Aug 302017
 
 August 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Elliott Erwitt Crowd at Armistice Day Parade, Pittsburgh 1950

 

The Economy Minus Houston (Slate)
Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue (Naomi Klein)
The US Cities with the Biggest Housing Bubbles (WS)
“Crazy” House Prices Are Firing Up New Zealand’s Voters (BBG)
China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt (BBG)
Homeowner’s Lawsuit Says Wells Fargo Charged Improper Mortgage Fees (R.)
The Battle for India’s $45 Billion Gold Industry Has Begun (BBG)
US Defense Boost May Unravel Into a $65 Billion Cut (BBG)
England’s Fire Services Suffer 25% Cut To Safety Officers Numbers (G.)
UK’s Leading Companies’ Pension Deficit Rises To 70% Of Their Profits (G.)
We Need To Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon (G.)
As Poverty Surges in Italy, Five Star Propose a ‘Citizens’ Income’ (BBG)
Why Every European Country Has A Trump Or Sanders Candidate (Drake)

 

 

A huge number of people will not be able to rebuild, because they lack insurance. And in many cases, rebuilding on the same -flood prone- spot wouldn’t be a good idea to begin with. But where will the people go?

Time to stop talking about the damage to the economy, and focus on the people.

The Economy Minus Houston (Slate)

Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, has a massive, diversified economy. Sure, New Orleans sits near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River and is an important entrepôt and site for export of raw materials, agricultural commodities chemicals, and petroleum products. But Houston is a larger, busier, and far more important node in the networked economy. Economies derive their power and influence from their connections to other cities, countries, and markets. And Houston is one of the more connected. It is one of the global capitals of the energy and energy services industries. Yes, there’s a degree to which consumption and other economic activity that is forestalled or foregone during a flood is consumption and economic activity deferred. And cleanup efforts tend to be additive to local economies. But in today’s economy, a lot of value can easily be destroyed very quickly.

With only a small portion of the housing stock carrying flood insurance, billions of dollars in property will simply be destroyed and not immediately replaced. People who get paid by the hour, or who work for themselves, won’t be able to make up for the income they’re losing a few weeks from now. Hotel rooms and airplane seats are perishable goods—once canceled, they can’t simply be rescheduled. Refineries won’t be able to make up all the time offline—they can’t run more than 24 hours per day. And given that supply chains rely on a huge number of shipments making their connections with precision, the disruption to the region’s shipping, trucking, and rail infrastructure will have far-reaching effects. If you’re a business in Oklahoma or New Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance the goods you are importing or exporting pass through the Port of Houston.

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Sorry, Naomi, but you can’t take individual events and blame them on cllmate change. The system is far too complex for that. We must stick to science, not lose ourselves in assumptions.

Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue (Naomi Klein)

Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices — from racial profiling to economic austerity — that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes. Turn on the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding and you’ll hear lots of talk about how unprecedented this kind of rainfall is. How no one saw it coming, so no one could adequately prepare. What you will hear very little about is why these kind of unprecedented, record-breaking weather events are happening with such regularity that “record-breaking” has become a meteorological cliche. In other words, you won’t hear much, if any, talk about climate change.

This, we are told, is out of a desire not to “politicize” a still unfolding human tragedy, which is an understandable impulse. But here’s the thing: every time we act as if an unprecedented weather event is hitting us out of the blue, as some sort of Act of God that no one foresaw, reporters are making a highly political decision. It’s a decision to spare feelings and avoid controversy at the expense of telling the truth, however difficult. Because the truth is that these events have long been predicted by climate scientists. Warmer oceans throw up more powerful storms. Higher sea levels mean those storms surge into places they never reached before. Hotter weather leads to extremes of precipitation: long dry periods interrupted by massive snow or rain dumps, rather than the steadier predictable patterns most of us grew up with.

The records being broken year after year — whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat — are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began. Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context. It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).

It’s also worth noting that the Harvey coverage has been highly political since well before the storm made landfall. There has been endless talk about whether Trump was taking the storm seriously enough, endless speculation about whether this hurricane will be his “Katrina moment” and a great deal of (fair) point-scoring about how many Republicans voted against Sandy relief but have their hands out for Texas now. That’s politics being made out of a disaster — it’s just the kind of partisan politics that is fully inside the comfort zone of conventional media, politics that conveniently skirts the reality that placing the interests of fossil fuel companies ahead of the need for decisive pollution control has been a deeply bipartisan affair.

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Wolf Richter with a whole series of US cities, all with record new highs. How people can keep saying there is no bubble in the US, I don’t know.

The US Cities with the Biggest Housing Bubbles (WS)

For the good folks who hope fervently that the Fed doesn’t have reasons to raise rates or unwind QE because there isn’t enough inflation, here is an update on one aspect of inflation – asset price inflation, and particularly house price inflation – where the value of your hard-earned dollars has collapsed over a given number of years to where it takes a whole lot more dollars to pay for the same house. So here are some visuals of amazing house price bubbles, city by city. Bubbles really aren’t hard to recognize, if you want to recognize them. What’s hard to predict accurately is when they will burst. Normally the Fed doesn’t want to acknowledge them. But now it has its eyes focused on them.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index for June was released today. It jumped 5.8% year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted, once again outpacing growth in household incomes, as it has done for years. At 192.6, the index has surpassed by 5% the peak in May 2006 of crazy Housing Bubble 1, which everyone called “housing bubble” after it imploded (data via FRED, St. Louis Fed). The Case-Shiller Index is based on a rolling-three month average; today’s release was for April, May, and June data. Instead of median prices, it uses “home price sales pairs,” for example, a house sold in 2011 and then again in 2017. Algorithms adjust this price movement and add other factors. The index was set at 100 for January 2000. An index value of 200 means prices have doubled in the past 17 years, which is what most of the metros in this series have accomplished, or are close to accomplishing.

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There is no easy way out for New Zealand.

“Crazy” House Prices Are Firing Up New Zealand’s Voters (BBG)

As ownership falls to the lowest since 1951, housing affordability is firing up voters ahead of New Zealand’s general election on Sept. 23. The government is under attack for failing to respond to price surges that have forced many to ditch their property dreams. New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has made housing a key issue, helping restore the main opposition party in opinion polls and leaving the election too close to call. “The government’s response has been too slow and inadequate for many because they’ve seen house prices rising very fast,” said Raymond Miller, professor of politics at Auckland University. “Some voters might well have a feeling of being let down by what they see as indifference to their plight. It’s the government’s Achilles’ heel.” Prices across New Zealand have risen 34% the past three years, fanned by record immigration, historically low interest rates and a supply shortage.

That’s seen the portion of owner-occupied properties slump to 63% of the nation’s 1.8 million homes in the second quarter, down from a peak of 74% in the early 1990s. In response, the ruling National Party has made more land available for development and increased deposit grants to first-home buyers. But it’s done little to curb immigration that’s added 201,000 to the population the past three years, while a policy of taxing profits on investment properties sold within two years of purchase has been criticized as too mild. Labour is pledging a more aggressive solution. It’s promising to ban property sales to non-resident foreigners who it says have fanned price pressures, and will extend the period in which investors will be subject to tax to five years. It wants to curb immigration, and plans to build 100,000 homes over 10 years and sell them at affordable prices.

“We’re going to get the government back into the business of building large numbers of affordable homes for first-home buyers like governments used to in this country,” Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford said in a Television New Zealand interview. “The government has had nine years and they’ve just tinkered around the edges.” Many New Zealanders are motivated to save for a home where they can bring up a family just as their parents and grandparents did. National will be wary that disillusioned home-buyers may turn their back on the party, thwarting its efforts to win a rare fourth term. No party has won an outright majority since the South Pacific nation introduced proportional representation in 1996. National had 44% support in a poll published Aug. 17. Labour had 37% but could get across the line with the additional support of ally the Green Party, which had 4%, and New Zealand First, which got 10%.

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I think the estimates are still low.

China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt (BBG)

Regional banks in China’s rust-belt provinces are driving the rapid expansion of shadow banking in the country, fueling a web of informal lending that poses wider risks to the financial system, according to a study by UBS. Smaller rust-belt banks like Bank of Tangshan Co. and Baoshang Bank have been using products such as trust beneficiary rights and directional asset-management plans to hide the true state of their bad loans and circumvent lending restrictions, the study by analyst Jason Bedford said. Others have been using the shadow loan instruments to diversify away from lending in their struggling home provinces, exposing themselves to a much wider spectrum of Chinese corporate risk in the event of a default, according to the report. By analyzing 237 Chinese banks, many of them small and unlisted regional lenders, Bedford casts a new spotlight on underground financing and the risks it poses to the nation’s $35 trillion banking industry.

Shadow loans grew almost 15% to 14.1 trillion yuan ($2.3 trillion) by December from a year earlier, equal to about 19% of economic output, he estimates. “This is a sleeper issue,” Bedford wrote. “The remarkable level of concentration in regional banks in rust-belt region banks, combined with evidence that these assets are increasingly being used to roll over loans to existing borrowers as well as being swapped between banks without a clear transfer of risk are alarming.” Accounting for this financing, Chinese banks’ nonperforming loans could be three times higher than the official published level, he said. By recording such lending under “investment receivables” rather than “loans” on their financial statements, banks were able to disguise what is in effect lending, to get around regulatory lending curbs or heavy reliance on wholesale funding.

Such financial engineering also enabled some lenders to overstate their capital adequacy ratios, understate nonperforming loans and reduce provision charges. [..] Bank of Tangshan is an unlisted lender in the struggling northeast city of the same name, which produces more steel than any other city around the world. The firm’s shadow loans grew 86% last year to a size equal to 308% of its formal book, the highest of any bank in China, according to Bedford’s report. Still, the bank reported a bad-loan ratio of just 0.05% last year, the lowest of any bank in UBS’ analysis, exemplifying the “distortion” shadow loan books create in assessing asset quality, Bedford said.

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How is this NOT criminal intent? Where are the indictments?

Homeowner’s Lawsuit Says Wells Fargo Charged Improper Mortgage Fees (R.)

A homeowner has filed a lawsuit accusing Wells Fargo of improperly charging thousands of customers nationwide to lock in interest rates when their mortgage applications were delayed. Filed on Monday in San Francisco federal court, the lawsuit said Wells Fargo managers pressured employees to blame homeowners for the delays, sometimes by falsely stating that paperwork was missing, so homeowners could be stuck with extra fees. Wells Fargo Spokesman Tom Goyda said the bank is reviewing past practices on rate lock extensions and will take steps for customers as appropriate. The lawsuit, which will request the court grant class action status, comes as Wells Fargo is trying to recover from a scandal last year when the bank was fined for opening accounts for customers without their authorization in order to boost sales figures.

Last month, a new lawsuit accused it of charging several hundred thousand borrowers for auto insurance they did not request. Monday’s lawsuit accuses the bank of violating state and federal consumer protection laws, including the U.S. Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and the U.S. Truth in Lending Act. Earlier this month, Wells Fargo disclosed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was investigating the fees the company charged to lock in interest rates for delayed mortgage loans. In a securities filing, the bank said it was working with regulators to see if customers had been harmed by the fees. Interest rate locks are guarantees by a lender to lock in a set interest rate, usually for several weeks, while a loan is processed. If the rate lock expires before a loan closes, lenders often cover the cost of extending the lock if the delay was their fault.

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Modi taking people’s incomes away. Reforms. Here’s thinking India is nowhere near ready for this.

The Battle for India’s $45 Billion Gold Industry Has Begun (BBG)

India’s past and future are colliding in Anand Ghugre’s family jewelry shop in Mumbai. “We still operate the way my father did for 50 years,” said Ghugre, 52, explaining that transactions were typically in cash and were not always recorded. “For small jewelers and the unorganized sector, most of our sales happen through personal connections. Sometimes they don’t want bills, but the jewelers can’t say no to them.” That way of doing business is under threat as the world’s second-largest gold market faces Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to bring India’s informal economy to book. About three quarters of the estimated $45 billion of the precious metal that is traded in the country each year makes its way through thousands of family-run jewelry shops that have catered for centuries to the nation’s love of gold.

Modi’s financial reforms, including demonetization and a new goods and services tax, combined with a younger generation that shops online, may usher in a wave of takeovers and mergers by big state-wide and national chains as small shops are swallowed up or close. “The one story that we hear is that the business is becoming problematic for smaller jewelers,” said Chirag Sheth at London-based precious metals consultancy Metals Focus. “The bigger jewelers have deeper pockets, they have larger shops, better designs and better margins. It is very difficult for a smaller guy to compete.” Modi in November banned higher denomination notes to bring unaccounted cash back into the system and introduced tougher proof of identity for purchases, capped the amount of cash used in transactions and topped it off with the uniform goods and services tax last month.

An overhaul of the fragmented industry is also on the cards with the government said to be planning a new policy on gold that will bolster confidence among consumers, where the gifting of gold at weddings and festivals or its purchase as a store of value are deeply held traditions. Fixing quality standards and allowing supply chains to be easily tracked are ways to enhance trust.

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Well, we can’t have that, can we?

US Defense Boost May Unravel Into a $65 Billion Cut (BBG)

U.S. national security funding may be slashed by about $65 billion in January as lawmakers forge ahead with a spending plan that collides with a budget ceiling under a six-year-old law. A $614 billion bill passed by the U.S. House in H.R. 3219 is caught in a political vise: President Donald Trump and most lawmakers want to see increases in Pentagon spending, yet that intention isn’t backed up by an agreement to undo the 2011 Budget Control Act. Without another budget agreement in place, the Defense Department faces automatic across-the-board cuts of 9% to 10% starting in mid-January, according to Chris Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman. That’s about $65 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Enforcement of the act’s caps are returning for the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 after they were adjusted in fiscal 2016 and 2017 for discretionary domestic and national security spending. That was the third time since the act passed that the limits were adjusted, in those cases for both defense and domestic discretionary spending. Trump wants to cut domestic spending while adding to defense, a proposal opposed by Democrats and many Republicans. If the mandatory cuts go ahead, they would be leveled across thousands of Pentagon programs. The White House would have the option of exempting military personnel funds from the automatic cuts, known as sequestration. Such cuts are likely because all of the pending congressional defense bills so far propose busting the cap of $549 billion in national security spending for fiscal year 2018, or $522 billion for the Pentagon alone.

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Cameron and Osborne and May have gutted the entire country.

England’s Fire Services Suffer 25% Cut To Safety Officers Numbers (G.)

Fire services in England have lost more than a quarter of their specialist fire safety staff since 2011, a Guardian investigation has found. Fire safety officers carry out inspections of high-risk buildings to ensure they comply with safety legislation and take action against landlords where buildings are found to be unsafe. Figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act showed the number of specialist staff in 26 fire services had fallen from 924 to 680, a loss of 244 officers between 2011 and 2017. Between 2011 and 2016, the government reduced its funding for fire services by between 26% and 39%, according to the National Audit Office, which in turn resulted in a 17% average real-terms reduction in spending power.

Warren Spencer, a fire safety lawyer, said the figures showed a “clear culture of complacency” about fire safety. “The government has tended to take the view that fewer people are dying in fires, fires occur less frequently, and therefore there’s no need to invest in fire prevention. So there’s been a total brain drain in fire safety knowledge and many experienced specialist officers have left the force,” he said. “But fire safety officers have been saying to me for years that one day, there would be a big fire in a multiple occupancy building, which would make everyone sit up and take notice of the lack of fire safety provision. Tragically, that’s what happened at Grenfell Tower.”

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As dividends keep being paid out.

UK’s Leading Companies’ Pension Deficit Rises To 70% Of Their Profits (G.)

The combined pension deficit of FTSE 350 companies has risen to £62bn, accounting for 70% of their profits. The deficit as a proportion of profits recorded for 2016 is higher than at any time since the financial crisis, following a £12bn rise since 2015. The 25% increase came in a second year of comparatively low profit for UK publicly listed companies. The deficit is the gap between the expected liabilities of pension commitments and the funds that companies hold to pay for pensions. While many have set aside billions in recent years, a trend towards rising life expectancy, combined with lower expectations for returns on investment, has put more pressure on pension schemes and seen the deficit grow. Actuaries have warned that even a slight fall in bond yields would see the pension deficit of the plcs outstrip their aggregate profits by 2019.

The figures, in a report from the actuarial consultancy Barnett Waddingham, show the deficit has risen sharply as a proportion of profits in the past five years, from 25% of the £214bn pre-tax profits of the FTSE 350 in 2011. Even in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009, the deficit was lower at 60%. For 21 plcs, the pensions shortfall is more than 10% of their value, which Barnett Waddingham described as alarming. However, the actuaries said recent data suggesting years of austerity had seen gains in UK life expectancy grind to a halt could provide “welcome respite for companies”. It showed that after a century in which the rate of increase in life expectancy had accelerated, the average age of death was levelling off at 79 for men and 83 for women.

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A discussion that must take place. But the political climate doesn’t lean towards nationalization. Besides, how do you nationalize companies that operate in many dozens of countries?

We Need To Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon (G.)

At the heart of platform capitalism is a drive to extract more data in order to survive. One way is to get people to stay on your platform longer. Facebook is a master at using all sorts of behavioural techniques to foster addictions to its service: how many of us scroll absentmindedly through Facebook, barely aware of it? Another way is to expand the apparatus of extraction. This helps to explain why Google, ostensibly a search engine company, is moving into the consumer internet of things (Home/Nest), self-driving cars (Waymo), virtual reality (Daydream/Cardboard), and all sorts of other personal services. Each of these is another rich source of data for the company, and another point of leverage over their competitors.

Others have simply bought up smaller companies: Facebook has swallowed Instagram ($1bn), WhatsApp ($19bn), and Oculus ($2bn), while investing in drone-based internet, e-commerce and payment services. It has even developed a tool that warns when a start-up is becoming popular and a possible threat. Google itself is among the most prolific acquirers of new companies, at some stages purchasing a new venture every week. The picture that emerges is of increasingly sprawling empires designed to vacuum up as much data as possible. But here we get to the real endgame: artificial intelligence (or, less glamorously, machine learning). Some enjoy speculating about wild futures involving a Terminator-style Skynet, but the more realistic challenges of AI are far closer.

In the past few years, every major platform company has turned its focus to investing in this field. As the head of corporate development at Google recently said, “We’re definitely AI first.” All the dynamics of platforms are amplified once AI enters the equation: the insatiable appetite for data, and the winner-takes-all momentum of network effects. And there is a virtuous cycle here: more data means better machine learning, which means better services and more users, which means more data. Currently Google is using AI to improve its targeted advertising, and Amazon is using AI to improve its highly profitable cloud computing business. As one AI company takes a significant lead over competitors, these dynamics are likely to propel it to an increasingly powerful position.

