Jun 262018
 
 June 26, 2018  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jan van Eyck Crucifixion and Last Judgement 1430

 

A -Very- Bad Day to Be Long Wall Street’s ‘Synchronized Global Recovery’ (HE)
Fed’s Effort To Control The Rise Of Its Key Interest Rate Is Faltering (CNBC)
Russia, China And India Move To Prepare For Global Reset (Greyerz)
Trump Tariffs Force Companies To Rework Supply Chains (R.)
Trump Officials Send Mixed Signals On China Investment Curbs, Markets Sink (R.)
Pepe Escobar On Trump, ‘New York Aristocracy’ and the Deep State (ZH)
Britain Is Becoming A Stupid Country (G.)
Brexit Uncertainty Puts 860,000 Jobs At Risk, Warns Car Industry (G.)
Tesla’s “Preposterous” Model 3 Production Tent (ZH)
Accused Russian Company Says Mueller Was Unlawfully Appointed (R.)
How Comey Intervened To Kill Assange Immunity Deal (Hill)
Algeria Abandons 13,000 Migrants In The Sahara In Waves (AP)
Brazil Moves To Loosen Pesticide Laws (G.)
David Lynch on Trump (G.)

 

 

China slowdown.

A -Very- Bad Day to Be Long Wall Street’s ‘Synchronized Global Recovery’ (HE)

It’s a nasty day to be long Wall Street’s “synchronized global recovery.” Chinese stocks are down -20% from their January highs. Emerging Market equities, like Argentina and the Philippines, have been rocked by the one-two punch of a stronger dollar and slowing growth. Italian equities are down -12% since early May. Our read on global stagflation remains firmly intact. In other words, it’s not the threat of President Trump’s trade wars that continue to weigh on global equity markets, it’s slowing economic data. We don’t expect these trends to reverse anytime soon. The evidence of global growth slowing is everywhere.

The latest news out of China is that the PBoC lowered the reserve requirements for some Chinese banks, thereby releasing $108 billion in liquidity. The media quickly blamed President Trump’s “trade wars” for the move. However, the economic tea leaves suggest China’s ongoing growth slowdown is the culprit. The ripple effects of #ChinaSlowing are already being felt in Emerging Asia, like Philippine equities. (China is one of the Philippines’ primary trading partners. #ChinaSlowing = Not good.) We continue to forecast #EuropeSlowing, despite ECB head Mario Draghi’s claim that European “growth momentum” is alive and well. If the data is so good, why did Eurozone Industrial Production get more-or-less cut in half in April (1.7% YoY i! from 3.2%)?

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What control?

Fed’s Effort To Control The Rise Of Its Key Interest Rate Is Faltering (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve’s effort earlier this month to tamp down the rise of its benchmark interest rate already isn’t running as smoothly as officials might have anticipated. At its June 12-13 meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee hiked its target overnight funds rate 0.25 points to a range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent. At the same time, it raised the interest on excess reserves 0.2 points to 1.95 percent. The move was meant to contain the rise of the funds rate, which historically trails the IOER. In the weeks running up to the meeting, the funds rate closed within 5 basis points, or 0.05 percent, of the IOER, instead of staying within the midpoint of the target range as it has done since the Fed began hiking the funds rate in December 2015.

However, in the days since, the funds rate has moved even closer to the IOER. As of Friday trading, the funds rate has edged up to 1.92 percent — now just 3 basis points away from the IOER, though still 8 points away from the top of the trading range set at this month’s meeting. For the Fed, it’s a potential headache as the central bank sees to unwind the programs it initiated the pull the economy out of the financial crisis. The Fed kept interest rates at historically low levels and bought up nearly $4 trillion worth of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities in an effort to keep rates anchored and maintain liquidity flow through the financial system. For investors, it means that continued upward pressure on the funds rate as the Fed unwinds the bonds on its balance sheet could keep the FOMC at bay in its stated intention to continue hiking interest rates.

“Here we are, and I think they will be lucky to get one more done this year, because whenever the curve flattens the market’s going to look at the Fed and say, ‘Really?’ and the Fed will have to blink,” said Christopher Whalen, head of Whalen Global Advisors, an investment bank consultancy. “They’re telling everyone there’s going to be a couple more rate increases, and that’s fanciful.”

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But when?

Russia, China And India Move To Prepare For Global Reset (Greyerz)

Egon von Greyerz: “While the US government worries about the military threat of Russia, and the trade deficit with China, they show no concern for the real problems. To understand what is really happening, all we need to do is to ‘Follow the Money.’ The flows of real money reveal where global economic power is moving. “The US has not had a real budget surplus for almost 60 years and has run balance of payment deficits every year since 1975. A country that lives above its means for over half a century is technically and economically bankrupt. Its debt should have zero value and so should its currency. But the US has skillfully avoided bankruptcy, so far, by having the reserve currency of the world and being the biggest military power.

Both Russia and China can see the writing on the wall. They understand that the world’s most indebted country cannot solve its debt problem by issuing more debt. That is why Russia and China, together with India, are buying most of the global gold production every year. In May Russia added another 600,000 oz or almost 20 tonnes to its gold reserves. Since January 2018, when Trump became president, US debt has increased by 6% or $1.1 trillion to $21.1 trillion, while Russia has added another 9 million oz of gold, and are now holding $80 billion of gold reserves. So while the US economy is taking the road to perdition, Russia knows that the only money that will survive is gold — just like it always has! For years the world has financed the US debt by buying US treasuries. But we are now seeing a marked change.

Many countries are currently liquidating US Treasuries. They know what will happen to US debt and are trying to get rid of their holdings in an orderly manner in order to avoid US Treasuries crashing together with the dollar. This is what will happen at some point in the next 1-3 years. Global investors will panic out of dollar denominated bonds, leading to a crash of both the US currency and dollar debt. The Chinese know this but their US Treasury holdings are so large that they need to sell slowly in order not to shoot themselves in the foot. In the end, China is likely to take a major loss on its dollar Treasury holdings but that is the price they have been willing to pay in order to build up their economy and manufacturing sector through financing US deficit spending.

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Multinationals and de-globalization.

Trump Tariffs Force Companies To Rework Supply Chains (R.)

From global manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson to small tech startups, companies are scrambling to rework supply chains built for an era of stable, open trade policy that is now under threat. As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes to upend the status quo of global trade, companies that initially took a wait-and-see stance are starting to take action to shield their businesses from shifting trade policy. On Monday, U.S. motorcycle maker Harley warned of higher costs because of retaliatory EU tariffs, and said it would shift production of bikes destined for the European Union out of the United States to factories it has built in India, Brazil and Thailand.

The decision of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company, which Trump vowed to make great again when he took office, came less than a week after Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler cut its 2018 profit forecast, citing growing trade tensions. Its German rival BMW said it was considering “possible strategic options” in view of the rising trade tensions between China and the United States. Harley is the latest example of how companies are finding themselves in the crosshairs following “tit-for-tat” retaliations over Trump’s bid to rewrite global trade rules as part of his “America First” agenda. Office furniture maker Steelcase last week reported a 230 basis-point fall in the gross margins of its American business in the first quarter due to higher raw materials costs following Trump’s metal import tariffs.

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And still negotiating.

Trump Officials Send Mixed Signals On China Investment Curbs, Markets Sink (R.)

Conflicting signals from the Trump administration over proposed restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. technology companies, along with news that recently imposed import tariffs are starting to disrupt supply chains, sent global stock markets tumbling on Monday. Proposed restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. technology would not just be confined to China, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The forthcoming restrictions would apply “to all countries that are trying to steal our technology,” he said. The U.S. Treasury is due to issue its recommendations on Chinese investment restrictions on Friday.

Late Monday White House trade and manufacturing adviser Peter Navarro sought to downplay Mnuchin’s remarks, telling CNBC television that the restrictions on investments in U.S. technology companies would just target China. Benchmark Wall Street stock indexes suffered their worst losses in two months on Monday, while safe haven Treasury debt yields fell. U.S. technology stocks were worst hit. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 2.6 percent, Apple lost 2.75 percent, and Amazon dropped 3.0 percent. The recent imposition of import tariffs by the U.S., and counter-measures by other countries, are also starting to affect global production and supply chains. Some U.S. steel and aluminium tariffs went into effect in April and additional tariffs begin in July.

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China has much more to lose than the US.

Pepe Escobar On Trump, ‘New York Aristocracy’ and the Deep State (ZH)

Trump, Escobar explains, wasn’t born into the Manhattan aristocracy. And though the “Masters of the Universe” – a group that includes the country’s top bankers along with the leaders of the military and intelligence communities – were initially reluctant to embrace him (as were many factions within the Republican Party), they eventually changed their minds once they understood that he would advocate for their interests. “He’s not born in lower Manhattan…and he’s not part of the New York aristocracy, the establishment that’s been there for some 150 to 200 years…he’s still regarded in New York as a wealthy outsider. But in the end, he was accepted by some sectors of the Republican Party – even though they initially didn’t want to accept him – Washington, some sectors of the Republican Party.”

He was the candidate of the establishment from the beginning, or he was a genuine candidate whose regime has now been disturbed by the Deep State. He was vetoed by the establishment – this is something that people who know how the Deep State works in DC they will tell you always the same thing: You don’t become a candidate for a President of the United States if you are not vetted…by the people who actually run the US.” Trump was vulnerable to this manipulation because he doesn’t have a nuanced enough understanding of geopolitics…which has forced him to rely on advisors whispering in his ear…advisors whose intentions aren’t always working in the best interest of the president, or the American people, for that matter.

One example is Trump’s insistence on instigating a trade war between China and the US. While China has many ways to retaliate against the US, as least when it comes to finding markets for their goods, US companies have more options than their Chinese peers. “Trump still doesn’t understand that the retaliation is going to be really huge from the Chinese and they have ways of hurting badly – they even have ways of ratcheting up taxes on products made in the Midwest. But they’re going to lose much more than we do. We have other markets. We export more to Asia, we export more to South America and we export more to Europe.”

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Been coming for a while now.

Britain Is Becoming A Stupid Country (G.)

Melvyn Bragg has said Britain is becoming a stupid country, in part because its university system is being destroyed. The broadcaster and Labour peer criticised the state of British higher education in an interview with the magazine Radio Times. “We have, per capita, the best university system in the world, but it’s being – carelessly and utterly stupidly – destroyed very slowly,” he said. “We used to be the clever country and now we’re clearly the stupid country. Except for certain highlights.”

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Wait till the bankers start to protest.

Brexit Uncertainty Puts 860,000 Jobs At Risk, Warns Car Industry (G.)

The car industry has warned Theresa May there is “no Brexit dividend” for the business, with 860,000 jobs being put at risk unless the government “rethinks” its red lines in negotiations. In the starkest warning yet from a single business sector, the car lobby has told the government that it needs “as a minimum” to remain in the customs union and a deal that delivers “single market benefits”. “There is no Brexit dividend for our industry,” Michael Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said. It said Brexit uncertainty was thwarting investment and repeated calls for the UK to stay in the customs partnership until the government came up with a “credible plan B”.

With investment slowing and time running out, negotiators must get on with the job of agreeing a deal that will put an end to uncertainty and prioritise the needs of the automotive sector, the SMMT said. The sector had grown for the eighth successive year with turnover at a record £82bn in 2017. However it said 2018 has showed a slowdown in output with investment earmarked for new models, equipments and facilities in the UK halving to around £347m. [..] “With decisions on new vehicle models in the UK due soon, government must take steps to boost investor confidence and safeguard the thousands of jobs that depend on the sector,” it said ahead of a key conference for the automotive industry.

The government had “no credible Plan B” for customs arrangements post-Brexit, it said, that would keep the Port of Dover flowing freely. Car manufacturers rely on what is known as “just in time” production whereby components, mostly from the EU, cross the channel just hours before they are needed on the assembly line. More than 1,000 trucks a day cross the channel with these components.

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Not even Onion.

Tesla’s “Preposterous” Model 3 Production Tent (ZH)

Bears and bulls alike following Tesla’s gripping nailbiter of a story – the company has until the end of the month to pumpt out 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week – both agree on one thing: the output of the company’s new “tent” structure which Musk erected recently to produce Model 3 vehicles is going to decide whether or not the company hits its production goal that it has touted over the last couple of months. The tent was erected in just a matter of weeks, and came online in early June, to help the company produce more vehicles at a time when they are under the microscope. Until recently, we didn’t know the details as to when it was erected, what the timing looked like and what it is expected to produce.

However, a Bloomberg article out today helped shed some light on the details of what is arguably the most important – if archaic – structure that Tesla has built yet. Not surprisingly, opinions extend the whole gamut, with some manufacturing experts claiming the tent is “basically nuts”: “Elon Musk has six days to make good on his pledge that Tesla will be pumping out 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of the month. If he succeeds, it may be thanks to the curious structure outside the company’s factory. It’s a tent the size of two football fields that Musk calls “pretty sweet” and that manufacturing experts deride as, basically, nuts. [..] Inside the tent in Fremont, California, is an assembly line Musk hastily pulled together for the Model 3. That’s the electric car that is supposed to vault Tesla from niche player for the wealthy to high-volume automaker, bringing a more affordable electric vehicle to the masses.”

Analysts at Bernstein are equally unimpressed. Here is a quote from Max Warburton who benchmarked auto assembly plants before his job as a financial analyst: “Words fail me. It’s insanity,” said Max Warburton, who benchmarked auto-assembly plants around the world before becoming a financial analyst. [..] What gives manufacturing experts pause about Tesla’s tent is that it was pitched to shelter an assembly line cobbled together with scraps lying around the brick-and-mortar plant. It smacks of a Hail Mary move after months of stopping and starting production to make on-the-fly fixes to automated equipment, which Musk himself has said was a mistake. “The existing line isn’t functional, it can’t build cars as planned and there isn’t room to get people into work stations to replace the non-functioning robots,” Warburton said. “So here we have it—build cars manually in the parking lot.”

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Surprising argument. They must think it has merit.

Accused Russian Company Says Mueller Was Unlawfully Appointed (R.)

A Russian company accused of helping fund a propaganda operation to sway the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor asked a federal judge on Monday to dismiss charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying Mueller was unlawfully appointed and lacks prosecutorial authority. Concord Management and Consulting LLC, a firm that prosecutors say is controlled by a businessman dubbed by Russian media as “Putin’s cook,” argued in a filing in U.S. district court in Washington that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution when he hired Mueller in May 2017.

Concord is one of three entities, along with 13 Russian individuals, indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in February in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper with the U.S. race, boost Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord is controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. In it, Concord is alleged to have controlled funding, recommended personnel and overseen the activities of the propaganda campaign. Concord is the only one of the defendants in the case to have formally responded to the charges in federal court. Earlier this year, it hired American lawyers to fight the indictment.

Under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, principal officers such as cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate while “inferior officers” may be appointed by courts or department heads if permitted by Congress. Concord’s lawyers say that Mueller qualifies as an “officer” under the clause and not a routine federal employee under the law because of his vast prosecutorial authority. They say that no matter whether Mueller is deemed an “inferior” or “principal” officer, his appointment still violates the Constitution. As a principal officer, they say, he should have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

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Behind the scenes.

How Comey Intervened To Kill Assange Immunity Deal (Hill)

One of the more devastating intelligence leaks in American history — the unmasking of the CIA’s arsenal of cyber warfare weapons last year — has an untold prelude worthy of a spy novel. Some of the characters are household names, thanks to the Russia scandal: James Comey, fired FBI director. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Julian Assange, grand master of WikiLeaks. And American attorney Adam Waldman, who has a Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue. Each played a role in the early days of the Trump administration to try to get Assange to agree to “risk mitigation” — essentially, limiting some classified CIA information he might release in the future.

The effort resulted in the drafting of a limited immunity deal that might have temporarily freed the WikiLeaks founder from a London embassy where he has been exiled for years, according to interviews and a trove of internal DOJ documents turned over to Senate investigators. But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come. This yarn begins in January 2017 when Assange’s legal team approached Waldman — known for his government connections — to see if the new Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder, holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy.

[..] Ohr consulted his chain of command and the intelligence community about what appeared to be an extraordinary overture that raised hopes the government could negotiate what Assange would release and what he might redact, to protect the names of exposed U.S. officials. Assange made clear through the lawyer that he would never compromise his sources, or stop publishing information, but was willing to consider concessions like redactions. Although the intelligence community reviled Assange for the damage his past releases caused, officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time.

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Unconscionable EU comment: “sovereign countries” can expel migrants as long as they comply with international law..”

Algeria Abandons 13,000 Migrants In The Sahara In Waves (AP)

Assamaka, Niger — From this isolated frontier post deep in the sands of the Sahara, the expelled migrants can be seen coming over the horizon by the hundreds. They look like specks in the distance, trudging miserably across some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain in the blistering sun. They are the ones who made it out alive. Here in the desert, Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under temperatures of up to 48ºC (118ºF). In Niger, where the majority head, the lucky ones limp across a desolate 15-kilometer (9-mile) no man’s land to Assamaka, less a town than a collection of unsteady buildings sinking into drifts of sand.

Others, disoriented and dehydrated, wander for days before a U.N. rescue squad can find them. Untold numbers perish along the way; nearly all the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by The Associated Press told of people in their groups who simply could not go on and vanished into the Sahara. [..] Algeria’s mass expulsions have picked up since October 2017, as the European Union renewed pressure on North African countries to head off migrants going north to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or the barrier fences with Spain. These migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa — Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger and more — are part of the mass migration toward Europe, some fleeing violence, others just hoping to make a living.

A European Union spokesperson said the EU was aware of what Algeria was doing, but that “sovereign countries” can expel migrants as long as they comply with international law. Unlike Niger, Algeria takes none of the EU money intended to help with the migration crisis, although it did receive $111.3 million in aid from Europe between 2014 and 2017. Algeria provides no figures for the expulsions. But the number of people crossing on foot to Niger has been rising steadily since the International Organization for Migration started counting in May 2017, when 135 people were dropped at the crossing, to as high as 2,888 in April 2018. In all, according to the IOM, a total of 11,276 men, women and children survived the march.

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Corrupt countries have no chance against Monsanto.

Brazil Moves To Loosen Pesticide Laws (G.)

A Brazilian Congress commission has approved a controversial bill to lift restrictions on pesticides despite fierce opposition from environmentalists, prosecutors, health and environment ministry bodies, and even United Nations special rapporteurs. Driven by a powerful agribusiness lobby, the bill now needs to be voted on in both houses of Congress and sanctioned by President Michel Temer before becoming law. Its proponents say it will free up bureaucracy and modernise dated legislation. But the bill has generated fierce opposition in Brazil, one of the world’s biggest food producers and biggest consumers of pesticides, even those banned in other countries.

Opponents dubbed it the “poison package” and said it would lead to the indiscriminate use of dangerous pesticides, while 250,000 signed an online petition against it. “The law will make us more permissive than we already are,” said Larissa Bombardi, a professor of geography and pesticides specialist at the University of São Paulo. “The economic interest will prevail over human and environmental health.” Of 121 pesticides permitted in Brazil for coffee production, 30 are already banned in the European Union, including the toxic herbicide paraquat, Bombardi reported in an extensive 2017 study. The bill overhauls existing legislation, allowing for pesticides to be given temporary register if the approval process has taken over two years and three countries in the OECD have already approved it.

[..] Under Brazil’s current legislation, pesticides with elements considered teratogenic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disruptive, or posing risks to the reproductive system can’t be registered, they said. But under the bill, hazardous pesticides will only be prohibited when there is a “scientifically established unacceptable risk” – a definition too vague to be effective. Greenpeace attacked lawmakers for approving the bill in the face of such wide opposition. “They want a toxic product to look less threatening,” said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator. “The toxic garbage being banned in the rest of the planet will be sold here.”

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He’s not that wrong. He won’t be a great president, but the disruption is needed.

David Lynch on Trump (G.)

David Lynch on Trump: “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”

Read more …

May 182018
 
 May 18, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Daniel Garber Lambertville holiday 1941

 

Almost Half Of US Families Can’t Afford Basics Like Rent And Food (CNN)
A Liquidity Crisis of Biblical Proportions Is Upon Us (Mauldin)
Fake News No Problem: Internet Totally Dominates Advertising in the US (WS)
Blundering Into Recession (Rickards)
Peso Crisis Highlights Fragility Of Argentina’s Economy (AFP)
China Offers Trump $200 Billion Package To Slash US Trade Deficit (R.)
Ecuador Orders Withdrawal Of Extra Assange Security From London Embassy (R.)
How Public Ownership Was Raised From The Grave (NS)
EU Dashes Membership Hopes Of Balkan States (G.)
US House Committee Approves Provision To Freeze Arms Sales To Turkey (K.)
Alabama Congressman Blames Sea Level Rise On Rocks Falling Into The Ocean (Al)
Climate Change On Track To Cause Major Insect Wipeout (G.)
EU Court Upholds Curbs On Bee-Killing Pesticides (AFP)

 

 

“California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%.”

