other areas with a £23bn national productivity investment fund. Calling on all governments to do more, Lagarde sought to emphasise productivity as the most important source of higher income and rising living standards. “For example, the average American worker today works only about 17 weeks to live at the annual real income level of the average worker in 1915,” she said. That kind of progress had been seen in many countries, she added. “But this engine of prosperity has slowed down in recent years, with negative consequences for growth and incomes that look very hard to unwind.”

She also echoed concerns over how rapid changes in technology had cost jobs in some sectors, hitting lower skilled workers hardest. Governments must help such workers through targeted education programmes, Lagarde said. That in turn would help solve productivity problems and create more inclusive and sustainable growth.

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Bit of a vague survery, but who today is going to be surprised at the outcome?

67% Of Low-Income Americans Worry A Lot About Hunger, Homelessness (ZH)

Something unexpected happened on the road to Obama’s economic “recovery” – according to Gallup, over the past two years, a record two-thirds, or an average of 67% of lower-income U.S. adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country. They are not alone: concern has also increased among middle- and upper-income Americans, but they still worry far less than do lower-income Americans. Some details: since 2001, worry has been highest among those residing in lower-income households, likely because those with limited financial resources are more at risk of going hungry or becoming homeless. A consistent majority of lower-income adults worried about the problem before 2012, but that has only increased in the past five years. Concern among middle-income Americans in 2016-2017 falls just short of the majority level at 47%, while 37% of upper-income Americans are worried.

Rising concern among all income groups could be a result of the political and media attention devoted to U.S. income inequality in recent years. Americans may also worry more about hunger and homelessness when other issues are not dominating the national consciousness, such as the economy and budget deficit were in 2010-2011 and terrorism was in the years after 9/11. Overall, 47% of Americans now worry about hunger and homelessness “a great deal,” according to Gallup’s March 1-5 survey, tied with 2016 as the high in the trend. Previously, concern had been as low as 35% in 2004 and as high as 45% in 2001, the first year Gallup asked the question.

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In which paying off debt is counted towards savings. And not savings at household level.

The Issue With China Isn’t Trade, It’s Excess Savings (Pettis)

trade imbalances were mostly determined by direct differences in the cost of traded goods, while capital flowed from one country to another mainly to balance trade flows. Today, however, conditions have changed dramatically. Capital flows dwarf trade flows, and investment decisions by fund managers determine their direction and size. This has profound implications for trade. Large, persistent trade surpluses such as the one China runs with the U.S. are no longer the consequence of explicitly mercantilist measures. Instead, they’re driven by policies that distort domestic savings rates by subsidizing production at the expense of households. Take Germany, for example. After a decade of trade deficits and high unemployment, worried leaders in Berlin implemented labor reforms in 2003-05 whose main effect was to weaken wage growth.

As unemployment dropped and business profits surged, the reforms also shrunk the share of national income allocated to ordinary households, driving down the consumption share as well. German businesses, blessed with higher profits, responded unhelpfully. They paid down debt instead of investing the profits, increasing the share of national income devoted to savings. As the growing gap between German savings and investment soon became among the largest in history, so did the German trade surplus. German banks exported the excess savings into other European countries, no longer protected by the interest-rate and currency adjustments proscribed under the rules of the euro. By 2009, after insolvency prevented one European country after another from absorbing any more of the German tsunami of capital outflows, these shifted to countries outside Europe.

While the experiences of China and Japan may seem different on the surface, they were broadly similar in impact. China, for example, severely repressed interest rates in order to boost growth. This simultaneously reduced the household share of Chinese GDP to among the lowest ever recorded and raised Chinese savings to among the highest – so high that, even with the fastest-rising investment in the world, China still needed large trade surpluses to make up for weak domestic demand. What happens next is the most confusing part for economists who don’t understand how trade has changed. When new capital pours into advanced economies that have always had easy access to investment – such as the U.S. and southern Europe – it doesn’t boost investment further. Instead it automatically causes savings to contract.

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Not a bubble. Why of sound mind gets into this?

Toronto Bidding Wars So Fierce That Homebuyers Skip Inspections

In Toronto, some homebuyers are so desperate to win bidding wars that they’re rushing to make offers without even getting an inspection. The average price for a detached home in Canada’s largest metropolitan area jumped to C$1.21 million ($905,950) in February, up a third from a year earlier, amid a dearth of properties for sale. In the same period, Toronto-based home-inspection firm Carson Dunlop saw a 34% drop in volume. Murray Parish, president of the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, said he’s seen a 30% decline at his firm, Parish Home Inspections. “The bottom line is we are in a shortage of supply,’’ said Tasis Giannoukakis, a Century 21 broker based in Toronto, adding that it’s not uncommon to see bids of as much as C$200,000 over the asking price.

“That pressure is what’s causing everybody to remove the conditions on an inspection.’’ Home-price increases in North America’s fourth-largest city and its suburbs have outpaced growth in places including Manhattan, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, leading local officials to search for ways to control price gains and spurring concerns a correction may be coming. The frothy market, buoyed by low interest rates, is resulting in frenzied bidding wars, causing many shoppers to leave once-standard clauses such as a professional home inspection and financing contingencies out of their purchase offers. A move away from inspections isn’t unique to Toronto.

Vancouver, Canada’s hottest real estate market until Toronto took that mantle last year, saw a surge in unconditional purchase offers in the first half of 2016, said Adil Dinani, an agent with Royal LePage West Real Estate Services in the West Coast city. The same is true in hot U.S. markets. Mark Attarha, president of Bay Sotheby’s International Realty, which has seven offices in the in San Francisco Bay area, said he’s seeing a spate of offers without contingencies, along with a raft of “overbidding.” Attarha estimates that 75% of prospective buyers he works with are accepting a home-inspection report from the seller rather than ordering their own or including an inspection clause in their purchase offers.

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Let your house do the work for you: “Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week..”

Can Housing Bubbles Be Stopped? (WSJ)

From Australia to Canada, authorities are learning a hard lesson in their efforts to curb the foreign money flooding their property markets: deterrents quickly lose their punch. In recent years, regulators in several countries have raised taxes on residential real-estate purchases, required banks to demand bigger down payments and taxed empty homes—to little long-term avail. Now they are trying again. Australian regulators on Friday ordered banks to limit the flow of interest-only loans—a villain in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis—to 30% of new loans from about 40% now and to restrict loans to people making small down payments. The country’s corporate regulator said on Monday it was investigating whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately promoting interest-only loans.