What’s the answer? We’ve only begun to grasp the problem, but in the past, natural monopolies like utilities and railways that enjoy huge economies of scale and serve the common good have been prime candidates for public ownership. The solution to our newfangled monopoly problem lies in this sort of age-old fix, updated for our digital age. It would mean taking back control over the internet and our digital infrastructure, instead of allowing them to be run in the pursuit of profit and power. Tinkering with minor regulations while AI firms amass power won’t do. If we don’t take over today’s platform monopolies, we risk letting them own and control the basic infrastructure of 21st-century society.

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Of course the headline said “populists”… Fixed that.

As Poverty Surges in Italy, Five Star Propose a ‘Citizens’ Income’ (BBG)

“Poverty will be center stage in the campaign,” says Giorgio Freddi, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Bologna. The populist Five Star Movement “has imposed the issue on national politics. The mainstream parties are being forced to play catch-up.” Five Star is a fast-growing group fueled by anger at the old political class. Three years ago the movement rode economic concerns to power in Livorno, ending 70 years of rule by the Communists and other left-leaning parties. The new mayor, a former engineer named Filippo Nogarin, introduced a €500 ($590) monthly subsidy to the disadvantaged. That idea is a key plank in Five Star’s national platform, and the group’s leaders have promised to quickly implement such a program if they take power. Beppe Grillo, the former television comedian who co-founded the party, says fighting poverty should be a top priority.

A basic income can “give people back their dignity,” Grillo’s blog declared in April. “The current government is ignoring millions of families in difficulty.” The Five Star program echoes universal basic income schemes being considered around the world. Finland in January started an experiment in which 2,000 unemployed people receive a stipend of €560 per month. And the Canadian province of Ontario this summer began trials in three cities in which individuals can get almost C$17,000 ($13,600) per year. Five Star’s version would give Italians below the poverty line as much as €780 a month. Recipients must perform several hours of community service each week and actively seek work, and they’d be cut off after rejecting three job offers. Five Star says the plan would cost €17 billion a year, funded in part by spending cuts as well as tax hikes on banks, insurance companies, and gambling.

Opinion polls show Five Star neck and neck with the Democratic Party, led by ex-Premier Matteo Renzi, and a center-right bloc including Forza Italia, the party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi. To keep Five Star from dominating the debate, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally, has approved a less ambitious plan he calls “the first universal tool against poverty.” The scheme, dubbed “inclusion income,” would give 1.7 million people as much as €485 a month as long as they’re actively seeking work, at a cost of about €2 billion a year. With industrial output down by about 25% from 2008 to 2013 in Italy’s worst postwar recession, either plan could be helpful, says Giuseppe Di Taranto, a professor of economic history at Rome’s Luiss University. “We lost lots of jobs, and poverty has risen so much that we’ve got to experiment.”

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More of the same. But the anti-EU, anti-globalization mood is obvious: “77% of the people questioned in a recent poll could see no advantage to them at all from the country’s membership in the European Union.” While Macron and Merkel are planning a lot more EU. And claiming that the EU is doing fine.

Why Every European Country Has A Trump Or Sanders Candidate (Drake)

As a result of the methods used to promote globalization, the consequences for the West have been tragic. Work is becoming increasingly uncertain and insecure, or it is in the process of disappearing altogether. It would take Veblen’s talents for social satire, which are unsurpassed in all of American literature, to depict with the essential exactitude of artistic synthesis how far the United States has fallen away from democratic grace, the country’s dramatically widening gap between the haves and the have-nots being what it is. Clearly, we are on the wrong course. What the robotics revolution, now at an incipient stage, will do to further diminish opportunities for Western peoples to work can be easily imagined, if the economic imperative of corporate capitalism is the rule to go by.

The same desolating trends can be seen in Europe, where people increasingly regard the European Union as a Trojan horse. The economic elites and their political front-men responsible for this image-challenged contraption lose public support with each new poll. The people by and large blame the European Union and the other accessories of globalization for their worsening standard of living. When informed by the establishment media that thanks to globalization Europe has never been more prosperous and peaceful, Europeans in historic numbers are reacting with disbelief. Their deepening sense of betrayal propels the surge of populism that defines the politics of Europe today. Arguments long-settled in favor of deregulation, liberalization, open borders, and other globalization watchwords have been reopened.

The constituency is growing for a politics that puts the well-being of Europeans first. Political measures calling for the protection of European jobs and cultures have gained a following unforeseen prior to 2008. In Italy, for example, 77% of the people questioned in a recent poll could see no advantage to them at all from the country’s membership in the European Union. 64% of them expressed hostility toward it. Eight Italian businesses out of 10 can find nothing positive to say about the European Union. It is seen to be a creature of the banks and the big financial houses. As public relations disasters go, this one has unfolded on an epic scale as the underlying populations, long left out of consideration by the economic elites, have begun to sense the fate their masters have in store for them.

Leaving underlying populations out of consideration was a special feature of the planning that went into globalization. They have been voiceless. In America, Trump gave them a voice, and they responded to him with their political support. It did not matter that he came before them without a plan for their deliverance. That he came to them at all mattered. He understood the depth of the anger and alienation in America against a status quo personified by his opponent, Hillary Clinton, whose repeated and munificently rewarded speeches before the captains of finance on Wall Street effectively branded her as the safe candidate for all who wanted to leave existing economic arrangements fundamentally undisturbed.

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Aug 012017
 
 August 1, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Paul Cézanne Young Italian Woman at a Table c1900

 

How Can The Richest Nation On Earth Be Lagging So Far Behind Its Peers? (BBG)
With LIBOR Dead, $400 Trillion In Assets Are Stuck In Limbo (ZH)
Amazon And The 110% Surge In US Retail Bankruptcies (ZH)
No Bubble in Stocks But Look Out When Bonds Pop, Greenspan Says (BBG)
Trump Got This One Right: Shutting Down The CIA’s Ghost War In Syria (WS)
The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party (David Stockman)
Pentagon Offers To Arm Ukraine, McCain Delighted (ZH)
Killing Them is Killing Us (Robert Gore)
Scaramucci’s China Dealings Pushed Him Out Of White House – Rickards (CNBC)
Unsecured UK Consumer Credit Tops £200 Billion For First Time Since 2008 (G.)
Moody’s Warns Of Growing UK Household Debt As Brexit Downturn Looms (Ind.)
Facebook AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Future (F.)
Narratives Are Not Truths (Jim Kunstler)
Aid Groups Snub Italian Code Of Conduct On Mediterranean Rescues (G.)

 

 

I blame Darwin.

How Can The Richest Nation On Earth Be Lagging So Far Behind Its Peers? (BBG)

What do the economists at the IMF see when they look at the U.S.? An economy in the midst of a long expansion (“its third longest expansion since 1850”), with “persistently strong” job growth, “subdued” inflation and something close to “full employment.” But also this: For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the U.S. with other advanced economies. The IMF then goes on to compare the U.S. with 23 other advanced economies in the OECD in this chart:

[..] the overall point is that the U.S. has been losing ground relative to other OECD members in most measures of living standards. 1 And in the areas where the U.S. hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the U.S. – the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita – is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go. This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. Another IMF report released last week, an update to its World Economic Outlook that downgraded short-term growth forecasts for the U.S. and U.K., got a lot more attention. But the consultation report is more interesting.

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With Libor shut down to prevent revelations of involvement in manipulation by ‘higher-ups’, what will these same ‘higher-ups’ opt to use instead? Who has the political clout to make the decisions?

They better hurry: “moving an existing $9.6 trillion retail mortgage market, $3.5 trillion commercial real estate market, $3.4 trillion loan market and a $350 trillion derivatives market is a herculean task.”

With LIBOR Dead, $400 Trillion In Assets Are Stuck In Limbo (ZH)

In an unexpected announcement, earlier this week the U.K.’s top regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority which is tasked with overseeing Libor, announced that the world’s most important, and manipulated, benchmark rate will be phased out by 2021, catching countless FX, credit, derivative, and other traders by surprise because while much attention had been given to possible LIBOR alternatives across the globe (in a time when the credibility of the Libor was non-existent) this was the first time an end date had been suggested for the global benchmark, which as we explained on Thursday, had died from disuse over the past 5 years.

Commenting on the decision, NatWest Markets’ Blake Gwinn told Bloomberg that the decision was largely inevitable: “There had never been an answer as to how you get market participants to adopt a new benchmark. It was clear at some point authorities were going to force them. The FCA can compel people to participate in Libor. What can ICE do if they’ve lost the ability to get banks to submit Libor rates?” And while the rationale for replacing Libor is well understood (for those unfamiliar, read David Enrich’s “The Spider Network”), there are still no clear alternatives. Ultimately, as Bank of America calculates, “moving an existing $9.6 trillion retail mortgage market, $3.5 trillion commercial real estate market, $3.4 trillion loan market and a $350 trillion derivatives market is a herculean task.”

And with nearly half a quadrillion dollar in securities referncing a benchmark that is set to expire in under 5 years, the biggest problem is one of continuity: as Bloomberg calculated last week, in addition to the hundreds of trillion in referencing securities, there is also currently an open interest of 170,000 eurodollar futures contracts expiring in 2022 and beyond – contracts that settle into a benchmark that will no longer exist. “What are existing contract holders and market makers supposed to do?” Then there is the question of succession: with over $300 trillion in derivative trades, and countless billions in floating debt contracts, referening Libor, the pressing question is what will replace it, and how will the transition be implemented seamlessly?

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Tech monopolies are devastating economies.

Amazon And The 110% Surge In US Retail Bankruptcies (ZH)

As Amazon flirts with a $500 billion market cap, letting Jeff Bezos try on the title of world’s richest man on for size if only for a few hours, for Amazon’s competitors it’s “everything must go” day everyday, as the bad news in the retail sector continue to pile up with the latest Fitch report that the default rate for distressed retailers spiked again in July. According to the rating agency, the trailing 12-month high-yield default rate among U.S. retailers rose to 2.9% in mid-July from 1.8% at the end of June, after J. Crew completed a $566 million distressed-debt exchange. Meanwhile, with the shale sector flooded with Wall Street’s easy money, the overall high-yield default rate tumbled to 1.9% in the same period from 2.2% at the end of June as $4.7 billion of defaulted debt – mostly in the energy sector – rolled out of the default universe.

In a note, Fitch levfin sr. director Eric Rosenthal, said that “even with energy prices languishing in the mid $40s, a likely iHeart bankruptcy and retail remaining the sector of concern, the broader default environment remains benign.” He’s right: after the energy sector dominated bankruptcies in the first half of 2016, accounting for 21% of Chapter 11 cases, in H1 2017 the worst two sectors for bankruptcies are financials and consumer discretionary. And if recent trends are an indication, the latter will only get worse as Fitch expects Claire’s, Sears Holdings and Nine West all to default by the end of the year, pushing the default rate to 9%. “The timing on Sears and Claire’s is more uncertain, and our retail forecast would end the year at 5% absent these filings,” Rosenthal wrote. Putting the retail sector woes in context, Reorg First Day has calculated that retail bankruptcies soared 110% in the first half from the year-earlier period, accounting for $6 billion in debt.

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Oracle dementia.

No Bubble in Stocks But Look Out When Bonds Pop, Greenspan Says (BBG)

Equity bears hunting for excess in the stock market might be better off worrying about bond prices, Alan Greenspan says. That’s where the actual bubble is, and when it pops, it’ll be bad for everyone. “By any measure, real long-term interest rates are much too low and therefore unsustainable,” the former Federal Reserve chairman said in an interview. “When they move higher they are likely to move reasonably fast. We are experiencing a bubble, not in stock prices but in bond prices. This is not discounted in the marketplace.” While the consensus of Wall Street forecasters is still for low rates to persist, Greenspan isn’t alone in warning they will break higher quickly as the era of global central-bank monetary accommodation ends.

Deutsche Bank’s Binky Chadha says real Treasury yields sit far below where actual growth levels suggest they should be. Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, says it’s only a matter of time before inflationary pressures hit the bond market. “The real problem is that when the bond-market bubble collapses, long-term interest rates will rise,” Greenspan said. “We are moving into a different phase of the economy – to a stagflation not seen since the 1970s. That is not good for asset prices.” Stocks, in particular, will suffer with bonds, as surging real interest rates will challenge one of the few remaining valuation cases that looks more gently upon U.S. equity prices, Greenspan argues. While hardly universally accepted, the theory underpinning his view, known as the Fed Model, holds that as long as bonds are rallying faster than stocks, investors are justified in sticking with the less-inflated asset.

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How on earth can Obama and Hillary have supported this?

Trump Got This One Right: Shutting Down The CIA’s Ghost War In Syria (WS)

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program. The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.

Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether. On July 19, the Washington Post broke the news of Trump’s decision: “a move long sought by Russia,” the paper’s headline blared. Politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly howled in protest, claiming that Trump’s decision was a surrender to Vladimir Putin.

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I said it before: Stockman’s had enough.

The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party (David Stockman)

Most of the Donald’s tweets amount to street brawling with his political enemies, but occasionally one of them slices through Imperial Washington’s sanctimonious cant. Indeed, Monday evening’s 140 characters of solid cut right to the bone: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..” Needless to say, we are referencing not the dig at the empire of Bezos, but the characterization of Washington’s anti-Assad policy as “massive, dangerous and wasteful”. No stouter blow to the neocon/Deep State “regime change” folly has ever been issued by an elected public official. Yet there it is – the self-composed words of the man in the Oval Office. It makes you even want to buy some Twitter stock! Predictably, the chief proponent of illegal, covert, cowardly attacks on foreign governments via proxies, mercenaries, drones and special forces, Senator McWar of Arizona, fairly leapt out of his hospital bed to denounce the President’s action: “If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

That’s just plain pathetic because the issue is the gross stupidity and massive harm that has been done by McCain’s personally inspired and directed war on Assad – not Putin and not Russia’s historic role as an ally of the Syrian regime. Since 2011, Senator McCain has been to the region countless times. There he has made it his business to strut about in the manner of an imperial proconsul – advising, organizing and directing a CIA recruited, trained and supplied army of rebels dedicated to the overthrow of Syria’s constitutionally legitimate government. At length, several billions were spent on training and arms, thereby turning a fleeting popular uprising against the despotic Assad regime during the 2011 “Arab spring” into the most vicious, destructive civil war of modern times, if ever. That is, without the massive outside assistance of Washington, Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Syrian uprising would have been snuffed out as fast as it was in Egypt and Bahrain by dictators which had Washington’s approval and arms.

As it has happened, however, Syria’s great historic cities of Aleppo and Damascus have been virtually destroyed – along with its lesser towns and villages and nearly the entirety of its economy. There are 400,000 dead and 11 million internal and external refugees from an original population of hardly 18 million. The human toll of death, displacement, disease and disorder which has been inflicted on this hapless land staggers the imagination. Yet at bottom this crime against humanity – there is no other word for it – is not mainly Assad’s or Putin’s doing. It can be properly described as “McCain’s War” in the manner in which (Congressman) Charlie Wilson’s War in Afghanistan during the 1980’s created the monster which became Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

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And of course they just go on.

Pentagon Offers To Arm Ukraine, McCain Delighted (ZH)

The WSJ reports that, in what appears to be the next gambit by the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex (or “deep state” for those so inclined) to force Trump to “prove” that he did not, in fact, collude or have any ties with Russia or Vladimir Putin, Pentagon and State Department officials have devised plans to hit Russia where it hurts the most, and supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry, and are now seeking White House approval at a time when ties between Moscow and Washington are as bad as during any point under the Obama administration. American military officials and diplomats say the arms, which they characterized as defensive, are meant to deter aggressive actions by Moscow, which the U.S. and others say has provided tanks and other sophisticated armaments as well as military advisers to rebels fighting the Kiev government.

The question of course is, “why now?” Since the start of the Crimean conflict, which in turn was the byproduct of a State Department-facilitiated presidential coup in Ukraine, the US has been supporting Russian-speaking insurgents in the country’s east however Washington, wary of escalating the conflict, has largely limited its support for Kiev’s military to so-called non-lethal aid and training. So one attempt at “why now”, is because with Trump reeling, and having already caved on the latest Congressional anti-Russia bill, why not push the president to escalate the Russia conflict to a point where not even his predecessor dared to take it. For now, Trump is unaware of the plan: “A senior administration official said there has been no decision on the armaments proposal and it wasn’t discussed at a high-level White House meeting on Russia last week. The official said President Donald Trump hasn’t been briefed on the plan and his position isn’t known.”

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“The blood never washes away.”

Killing Them is Killing Us (Robert Gore)

There is something eerily fascinating about cold-blooded murderers – a staple of Hollywood thrillers and crime dramas—killing without emotion or remorse. Ordinary humans, afflicted with guilt for minor, not even criminal transgressions, can’t conceive of pulling the trigger and then sitting down for dinner. In real life, the number of people who can is glancingly small. Even for those few, actions have consequences. The blood never washes away. “Live and let live,” is, in American mythology, a benevolent and almost uniquely American attitude. We destroyed Japan and Germany in World War II and then helped rebuild them. Live and let live goes down well with the living, the winners. However, it’s often nothing more than balm for an uneasy conscience, hand sanitizer for bloodstained hands.

A century and a half later, many Southerners lack this “unique” American attitude towards their conquerers in the War of Northern Aggression. The war on terror has laid waste to large swaths of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Cities, towns, and villages have been reduced to smoking, bombed-out rubble, chaos reigns, the carnage is ubiquitous. The US military keeps count of its own personnel wounded and killed, a number in the thousands. Civilian casualties —or collateral damage as the military calls it—across Chaostan (Richard Maybury’s apt coinage) are in the millions, as are the number of people displaced (an estimated 11 million in Syria alone).

Imagine the American fury and media sensationalism if a small US town was carpet-bombed by a foreign power. YouTube’s servers would melt from the overflow of viewers watching videos of parents pulling their dead children from collapsed homes. The war on terror’s refugee flows threaten to upend civic order and submerge the cultures of the countries receiving them. It’s a vicious act of intellectual corruption to maintain that the war on terror does not create terrorists, that those killed, wounded, or displaced have no friends or family who will exact what they consider justified vengeance. The terrorism we see now is lava trickling from a volcano of hatred that has boiled, bubbled, and occasionally erupted for centuries, and will continue to do so. There will be no live and let live. Blood will have blood, not banalities.

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A different perspective.

Scaramucci’s China Dealings Pushed Him Out Of White House – Rickards (CNBC)

The abrupt dismissal of White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci less than two weeks after his appointment may be linked to the outspoken financier’s China dealings. The firing has been widely attributed to Scaramucci’s verbal tirade to a reporter in addition to orders from new chief of staff John F. Kelly. But there’s a third issue that may have played into the decision, Jim Rickards, editor of investment newsletter Strategic Intelligence, told CNBC. The sale of Scaramucci’s hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, to HNA Capital, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, was a red flag for Washington, according to Rickards. The acquisition, which was finalized in January and reportedly values SkyBridge at around $200 million, is currently pending approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – or CFIUS – a government panel that reviews foreign purchases of American companies for national security risks.