Almost Half of US Families Can’t Afford Basics Like Rent And Food (CNN)

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States. The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what’s needed “to survive in the modern economy.” “Despite seemingly positive economic signs, the ALICE data shows that financial hardship is still a pervasive problem,” said Stephanie Hoopes, the project’s director.

California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%. Many of these folks are the nation’s child care workers, home health aides, office assistants and store clerks, who work low-paying jobs and have little savings, the study noted. Some 66% of jobs in the US pay less than $20 an hour. [..] in Seattle’s King County, the annual household survival budget for a family of four (including one infant and one preschooler) in 2016 was nearly $85,000. This would require an hourly wage of $42.46. But in Washington State, only 14% of jobs pay more than $40 an hour.

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“For now, bond market liquidity is fine because hedge funds and other non-bank lenders have filled the gap. The problem is they are not true market makers. Nothing requires them to hold inventory or buy when you want to sell.”

A Liquidity Crisis of Biblical Proportions Is Upon Us (Mauldin)

In an old-style economic cycle, recessions triggered bear markets. Economic contraction slowed consumer spending, corporate earnings fell, and stock prices dropped. That’s not how it works when the credit cycle is in control. Lower asset prices aren’t the result of a recession. They cause the recession. That’s because access to credit drives consumer spending and business investment. Take it away and they decline. Recession follows. Corporate debt is now at a level that has not ended well in past cycles. Here’s a chart from Dave Rosenberg:

The Debt/GDP ratio could go higher still, but I think not much more. Whenever it falls, lenders (including bond fund and ETF investors) will want to sell. Then comes the hard part: to whom? You see, it’s not just borrowers who’ve become accustomed to easy credit. Many lenders assume they can exit at a moment’s notice. One reason for the Great Recession was so many borrowers had sold short-term commercial paper to buy long-term assets. Things got worse when they couldn’t roll over the debt and some are now doing exactly the same thing again, except in much riskier high-yield debt. We have two related problems here. • Corporate debt and especially high-yield debt issuance has exploded since 2009. • Tighter regulations discouraged banks from making markets in corporate and HY debt.

Both are problems but the second is worse. Experts tell me that Dodd-Frank requirements have reduced major bank market-making abilities by around 90%. For now, bond market liquidity is fine because hedge funds and other non-bank lenders have filled the gap. The problem is they are not true market makers. Nothing requires them to hold inventory or buy when you want to sell. That means all the bids can “magically” disappear just when you need them most. These “shadow banks” are not in the business of protecting your assets. They are worried about their own profits and those of their clients.

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“Internet advertising revenues in the US soared 21.4% in 2017 from a year earlier to a record of $88 billion..”

Fake News No Problem: Internet Totally Dominates Advertising in the US (WS)

You might think you never look at these ads or click on them, and you might think they’re the biggest waste of money there ever was, but reality is that internet advertising revenues in the US are surging, and are blowing all other media categories out of the water. But only two companies divvy up among themselves nearly 60% of the spoils. Internet advertising revenues in the US soared 21.4% in 2017 from a year earlier to a record of $88 billion, thus handily demolishing TV ad revenues, which declined 2.6% to $70.1 billion, according to annual ad revenue report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). It was the second year in a row that internet ad revenues beat TV. In 2016, internet ad revenues (or “ad spend”) had surpassed TV ad revenues for the first time in US history.

And 2017 was the first year in the data series going back to 2010 that TV advertising actually declined. That formerly unstoppable growth industry is now a declining industry. [..] Social Media sizzles, fake news no problem. Advertising spend on social media surged 36% from the prior year to $22.2 billion, now accounting for a quarter of all internet advertising, up from just an 8% share in 2012. But who’s getting all this internet ad manna? The report is presented at an “anonymized aggregate level,” and no company names are given. But it’s not hard to figure out. The top ten companies got 74% of the share in Q4 2017, according to the report.

For further detail, we mosey over to eMarketer, which estimates that in 2017, Google captured 38.6% of the total internet ad spend in the US and Facebook captured 19.9% in the US, for a combined total of 58.5% of total internet ad spend. Just by these two companies! For perspective, Google’s parent Alphabet reported global revenues of $111 billion in 2017, and Facebook $40 billion. Practically all of it was generated by internet advertising.

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Well, you can’t do QE forever.

Blundering Into Recession (Rickards)

Contradictions coming from the Fed’s happy talk wants us to believe that QT is not a contractionary policy, but it is. They’ve spent eight years saying that quantitative easing was stimulative. Now they want the public to believe that a change to quantitative tightening is not going to slow the economy. They continue to push that conditions are sustainable when printing money, but when they make money disappear, it will not have any impact. This approach falls down on its face — and it will have a major impact. My estimate is that every $500 billion of quantitative tightening could be equivalent to one .25 basis point rate hike. Some estimates are even higher, as much 2.0% per year. That’s not “background” noise. It’s rock music blaring in your ears.

For an economy addicted to cheap money, this is like going cold turkey. The decision by the Fed to not purchase new bonds will therefore be just as detrimental to the growth of the economy as raising interest rates. Meanwhile, retail sales, real incomes, auto sales and even labor force participation are all declining or showing weakness. Every important economic indicator shows that the U.S. economy can’t generate the growth the Fed would like. When you add in QT, we may very well be in a recession very soon. Then the Fed will have to cut rates yet again. Then it’s back to QE. You could call that QE4 or QE1 part 2. Regardless, years of massive intervention has essentially trapped the Fed in a state of perpetual manipulation. More will follow.

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You can’t resolve a crisis with 40% interest rates. That spells panic.

Peso Crisis Highlights Fragility Of Argentina’s Economy (AFP)

Argentina appears to have resolved, at least in the short term, the crisis over the peso and its depreciation by taking drastic action — but analysts warn the policy is untenable over time. To sustain the Argentinian peso, the Central Bank raised its benchmark interest rate up to 40% and injected more than $10 billion into the economy. A crisis of confidence in the peso saw it plunge nearly 20% over six weeks as investors concerned by Argentina’s high inflation yielded to the lure of a strong dollar. On Monday, the unit dipped to a historic low of 25.51 against the dollar, as talks continued with the International Monetary Fund for a stabilizing loan. Argentina’s center-right president, Mauricio Macri, has sought to be reassuring, saying Thursday that “we consider the turbulence overcome.”

But he pointed the finger at an endemic problem: the budget deficit of Latin America’s third largest economy – even though it has dropped from six to four% of gross domestic product since he took power in late 2015. “It’s a real structural problem, well identified for a long time by the IMF, difficult to resolve politically,” said Stephane Straub, an economist at the Toulouse School of Economics. “If rates remain at this level, it will pose problems in the medium-to-long term. But confidence must return in order to reduce the rates. That’s where the intervention of the IMF can be useful, to bring back confidence and halt the flight of capital and the pressure on the currency.” Annual inflation at more than 20% and a balance of trade deficit still stifle economic reform efforts in an economy whose annual growth was 2.8% in 2017.

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But how?

China Offers Trump $200 Billion Package To Slash US Trade Deficit (R.)

China is offering U.S. President Donald Trump a package of trade concessions and increased purchases of American goods aimed at cutting the U.S. trade deficit with China by up to $200 billion a year, U.S. officials familiar with the proposal said. News of the offer came during the first of two days of U.S.-China trade talks in Washington focused on resolving tariff threats between the world’s two largest economies. But it was not immediately clear how the total value was determined. One of the sources said U.S. aircraft maker Boeing would be a major beneficiary of the Chinese offer if Trump were to accept it. Boeing is the largest U.S. exporter and already sells about a quarter of its commercial aircraft to Chinese customers.

Another person familiar with the talks said the package may include some elimination of Chinese tariffs already in place on about $4 billion worth of U.S. farm products including fruit, nuts, pork, wine and sorghum. [..]The top-line number in the Chinese offer would largely match a request presented to Chinese officials two weeks ago by Trump administration officials in Beijing. But getting to a $200 billion reduction of the U.S. China trade deficit on a sustainable basis would require a massive change in the composition of trade between the two countries, as the U.S. goods deficit was $375 billion last year. The United States’ two biggest exports to China were aircraft at $16 billion last year, and soybeans, at $12 billion.

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An invitation to London and Washington?!

Ecuador Orders Withdrawal Of Extra Assange Security From London Embassy (R.)

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, ordered the withdrawal on Thursday of additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained for almost six years. The Australian took refuge in the small diplomatic headquarters in 2012 to avoid sexual abuse charges in Sweden. He rejects the charges and prosecutors have abandoned their investigation. However, British authorities are still seeking his arrest.

“The President of the Republic, Lenin Moreno, has ordered that any additional security at the Ecuadorian embassy in London be withdrawn immediately,” the government said in a statement. “ From now on, it will maintain normal security similar to that of other Ecuadorian embassies,” the statement said. Ecuador suspended Assange’s communication systems in March after his pointed political comments on Twitter. Moreno has described Assange’s situation as “a stone in his shoe.”

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Own your own basics.

How Public Ownership Was Raised From The Grave (NS)

For decades, nationalisation was a taboo subject in British politics. New Labour accepted all of Margaret Thatcher’s privatisations and even extended the market into new realms (such as air traffic control and Royal Mail). Few expected public ownership to return in any significant capacity. But the state has since risen from its slumber. Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, yesterday announced that the East Coast Mainline rail franchise would be renationalised (for the third time in 12 years) after its private operators defaulted on payments. Labour, which has called for the whole network to be restored to public ownership, can boast of changing policy from opposition. Further franchises, rail experts say (Northern Rail, South Western, Transpennine Express and Greater Anglia), may also be renationalised out of necessity.

Grayling emphasised that the East Coast move was a “temporary” and purely pragmatic one; the Conservatives usually deride nationalisation as retrogressive, redolent of the grim 1970s. But the voters back Labour’s interventionism. A poll published last year by the Legatum Institute and Populus found that they favour public ownership of the UK’s water (83%), electricity (77%), gas (77%) and railway (76%). Voters are weary of the substandard service and excessive prices that characterise many private companies. (And saw the commanding heights of the British banking system renationalised following the financial crisis.) .

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People are tired of more EU.

EU Dashes Membership Hopes Of Balkan States (G.)

Keep waiting in line, but don’t expect the door to open any time soon. That was the message delivered on Thursday to six Balkan states hoping to join the EU. The six had been invited to the EU heads of state summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, as a gesture to reaffirm their path towards EU membership. Instead, the summit was notable for divisions on whether or not the bloc could cope with further enlargement in the foreseeable future. The EU is keen to offer enticements to the six states, given worries about potential instability and the growing role of Russia in the region. Johannes Hahn, the commissioner for enlargement, has said on a number of occasions that the EU should “export stability” to the region to avoid “importing instability”.

But many member states are uneasy about giving concrete commitments. Emmanuel Macron has emerged as the leading opponent of further EU expansion. “I think we need to look at any new enlargement with a lot of prudence and rigour,” the French president told journalists in Sofia. “The last 15 years have shown a path that has weakened Europe by thinking all the time that it should be enlarged.” A declaration was adopted at the summit that offered support for the “European perspective” of the six Balkan countries but was noticeably lacking words about “accession” or “enlargement”.

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“The draft was approved with votes 60-1..”

US House Committee Approves Provision To Freeze Arms Sales To Turkey (K.)

The United States House Committee on Armed Services of the US Congress approved in principle on Thursday a draft bill on the US budget for 2019 national defense which includes a provision that would halt any sale of military equipment to Turkey until the Secretary of Defense submits a report on the US-Turkish relationship to the congressional defense committees. The draft was approved with votes 60-1 and will be followed by a debate on various amendments, while a similar procedure will take place in the Senate.

If this provision comes into force after the end of the debate, the restrictions imposed on Turkey’s military supplies will be wide-ranging, including, but not limited to, the sales of F-35 Lightning II JSF and F-16 Fighting Falcon, CH- 47 Chinook helicopters, H-60 Blackhawk, and Patriot missiles. The effort to freeze the delivery of the F-35 fighter aircraft to Ankara has formed part of an important campaign conducted by the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) in Washington. As explained by HALC’s executive director, Endy Zemenides, the fact that this provision was included in the draft law is another important step towards fulfilling the goal of the HALC campaign.

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No comment.

Alabama Congressman Blames Sea Level Rise On Rocks Falling Into The Ocean (Al)

North Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks is making headlines again for blaming sea level rise on rocks falling into the ocean and silt washing from major rivers. Brooks was one of several Republican lawmakers sparring with a climate scientist at a Wednesday hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Included in the arguing were Republicans Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee’s chairman, and California’s Dana Rohrabacher, but the websites for Science and Esquire used Brooks’ picture to illustrate their coverage. “Republican lawmaker: Rocks tumbling into ocean causing sea level rise,” read the Science site’s headline.

“Is the Human Race Too Dumb to Survive on This Planet?” asked Esquire also featuring Brooks. “Here’s how big a rock you’d have to drop into the ocean to see the rise in sea level happening now,” chimed in the Washington Post. Brooks was quoted saying, “Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up.” He referred to erosion on the California coastline and England’s White Cliffs of Dover and silt from the Mississippi and Nile rivers.

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I think chemicals are a much bigger issue.

Climate Change On Track To Cause Major Insect Wipeout (G.)

Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis. Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected. However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C – the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement – the losses of insects are far lower.

The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analysing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species. It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less. “We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.” “The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said. “People should be concerned – humans depend on ecosystems functioning.” Pollination, fertile soils, clean water and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said.

In October, scientists warned of “ecological Armageddon” after discovering that the number of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters in the past 25 years in Germany and very likely elsewhere. “We know that many insects are in rapid decline due to factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods,” said Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, and not part of the new analysis. “This new study shows that, in the future, these declines would be hugely accelerated by the impacts of climate change, under realistic climate projections. When we add in all the other adverse factors affecting wildlife, all likely to increase as the human population grows, the future for biodiversity on planet Earth looks bleak.”

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It’s a start. But why the focus still only on bees?

EU Court Upholds Curbs On Bee-Killing Pesticides (AFP)

A top European Union court on Thursday upheld the ban on three insecticides blamed for killing off bee populations, dismissing cases brought by chemicals giants Bayer and Syngenta. The decision involves a partial ban by the European Union from 2013, but the bloc has since taken more drastic action after a major report by European food safety agency targeted the chemicals. “The General Court confirms the validity of the restrictions introduced at EU level in 2013 against the insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid because of the risks those substances pose to bees,” a statement said.

“Given the existence of new studies … the Commission was fully entitled to find that it was appropriate to review the approval of the substances in question,” it said. Bees help pollinate 90% of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides. The pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the nervous systems of insect pests. Past studies have found neonicotinoids can cause bees to become disorientated such that they cannot find their way back to the hive, and lower their resistance to disease.

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Apr 082018
 
 April 8, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The Concert 1663
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)
Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)
Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)
Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)
US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)
China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)
Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)
China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)
No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)
Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)
US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)
Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

 

 

At some point it will stop. But it’s just too tempting.

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)

The world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, according to a shocking analysis that has lead to a cross-party call for action. World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance. An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today. Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.

New polling by Opinium suggests that voters perceive a major problem with the influence exerted by the very wealthy. Asked to select a group that would have the most power in 2030, most (34%) said the super-rich, while 28% opted for national governments. In a sign of falling levels of trust, those surveyed said they feared the consequences of wealth inequality would be rising levels of corruption (41%) or the “super-rich enjoying unfair influence on government policy” (43%).

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Once they have new identities, nobody can ever ask them a question again.

Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)

Britain is considering offering poisoned Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia new identities and a fresh life in the United States in an attempt to protect them from further murder attempts, the Sunday Times newspaper reported. It said officials at the MI6 intelligence agency have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims poisoned last month in the English city of Salisbury. “They will be offered new identities,” it quoted an unidentified source as saying.

The paper said its sources believed Britain would want to ensure their safety by resettling them in one of the so-called “five eyes” countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. “The obvious place to resettle them is America because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” it quoted what it called an intelligence source familiar with the negotiations as saying. “There’s a preference for them to be resettled in a five-eyes nation because their case would have huge security implications,” the source added.

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Some are more equal than others.

Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)

Facebook secretly deleted private messages from people’s inboxes that had been sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company has admitted. Messages disappearing from people’s inboxes was first noted by TechCrunch, who cited three sources whose inboxes had been tampered with. It is not possible for normal Facebook users to delete messages from other people’s inboxes, though Mr Zuckerberg and other executives appear to have had access to the functionality for several years. Facebook said in a statement that the self-destructing feature was added in response to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 that compromised personal information of Sony employees, as well as copies of unreleased films.

The feature may also have been used to prevent potentially embarrassing messages from resurfacing, such as a 2004 message sent by Mr Zuckerberg that reportedly called users of the social network “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data. “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook said. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.” The messages were also missing when the affected users attempted to recover them using Facebook’s “download your information” tool.

Deleting private messages from people’s inboxes without their consent may potentially go against Facebook’s terms of service, which make no mention of removing content unless it is a violation of the firm’s community standards.

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We spy on you for your own good. Trust us, we know better.

Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)

Facebook scans the links and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, and reads chats when they’re flagged to moderators, making sure the content abides by the company’s rules. If it doesn’t, it gets blocked or taken down. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger’s practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox’s Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said. “In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said. “We stop those messages from going through.”

Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: Was Facebook reading messages more generally? Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users’ private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn’t use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect. The company told Bloomberg that while Messenger conversations are private, Facebook scans them and uses the same tools to prevent abuse there that it does on the social network more generally. All content must abide by the same “community standards.” People can report posts or messages for violating those standards, which would prompt a review by the company’s “community operations” team.

Automated tools can also do the work. “For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman said in a statement. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”

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When Facebook looks at everybody’s everything, this should come as no surprise.

US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking to create a searchable database of hundreds of thousands of news sources, journalists, bloggers and “media influencers” for the federal government, a move a DHS spokesman called “standard practice.” In a job request posted last week to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the main contracting website used by the federal government, DHS wrote that it is seeking a contractor that is able to monitor up to 290,000 global news sources, track media coverage in up to 100 languages and can “track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”

The request also seeks the ability to build lists of journalists “based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role.” Data to be collected would also include an analysis of each news source’s “sentiment,” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum and circulation. The database of “top media influencers” would include “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

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Treasuries are the only thing China can buy with its -dollar- surplus.

China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)

When China builds a trade surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. That means its purchase of US dollar assets is non-discretionary unless it revalues its currency. Every time there is some kind of dispute between China and the United States, a litany of voices emerges to warn of spiking interest rates. These warnings are wrong-headed. We went through this very same exercise in 2010. And Michael Pettis’s commentary is useful in this context. Let me quote from Michael and explain what it means in today’s context:

“If China runs a current account surplus, it must accumulate net foreign claims by exactly that amount, and the entity against which it accumulates those claims (adjusting for actions by other players within the balance of payments) ultimately must run the corresponding current account deficit. And as long as China ran the largest current account surplus ever recorded as a share of global GDP, and the US the largest current account deficit ever recorded, and especially since China also ran an additional capital account surplus (i.e. other non-PBoC agents ran a net capital inflow), it was almost impossible for the PBoC to do anything but buy US dollar assets. Given the sheer amounts, a substantial portion of these assets had inevitably to be USG bonds.“

The source of acrimony between China and the US is China’s trade surplus with the US. Now, when China builds this surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. And so, for a large portion of that dollar hoard, the Chinese have decided to store it as Treasury bonds. We don’t have to argue the merits of the Trump trade position here. It’s irrelevant regarding China’s accumulation of Treasury securities or mortgage-backed securities. Note that now it is Germany instead of China that has the largest current account surplus. And the EU has drawn Trump’s ire for this reason.

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“..growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009”

Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)

The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned that the rapid expansion of China’s shadow banking sector over the past decade poses a threat to financial stability.The RBA estimates that China’s shadow banking sector currently stands at USD$7 trillion, or around 60% of GDP, after growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009. This means China’s shadow banking sector is far largely proportionately compared to other emerging economies, and roughly on par with developed nations such as the UK and the US. The RBA points out that shadow banking has brought benefits to the Chinese economy, chief amongst them the provision of more innovative forms of financing to companies otherwise barred from the state-dominated banking system.

Chinese households also benefited by obtaining access to investment products that provide competitive yields, in a highly regulated financial environment that provides few investment options.These benefits have also created problems, however, in the form of surging debt growth beyond the purview of regulatory scrutiny, riskier lending that is still inextricably linked to the Chinese banking system, as well as liquidity and maturity mismatches.These risks have been further exacerbated by the relative inexperience of China’s retail investors, and the perception that many financial instruments such as bank wealth management products enjoy “implicit guarantees. ”Beijing is well aware of the risks associated with exorbitant debt growth via shadow banking activity, launching a crackdown on the sector over a year ago as part of a broader deleveraging campaign.

The recently merged banking and insurance regulator has also flagged a continued focus on local government and state-owned enterprise leverage, alongside concern over the rapid increase in household borrowing.According to RBA analysts, however, Chinese regulators are still struggling to control breakneck credit growth in the economy.“Chinese regulators have been trying to mitigate these risks for some time, but it has been a challenge to design regulations that address these risks and are not easily circumvented,” said RBA officials in the Australian central bank’s March bulletin. In January China posted record growth in lending, which surged to 2.9 trillion yuan (approx. USD$458.5 billion) for a five-fold increase compared to the preceding month.