New South Wales state, home to Sydney, is considering a further property-tax rise for foreigners. The moves are an attempt to blunt a price rise that has resumed after the last crackdown starting in late 2014. House prices in Sydney and Melbourne, the nation’s two biggest cities, rose by about 19% and 16% in the year through Mar. 31, much of it in the last six months, according to an analysis by data company CoreLogic released on Monday. The median house price in Sydney hit $821,000 last year, according to Demographia, a U.S. think tank. It said the figure, equivalent to 12.2 times the average annual wage, made Sydney the world’s second most expensive city after Hong Kong on a house-price-to-income ratio. Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week, said Giles Bray, a local mortgage broker.

Developers are now building 300-square-foot apartments—roughly a third of the average new American unit—with 8-foot ceiling heights to pack in more units. In the past three years, foreigners have bought thousands of them sight unseen. “They are poorly built and lack light,” Mr. Bray said. The gains are testing the limits of government measures aimed at preventing housing bubbles from developing in cities around the world. The frothiness is driven by ultralow interest rates at central banks that spur investors to hunt for returns in tangible assets. Chinese investors also are a big driver of the phenomenon. The concern: foreign, speculative investors are making properties unaffordable for locals and adding economic risk because these buyers are more likely to flee in a downturn. In 2010 the Reserve Bank of Australia tightened policy to cool things off. But lately the central bank has been keeping rates at a record-low 1.5% to aid an economy that is still struggling to adjust at the end of a long mining boom.

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The Susan Rice story has many quirks. A big one: what did Obama know? RandPaul wants her to testify under oath to that. It could go a long way towards proving Trump’s wiretap allegations. But also very odd: BBG and NYT sat on the story for -at least- days. And yes, Cernovich is a bit of an oddball. But he has proof, something that’s still sorely lacking for all of the Russia narrative. So much so that it doesn’t matter anymore if proof comes eventually: the US media have published millions of words of innuendo and accusations without any proof. That may work in the echo chamber, but it kills your credibility outside of it.

Cernovich Explains How He Learned About Susan Rice (ZH)

Ever since Mike Cernovich dropped the bombshell report over the weekend outing Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, as the person behind the unmasking of the identity of various members of Trump’s team who were ‘incidentally’ surveilled during the 2016 campaign, a report which was subsequently confirmed by Eli Lake of Bloomberg earlier this morning, everyone has been wondering who within the Trump White House or the intelligence community supplied him with such a massive scoop. But, as it turns out, Cernovich didn’t need a ‘deep throat’ within the NSA or CIA for his blockbuster scoop, all he needed was some well-placed sources inside of a couple of America’s corrupt mainstream media outlets. As Cernovich explains below, his sources for the Susan Rice story were actually folks working at Bloomberg and the New York Times who revealed that both Eli Lake (Bloomberg) and Maggie Haberman (NYT) were sitting on the Susan Rice story in order to protect the Obama administration.

“Maggie Haberman had it. She will not run any articles that are critical of the Obama administration.” “Eli Lake had it. He didn’t want to run it and Bloomberg didn’t want to run it because it vindicates Trump’s claim that he had been spied upon. And Eli Lake is a ‘never Trumper.’ Bloomberg was a ‘never Trump’ publication.”

“I’m showing you the politics of ‘real journalism’. ‘Real journalism’ is that Bloomberg had it and the New York Times had it but they wouldn’t run it because they don’t want to run any stories that would make Obama look bad or that will vindicate Trump. They only want to run stories that make Trump look bad so that’s why they sat on it.”

“So where did I get the story? I didn’t get it from the intelligence community. Everybody’s trying to figure out where I got it from. I got it from somebody who works in one of those media companies. I have spies in every media organization. I got people in news rooms. I got it from a source within the news room who said ‘Cernovich, they’re sitting on this story, they’re not going to run it, so you can run it’.”

“If you’re at Bloomberg, I have people in there. If you’re at the New York Times, I have people in there. LA Times, Washington Post, you name it, I have my people in there. I got IT people in every major news room in this country. The IT people see every email so that’s how I knew it.”

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“Anyone, including experienced journalists, who raises questions or recommends caution is immediately dismissed as a Putin stooge or a Trump apologist by an army of progressives convinced, with obdurate certainty, of who is guilty and what is true.”

The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)

US progressives are clinging on to false heroes like the FBI and CIA in their existential battle to dethrone Trump. [..] In Comey’s case, his rather abrupt and miraculous transformation from devil to saint came after his March 20 testimony before a House Intelligence Committee where he finally, belatedly, confirmed that the FBI was indeed investigating the disturbing, cob-web-like connections between the Trump campaign team and Russia before, during and after the presidential election. Ah, now that the G-men are on the case, the indictments would surely follow, the familiar progressive chorus wrote. Trump’s days are numbered. Resignation and impeachment are in the offing. The cavalry is riding to America’s rescue. Comey’s role in torpedoing Clinton’s chances at becoming America’s first female president has fast receded into the rear-view mirror.

The political executioner has become a prince of probity and the rule of law. Defying history and credulity, joining Comey and the FBI in the progressives’ new-found white knight brigade are, incredibly, the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA). Like the FBI, the spooks are also being widely celebrated as guardian angels in the existential battle to dethrone the treasonous King. The thinking – such as it is – goes something like this: the CIA and NSA must have the surreptitious “goods” on Trump and his gang of Russian mob and FSB consorting thugs that they will, in time, share with Americans and the world. The “goods” perhaps involves oodles of various types of intercepted and incriminating communications and possibly even a notorious Moscow hotel videotape, starring the deviant king himself.

And the hope is that, taken together, it will all eventually expose and doom him. Apparently, these days, the “deep state” is no longer working for the bad guys, but the good guys. It has, in effect, changed sides. Sure, the deep state may have denied Clinton her rightful and long overdue crown and has, for years, systematically spied on, collected and stored intimate details about the lives of countless people with little or no oversight, let alone a warrant. But progressives are too busy letting bygones be bygones to remember. The good guys have fixed their crosshairs on Trump and treacherous company and that’s all that matters.