Officially chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, CFIUS involves multiple U.S. agencies, including the defense, commerce and state departments. Rickards, who previously worked with intelligence officials on CFIUS regarding foreign acquisitions of U.S. financial services firms, said he believes the Skybridge deal was “a sleeper story waiting to come back to haunt the White House.” HNA’s purchase is likely to get rejected amid concerns of Chinese control over U.S. hedge funds and investment banks — a decision that wouldn’t bode well for President Donald Trump’s administration, he said. “My recommendation would have been for CFIUS to turn the deal down…we had always warned ‘don’t let our adversaries such as China or Russia get plugged into the U.S. financial system’…When I was involved, this deal would have not gone through,” he said.

“In some ways, the White House is probably relieved to get rid of Scaramucci because now, no matter what happens to that deal, that burden won’t be with the White House,” Rickards continued. “Using the [New Yorker] interview was great cover to get rid of Scaramucci before the hedge fund deal and national security review blew up in his face.”

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Oh well, someone will always say it’s because of confidence…

Unsecured UK Consumer Credit Tops £200 Billion For First Time Since 2008 (G.)

The financial watchdog has announced fresh measures to protect consumers from spiralling debt as official data showed that borrowing through credit cards, overdrafts and car loans has topped £200bn for the first time since the global financial crisis. The Financial Conduct Authority said it was cracking down on the high cost of overdrafts and reviewing the booming car loan market. The regulator’s latest intervention came as credit ratings agency Moody’s also warned about the growing household debt mountain, saying that some borrowers would struggle to repay their debt as the economy weakened and inflation ate into their salaries. Unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and overdrafts, peaked in the autumn of 2008 – just as the banking crisis was taking hold.

It fell in subsequent years, but has been rising again since 2014 and is now in touching distance of the pre-crisis lending boom. Data from the Bank of England on Monday showed that it grew by 10% in the year to June, to almost £201bn. The last time outstanding debt was above £200bn was December 2008. In a paper published on Monday, the FCA said that one in six people with debt on credit cards, personal lending and car loans – 2.2 million – were in financial distress. They are more likely to be younger, have children, be unemployed and less educated than others. As households grapple with rising living costs, charities and policymakers have raised concerns that consumers are increasingly turning to loans amid worrying signs of a return to reckless lending by the banks.

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… but in reality it’s not confidence, but poverty that rules Britannia.

Moody’s Warns Of Growing UK Household Debt As Brexit Downturn Looms (Ind.)

A credit rating agency has warned that soaring levels of household debt could leave Britain’s lower-income families dangerously exposed amid signs of an economic downturn linked to Brexit. Moody’s said the UK’s weak economic climate meant it had to downgrade four of the five consumer finance sectors to negative. The agency’s warning over credit came as the Bank of England revealed that the amount borrowed by UK consumers through credit cards, loans and overdrafts had reached £200bn for the first time since the financial crash of 2008. Inflation, triggered by the low pound, is now rising faster than wage growth and has put growing pressure on households, squeezing budgets and causing credit card spending to increase and savings to fall.

In this context, the Bank of England has expressed concerns over surging levels of unsecured consumer borrowing on credit cards, which is going up by more than 10 per cent a year and outstripping income. Moody’s analyst Greg Davies said: “Household debt is high and still growing, leaving consumers vulnerable to an economic downturn, while higher inflation, weaker wage growth and levels of indebtedness leaves those in lower-income brackets the most exposed. “An additional challenge is that households’ capacity to draw on savings to maintain consumption and/or service their consumer debts has significantly diminished.” The credit rating agency has also warned in recent weeks of the potential economic damage if the UK fails to secure an exit trade deal with the EU.

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“Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.”

Facebook AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Future (F.)

Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence engine after developers discovered that the AI had created its own unique language that humans can’t understand. Researchers at the Facebook AI Research Lab (FAIR) found that the chatbots had deviated from the script and were communicating in a new language developed without human input. It is as concerning as it is amazing – simultaneously a glimpse of both the awesome and horrifying potential of AI. Artificial Intelligence is not sentient—at least not yet. It may be someday, though – or it may approach something close enough to be dangerous. Ray Kurzweil warned years ago about the technological singularity. The Oxford dictionary defines “the singularity” as, “A hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.”

To be clear, we aren’t really talking about whether or not Alexa is eavesdropping on your conversations, or whether Siri knows too much about your calendar and location data. There is a massive difference between a voice-enabled digital assistant and an artificial intelligence. These digital assistant platforms are just glorified web search and basic voice interaction tools. The level of “intelligence” is minimal compared to a true machine learning artificial intelligence. Siri and Alexa can’t hold a candle to IBM’s Watson. Scientists and tech luminaries, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak have warned that AI could lead to tragic unforeseen consequences. Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned in 2014 that AI could mean the end of the human race. “It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Why is this scary? Think SKYNET from Terminator, or WOPR from War Games. Our entire world is wired and connected. An artificial intelligence will eventually figure that out – and figure out how to collaborate and cooperate with other AI systems. Maybe the AI will determine that mankind is a threat, or that mankind is an inefficient waste of resources – conclusions that seems plausible from a purely logical perspective.

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Racketeering.

Narratives Are Not Truths (Jim Kunstler)

The American polity is not thriving. It has been incrementally failing to meet its needs for quite a while now, playing games with itself to pretend that it is okay while its institutional organs and economic operations decay. It turns this way and that way ever more desperately, over-steering like a drunk on the highway. It is drunk on the untruths it tells itself in the service of playing games to avoid meeting its real needs. Narratives are not truths. Here is a primary question we might ask ourselves: do we want to live in a healthy society? Do we want to thrive? If so, what are the narratives standing in the way of turning us in the direction? Let’s start with health care, so called, since the failure to do anything about the current disastrous system is so fresh. What’s the narrative there?

That “providers” (doctors and hospitals) can team up with banking operations called “insurance companies” to fairly allocate “services” to the broad population with a little help from the government. No, that’s actually not how it works. The three “players” actually engage in a massive racketeering matrix — that is, they extract enormous sums of money dishonestly from the public they pretend to serve and they do it twice: once by extortionary fees and again by taxes paid to subsidize mitigating the effects of the racketeering. The public has its own narrative, which is that there is no connection between their medical problems and the way they live. The fact is that they eat too much poisonous food because it’s tasty and fun, and they do that because the habits-of-life that they have complicitly allowed to ev0lve in this country offers them paltry rewards otherwise.

They dwell in ugly, punishing surroundings, spend too much time and waste too much money driving cars around it in isolation, and have gone along with every effort to dismantle the armatures of common social exchange that afford what might be called a human dimension of everyday living. So, the medical racket ends up being nearly 20 percent of the economy, while the public gets fatter, sicker, and more anxiously depressed. And there is no sign that we want to disrupt the narratives.

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Well, they got the NGOs fighting each other now. Mission accomplished.

Aid Groups Snub Italian Code Of Conduct On Mediterranean Rescues (G.)

Five aid groups that operate migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean have refused to sign up to the Italian government’s code of conduct, the Interior Ministry said, but three others backed the new rules. Charity boats have become increasingly important in rescue operations, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore so far this year against less than one percent in 2014, according to the Italian coastguard. Italy, fearing that the groups were facilitating people smuggling from North Africa and encouraging migrants to make the perilous passage to Europe, proposed a code containing around a dozen points for the charities. Those who refused to sign the document had put themselves “outside the organised system of sea rescues, with all the concrete consequences that can have”, the ministry said.

Italy had previously threatened to shut its ports to NGOs that did not sign up, but an source within the Interior Ministry said that in reality those groups would face more checks from Italian authorities. Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has taken part in many of the rescues of the 95,000 migrants brought to Italy this year, attended a meeting at the Interior Ministry but refused to sign the code. MSF objected most strongly to a requirement that aid boats must take migrants to a safe port themselves, rather than transferring people to other vessels, which allows smaller boats to stay in the area for further rescues. “Our vessels are often overwhelmed by the high number of [migrant] boats … and life and death at sea is a question of minutes,” MSF Italy’s director, Gabriele Eminente, wrote in a letter to the interior minister, Marco Minniti.

“The code of conduct puts at risk this fragile equation of collaboration between different boats,” he continued, adding that MSF still wanted to work with the ministry to improve sea rescues. [..] “For us, the most controversial point … was the commitment to help the Italian police with their investigations and possibly take armed police officers on board,” Jugend Rettet coordinator Titus Molkenbur said. “That is antithetical to the humanitarian principles of neutrality that we adhere to, and we cannot be seen as being part of the conflict.”

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Jul 192017
 
 July 19, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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US photographer Margaret Bourke-White on top of the Chrysler Building, NYC 1931

 

America Makes China Great Again – People’s Daily (CNBC)
Pentagon Report Declares US Empire ‘Collapsing’ (Nafeez Ahmed)
A Government Can Always Afford High-Quality Health Care Provision (BIlbo)
US Dollar Will Rebound In The Second Half Of 2017 – JPMorgan (CNBC)
Foreigners Snap Up Record Number Of US Homes (CNBC)
Big Australian Banks Told To Hold More Capital, On Notice Over Mortgages (R.)
One Million Homes Left Empty Across Australia (SMH)
In Urban China, Nobody Uses Cash Or Cards Anymore (NYT)
Survivors Of 9/11 Urge May To Release Saudi Arabia Terror Report (Ind.)
West Virginians Are Fighting To Save Their Neighbors From Opioids (NewYorker)
This Isn’t the First US Opiate-Addiction Crisis (BBG)
A Despot In Disguise: One Man’s Mission To Rip Up Democracy (Monbiot)
Italy Mulls Temporary Humanitarian Visas For Migrants, Refugees (G.)

 

 

If I were Beijing, I’d be a tad worried about the implication that Chine needs the US to be great again.

America Makes China Great Again – People’s Daily (CNBC)

A Communist Party mouthpiece is crowing that malfunctioning U.S. leadership is making China “great again” on the eve of highly anticipated bilateral trade talks between the two countries. The op-ed published in the People’s Daily said the U.S. was in political chaos and suffered from a broken system, which was why Washington couldn’t get anything done. It also claimed the U.S. mess was giving China an opportunity to shine. “U.S. foreign policy is in total disarray, and world regard for the U.S. has plummeted. Indeed, America is making China ‘great again,'” the op-ed said. “Once the world’s model, the great American meltdown has turned the U.S. into some bizarre soap opera.” This isn’t the first time China has piggybacked off an American saying — remember President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” slogan?

This time around, the tone is a bit sharper, with Chinese state media not backing down ahead of annual bilateral talks that have been rebranded this year as the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue. Although both Beijing and Washington have indicated they understand the need to play nice, both sides are pushing their own agenda as expected. The U.S. wants to reduce the more than $300 billion trade deficit with China and make good on a campaign promise from President Donald Trump to pressure China on a number of fronts, such as opening up its markets to more foreign participation and to bring jobs back to America. China, on the other hand, has pushed back, saying Chinese investment has helped the U.S. But it’s clear that as the U.S. continues to face political turmoil, China is enjoying its time in the spotlight. That is, Beijing is explicitly seeking to fill the void the U.S. left as it backed out of various multilateral talks and agreements…

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Got the money? Got the money? Show me the money!

Pentagon Report Declares US Empire ‘Collapsing’ (Nafeez Ahmed)

An extraordinary new Pentagon study has concluded that the US-backed international order established after World War 2 is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing”, leading the United States to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs. The solution proposed to protect US power in this new “post-primacy” environment is, however, more of the same: more surveillance, more propaganda (“strategic manipulation of perceptions”) and more military expansionism. The document concludes that the world has entered a fundamentally new phase of transformation in which US power is in decline, international order is unravelling, and the authority of governments everywhere is crumbling. Having lost its past status of “pre-eminence”, the US now inhabits a dangerous, unpredictable “post-primacy” world, whose defining feature is “resistance to authority”.

Danger comes not just from great power rivals like Russia and China, both portrayed as rapidly growing threats to American interests, but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events. These will erupt not just in the Middle East, but all over the world, potentially undermining trust in incumbent governments for the foreseeable future. The report, based on a year-long intensive research process involving consultation with key agencies across the Department of Defense and US Army, calls for the US government to invest in more surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” US military.

[..] Observing that US officials “naturally feel an obligation to preserve the US global position within a favorable international order,” the report concludes that this “rules-based global order that the United States built and sustained for 7 decades is under enormous stress.” The report provides a detailed breakdown of how the DoD perceives this order to be rapidly unravelling, with the Pentagon being increasingly outpaced by world events. Warning that “global events will happen faster than DoD is currently equipped to handle”, the study concludes that the US “can no longer count on the unassailable position of dominance, supremacy, or pre-eminence it enjoyed for the 20-plus years after the fall of the Soviet Union.” So weakened is US power, that it can no longer even “automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.”

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I can’t really do Bill Mitchell justice in this format, but the health care debate badly needs views such as his.

A Government Can Always Afford High-Quality Health Care Provision (BIlbo)

The US is the only advanced nation that lacks universal health care. Even though it is the world’s richest nation, millions of US citizens cannot afford to see a doctor much less acquire more complex health care (for example, surgery). It it clear that in seeking private profits, the private health care insurers drive up the cost of health care which means, in nominal terms, the proportion of GDP expenditure devoted to it will rise. It is quite obvious that when private profits are included costs will rise unless efficiency is vastly improved. The ‘free market (not!)’ lobby always appeal to arguments that competitive systems are always more effective. The Commonwealth Report shows emphatically that strong (dare we call them socialist) government-dominated universal care systems like the NHS are vastly more effective than the profit-driven US system.

There also doesn’t seem to be any reason for private insurance in health care at all. And it is here that we enounter the ‘funding’ myths. Too often health care debates get stuck in irrelevant fiscal arguments about whether the government can afford to expand and/or invest in health care. The justification for private insurance is usually predicated on these ‘governments cannot afford’ to pay for the system type arguments. They are fallacious of course. In the pursuit of profits, private health insurance providers have an incentive to move towards the US model where they seek to avoid payment and set up exclusions etc. There is no ‘funding’ reason for the existence of these private insurance providers. The NHS in the UK demonstrates that clearly.

There has clearly been a strong private health industry lobby to privatise as much of the health care system as possible in places like Australia and the UK, where there are good fully-funded public systems of universal health care operating. That lobby has been powerful in the US and continually claims there will be a fiscal blow out and Americans will live in high-taxed penury forever because some latinos or blacks are getting health care for the first time as a result of the Obama changes. From a MMT perspective, the fiscal component of the debate is irrelevant.

The fiscal beat-up is framed in terms of ‘adding heavy costs’ to the ‘budget’ such that their will be soaring deficits, which will penalise future generations etc etc. What is a heavy cost? What is a soaring deficit? These are irrelevant concepts devoid of meaning. Any sophisticated society will deem health care to be a human right. The constitution of the World Health Organisation says: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without the distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” The hallmark of a sophisticated nation is maximising the potential of its citizens. That must include placing health care under the responsibility of the currency-issuing government.

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Line of the day: “Some market observers have said that a weaker dollar can help to boost earnings of S&P 500 companies and eventually justify their high valuations.”

US Dollar Will Rebound In The Second Half Of 2017 – JPMorgan (CNBC)

The current weakness in the U.S. dollar may be short lived, as a pick-up in inflation and expected rate hikes by the Federal Reserve will support the greenback in the coming months, JPMorgan Asset Management said Wednesday. “We’re thinking that the dollar will actually rebound in the second half, and this is mainly as the markets re-price in interest rates hike. We’re of the view that inflation will actually be picking up in the U.S. and currently, markets have only priced in one rate hike now till end-2018,” Jasslyn Yeo, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC’s “Street Signs.” “So, we think (markets) are going to do a bit of re-pricing and that will support a bit of a rebound in the dollar,” she added.

The U.S. dollar tumbled to a 10-month low on Tuesday after the Republican health-care bill aimed at replacing Obamacare failed to get enough backing to proceed to a debate. Some market observers have said that a weaker dollar can help to boost earnings of S&P 500 companies and eventually justify their high valuations. But Yeo said equity markets outside the U.S., such as Europe and Japan, have more upside potential. Yeo noted that margins in Europe are starting to improve and that could translate into stronger earnings growth, while Japan is likely to benefit from a weaker yen versus the U.S. dollar. “We still like certain spots in the U.S. market. Currently we still favor U.S. banks, which we like in terms of rate hike expectations, bond yields moving higher as well as the promise for financial deregulation in the banking system,” she said.

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Sell it all off, who cares?

Foreigners Snap Up Record Number Of US Homes (CNBC)

Foreign purchases of U.S. residential real estate surged to the highest level ever in terms of number of homes sold and dollar volume. Foreign buyers closed on $153 billion worth of U.S. residential properties between April 2016 and March 2017, a 49% jump from the period a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. That surpasses the previous high, set in 2015. The jump follows a year-earlier retreat and comes as a surprise, given the current strength of the U.S. dollar against most foreign currencies, which makes U.S. housing even more expensive. Apparently, the value of a financial safe-haven is outweighing the rising costs. Foreign sales accounted for 10% of all existing home sales by dollar volume and 5% by number of properties. In total, foreign buyers purchased 284,455 homes, up 32% from the previous year.

Half of all foreign sales were in just three states: Florida, California and Texas. Chinese buyers led the pack for the fourth straight year, followed by buyers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and India. Russian buyers made up barely 1% of the purchases. But the biggest overall surge in sales in the last year came from Canadian buyers, who scooped up $19 billion worth of properties, mostly in Florida. They are also spending more, with the average price of a Canadian-bought home nearly doubling to $561,000. “There are more [baby] boomers now than ever before. It’s the demographic,” said Elli Davis, a real estate agent in Toronto who said she is seeing more older buyers downsize their primary home and purchase a second or third home in Florida. “The real estate here is worth so much more money. They all have more money. They’re selling the big city houses that are now $2 million-plus, where they went up so much in the last 10 to 15 years, so they’re cashing in.”

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Noooo, that’s not late at all…

Big Australian Banks Told To Hold More Capital, On Notice Over Mortgages (R.)

Australia on Wednesday ordered the country’s biggest banks to raise capital for the second time in two years and signalled further action to shore up their burgeoning mortgage books, potentially squeezing shareholder returns. The banking regulator said it would release a discussion paper later this year to include risk weights on mortgages among other changes, in-line with expected rules due to be finalised by global regulators. The warning on mortgages came as it raised the target for the four major banks’ common equity Tier 1 ratio – a key gauge of a lender’s strength – to at least 10.5%. That translates into an average increase of 100 basis points above the banks’ December 2016 levels. They are expected to meet the new benchmarks by January 2020.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has now ordered the big banks to boost capital twice since 2015 as it seeks to make the sector impregnable to global shocks. Australia’s major lenders – Commonwealth Bank of Australia , Westpac Banking Corp, ANZ Banking Group and National Australia Bank – hold combined market share of more than 80%, raising fears their failure could fatally weaken the broader economy. “Capital levels that are unquestionably strong will undoubtedly equip the Australian banking sector to better handle adversity in the future and reduce the need for public sector support,” APRA Chairman Wayne Byres said in a statement.