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What Xi can’t control.

China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)

The transformation of China’s economy, both in terms of GDP growth rate and poverty reduction since it started its transition to the market system in the late 1970s, has arguably been the biggest macroeconomic event of the past half-century. The model that has characterized the country’s high output growth rates has followed in the footsteps of the Asian “tigers“: first, its high growth rates of capital accumulation, driven by high investment-output ratios; second, a marked outward orientation through export-led growth policies; and third, the pursuit of industrialization (in particular the production and export of manufacturing goods), a key ingredient for fast growth and development. By almost every metric, China has advanced from economic backwater to the world’s second-largest GDP (and by some measures, is now the largest economy).

But in spite of signs of renewed economic activity in March, the country’s debt build-up has provoked increasing concern amongst Beijing’s policy makers, as it points to an underlying long-term financial fragility, particularly if trade war pressures intensify. Just last October during the Communist Party Plenary, Zhou Xiaochuan, then head of the country’s central bank, warned of a “Minsky moment“: “When there are too many pro-cyclical factors in an economy, cyclical fluctuations will be amplified. If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky Moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”

To elaborate on Zhou’s statement, the economist Hyman Minsky described how once the debt “disease” goes metastatic, there will come a “Minsky moment” (a term originally coined by economist Paul McCulley) when euphoria gives way to concern and then to panic liquidation and credit revulsion. When that dynamic is in full flower, policy makers are powerless to avert it, no matter how much they want to bring the punchbowl back. Governor Zhou’s public warning was no doubt in response to recent rapid increase of debt which, according to Professor L. Randall Wray, “increased from 162% to 260% of GDP between 2008 and 2016,” and remains “a topic of discussion, if not deep concern.”

It may seem odd to warn of a Chinese slowdown, given the recent renewed surge in exports and the corresponding rise in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing managing indices (both the manufacturing and service gauges remain above 50, and therefore indicative of robust economic activity). But these gains ought to be viewed against the backdrop of a more hostile external environment for Chinese manufactured goods. Discussing the recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, the New York Times reported that Trump has already provided brief exemptions to “Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea” (countries that “account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the United States in 2017”), which reinforces the idea that it is largely China that remains the major target of Trump’s economic nationalists.

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A nice thought experiment.

No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before. As British Prime Minister Theresa May is finding out, disentangling a member state from the EU is an arduous and complex undertaking. But how much harder would Brexit have been had the United Kingdom adopted the euro back in 2000?

For starters, the people of Britain would never have been consulted on whether they wanted to check out of the EU. In a hypothetical eurozone Britain, the very announcement of a referendum on membership would have triggered a bank run. Given Britain’s chronic trade and current-account deficits, an exit from the euro would have necessarily caused a decline in the international value of UK bank deposits. Foreseeing this, depositors would have responded to the announcement of a referendum by immediately withdrawing their euros in cash or by wiring them to Frankfurt, Paris, New York, or elsewhere. And, foreseeing that reaction, no British prime minister, not even David Cameron, would have dared announce a Brexit referendum.

Looking further back, what would the effect of 16 years in the eurozone have been on the relative strength of Leavers and Remainers within the Conservative Party? What would Britain’s economic circumstances have been like prior to 2016 had the euro been the UK’s currency? Would the political pressure to hold the referendum in 2016 have been weaker had Britain shared the same currency as Germany, France, and Greece? As with all counterfactuals, we are treading on thin ice here. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to sketch a plausible economic past for a UK that, hypothetically, entered the eurozone in 2000.

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Time to follow the money on pot.

Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)

Legalised cannabis use may help solve America’s opioid crisis, two scientific studies have suggested. Two separate peer-reviewed studies in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found significant drops in opioid prescribing in US states that had relaxed their cannabis laws. Both studies appear to offer insights into possible ways to solve a crisis that saw 17,087 people die from prescription opioid overdoes in the US in 2016. The crisis has its origins in soaring prescription rates after a new generation of opioids were marketed in the 1980s and 1990s with inaccurate claims that they could alleviate chronic pain with minimal risk of addiction.

The new research was accompanied by an opinion piece in JAMA Internal Medicine which said both studies produced “results suggesting that cannabis legalisation may play a beneficial role in the opioid crisis”. In the first study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, looked at Medicare Part D prescriptions for people over the age of 65 between 2010 and 2015. It found that prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. When a state opened marijuana dispensaries, opioid prescriptions dropped by 3.7 million daily doses per year.

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Loophole. And a dangerous one.

US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)

Researchers in the US have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants. The decision opens the door for scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe. The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques. “I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.” The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe. “At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University. “It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown. The prospect that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing worried many researchers who feared a technology at which Britain excels would be banned. These fears are now disappearing, they say. “If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Murphy. “At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Dylan Jones. “Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.” Genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences. Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome. Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise. By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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I don’t like calling living creatures ‘pests’, and the tone here is a bit sensational, but the core is resistance against pesticides. We must stop poisoning nature.

Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

A pair of major agricultural pests have combined to produce a “mega-pest” that could threaten crops around the world. Losses from the original pest species, cotton bollworms and corn earworms, already amounts to billions of dollars worth of food. But a hybrid of the two, shows signs of rapidly developing resistance to pesticides and it scientists fear it could cross international boundaries undetected, wiping out all the crops it comes across. Bollworms and earworms are closely related. The bollworm has its origins in Africa, Asia and Europe while the earworm is a native of the Americas. Both are in fact moth caterpillars and they feed on more than 100 plant species including vital crops like corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

A team of Australian scientists who discovered the hybrid mega-pests think the combination of international species could be creating a new strain with unlimited geographical boundaries. It is impossible to tell which individuals are hybrids just by looking at them, meaning by the time the hybrids have been detected it may be too late. [..] In Australia, a combination of pesticides is currently being employed to manage the nation’s bollworms, but chemical resistance is a major cause for concern. Bollworms are generally better at developing resistance than their earworm cousins, and are immune to the effects of many major insecticides.

However, within the “hybrid swarm” they studied in Brazil the scientists found creatures that were largely earworm in their genetic makeup, but with bollworm DNA coding for pesticide resistance. The scientists warned that the Brazilian case highlighted the threat that new “agriculturally problematic” strains of pest could soon spread throughout the rest of the Americas. “On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65% of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” said Dr Craig Anderson, one of the study’s authors.

Read more …

Mar 262018
 


Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953

 

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:

“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”

In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:

Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…

since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…

Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:

 

Three-Quarters Of Flying Insects In Germany Have Vanished In 25 Years

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

Then last week from AFP:

 

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:

 

Where Have All The Insects Gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”

Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”

Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.

 

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year.

Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.

 

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle. Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world. Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?

 

 

Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dirk de Herder Amstel Bridge, Amsterdam1946

 

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)
EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)
UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)
Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)
The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)
Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)
German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)
Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)
Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)
France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

 

 

Net worth my ass.

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)

Nine years into the second-longest bull market run in history, the level of total net worth compared with income has reached a record, according to Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, citing Federal Reserve data. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the disparity between net worth and income has soared, attributable in large part to the growth in financial assets, which have increased by $33.9 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in nonfinancial assets. Essentially, that means that American wallets have grown fatter from the accumulation of financial assets like stocks and mutual fund holdings than they have from gains in their homes and other physical assets like autos.

In all, total net worth of $98.75 trillion is now 6.79 times the $14.55 trillion in disposable income for households as of the fourth quarter, according to Fed financial accounts figures. That’s up from 6.71 times in the third quarter. The previous tops came in the first quarter of 2006, with 6.51, and the first quarter of 2000, at 6.12. Those two levels cast ominous signals over the U.S. economy. “A recession started four quarters from the peak of the former and eight quarters from the zenith in the latter,” LaVorgna said Tuesday in a note to clients. As a practical matter, the level should serve as a yellow flag for Fed officials, who are on a course of hiking rates gradually but steadily.

[..] The Fed is an important part of the equation in that it helped boost financial assets through historically low interest rates and an aggressive policy of monthly bond buying called quantitative easing. This is the first meeting for new Chairman Jerome Powell, who must navigate the Fed through rate increases aimed at controlling but not stopping growth. After years of mostly steady gains since the bull market run began in 2009, volatility has crept in 2018 and raised the specter that forward gains will be tougher to achieve. “Powell needs to be mindful of the current backdrop and not signal aggressive rate hikes to come,” LaVorgna said. “Otherwise, stock prices and the economy are in trouble.”

Read more …

Brussels and Facebook: they’re going to come for part of the loot of selling your data.

EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)

The EU will unveil proposals for a digital tax on US tech giants on Wednesday, bringing yet more turmoil to Facebook after revelations over misused data of 50 million users shocked the world. The special tax is the latest measure by the 28-nation European Union to rein in Silicon Valley giants and could further embitter the bad-tempered trade row pitting the EU against US President Donald Trump. EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will present proposals aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.

The transatlantic blow has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and will be discussed over dinner at an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “This will be given top priority as tax file. There is a lot of political momentum on this issue,” an EU official said ahead of the announcement. The unprecedented tech tax follows major anti-trust decisions by the EU that have cost Apple and Google billions and also caught out Amazon. The commission’s tax, expected to be about 3% of sales, would affect revenue from digital advertising, paid subscriptions and the selling of personal data.

The EU tax plan will target mainly US companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Spared are smaller European start-ups that struggle to compete with them. Companies like Netflix, which depend on subscriptions, will also avoid the chop. Brussels is seeking to choke tax-avoidance strategies used by the tech giants that, although legal, deprive EU governments of billions of euros in revenue.

Read more …

Got to admit, hard to say who I’d trust least with this, Facebook or the UK deep state.

UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog ordered Facebook’s auditors to back down from a probe into a political analytics company accused of wrongly harvesting the data of millions of its users. The tech giant was planning to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s servers and systems, but the Information Commissioner’s Office told Facebook on Monday that it should withdraw from the research firm’s London premises. The ICO said it would seek to gain its own warrant to access the company’s computers and servers.

Facebook had said Monday that it was pursuing a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica and had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data analytics company still possessed Facebook user data. But in an updated statement later that day, Facebook said: “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”

Read more …

Sold his shares first?!

Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook last year. Now he’s saying others should do the same. In a tweet Tuesday, Action said: “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without their permission by political data company Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign. He did not immediately expand on his comment. While his Facebook profile was still active for hours after his tweet, it appeared deactivated later Tuesday night.

Acton and fellow co-founder Jan Koum sold the messaging service WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion. Acton received about $3 billion in the deal, and has a net worth of about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. After staying on for three years, Acton quit Facebook in September, and is now a major backer of rival messaging service Signal, which boasts encryption to make its messages resistent to government surveillance. In February, he joined the newly launched nonprofit Signal Foundation as executive chairman, and invested $50 million into the app.

Read more …

Now connect this to the Facebook stories.

The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)

Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.

The documents indicate that “tracking down” bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”

The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against bitcoin targets, hinting that the NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given bitcoin user would be easy.

Read more …

One took 519 days, the other 35 days. That’s an actual compariosn?

Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)

Bitcoin has long been compared to the dot-com bubble. Morgan Stanley says its recent moves are similar to the tech boom and bust, but on steroids. Bitcoin’s recent moves almost mirror that of the Nasdaq Composite Index in the lead-up to and aftermath of 2000, but at 15 times the speed, Morgan Stanley said. The Nasdaq climbed 278% in 519 days in the rally leading up to its high in March 2000, while Bitcoin soared 248% in 35 days in the last leg of the rally to its $19,511 high in December, according to the report. There have been three waves of weakness since Bitcoin peaked in December, with prices falling between 45% and 50% each time, before rebounding.

The Nasdaq’s bear market from 2000 had five price declines, averaging a similar 44%. The bear market also looks similar on the way up. There have been two Bitcoin bear market rallies of 43% on average, while the Nasdaq bear market rallies averaged 40%. Bear markets are nothing new for the first decentralized digital currency. Since the coin’s creation in 2009 there have been four bear markets with price declines ranging from 28% to 92%. From the December peak to the most recent low on February, Bitcoin’s price fell by 70%, “nothing out of the ordinary,” Morgan Stanley said.

Read more …

C’mon, close them down already. This movie’s getting boring.

German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)

German prosecutors said on Tuesday they had searched Volkswagen’s headquarters as part of a new investigation into whether the carmaker had overstated the fuel efficiency of more vehicles than previously disclosed. The news is the latest setback in the German company’s efforts to move on from a 2015 scandal in which it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. Prosecutors from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices at Volkswagen’s (VW) headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, confirming a report by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

They were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015—about three months after its “dieselgate” scandal broke in the United States—over suspicions its contents were incorrect In that statement, VW said its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its preliminary estimate of around 800,000 diesel and gasoline vehicles produced five weeks earlier, which caused VW to warn it could face a 2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) hit to profits from the disclosure. VW also said in its December 2015 statement that it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data.

Read more …

We might as well keep thinking as long as we still can.

Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)

So our taxes don’t pay for spending, so what? So the government can’t run out of money. Big deal. Does that change anything? ‘We can’t afford it’ has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days. Perhaps even earlier. And while it might make you feel good to believe that, it is simply untrue. This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment if it keeps export prices low. Or the currency competitive. Or their bottom line stable. Ultimately, this comes down to what government is for, and what role markets should play in our lives. People are divided on this. And that is ok. Civil disagreements are a hallmark of a civilised society.

Economies and markets are complex beasts, that perform differently in different environments, under different conditions. Arguably across the duration of time, a range of potential solutions could apply at any given scenario. And the best solution is to pick and choose from a range of different economic schools of thought, and use them in combination. Unfortunately, across the world, the economists and historians that are seeking to gain greater clarity of how to do just that, by understanding the true function of economies and markets are being pushed out of universities and barred from institutions and organisations that would allow their research to come to fruition. This is not a mark of a civilised society, but corporate fascism that is actively suppressing research that threatens the dominance of late-stage capitalism.

If you feel comfortable convincing yourself that unemployment and homelessness is acceptable, if you think the fact that wages have not only stagnated but are in many countries actually going backwards somehow doesn’t affect you, that what most people earn in a lifetime will be insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement should not concern you, that addressing any one of these things would be a detriment not only to your bottom line but to the economy itself, if you can justify that position without relying on arguments over deficits and balanced budgets, well, more power to you, I guess. But we should be honest about our disagreements. And our opinions should be informed by an as accurate understanding of how wealth is created as possible.

For many people, whether or not government can afford to address unemployment and social spending isn’t the issue, the question is whether it should. The argument over budgets, debt ceilings and deficits have been used as a national pacifier that would have us believe that the health of the economy and our ability to earn a living relies on a degree of human suffering. We have been convinced that the balancing of federal budgets somehow relates to our ability to put food on the table, when in fact the opposite is true. These lies have made us paranoid and competitive, where the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. It’s a pretty genius strategy, really.

Read more …

On the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

“Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)

Seven years ago today, NATO began its “humanitarian bombing” of Libya. While “humanitarian bombing” is an oxymoron, many believe that a country is not truly advancing human rights if it’s not bombing another back to the Stone Age. As an initial matter, it must be said that while the UN had authorized a NATO fly-zone over Libya to protect civilians – all civilians, by the way – there was never authorization for the full-scale invasion which was carried out and which quickly became aimed at regime change. Therefore, the NATO operation which actually took place was illegal.

[..] the intervention was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice – three self-described warriors for human and women’s rights. Instead, they became three ushers of the Apocalypse. In addition, Italy and France, which also helped lead the charge for invasion, had their own reasons for intervening in Libya. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be singularly focused on killing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who allegedly gave him €50 million for his presidential campaign – a claim which was just coming to light and to which Gaddafi was the chief witness.

[..] Gaddafi had taken Libya from being the least prosperous country in Africa to the being the most prosperous by the time of the NATO operation. Thus, as one commentator explains, before the intervention, “Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.” Moreover, one of the main reasons, we were told, that NATO needed to intervene in 2011 was to save Benghazi from imminent harm from the government forces of Gaddafi.

However, Hillary Clinton’s own internal emails show that her team recognized that any humanitarian problems confronting Benghazi had passed by the time of the NATO bombing. For example, Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email dated February 21, 2011 – that is, just a mere four days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya – explains that the Gaddafi forces no longer controlled Benghazi and that the mood in the city was indeed “celebratory” by that time. Then, on March 2, just over two weeks before the bombing began, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email describing “[s]ecurity reports” which “confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days.”

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Rhinos, insects, birds. You are next.

Bird populations in France have fallen by 33% in just 15 years.

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

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Mar 022018
 
 March 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harold Steggels Essex landscape 1932

 

Trump’s Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Trigger Market Sell-Off In US, Asia (G.)
Trump’s Tariffs Throw a Wrench in the Global Trading System (BBG)
S&P 500 Breaks Below 100-Day Average Technical Inflection Point (BBG)
JFK-Trump S&P500 Analog Chart (MW)
NRA Members On Trump Gun Control Plans: ‘Every Word Of It Was A Betrayal’ (G.)
Putin On New US Nuclear Stance: If Attacked, Russia Will Use Nukes (RT)
China Bans Orwell’s Animal Farm And Letter ‘N’ Amid Anger At Xi (Ind.)
‘Cleanest In History’ Diesel Cars Still Pollute Far Above Legal Limits (Ind.)
US Breaks 47-Year-Old Monthly Oil Production Record (Robert Rapier)
Bitcoin’s Plunge in Volume Stirs Questions About Its Popularity (BBG)
Making the Business Case for Gender Equality (PS)
UK Risks Running Out Of Gas, Prices Soar (G.)
UK Food Crisis Looms Without Brexit Deal (BBG)
Pesticides Put Bees At Risk, European Watchdog Confirms (CNBC)
‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Gets Makeover As Arctic Heats Up (AFP)

 

 

What he was elected on. Why should the US be dependent on imports for all of its steel?

Trump’s Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Trigger Market Sell-Off In US, Asia (G.)

World stock markets have tumbled after Donald Trump said the United States would impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on imported aluminum next week. The threat of a trade war with China and higher goods prices led to a sharp sell-off in Wall Street on Thursday, causing Asian markets to take fright on Friday. The Nikkei index in Japan fell 2.4%, Hong Kong and South Korea were down 1.6%, and the ASX200 in Sydney was off 1% in early afternoon trading. Asian steelmakers bore the brunt. South Korea’s Posco fell 3% and Japan’s Nippon Steel 4%. Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets in Sydney said it was a “sharp reminder of the initial negative reaction to the election of Mr Trump ..

… An explanation may come, but the initial market interpretation of the move is rank populism. The lack of structure makes anticipating further measures and possible responses to retaliatory moves difficult to predict.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average had initially fallen more than 570 points, with heavy losses for manufacturers like Caterpillar and Boeing. The index closed down 420 points and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both dropped on the day. Trump campaigned on the promise of protecting the US steel industry but until now has done little to make good on those promises. At a meeting with US industry officials at the White House, he vowed to rebuild American steel and aluminum industries, saying they had been treated unfairly by other countries for decades.

The move is likely to increase tensions with China, whose top trade official, Lui He, is in Washington for trade talks. “People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn’t have a clue,” Trump said at a White House press conference attended by executives from the steel and aluminum industries. “Or if they did, then they should be ashamed of themselves because they’ve destroyed the steel industry, they’ve destroyed the aluminum industry, and other industries, frankly, when you look at all the plants, the car plants, automobile plants that moved down to Mexico for no reason whatsoever, except we didn’t know what we were doing. So we’re bringing it all back.”

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Bloomberg claims that “..it looked like the global economy was running on all cylinders ..” No it didn’t.

Trump’s Tariffs Throw a Wrench in the Global Trading System (BBG)

Just when it looked like the global economy was running on all cylinders, President Donald Trump injected a degree of risk to the otherwise favorable outlook. The U.S. president announced on Thursday plans to impose 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% tariffs on foreign aluminum, with more details to be unveiled next week. American equities cratered for a third day as fears of a trade war spread and expectations for U.S. economic growth weakened a bit. The move to protect American metals producers threatens to raise prices for consumers and businesses that buy goods made with the raw materials. That will have implications for a U.S. central bank that’s debating how fast to raise interest rates this year.

“If tariffs go up, it will, at the margin, tend to put more upward pressure on prices, and those upward pressure on prices will have to be considered by the monetary authority,” New York Fed President William Dudley said in a speech in Brazil on Thursday. The extent of any economic damage will depend on the fine-print of Trump’s new policies and the severity of countries’ retaliation. Some economists worried the move might presage a shift toward an era of more economy-inhibiting protectionism just when it looked like the growth headwinds were fading. “It is possible that a more aggressive shift in policy is under way that could undermine the pro-growth tilt of fiscal policy, harming the U.S. and global economic expansions,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note after Trump’s announcement.

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Jay Powell gets a warm welcome.