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“One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot..” Journalism should not ever be about ‘belief’, but about proven facts. But there are none. oh, and the syndrome doesn’t ‘arrive’, it’s been here for a long time.

Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives (Matt Taibbi)

So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump’s national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia’s ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity. For seemingly the 100th time, social media is exploding. This is it! The big reveal! Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy. He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He’ll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin’s help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.

I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven’t seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true? What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense? This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.

Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump’s history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own. One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.

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Illustrating what a dud the European Parliament is. They want the man who’s negotiating with Greece to come explain what he does, and he simply refuses. Imagine that in Congress. A Dutch MP said Dijsselbloem is now effectively a ‘persona non grata’ in the European Parliament. And remember: the Eurogroup has no official status, so what can thay do?

Euro MPs ‘Unanimously’ Condemn Dijsselbloem’s No-Show (AFP)

European Parliament lawmakers on Monday “unanimously condemned” the refusal by Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem to appear at a hearing on Greece this week. Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, has been facing calls to step down since he suggested in an interview in a German newspaper that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. In the wake of the controversy, the parliament had invited the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers to discuss the stalled Greek bailout at this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Expectations were that MEP’s would use the opportunity to harshly criticise Dijsselbloem.

“Unanimous condemnation by the European Parliament against Jeroen Dijsselbloem for umpteenth refusal to answer questions on sacrifices made by our citizens,” European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani posted on Twitter. MEP Gianni Pittella, the head of the left-of-centre S&D group, said Dijsselbloem’s refusal to attend was “a further slight after his previous shameful remarks”. “He should resign,” Pittella added. In a letter on Thursday, Dijsselbloem said he was unable to attend the hearing because of a scheduling conflict.

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To repeat: Why are Greek pension costs relatively high? Because “The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system”. And it can’t of course, because that would cost money it’s not allowed to spend by Brussels. Let’s see all benefits expenditures for all nations, and then talk again.

Greek Pensions Hot Potato Puts Tsipras in Tight Spot on Bailout (BBG)

Greece is set to miss yet another self-imposed deadline with no accord expected when the Eurogroup meets in Malta on Friday. While there has been “a lot of progress,” there will be no agreement on April 7, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the group’s chief, said on March 31. “That’s too early.” Europe has become impatient with Greece as the region prepares for Brexit and the threat from emerging populist movements. The failure to reach an accord stems in part from the conflicting political interests of the two sides — Tsipras doesn’t want to face a scheduled general election in 2019 at the same time as pensioners take a cut of as much as 30% in their monthly payments. Creditors worry that if the plan is put in place after 2019, a new government that’s not a signatory of the accord might not implement it.

The IMF, backed by Greece’s euro-area creditors, is pushing Athens to save €1.8 billion, or 1% of GDP, from pension cuts. Greece spends more than 13.3% of its GDP on old-age pensions, the highest proportion in the EU, Eurostat figures show. Greece, which crossed what it once characterized as a red line and accepted the need for pension cuts, is asking creditors to give the country more time to see how measures agreed to last year work before embarking on anything new. The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system , making pensions the de facto safety net for many families, supporting several generations. A survey in January showed that 49% of households relied on pensions as a primary source of income.

Further cuts in pensions has become a thorny issue to sell at home as pensioners use their ever-shrinking income to support jobless children at time when youth unemployment stands at more than 40%. Take Panagiotis Papapetrou, for example. The 65-year-old retiree and his wife, who collectively take home a pension of €1,480 a month, support two grown children. “Not only can we not afford any kind of entertainment, but we also have made cuts in our diet,” he said. “We eat less meat and we seek to buy cheap goods.”

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This economy cannot survive. It will keep on shrinking. There is no other possibility as long as there is a Troika. Economies run on consumer spending, and that keeps on falling in Greece. It needs stimulus, not austerity. Europe is creating a powder keg here.

Austerity-Crushed Greek Households Keep Cutting Food Purchases (TNH)

More than seven years into a brutal economic crisis worsened by austerity measures hitting workers, pensioners and the poor, Greek households are continuing to cut food purchases, even for essential items. Repeated salary and pension cuts have left millions unable to keep up, with a survey by the Marketing Laboratory of the Athens University of Economics and Business showing consumers spending almost €40 ($42.72) less a month at supermarkets this year compared to 2016. Average monthly household expenditure came to €274 against €310 a year earlier, with the 13% decline also reflected on supermarket turnover as the sector struggles to lure customers despite sales and 2-for-1 deals.

The study was aimed at average consumers who make up the bulk of supermarket customers drawing a bleak picture of their ability to buy what they want and as more turn away from brand names in favor of cheaper goods. Some 63.4% of Greeks said they buy fewer products and 45.8% buy only the absolute necessities with 54.4% turning to private-label chain products. Data from Nielsen researchers showed that in 2016, some 51% of brand products sold in supermarket were on special offer, up from 33.1% in 2009 and after super markets wouldn’t cut prices despite the crisis, until they were forced to do so by lagging sales. Sales fell another 4% in 2016, driving the cumulative downturn to 18% since 2009, as the crisis began and a year before the then-ruling PASOK Socialists asked for what turned into €326 billion in three bailouts.

The data compiled by Nielsen researchers showed that besides a sharp decline in demand and with more people turning as well to generic brands and looking for offers, that mergers and acquisitions had taken a big bite out of the sector. The phenomenon is likely to continue for several more years with analysts expecting a further drop of 2-3%. In 2016, the sales value of food retailing – including small grocery stores – amounted to about €10.78 billion, down 4.1% from 2015, pushing the sector back to 2005 levels and showing the devastating effect of the crisis and harsh austerity measures that brought big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings. The number of small food retail stores has dropped from about 32,000 in 2005 to 27,000 in 2015 with major chains showing their sales values plummet at the same time with only the discount food chain Lidl showing increases.

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It shows Euro area is not working. Period.