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Inevitable result of property bubbles.

One Million Homes Left Empty Across Australia (SMH)

Australia has 200,000 more homes sitting empty than it had a decade ago, new figures show, despite the country grappling with a housing supply shortage that is pushing the cost of a first home beyond many of its residents. The figures from the 2016 census have been described as “cruel and immoral” by leading UNSW urban policy expert Hal Pawson, who has warned the government must act to stem the growth in unoccupied housing. “There is gross under-occupation across Australia,” Mr Pawson said, adding that there were up to a million homes with three or more extra bedrooms than the owner required. “There is a growing realisation that our housing market is not working well. It doesn’t just create a problem for people on low incomes, it also hurts spending in the economy when housing is overvalued.”

The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show up to 11.2% of properties are now unoccupied, up from 9.8% in 2006. In the space of two decades Australia has added 2.1 million homes to its property portfolio but an extra 360,000 are being left vacant. Separate analysis by the Grattan Institute, released on Monday, found the number of Australian home owners has been falling for three decades, with the spike in home ownership restricted to baby boomers. “Falling home ownership rates for younger Australians, especially 25 to 34-year-olds where home ownership rates are down 6% in the last decade alone, are just the latest evidence that the traditional Australian dream is slipping out of their reach,” said Grattan Institute fellow Brendan Coates.

[..] “The census showed empty property numbers up by 19% in Melbourne and 15% in Sydney over the past five years alone,” he said. “Considering that thousands of people sleep rough – almost 7000 on census night in 2011, more than 400 per night in Sydney in 2017 and that hundreds of thousands face overcrowded homes or unaffordable rents – these seem like cruel and immoral revelations.”

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Better not lose your phone. Or the government can’t seeyou anymore.

In Urban China, Nobody Uses Cash Or Cards Anymore (NYT)

There is an audacious economic experiment happening in China. It has nothing to do with debt, infrastructure spending or the other major economic topics du jour. It has to do with cash – specifically, how China is systematically and rapidly doing away with paper money and coins. Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay – the two smartphone payment options –before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility. Just as startling is how quickly the transition has happened. Only three years ago there would be no question at all, because everyone was still using cash. “From a tech standpoint, this is probably one of the single most important innovations that has happened first in China, and at the moment it’s only in China,” says Richard Lim, managing director of the venture capital firm GSR Ventures.

There are certain parts of the Chinese internet that have to be seen to be believed. Coming from outside the country, it’s hard to comprehend that Facebook or Google can be completely blocked until you are forced to do without them. It’s tough to fathom how critical the messenger app WeChat is for everyday life until the sixth person of the day asks to scan your QR (quick response) code – a square-shaped barcode – to connect the two of you. What’s happening with cash in China is similar. For the past three years, I have been outside mainland China covering Asian technology from Hong Kong, which has a very different internet culture from the mainland. I knew that smartphone payments were taking over in China, as the statistics were stark: in 2016, China’s mobile payments hit £42 trillion ($5.5tn), roughly 50 times the size of America’s £860bn market, according to consulting firm iResearch.

[..] Some Scandinavian countries have also weaned themselves from cash but still use cards frequently. In China, the change has been to phones. One friend didn’t realise how reliant she had become on mobile payments until her bank called her. She had left her ATM card in the machine three weeks earlier and had not noticed its absence. In practical terms, this means that two Chinese companies – Tencent, which runs WeChat, and Alibaba, whose financial affiliate, Ant Financial, runs Alipay – are sitting atop a goldmine of staggering proportions. Both companies can make money off the transactions, charge other companies to use their payment platforms and all the while collect the payments data to be used in everything from new credit systems to advertising.

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My wild guess: it’s not going to happen.

Survivors Of 9/11 Urge May To Release Saudi Arabia Terror Report (Ind.)

Survivors of the 9/11 attacks have written to Prime Minister Theresa May – urging her to make public a British government report into the extent of Saudi Arabia’s funding of Islamist extremism in the UK. The report into the significance of the financing of Islamic extremists in Britain by Saudi Arabia and other nations was commissioned by Ms May’s predecessor, David Cameron, as part of a deal to obtain political support for a parliamentary vote on UK airstrikes on Syria. Last week, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the report was not being published “because of the volume of personal information it contains and for national security reasons”. Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas suggested the refusal to make public the report was linked to a reluctance to criticise the kingdom, with which Britain has long had close strategic and economic ties.

Now, a group representing US survivors of the 9/11 attacks and the relatives of some of the almost 3,000 people who died, has urged Ms May to seize the chance to release the report, even if it is not fully complete. “The UK now has the unique historic opportunity to stop the killing spree of Wahhabism-inspired terrorists by releasing the UK government’s report on terrorism financing in the UK which, according to media reports, places Saudi Arabia at its centre of culpability,” says the letter, signed by 15 people. “The longer Saudi Arabia’s complicity is hidden from sunlight, the longer terrorism will continue. They must be stopped; but who will stop them? We submit that you are uniquely situated to shine the cleansing light of public consciousness.” It adds: “We respectfully urge you to release the report now, finished or unfinished. We ask you to consider all the victims of state-sponsored, Saudi-financed terrorism, their families and their survivors in the UK and all over the world.”

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Completely insane. Lawless.

West Virginians Are Fighting To Save Their Neighbors From Opioids (NewYorker)

Michael Barrett and Jenna Mulligan, emergency paramedics in Berkeley County, West Virginia, recently got a call that sent them to the youth softball field in a tiny town called Hedgesville. It was the first practice of the season for the girls’ Little League team, and dusk was descending. Barrett and Mulligan drove past a clubhouse with a blue-and-yellow sign that read “Home of the Lady Eagles,” and stopped near a scrubby set of bleachers, where parents had gathered to watch their daughters bat and field. Two of the parents were lying on the ground, unconscious, several yards apart. As Barrett later recalled, the couple’s thirteen-year-old daughter was sitting behind a chain-link backstop with her teammates, who were hugging her and comforting her.

The couple’s younger children, aged ten and seven, were running back and forth between their parents, screaming, “Wake up! Wake up!” When Barrett and Mulligan knelt down to administer Narcan, a drug that reverses heroin overdoses, some of the other parents got angry. “You know, saying, ‘This is bullcrap,’ ” Barrett told me. “ ‘Why’s my kid gotta see this? Just let ’em lay there.’ After a few minutes, the couple began to groan as they revived. Adults ushered the younger kids away. From the other side of the backstop, the older kids asked Barrett if the parents had overdosed. “I was, like, ‘I’m not gonna say.’ The kids aren’t stupid. They know people don’t just pass out for no reason.” During the chaos, someone made a call to Child Protective Services.

At this stage of the American opioid epidemic, many addicts are collapsing in public—in gas stations, in restaurant bathrooms, in the aisles of big-box stores. Brian Costello, a former Army medic who is the director of the Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services, believes that more overdoses are occurring in this way because users figure that somebody will find them before they die. “To people who don’t have that addiction, that sounds crazy,” he said. “But, from a health-care provider’s standpoint, you say to yourself, ‘No, this is survival to them.’ They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die.”

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So?

This Isn’t the First US Opiate-Addiction Crisis (BBG)

The U.S. is in the throes of an “unprecedented opioid epidemic,” reports the Centers for Disease Control. The crisis has spurred calls for action to halt the rising death toll, which has devastated many rural communities. It’s true that there’s an opioid epidemic, a public health disaster. It’s not true that it’s unprecedented. A remarkably similar epidemic beset the U.S. some 150 years ago. The story of that earlier catastrophe offers some sobering lessons as to how to address the problem. Opioids are a broad class of drugs that relieve pain by acting directly on the central nervous system. They include substances such as morphine and its close cousin, heroin, both derived from the opium poppy. There are also synthetic versions, such as fentanyl, and medications that are derived from a mix of natural and synthetic sources, such as oxycodone.

Opioid addiction can take many forms, but the current crisis began with the use and abuse of legal painkillers in the 1990s, and has since metastasized into a larger epidemic, with heroin playing an especially outsized role. All of this is depressingly familiar. The first great U.S. opiate-addiction epidemic began much the same way, with medications handed out by well-meaning doctors who embraced a wondrous new class of drugs as the answer to a wide range of aches and pains. The pharmacologist Nathaniel Chapman, writing in 1817, held up opium as the most useful drug in the physician’s arsenal, arguing that there was “scarcely one morbid affection or disordered condition” that would fail to respond to its wonder-working powers. That same year, chemists devised a process for isolating a key alkaloid compound from raw opium: morphine.

Though there’s some evidence that opiate dependency had become a problem as early as the 1840s, it wasn’t until the 1860s and 1870s that addiction became a widespread phenomenon. The key, according to historian David Courtwright, was the widespread adoption of the hypodermic needle in the 1870s. Prior to this innovation, physicians administered opiates orally. During the Civil War, for example, doctors on the Union side administered 10 million opium pills and nearly three million ounces of opium powders and tinctures. Though some soldiers undoubtedly became junkies in the process, oral administration had all manner of unpleasant gastric side effects, limiting the appeal to potential addicts.

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The Koch brothers and the Fauxbel for economics.

A Despot In Disguise: One Man’s Mission To Rip Up Democracy (Monbiot)

In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch. Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses. James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare.

Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital. Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom. His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it. He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American south could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed privatising universities, and imposing full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism.

He urged privatisation of social security and many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government, and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy. In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse entirely. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982. None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, which through his devotee at Stockholm University Assar Lindbeck in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel memorial prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

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Well, it would create a ton of chaos…

Italy Mulls Temporary Humanitarian Visas For Migrants, Refugees (G.)

Italy has confirmed it is considering issuing temporary humanitarian visas that would allow tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived in the country from Libya to travel around the European Union. The move would provoke an immediate Austrian response, including the closure of the border with Italy at the Brenner Pass. The chances of Italy being able legally to grant unilateral humanitarian visas in this way is slight, but the threat is intended to concentrate minds in the EU after Italy failed to win clear practical support from Germany and France to take more people that have been arriving in increasing numbers from Libya.

The refugee crisis is putting growing political domestic pressure on the Democratic party (PD)-led government, with PD mayors refusing to take extra migrants and plans for legislation on citizenship being shelved at the weekend by the Italian prime minister, Paulo Gentiloni. In an interview with Il Manifesto, Mario Giro, the deputy foreign minister, said the government was looking at all options including the granting of temporary visas. Previously he had simply described the idea as speculation, and it had been dismissed by the interior minister. Giro said: “We are in a tug of war.” He said Italy wanted to avoid unilateral gestures, but was against the strict application of EU law which required migrants to remain in their first country of arrival.

“We don’t accept being turned into a European hotspot, or feeling guilty because we rescue people, so deciding what to do with the migrants who arrive is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. On Monday, the Italian foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, said the idea of humanitarian visas was not on the agenda. The EU high commissioner for external affairs, Federica Mogherini, insisted the issue was not discussed at the EU foreign affairs council meeting on Monday in Brussels. But the Italians are examining whether they could invoke the application of directive 2001/55, a measure approved following the Balkan wars, that allows the granting of humanitarian visas. It was too early to say when or how many such permits could be issued, Giro said, adding that the Italian authorities who received asylum requests already had the power to grant them.

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Jun 152017
 
 June 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Francisco de Goya Saturn Devouring His Son 1819–1823

 

Fed Raises Rates, Unveils Balance Sheet Cuts In Sign Of Confidence (R.)
The Fed Is Flying Blind (BBG)
Peak Economic Delusion Signals Coming Crisis (Smith)
When the Fed Tightens, It Leads to Financial “Events (Phoenix)
Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To “Punish” Russia (ZH)
What If The Russia Russia Russia Story Was Nothing? (HotAir)
Pentagon Agrees To Sell $12 Billion In F-15s To Qatar (ZH)
The Old Are Eating the Young (Satyajit Das)
Greek Economy Minister Calls Wolfgang Schäuble ‘Dishonest’ (R.)
Greece Is Germany’s ‘De Facto Colony’ (Pol.)
EU Officials Warn Athens Not To Take Debt Issue To Leaders’ Summit (K.)

 

 

It’s getting increasingly frustrating to try and find objective views of anything to do with Trump or Putin. And I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. So I left out Mueller’s Trump investigation.

Yellen is stuck. Next.

Fed Raises Rates, Unveils Balance Sheet Cuts In Sign Of Confidence (R.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday for the second time in three months and said it would begin cutting its holdings of bonds and other securities this year, signaling its confidence in a growing U.S. economy and strengthening job market. In lifting its benchmark lending rate by a quarter%age point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25% and forecasting one more hike this year, the Fed seemed to largely brush off a recent run of mixed economic data. The U.S. central bank’s rate-setting committee said the economy had continued to strengthen, job gains remained solid and indicated it viewed a recent softness in inflation as largely transitory. The Fed also gave a first clear outline on its plan to reduce its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, most of which were purchased in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.

It expects to begin the normalization of its balance sheet this year, gradually ramping up the pace. The plan, which would feature halting reinvestments of ever-larger amounts of maturing securities, did not specify the overall size of the reduction. “What I can tell you is that we anticipate reducing reserve balances and our overall balance sheet to levels appreciably below those seen in recent years but larger than before the financial crisis,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a press conference following the release of the Fed’s policy statement. She added that the balance sheet normalization could be put into effect “relatively soon.” The initial cap for the reduction of the Fed’s Treasuries holdings would be set at $6 billion per month, increasing by $6 billion increments every three months over a 12-month period until it reached $30 billion per month.

For agency debt and mortgage-backed securities, the cap will be $4 billion per month initially, rising by $4 billion at quarterly intervals over a year until it reached $20 billion per month. [..] The Fed has now raised rates four times as part of a normalization of monetary policy that began in December 2015. The central bank had pushed rates to near zero in response to the financial crisis. Fed policymakers also released their latest set of quarterly economic forecasts, which showed only temporary concern about inflation and continued confidence about economic growth in the coming years. They forecast U.S. economic growth of 2.2% in 2017, an increase from the previous projection in March. Inflation was expected to be at 1.7% by the end of this year, down from the 1.9% previously forecast.

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The Fed’s been flying blind for well over 10 years.

The Fed Is Flying Blind (BBG)

The architects of U.S. monetary policy at the Federal Reserve should be happy. They’ve succeeded beyond their own expectations in bringing down the unemployment rate without triggering an outburst of inflation. Stock indexes are near record highs, and interest rates remain low. But those who set interest rates are in the awkward position of not understanding how things got so good—and are therefore confused about what to do next. “The Fed isn’t run by computers, it’s run by people,” says David Rosenberg, chief strategist at Gluskin Sheff. “Like all of us they have their flaws and their blind spots. On June 14, the Federal Open Market Committee voted as expected to raise the federal funds rate a quarter point, to a range of 1% to 1.25%. It said it expects inflation to rise to its 2% target “over the medium term.”

For Fed Chair Janet Yellen and company, the central mystery continues to be why inflation remains below 2% despite unemployment having dropped to just 4.3% in May. Even ex-convicts and high school dropouts are getting job offers one reason why many economists believe it’s inevitable that wages must rise. When you have a shortage of supply of something, its price will go up, says Gad Levanon, chief U.S. economist at the Conference Board, a business-supported research group. A tight job market, however, hasn’t translated into inflation. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose just 1.7% in April from a year earlier. On June 14, as the Fed was meeting, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index excluding food and energy rose just 0.1% in May, the third surprisingly low reading in three months.

Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase., sympathizes with Yellen’s predicament. He said in an interview before the FOMC meeting that Yellen is relying out of necessity on the Phillips curve, which says that lower unemployment leads to higher inflation. “It’s kind of the best we’ve got” as a descriptor of the economy, he says. Still, Feroli couldn’t resist headlining his report on the puzzlingly low CPI number, “Captain Phillips goes overboard.” Some economists worry that the Fed rate increases will abruptly cool the economy by increasing the cost of borrowing via credit cards, auto loans, and student loans, as well as business loans. Rosenberg, who’s more bearish than most economists, points out that recessions occurred 10 of the last 13 times the Fed raised interest rates. He says the U.S. is due for a recession within the next 12 months.

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“The question is not “when” we will enter collapse; we are already in the midst of an economic collapse. ”

Peak Economic Delusion Signals Coming Crisis (Smith)

According to the Atlanta Fed, US GDP in the first quarter of 2017 has declined to 0.7% , going back to lows touched on in 2014 after the Fed reduced QE.

The US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since the year 2000, and this trend has accelerated in recent years. Manufacturing in the US only accounts for 8.48% of all jobs according to May statistics. 102 million working age Americans do not currently have a job. This includes the 95 million Americans not counted by the Bureau of Labor because they assume these people have been unemployed so long they “do not want to work”. Thousands of retail outlet stores, the primary engine of the American economy, are set to close in 2017. Sweeping bankruptcies and downsizing are ravaging the retail sector, and internet retailers are not taking up the slack despite highly publicized growth. In 2016, online retail sales only accounted for 8.1% of all retail sales.

Oil inventories continue to amass as US energy demand declines. Declining energy demand is a sure sign of overall economic decline. OPEC and other entities continue to argue that “too much supply” is the issue; an attempt to distract away from the reality of lower consumption and the falling wealth of consumers. Corporate earnings expectations continue their dismal path, suggesting that stock markets have been supported by central bank stimulus and blind investor faith in central bank intervention. The stimulus is now being cut off. How long before investor faith is finally lost?

It is unfortunate that so many people only track stocks when accounting for economic health. They have crippled themselves and their own observations, and actually condescend when confronted with counter-observations and data. They help globalists and international financiers by perpetuating false narratives; sometimes knowingly but often unconsciously. And, when the system does destabilize to the point that they actually realize it, they will blame all the wrong culprits for their pain and suffering. The question is not “when” we will enter collapse; we are already in the midst of an economic collapse. The real question is, when will the uneducated and the biased finally notice? I suspect the only thing that will shock them out of their stupor will be a swift stock market drop, since this is the only factor they seem to pay attention to. This will happen soon enough.

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That much is obvious.

When the Fed Tightens, It Leads to Financial “Events (Phoenix)

The Fed concludes its June meeting today. The Fed fund futures markets put the odds of the Fed hiking rates again at 99.6%. This would mark the third rate hike by the Fed during this cycle. Why would this matter? Because it indicates the Fed is embarked on a serious tightening cycle. One rate hike can be a fluke. Two rate hikes could even be just policy error. But three rate hikes means the Fed is determined.