S&P 500 Breaks Below 100-Day Average Technical Inflection Point (BBG)

The stock market is flirting with a technical inflection point again. The S&P 500 Index briefly broke below its 100-day moving average Thursday, sinking as much as 2% after President Donald Trump said the U.S. will impose harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The announcement added fuel to a fire that’s been smoldering since last month’s selloff, as investors continue to worry about rising inflation and interest rates. That anxiety has brought the market close to collapsing through the line of defense the moving average represents.

“You’ve broken down below the halfway point, now you’re toying below the initial high after the collapse, and you’ve gotten into all sorts of technical problems,” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden, said by phone. “Breaking some technical averages here is starting to scare people.” The S&P 500 fell 1.1% to 2,684.02 as of 3:27 p.m. in New York, after going as low as 2,659.65. The index is down about 2.5% on the week. Before February’s correction, the gauge hadn’t touched the 100-day barrier since last August. And while the market is recovering some of Thursday’s losses late in the session, it still risks closing below the line for the third time in a month.

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Causation and correlation.

JFK-Trump S&P500 Analog Chart (MW)

Last month, MarketWatch used a chart overlay to illustrate how the stock market under John F. Kennedy has closely followed its performance over the same time frame with Donald Trump in the White House. Fast forward three weeks and, as of Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500, in relative terms, sat almost exactly where it did at this point during Kennedy’s administration. If the trend persists—a HUGE if, of course—prepare for some rather steep losses in the coming weeks. Perhaps it’s already started, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down nearly 600 points at its Thursday low.

“After 328 trading days since election day, the Trump S&P 500 sits right on top of the JFK S&P 500,” the blogger behind the Global Macro Monitor wrote. ”The index, 328 trading days after the election day of each president, is less than five basis points within one another. Rather stunning, don’t you think?”

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Trump needs Democrat support on this. Where are they?

NRA Members On Trump Gun Control Plans: ‘Every Word Of It Was A Betrayal’ (G.)

NRA members have branded Donald Trump’s plans for stricter gun control legislation “stupid” and a “betrayal” after the president suggested reforms on Wednesday. In an open meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans, Trump embraced raising the age limit on purchasing certain weapons and suggested that law enforcement should be allowed to confiscate people’s guns before going through due process in a court. Joe Biggs, an Austin, Texas-based NRA member and chief executive of Rogue Right, a conservative news website, was among those unimpressed by the proposal. “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Hopefully he was just having a momentary brain fart, a lapse of judgment,” Biggs said.

He added: “Hopefully someone pulled him into the back and said: ‘You’ve just lost half your base by saying something that stupid.’” During the meeting Trump called for a “beautiful” bill which would expand background checks on gun purchases and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons. But it was his suggestion that in some cases law enforcement should be allowed to “take the guns first, go through due process second” – that most alarmed gun owners on the right. “You spend your whole life on the right and you always think that Democrats are going to be the ones who take your guns,” Biggs said. “And then you hear President Trump say: ‘Oh we’re gonna take your guns and go through due process later.’” Biggs said he would vote for another candidate in the 2020 presidential election if Trump pushed through his reforms.

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Putin in his state of the union announced to his people that Russia can defend itself from any attacks, including nuclear. Western media twist his words; the Guardian claims that “Russia threatens arms race” and even Zero Hedge says :“..the era of the Western world attempting to prevent Russia’s expansion is over.”

That’s all straight from NATO’s playbook.

Putin On New US Nuclear Stance: If Attacked, Russia Will Use Nukes (RT)

The new US nuclear posture allows a nuclear strike in response to a conventional attack. President Vladimir Putin said Russia, if attacked with nuclear weapons, would not hesitate to respond in kind. The warning came during a state of the nation address delivered by the Russian president on Thursday, in which he presented a number of new advanced strategic weapon systems which, he said, would render all anti-missile capabilities that the US currently has powerless. Putin also mentioned the new American nuclear posture, which has relaxed some rules on when the US is prepared to use its nuclear weapons. “We are greatly concerned by some parts of the new nuclear posture, which reduces the benchmark for the use of nuclear weapons…

..Whatever soothing words one may try to use behind closed doors, we can read what was written. And it says that these weapons can be used in response to a conventional attack or even a cyber-threat,” he said. “Our nuclear doctrine says Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against her or her allies, or a conventional attack against us that threatens the very existence of the state.” “It is my duty to state this: Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it small-scale, medium-scale or any other scale, will be treated as a nuclear attack on our country. The response will be instant and with all the relevant consequences,” Putin warned.

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Xi as a stand up comedian.

China Bans Orwell’s Animal Farm And Letter ‘N’ Amid Anger At Xi (Ind.)

The Chinese government has banned George Orwell’s dystopian satirical novella Animal Farm and the letter ‘N’ in a wide-ranging online censorship crackdown. Experts believe the increased levels of suppression – which come just days after the Chinese Communist Party announced presidential term limits would be abolished – are a sign Xi Jinping hopes to become a dictator for life. The China Digital Times, a California-based site covering China, reports a list of terms excised from Chinese websites by government censors includes the letter ‘N’, Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and 1984, and the phrase ‘Xi Zedong’. The latter is a combination of President Xi and former chairman Mao Zedong’s names.

Search terms blocked on Sino Weibo, a microblogging site which is China’s equivalent of Twitter, include “disagree”, “personality cult”, “lifelong”, “immortality”, “emigrate”, and “shameless”. It was not immediately obvious why the ostensibly harmless letter ‘N’ had been banned, but some speculated it may either be being used or interpreted as a sign of dissent. [..] Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have long been blocked in the country and even Winnie the Pooh recently found himself subject to China’s latest internet crackdown. In July, references to the cartoon bear on Sina Weibo were removed after his image was compared to President Xi.

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Our car addiction is deeply rooted. We built our communities around them. Not around ourselves. That is a much bigger problem than what fuel a car uses to power a vehicle 10-20 times heavier than its driver, with a 10% fuel efficiency.

‘Cleanest In History’ Diesel Cars Still Pollute Far Above Legal Limits (Ind.)

Over half of diesel cars recently approved for sale in Europe are emitting pollutants far above current legal air pollution limits, despite being marketed as the “cleanest in history”. Analysis of emissions data from nearly 100 car models revealed many vehicles from the new “Euro 6” generation would not be allowed on the market if they were tested today. An investigation by Greenpeace found dozens of these high-polluting vehicles were approved for sale during a “monitoring period” in which there was no limit set on the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) they could emit on roads. Many of these vehicles have only gone on sale across Europe in the recent months. The news comes after a German court ruled cities can impose driving bans on certain diesel cars in an effort to deal with the country’s air pollution.

Such restrictions on diesel cars – including the clean air zones found in London and other UK cities – tend to focus on older, dirtier car models. However, Greenpeace campaigners emphasised that while newer Euro 6 models are described as “light years away from their older counterparts” many of them still have the capacity to emit high levels of pollutants. Following the so-called “dieselgate” scandal in 2015, which found VW had installed “cheat software” in its vehicles to fool lab emissions tests, there was a widespread push for tough new regulations. In the aftermath of the scandal, testing revealed diesel cars that met the latest “Euro 6” limits for NOx emissions in lab tests were massively exceeding those limits when driving on the road.

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Our old Oil Drum pal Robert. I’d be interested to see how fast and how sharp the shale numbers are expected to start falling.

US Breaks 47-Year-Old Monthly Oil Production Record (Robert Rapier)

In a recent post, I wrote that the U.S. would almost certainly set a new oil production record this year. I noted that the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that last November U.S. oil production exceeded 10 million barrels per day (BPD) for the first time since 1970. This week the EIA revised November’s oil production upward, which pushed it into the #1 spot for monthly production. The revision increased U.S. oil production in November to 10.057 million BPD, just edging out the previous record of 10.044 million BPD from November 1970. However, many new records should be set this year, as the EIA projects that oil production will reach 11 million BPD by year-end.

This would push the U.S. into first place among the world’s oil producers. But depending on how it is measured, the U.S. is already #1. The 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy ranks the U.S. #1 in oil production, but that’s because they include natural gas liquids (NGLs), which have surged in the U.S. along with natural gas production. The gains in U.S. oil production are being driven by production gains across tight oil plays in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, and especially the Permian Basin – where oil production is approaching a staggering 3 million BPD.

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Are they buying their own?

Bitcoin’s Plunge in Volume Stirs Questions About Its Popularity (BBG)

Earlier this year, when Bitcoin’s price fell by more than 60% from its record close, a less-noticed Bitcoin figure also plunged: the number of daily transactions. There are many explanations for the fall-off in trading, from software- to news-related. What’s less understood is why the level hasn’t recovered as Bitcoin’s price made a 50% comeback since Feb. 5. That’s left some investors wondering whether the cryptocurrency is waning in popularity. The average number of trades recorded daily has roughly dropped in half from the December highs and touched its lowest in two years last month, even as Bitcoin became a household name and roared back above $10,000.

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1) Why does it take a guy to make that case?

2) “$28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025” sounds like a male argument. If the only advantage of more women is that the same arguments are made by different voices, why bother?

Making the Business Case for Gender Equality (PS)

Around the world, gender bias is attracting renewed attention. Through protest marches and viral social-media campaigns, women everywhere are demanding an end to sexual harassment, abuse, femicide, and inequality. But, as successful as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have been in raising public awareness, the struggle for parity is far from over. Empowering women and girls is key to achieving all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the moment, however, gender bias remains a significant obstacle to global progress, and it is particularly acute in the workplace. Today, only 5% of S&P 500 companies are led by women, according to Catalyst, a non-profit CEO watchdog.

That dismal figure is all the more remarkable when one considers that 73% of global firms allegedly have equal-opportunity policies in place, according to a survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Moreover, while research shows a clear link between a company’s gender balance and its financial health, women occupy fewer than 20% of governing board seats in the world’s largest companies. Addressing such deficiencies is both an economic and a moral imperative. A 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women and men played an “identical role in labor markets,” $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. These global gains would be in addition to the benefits for individual companies.

Firms with greater gender equality are more innovative, generous, and profitable. But, at the current rate of female empowerment, it would take nearly 220 years to close the gender gap. The world cannot afford to wait that long; we need a new approach.

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The thrills of the just in time economy.

UK Risks Running Out Of Gas, Prices Soar (G.)

National Grid has warned that the UK would not have enough gas to meet public demand on Thursday, as temperatures plummeted and imports were affected by outages. But the government said households would not notice disruptions to their supply or any increase in energy bills because suppliers, including British Gas, bought energy further ahead. The energy minister Claire Perry said people should cook and use their heating as they would normally. But experts said there was a strong chance that industrial users could experience interruptions to their gas supply. Within-day wholesale gas prices soared 74% to 200p per therm after the formal deficit warning, which acts as a call to suppliers to bring forward more gas.

It is the first time such an alert has been issued since 2010. By lunchtime on Thursday the price had spiked even higher, hitting a high of 275p per therm at one point. National Grid’s forecast for the day initially showed a shortfall across the day of 49.5m cubic metres (mcm) below the country’s projected need of 395.7mcm, which would normally be around 300mcm at this time of year. The gas deficit warning aims to fill the gap, which has since narrowed to 16.5mcm. “We are in communication with industry partners and are closely monitoring the situation,” the company said.

Gas demand is now at a five-year high, according to the market watchers S&P Global Platts. Simon Wood, a gas analyst at the group, said: “There’s a strong chance you’ll see some interruptions for industrial users to balance the system.” Big energy users such as car manufacturers have supply contracts which can be interrupted in return for lower prices. The situation has been compounded by several supply outages, which can relate to very cold weather. There have been problems with a pipeline to the Netherlands, reductions in gas flows from Norway, and technical issues at facilities in the UK, including at the North Morecambe Barrow terminal.

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Gas shortage, food shortage. Self-sufficiency, anyone?

UK Food Crisis Looms Without Brexit Deal (BBG)

Brexit would lead to an unprecedented food shortage if the U.K. leaves the European Union without a deal, the CEO of the country’s second-biggest grocer said. “The impact of closing the borders for a few days to the free movement of food would result in a food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen,” J Sainsbury CEO Mike Coupe said in an interview. “It’s inconceivable to me that there won’t be a solution found.” Tensions are simmering between London and Brussels, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May saying Wednesday that no one in her position could ever agree to the draft Brexit treaty published by the EU.

May is seeking to get the EU to sign on to a transition phase at a summit of leaders later this month, but Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned Thursday that any such agreement could still unravel before Britain’s scheduled exit in March 2019. Almost half of the food eaten in the U.K. is imported. Trade barriers would be especially damaging to Britain’s fresh-food retailers, who rely heavily on the unencumbered movement of perishable goods throughout the EU. In 2016, the U.K. imported 22.4 billion pounds ($30.8 billion) worth of meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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Hey, don’t keep us from poisoning ourselves. It’s our god-given right.

Pesticides Put Bees At Risk, European Watchdog Confirms (CNBC)

Wild bees and honeybees are put at risk by three pesticides from a group known as neonicotinoids, Europe’s food safety watchdog said on Wednesday, confirming previous concerns that prompted an EU-wide ban on use of the chemicals. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report, which covered wild bees and honeybees and included a systematic review of scientific evidence published since EFSA’s 2013 evaluation, is seen as crucial to whether the European moratorium on neonicotinoid use remains in place. The updated risk assessment found variations due to factors such as species of bee, exposure and specific pesticide, “but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s pesticides unit.

The European Union has since 2014 had a moratorium on use of neonicotinoids — made and sold by various companies including Bayer and Syngenta — after lab research pointed to potential risks for bees, which are crucial for pollinating crops. EU nations will discuss a European Commission proposal to ban three neonicotinoids next month in the Plant Animal Food and Feed Standing Committee. “This is strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids,” a spokeswoman for the EU executive said.

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The whole concept is based on permafrost. Or was.

‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Gets Makeover As Arctic Heats Up (AFP)

Designed to withstand a nuclear missile hit, the world’s biggest seed vault, nestled deep inside an Arctic mountain, is undergoing a makeover as rising temperatures melt the permafrost meant to protect it. Dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of food crops, the Global Seed Vault is buried inside a former coal mine on Svalbard, a remote Arctic island in a Norwegian archipelago around 1,000 kilometres (650 miles) from the North Pole. Opened in 2008, the seed bank plays a key role in preserving the world’s genetic diversity: it is home to more than a million varieties of seeds, offering a safety net in case of natural catastrophe, war, climate change, disease or manmade disasters.

But warmer temperatures have disrupted the environment around the vault. In an unexpected development, the permafrost, which was meant to help keep the temperature inside the vault at a constant -18 Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit), melted in 2016. “The summer season was (warmer) than expected. We had water intrusions in the (access) tunnel that could be related to climate change,” Asmund Asdal, one of the seed bank’s coordinators, told AFP. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, scientific studies show. And while Europe is at the moment experiencing a subzero cold spell, the North Pole recently registered above-zero temperatures, 30 degrees higher than normal.

Scientists say warm spells like this are occurring with increasing frequency in the Arctic. Norway recently announced it would contribute 100 million kroner (10 million euros, $12.5 million) to improve the repository in a bid to protect the precious seeds. “We want to be sure that the seed vault will be cold throughout the whole year, even if the temperature continues to increase in Svalbard,” Norway’s Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale told AFP.

Read more …

Nov 092017
 
 November 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Madrid 1933

 

How I Sold Out To The Putin-Soros-Murdoch Conspiracy (Steve Keen)
Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett Richer Than Poorest Half Of US (G.)
The Middle East Is On The Verge Of New War (SF)
With Saudi Princes Dead, Arrested, King Fahd’s Grandson Flees To… Iran (IT)
Prince Alwaleed Sold His Shares In 21st Century Fox (Abc.au)
It Begins: Pension Bailout Bill To Be Introduced This Week (ZH)
How The Netherlands Became A Tax Haven (SüdD)
FEMA Offers To Airlift Puerto Ricans To Mainland US (CBS)
Catalan Parliament Speaker, 5 MPs Appear In Court On Sedition Charge (G.)
EU Gives Greece Foreclosure Ultimatum (K.)
The Plot Against Greece (K)
UK Will Back Total Ban On Bee-Harming Pesticides (G.)

 

 

“How I sold out to the Putin-Soros-Murdoch conspiracy to destroy Western civilization”

Steve has a sense of humor alright. But the serious note here is that RT is the only place where he can get a chance to discuss the issues he sees as real. The BBC, for one, is not interested.

How I Sold Out To The Putin-Soros-Murdoch Conspiracy (Steve Keen)

I was delighted to find myself in the Top Ten (alright; top 15) of the European Values list of 2,326 “Useful Idiots” appearing regularly on RT shows, and thus legitimizing Vladimir Putin’s attempt to destroy Western civilization as we know it. Why delighted? Because it completes the set of conspiracies to which I can now be accused of belonging. They include: • The Putin Conspiracy, since I am regularly interviewed on Russia Today (and even worse, I now get paid to write for RT!); • The Soros Conspiracy, since my research, has been funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) which he established; • The Murdoch Conspiracy, since I appear every week on Sky News Australia with Carson Scott, and I used to get paid by News Ltd to write a weekly column; and • The Alt-Right Conspiracy, since I’ve signed a book contract with Vox Day’s publishing firm Castalia House.

So not only am I a “useful idiot,” I’m a useful idiot for four contradictory conspiracies. Does that make me a double-double agent? No, it makes me someone who’s quadruple pissed off with people who attempt to understand the world from the perspective of conspiracy theories in the first place. I don’t deny the existence of conspiracies: in fact, far from it, because they’re everywhere. What I do deny is the implicit assumption that the conspirators understand the system they’re attempting to manipulate. For example, I’ve heard plenty of conspiracy theorists assert that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the Federal Reserve/George Soros (Hi George!)/Hedge Funds/Academic-Economists-Who-Peddle-The-Efficient-Markets-Hypothesis, and “they” profited from it.

This implies “they” knew what “they” were doing. Pardon me, but I’ve met many of these protagonists—and in the case of academic economists, I’ve worked with them for 30 years. “They” don’t have a clue (except George). Even those that were actively conspiring—like many hedge funds during the subprime bubble were doing so on the basis of utterly deluded theories about how the system they were trying to game actually worked. Where apparent conspiracies did work, like Soros’s punt against the British Pound decades ago, they did so because a CSP (Clever Sinister Person) bet against the conventional wisdom of others who thought they understood the system (and did not), rather than because the CSP set up the whole thing in the first place.

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“..the “billionaire class” continues to “pull apart from the rest of us” at the fastest rate ever recorded..”

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett Richer Than Poorest Half Of US (G.)

The three richest people in the US – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett – own as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population, or 160 million people. Analysis of the wealth of America’s richest people found that Gates, Bezos and Buffett were sitting on a combined $248.5bn (£190bn) fortune. The Institute for Policy Studies said the growing gap between rich and poor had created a “moral crisis”. In a report, the Billionaire Bonanza, the thinktank said Donald Trump’s tax change proposals would “exacerbate existing wealth disparities” as 80% of tax benefits would end up going to the wealthiest 1% of households. “Wealth inequality is on the rise,” said Chuck Collins, an economist and co-author of the report. “Now is the time for actions that reduce inequality, not tax cuts for the very wealthy.”

The study found that the billionaires included in Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest people in the US were worth a combined $2.68tn – more than the GDP of the UK. “Our wealthiest 400 now have more wealth combined than the bottom 64% of the US population, an estimated 80m households or 204 million people,” the report says. “That’s more people than the population of Canada and Mexico combined.” The report says the “billionaire class” continues to “pull apart from the rest of us” at the fastest rate ever recorded. “We have not witnessed such extreme levels of concentrated wealth and power since the first gilded age a century ago.” Forbes celebrated 2017 as “another record year for the wealthiest people in America”, as “the price of admission to the country’s most exclusive club jumped nearly 18% to $2bn”.

That was a tenfold increase on the amount of money needed to enter the list when it first started in 1982. Josh Hoxie, another co-author of the thinktank report, said: “So much money concentrating in so few hands while so many people struggle is not just bad economics, it’s a moral crisis.” The report says many Americans are joining an “emerging anti-inequality movement”. “A century ago, a similar anti-inequality upsurge took on America’s vastly unequal distribution of income and wealth and, over the course of little more than a generation, fashioned a much more equal America,” it says.

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“.. the kingdom’s leadership is desperately in need of an enemy..”