Youth Unemployment Shows Euro-Area Recovery Not Working for All (BBG)

For all the continued momentum in the euro-area recovery, differing prospects for young people across the bloc show the wounds of the debt crisis remain very raw. The unemployment rate for those under age 25 was at 19.4% in February, according to data on Monday. While that’s an improvement compared with a year ago – and is the lowest since 2009 – it’s more than twice the total for the euro-area of 9.5%. In four southern European countries – Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus – at least three in 10 young people are still out of work. [..] the unevenness across geography and age groups show how complicated it is for the ECB to set monetary policy for 19 nations.

In Germany, the youth unemployment rate is just 6.6%. That’s lower than the overall rate in Spain has ever been since the euro’s introduction. In Greece, still struggling seven years after its first bailout, the figure in December was almost seven times greater than Germany’s, at 45.2%. Draghi has said that monetary policy can’t take the whole weight of the economic recovery, and repeatedly urged governments to implement reforms to reduce structural unemployment. That’s made harder by the rise of populist parties across Europe, with France and Germany all facing general elections in the coming months.

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Waiting for real craziness over the next 2 weeks.

Erdogan Says Turks In Europe Should Defy ‘Grandchildren Of Nazism’ (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called on Turkish voters in Europe to defy the “grandchildren of Nazism” and back a referendum this month on changing the constitution, comments likely to cause further ire in Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, in campaigning for the referendum, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad. Both the Germans and Dutch have been incensed by the comparisons to Nazism and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the references must stop. “With this determination, we will never allow three or four European fascists … from harming this country’s honor and pride,” Erdogan told a packed crowd of flag-waving supporters in the Black Sea city of Rize, where his family comes from.

“I call on my brothers and sisters voting in Europe…give the appropriate answer to those imposing this fascist oppression and the grandchildren of Nazism.” Erdogan is counting on the support of expatriates in Europe, including the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in Germany, to pass constitutional changes that would give him sweeping presidential powers. But ties with Europe have deteriorated in the run-up to the campaign. Erdogan last month said Turkey would reevaluate its relationship with the bloc, and may even hold a second referendum on whether to continue accession talks. On Monday, he said he could take the issue of whether Turkey should restore the death penalty to referendum if necessary. “The European Union will not like this. But I don’t care what Hans, George or Helga say, I care what Hasan, Ahmet, Mehmet, Ayse and Fatma say. I care what God says… If necessary, we will take this issue to another referendum as well,” he told the rally.

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“Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.”

Yes, Let’s Allow The Syrian People To Decide For Themselves (Ron Paul)

Is common sense beginning to creep into US policy in the Middle East? Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the longer-term status of Syrian President Assad would be “decided by the Syrian people.” The media reported this as a radical shift in US foreign policy, but isn’t this just stating what should be obvious? What gives any country the right to determine who rules someone else? Washington is currently paralyzed by evidence-free rumors that the Russians somehow influenced our elections, but no one blinks an eye when Washington declares that one or another foreign leader “must go.” It’s only too bad that President Obama hadn’t followed this back in 2011 instead of declaring that Assad had to go and then arming rebel groups who ended up being allies with al-Qaeda.

Imagine how many thousands of lives and billions of dollars would have been saved by following this policy in the first place. Imagine the millions of refugees who could still be in their homes, running their businesses, living their lives. Will the Trump Administration actually follow through on Tillerson’s Syria policy statement? It is too early to tell. The President has illegally sent hundreds of US troops to fight on the ground in Syria. Current US positions in eastern Syria suggest that Washington may be looking to carve out parts of oil-rich areas of the country for some kind of future federation. The White House followed up on Tillerson’s comments by stating that getting rid of Assad was no longer a top priority for the US. This also sounds good. But does this mean that once the current top priority, destroying ISIS, is completed, Washington may return to its active measures to unseat the Syrian president?

Neocons in Washington still insist that the rise of ISIS in Syria was due to President Assad, but in fact ISIS did not appear in Syria until the US began trying to overthrow Assad. They haven’t given up on their desire to overthrow the Syrian government and they do have influence in this Administration. If the Trump Administration is serious about letting the people of Syria decide their fate he needs to take concrete steps. Rather than sending in more troops to fight an ISIS already on its last legs, he must bring US troops home and prohibit the CIA from further destabilizing the country.

It would also be nice if Congress would wake up from its long slumber and start following the Constitution. The President (and his predecessors) have taken this country to war repeatedly without proper Constitutionally-required authority to do so. The president has reportedly decided not to even bother announcing where next he plans to send the troops. Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.

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Frontex plays a very ugly role here. We saw that coming from miles away.

New Evidence Undermines EU Report Tying Refugee Rescue Group To Smugglers (IC)

Last month, an Italian prosecutor opened an investigation into whether nonprofits working to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean had connections to smuggling operations. “We want to know who is behind all these humanitarian groups that have proliferated in the last few years,” the prosecutor said, and “where all the money they have is coming from.” The implication of the investigation is inflammatory: Why would humanitarian groups want to have anything to do with human traffickers or smugglers? But the idea that nonprofits are directly involved in smuggling people into Europe has swept through conservative media in recent months, fueled by a news report that the EU’s border agency, Frontex, had “accused charities operating in the Mediterranean of colluding with people smugglers.”

The report, which appeared in the Financial Times in December, didn’t name any particular charities, and it quickly started to show holes; within a week, the paper issued a correction and Frontex distanced itself from the accusations. Despite the walk-back, the story stuck, and the Italian prosecutor cited Frontex’s concerns about “collusion with smugglers” in announcing his investigation. The Intercept has obtained a full copy of the Frontex report on which the Financial Times story was based. The report, along with video evidence and interviews with rescue workers who witnessed the incident described in it, further undermines the allegations of collusion. In the report, Frontex does say that people were smuggled to Europe via an NGO ship. But the report provides little evidence for the allegation, and what it does contain is contradicted by the rescue crew.

The confusion shows the fraught conditions of rescue work in the Mediterranean – where smugglers and opportunists do take advantage of refugees and their rescuers, but where the situation is not always so cut and dry. In dire rescues, if a nonprofit accepts help from nearby Libyan boats, they may have no idea who they are working with. “It’s not us that force the people on the boats and cause them to be out there. But once they are out there, we all have to apply maritime law,” said Ruben Neugebauer, who works with the group Sea-Watch. “If there is a boat in distress, we are obliged to help, but also a potential smuggler is also obliged to help.”