As Bank of America noted in a recent research note, when the Fed becomes determined to tighten… it usually ends in an “event.” What would an “event” look like for today’s market? A Crash is coming…

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It’s a craze. It’s doing so much damage.

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To “Punish” Russia (ZH)

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved new sanctions to punish Russia for “meddling” in the 2016 election. The bipartisan legislation, which passed with an overwhelming 97-2 vote, slaps new sanctions on Russia and restricts President Trump from easing them in the future without first receiving congressional approval. The only two senators to vote against the measure were Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), while Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) abstained. Known as the Crapo Amendment, after Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the measure was endorsed by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland). The deal was attached to an Iran sanctions bill that is expected to pass later this week.

While top Republican senators had initially wanted to give the White House space to try improving U.S.-Russia relations, but ultimately decided talks with Russia have been moving too slowly. The sanctions against Russia are “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyber-attacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” according to the deal’s sponsors. The amendment also allows “broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways” and authorizes “robust assistance to strengthen democratic institutions and counter disinformation across Central and Eastern European countries that are vulnerable to Russian aggression and interference.”

New sanctions would be imposed on “corrupt Russian actors” and those “involved in serious human rights abuses,” anyone supplying weapons to the Syrian government or working with Russian defense industry or intelligence, as well as “those conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government” and “those involved in corrupt privatization of state-owned assets.” The biggest neocon in Congress, John McCain, was delighted with the outcome: “We must take our own side in this fight. Not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) before the vote. “It’s time to respond to Russia’s attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action.” As AP adds, lawmakers took action against Russia in the absence of a forceful response from President Donald Trump.

While the president has sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way, non-stop “anonymous sources” have repeatedly leaked “news” to the NYT and WaPo, suggesting Trump colluded with Russia and/or was being probed by the FBI. Following Comey’s testimony, which confirmed there is no “there” there, the media attacks against Trump have shifted, and now accuse the president of obstruction of justice and interference with the FBI’s investigation into Mike Flynn. Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said told reporters the Kremlin will hold out with its reaction until the U.S. decides on new sanctions against Russia. “We wouldn’t like to enter this sanctions spiral again. But that’s not our choice.” Indeed, and with the US having made Russia’s choice for them, we now look for Moscow’s response.

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They’ll just keep digging until they find something, and then blow that up way out of proportion.

What If The Russia Russia Russia Story Was Nothing? (HotAir)

Everyone has been busily trying to parse the Jeff Sessions testimony since the Attorney General took the stand but there doesn’t seem to be a lot to work with. Allahpundit talked about the number of times that Sessions declined to answer certain questions about private conversations he had with the president, but that’s some fairly thin gruel to build a presidency-ending scandal out of. But the one question which seems to still be off limits for most of the MSM is the really ugly one: what if this turns out to be a dry hole? Much of the speculation swirling around this entire saga has been based on anonymous sources supposedly spilling secrets about Oval Office conversations or supposed Russians hiding behind the potted plants. With all of that smoke, there certainly must be a fire, right? But that depends whether the smoke is coming from an actual blaze or some reporting blazing up some prime wacky tobacky.

Having hearings was supposed to clear up many of these questions. Take for example the widely reported and frequently repeated assertion that the Attorney General had a third, unreported meeting with the Russians at the Mayflower. That’s been stated so often that it’s basically become an article of faith on CNN and MSNBC. But yesterday Sessions was asked about it and he simply said… no. There was no third meeting. And? What happens now? Unless the New York Times can produce some video or at least a credible witness who saw Session sneaking off into the cloak room with the Russian ambassador or one of his henchmen that’s pretty much a dead end. And that’s falling into a pattern with so many other aspects of the entire tapestry of accusations against the Trump administration, a group of allegedly nefarious traitors who were colluding with the Russians to cripple the American elections.

David French at National Review tackles what may eventually become the biggest question of all. What if that never happened and it was all a fictional tale assembled by the media? “While we certainly aren’t privy to all the relevant information or all the relevant testimony, nothing that James Comey said last week or that Jeff Sessions said today (much less any of the questions directed his way) contained so much as a meaningful hint that the Committee was on the verge of uncovering the political scandal of the century. Rather, the focus keeps shifting to much narrower questions regarding Trump’s decision to fire James Comey — questions that are important but far less historically consequential than any claim that a president or his attorney general are traitors to their country…

Truth is truth, and it’s important for responsible people to not just understand and respond to actual evidence — no matter where it leads — but also acknowledge its absence. And so far the absence of evidence points to Trump’s innocence of some of the worst allegations ever leveled against an American president or his senior team.”

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Pentagon wouldn’t mind a little war.

Pentagon Agrees To Sell $12 Billion In F-15s To Qatar (ZH)

Remember when Trump called on Qatar to stop funding terrorism, claiming credit for and endorsing the decision of Gulf nations to isolate their small neighbor (where the most important US airbase in the middle east is located),even as US Cabinet officials said their blockade is hurting the campaign against ISIS. You should: it took place just 5 days ago. “We had a decision to make,” Trump said, describing conversations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. “Do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” Also last week, Trump triumphantly announced on twitter that “during my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”

Well, Qatar funding terrorism apparently is not a problem when it comes to Qatar funding the US military industrial complex, because just two weeks after Trump signed a record, $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, moments ago Bloomberg reported that Qatar will also buy up to 36 F-15 jets from the Pentagon for $12 billion …. even as a political crisis in the Gulf leaves the Middle East nation isolated by its neighbors and criticized by President Donald Trump for supporting terrorism, according to three people with knowledge of the accord. According to the Pentagon, the sale will give Qatar a “state of the art” capability, not to mention the illusion that it can defend itself in a war with Saudi Arabia. If nothing else, Uncle Sam sure is an equal-opportunity arms dealer, and best of all, with the new fighter planes,

Qatar will be able to at least put on a token fight when Saudi Arabia invades in hopes of sending the price of oil surging now that every other “strategy” has failed. To be sure, the sale comes at an opportune time: just days after Qatar put its military on the highest state of alert, and scrambled its tanks. All 16 of them. Maybe the world’s wealthiest nation realized it’s time beef up its defensive capabilities? Qatar’s defense minister will meet with Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Wednesday to seal the agreement, Bloomberg reported citing people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale hasn’t been announced. Last year, congress approved the sale of up to 72 F-15s in an agreement valued at as much as $21 billion but that deal took place before the recent political crisis in the region.

It is unclear what the Saudi reaction will be to the news that Trump is arming its latest nemesis. If our thesis that Riyadh is hoping for Qatar to escalate the nest leg of the conflict is correct, then the Saudis should be delighted.

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“..society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.”

The Old Are Eating the Young (Satyajit Das)

Edmund Burke saw society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. A failure to understand this relationship underlies a disturbing global tendency in recent decades, in which the appropriation of future wealth and resources for current consumption is increasingly disadvantaging future generations. Without a commitment to addressing this inequity, social tensions in many societies will rise sharply. entral to the issue is that the rapid rise in living standards and prosperity of the past 50 years has been largely based on rising debt levels, ignoring the costs of environmental damage and misallocation of scarce resources. A significant proportion of recent economic growth has relied on borrowed money – today standing at a dizzying 325% of global GDP.

Debt allows society to accelerate consumption, as borrowings are used to purchase something today against the promise of future repayment. Unfunded entitlements to social services, health care and pensions increase those liabilities. The bill for these commitments will soon become unsustainable, as demographic changes make it more difficult to meet. Degradation of the environment results in future costs, too: either rehabilitation expenses or irreversible changes that affect living standards or quality of life. Profligate use of mispriced non-renewable natural resources denies these commodities to future generations or increases their cost. The prevailing approach to dealing with these problems exacerbates generational tensions. The central strategy is “kicking the can down the road” or “extend and pretend,” avoiding crucial decisions that would reduce current living standards, eschewing necessary sacrifices, and deferring problems with associated costs into the future.

Rather than reducing high borrowing levels, policy makers use financial engineering, such as quantitative easing and ultra-low or negative interest rates, to maintain them, hoping that a return to growth and just the right amount of inflation will lead to a recovery and allow the debt to be reduced. Rather than acknowledging that the planet simply can’t support more than 10 billion people all aspiring to American or European lifestyles, they have made only limited efforts to reduce resource intensity. Even modest attempts to deal with environmental damage are resisted, as evidenced by the recent fracas over the Paris climate agreement. Short-term gains are pursued at the expense of costs which aren’t evident immediately but will emerge later.

This growing burden on future generations can be measured. Rising dependency ratios – or the number of retirees per employed worker – provide one useful metric. In 1970, in the U.S., there were 5.3 workers for every retired person. By 2010 this had fallen to 4.5, and it’s expected to decline to 2.6 by 2050. In Germany, the number of workers per retiree will decrease to 1.6 in 2050, down from 4.1 in 1970. In Japan, the oldest society to have ever existed, the ratio will decrease to 1.2 in 2050, from 8.5 in 1970. Even as spending commitments grow, in other words, there will be fewer and fewer productive adults around to fund them.

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Schäuble couldn’t care less.

Greek Economy Minister Calls Wolfgang Schäuble ‘Dishonest’ (R.)

Greek Economics Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou has accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of being “dishonest” by blocking debt relief for Greece despite his acknowledgement that Athens has implemented significant reforms. Euro zone finance ministers and the IMF are expected to strike a compromise deal on Greece on Thursday, paving the way for new loans for Athens while leaving the contentious debt relief issue for later. Papadimitriou told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview published on Thursday that Schaeuble first had acknowledged that Greece had met the requirements, but then changed his mind. “I haven’t met Schaeuble yet and I don’t want to be impolite, but his behavior seems dishonest to me,” he added.

Papadimitriou said German resistance to debt relief for Greece raised questions about the very idea and structure of the euro zone. The success of right-wing populists in Europe also showed dissatisfaction with such European structures, he said. “Greece is being made a sacrificial lamb,” he said. Papadimitriou also warned Schaeuble against making decisions based purely on domestic politics, noting that Germany had also received debt relief when it was rebuilding after World War Two. Debt relief is needed to help Greece expand its economy, he said, noting that Athens was not asking for a debt cut, but rather lower interest rates or longer repayment schedules. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also called on the euro zone finance ministers to spell out concrete measures to reduce the Greek debt burden.

“Greece has fulfilled its commitments and adopted the required reforms. Now it is time for the Europeans to comply with their commitments on debt relief,” Pavlopoulos said in an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt. German opposition politicians also criticized Schaeuble by honing in on the fact that the IMF is likely to participate in the third bailout, but will only disburse any loans when debt measures have been clearly outlined. Gerhard Schick from the Greens party accused Schaeuble of a “lousy trick” with the IMF participation. Thomas Oppermann, senior member of the co-governing Social Democrats (SPD), told Bild newspaper: “Schaeuble must put his cards on the table ahead of the election and say what German taxpayers will have to expect.”

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“Europe stopped listening to Greece a long time ago.”

Greece Is Germany’s ‘De Facto Colony’ (Pol.)

Poor Alexis Tsipras. For days, the Greek leader has been working the phones, trying to secure the best possible terms for his country as it enters the last mile of its seemingly endless cycle of bailouts. So far, his efforts have won him more mockery than respect — especially in Germany. “He keeps calling the whole time, and the chancellor says again and again, ‘Alexis, this issue is for the finance ministers,’” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told an audience here on Tuesday, referring to the Greek prime minister’s attempts to win over Angela Merkel to his cause. Eurozone finance ministers are set to decide at a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday whether to release a more than €7 billion tranche of aid to Greece. No one doubts Athens will get the money. Schäuble all but committed to it on Tuesday.

But Tsipras wants something even more precious: debt relief. No serious economist believes Greece will ever crawl out from under its more than €300 billion debt without significant forgiveness from its creditors. That means convincing Germany, the country to which Greece owes the most. For much of Greece’s nearly decade-long depression, the country was hostage to its domestic politics. Now, it’s hostage to Germany’s. Berlin, which has long opposed outright debt relief, refuses to budge. With a general election in Germany set for late September, Merkel and Schäuble are unlikely to soften their position anytime soon. The Greek bailouts remain politically toxic in Germany, and any agreement involving debt forgiveness would be seen domestically as an admission the rescue effort had failed — and at the German taxpayers’ expense.

Over the years, Germany has quietly accepted more subtle forms of forgiveness, like extending maturities on Greece’s loans and reducing the interest burden. But a straightforward cut, as demanded by the International Monetary Fund, remains out of the question. At least until after the election. Unfortunately for Tsipras, he has very little say in the matter. One big reason he wants debt relief now is that it would allow the European Central Bank to include Greece in its bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing. That would go a long way toward boosting investor confidence in Greece’s stability. But Greece won’t be eligible for the program as long as its debt burden isn’t deemed sustainable. And with the ECB’s program set to be wound down soon, Greece may never benefit. Tsipras may yet try to resist a deal this week and take the matter to next week’s summit of European leaders in Brussels. That’s unlikely to make much difference. Truth is, Europe stopped listening to Greece a long time ago.

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More blackmail.

EU Officials Warn Athens Not To Take Debt Issue To Leaders’ Summit (K.)

As Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos braces for a Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday which all evidence suggests will not yield a satisfactory debt solution for Greece, European officials on Wednesday warned Athens against trying to broach the issue at an EU leaders’ summit next week. “If the matter is not resolved today, then it will be discussed at the next Eurogroup, where the agreement won’t be any better,” one source in Brussels told Kathimerini. Sources in Berlin, which has taken a hard line in the face of calls by the IMF for Greek debt relief, struck a similar tone, with one official noting that the matter falls squarely within the remit of the Eurogroup, “a message that has been made absolutely clear.”

“I don’t remember any Greek problem being solved at the EU leaders’ summit level,” another source representing Greece’s international creditors told Kathimerini, referring to previous efforts by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to broach issues relating to the country’s international bailouts with Angela Merkel and other EU leaders. A spokesman for Germany’s Finance Ministry, however, struck a positive tone, saying he was looking forward to agreeing on a “viable comprehensive package.” A proposal by French officials, that a solution to Greek debt relief be linked to the country’s growth rate, is expected to be discussed in Luxembourg on Thursday, though it is unlikely to be embraced in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Athens sounded a defiant note on Wednesday, with a high-ranking government official warning that if German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble does not budge from his positions to make way for a final agreement, then “there are others in higher positions than him that can give a solution.” “If there is no positive move, in the next few days or during the Eurogroup, from the German minister, then it looks like Angela Merkel will be forced to hold the hot potato,” a government official told the Athens News Agency on Wednesday.

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Apr 172017
 
 April 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Rembrandt The Descent from the Cross 1634

 

Mother of All Debt : Trump Reflation Fantasy Ends on Day 100 (Stockman)
Trump Gives Generals More Freedom In ISIS Fight (WSJ)
Who Are the Debt Slaves in this Rich Nation? (WS)
Time Has Come For Banks To Prepare For Interest Rate Rises – Bundesbank (CNBC)
World’s Biggest Aluminum Producer Faces Default (ZH)
China Home Sales Surge 18% In March Ahead Of Stepped-Up Curbs (BBG)
Tesla: Is There More To Elon Musk Than Cars? (WSJ)
Uber Confirms Horrendous Loss in 2016 (WS)
India ATMs Run Out Of Cash (ToI)
Erdogan Follows Slim Referendum Win by Warning Opponents (BBG)

 

 

April 28. There won’t be one big halt, it’ll come in incremental steps.

Mother of All Debt : Trump Reflation Fantasy Ends on Day 100 (Stockman)

In honor of the Donald’s “Mother of All Bomb” (MOAB) attack on the Hindu Kush mountains Thursday, let me introduce MOAD. I’m referring to the “Mother of All Debt” crises, of course. The opening round is coming when Washington goes into shutdown mode on April 28, which happens to be Day 100 of the Donald’s reign. In theory, this should be just a routine extension of the fiscal year (FY) 2017 continuing resolution (CR) by which Congress is funding the $1.1 trillion compartment of government which is appropriated annually. The remaining $3 trillion per year of entitlements and debt service is on automatic pilot, but the truth is Washington can’t agree on what to do about either component — except to keeping on borrowing to pay the bills. There is a problem with this long-running game of fiscal kick-the-can, however.

Namely, a 100 year-old statute requires Congress to raise the ceiling for treasury borrowing periodically, but the Imperial City has now reached the point in which there is absolutely no way forward to accomplish this. Moreover, that critical fact is ill-understood by Wall Street because it does not remotely recognize that all the debt ceiling increases since the public debt exploded after the 2008-09 crisis were an accident of the Obama presidency. That is, surrounded by Keynesian economic advisers and big spending Democratic politicians, he had no fear of the national debt at all and obviously even believed the more debt the better. And Obama was also able to bamboozle the establishment GOP leadership led by former Speaker Boehner into steering enough GOP votes to the “responsible” course of action.

Needless to say, Obama is gone, Boehner is gone and the 17-month debt ceiling “holiday” that they confected in October 2015 to ride Washington through the election is gone, too. What’s arrived is vicious partisan warfare, a new President who is clueless about the urgency of the debt crisis and a bloc of 50 or so Freedom Caucus Republicans who now rule Washington. And good for them! They genuinely fear and loathe the banana republic financial profligacy that prevails in the Imperial City, and would rip the flesh from Speaker Ryan’s face were he to go the Boehner route and try to assemble a “bipartisan” consensus for a condition-free increase in the debt ceiling.

What that means is a completely new ball game in the Imperial City that will absolutely dominate the agenda as far as the eye can see. That’s because the Freedom Caucus will insist that sweeping entitlement reforms and spending cuts accompany any debt ceiling increase. Even “moderate” Senator Rob Portman (Ohio) has legislation requiring that dollar for dollar deficit cuts accompany any increase in the debt ceiling. But if you think the GOP fractures and fissures generated by Obamacare replace and repeal were difficult, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet. There is absolutely no basis for GOP consensus on meaningful deficit cuts, meaning that MOAD will bring endless starts, stops, showdowns and shutdowns, as the U.S. Treasury recurringly exhausts its cash and short-term extensions of its borrowing authority.

In the meanwhile, everything else — health care reform, tax cuts, infrastructure — will become backed-up in an endless queue of legislative impossibilities. Accordingly, there will be no big tax cut in 2017 or even next year. For all practical purposes Uncle Sam is broke and his elected managers are paralyzed. The Treasury will be out of cash and up against a hard stop debt limit of $19.8 trillion in a matter of months. But long before that there will be a taste of the Shutdown Syndrome on April 28 owing to the accumulating number of “poison pill” “riders” to the CR.

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This is not good: “A senior administration official said Mr. Trump didn’t know about the weapon’s use until it had been dropped.”