The Middle East Is On The Verge Of New War (SF)

A missile gets fired on the Saudi capital. A missile, which was allegedly built in Iran and smuggled to Yemen, just to be fired at Saudi Arabia. According to initial reports, two Saudi princes died back to back in 24 hours: one in an “accidental” helicopter crash, the other during a firefight that broke out while security forces were trying to arrest him. On November 7, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry spokesman said that “Prince Abdulaziz is alive and well”. However, the prince could not be independently reached for comment by the media. Other high-ranking members of the establishment and the royal family – the two tend to be one and the same in Saudi Arabia – get arrested on charges of corruption, with their bank accounts frozen. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigns after he was summoned to Riyadh by his Saudi-backers.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of conducting acts of “direct military aggression” and accused Lebanon of “declaring war” on Riyadh by allowing Hezbollah “aggression” against the kingdom. All this happened in a span of just a few days. With ever-growing security challenges and problems at the regional level, the crisis that took hold of Saudi Arabia does not seem to be slowing down. One contributing factor to the ongoing crisis is a major split in the Saudi royal family: the power struggle that resulted in the former crown prince being deposed and replaced with a new one, a move that shook things up quite a bit inside the country. The echo of this can be seen in the current “anti-corruption” persecution, enforced by the current Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Outside the country, several key foreign policy projects failed: the effectiveness of the Yemen intervention can be judged by the fact that it resulted in a missile being fired at Riyadh. Bashar al-Assad is still in power in Syria. The attempts to scare Qatar into submission backfired, as Qatar has been getting more and more friendly with Russia, Turkey and Iran. Iran is gaining more and more influence in the region, while the Saudis seem to be losing it, hence they are trying to compensate for their losses by participating in proxy wars elsewhere. The Saudis also tried to flex their diplomatic muscle. King Salman even visited Moscow, where the two sides exchanged promises with no guarantees that these will ever be fulfilled. This also backfired, as some considered it a demonstration of weakness or an attempt to make peace by making concessions.

Add economic struggles to this series of failures, and one can see why the King’s and his Crown Prince’s position seem less and less stable by the minute. The situation apparently seemed so dire, that in order to keep everything afloat active persecution seemed the only possible way to keep the King and his successor in power. The “anti-corruption” campaign is just an excuse: the corruption has always been high in Saudi Arabia, and no one batted an eye before now. These are temporary measures. Persecution can hardly solve foreign and internal matters, and it will not lead to a solution of the problems. Right now, the kingdom’s leadership is desperately in need of an enemy to unite the population and draw their attention away from the chaotic events that unfolding in the country.

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The one that got away.

With Saudi Princes Dead, Arrested, King Fahd’s Grandson Flees To… Iran (IT)

The Saudi royal family – the House of Saud – is throwing up one intrigue after another. Hours after the reported death of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, his nephew and son of late King Fahd’s eldest surviving son, Prince Turki bin Mohamed bin Fahd has fled the country. His destination, according to speculation among those who are watching the situation closely, is, wait for it, Iran.If this is true, this may put new strain on Tehran and Riyadh, already at loggerheads for dominance in the restive Middle East region, where Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting, what analysts term, a proxy war in Yemen. What makes Prince Turki bin Mohamed bin Fahd’s reported flight to Iran, where he is said to have sought asylum, interesting, apart from his destination, is that it comes at a time when Saudi aviation authorities are said to have been told not to let any of the oil-rich kingdom’s many royals fly out of the country.

Of course,with the outflow of information from Saudi Arabia particularly restricted right now, all reports of developments on the region must be taken with a pinch of salt. Turki bin Mohamed, is the son of Muhammad bin Fahd Al Saud, the second-oldest son of late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and is also the grandnephew of the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud This is the same King Salman whose son Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (known informally as MBS) is believed to be have orchestrated what many are seeing as a coup by sideling prominent Saudi royals and taking decisions that could win over the country’s liberal quarters.

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Murdoch’s powers challenged.

Prince Alwaleed Sold His Shares In 21st Century Fox (Abc.au)

One of Rupert Murdoch’s key business allies, who was arrested in last week’s corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia, has quietly sold off his $1.5 billion stake in 21st Century Fox. The business relationship between Mr Murdoch and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is now under new scrutiny, with Mr Murdoch’s control over his family-controlled business empire looking more uncertain. “This is very big news,” Murdoch watcher and shareholder activist Stephen Mayne said after the company confirmed Prince Alwaleed had offloaded his shareholdings in Fox and News Corporation. “He’s been the number one backer of Murdoch family control of the public companies for the last 20 years.”

One of the world’s richest men, the Prince is one of dozens of royal family members, officials and business leaders arrested in Saudi Arabia in recent days. With his bank accounts and other assets likely to have been frozen by Saudi authorities, his detention had raised questions about who had control over his almost 40 million Fox shares. It now appears he sold those shares with little fanfare. It is unclear when the shares were sold. But a Bloomberg report on the company’s shareholders shows Prince Alwaleed’s stake fell to zero during the current financial quarter.

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Impossible to overestimate what a disaster this is going to be. We need a whole new economics to confront it.

It Begins: Pension Bailout Bill To Be Introduced This Week (ZH)

Over the past year we have provided extensive coverage of what will likely be the biggest, most politically charged, and most significant financial crisis facing the aging U.S. population: a multi-trillion pension storm, which was recently dubbed “one of the most heated battles of a lifetime” by John Mauldin. The reason, in a nutshell, why the US public pension problem has stumped so many professionals is simple: for lack of a better word, it is an unsustainable Ponzi scheme, in which satisfying accrued pension and retirement obligations requires not only a constant inflow of new money, but also fixed income returns, typically in the 6%+ range, which are virtually unfeasible in a world where global debt/GDP is in the 300%+ range. Which is why we, and many others, have long speculated that it is only a matter of time before the matter receives political attention, and ultimately, a taxpayer bailout.

That moment may be imminent. According to Pensions and Investments magazine, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio plans to introduce legislation that would allow struggling multiemployer pension funds to borrow from the U.S. Treasury to remain solvent. The bill, which is co-sponsored by another Democrat, Rep. Tim Ryan, also of Ohio, could be introduced as soon as this week or shortly after. It would create a new office within the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration. The funds would come from the sale of Treasury-issued bonds to financial institutions. The pension funds could borrow for 30 years at low interest rates. The one, and painfully amusing, restriction for borrowers is “they could not make risky investments”, which of course will be promptly circumvented in hopes of generating outsized returns and repaying the Treasury’s “bailout” loan, ultimately leading to massive losses on what is effectively a taxpayer-funded pension bailout.

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Amoral.

How The Netherlands Became A Tax Haven (SüdD)

Barack Obama had only been in office for a few weeks when he first tried to take on tax havens. The freshly inaugurated U.S. president wanted greater transparency, harsher penalties and more justice. Obama, who had helped draft anti-tax haven legislation – to date, still not passed – as an Illinois senator, called out many tax havens by name. There were the usual suspects: Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. But there was also, to the surprise of many, the Netherlands. A founding member of the European Union, quaint little Holland has for years been the most important tax haven for American corporations. This includes large multinationals such as the coffee chain Starbucks, the delivery company FedEx, the pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and – as the Paradise Papers have revealed – the sporting apparel manufacturer Nike and the electric carmaker Tesla.

Every year, other countries lose out on billions of euros in taxes for the apparent reason that the Netherlands has bent to the will of influential lobbyists while neighboring EU member states have stood idly by and done nothing. Experts accuse the country of providing illegal state subsidies, and the European Commission is alarmed, but the Dutch tax loophole will nevertheless remain open for years to come. One of the most important days for the Netherlands as a tax haven was July 6, 2005. That was the day that Paragraph 4 of Article 24 – the so-called anti-abuse clause – was struck from the U.S. tax convention with the Netherlands, effectively legalizing the abuse of Dutch corporate law. The Netherlands’ tax loophole revolves around a business structure known in Dutch as a commanditaire vennootschap, or CV, the Dutch version of a limited partnership. In a CV, just like in a limited partnership, two or more people can join together for business purposes.

One of the partners, namely the limited partner, is only liable for a fixed amount, while the other, the general partner, is fully liable. In contrast to Germany, CVs are not regarded as taxable entities in the Netherlands, but solely as partnerships. In the eyes of the Dutch tax authorities, it’s not the CV itself that’s responsible for paying taxes, but the individual partners. This is where things get interesting, especially for American companies. By founding a CV in the Netherlands plus one or two Dutch subsidiaries, U.S. firms reach “the Holy Grail of tax avoidance.” That’s how Senator Carl Levin once put it while still in office, describing the complex networks of companies that allow their owners to completely avoid taxes.

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Time for a plan?!

FEMA Offers To Airlift Puerto Ricans To Mainland US (CBS)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is offering to airlift victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland to reach temporary housing – a complex operation that would be the first of its kind for the agency. Under FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program, displaced residents and families who are still living in shelters on the island can opt to relocate to housing in Florida and New York. The agency is working with the governors in both states to work through logistical issues for families interested in participating. Mike Byrne, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said the program is the first time the agency has attempted what it calls an “air bridge,” or a relief operation requiring the transportation of individuals from a disaster area.

In most disasters, FEMA pays for displaced residents to stay in hotels under the TSA program. In Puerto Rico, the hotels are filled to capacity, so FEMA is turning to the mainland and working with states to find accommodations. “A thousand miles adds a whole level of complexity to this,” Byrne said. Byrne says agency teams are traveling to shelters on the island to ask longtime occupants about their housing options going forward, telling them about FEMA’s offer. He said the level of interest in the program has so far been low, with only about 30 out of 300 families interviewed on Tuesday expressing interest in participating. “People really don’t want to leave their homes,” Byrne said. “We want to give them every opportunity we can to be able to stay here, whether it’s providing financial assistance or repairing their homes. So we are going to work hard on those things so people don’t have to leave.”

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And still no-one has come forward with an answer. A third party will have to, the two sides can’t do it be themselves.

Catalan Parliament Speaker, 5 MPs Appear In Court On Sedition Charge (G.)

The speaker of the Catalan parliament and five of its members appeared before Spain’s supreme court in Madrid on Thursday to answer charges of rebellion and sedition over their roles in staging a banned referendum on Catalonia’s independence last month. The court will decide whether to remand Carme Forcadell and the five MPs in custody while the investigation continues or release them under certain conditions. Eight former members of the Catalan government and the leaders of the two main grassroots pro-independence groups are already in custody awaiting trial on sedition charges for their parts in the 1 October referendum, which Spanish courts ruled illegal.

The region’s deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his former cabinet ministers went into self-imposed exile in Belgium last week after Madrid responded to Catalonia’s declaration of independence by firing his administration, dissolving the parliament and calling regional elections for December. Spain’s high court issued an arrest warrant for for all five last week on sedition and rebellion charges. Forcadell and the five MPs were summoned last week to the supreme court, which handles cases of people who enjoy parliamentary immunity, but it gave them more time to prepare their defences. They are suspected of having followed a “concerted strategy to declare independence” before the official declaration of the Catalan parliament on 27 October, which Spain’s constitutional court annulled on Wednesday.

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The narrative is that rich parties organize protests. But there are certainly people simply wanting to prevent people being thrown out into the streets.

EU Gives Greece Foreclosure Ultimatum (K.)

European officials have given the government an ultimatum to proceed with electronic foreclosures on homes later in the month or else the country’s third bailout review will not be concluded. The warning came despite the recent positive messages emanating from Brussels and Washington that Greece is making progress in the review and is on course to reach an agreement with creditors on a technical level by the end of the year. But lenders appear adamant that the review’s conclusion will be jeopardized if foreclosures do not take place as scheduled and if notaries, who have borne the brunt of attacks by anti-establishment groups and protesters, are not protected. “If the Greek government has the will to protect notaries it will find the way to achieve this,” a source told Kathimerini, adding that “if they want to stop the violence they can do it.”

The sources told Kathimerini they expect to see foreclosures beginning on November 27 “at all banks and throughout the country and not just isolated cases.” Auditors have repeatedly made it clear that the resumption of foreclosures, which have dragged during the crisis years due to strikes by lawyers and notaries and more recently due to anti-austerity protesters, is a prerequisite for the successful conclusion of Greece’s current bailout review. The ultimatum, however, appears to have motivated the government to take action so that foreclosures resume and notaries are protected as sources said that all necessary measures will be taken to “ensure strategic debt defaulters do not hide behind the attacks against notaries.”

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The plot is Greeks themselves?!

The Plot Against Greece (K.)

If some power wanted to undermine all that is good in a country, to waste its natural beauty and people, to damage its past, present and future, it need look no further than Greece. Here it would see the result of a long-term conspiracy against the coue beginning of the modern Greek state, the Greeks were under foreign tutelage. In the past few decades, though, as a member of the European Union, we had begun to believe that we could function as an independent country, without patrons. And suddentry. Fortunately, the Greeks are fighters, they resist as much as they can. That is why the country is still beautiful, with talented, generous people, with bright children capable of competing with the best in the world. The “enemy,” though, holds the people hostage, keeping them from reaching their full potential, from making the country what it could be.

From thnly, bankrupt, we found ourselves under strict supervision again. It is understandable, then, that we blame foreigners for all our ills – those powers that want to suck us dry of our wealth, to keep us weak and under control. Because it is certain that we are not the ones who benefit from continued political and economic insecurity, from unpredictable and excessive taxation, disdain for investments, dysfunctional justice, a weakened education system. The only beneficiaries are the tricksters who know how to exploit the situation – and other countries. When we have almost no investments and the country’s strongest selling point as a tourist destination is its stability in an unstable region, it is clear that we are not creating added value, we are not establishing foundations for the future. Investments go elsewhere and Greece keeps falling behind the competition.

In the World Bank’s latest Doing Business survey of 190 countries, Greece was ranked 67th, from 61st last year (and 60th and 58th before that). It is incredible that after seven years of crisis and three bailout agreements it should still be so difficult to set up a business in Greece. And yet, there is stiff resistance to improving the situation: Taxes and social security contributions are way above the European Union average; there are long delays in the justice system, conflicting and confusing laws and regulations, along with a public administration determined to obstruct whatever it can, encourage corruption and send businesses elsewhere.

Other countries gain even more when thousands of Greek doctors and others with special skills move away in search of a better life, taking with them the money invested in their education. So why should we not believe that it is in our foreign partners’ interests to keep Greece at this level? In the past, they lent us money, now they loot our human resources (and later perhaps our still-to-be-discovered fossil fuels, according to a long-running conspiracy theory). Our partners did not stop lending us money, but now it comes not from their banks but from their taxpayers, and with strict conditions.

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Well well. Something good comes out of that mess of a government.

UK Will Back Total Ban On Bee-Harming Pesticides (G.)

A total ban on insect-harming pesticides in fields across Europe will be backed by the UK, environment secretary Michael Gove has revealed. The decision reverses the government’s previous position and is justified by recent new evidence showing neonicotinoids have contaminated the whole landscape and cause damage to colonies of bees. It also follows the revelation that 75% of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany and probably much further afield, a discovery Gove said had shocked him. Neonicotinoids are the world’s most widely used insecticide but in 2013 the European Union banned their use on flowering crops, although the UK was among the nations opposing the ban. The European Commission now wants a total ban on their use outside of greenhouses, with a vote expected in December, and the UK’s new position makes it very likely to pass.

“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” said Gove. “I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” In an article for the Guardian, Gove said: “As is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well.” He said pollinators boost the yield and quality of UK crops by £400m-£680m every year and said, for example, gala apple growers are now having to spend £5.7m a year to do replace the work of lost natural pollinators.

Gove said the evidence of neonicotinoids’ harm to pollinators has grown stronger since 2013, including a landmark field trial published in July that showed neonicotinoids damage bee populations, not just individual insects, and a global analysis of honey revealing worldwide contamination by the insecticides. [..] Gove’s decision has delighted campaigners and scientists who have long argued that heavy pesticide use, along with the destruction of habitat and disease, are having a devastating impact on insects. “Michael Gove is to be congratulated for listening to the experts on this issue and backing tougher restrictions,” said Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett. “But lessons also need to be learned – we now need to move away from chemical-intensive farming and instead boost support for less damaging ways of tackling persistent weeds and pests.

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Oct 062017
 
 October 6, 2017  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean Renoir Les Grands Boulevards 1875

 

China’s Economic Boom Is About To Be Cut Short By Peak Oil (Ahmed)
A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles (BBG)
China Is In ‘Lock-down’ Ahead Of Its Most Important Meeting In Years (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Rise Happened in Shadows of Finance. Now Banks Want In (BBG)
HSBC Traders Used Code Words to Trigger Front-Running (BBG)
US Rounds On Britain Over Food Quotas As Post-Brexit Trade Woes Deepen (Pol.)
Few Tears Are Being Shed In Quebec Over The Energy East Pipeline’s Demise (BBG)
Onshore Fracking To Begin In UK ‘Within Weeks’ (Ind.)
Catalan Separatists Squeezed Further as Spain Tightens Its Grip (BBG)
Apple Gave Uber ‘Unprecedented’ Access To Secret iPhone Backdoor (BI)
Tropical Storm Nate Kills 22 In Central America, Heads For US (R.)
Pesticides That Pose Threat To Humans And Bees Found In Honey (Ind.)
Tiny Pacific Island Nation Of Niue Creates Huge Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

 

 

From China’s government.

China’s Economic Boom Is About To Be Cut Short By Peak Oil (Ahmed)

A new scientific study led by the China University of Petroleum in Beijing, funded by the Chinese government, concludes that China is about to experience a peak in its total oil production as early as next year. Without finding an alternative source of ‘new abundant energy resources’ , the study warns, the 2018 peak in China’s combined conventional and unconventional oil will undermine continuing economic growth and ‘challenge the sustainable development of Chinese society’. This also has major implications for the prospect of a 2018 oil squeeze – as China scales its domestic oil peak, rising demand will impact world oil markets in a way most forecasters aren’t anticipating, contributing to a potential supply squeeze. That could happen in 2018 proper, or in the early years that follow.

There are various scenarios that follow from here – China could: shift to reducing its massive demand for energy, a tall order in itself given population growth projections and rising consumption; accelerate a renewable energy transition; or militarise the South China Sea for more deepwater oil and gas. Right now, China appears to be incoherently pursuing all three strategies, with varying rates of success. But one thing is clear – China’s decisions on how it addresses its coming post-peak future will impact regional and global political and energy security for the foreseeable future. The study was published on 19 September by Springer’s peer-reviewed Petroleum Science journal, which is supported by China’s three major oil corporations, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China Petroleum Corporation (Sinopec), and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

Since 1978, China has experienced an average annual economic growth rate of 9.8%, and is now the world’s second largest economy after the United States. The new study points out, however, that this economic growth has been enabled by “high energy consumption.” In the same period of meteoric economic growth, China’s total energy consumption has grown on average by 5.8% annually, mostly from fossil fuels. In 2014, oil, gas and coal accounted for fully 90% of China’s total energy consumption, with the remainder supplied from renewable energy sources. After 2018, however, China’s oil production is predicted to begin declining, and the widening supply-demand gap could endanger both China’s energy security and continued economic growth.

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“Zombie companies that would otherwise fail continue to be in business, refinancing at near-zero interest rates in bond markets.”

A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles (BBG)

A number of markets show not only elevated valuations, but also irrational behavior on the part of investors, including a suspension of traditional valuation models, an increase in trading volumes or “flipping” in the hopes of quick gains, and financial engineering. Potential bubbles can be found in emerging-market debt, technology stocks, U.S. high yield bonds, some sovereign debt, cryptocurrencies, properties — even art and collectibles. It is becoming clearer to economists and central bankers that even though we may be experiencing a long phase of growth, stretching the cycle with monetary stimulus inspired by crisis-era toolkits may be bringing several collateral effects. These include not only asset bubbles, but also a worsening of wealth inequality and a misallocation of resources.

Persistent low interest rates in the past have helped to roll forward an increasing amount of private and public debt to future generations, but this is no longer working. Economic fundamentals are different from the post-war period. Technology is deflationary. Demographics are no longer a tailwind, as there are fewer young people able to carry a higher debt burden in the future. The generation of so-called millennials is the first that will likely be poorer than their parents in the post-war period. Productivity is low as the economy suffers from hysteresis: a financial boom-bust cycle that can leave large swathes of the workforce out of the job market. The longer the debt cycle, the longer companies and workers develop business and skills in leverage-heavy sectors (e.g. finance, real estate, energy), the deeper the scars when the bust comes.

Often the misallocation is so large that low rates are necessary to keep people in their jobs: Zombie companies that would otherwise fail continue to be in business, refinancing at near-zero interest rates in bond markets.

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Xi will need drastic measures to tackle the debt disaster. But it may well be too late already.

China Is In ‘Lock-down’ Ahead Of Its Most Important Meeting In Years (CNBC)

Although the Chinese will head back to work and school on Monday, their country is expected to remain in a holding pattern ahead of a pivotal Communist Party Congress set to start later this month. “Commentators and markets rightly assume that the authorities are consumed by this transition and that all other policy matters are on the back-burner or in lock-down until after the Congress,” Freya Beamish, Pantheon Macroeconomics’ chief Asia economist, wrote in a recent note. The once-in-five-years meeting will usher in leadership changes that are likely to see incumbent President Xi Jinping extend his term and consolidate power. The coming years of Xi rule will be critical for the world’s second-largest economy as it grapples with the fallout from three decades of unbridled growth.

As Xi — the most powerful Chinese leader in decades — embarks on a new era, the meeting will review “faulty” outcomes from the economic reforms and review if China needs a new direction, said independent economist, Andy Xie. China undertook a series of market reforms in the last three decades that propelled the Communist country to the spot of the world’s second largest economy. Market watchers, however, are concerned about the nation’s debt-fueled growth, industrial overcapacity and capital outflows that may potentially spur a global economic crisis. The Communist Party has been working to steer outbound merger and acquisition activities over the last year, but major initiatives have slowed ahead of the Congress. That push is likely to pick up again in the fourth quarter, said Chunshek Chan, Dealogic’s global M&A research head.