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Watching TV. Still far more important than other media. “..television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time..” and “if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.”

The Vanishing Art Of Seizing The Day (Krznaric)

Carpe diem – seize the day – is one of the oldest philosophical mottos in Western history. First uttered by the Roman poet Horace over 2,000 years ago, it retains an extraordinary resonance in popular culture. Ask someone to spell out their philosophy of life and there’s a good chance they will say something like “seize the day” or “live as if there’s no tomorrow” – even if they appear to be trapped by routine or paralysed by procrastination. It’s a message found in Hollywood films like Dead Poets Society, in one of the most successful brand campaigns of the last century (“Just Do It”), and in the social media hashtag #yolo (“you only live once”). Almost every language has an equivalent expression for the original Latin phrase. Carpe diem has been a call to arms for everyone from the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, who in the first century bce asked, “If not now, when?”, to the Rastafarian sage Bob Marley, who sang out: “Wake up and live!”

However, in the course of writing my new book on the vanishing art of seizing the day, I discovered that carpe diem has been hijacked – in part, by the most popular leisure pursuit in the Western world. I loved television as a kid, fitting in an hour before school each day (Thunderbirds, Superheroes) and at least an hour-and-a-half before dinner (5.30: Wheel of Fortune, 6.00: The Goodies, 6.30: Dr Who). What I didn’t realise as a teenager, as I sat on my beanbag in suburban Sydney making the agonising decision whether to break tradition and watch Gilligan’s Island instead of The Goodies, was that I was absorbed in a ritual that ranks as one of the most momentous cultural transformations ever experienced by humankind. Within less than 50 years of the first ever television demonstration in

Selfridges London department store in 1925, around 99 per cent of Western households had a set. Today the typical European or American watches an average of around three hours per day, whether it’s on flat-screen TVs, computers, phones or other devices. This is apart from time spent engaged in digital pursuits such as internet surfing, social media, texting or video games. So television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time, and more time than we spend doing any other single activity apart from work or sleep. Perhaps the best way to grasp how much TV has colonised our lives is to tape the following statistic to your remote control: assuming your viewing habits are somewhere near average, if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.

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Mar 252017
 
 March 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Drought hit OK farm family on way to CA 1936

 

With Health Bill Down, Trump Can Still Unleash HHS To Bedevil Obamacare (MW)
The Heart Of The American Dream Has Stopped Beating (DiMartino Booth)
Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore (Danielle DiMartino Booth)
The Swamp Drains Trump (Jim Kunstler)
It Was A Very Bad Earnings Season (Snider)
Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Kidnapping Erdogan Foe From US (WSJ)
A ‘Deaths Of Despair’ Crisis Is Gripping America (BI)
New Canadian Budget Drops Obsession With Balanced Budgets (Star)
US Debt of $20 Trillion Visualized in Stacks of Physical Cash (Demonocracy)
The Pound Is Going To Take A Huge Hit, According To Deutsche Bank (Ind.)
Leaving Euro Would Not Help France And Italy – ECB Chief Economist (Ind.)
Greece to Break Off Face-to-Face Talks With Creditors (BBG)
Where Next For Greece? (Makropolis)

 

 

Big defeat. But not a knock-out. Trump needs better advisers.

With Health Bill Down, Trump Can Still Unleash HHS To Bedevil Obamacare (MW)

In a spectacular turn of events, a shortage of support prompted Republican leadership to pull their health-care plan from a House of Representatives vote on Friday. The move means that the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare, will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” according to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrats, ACA supporters and opponents of the Republican American Health Care Act quickly hailed the development as a victory. But what was a legislative battle now is likely to move into the executive realm and the Department of Health and Human Services, led by longtime ACA opponent Dr. Tom Price. Experts say there is plenty that President Donald Trump’s administration can do to undermine the ACA. And any poor deterioration in the performance of the ACA could give Republicans a new opening: Trump indicated Friday that he might re-visit health care after Obamacare “explodes.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see how they balance the responsibility for ensuring the government functions with their hatred for the law,” said Spencer Perlman, director of health-care research at Veda Partners. “If they want to completely sabotage it they probably could, and call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The latter is all the more likely because the ACA works best with the help of administrative support and resources. Think of the ACA as a plant, one that requires light and tending-to, that gets inherited by a downright hostile owner. The best example of this occurred during enrollment for 2017 exchange plans. The months-long enrollment period began under former President Barack Obama’s administration, which passed the ACA, and ended under President Trump’s administration.

Enrollment, which had looked like it was on track to surpass previous years, dropped off following the transition, which many attributed to a dearth of marketing and promotional activity under Trump. Plus, the ACA’s problems — which may have helped elect Trump — still exist. Many insurers, including UnitedHealth, Humana and Aetna have exited the exchanges on which many participants purchase health insurance, contributing to a 25% on average increase in premiums. “The biggest thing that needs to be done is figuring out some way to attract young, healthy people” to exchange plans, Perlman said. But HHS, under Price’s leadership, seems unlikely to try to improve the law. And “purposefully sabotaging the exchanges and the ACA probably isn’t difficult,” said Perlman. And for that matter, HHS is “probably the only game in town right now” that can do it.

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“..55% of mortgages in active foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008..”

The Heart Of The American Dream Has Stopped Beating (DiMartino Booth)

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the new parent company of RealtyTrac, default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions slid to 933,045 last year, the lowest tally since the 717,522 reported in 2006. Is the final chapter written? Not if you live in judicial foreclosure states such as New York, New Jersey and Florida where ‘legacy’ foreclosures take years to clear. At the end of last year, 55% of mortgages in active foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008. Factor in what’s still in the pipeline and one in ten circa 2006 homeowners will have lost their homes before it is all said and done. That helps explain one part of the chart below which was generously shared with me by one Dr. Gates. Longtime readers of these missives will recognize the nom de plume of my inside-industry economic sleuth. His first take on this sad visual, was that, “The heart of the American Dream has stopped beating.” Did that stop your heart as it did my own?