Trump Gives Generals More Freedom In ISIS Fight (WSJ)

U.S. military commanders are stepping up their fight against Islamist extremism as President Donald Trump’s administration urges them to make more battlefield decisions on their own. As the White House works on a broad strategy, America’s top military commanders are implementing the vision articulated by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: Decimate Islamic State’s Middle East strongholds and ensure that the militants don’t establish new beachheads in places such as Afghanistan. “There’s nothing formal, but it is beginning to take shape,” a senior U.S. defense official said Friday. “There is a sense among these commanders that they are able to do a bit more—and so they are.” While military commanders complained about White House micromanagement under former President Barack Obama, they are now being told they have more freedom to make decisions without consulting Mr. Trump.

Military commanders around the world are being encouraged to stretch the limits of their existing authorities when needed, but to think seriously about the consequences of their decisions. The more muscular military approach is expanding as the Trump administration debates a comprehensive new strategy to defeat Islamic State. Mr. Mattis has sketched out such a global plan, but the administration has yet to agree on it. While the political debate continues, the military is being encouraged to take more aggressive steps against Islamic extremists around the world. The firmer military stance has fueled growing concerns among State Department officials working on Middle East policy that the Trump administration is giving short shrift to the diplomatic tools the Obama administration favored.

Removing the carrot from the traditional carrot-and-stick approach, some State Department officials warn, could hamper the pursuit of long-term strategies needed to prevent volatile conflicts from reigniting once the shooting stops. The new approach was on display this week in Afghanistan, where Gen. John Nicholson, head of the U.S.-led coalition there, decided to use one of the military’s biggest nonnuclear bombs—a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB—to hit a remote Islamic State underground network of tunnels and caves. A senior administration official said Mr. Trump didn’t know about the weapon’s use until it had been dropped. Mr. Mattis “is telling them, ‘It’s not the same as it was, you don’t have to ask us before you drop a MOAB,’” the senior defense official said. “Technically there’s no piece of paper that says you have to ask the president to drop a MOAB. But last year this time, the way [things were] meant, ‘I’m going to drop a MOAB, better let the White House know.’”

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We are all of us in the gutter (but some of us are looking at the stars).

Who Are the Debt Slaves in this Rich Nation? (WS)

We constantly hear the factoids about “American households” that paint a picture of immense wealth – and therefore a lack of risk for consumer lenders during the next downturn. We hear: “This – the thing that happened in 2008 and 2009 – won’t happen again.” For example, total net worth (assets minus debt) of US households and non-profit organization (they’re lumped together) rose to an astronomical $92.8 trillion at the end of 2016, according to the Federal Reserve. This is up by nearly 70% in early 2009 when the Fed started its QE and zero-interest-rate programs. Inflating household wealth was one of the big priorities of the Fed during the Financial Crisis. It would crank up the economy. In an editorial in 2010, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke himself called this the “wealth effect.”

So with this colossal wealth of US households, what could go wrong during the next downturn? Here’s what could go wrong: About half of Americans do not have enough savings to pay for even a minor emergency expense. The Federal Reserve found that 46% of adults could not cover an emergency expense of $400, such as a broken windshield. They would either have to borrow the money or try to sell the couch or something. So nearly half of the adults in the US live from paycheck to paycheck. About 15% of American households have either zero or negative net wealth, according to the New York Fed. Negative net worth means they have more debt than in assets. And nearly 47 million Americans, or nearly 15% of the population, live below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau.

So who benefited from the “wealth effect”? Those who had the most assets. At the very tippy-top: Warren Buffet. At the other end of the spectrum, in 2016, only 52% of households owned stocks directly or indirectly. The phenomenal stock market boom left 48% – usually those below the poverty line, those who cannot cover emergency expenses, those with zero or negative net worth, etc. etc. – in the dust.

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Germany is one of the precious few who might benefit from higher rates. But Germany seems to forget it is not an island.

Time Has Come For Banks To Prepare For Interest Rate Rises – Bundesbank (CNBC)

The time has come for financial institutions to prepare for an environment with rising interest rates, a Bundesbank board member told CNBC on Thursday. Many risk managers have focused on credit and liquidity risks, but they need to insert interest rate risks into the equation too, Andreas Dombret, an executive board member of the German Bundesbank, said. “Let’s face it, there are quite a number of risk managers who have never seen interest rates rise and who have never seen the interest rate risk and even thought about (it) and have concentrated on credit risk and have concentrated on liquidity risk, so it’s about time to prepare for a potential change,” Dombret said.

The former vice-chairman of Bank of America’s European global investment unit explained that the German central bank is taking interest rate rises “very seriously” and is “actively” working with German banks to ensure that changes to monetary policy will not disrupt them in any way. “Should there be sharp rises in interest rates that of course would be a challenge for any bank,” Dombret said. Members of the German central bank have been critical of the low interest rate environment in the euro zone, arguing this is hurting banks’ balance sheets. Earlier this month, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, called on the ECB to start tightening its monetary policy.

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Simple fraud.

World’s Biggest Aluminum Producer Faces Default (ZH)

While China Hongqiao Group may be best known for being the world’s largest aluminum producer, it has in recent months featured just as prominently among short-seller reports who have accused the company of being a fraud. As the WSJ’s Scott Patterson writes, questions about China Hongqiao’s finances first emerged in November, when an anonymous short seller wrote on a website called Hongqiao Exposed that the company’s profits are “too good to be true.” China Hongqiao in the March 31 statement called the report “untrue and unfounded.” A subsequent 46-page report on Feb. 28 by Emerson Analytics, a trading firm focused on Chinese stock-market fraud, disclosed more allegations of fraud involving the Chinese commodity giant.

Emerson accused China Hongqiao of “abnormally high” profits generated by underreporting production costs and disclosing electricity expenses—one of the biggest costs for aluminum producers—as much as 40% below their true cost. Emerson said it investigated Chinese electricity costs, spoke to former China Hongqiao employees and compared the company’s costs and profits with other comparable companies.

Additionally, China Hongqiao has been more profitable than some Chinese competitors. For instance, China Hongqiao earned an average operating profit margin of 27% in the past five years, compared with minus-1.7% for state-owned Aluminum Corp. of China , known as Chalco, and 5.9% for Alcoa, according to FactSet. “People were always skeptical about how they managed to be more profitable than their peers,” said Sandra Chow, a credit analyst at CreditSights. And while China Hongqiao denied the Emerson report’s allegations and said it hired an investigative agency to look into the firm and people behind the claims, things are starting to unravel rapidly for the Chinese megacap.

As Patterson reports, China Hongqiao – the world’s biggest aluminum producer – is in trouble, locked in a feud with its accountant over fraud allegations that have forced it to suspend trading of its shares and seek help from the central government in Beijing. Just like in the case of its cow dairy peer, the problems emerged to the surface following the bearish 3rd party reports. Just days after the Emerson Analytics note, on March 4 China Hongqiao sought assistance from a trade group, the Chinese Non-Ferrous Metals Industry Association, or CNIA, saying the short sellers’ claims of inflated profits were forcing the company’s accountant, Ernst & Young, “to adopt an extremely conservative and careful attitude.” One wonders just whose books E&Y had been reviewing until that point if it took an outside party to bring attention to potential fraud at one of its biggest Chinese clients.

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It’s really not that long ago when Chinese were reluctant to go into debt. But look now.

China Home Sales Surge 18% In March Ahead Of Stepped-Up Curbs (BBG)

The value of China’s home sales remained buoyant in March, though volume figures indicated that curbs in a number of cities may be slowing the recent buying frenzy. New home sales by value rose 18% to 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion) last month from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data released Monday by the National Bureau of Statistics. The increase compares with a 23% surge in the first two months of the year. But the value of sales partly reflected surging home prices. By volume, home sales grew only 11% in March to 130 million square meters, according to Bloomberg calculations, below the 24% growth in the first two months of 2017. “The curbs are showing their effects,” said Liu Feifan at Guotai Junan Securities in Shenzhen, who predicted that sales growth will continue to slow.

Policy makers are seeking to clear a glut of unsold homes in smaller urban centers, while pledging to enforce strict curbs in most first- and second-tier cities to prevent a housing bubble. In a month when at least 64 cities announced new or stricter property-buying restrictions, some of the growth in home sales reflected buyers flocking into the market fearing they’d be ruled ineligible for future purchases. Investment in real estate development gained 9.4% in March from a year earlier, up from 8.9% in the first two months, according to Bloomberg calculations. Strong property investment helped China’s fixed-asset investment excluding rural areas expand 9.2% in the first quarter, accelerating from 8.1% growth last year.

Some of the growth represented a “delayed effect” from an earlier property boom, and the rate is likely to decelerate soon, Zhou Hao at Commerzbank wrote in a note after the data release. Liu at Guotai Junan said the increasingly high leverage that Chinese households have taken on for home purchase is “not sustainable.” New medium and long-term loans to households, made up mostly of mortgages, picked up again last month to 450.3 billion yuan, according to official data last Friday.

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Tesla, Uber, same bubble. Giant losses with no future profits in sight. “Uber customers knew they were in a driverless car, by the way, because it had two drivers instead of one.”

Tesla: Is There More To Elon Musk Than Cars? (WSJ)

You probably have figured it out by now, but let me state it anyway. Ten years from now, if you’re reading this paper in a driverless car, it will be on a limited-access highway or a closed-off, experimental city circuit. You will not be thumbing through your text messages in a driverless car capable of carrying you anywhere, at all hours, in all weather conditions, over all kinds of roads. And even so, you will be expected to take over driving at a moment s notice. Ditto electric cars. If you own an electric car, you will be a member of a still-small minority. Electric-car owners will be people who own multiple cars or otherwise are willing to settle for a car with limited utility, suited for a daily commute but not a family trip or a long weekend. Even so, a new phenomenon will become apparent. After unexpected tie-ups on the interstate, tow trucks will routinely have to come and remove three or four Teslas that risked a long-distance trip and ran out of juice.

All this we offer as a discordant note amid the hype for electric cars and autonomous driving. Last week the market value of Tesla surpassed that of Ford and General Motors. Tesla is now the most valuable homegrown American car company, worth almost $US52 billion.Yet in the same week a reputable consultancy, Navigant Research, showed that Ford and GM lead all others, including Tesla and Google, in the autonomous car race. Shocking? Not really. These companies are making and selling cars, while the Silicon Valleyites have been mostly engaged in brand-building exercises based on public fascination with jazzy, futuristic auto technology. Google, the pioneer of self-driving hype, recently admitted it won’t build and sell a car after all. Google, though, still finds it pays to trundle its handful of robot cars on the exquisitely mapped streets of a few locales in perfect weather as obstacles to other motorists.

Apple reaped untold millions in free publicity based mainly on rumours and job postings for automotive engineers. Uber briefly suspended its own self-driving taxi experiment in three cities after an accident last month. Uber customers knew they were in a driverless car, by the way, because it had two drivers instead of one. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Tesla’s triumph in the market-cap sweepstakes underscores the profound change occurring in the global automotive industry as Silicon Valley pursues a vision for transportation … that could up-end century-old competitors. Except that the stock prices of traditional car makers haven’t exactly been tanking. GM’s remains within yelling distance of its postbankruptcy high. Look at BMW, whose market cap Tesla nearly equals. Even if Tesla succeeds in its high-risk plan to ramp up annual production to 500,000 from 80,000 in a scant two years, it will sell a quarter as many luxury cars as BMW does, and has yet to show it can do so profitably.

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Case in point.

Uber Confirms Horrendous Loss in 2016 (WS)

On Good Friday, when markets were closed and when the entire financial world was tuned out, and when certainly no one was supposed to pay attention, Uber, the most highly valued – at $62.5 billion – and the most scandal plagued tech startup in the world, took the until now unprecedented step of disclosing its audited revenues and losses for the fourth quarter and for the full year of 2016. Rumors of ballooning losses for 2016 had been swirling since last summer. Bloomberg reported in August that Uber had lost “at least $1.2 billion” in the first half. In December, Uber’s loss in Q3 was said to “exceed $800 million,” according to Bloomberg, and its annual loss “may hit $3 billion.”

Others chimed in as some of Uber’s dozens of investors who’re getting its financial statements share them in dribs and drabs with the media. But on Friday, Uber itself disclosed that it lost $2.8 billion before interest, tax, depreciation, and employee stock options – the latter likely being a big chunk, as the earnings of publicly traded companies that award stock-based compensation, such as Twitter, regularly show. Translated into a net loss, including the expense for stock-based compensation? Dizzying. But Uber wisely didn’t disclose it. The Financial Times, which reported this disclosure, mused that Uber is “cementing its place as the most heavily-lossmaking private company in the history of Silicon Valley.”

In Q4 alone, it lost $991 million before interest, tax, depreciation, and stock-based compensation, up 5% from the losses in Q3 and nearly double its loss in Q1. However, as Uber has expanded at break-neck speed into more than 70 countries, stirring up numerous hornets’ nests of local and national laws and regulations, revenue soared over 200% from Q1 to reach $2.9 billion in Q4. For the whole year, revenue reached $6.5 billion. This is the image of its skyrocketing 2016 quarterly revenues and ballooning losses before interest, tax, depreciation, and stock-based compensation:

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In a country of over 1 billion people, failures look big.

India ATMs Run Out Of Cash (ToI)

Five months have passed since the demonetisation drive, but the people of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam continue to face shortage of cash in banks and ATMs. Sources said more than 90% of the ATMs in the region do not have cash while in the plains and Agency areas running dry. “The last date for paying my daughter’s tuition fees at Visakha Valley School was April 10, but I could not pay due to unavailability of cash. Moreover, the school does not have any online payment system,” said a worried P Srinivasa Rao. Speaking to TOI, State Bank of India (SBI) deputy general manager Ajoy Kumar Pandit said the customers are losing confidence in them due to the crisis.

“Nearly 70% of our 648 ATMs in the three districts are out of cash. The rest will also become dry in the next few days as we do not have cash to refill the machines. We are helpless from our side,” he said. A banking source said the RBI has diverted most of the cash to north India due to the recent elections. This has affected the southern parts of the country. “The government’s intention is to encourage smart payment systems, but the infrastructure is not up to the mark,” the source said. Many ATMs have not been upgraded with the new software required for handling the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 denominations, the source added.

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The referendum has revealed the opposite of what Erdogan claims it has; namely, a dramatically divided Turkey. A powder keg. Recounts first? Is the judicial system still strong enough to order them? Changing a constitution with a 50% + 1 majority is questionable enough, since a constitution is supposed to be the result of many years of deliberation; in most places it would require 67% or even 75%. On top of that, this referendum was executed with many opposition politicians and many journalists behind bars. And even then only a very slim margin?!

Erdogan Follows Slim Referendum Win by Warning Opponents (BBG)

An emboldened Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed his win in a referendum that ratified the supremacy of his rule by taking aim at political opponents at home and abroad. At his victory speech late on Sunday, supporters chanted that he should bring back the death penalty – a move that would finish off Turkey’s bid to join the EU – and Erdogan warned opponents not to bother challenging the legitimacy of his win. He told them to prepare for the biggest overhaul of Turkey’s system of governance ever, one that will result in him having even fewer checks on his already considerable power. “Today, Turkey has made a historic decision,” he said. “We will change gears and continue along our course more quickly.” The lira surged as much as 2.5% against the dollar in early trading on Monday in Istanbul before gains moderated.

The success of a package of 18 changes to the constitution was narrow, with about 51.4% of Turks approving it. It came at the end of a divisive two-month campaign during which Erdogan accused opponents of the vote of supporting “terrorists” and denounced as Nazi-like the decision of some EU countries to bar his ministers from lobbying the diaspora. “The referendum campaign was dominated by strongly anti-Western rhetoric and repeated promises to bring back the death penalty,” said Inan Demir at Nomura in London. “One hopes that this rhetoric will be tempered now that the vote is over,” but recent steps by the Turkish government do “not bode well for the hoped-for moderation in international relations.”

“It looks like the best outcome for financial markets because it gives the mandate, but not a strong mandate,” said Ozgur Altug, the chief economist at BGC Partners in Istanbul, who predicts stocks in Istanbul will rally about 7%. While markets looked favorably on the result as a sign political turmoil in the majority Muslim nation of 80 million people may settle down and help jumpstart the economy, Turkey’s biggest political party alleged fraud, demanding a recount after election officials accepted ballots without official stamps.

The EU’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, said given the “unfair election environment,” EU accession talks will be suspended if the constitution is passed in its current form. The European Commission, in a statement, said the constitutional amendments, and their implementation “will be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations” as an accession candidate and as a member of the Council of Europe. “You saw how the West attacked. But despite this, the nation stood tall, didn’t get divided,” Erdogan told his supporters, while calling on Turks who opposed him to “stop tiring themselves out” and accept the course the country is headed on.

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Feb 022017
 
 February 2, 2017  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso The Bull state VII 1945

200 Years of US Immigration Data Put Trump’s Ban Into Context (Stat)
Australia PM Turnbull Denies Trump ‘Hang Up’ (Sky)
Will Donald Trump Reverse The War On Cash? (IM)
Problems ‘Resolved’ For German Dual Citizens Under Trump’s Travel Ban (Loc.)
German Current Account Surplus To Hit Record, World’s Largest In 2016 (R.)
Switzerland’s Record Surplus Raises Questions Amid Trump Trade Agenda (WSJ)
Dutch Will Count All Election Ballots By Hand To Thwart Hacking (AFP)
Renegotiating NAFTA Is A Good Idea – For Mexico (Coppola)
Trump Is Being Sabotaged by the Pentagon (PCR)
US Veterans: Dakota Pipeline Won’t Get Completed. Not On Our Watch (CNBC)
Turkish Air Force Jets Violate Greek Air Space 138 Times In One Day (IBT)

 

 

Wonderful graph even like this. Click the link to see the larger interactive one.

200 Years of US Immigration Data Put Trump’s Ban Into Context (Stat)

President Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen — is big news right now. And its effects are being felt widely throughout the worlds of science and medicine. Observing the fervid debate as someone who has recently had firsthand experience with the immigration system, I was interested in seeing as much of the larger immigration trends as government data permitted. In the interactive data visualization below, each country or region of last residence is represented by color, in a stream whose thickness represents the number of people arriving from that area in a given year. Immediately, two things stand out: boom and bust in the immigration rate (it’s easy to assume that it has always been increasing) and the new diversity of immigrants after World War II.

Immigration collapsed after the 1924 Immigration Act, which restricted entrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, severely limited African immigration, and prohibited it from East Asia, India, and the Arab world. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed national origins quotas imposed by the 1924 act, led to the diversity of the immigrant population that we see to this day. That diversity is reflected in the data visualization in the flowering of a completely new range of colors directly after the act was passed. Regardless of the political moves ahead, nearly 200 years of immigration suggests that no one leader or piece of legislation is capable of staunching the diverse flow of immigrants to the US.

The x axis displays years, the y axis displays the number of immigrants (in millions), and each country or region of last residence is represented by its own color and stream whose thickness represents the number of people from that area becoming legal permanent residents in a given year.