No matter the macroeconomic concerns, the only thing on Beijing’s mind at this time is consolidating power in the country, Xie said: “It’s much more important now to strengthen the control of the Communist Party than anything else.” “The key is to have the Communist Party as a coherent organization to control everything in the society — that seems to be the case. The people at the top worry about the stability. Stability is always number one in China,” added Xie.

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“What are they going to do if bitcoin drops for a given client and they’ve given that client a ton of leverage on margin, and that client only has assets in bitcoin?”

Bitcoin’s Rise Happened in Shadows of Finance. Now Banks Want In (BBG)

At first, bitcoin was a way to make payments without banks. Now, with more than $100 billion stashed in digital currencies, banks are debating whether and how to get in on the action. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted Tuesday that his firm is examining the cryptocurrency. Other global investment banks are looking into facilitating trades of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to industry consultants. Bitcoin has surged more than 300 percent this year, drawing the attention of hedge funds and wealthy individuals. “They’re clearly receiving interest from their clients, both from retail investors and on the institutional side,” said Axel Pierron, managing director of bank consultant Opimas. “It’s highly volatile, it’s highly illiquid when you need to trade large volumes, so they see the opportunity for a new asset class which would require the capability of a broker-dealer.”

But bitcoin presents Wall Street with a conundrum: How do banks that are required by law to prevent money-laundering handle a currency that’s not issued by a government and that keeps its users anonymous? The debate has played out in the open recently, with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink saying that bitcoin was mostly used by criminals, while Morgan Stanley chief James Gorman took a more measured stance, saying it was “more than just a fad.” On Wednesday, UBS Chairman Axel Weber, a former president of Germany’s central bank, said he was skeptical about bitcoin’s future because “it’s not secured by underlying assets.” There’s even tension within some banks. On the same day Dimon trashed bitcoin, calling it a “fraud,” his firm’s private bank hosted a panel stocked with cryptocurrency investors.

Handling bitcoin would invite scrutiny from every major U.S. regulator, according to Joshua Satten, director of emerging technologies at Sapient Consulting. “From the perspective of the U.S. Treasury, do you classify it as an asset class or a currency?” Satten said. “If banks are starting to manage and hold bitcoin for their clients, you would have the OCC and the FDIC looking at how they classify the assets on their balance sheet and how they state the assets for the portfolio of a client.” And banks need to avoid antagonizing governments that are increasingly concerned about this area. For instance, China is cracking down by shutting cryptocurrency exchanges. Then there’s the risk that stems from its high volatility and lack of correlation to other major assets. “What are they going to do if bitcoin drops for a given client and they’ve given that client a ton of leverage on margin, and that client only has assets in bitcoin?” Satten said.

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Greed.

HSBC Traders Used Code Words to Trigger Front-Running (BBG)

A group of HSBC currency traders in London and New York feverishly jumped ahead of a $3.5 billion client order after they were tipped off using the code words “my watch is off,” a U.S. prosecutor told a federal judge. The buying frenzy was launched after Mark Johnson, HSBC’s former global head of foreign exchange who the bank chose to lead the transaction, alerted the traders via phone call that was recorded, the prosecutor said Thursday in Brooklyn, New York. Johnson is on trial for fraud. After the trial recessed for the day, prosecutor Carol Sipperly told U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis that the government wants the jury to hear the recordings on Friday, in which Johnson can be heard tipping off a trader in Hong Kong, a signal that she said eventually reached others on both sides of the Atlantic.

Prosecutors say Johnson and Stuart Scott, the bank’s former head of currency trading in Europe, along with these other traders, bought pounds before the transaction, collectively making the bank $8 million in illicit profit. Sipperly said the call involved Johnson, who was in New York that day, speaking to Scott who was in London, just before the Dec. 7, 2011, transaction for its client, Cairn Energy. “We actually have Mark Johnson telling Stuart Scott ‘Tell Ed my watch will be off,’” she said. “We have communications where the word ‘watch’ is used, and then within seconds, 20 seconds of ‘my watch is off,’ we have all that trading that’s been described. The word is instrumental in getting the information to the traders when it comes to their early front-running trades.”

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Things are getting messy.

US Rounds On Britain Over Food Quotas As Post-Brexit Trade Woes Deepen (Pol.)

The U.S. and other international trade heavyweights have dashed Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of a smooth Brexit by rejecting one of her core plans for reintegrating into global trade networks. Washington’s slap-down of Britain is the second big trade reality check for May in less than a fortnight. Only last week, the U.K.’s increasingly fragile position in trade disputes was exposed by the country’s inability to prevent new, ultra-high tariffs from the U.S. that could hit thousands of jobs in a plane factory in Northern Ireland. In a fast-developing second trade spat, Washington has teamed up with Brazil, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Uruguay and Thailand to reject Britain’s proposed import arrangements for crucial agricultural goods such as meat, sugar and grains after Brexit.

The fact that the U.K.’s opponents include the U.S., Canada and New Zealand is a significant setback because Britain is trying to style its former colonies as natural strategic and commercial allies after it has quit the EU. Since August, Britain and the EU have repeatedly insisted that they had reached an agreement on the terms under which Britain would buy in food from around the world after Brexit. Brussels currently negotiates all these quotas and tariffs on behalf of Britain and the 27 other EU countries jointly, but London will need to take independent control of these policies from March 2019. That creates a dilemma over how to divide up the EU’s current quota arrangements with other countries — agreed at the World Trade Organization — between the U.K. and the remaining 27. These tariff-rate quotas allow countries outside the EU to export certain goods into the bloc with reduced duties, but only up to a maximum limit.

The argument from Britain and the EU is that the rest of the world will be “no worse off” after Brexit — a key legal defense in trade disputes — if the EU’s quotas are simply reduced, and Britain takes a share of them. British Trade Minister Liam Fox told POLITICO in an interview that Britain had agreed to take a portion of the EU’s quotas based on the U.K.’s average consumption over the last three years. America and the six other big food exporters, however, wrote an unusually sharply worded letter of complaint dated September 26 to the U.K. and EU representatives at the World Trade Organization over the terms of such an arrangement. “We cannot accept such an agreement,” reads the letter, seen by POLITICO. The seven countries dispute the legal defense that the proposed post-Brexit arrangement would leave them “no worse off.”

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Transporting oil across thousands of miles just so you can sell it to Europe. Insane.

Few Tears Are Being Shed In Quebec Over The Energy East Pipeline’s Demise (BBG)

TransCanada had applied to build Energy East three years ago, seeking to open access for Western Canadian oil producers to the Atlantic Ocean for exports to Europe. It faced intense opposition in Quebec, where Premier Philippe Couillard said the C$15.7 billion ($12.5 billion) line posed a significant risk to its freshwater resources. Quebec has long required that TransCanada meet seven conditions before allowing construction of the pipeline. Among other demands, Quebec insisted that the project be subject to an environmental assessment and that TransCanada must guarantee an emergency plan in case of a spill, consult with communities including aboriginal groups along the route and ensure the project doesn’t reduce the province’s gas supply. Last month, TransCanada asked Canadian regulators for a 30-day suspension on its applications for the Energy East and Eastern Mainline projects, adding to doubt about the future of two major pipelines that the nation’s energy producers had hoped for.

The latest delay meant the writing was on the wall, Quebec Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand said Thursday. “We’re not the promoters of the project. The promoter made a commercial decision,” Arcand told reporters at the provincial legislature. “When they decided to suspend the project about one month ago, I thought we were inevitably going to go toward this decision.” Energy East “was supposed to cross more than 700 bodies of water,” Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said separately in Quebec City. “This is a project that raised a lot of questions. We were still in the process of getting answers to our questions” from the company, he said. TransCanada’s decision “is great news,” Jean-Francois Lisée, head of the separatist Parti Quebecois, the official opposition in the provincial legislature, said in Quebec City. “Quebec’s territorial integrity is no longer threatened.”

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Feels like the Middle Ages.

Onshore Fracking To Begin In UK ‘Within Weeks’ (Ind.)

Fracking for shale gas will begin in the UK within weeks, the company undertaking it for the first time has announced. Third Energy said it plans to complete five fracks in North Yorkshire before the end of 2017. The controversial technique involves injecting liquid into underground rock at high pressures in order to create cracks that release trapped gas. This is then collected and used to generate electricity. Fracking has been vocally opposed by environmental campaigners but permits to use the technique have been approved by government ministers. Alan Linn, Third Energy’s technical director, said the final sign-off needed for fracking to begin was ‘imminent’.

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Vote count to be published today?!

Catalan Separatists Squeezed Further as Spain Tightens Its Grip (BBG)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy convenes his cabinet on Friday as the financial and political squeeze on the separatist government in Catalonia tightens. After a week of political drama that rocked financial markets, Rajoy will meet with his ministers in Madrid as events 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the northeast in the Catalan capital Barcelona threaten to spiral still further out of control. The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, risks economic damage and European isolation if he pushes ahead with plans to declare Catalan independence based on a referendum that breached Spain’s constitution. CaixaBank, the symbol of the region’s financial strength, may follow Banc Sabadell in abandoning Catalonia when its board meets Friday.

For his part, Rajoy and his minority government will be loathe to risk a repeat of Sunday’s scenes of police beating peaceful voters that drew international condemnation and inflamed the separatist cause. With options to quell an increasingly bitter constitutional dispute fast running out, events may come to a head on Monday. That’s when Puigdemont had sought to evaluate the result of the independence vote at a session of the regional parliament – until it was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court. That means Rajoy may again have to send in the police to enforce a court ruling, and Puigdemont must decide if he’s ready to again defy the law. “There will be some formula for the Catalan Parliament to convene and hold its meeting as planned,” Jordi Sanchez, who heads the most powerful group among the separatists, known as the Catalan National Assembly, said in an interview in Barcelona. “There will be a plenary session.”

As anti-independence organizers plan rallies for this weekend in Madrid and in Barcelona, Catalan separatist are seeking to avoid an immediate declaration of independence. There’s a divide in the movement’s leadership, with most leaders keen to delay that leap into the unknown to create more time for a negotiated settlement, according to two people familiar with their plans. Puigdemont’s mainstream separatist group is concerned that a move toward independence would send the economy into a tailspin, the people said. But following Sunday’s illegal referendum on secession – which the regional government said won the support of 90%t of 2.3 million voters – hardliners from the anarchist party CUP are demanding a quick break with Spain.

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What a surprise. Apple is an Uber investor.

Apple Gave Uber ‘Unprecedented’ Access To Secret iPhone Backdoor (BI)

Uber’s iPhone app has a secret backdoor to powerful Apple features, allowing the ride-hailing service to potentially record a user’s screen and access other personal information without their knowledge. The existence of Uber’s access to special iPhone functions is not disclosed in any consumer-facing information included with Uber’s app, despite giving the company direct access to features so powerful that Apple almost always keeps them off limits to outside companies. Although there is no evidence that Uber used this access to take advantage of the iPhone features, the revelation of the app’s access to privileged Apple code raises important questions for a company already under investigation for a variety of controversial business practices.

Uber told Business Insider the code was not currently being used and was essentially a vestige from an earlier version of its Apple Watch app, but it set off alarm bells among experts. “Granting such a sensitive entitlement to a third-party is unprecedented as far as I can tell, no other app developers have been able to convince Apple to grant them entitlements they’ve needed to let their apps utilize certain privileged system functionality,” Will Strafach, a security researcher who discovered the situation, told Business Insider. [..] Apple became an Uber investor through its investment in Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing. In 2016, Didi merged with Uber’s Chinese subsidiary.

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It ain’t over.

Tropical Storm Nate Kills 22 In Central America, Heads For US (R.)

Tropical Storm Nate has killed at least 22 people in Central America as it battered the region with heavy rain while heading toward Mexico’s Caribbean resorts and the US Gulf Coast where it could strike as a hurricane this weekend. Several offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated and others had shut production ahead of the storm. In Nicaragua, at least 11 people died, seven others were reported missing and thousands had to evacuate homes because of flooding, according to the country’s vice president, Rosario Murillo. Emergency officials in Costa Rica reported that at least eight people were had been killed, including two children. Another 17 people were missing, while more than 7,000 had to take refuge from Nate in shelters.

Two youths also drowned in Honduras due to the sudden swell in a river, while a man was killed in a mud slide in El Salvador and another person was missing, emergency services said. “Sometimes we think we think we can cross a river and the hardest thing to understand is that we must wait,” Nicaragua’s Murillo told state radio, warning people to avoid dangerous waters. “It’s better to be late than not to get there at all.“ Costa Rica’s government declared a state of emergency, closing schools and all other non-essential services. Highways in the country were closed due to mud slides and power outages were also reported in parts of country, where more than 3,500 police were deployed. The National Hurricane Centre said Nate could produce as much as 51 cm (20 inches) in some areas of Nicaragua, where schools were also closed. Nate is predicted to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane by the time it hits the US Gulf Coast on Sunday, NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

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Slow motion mass suicide.

Pesticides That Pose Threat To Humans And Bees Found In Honey (Ind.)

Three-quarters of the honey produced around the world contains nerve agent pesticides that can harm bees and pose a potential health hazard to humans, a study has shown. Scientists who tested 198 honey samples from every continent except Antarctica discovered that 75% were laced with at least one of the neonicotinoid chemicals. More than two-fifths contained two or more varieties of the pesticides and 10% held residues from four or five. Environmental campaigners responded by demanding a “complete and permanent” ban preventing any further use of neonicotinoids on farm crops in Europe. Experts called the findings “alarming”, “sobering” and a “serious environmental concern” while stressing that the pesticide residue levels found in honey generally fell well below the safe limits for human consumption.

However, one leading British scientist warned that it was impossible to predict what the long term effects of consuming honey containing tiny amounts of the chemicals might be. Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, said: “Beyond doubt … anyone regularly eating honey is likely to be getting a small dose of mixed neurotoxins. “In terms of acute toxicity, this certainly won’t kill them and is unlikely to do measurable harm. What we don’t know is whether there are long-term, chronic effects from life-time exposure to a cocktail of these and other pesticides in our honey and most other foods.”

[..] The new research published in the journal Science could not have come at a more sensitive time in Europe. EC policymakers are right now discussing whether to make the ban permanent and more wide ranging. A total ban would have a huge impact on cereal growers in the UK. For the study, an international team of European researchers tested almost 200 honey samples from around the world for residues left by five different neonicotinoids. [..] While in most cases the levels were well below the EU safety limits for human consumption, there were exceptions. Honey from both Germany and Poland exceeded maximum residue levels (MRLs) for combined neonicotinoids while samples from Japan reached 45% of the limits.

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“This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future..”

“..the palm-dotted island’s name in the local language means “Behold, the Coconut”..

Tiny Pacific Island Nation Of Niue Creates Huge Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

The tiny Pacific island nation of Niue on Friday announced the creation of a huge marine sanctuary, saying it wanted to stop overfishing and preserve the environment for future generations. While Niue’s landmass is only 260 square kilometres (100 square miles), its remote location about 2,400 kilometres northeast of New Zealand means it lays claim to vast tracts of ocean. The government said that 40% of its exclusive economic zone, about 127,000 square kilometres representing an area roughly the size of Greece, would be set aside for the marine sanctuary. Premier Toke Talagi said his government wanted to stop the depletion of fish stocks and give the ocean space to heal to protect the environment for the next generation.

“This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future,” he said. “We simply cannot be the generation of leaders who have taken more than they have given to this planet and left behind a debt that our children cannot pay.” Known locally as “The Rock”, Niue was settled by Polynesian seafarers more than 1,000 years ago and the palm-dotted island’s name in the local language means “behold, the coconut”. The British explorer captain James Cook tried to land there three times in 1774 but was deterred by fearsome warriors, eventually giving up to set sail for more welcoming shores and naming Niue “Savage Island”.

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Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Cézanne Curtains 1885

 

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)
Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)
China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)
The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)
King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)
The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)
Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)
‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)
Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)
EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)
EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)
ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)
French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)
Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)
Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

 

 

The last step before the fall.

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)

The toxic combination of “competition from other lenders” and slowing mortgage demand is cited by senior executives of mortgage lenders as the source of all kinds of headaches for the mortgage lending industry. Primarily due to this competition amid declining of demand for mortgages, the profit margin outlook has deteriorated for the fourth quarter in a row, according to Fannie Mae’s Q3 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. And the share of lenders that blamed this competition as the key reason for deteriorating profits “rose to a new survey high.” Demand is down for all three types or mortgages: • Mortgages eligible for guarantees by Government Sponsored Enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“GSE Eligible”), indirectly backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages not eligible for GSE guarantees (“Non-GSE Eligible”), not backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages guaranteed by Government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae, directly backed by taxpayers.

And how are lenders combating this lack of demand and the deteriorating profit margins that are being pressured by competition? They’re loosening lending standards. Fannie Mae’s report: Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs. Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. This chart shows the net share of lenders reporting loosening their lending standards for each type of loan (= the share of lenders reporting loosening credit standards minus those reporting tightening standards):

In many urban markets home prices have soared far beyond their peaks during the prior crazy housing bubble. That bubble ended with such spectacular results, in part because lending standards had been loosened so that more people could be stuffed into more homes, and more expensive homes that they couldn’t afford, and whose prices then plunged when the scheme fell apart. This time around, home prices, according to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, are now about 5% above the prior crazy bubble peak that imploded with such fanfare:

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Everything’s a casino now.

Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)

If a surge in covenant-lite levered loans is any indication that debt and equity markets are nearing the final stages of their bubbly ascent, then perhaps now is a good time for investors to take their profits and run. As the Wall Street Journal points out this morning, levered loans volumes in the U.S. are once again surging, eclipsing even 2007 levels, despite the complete implosion of bricks-and-mortar retailers and continued warnings that “the market is getting frothy.” Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. n Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, according to LCD, more than triple the number four years ago.

Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. “If feels like the market is getting frothy,” said Henrik Johnsson at Deutsche Bank. “We’re overdue a correction.” Meanwhile, volumes are surging even as traditional lender protections have become basically nonexistent. As S&P LCD points out, over 70% of levered loans issued so far in 2017 are considered “covenant-lite” versus only 30% of those issued in 2007. Before the financial crisis, the boom in leveraged loans was one of the signs of markets overheating. As the crisis intensified in 2008, investors in U.S. leveraged loans lost nearly 30%, according to the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.

Regulators are taking note. In its last quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted the growth of covenant-lite loans and pointed out that U.S. companies are more leveraged than at any time since the beginning of the millennium. That could harm the economy in the event of a downturn or a rise in interest rates, said the BIS consortium of central banks.

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Not quite yet. But they will.

China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)

The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac, the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday, before some rebounded on Tuesday. Record home sales and buoyant earnings helped spur an unprecedented rally this year for Chinese developers, especially large firms positioned to wrest market share through debt-fueled acquisitions.

Top of that list are the nation’s two most indebted developers – China Evergrande Group and Sunac – whose shares swelled 459% and 391% respectively. Some investors were starting to question how long the astonishing share gains could last, even before a raft of housing curbs over the weekend. “The drop of property stocks today brings a reality check,” Andy Wong at Pictet Asset Management said in a briefing Monday. “In the past few months investors have been focusing purely on growth. But it’s never wise to totally ignore the risk of leverage.” Sunac shares have plunged almost 16% from a Sept. 19 high, amid the general pall over the sector and news that a financial firm is scrutinizing its loans to Sunac, China’s most leveraged developer.

Evergrande shares have tumbled more than 12% in the past three trading sessions, matching the decline in a Bloomberg index of 22 mainland developers. Even with the recent selloff, Chinese developers remain among the world’s best-performing stocks this year. Evergrande and Sunac two top stocks in the MSCI All-Country World Index this year. Part of that rally was stoked by a housing market boom that buoyed developers’ earnings in the first half, sending sales soaring and boosting profit margins to the highest levels in three years, according to calculations based on earnings reports.

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It’s where the excess cash has gone.

The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)

Since 2007, a tremendous wave of innovation has swept across the financial sector, affecting almost every aspect of finance. New robo-adviser startups like Betterment and Wealthfront have begun dispensing financial advice based on algorithmic calculations, with little to no human input. Crowdfunding firms like Kickstarter and Lending Club have created new ways for companies and individuals to raise money from dispersed networks of individuals. New virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have radically changed our understanding of how money can and should work. These financial technology (or “fintech”) markets are populated by small startup companies, the exact opposite of the large, concentrated Wall Street banks that have for so long dominated finance.