As you can see, after a steady 40-year build, owner-occupied housing has stagnated and sits at the lowest level since 2004. This has sent the homeownership rate crashing to 63.4%, the lowest since 1967. It would be nice to think that things were looking up for would-be homeowners. But it’s difficult to be overly optimistic when the local newspaper reports that house flipping in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area rose 21% in 2016, seven times the national rate. In all, 193,000 properties nationwide were flipped for a quick inside-12-months profit last year, a 3.1 increase to a nine-year high. Moreover, the median age of a flipped home rose to a two-decade high of 37 years, about double the median age of homes flipped before the crisis hit. That translated into a median gross profit of $69,624 on a median selling price of $189,900 in 2016, a neat 49.2% margin, the highest on record. Awesome!

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Very good -and scary- from Danielle DiMartino Booth. I’ve often asked: what happened to pension funds investing in AAA paper? But there’s more: without accounting tricks dominoes would already be falling. This is not some coincidence, it’s actual policy as conducted by The American Academy of Actuaries.

Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore (Danielle DiMartino Booth)

The question is why haven’t the headlines presaged pension implosions? As was the case with the subprime crisis, the writing appears to be on the wall. And yet calamity has yet to strike. How so? Call it the triumvirate of conspirators – the actuaries, accountants and their accomplices in office. Throw in the law of big numbers, very big numbers, and you get to a disaster in a seemingly permanent state of making. Unfunded pension obligations have risen to $1.9 trillion from $292 billion since 2007. Credit rating firms have begun downgrading states and municipalities whose pensions risk overwhelming their budgets. New Jersey and the cities of Chicago, Houston and Dallas are some of the issuers in the crosshairs.

Morgan Stanley says municipal bond issuance is down this year in part because of borrowers are wary of running up new debts to effectively service pensions. Federal Reserve data show that in 1952, the average public pension had 96% of its portfolio invested in bonds and cash equivalents. Assets matched future liabilities. But a loosening of state laws in the 1980s opened the door to riskier investments. In 1992, fixed income and cash had fallen to an average of 47% of holdings. By 2016, these safe investments had declined to 27%. It’s no coincidence that pensions’ flight from safety has coincided with the drop in interest rates. That said, unlike their private peers, public pensions discount their liabilities using the rate of returns they assume their overall portfolio will generate.

In fiscal 2016, which ended June 30th, the average return for public pensions was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5%. Corporations’ accounting rules dictate the use of more realistic bond yields to discount their pensions’ future liabilities. Put differently, companies have been forced to set aside something closer to what it will really cost to service their obligations as opposed to the fantasy figures allowed among public pensions. So why not just flip the switch and require truth and honesty in public pension math? Too many cities and potentially states would buckle under the weight of more realistic assumed rates of return. By some estimates, unfunded liabilities would triple to upwards of $6 trillion if the prevailing yields on Treasuries were used.

That would translate into much steeper funding requirements at a time when budgets are already severely constrained. Pockets of the country would face essential public service budgets being slashed to dangerous levels. What’s a pension to do? Increasingly, the answer is swing for the fences. Forget the fact that just under half of pension assets are in the second-most overvalued stock market in history. Even as Fed officials publicly fret about commercial real estate valuations, pensions have socked away 8% of their portfolios into this less than liquid asset class. Even further out on the risk and liquidity spectrum is the 10% that pensions have allocated to private equity and limited partnerships.

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“While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete.”

The Swamp Drains Trump (Jim Kunstler)

One can’t help marveling at the way the “Russian interference” motif has shifted the spotlight off the substance of what Wikileaks revealed about Clinton Foundation and DNC misdeeds onto Trump campaign officials “colluding” with Russians, supposedly to support their interference in the election. It’s true that the election is way over and the public is no longer concerned with Hillary or her foundation (which is closing shop anyway). But the switcheroo is impressive, and quite confusing, considering recently retired NSA James Clapper just two weeks ago said on NBC’s Meet the Press that there was “no evidence” of collusion Between Trump and Russia. Okay… uh, say what? On Monday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that his agency had been investigating the Trump Campaign since at least last August. Is that so…? Investigating how? Some sort of electronic surveillance?

Well, what else would they do nowadays? Send a gumshoe to a hotel room where he could press his ear on a drinking glass against the wall to eavesdrop on Paul Manafort? I don’t think so. Of course they were sifting through emails, phone calls, and every other sort of electronic communication. Trump’s big blunder was to tweet that he’d been “wiretapped.” Like the FBI patched into a bunch of cables with alligator clips in the basement of Trump Tower … or planted a “bug” in the earpiece of his bedside phone. How quaint. We also don’t have ice boxes anymore, though plenty of struggling weight-watchers across the land speak guiltily of “raiding the icebox.” But if it’s true, as Mr. Comey said, that the FBI had been investigating Trump’s campaign, the people around him, and Trump himself, since August, how could they not have captured some of Trump’s conversations?

[..] So, the long and the short of it is that the RussiaGate story is spinning out of control, and Trump’s adversaries — who go well beyond Congress into the Deep State — might be getting enough leverage to dump Trump. Either they will maneuver him and his people into some kind of perjury rap, or they will tie up the government in such a web of investigative procedural rigmarole that all the country lawyers who ever snapped their galluses will never be able to unravel it. While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete. Abandoned by the Republican Party, isolated and crazed in the White House, tweeting out mad appeals to heaven, he’ll either voluntarily pass the baton to Mike Pence or he will be declared unfit to serve and removed under the 25th amendment.

The after-effects of that will be something to behold: a “lose-lose” for both old-line political parties. The Trumpists will never forgive the Republican Party, and the Democrats will have gained nothing. Don’t let the door bang you on the butt on your way out.

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What a surprise.

It Was A Very Bad Earnings Season (Snider)

With nearly all of the S&P 500 companies having reported their Q4 numbers, we can safely claim that it was a very bad earnings season. It may seem incredulous to categorize the quarter that way given that EPS growth (as reported) was +29%, but even that rate tells us something significant about how there is, actually, a relationship between economy and at least corporate profits. Keynes famously said that we should never worry about the long run for there we will all be dead, but EPS has arrived at the long run and there is still quite a lot of living to do. As late as October, analysts were projecting $29 in earnings for the S&P 500 in Q4 2016. As of the middle of the earnings reports last month, that estimate suddenly dropped to just $26.37. In the month since that time, with the almost all of the rest having now reported, the current figure is just $24.15 – a decline of over $2 in four weeks. Therefore, 29% growth is hugely disappointing because it wasn’t 55% growth as was projected when the quarter began.