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Oz media say Turnbull stood his ground. Lots of ‘reports’ by people who were not present.

Australia PM Turnbull Denies Trump ‘Hang Up’ (Sky)

Donald Trump has blasted as ‘dumb’ a refugee deal between Australia and the United States, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is confident the president won’t backflip on their agreement. An explosive tweet from Mr Trump has once again cast doubt on the deal, in which the US would take refugees currently held on Manus Island and Nauru in return for Australia accepting refugees from Central America. ‘Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!’ the US president tweeted on Thursday. Mr Turnbull said despite the president’s tweet, he had received multiple assurances from Mr Trump, his press secretary and the US embassy the deal would be progressed. ‘This is not a deal that he would’ve done or that he would regard as a good deal,’ Mr Turnbull told Fairfax radio. ‘But the question is, will he commit to honour the deal? And he has given that commitment.’

The prime minister wouldn’t tell Sydney radio Macquarie Radio whether Mr Trump had labelled the deal dumb or otherwise in their phone conversation on Sunday, but has denied reports the call ended abruptly or in anger. ‘I want to make one observation about it, the report the president hung up is not correct, the call ended courteously,’ he said. The US president reportedly told Mr Turnbull he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers’, according to senior US officials quoted by The Washington Post. Mr Turnbull said the deal with the former president was always for the Americans to use their own vetting processes and determine how many of the people on Nauru and Manus Island would be resettled. ‘It wasn’t a commitment to take everybody sight unseen,’ he said. ‘It is possible they could take a smaller number or a larger number – it will depend on the assessments.’

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That would be a no. The discussion is more about globalism than Trump or cash.

Will Donald Trump Reverse The War On Cash? (IM)

Jason Burack : It seems that globalism may be on the retreat. What’s your opinion about that, in light of Brexit, Donald Trump winning, and the Italian referendum failing?
Nick Giambruno : I think you’re right, Jason. Right now globalism is on the decline. But let’s define “globalism” before I explain why. This word gets thrown around a lot. But most people don’t really know what it means. It’s very simple. Globalism is the centralization of power into a couple of global institutions: the EU, the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, NAFTA, NATO, and so on. It’s really just a polite way of describing world government, or what George H.W. Bush termed the New World Order. I think globalism and the centralization of power is always a bad thing. People who value individual freedom and economic freedom… really, freedom in general, should oppose it. It’s an interesting moment in history. Those three things you just mentioned—Brexit, Trump, and the failure of the Italian referendum—are clear signs that globalism is losing steam. Whether it’s a sort of one step back, two steps forward thing or the ideology of globalism is really on its way out remains to be seen.

[..] Italy hasn’t had any real economic growth since it joined the euro in 1999. That’s pretty profound. The Italian economy is in the same place it was 17 years ago. A lot of that is because the euro makes Italy uncompetitive with countries like Germany. The next Italian government could be a coalition of anti-EU populist parties. If that happens, there’s an excellent chance Italy could leave the euro. Keep in mind that Italy is a core member of the euro. If it leaves, France would probably leave, too. And if that happens, the euro is finished.

Jason : Without the euro, what’s left holding the EU together?
Nick Giambruno : Almost nothing. The euro is the main glue. Without it, the whole EU could unravel. We’re still early in the process. But it doesn’t look good for the globalists and the Eurocrats. I think historians will look back at the failure of the December 4 Italian referendum as a crucial tipping point. With globalism failing, I’m not sure what happens next. No one does. We could see a rise of nationalism, which wouldn’t be a good thing. Or political power could diffuse even further, which would be a better outcome. Decentralization is good for individual and economic freedom.

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Canada, Australia, Germany, who’s next?

Problems ‘Resolved’ For German Dual Citizens Under Trump’s Travel Ban (Loc.)

American President Donald Trump’s travel ban initially looked to block more than 100,000 German dual citizens from entering the US, but now the two allies say they have found a solution. Acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, said on Tuesday that travelers would be evaluated based on the passport they present rather than their dual citizen status, even if they have citizenship in one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries with temporary blocks. This was the first clarification about what the bans mean for people with dual citizenship, after US embassies, including Berlin’s, issued statements indicating that dual citizens were included in the bans.

The update on Tuesday means that people who are citizens of one of the seven countries as well as another country not named in the ban will be able to enter the US. EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos explained that this applies to people with European citizenship. “[I am] glad that issue of EU dual nationals is resolved,” Avramopoulos wrote on Twitter. Trump’s executive order issued on Friday suspends all refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days, bars all Syrians indefinitely, and blocks citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries for 90 days. German politicians were concerned about what it would mean for the more than 130,000 dual citizens, including the Green party’s German-Iranian representative Omid Nouripour, who is the vice chair of a German-American parliamentary group.

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The victims of this German economic imperialism are not in the US, but in southern Europe.

German Current Account Surplus To Hit Record, World’s Largest In 2016 (R.)

Germany’s current account surplus is expected to have hit a new record of $297 billion in 2016, overtaking that of China again to become the world’s largest, the Munich-based Ifo economic institute said on Monday. This would be equivalent to 8.6% of total output, which means it would once again breach the European Commission’s recommended upper threshold of 6%. In 2015 the current account surplus stood at $271 billion. The European Commission and the United States have urged Germany to lift domestic demand and imports to help reduce global economic imbalances and fuel global growth, including within the euro zone. Germany rejects such criticism, saying it already lifted domestic demand by introducing a national minimum wage in 2015 and agreeing on a strong hike in pension entitlements in 2016. In addition, the government has increased state spending on roads, digital infrastructure and asylum seekers while sticking to its goal of keeping a balanced budget.

Asked about Ifo’s estimate, a spokeswoman for the economy ministry said the government views the surplus as high but the imbalance was not excessive. “The federal government shares the view of the European Commission that the German current account surplus has to be assessed as high – but it doesn’t represent an excessive imbalance,” spokeswoman Tanja Alemany Sanchez de Leon said. She added that Germany’s current account surplus with other euro zone countries halved to some 2% of GDP in 2015 from roughly 4% in 2007. “That shows there is a reduction of trade imbalances within the euro zone,” the spokeswoman said, adding that 44% of Germany’s current account surplus was due to business relations with the United States and Britain. Ifo estimated China’s current account surplus at $245 billion last year due to weaker exports. By contrast, the United States is predicted to have the world’s largest capital imports, with a deficit of $478 billion for 2016, Ifo said.

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But Switzerland doesn’t count.

Switzerland’s Record Surplus Raises Questions Amid Trump Trade Agenda (WSJ)

Switzerland’s exports to the U.S. surged last year to a record high, pushing the trade surplus higher and putting the Alpine export powerhouse in a potentially uncomfortable position amid rising protectionist sentiment in the U.S. The figures come alongside heightened attention brought by President Donald Trump to bilateral trade balances and the policies countries have pursued to weaken their currencies against the dollar to gain a competitive edge. Switzerland has largely escaped much focus in the U.S. and is unlikely to be in the new administration’s crosshairs now, given its relatively small size. Still, its swelling surplus, and the Swiss National Bank’s multiyear efforts to weaken the franc, could at a minimum raise questions as to why the U.S. may treat some countries like China and Mexico more harshly than others down the road when it comes to trade.

Switzerland’s overall trade surplus was 37.5 billion Swiss francs ($37.6 billion) last year, the country’s customs office said Thursday, up one billion francs from 2015 and an all-time high. Nearly half of that surplus—17.2 billion francs—came from the U.S., as Swiss exports there jumped 15% to 31.5 billion francs. Switzerland ran smaller trade surpluses with Japan and the Middle East, while it had trade deficits with Germany and China. “Looking forward if this is truly Donald Trump’s agenda to level the playing field, Switzerland has to be on that list,” said Peter Rosenstreich at Swissquote Bank. [..] Switzerland’s current account surplus was 9% of GDP in 2016, according to IMF estimates, well above the 3%-of-GDP level the Treasury considers material. Meanwhile, Switzerland has in recent years engaged in one-way interventions to weaken the franc, thereby making Swiss exports more competitive in world markets. The Swiss National Bank has for years said the franc was significantly overvalued.

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There we go. The fear of Russia goes a long way.

Dutch Will Count All Election Ballots By Hand To Thwart Hacking (AFP)

Dutch authorities will count by hand all the votes cast in next month’s general elections, ditching “vulnerable” computer software to thwart any cyber hacking bid, a senior minister has said. “I cannot rule out that state actors may try to benefit from influencing political decisions and public opinion in the Netherlands,” interior minister Ronald Plasterk said in a letter to parliament on Wednesday. On 15 March, the Netherlands kicks off a year of crucial elections in Europe which will be closely watched amid the rise of far-right and populist parties on the continent. Dutch officials are already on alert for signs of possible cyber hacking following allegations by US intelligence agencies that Russia may have meddled in November’s US presidential polls to help secure Donald Trump’s victory.

Plasterk told parliament that fears over “the vulnerabilities of the software” used by the country’s election committee “had raised questions about whether the upcoming elections could be manipulated”. He insisted in a letter to MPs that “no shadow of a doubt should hang over the results” of the parliamentary polls, which some analysts predict could result in a five-party coalition. Therefore the interior ministry and the election committee had decided “to calculate the results based on a manual count”. Plasterk told broadcaster RTL that possible external actors included Russia. “Now there are indications that Russians could be interested, for the following elections we must fall back on good old pen and paper,” he said.

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NAFTA increased immigration.

Renegotiating NAFTA Is A Good Idea – For Mexico (Coppola)

[..] perhaps there just aren’t that many jobs going across the border. Certainly not enough to occupy all the Mexicans looking for work. Yet we know significant numbers of jobs HAVE relocated to Mexico: employment in automobile manufacture, for example, has quadrupled since 1994. Clearly something is very wrong. The figures just don’t make sense. Jobs have gone from the U.S. to Mexico, but people continue to migrate from Mexico to the US in search of work, though the rate has slowed dramatically in recent years. In fact Mexico has become somewhat dependent on its migrants: it now receives more foreign currency from migrant remittances than it does from exports of crude oil. This is mainly because of falling oil prices and production since 2014. But it also reflects a distorted and unhealthy economic relationship between Mexico and the U.S.

The truth is that NAFTA has been a rotten deal, not for the U.S. but for Mexico. Firstly, NAFTA did not establish a level playing field for agricultural production. It ended tariffs, but not subsidies. Mexico opened its borders to American agricultural exports, particularly corn. But America continued to subsidize the production of corn: between 1995-2014, corn subsidies totaled nearly $95bn. Coupled with America’s higher productivity, the subsidies made it impossible for Mexican farmers to compete. Agricultural employment dropped 19% between 1994 and 2007, a loss of about 2 million jobs, mostly in family farms. There was a corresponding increase in seasonal work, as agricultural production shifted to fruit and vegetable production, so the unemployment figures perhaps did not rise as much as might have been expected.

But Americans mourning the loss of steady well-paid manufacturing jobs surely should be the first to appreciate that seasonal work is no substitute for steady family farm employment. Unsurprisingly, Mexicans headed for the border. Between 1994 and 2000, emigration to the U.S. rose by 79%, though it slowed somewhat due to recession and increased border security after the 9/11 attacks. Secondly, NAFTA has rendered the Mexican economy entirely dependent on the U.S. Over 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the U.S., and about half of its imports come from there. Mexico is deeply integrated in U.S. supply chains, particularly manufacturing production. The IMF observes that Mexican and American industrial production are co-integrated and follow a common cycle. Increases in American economic output are transmitted one-for-one to Mexican output.

[..] Mexico is thus highly sensitive to changes in US policy and unable to protect itself from U.S.-generated economic shocks: the 2008 financial crisis in the US caused a shock to trade which knocked 6% out of the Mexican economy in 2009, though it bounced back quickly. Any attempt by the U.S. to decouple itself from Mexico through trade tariffs and impediments to financial flows would be likely to have a dramatic impact on the Mexican economy. This toxic dependence is to a large extent caused by NAFTA. Indeed, we might say that it was NAFTA’s primary purpose. And it unquestionably benefits the U.S. more than Mexico. Any small supplier to a giant corporation could tell you that being completely dependent on a single buyer is not a good situation. Diversification is strength. This is true for countries as much as businesses. By discouraging diversification, NAFTA has done Mexico no favors.

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By NATO.

Trump Is Being Sabotaged by the Pentagon (PCR)

President Trump says he wants the US to have better relations with Russia and to halt military operations against Muslim countries. But he is being undermined by the Pentagon. The commander of US forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, has lined up tanks on Poland’s border with Russia and fired salvos that the general says are a message to Russia, not a training exercise. How is Trump going to normalize relations with Russia when the commander of US forces in Europe is threatening Russia with words and deeds? The Pentagon has also sent armored vehicles to “moderate rebels” in Syria, according to Penagon spokesman Col. John Dorrian. Unable to prevent Russia and Syria from winning the war against ISIS, the Pentagon is busy at work derailing the peace negotiations.

The military/security complex is using its puppets-on-a-string in the House and Senate to generate renewed conflict with Iran and to continue threats against China. Clearly, Trump is not in control of the most important part of his agenda—peace with the thermo-nuclear powers and cessation of interference in the affairs of other countries. Trump cannot simultaneously make peace with Russia and make war on Iran and China. The Russian government is not stupid. It will not sell out China and Iran for a deal with the West. Iran is a buffer against jihadism spilling into Muslim populations in the Russian Federation. China is Russia’s most important military and economic strategic ally against a renewal of US hostility toward Russia by Trump’s successor, assuming Trump succeeds in reducing US/Russian tensions.

The neoconservatives with their agenda of US world hegemony and their alliance with the military-security complex will outlast the Trump administration. Moreover, China is rising, while the corrupt and dehumanized West is failing. A deal with the West is worth nothing. Countries that make deals with the West are exposed to financial and political exploitation. They become vassals. There are no exceptions. Russia’s desire to be part of the West is perplexing. Russia should build its security on relations with China and Asia, and let the West, desirous of participating in this success, come to Russia to ask for a deal. Why be a supplicant when you can be the decider?

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They mean business. So does the other side.

US Veterans: Dakota Pipeline Won’t Get Completed. Not On Our Watch (CNBC)

A group of U.S. military veterans has vowed to block completion of the hotly disputed Dakota Access pipeline, despite the secretary of the Army giving the project the green light. “We are committed to the people of Standing Rock, we are committed to nonviolence, and we will do everything within our power to ensure that the environment and human life are respected. That pipeline will not get completed. Not on our watch,” said Anthony Diggs, a spokesman for Veterans Stand. Diggs added that the group hopes to raise enough funds “to have a larger, solid boots-on-the-ground presence.” The secretary of the Army instructed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grant Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needs to complete the final stretch of its $3.7 billion pipeline, Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, both of North Dakota, said Tuesday.

President Donald Trump last week signed executive actions to advance construction for Dakota Access and another disputed pipeline. Veterans Stand has raised $37,000 since launching a GoFundMe campaign last week. Part of that money will go to “basic transport of supplies and personnel,” Diggs told CNBC. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe also on Tuesday vowed to mount a legal challenge claiming the Corps lacks the statutory authority to stop an environment review and issue the easement. The tribe opposes construction, saying the pipeline passes beneath a source for its drinking water and construction would disrupt sacred land. Their campaign has drawn thousands of protesters to camps near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in recent months. To abandon the study “would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the president’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments,” the tribe said in a statement.

It’s difficult to argue that the secretary of the Army lacks the authority to grant the easement, said Bruce Huber, an associate professor of law at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in environmental law. However, any halt to the environmental study will face a high burden proof, he said. That’s because the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works is on the record as saying other routes should be explored and an environmental study is the best way to do that. In December, the Corps denied the easement and said the best path forward would be to consider alternative routes for the project by conducting an environmental review with public input and analysis. “That’s an unclear bit of law there, whether the process can simply be terminated,” Huber said. “You can bet your bottom dollar it will be litigated.”

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Merkel’s in Turkey today. She better put a stop to this while she has the chance. She cannot risk war in the region.

Turkish Air Force Jets Violate Greek Air Space 138 Times In One Day (IBT)

Greece intercepted 138 incursions into its air space by Turkish air forces on Wednesday (1 February) amid mounting tensions between the neighbouring countries. The unusually high number of incursions took place over islands in the central and southern Aegean and were condemned by Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos as reckless. “We want peace, we are not looking for a fight or for trouble in the Aegean, but there won’t be an aircraft which will not be intercepted,” Reuters quoted him as saying. Long-time regional rivals – notably over Cyprus – Greece and Turkey almost went to war in 1996 over two islets, Imia and Kardak, situated west of Bodrum and north of Kos in the Aegean Sea. On Wednesday (Feb 1) Kammenos flew over the area and threw a wreath in the sea to commemorate the death of three Greek officers in a helicopter crash in the 1996 incident.

The gesture followed Turkish military chiefs paying respects on Sunday (Jan 29). During the incident, a Turkish admiral reportedly refused to sink Greek ships. This time however a senior Turkish politician warned Turkey would respond with force if Greece started “playing games” over the disputed islets. According to Hurriyet, Justice and Development (AKP) Izmir deputy Hüseyin Kocabıyık warned: “I am warning Greece: You were saved owing to a cowardly [Turkish] admiral in 1996. Do not play the Kardak game with us. We will shoot you!”. The two countries are also at loggerheads over an asylum claim by eight Turkish military officers accused of involvement in the attempted coup in July 2016. A Greek court has blocked the extradition of the men back to Turkey, with Supreme Court judge Giorgos Sakkas ruling on Thursday (26 January) that they would not receive a fair trial in their homeland.

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Oct 102016
 
 October 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies in St. Louis 1910

Bank of America Has A Recession Warning That’s Downright ‘Scary’ (CNBC)
The Truly Scary Clowns: Central Bankers (Forsyth)
Far From Stepping Back, Top Central Banks Are Set To Double Down (R.)
The World Bank and the IMF Won’t Admit Their Policies Are The Problem (G.)
China Must Wean Itself Off Debt Addiction To Avoid Financial Calamity-IMF (Tel.)
China Fixes Yuan at Six-Year Low Against the U.S. Dollar (WSJ)
Iceland, Where Bad Bankers Go to Jail, Finds Nine Guilty in Historic Case (CD)
Pound’s Pounding Helped U.K. Absorb Brexit Shock (WSJ)
A Mile-High House Of Cards (IM)
Oil Prices Fall Over Doubts That Non-OPEC Producers Will Cut Output (R.)
Pentagon Spent Half a Billion On Fake Al-Qaeda Propaganda Videos (Ind.)
Russia Says US Actions Threaten Its National Security (R.)

 

 

“.. if they follow the current trends they’re on, we’re going to hit a recession sometime in the second half of next year.”