And they have brought great benefits for investors and consumers. By automating decision-making and reducing the costs of transactions, fintech has greased the wheels of finance, making it faster and more efficient. It has also broadened access to capital to new and underserved groups, making finance more democratic than it has ever been. But revolutions often end in destruction. And the fintech revolution has created an environment ripe for instability and disruption. It does so in three ways. First, fintech companies are more vulnerable to rapid, adverse shocks than typical Wall Street banks. Because they’re small and undiversified, they can easily go under when they hit a blip in the market. Consider the case of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which was the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange until an apparent security breach took it down in 2014, precipitating losses that would be worth more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

Second, fintech companies are more difficult to monitor than conventional financial firms. Because they rely on complex computer algorithms for many of their essential functions, it’s hard for outsiders to get a clear picture of the risks and rewards. And because many of their technologies are so new and innovative, they may fall outside the reach of old and outdated regulatory structures. The recent proliferation of “initial coin offerings,” for example, has left regulators around the world scrambling to figure out how to respond. Third, fintech has not developed the set of unwritten norms and expectations that guide more traditional financial institutions.

In 2008, when Lehman Brothers was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the heads of the largest Wall Street investment banks gathered in New York to coordinate their actions and prevent further panic. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the fintech world. The industry is so new, and the players so diverse, that companies have little incentive to cooperate for the greater good. Instead, they prioritize aggressive growth and reckless behavior.

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If this is not a wake-up call for you…

King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese. But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards. “Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.” The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed.

The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules. The situation further frustrates one of the many challenges already facing a government that has sought a form of bankruptcy protection after its debts swelled past $70 billion: boosting revenue by collecting money that slips through the cracks. In fact, the power blackout only exacerbates a situation that has always been, to a degree, a fact of life in Puerto Rico. Outside the island’s tourist hubs, many small businesses simply never took credit cards, with some openly expressing contempt for tax collectors and others claiming it was just a question of not wanting to deal with the technology.

But those were generally vendors of bootleg DVDs, fruit stands, barbers — not major supermarkets. Now, the better part of the economy is in the same boat. Cash was in short supply. Many Puerto Ricans were still living off what money they thought to withdraw ahead of the storm. Most ATMs on the island still weren’t working because of the power outage or because no one had refilled them. In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.”

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Washington has been a casino for decades.

The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” – especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company – country.” Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) – including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company – he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag.

We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.” To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

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People are being left behind everywhere.

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

Economic Prosperity Quintiles

As MishTalk.com’s Mike Shedlock writes below, the study notes: “America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet.” Distress is based on an evaluation of seven metrics.
• No high school diploma
• Housing vacancy rate
• Adults not working
• Poverty rate
• Median income ratio
• Change in employment
• Change in business establishments

Change in Distress Quintiles

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Merkel acts like an empress.

‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)

Despite gains made by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the breaking up of the ‘grand coalition’ could mark a positive step for Germany, according to voters who responded to our online callout. Here voters in Germany tell us why they think the AfD made gains, and what hopes they have for the future of the country’s politics.

‘A lot of people feel left behind’ – Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn My second vote was a tactical one. I gave it to the Linke. I knew that we’ll need a very strong voice against the AfD. I am pleased though, that the SPD decided to go into opposition to redefine themselves. A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.

The impact of the newly arrived is big. Some people are scared. Some that have been living in Germany for a long time feel disadvantaged. We can live together and be united in our diversity. I see this in school every day. If we treat each other with respect, then we do not need to fear. It is a long and strenuous way. But it is also very rewarding and fun to walk down that lane. At dinner I really had to get hold of myself to not cry in front of my children. I physically felt sick. A Nazi party being the third biggest party in Germany! I am still devastated.

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More Europe is dead.

Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel already faces complex coalition negotiations with at least three other parties. Now French President Emmanuel Macron wants in on the act. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on Tuesday, Macron will make proposals for re-shaping Europe that he acknowledges will require Merkel’s support to push through. While he isn’t seeking to interfere in German domestic politics, it makes sense to air the ideas before a coalition is formed rather than after, an official in his office told reporters. Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned overhauls of areas ranging from defense and immigration to the economy. Yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished.

“There was this expectation that the election would strengthen the German-French alliance, all kinds of reforms would be tackled and then we’re on the road to fiscal union,” Oliver Adler, head of economic research at Credit Suisse in Zurich, said in an interview. “This now seems politically very unlikely.” Macron will press ahead with his vision of remaking European institutions anyway, seeking to set the direction of debate. While a key element of his reform package is intended to reinforce the euro against future shocks, his speech won’t be all about the single currency area. Macron will propose as many as 10 projects in his speech, including a European agency for innovation and a system to improve start-up funding, a larger Erasmus student-exchange project, increased anti-terrorism cooperation, and a “digital plan” that includes a joint effort to push the EU Commission for a plan to tax Internet giants such as Apple and Google.

The goal is to have a roadmap in place by the summer of 2018 that will equip the EU for its next decade, according to the French official. Macron intends to discuss his plans with fellow EU leaders at a summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn at the end of this week. He may struggle to engage Merkel after Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic election challenger, upset her own plans by announcing his intention not to renew their respective parties’ coalition of the past four years.

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Politicians don’t understand technology.

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)

A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission’s original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called “link tax” or ancillary copyright and the upload filter. Regarding the upload filter, the text offers two alternatives:

Option A maintains the Commission’s original proposal of having in place an upload filter which will be under the control of platforms and other companies that are hosting online content. Although it removes mentions to “content recognition technologies”, in reality, there is no way to “prevent the availability” (another expression which remains in the text) of certain content without scanning all the content first. Option B is, at best, a more extreme version of Option A. In fact, it seems so extreme that it almost makes the first option look like a reasonable compromise. This may, of course, be the “diplomatic” strategy. In this extreme option, the text attacks again the liability regime of the e-commerce Directive – which, bizarrely, would not be repealed, leaving us with two contradictory pieces of EU law but adds a “clarification” of what constitutes a “communication to the public”.

This clarification establishes that platforms (and its users) would be liable for the copyright infringing content uploaded by its users. The proposals in this leak highlight a very dangerous roadmap for the EU Member States, if they were to follow the Presidency’s lead. The consequences of these flawed proposals can only be prevented if civil society and EU citizens firmly raise their voices against having a censorship machine in the EU. We will be turning on our call tool at savethememe.net before each of the key votes in the European Parliament. Make use of the tool, and call your representatives to stop the #censorshipmachine!

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Oh, get real: “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track. The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile. EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3% of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

Greece had a 0.7% budget surplus in 2016, and is projected to maintain its fiscal position within EU rules’ limits this year. “In the light of this, the Council (of EU states) found that Greece fulfils the conditions for closing the excessive deficit procedure,” the EU said in a note. “After many years of severe difficulties, Greece’s finances are in much better shape. Today’s decision is therefore welcome”, Estonia’s finance minister Toomas Toniste said. The EU states’ decision confirmed a proposal by the EU executive commission in July to end the disciplinary procedure for Greece. The economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the decision was “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

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Good cop bad cop. Rinse and repeat.

ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)

The ECB may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders. The IMF has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon. The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline. “The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament. “And what the SSM plans to do next year is to have a stress test, possibly frontloading the stress test, and basically the SSM sent a letter to the IMF concerning exactly this expected line of action,” Draghi said.

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Maybe Macron can do some good too.

French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)

France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France – Europe’s biggest food producer a- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer. But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term “the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides”. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto. The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France’s biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was “out of the question” for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors. “A sudden ban, no — a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening,” said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert. Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research. The EU’s chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing. But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

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Can mankind rid the earth of its presence? Stay tuned.

Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)

A “sixth mass extinction” is already under way, scientists are now warning us. Species such as the Bengal tiger and blue whale are vanishing at an alarming rate, and mournful eulogies are being written on how those born in 20 years’ time may never see an African elephant. But who is writing the eulogy for our food? Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply -known as agrobiodiversity- are just as endangered and are getting almost no attention. Take some consumer favourites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.

These crops are the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, 940 cultivated species are threatened. Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet is the biggest cause of early death and disability. Globally, 2 billion people are undernourished, while 2 billion are obese and at risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Focusing on large-scale intensive production of starchy crops for calories rather than nutritious diets has led to serious levels of obesity around the world, from the US to Kenya. Our agrobiodiversity base can be a source of affordable, nutritious food – provided we don’t let it disappear.

[..] About 33% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be degraded, lacking the nutrients essential for growing crops. Agrobiodiversity once again has a solution. Planting cold-tolerant legumes and forages throughout winter has helped farmers in France naturally reduce weed infestation as well as increasing soil’s nutrient content and capacity to hold water. Natural remedies such as this can enhance the sustainability of farms worldwide, reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

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“Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species”. In India, there used to be 100,000 varieties of rice. Today, there’s a big struggle going on to preserve a few dozen. There are many different banana species, but we all eat just one, the Cavendish. Which is under severe threat from a global fungus and could be gone in 5-10 years.

Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday. “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising. There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered. Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

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May 262015
 
 May 26, 2015  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walker Evans Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Vicksburg Negroes and shop front.” 1936

We Must Protect Our Children From Austerity (Guardian)
Greek Hospitals Out Of Painkillers, Scissors And Sheets Due To Austerity (RT)
The Key To A Greek Economic Revival Has To Be An End To Austerity (Münchau)
Austerity Is the Only Deal-Breaker (Yanis Varoufakis)
Greece Is All But Bankrupt (NY Times)
The World Is Drowning In Debt, Warns Goldman Sachs (Telegraph)
Investors Are Playing A ‘Greater Fool’ Game (George Magnus)
Weak Productivity Turns Into A Problem Of Global Proportions (FT)
Greece, the EU and the IMF Are Dancing With Death (Coppola)
Greek PM Convenes Emergency Meeting Of His Bailout Team (Guardian)
Greece’s Governing Left Divided Over Debt Terms (WSJ)
IMF’s Blanchard Says Greek Budget Proposals Will Not Provide (Reuters)
Germany And France Agree Closer Eurozone Ties Without Treaty Change (Guardian)
UK’s Cameron Tells EC President That Europe Must Change (Reuters)
Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite (NY Times)
China Warned Over ‘Insane’ Plans For New Nuclear Power Plants (Guardian)
Yesterday’s Tomorrowland (Jim Kunstler)
Flawed Science Triggers U-Turn On Cholesterol Fears (Daily Mail)
EU Dropped Pesticide Laws Due To US Pressure Over TTIP (Guardian)

I think it’s more that we need to protect them from our own greed.

We Must Protect Our Children From Austerity (Guardian)

The definition of a decadent society is one that destroys its own future, knowing full well the terrible consequences. On that basis, Britain is truly degenerate. Just look at how it trashes its children and teenagers. Our young are the very people on whom the rest of us will one day come to depend – to care for us, and to earn the country’s income. Rather than mere lifestyle accessories, to be slotted in alongside handbags and cars, they represent our best hope. This human truth has sustained societies around the world and down the ages. Yet in austerity Britain, children have been chucked to the bottom of the pile. They have been robbed of their rightful benefits. And the support they could once draw upon – everything from Sure Start centres to youth clubs to mental-health workers – has been hacked back.

Hyperbole? I really wish it were. Instead, I am merely repeating what professionals in field after field, from social care to mental health, are saying – and what the expert analysis shows. The landmark study of the social effects of David Cameron’s austerity was produced at the start of this year by a team of academics led by Professor John Hills at the London School of Economics. They found that the biggest victims of the spending cuts made since 2010 were children, and their parents: “Tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type. Those with a baby were especially affected.” None of this was accidental. Treasury officials stick each prospective change in tax and benefits under a Whitehall microscope – which is why so few budgets are an omnishambles.

When making their cuts, Cameron and George Osborne would have known that children and babies would suffer most – and proceeded regardless. Remember that next time you catch some commentator talking with great gravitas but little policy detail about the new compassionate Conservatism. Two things stand out in Cameron’s assault on children: it is precisely the opposite of what he promised, and exactly the reverse of what he himself knows any prime minister should be doing. Before coming to office, the Conservative leader unveiled a poster of a handsome tot: “Dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, Gordon Brown’s debt.” The whole point of cuts was “because we believe children like this deserve better”. One parliament later, the Trussell Trust reports that more than a third of the one million food parcels it gave out last year were for children.

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Due to our own lack of morals?!

Greek Hospitals Out Of Painkillers, Scissors And Sheets Due To Austerity (RT)

Hospitals across Greece are lacking the most essential supplies, including painkillers, scissors and sheets, as years of economic meltdown have left the country’s healthcare system in a desperate state. The number of uninsured Greeks has reached 2.5 million compared to 500,000 in the pre-crisis year of 2008, the Times reported. Healthcare spending has dropped by 25% since 2009, leading to shortages of medical equipment and a lack of funds to pay nurses’ salaries. The country spends around €11 billion annually on its public healthcare system, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU.

According to media reports, some Greek patients have had to undergo painful medical procedures without anesthetics. People have also been turned away from hospitals, as they didn’t even have the equipment to measure their blood pressure, the newspaper learned. On one occasion, a patient was even asked to bring his own sheets to the infirmary from home. A trainee surgeon at KAT state hospital in Athens described the situation at his hospital as being at the “breaking point”. “There is no money to repair medical equipment, no money for ambulances to use for petrol, no money to hire nurses and no money to buy modern surgical supplies,” he told the Times.

In April, the new Syriza government vowed to battle the “barbaric conditions” in public hospitals, as well as corruption in the healthcare sector. Despite money shortages, Greek authorities abolished the €5 fee to visit state hospitals and have pledged to hire an additional 4,500 healthcare workers. “We want to turn the health sector from a victim of the bailouts, a victim of austerity, into a fundamental right for every resident of this country and we commit to do so at any cost,” Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, said. “We will not tolerate the exploitation of human pain,” Tsipras stressed.

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“..the creditors are responsible for the current mess by insisting on an economically illiterate adjustment programme.”

The Key To A Greek Economic Revival Has To Be An End To Austerity (Münchau)

It is all up to Alexis Tsipras now. The Greek prime minister will decide soon whether or not he wants a deal with his creditors that would allow Athens to service its debt. If he says “no”, Greece will default. At that point, it is possible the country will have to leave the eurozone. What should he do? He will know his own political constraints. I will focus on the economics. The short answer is: if the deal is reasonable, he should accept. So where is the line between reasonable and unreasonable? The rough answer is whatever it takes to end the uncertainty. No investor is going to put their money into Greece so long as there is a threat of Grexit – a Greek exit from the eurozone. For an agreement to be viable, it would need to reduce the probability of Grexit to zero.

The same applies to the policies needed if Mr Tsipras says “no”. On that day he would need a brilliant economic plan. So what economic criteria should he apply to evaluate any offer? The single most important part of the agreement concerns the fiscal adjustment that Greece’s creditors are asking Athens to undertake. The variable to look out for is the primary surplus – the fiscal balance before payment of interest on debt: essentially the money a country has for debt servicing. There is no such thing as an objectively right or wrong number. But experience shows that large primary surpluses are politically unsustainable. It was the unsustainability of the previous agreement between Greece, its European creditors and the IMF that brought Syriza to power.

I heard a respected expert on this issue recently proclaim that a primary surplus of 2.5% of gross domestic product would probably work. The Greeks have demanded 1.5%, which is a reasonable opening bid. One of the so-called “non-papers” – the documents officials leak without leaving fingerprints – that are circulating among the negotiators had mentioned a figure of 3.5%, which strikes me as too high. A primary surplus of 4.5%, as was demanded from 2016 onwards by the previous loan agreement, is plainly ludicrous.

Greek economic mismanagement brought about the crisis in 2010, but the creditors are responsible for the current mess by insisting on an economically illiterate adjustment programme. They had not taken into account the fact that Greece is a relatively closed economy. This means that most of its GDP is produced and consumed at home. If you force such an economy into extreme austerity during a recession, it stays trapped. The key to a Greek economic revival has to be an end to austerity. This is why Grexit is not necessarily a solution, either, since it might bring even more fiscal consolidation. Greece would be cut off from international capital markets and unable to run a deficit.

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” Relative to the rest of the countries on the eurozone periphery, Greece was subjected to at least twice the austerity. There is nothing more to it than that.”

Austerity Is the Only Deal-Breaker (Yanis Varoufakis)

A common fallacy pervades coverage in the world’s media of the negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors. The fallacy, exemplified in a recent commentary by Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, is that, “Athens is unable or unwilling – or both – to implement an economic reform program.” Once this fallacy is presented as fact, it is only natural that coverage highlights how our government is, in Stephens’s words, “squandering the trust and goodwill of its eurozone partners.” But the reality of the talks is very different. Our government is keen to implement an agenda that includes all of the economic reforms emphasized by European economic think tanks.

Moreover, we are uniquely able to maintain the Greek public’s support for a sound economic program. Consider what that means: an independent tax agency; reasonable primary fiscal surpluses forever; a sensible and ambitious privatization program, combined with a development agency that harnesses public assets to create investment flows; genuine pension reform that ensures the social-security system’s long-term sustainability; liberalization of markets for goods and services, etc. So, if our government is willing to embrace the reforms that our partners expect, why have the negotiations not produced an agreement? Where is the sticking point?

The problem is simple: Greece’s creditors insist on even greater austerity for this year and beyond – an approach that would impede recovery, obstruct growth, worsen the debt-deflationary cycle, and, in the end, erode Greeks’ willingness and ability to see through the reform agenda that the country so desperately needs. Our government cannot – and will not – accept a cure that has proven itself over five long years to be worse than the disease. Our creditors’ insistence on greater austerity is subtle yet steadfast. It can be found in their demand that Greece maintain unsustainably high primary surpluses (more than 2% of GDP in 2016 and exceeding 2.5%, or even 3%, for every year thereafter).

To achieve this, we are supposed to increase the overall burden of value-added tax on the private sector, cut already diminished pensions across the board; and compensate for low privatization proceeds (owing to depressed asset prices) with “equivalent” fiscal consolidation measures. The view that Greece has not achieved sufficient fiscal consolidation is not just false; it is patently absurd. The accompanying figure not only illustrates this; it also succinctly addresses the question of why Greece has not done as well as, say, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, or Cyprus in the years since the 2008 financial crisis. Relative to the rest of the countries on the eurozone periphery, Greece was subjected to at least twice the austerity. There is nothing more to it than that.

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Heart rendering. “Maybe the crisis makes us better people — but these better people will die if the crisis continues.” “They can take their money,” he said, using an expletive. “I feel ashamed to be a European.”

Greece Is All But Bankrupt (NY Times)

Bulldozers lie abandoned on city streets. Exhausted surgeons operate through the night. And the wealthy bail out broke police departments. A nearly bankrupt Greece is taking desperate measures to preserve cash. Absent a last-minute deal with its creditors, the nation will run out of money early next month. Two weeks ago, Greece nearly defaulted on a debt payment of €750 million to the IMF. For the rest of this month, Greece should be able to cover daily cash deficits of around €100 million, government ministers say. Starting June 5, however, these shortfalls will rise sharply, to around €400 million as another I.M.F. obligation comes due. They will then double in size on June 8 and 9. “At that point it is all over,” said a senior Greek finance official.

On Sunday, the interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, said that there would not be enough money to pay the I.M.F. if there was no deal by June 5. In a society that has lived off the generosity of the government for decades, the cash crisis has already had a shattering impact. Universities, hospitals and municipalities are struggling to provide basic services, and the country’s underfunded security apparatus is losing its battle against an influx of illegal immigrants. In effect, analysts say, Greece is already operating as a bankrupt state. The government’s call to conserve funds has been far-reaching. All embassies and consulates — as well as municipalities throughout the country — have been told to forward surplus funds to Athens. Hospitals and schools face strict orders not to hire doctors and teachers.

And national security officials complain they are under intense pressure to keep air and sea missions to a minimum, at a time when migrants from Africa and the Middle East are rushing to Greece’s shores. Even the swelling ranks of investment bankers, lawyers and consultants advising the Finance Ministry have been told that, for now at least, their work is to be considered pro bono. Since its first bailout in 2010, Greece has been forced by its creditors to cut spending by €28 billion — quite a sum in a €179 billion economy. A proportional dose of austerity applied to the United States, for example, would come to $2.6 trillion.

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Sitting at his desk at the start of yet another 20-hour-plus workday, Theodoros Giannaros, the head of Elpis Hospital in Athens, chain-smoked cigarettes and signed off on a pile of spending requests that he said he knew would not be fulfilled. Since he started work at the hospital in 2010, Mr. Giannaros has seen his salary shrink to €1,200 a month, from €7,400. His annual budget, once €20 million, is now €6 million, and the number of practicing doctors has been reduced to 200 from 250. Like almost everyone in Greece, he is making do with less. The hospital recycles instruments; buys the cheapest surgical gloves on the market (they occasionally rip in the middle of operations, he says); and uses primarily generic drugs. “We have learned that we can live with a lot of money and survive with nothing,” he said.

“Maybe the crisis makes us better people — but these better people will die if the crisis continues.” Mr. Giannaros, who is 58, says he recently suffered a heart attack from the constant stress. But he says it is his surgeons he worries about most. In aging, depression-ridden Greece, treating the 150 or so patients that come to his hospital each day has put an extraordinary strain on his shrinking corps of doctors. The fact that many have begun to strike because they are not getting paid for overtime makes matters worse. Striding across the hospital grounds, Mr. Giannaros waved over his star surgeon, Dimitris Tsantzalos. How many operations did you do last year, he asked. “About 1,500,” said Dr. Tsantzalos, who, with his strapping build, seems younger than his 63 years. Recently he says he put in a month of consecutive 20-hour days and, not surprisingly, confesses to exhaustion. “I am burnt out,” he said. “It’s very dangerous for the patients.”