It is also the timing of the downgrades that is important as it relates to both “reflation” and the economy meant to support it. All throughout last year, in the aftermath of the near-recession to start 2016, EPS estimates for Q4 (and beyond) were very stable, unusually so given the recent past. That shows us how analysts, at least, were expecting the economy to go once it got past “global turmoil.” It was the “V” shaped rebound typical for past cyclical behavior. But it wasn’t until companies actually started reporting earnings that the belief was tested and then found severely lacking. With just $24.15 for Q4, total EPS was for the calendar year less than $95, the ninth straight quarter below the $100 level. More importantly, on a trailing-twelve month basis, EPS don’t appear to be in any hurry (except in future estimates) to revisit the prior peak of $106 all the way back in Q3 2014.

 

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Like a cheap crime novel: Flynn gets paid $530,000 “on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey”, and ends up discussing kidnapping Erdogan’s enemy. Oh, and Biden knew about this conversation. So Obama knew too.

Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Kidnapping Erdogan Foe From US (WSJ)

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting. The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed. Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.

The Turkish ministers were interested in open-ended thinking on the subject, and the ideas were raised hypothetically, said the people who were briefed. The ministers in attendance included the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s foreign minister, foreign-lobbying disclosure documents show. Mr. Woolsey said the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” The discussion, he said, didn’t include actual tactics for removing Mr. Gulen from his U.S. home. If specific plans had been discussed, Mr. Woolsey said, he would have spoken up and questioned their legality. It isn’t known who raised the idea or what Mr. Flynn concluded about it. Price Floyd, a spokesman for Mr. Flynn, who was advising the Trump campaign on national security at the time of the meeting, disputed the account, saying “at no time did Gen. Flynn discuss any illegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities.”

[..] On March 2, weeks after Mr. Flynn’s departure from the Trump administration, the Flynn Intel Group, his consulting firm, filed with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the government of Turkey. Mr. Trump was unaware Mr. Flynn had been consulting on behalf of the Turkish government when he named him national security adviser, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said this month. In its filing, Mr. Flynn’s firm said its work from August to November “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” The filing said his firm’s fee, $530,000, wasn’t paid by the government but by Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin.

[..] Mr. Woolsey said he didn’t say anything during the discussion, but later cautioned some attendees that trying to remove Mr. Gulen was a bad idea that might violate U.S. law. Mr. Woolsey said he also informed the U.S. government by notifying Vice President Joe Biden through a mutual friend. [..] Inovo hired Mr. Flynn on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey, the filing said, and Mr. Alptekin wanted information on the U.S.-Turkey political climate to advise the gas company about its Turkish investments.

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“.. he identified three kinds of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic. Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe.”

A ‘Deaths Of Despair’ Crisis Is Gripping America (BI)

[..] this isn’t the first time that social change has caused self-destructiveness on a mass scale. Indeed, 19th-century French sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote about similar problems in his time, and might refer to the plague of white middle-class mortality we see today as “a state of upheaval.” Of course, the lesson of the 2016 presidential election was that working- and middle-class whites are suffering. What Durkheim offers, though, is the argument for why the newly elected government in Washington — voted in by this very constituency — is getting the solution all wrong. The way to fix this problem is not through less government — but through more. Durkheim’s seminal work, the 1897 book “Suicide,” remains one of the most in-depth examinations of why these situations occur in society, and it is as relevant as ever. Its lessons are an indication that as a country, we are moving swiftly, carelessly in the wrong direction.

The Americans we are talking about are white and middle class. They are aged 45-55. They are losing the battle against heart disease and cancer, and they are succumbing to drugs, alcohol and suicide at rates unseen in modern history or in other developed countries. “The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30% lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30% higher than blacks by 2015,” Case and Deaton wrote. The easy thing to say is that these people are suffering from economic and social anxiety and leave it at that. What’s harder to pinpoint is what exactly that means and how to fix it. Economic conditions for minorities in the same social class and in the same communities are as hard, if not harder, than they are for middle class whites. But death rates aren’t increasing for them.

This is where Durkheim comes in. He wrote his work in the midst of another state of upheaval, as industrialization was taking over the world and old economic patterns were falling away. This was the beginning of modern life as we now know it. And it was killing people. Durkheim found that the degree to which a person is integrated in society is inversely correlated to their likelihood to engage in life-threatening behaviors and suicide. In his work, he identified three kinds of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic. Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe. [..] One of the big factors, then, in the increase in substance abuse and suicide among the white middle class could be a decline in the social framework as a result of the rapid economic changes seen over the last few decades.

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We’re getting into Steve Keen territory. At last.

New Canadian Budget Drops Obsession With Balanced Budgets (Star)

I’m intrigued by Modern Monetary Theory, which maintains governments can create (or ‘print’) money to fill public needs and can’t go into debt to themselves, though they should keep an eye on inflation.

Sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t agree that Wednesday’s federal budget was a non-event: “cynical,” a “placeholder,” “bafflegab and buzzwords” — as others wrote. I think this budget rocked, in one sense: it did a 180 on the stifling monomania of the last 30 years. I’m referring to the obsession with deficits. As recently as last election, the Liberals promised a balanced budget by the end of their first term. Now their projected deficits are even higher but that promise is gone and the thought process, transformed. Finance minister Bill Morneau blandly says, they’ll “be responsible every step along the way” and “show a decline in net debt to GDP,” which totally shifts the metric. He might as well have trilled, “Tra-la-la, we really don’t care.” It’s a damn earthquake.

For proof, look not at the opposition – Rona Ambrose predictably called it “spending out of control”- but at the journalists, who were left sputtering. It’s so radical they struggled for words. Peter Mansbridge began interviewing Morneau with: “How does it feel to know you’ll likely never have a balanced budget?” I wish Morneau had said, “I’m fine, but is there anything I can do to help you through this?” Mansbridge couldn’t stop, turning plaintively to his panel: “I tried to get him on the deficit … Is there a right and wrong any more?” Jennifer Ditchburn tried to soothe him with, “Deficit is a word they just don’t use any more.”