Bank of America Has A Recession Warning That’s Downright ‘Scary’ (CNBC)

There’s a chilling trend in the market, and it could wreak havoc on your portfolio, a top market watcher said. “We are seven years into a full-fledged, all out, central bankers doing everything they can to stimulate demand,” Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy Savita Subramanian recently warned on CNBC’s “Fast Money.” “We looked at all of these indicators that have been pretty good at forecasting recessions and we extrapolated that if they follow the current trends they’re on, we’re going to hit a recession sometime in the second half of next year.” The most unsettling thing is that this recession risk isn’t discounted into the market at these levels, according to Subramanian.

The S&P is 1.8% away from its intraday all-time high of 2,193.81, hit on August 15. Subramanian’s year-end 2016 S&P 500 price target is 2000, about seven% lower than where it’s trading today. And, if she’s right, it’s about to get a lot worse next year. “What scares me is the market been so fragile. So, remember what happened in January? We got a whiff of bad news and all of the sudden the market is at 1800,” she said—a move that augured poorly for the near-term. “I think that speaks to the reaction function of the market. There are a lot of itchy trigger fingers. There’s lot of violent trades that can really roil a fairly complacent environment.”

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Nice metaphor. Could be used for Trump and Hillary too.

The Truly Scary Clowns: Central Bankers (Forsyth)

At a Grant’s Interest Rate Observer conference last week, Jeffrey Gundlach, DoubleLine’s CEO, commented on the growing belief that interest rates will “never” rise. When it’s said that something can “never” happen, it’s about to happen, he argued. Zero or negative interest rates are doing more harm than good, he continued, with the long decline in the stock of Deutsche Bank being an example. You can’t help the economy by bankrupting the banks, he contended, which is the effect of shrinking their net interest earnings. For these and other reasons, Gundlach suggested, the lows in bond yields were seen in the post-Brexit plunge in the 10-year Treasury to 1.36%, a hair under the nadir of 1.38% touched in 2012. (Some data providers have slightly different numbers, but they’re as close as “damn it” is to swearing.)

The more important inference is that major trend changes are at hand. As described by Bank of America Merrill Lynch global investment strategists led by Michael Hartnett, we may be witnessing “peak liquidity.” That is, the era of excess liquidity from central banks is ending, which is consistent with shifts in ECB and BOJ policies, the U.K. Prime Minister May’s criticism of QE, and the likelihood of a Fed interest-rate hike in December. In addition, the BofA ML strategists also point to “peak inequality,” which would spur fiscal actions, such as greater spending and income redistribution. Finally, they see “peak globalization,” as populism counters the “disinflationary free movement of capital, trade and labor.”

The sum is “peak returns” from financial assets, the BofA ML team concludes. In that scenario, they recommend “Main Street over Wall Street” for 2017, including small-capitalization stocks and commodities, real assets (including collectibles and real estate) over financial ones, and banks over capital markets. In particular, they suggest a shift from bond proxies, including utilities, telecoms, real estate investment trusts, and low-volatility stocks. These sectors, it should be noted, had tough times last week. Investors who have tilted strongly toward these investments, which have benefited from historically low interest rates, have been laughing all the way to the bank. In the future, they may be spooked by those creepy clowns, otherwise known as less-friendly central bankers.

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What happens in one way streets and dead alleys.

Far From Stepping Back, Top Central Banks Are Set To Double Down (R.)

Central banks’ repeated warnings that there are limits to what they can do to bolster the sputtering world economy could suggest they are about to pull back and pass the baton to governments. But a steady flow of research and a new tone in the debate among policymakers and advisers points in a different direction: rather than retreat, central banks are preparing for the day they may need to do more, even at the risk of antagonizing politicians who argue they already have too much power. The shift can be seen in the acknowledgment by Federal Reserve policymakers that their massive $4 trillion balance sheet will not shrink anytime soon, or that asset buying may become a “recurrent” tool of future monetary policy.

It can be seen in the comments of Bank of England officials who talk of crisis-fighting tools as now semi-permanent fixtures, or in the Bank of Japan developing a new monetary policy framework, in this case targeting long-term market interest rates. Driving those developments is an emerging consensus among policymakers who now acknowledge that the global financial crisis has led to a fundamental shift toward low inflation, tepid growth, lagging productivity and interest rates stuck near zero. “We could be stuck in a new longer-run equilibrium characterized by sluggish growth and recurrent reliance on unconventional monetary policy,” Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said last week.

For years, Federal reserve and other policymakers have discounted such a scenario, arguing that temporary factors were slowing the recovery and plotting a return to conventional pre-crisis policies. Over the past months, though, that optimism has given way to an admission that such a return is increasingly elusive. Interest rates are set to stay low far longer than thought only a year ago and jumbo balance sheets accumulated through crisis-era asset purchases are now cast as a possibly permanent tool. At the annual Jackson Hole Fed conference in August the discussion had shifted from the mechanics and timing of “normalization,” to how and whether to expand the central bank footprint yet again.

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They don’t talk to people telling them that.

The World Bank and the IMF Won’t Admit Their Policies Are The Problem (G.)

The World Bank, IMF and WTO can sense that they are sitting on the edge of a volcano that could blow at any time. They fear, rightly, that a second big crash within a decade would create a backlash leading to protectionism and the rise of dark political forces that would be difficult, if not impossible, to control. That there are ingredients for a fresh crisis became apparent at various stages last week. According to the IMF, global debt has risen to a record level of $152tn – more than double global GDP – at a time when activity is sluggish. Collapsing commodity prices and weak demand from the west has meant that growth in sub-Saharan Africa is running at half the level of population increases. Companies in the emerging world loaded up on debt during the commodity boom and are vulnerable to rising US interest rates and any softening of the world economy. China is the most egregious example of debt being used to boost activity artificially.

The argument that rising debt is fine, because on the other side of ledger is an asset increasing in value, is specious. The only reason the assets are rising in price is because investors are taking on more debt to buy them. At some point, the asset bubble bursts, leaving borrowers with a major problem. This was the lesson of the sub-prime crisis and it is remarkable that memories are so short. The next big one could come from anywhere and it is good that the World Bank and IMF are aware of the risks. Even so, there was an air of unreality about the discussions in Washington last week. The reason was simple: there was not the slightest hint from the IMF or World Bank that the policies they advocated during the heyday of the so-called Washington consensus – austerity, privatisation and financial liberalisation – have contributed to weak and unequal growth, with all the political discontent that this has caused.

Even worse, Lagarde and Kim seemed oblivious to the fact that the Washington consensus approach is alive and well within their organisations. The IMF’s remedy for Greece and Portugal during the eurozone crisis has been straight out of the structural adjustment playbook: reduce public spending, cut salaries and benefits, insist that state-owned enterprises return to the private sector, reduce minimum wages and restrict collective bargaining. Between them, the IMF and the European authorities are turning Greece into a developing country. It would be fascinating to see what sort of response Lagarde would get if she tried talking about inclusive growth to homeless people huddled on the streets of Athens.

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The IMF will pressure China now it’s in the basket. New meaning to ‘basket case’.

China Must Wean Itself Off Debt Addiction To Avoid Financial Calamity-IMF (Tel.)

China is edging towards “financial calamity” and must wean itself off its debt addiction and reform if it is to avoid a crisis, the IMF has warned. Markus Rodlauer, deputy director of the IMF’s Asia-Pacific department, said the world’s second largest economy was approaching a tipping point where its rapidly growing financial sector and surge in shadow credit could undermine the state’s ability to contain the fallout from a crash. “The level of financial and corporate debt and the complexity of the financial system and rapid growth in shadow banking is on an unsustainable path,” he said. “While still manageable in its size given the size of the public assets under public control, the trend is dangerous and if it’s not corrected it will lead to a correction.

“The longer it lasts … the more serious the disturbance and the disruption might be. [The reaction could range] from a mild growth slowdown, to a sharp slowdown in growth to potentially a financial crisis.” Data show credit and financial sector leverage in China has continued to rise much faster than economic growth. The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook said debt in China was rising at a “dangerous pace”, while its Financial Stability Report showed small Chinese banks were heavily exposed to shadow credit as a share of capital buffers, with exposure reaching nearly 600pc at some banks. Mr Rodlauer, who served as the IMF’s China’s mission chief for five years, said stronger trade ties and financial linkages between China and other countries meant the impact of a hard landing on the global economy could also be huge.

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Been in the SDR basket for 10 days, and already there’s this.

China Fixes Yuan at Six-Year Low Against the US Dollar (WSJ)

The Chinese yuan was guided toward a six-year low against the U.S. dollar on Monday, as the country’s markets returned after a weeklong holiday. In onshore trading, the currency was on track for its biggest one-day loss against the U.S. dollar since the Brexit in June. The yuan entered the basket of currencies backing the IMF’s special drawing rights, an international reserve currency, on Oct. 1. The PBOC set its daily reference rate for the yuan at 6.7008 against the U.S. dollar, a depreciation of 0.3% from its last fixing of 6.6778 on Sept. 30, before the National Day holiday. Monday’s fixing was the weakest level for the currency since September 2010.

Onshore, where the yuan is allowed to trade within 2% of the PBOC’s central reference point, the currency traded 0.5% weaker at 6.7032 in early trade. Offshore, the yuan traded 0.1% weaker at 6.7106. Many markets in Asia, including the largest offshore-yuan trading center in Hong Kong, are closed for a holiday Monday. The past week was characterized by volatility in foreign-exchange markets, including a flash crash in the British pound that saw it lose more than 6% shortly after 7 a.m. Hong Kong time Friday before recovering later in the trading day. The U.S. dollar, which accounts for about a quarter of the value of the basket of currencies the yuan tracks, has strengthened during the period.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks its strength against a basket of six currencies, is up 1.1% so far this month. The weakness in the yuan fix reflects data released during the past week, including a faster-than-expected drawdown of $18.79 billion in China’s foreign-currency reserves during September, said Alex Wijaya, senior sales trader at CMC Markets. “For the past year, the Chinese government has been intervening in the currency and this has depleted some of its foreign-exchange reserves, and this could be one of the main contributions to the weakness in the yuan,” he said. “The U.S. dollar has been strengthening as well.”

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Unlike the rest of the western world, Iceland had no austerity, but it did introduce capital controls and it did go after bankers.

Iceland, Where Bad Bankers Go to Jail, Finds Nine Guilty in Historic Case (CD)

Iceland, which became a gold standard for corporate accountability in the wake of its 2008-2011 financial crisis, has found nine bankers guilty for market manipulation in one of the biggest cases of its kind in the country’s history. The verdict from Iceland’s Supreme Court, issued Thursday, overturns a June 2015 decision by the Reykjavik District Court, which found seven of the nine defendants guilty and acquitted two. No punishment has been handed down yet, although sentencing is set to come. The defendants worked at the major international firm Kaupthing Bank until it was taken over by the Icelandic government during the crash.

The bank’s former director Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, who had been sentenced to five and a half years in 2013 in a separate Kaupthing case, had his punishment extended by six months in response to the verdict. The acquittals were overturned for former Kaupthing credit representative Björk Poraninsdottir and former Kaupthing Luxembourg CEO Magnuse Gudmondson, although no penalties have been meted out for them. According to the Iceland Monitor, the decision found that “[b]y fully financing share purchases with no other surety than the shares themselves, the bankers were accused of giving a false and misleading impression of demand for Kaupthing shares by means of deception and pretense.”

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“..suffering Brexit’s pain through the currency may be more comfortable than through higher unemployment or other ills..”

Pound’s Pounding Helped UK Absorb Brexit Shock (WSJ)

When the U.K. voted to leave the European Union in June, the pound took its worst beating in half a century. Many economists saw that as a good thing. Despite the shock of Brexit, more than three months later there are few tangible signs of economic distress in Britain: Employment is steady. The stock market has held up. Government bonds are strong. Houses are still being bought and sold. Consumers are still consuming. Credit, say economists, goes in large part to the decline of the British pound, which has acted as a giant shock absorber against Brexit. It fell 11% against the dollar in two trading days after the vote, and after another sudden slump last week is now down 16%. Seen from abroad, British people are one-sixth poorer and their economy is one-sixth smaller.

In the past week, figures from the IMF suggest, Britain has slid from the world’s fifth-largest economy to sixth, behind its millennium-old rival France. But suffering Brexit’s pain through the currency may be more comfortable than through higher unemployment or other ills—a luxury that wasn’t available to eurozone countries during the currency bloc’s debt crisis. Over the longer term, economic wisdom holds that a weaker currency will boost a nation’s sales abroad, so what the economy loses in the form of lower consumption—because consumers are poorer—will be recovered through higher exports. “It is important that you have a live release valve like this,” said Tim Haywood, an investment director at GAM Holding.

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Italy pre-referendum.

A Mile-High House Of Cards (IM)

According to Webster’s Dictionary, an economic depression is “a period of time in which there is little economic activity and many people do not have jobs.” Italy has had virtually no productive growth since it joined the euro in 1999. Today, the Italian economy (real GDP per person) is smaller than it was at the turn of the century. That’s almost two decades of economic stagnation. The economy today is 10% smaller than it was before its peak prior to the 2008 financial crisis. More than 25% of Italy’s industry has been lost since then. Unemployment is around 12%. Youth unemployment is around 36%. And these are only the official government statistics, which almost certainly understate the true numbers.

The IMF predicts it will take at least until 2025 for the Italian economy to return to its 2008 peak. Since nobody can accurately predict what’s going to happen next year, let alone nine years from now, the IMF is basically saying it has no idea how or when the Italian economy could ever recover. The mass media and establishment economists don’t dare call it a depression. But a depression it is. Italy’s populist Five Star Movement—or M5S, as it’s known by its Italian acronym—is now the country’s most popular political party. M5S blames Italy’s economic malaise squarely on the euro. I’d say a large plurality of Italians agree, and they have a point. They claim that, under the euro, Italian industry and exports have become uncompetitive. M5S believes a return to the lira could be the remedy.

Prior to joining the euro, Italy would regularly post large trade surpluses with Germany. Since joining, it has posted large trade deficits. Because of Italy’s structural economic problems, it should have a significantly weaker currency. But since Italy is wrapped in the euro straightjacket, it gets monetary conditions that are far too tight than appropriate for the country. [..] The Italian economy is made up of many small and medium-sized businesses. Those businesses have taken out loans from Italian banks. But as the economy is in a depression, many of those loans have gone bad or will go bad. This has created a crisis in the Italian banking system. It took years to build up, but now the situation is coming to a head. The Italian banking system is insolvent, and now everyone knows it. Shares of Italian banks have plummeted more than 50% so far this year.

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No need to doubt: rest assured it’s not going to happen.

Oil Prices Fall Over Doubts That Non-OPEC Producers Will Cut Output (R.)

Oil prices fell on Monday over doubts that an OPEC-led plan to cut output would rein in a global oversupply that has dogged markets for over two years. Brent crude futures were trading at $51.53 per barrel at 0511 GMT, down 40 cents or 0.77%, from their last settlement. WTI futures were down 44 cents or 0.88%, at $49.37 a barrel. OPEC plans to agree on an output cut by the time it meets in late November. The targeted range is to cut production to a range of 32.50 million barrels per day (bpd) to 33.0 million bpd. OPEC’s current output stands at a record 33.6 million bpd. To achieve such an agreement among its members, some of which like Saudi Arabia and Iran are political rivals, OPEC officials are embarking on a flurry of meetings in the next six weeks, starting in Istanbul this week.

However, analysts cautioned about too high expectations about the Istanbul talks this week. “A meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC producers (namely Russia) will add to oil headlines this week. Don’t expect a firm agreement from Russia, but headlines about cooperation are likely,” Morgan Stanley said on Monday. “It’s also worth noting that Iraq and Iran oil ministers will not be in attendance,” the U.S. bank added. Even if a deal is reached, analysts are unconvinced it would result in much higher prices, as doubts run high over the feasibility of a cut among rivaling members, a Reuters poll showed on Friday. Pouring cold water on expectations, OPEC’s second biggest producer Iraq said over the weekend that it wants to raise output further in 2017.

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“The CDs were encoded to open the videos on RealPlayer software that connects to the Internet when it runs. It would issue an IP address that could then be tracked by US intelligence. ”

Pentagon Spent Half a Billion On Fake Al-Qaeda Propaganda Videos (Ind.)

A former contractor for a UK-based public relations firm says that the Pentagon paid more than half a billion dollars for the production and dissemination of fake Al-Qaeda videos that portrayed the insurgent group in a negative light. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that the PR firm, Bell Pottinger, worked alongside top US military officials at Camp Victory in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War. The agency was tasked with crafting TV segments in the style of unbiased Arabic news reports, videos of Al-Qaeda bombings that appeared to be filmed by insurgents, and anti-insurgent commercials – and those who watched the videos could be tracked by US forces.

The report of Bell Pottinger’s involvement in the video hearkens back to more than 10 years ago, when the Washington-based PR firm Lincoln Group was revealed to have produced print news stories and placed them in Iraqi newspapers. According to the Los Angeles Times, who obtained the 2005 documents, the stories were intended to tout the US-led efforts in Iraq and denounce insurgent groups. Bell Pottinger was first tasked by the interim Iraqi government in 2004 to promote democratic elections. They received $540m between May 2007 and December 2011, but could have earned as much as $120m from the US in 2006. Lord Tim Bell, a former Bell Pottinger chairman, confirmed the existence of the contract with the Sunday Times.

The Pentagon also confirmed that the agency was contracted under the Information Operations Task Force, but insisted that all material distributed was “truthful”. However, former video editor Martin Wells, who worked on the IOTF contract with Bell Pottinger, said they were given very specific instructions on how to produce the fake Al-Qaeda propaganda films. “We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use Al-Qaeda’s footage,” Mr Wells told the Bureau, recalling the instructions he received. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.” According to Mr Wells’ account, US Marines would then take CDs containing the videos while on patrol, then plant them at sites during raids. “If they’re raiding a house and they’re going to make a mess of it looking for stuff anyway, they’d just drop an odd CD there,” he said.

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Russis will not back down.

Russia Says US Actions Threaten Its National Security (R.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday he had detected increasing U.S. hostility towards Moscow and complained about what he said was a series of aggressive U.S. steps that threatened Russia’s national security. In an interview with Russian state TV likely to worsen already poor relations with Washington, Lavrov made it clear he blamed the Obama administration for what he described as a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia ties. “We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy towards Russia,” Lavrov told Russian state TV’s First Channel. “It’s not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security.”

With relations between Moscow and Washington strained over issues from Syria to Ukraine, Lavrov reeled off a long list of Russian grievances against the United States which he said helped contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust that was in some ways more dangerous and unpredictable than the Cold War. He complained that NATO had been steadily moving military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders and lashed out at Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis. He also said he had heard that some policy makers in Washington were suggesting that President Barack Obama sanction the carpet bombing of the Syrian government’s military air fields to ground its air force. “This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets,” said Lavrov.

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