If I’m hyperventilating, it’s because I’ve led a cramped existence all these years, bowed under the weight of deficitism since I first heard the phrase, “Yeah, but how ya gonna pay for that?” during the 1988 election. No one knew where it came from or how it usurped all other political concerns, like a missive from heaven, or the Fraser Institute. Paul Martin adopted it, using it to sink the Canada we knew, and his own career. Yet, there’s apparently an ebb and flow to these things: a Nanos poll says Canadians now want Ottawa to run deficits as long as overall debt declines relative to GDP. That’s a pretty sophisticated alteration for ordinary folks to make intuitively; it makes you wonder if someone isn’t pulling strings somewhere and decided to drop a new backdrop (to public discourse) over the previous one.

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Nicely done. Like the music.

US Debt of $20 Trillion Visualized in Stacks of Physical Cash (Demonocracy)

Showing stacks of physical cash in following sequence: $100, $10,000, $1 Million, $2 Billion, $1 Trillion, $20 Trillion The faith and value of the US Dollar rests on the Government’s ability to repay its debt. “The money in the video has already been spent”

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Sounds reasonable.

The Pound Is Going To Take A Huge Hit, According To Deutsche Bank (Ind.)

When it comes to the pound, currency analysts at Deutsche Bank have for months proved to be some of the most bearish across the City, but they’ve just turned even more pessimistic in their outlook for the battered currency. In its latest special report on Brexit released this week, the German lender said the pound could fall as a low as $1.06 against the dollar by the end of 2017, or another 15%. “We do not see sterling (currently) fully pricing a hard Brexit outcome,” the bank wrote. “Combined with limited adjustment in the UK’s current account deficit and slowing growth, we see further downside, and forecast $1.06 in by year-end,” it added.

In an interview with Bloomberg in February, George Saravelos, the German lender’s global co-head of foreign exchange, hinted that the bank could cut its official forecast. He said at the time that sterling could still slip by 16% against the dollar to $1.05 cent as the “incredibly complicated” nature of Brexit becomes ever more clear. Most economists’ forecasts are still more optimistic than Deutsche Bank’s, but few expect the currency to recover from its post-referendum lows any time soon. According to poll of more than 60 banks and research institutions conducted by Reuters that was released earlier this month, forecasters on average expect the currency to trade at $1.23 against the dollar by the end of June, and drop to $1.21 in the subsequent three to six months.

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Praet is a true believer.

Leaving Euro Would Not Help France And Italy – ECB Chief Economist (Ind.)

The chief economist of the ECB has warned Italy and France that their economic problems would not be solved by breaking up the single currency. In an interview with Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, Peter Praet, an executive board member of the ECB, said the idea that the euro was the root cause of high unemployment and low growth in certain European countries was a populist “deception”. “What I do worry about is the populist narrative that things were better before the euro,” he said. “This is a deception. We arrived at monetary union after disastrous experiences with floating exchange rates and some unsuccessful attempts of orderly floating. “The devaluations that populists claim is a free lunch and allows to regain competitiveness by miracle proved extremely expensive.”

With specific reference to Italy, he said: “The nostalgic alternative that everything will be all right just by returning to the lira amounts to fooling the people. The cost of a regime change would be huge and the poor would be the ones that suffer the most.” Mr Praet acknowledged that the euro had lost popularity in many European countries, but said that it had been made a “scapegoat” for other economic policy failures by politicians. However, many credible economists argue that in the absence of fiscal stimulus by core countries in Europe that run current account surpluses, the monetary restrictions of the single currency are indeed driving the economic distress of the likes of France, Italy, Portugal and Greece.

Italy’s Five Star movement, currently leading in national opinion polls, has proposed a referendum on Italy’s membership of the single currency. Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France has previously called for the reinstatement of the franc, although she did not reiterate this in the national debate among presidential candidates earlier this week ahead of April’s national elections. The level of Italy’s GDP is barely higher than when the single currency was formed in 2000 and its working age unemployment rate currently stands at 12 per cent. The French unemployment rate is just below 10% and for young people it is double that.

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An outright lie: “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.”

Greece to Break Off Face-to-Face Talks With Creditors (BBG)

Greece and the institutions managing its bailout review will break off negotiations in Brussels without having cleared a path to conclude the deliberations that would release needed rescue funds. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who was meeting with officials from the euro area and the IMF will return to Athens by Saturday. The two sides still have issues to work out, said the official, who asked not to be named in line with policy. Some progress was made and discussions will continue from their respective headquarters, according to a spokesman from the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-area’s bailout monitor. Greece is edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted state to the edge of economic collapse, as the government in Athens and its creditors disagree over reforms to the pension system and the labor and energy markets.

Greece needs to complete the review in order to get the next portion of its aid payment before it has more than €7 billion of bonds come due in July. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble increased the pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to accede to creditor demands. “Greece has said it wants to stay in the euro,” Schaeuble said in an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.” [..] European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Greece and its creditors in an emailed statement to reach a deal that respects commitments made on all sides. In response to Tsipras’s letter, Juncker called on the Greeks not to reverse reforms and creditors “to give Greece the desired and necessary room for maneuver to build its own future.”

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Reasonable overview, but any talk of agreements that could lead Greece back to growth is nonsense. The EU would never sign such an agreement. Theie attitude to date has made that abundantly clear.

Where Next For Greece? (Makropolis)

In September last year, when Alexis Tsipras visited New York to speak at the UN Assembly, he held a meeting with some heavyweights of the international investment community. The Greek prime minister was reportedly advised by the participants that if he wanted to build trust in Greece as an attractive investment destination, he should shift focus from his main objective of debt relief towards ensuring Greece’s participation in the ECB’s QE programme. The investors apparently pointed out to the SYRIZA leader that such a development would have a wide range of benefits for Greece and provide the steadiest path towards regaining market access and the successful completion of the current programme, without the need to follow it up with a fourth memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Tsipras seemingly heeded the advice and, just as the second review was about to start, he charted a path out of the crisis. He set out his intention to close the review by December 2016, secure QE at the start of 2017 and dip his toe back into the markets with a small issue or two early this summer when Greece has to roll over the bond that it issued in 2014, when Antonis Samaras was prime minister. However, the timetable Tsipras identified last autumn has gone up in smoke.

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