A week later, a tragedy struck Mr. Giannaros: His 26-year-old son, Patrick, committed suicide by jumping in front of an Athens subway train. “There was just an emptiness in front of him,” Mr. Giannaros said between wrenching sobs in a brief telephone conversation. “The emptiness of the future they have taken away from us.” His son had finished university studies and, unable to find work in a country where more than half the young are jobless, was helping Mr. Giannaros at the hospital. “He saw no future, no way to help his family,” Mr. Giannaros said. “Now God has found him a job — as an angel.” While Mr. Giannaros said he understood the importance of staying current with important creditors like the I.M.F., he said enough was enough. “They can take their money,” he said, using an expletive. “I feel ashamed to be a European.”

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Nothing new.

The World Is Drowning In Debt, Warns Goldman Sachs (Telegraph)

The world is sinking under too much debt and an ageing global population means countries’ debt piles are in danger of growing out of control, the European chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management has warned. Andrew Wilson, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said growing debt piles around the world posed one of the biggest threats to the global economy. “There is too much debt and this represents a risk to economies. Consequently, there is a clear need to generate growth to work that debt off but, as demographics change, new ways of thinking at a policy level are required to do this,” he said.

“The demographics in most major economies – including the US, in Europe and Japan – are a major issue – and present us with the question of how we are going to pay down the huge debt burden. With life expectancy increasing rapidly, we no longer have the young, working populations required to sustain a debt-driven economic model in the same way as we’ve managed to do in the past.” Mr Wilson used Japan, where gross government debt has climbed above 200pc of gross domestic product (GDP), as an example of where the ageing population could demographics were working against them. “[This] is evidently not sustainable over the long term,” he said.

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also sounded out a warning about Japan’s growing debt pile. The think-tank said gross government debt was on course to balloon to more than 400pc by 2040 if the government did not carry out reforms. Angel Gurria, the OECD’s secretary-general, said monetary stimulus and stronger growth alone would not be enough to haul the economy out of its two-decade malaise. “Japan’s future prospects depend on ensuring fiscal sustainability over the long term. With a budget deficit of around 8pc of GDP, the debt ratio is set to rise further into uncharted territory,” he said.

Others have warned privately that Japan’s debt mountain is unsustainable. “The crunch point is when it starts to run a current account deficit,” said one senior banker. “When they stop running a current account surplus and they need our money to survive, we’re not going to lend to them at 30 or 40 basis points.”

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Why insist on calling them investors?

Investors Are Playing A ‘Greater Fool’ Game (George Magnus)

Speculative euphoria, even when encouraged by central banks, is defined by the way it ends — not with a whimper but with a bang. In this context, the so-called Bund “tantrum” may be no more than a hiccup in the context of deeply anomalous financial market conditions. Investors are still chasing low or negative yields in bond markets, fairly or fully valued equity markets, and rising property markets. Yet, it seems increasingly that, long-term investors aside, they are playing a greater fool game. One of the biggest anomalies in global financial markets is the persistence of zero real, or inflation-adjusted, policy rates in most advanced economies and zero or negative real bond yields alongside a surge in the volume of public and private debt that shows no sign of subsiding.

The Bank for International Settlements has mapped a 50% rise in debt outstanding in the world’s 12 largest economies since 2007 to more than $125tn at the end of 2014. A recently published McKinsey report on debt, covering 47 countries, highlighted an increase over the same period of $57tn to about $200bn, or a rise of about 20% of GDP to just under 290% of GDP. While developed markets accounted for the lion’s share of the build-up in debt up to the financial crisis and still dominate the aggregate debt-to-GDP league table, it is in emerging countries, least affected by the financial crisis, that debt has erupted since 2008. The most significant shift has occurred in Asia ex Japan, especially China, where aggregate debt to GDP has quadrupled over the past decade and the limits to debt capacity are fast approaching.

While domestic credit rises at twice the rate of money GDP growth, the toxic combination of rising leverage and slowing growth will continue to erode the nation’s ability to sustain debt accumulation. Eventually the authorities will have to clamp down on credit expansion. Global bond and equity markets remain largely oblivious to the relentless rise in indebtedness. The commonly accepted but also questionable narrative is that the Fed is severely constrained when it comes to raising policy rates, the ECB and the Bank of Japan remain committed to quantitative easing, and China is accelerating the pace of monetary accommodation. Cheap money, therefore, is around for the foreseeable future, and asset price inflation, even with occasional wobbles, is a given.

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A problem only for the perpetual growth crowd. Why should productivity always grow? That just leads to tinkering with things like our food.

Weak Productivity Turns Into A Problem Of Global Proportions (FT)

Output per worker grew last year at its slowest rate since the millennium, with a slowdown evident in almost all regions, underscoring how the problem of lower productivity growth is now taking on global proportions. The Conference Board, a think-tank, said that based on official data on output and employment from most countries, only India and sub-Saharan Africa enjoyed faster labour productivity growth last year. Globally, the rate of growth decelerated to 2.1% in 2014, compared with an annual average of 2.6% between 1999 and 2006, it said.

Bart van Ark, the Conference Board’s chief economist, said total factor productivity, which takes account of skill levels and investment as well as the number of workers, fell 0.2% in 2014. “This is a global phenomenon and so we have to take it very seriously,” he said. Economists are increasingly identifying the problem of low global productivity as one of the greatest threats to improved living standards, in rich and poor countries alike. The fact that companies have become less efficient at converting labour, buildings and machines into goods and services is beginning to trouble policy makers around the world.

Janet Yellen cited weak US productivity as a cause of “the tepid pace of wage gains in recent years” on Friday. Also last week, George Osborne, UK chancellor, set higher productivity as the most important economic priority of the new government. “Our future prosperity depends on it,” he said. Raising productivity is seen as one of the only ways to improve living standards, at a time when advanced and some emerging economies are seeing ageing populations and a rapidly increasing retirement rate. Without stronger productivity growth, the world may have to get used to much lower rates of economic expansion.

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“Two years later, debt restructuring was on the table. And there it remains.”

Greece, The EU And The IMF Are Dancing With Death (Coppola)

Over the last few months, the world has been watching with interest and growing concern the intricate moves in the deadly dance of Greece, the EU and the IMF. The latest move in the dance comes from Greece itself. The Interior Minister has announced that Greece cannot meet scheduled debt repayments to the IMF in June. This does not mean that Greece intends not to pay. Rather, it is warning that intransigence by the EU may force it into an IMF default. It is not the first time Greece has used the “IMF default” tactic. At the beginning of May, Greece said it couldn’t pay an IMF loan repayment. Then, in a surprising move, it drained its SDR reserve account at the IMF to make the payment.

This is effectively a short-term loan at a low interest rate from the IMF to Greece. And it is Ponzi finance – lending to a borrower so that he can service existing debts to the same lender. Using the SDR account solved Greece’s immediate cash shortfall, buying time for further negotiations. But it stores up further problems in the future. The SDR account will have to be topped up at some point. Interestingly, the IMF appears to have advised Greece to use the SDR account for the payment. And this makes me wonder what strategy the IMF is playing. It seems to have decided to cooperate with Greece. Superficially, the IMF’s aim is to recover the money it has already lent to Greece. But it has another, much larger concern. The Greek crisis is threatening the IMF’s own credibility.

The IMF’s involvement in the Greek bailout was controversial from the start. It broke its own rules in order to lend to Greece in 2010, arguing that systemic risks justified lending to a country whose debt was not by any stretch of the imagination sustainable over the medium-term. It was severely criticized by members of its own board of directors, notably by emerging-market representatives who were understandably miffed at what appeared to be special treatment accorded to Greece, or more accurately, to the Eurozone’s banks. The Brazilian representative, Paulo Nogueiro Batista, observed that the program: …may be seen not as a rescue of Greece, which will have to undergo a wrenching adjustment, but as a bailout of Greece’s private debtholders, mainly European financial institutions.

And the Swiss representative tellingly asked why debt restructuring with losses for creditors was not on the table. Two years later, debt restructuring was on the table. And there it remains. The 2012 “private sector involvement” (PSI) restructuring wrote down up to 80% of the net present value of Greece’s private sector debts. But much of the debt had already been transferred to the public sector, not only as a result of the 2010 bailout but also through subsequent IMF and EU loans and ECB support of Greece’s banks. The PSI restructuring reduced Greece’s debt to just over 150% of its GDP. Everyone knew that this was inadequate. Everyone knew that the official sector would have to suffer a haircut as well, and the longer it was delayed, the more costly it would be.

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One every day.

Greek PM Convenes Emergency Meeting Of His Bailout Team (Guardian)

The high-stakes game of brinkmanship between Greece and its creditors intensified on Monday after the Greek prime minister convened an emergency meeting of his political negotiating team to avert a looming financial crisis. Amid mounting fears that Athens is close to running out of money, Alexis Tsipras said technical talks would resume to find a deal. To defuse tensions, he announced that Greece would honour its debts, though he failed to give details about how he would find the €1.6bn (£1.14bn) needed in two weeks’ time to repay an IMF loan. “We are very close to a deal,” the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, told reporters in Athens.

“There are many different Germans, just as there are many different Greeks,” Varoufakis added, responding to reports that Berlin would not be prepared to retreat in what has become an all-out tug of war between the two governments. Technical teams tasked with negotiating the framework of a cash-for-reform deal to keep the debt-stricken nation afloat, are now scrambling to break the deadlock of almost four months of fruitless talks. Both sides have signalled they will focus on VAT increases, expected to raise as much as €1bn for the Greek economy, when they reconvene in Brussels on Tuesday. Also on the table are pension reform, labour deregulation and the ever-incendiary topic of the primary surplus. Tsipras’s anti-austerity administration has argued vociferously that demands for a budget surplus higher than 1.5% will exacerbate the country’s economic death spiral.

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The ‘hard left’ already almost won the day. Tsipras’ room to move is shrinking.

Greece’s Governing Left Divided Over Debt Terms (WSJ)

As financial pressure mounts on Greece to sign a deal with its foreign lenders, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is facing what may be his biggest problem yet: the struggle within the ruling Syriza party over whether to swallow creditors’ tough terms or default. Dissent is spreading within left-wing Syriza against the economic policies Greece is likely to have to enact in return for fresh bailout funding from other eurozone governments and the IMF. The Syriza-led coalition government holds only a thin majority of 12 seats in Greece’s 300-seat Parliament, so a rebellion against a deal could easily cost Mr. Tsipras his governing majority.

Greece’s lenders are particularly worried about vocal threats by Syriza’s Left Platform, a hard-line leftist faction within the party, to reject any deal that crosses ideological “red lines” by cutting pensions or workers’ rights. Mr. Tsipras’s difficulty in selling a painful compromise to Syriza’s hard left, as well as to other parts of his ideologically diverse party, has become the largest obstacle to a deal. European officials and analysts -and privately even Greek government officials- say they don’t know whether the roughly 30 lawmakers who make up Left Platform will vote as defiantly as they talk if creditors’ terms are put before the Athens Parliament. Greece needs to agree on a list of economic policies with lenders in time to avoid defaulting on a series of loan repayments to the IMF in mid-June.

Although the government probably has enough cash to repay a €300 million loan due June 5, it almost certainly can’t meet three further payments totaling about €1.25 billion on June 12, 16 and 19, European officials say. Greece needs a deal as soon as possible so it can service its IMF debts, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters on Monday. “To the extent that we are in a position to pay our obligations, we will pay our obligations,” he said, adding: “It’s the government’s responsibility to be in a position to pay its obligations.” The European Central Bank has told eurozone governments it would allow Greek banks to buy more short-term Greek government debt if an economic-overhaul agreement between Athens and creditors is imminent. That would allow Greece to survive until July, when further debts fall due and fresh bailout loans will be needed.

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That’s just lip service. We all know by now it’s about politics only.

IMF’s Blanchard Says Greek Budget Proposals Will Not Provide (Reuters)

Greece’s budget proposals are not enough to ensure a surplus this year, the IMF’s chief economist was quoted as saying on Monday. Greece was supposed to have a 3% budget surplus in 2015, but that looks unrealistic now, Olivier Blanchard told the French financial newspaper Les Echos in an interview. Lowering that surplus would lead to new financing needs, for which Greece would again need European help. That could work only if, in exchange, Greece presented a coherent programme, he said. “Considering that the most recent estimates mention a substantial budget deficit, we need credible measures to transform this into a surplus and maintain this surplus in the future,” Blanchard was quoted as saying. “This is far from being the case at the moment.”

Three weeks ago, the European Commission slashed Greek growth and surplus projections and said it expected Greece’s primary surplus – the budget balance before debt servicing costs – would be only 2.1% this year, rather than the 4.8% projected just three months earlier. It also expects the 2015 headline budget balance will deteriorate from a 1.1% surplus to a 2.1% deficit and expects the 1.6% surplus forecast for 2016 will turn into a 2.2% deficit unless policies change. “What is obvious is that the (Greek) pension system is often too generous and that there are still too many civil servants,” Blanchard told the newspaper at a central bankers’ meeting in Sintra, Portugal.

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“..French and German leaders do not have much in common with David Cameron”.

Germany And France Agree Closer Eurozone Ties Without Treaty Change (Guardian)

Germany and France have forged a pact to integrate the eurozone without reopening the EU’s treaties, in a blow to David Cameron’s referendum campaign. Sidestepping Britain’s demands to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty and Britain’s place in the EU, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, François Hollande, have sealed an agreement aimed at fashioning a tighter political union among the single-currency countries while operating within the confines of the existing treaty. The Franco-German proposals are to be put to an EU summit in Brussels next month, where Cameron is also to unveil his shopping list of changes needed if he is to win support for keeping Britain in the EU.

The Franco-German accord, disclosed by Le Monde newspaper, calls for eurozone reforms in four areas “developed in the framework of the current treaties in the years ahead”. Cameron has persistently called for a reopening of the treaties to enable the eurozone to integrate more closely while providing the British with a chance to reshape the UK’s relations with the EU and repatriate powers from Brussels. EU members and senior officials in Brussels have repeatedly voiced their reluctance to reopen the Lisbon treaty – the EU’s fundamental constitutional document. The Franco-German initiative, likely to be endorsed by the 25 June summit, would definitively close the door on treaty renegotiation.[..]

The Franco-German pact, agreed as the Greek debt crisis comes to a head, was finalised last week on the fringes of the EU summit in Latvia and sent to Juncker at the weekend, Le Monde reported. The summit in Riga last Friday was Cameron’s first opportunity since re-election to present his ideas to fellow EU leaders. But it appeared that Merkel and Hollande had bigger fish to fry. Juncker is preparing policy options for the June summit on how to integrate the eurozone fiscally and politically as it struggles to emerge from more than five years of crisis. The Franco-German proposals are likely to settle the direction of policy.

They talk of economic, fiscal and social convergence, combining German insistence on monetary stability with French demands for greater investment. “Additional steps are necessary to examine the political and institutional framework, common instruments and the legal basis” (of the eurozone) by the end of next year, said the document, according to Le Monde. The following year, 2017, Germany and France have general elections, narrowing the scope for negotiations with Britain. The Franco-German policy proposal, said Le Monde, “shows that French and German leaders do not have much in common with David Cameron”.

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Brexit gets closer.

UK’s Cameron Tells EC President That Europe Must Change (Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron told the president of the European Commission that the country needed a new deal on Europe, before he presses his case for reforms to the bloc with other national leaders this week. Talks between Cameron and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker over dinner on Monday focused on reforming the European Union and renegotiating the UK’s ties with Brussels, a government spokeswoman said. “The prime minister underlined that the British people are not happy with the status quo and believe that the EU needs to change in order to better address their concerns,” she said. Juncker reiterated he wanted to find a “fair deal for the UK and would seek to help”, she said, and they agreed more discussions would be needed to find a way forward.

Cameron promised before the British national election earlier this month he would renegotiate Britain’s role in Europe, and hold a referendum on the country’s continuing membership of the bloc by the end of 2017. He launched his reform drive at a summit of EU and ex-Soviet states in Latvia last week, saying he was confident of winning concessions although it would not be easy. Cameron has said changes to rules on welfare benefits were an absolute requirement in any renegotiation. He wants to force EU migrants to wait four years before accessing a range of welfare benefits in Britain, and to win the power to deport out of work EU jobseekers after six months.

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“..bringing criminal charges against individuals and even sending some of them to jail would not disrupt the economy.”

Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite (NY Times)

As of this week, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are felons, having pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges of conspiring to rig the value of the world’s currencies. According to the Justice Department, the lengthy and lucrative conspiracy enabled the banks to pad their profits without regard to fairness, the law or the public good. Besides the criminal label, however, nothing much has changed for the banks. And that means nothing much has changed for the public. There is no meaningful accountability in the plea deals and, by extension, no meaningful deterrence from future wrongdoing.

In a memo to employees this week, the chief executive of Citi, Michael Corbat, called the criminal behavior “an embarrassment” — not the word most people would use to describe a felony but an apt one in light of the fact that the plea deals are essentially a spanking, nothing more. As a rule, a felony plea carries more painful consequences. For example, a publicly traded company that is guilty of a crime is supposed to lose privileges granted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to quickly raise and trade money in the capital markets. But in this instance, the plea deals were not completed until the S.E.C. gave official assurance that the banks could keep operating the same as always, despite their criminal misconduct. (One S.E.C. commissioner, Kara Stein, issued a scathing dissent from the agency’s decision to excuse the banks.)

Also, a guilty plea is usually a prelude to further action, not the “resolution” of a case, as the Justice Department has called the plea deals with the banks. To properly determine accountability for criminal conspiracy in the currency cases, prosecutors should now investigate low-level employees in the crime — traders, say — and then use information gleaned from them to push the investigation up as far as the evidence leads. No one has thus far been named or charged. Nor has there been any explanation of how such lengthy and lucrative criminal conduct could have gone unsuspected and undetected by supervisors, managers and executives. The plea deals leave open the possibility of further investigation, but the prosecutors’ light touch with the banks makes it doubtful they will follow through.

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By their own main scientist.

China Warned Over ‘Insane’ Plans For New Nuclear Power Plants (Guardian)

China’s plans for a rapid expansion of nuclear power plants are “insane” because the country is not investing enough in safety controls, a leading Chinese scientist has warned. Proposals to build plants inland, as China ends a moratorium on new generators imposed after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, are particularly risky, the physicist He Zuoxiu said, because if there was an accident it could contaminate rivers that hundreds of millions of people rely on for water and taint groundwater supplies to vast swathes of important farmlands.

China halted the approval of new reactors in 2011 in order to review its safety standards, but gave the go-ahead in March for two new units, part of an attempt to surpass Japan’s nuclear generating capacity by 2020 and become the world’s biggest user of nuclear power a decade later. Barack Obama, the US president, recently announced plans to renew a nuclear cooperation deal with Beijing that would allow it to buy more US-designed reactors, and potentially pursue the technology to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel. The government is keen to expand nuclear generation as part of a wider effort to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and cut dependence on imported oil and gas.

He, who worked on China’s nuclear weapons programme, said the planned rollout is going far too fast to ensure it has the safety and monitoring expertise needed to avert an accident. “There are currently two voices on nuclear energy in China. One prioritises safety while the other prioritises development,” He told the Guardian in an interview at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he is still working aged 88. He spoke of risks including “corruption, poor management abilities and decision-making capabilities”. He said: “They want to build 58 (gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity) by 2020 and eventually 120 to 200. This is insane.”

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“These are the only choices for the masses: whether to be a “doomer” or a “wisher.”

Yesterday’s Tomorrowland (Jim Kunstler)

America takes pause on a big holiday weekend requiring little in the way of real devotions beyond the barbeque deck with two profoundly stupid movie entertainments that epitomize our estrangement from the troubles of the present day. First there’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which depicts the collapse of civilization as a monster car rally. They managed to get it exactly wrong. The present is the monster car show. Houston. Los Angeles. New Jersey, Beijing, Mumbai, etc. In the future, there will be no cars, gasoline-powered, electric, driverless, or otherwise. Mad Max: Fury Road is actually a perverse exercise in nostalgia, as if we’re going to miss being a nation of savages in the driver’s seat, acting out an endless and pointless competition for our little place on the highway.

The other holiday blockbuster is Disney’s Tomorrowland, another exercise in nostalgia for the present, where the idealized human life is a matrix of phone apps, robots, and holograms. Of course, anybody who had been to Disneyland back in the day remembers the old Tomorrowland installation, which eventually had to be dismantled because its vision of the future had become such a joke — starting with the idea that the human project’s most pressing task was space travel. Now, at this late date, the monster Disney corporation — a truly evil empire — sees that more money can be winkled out of the sore-beset public by persuading them that techno-utopia is at hand, if only we click our heels hard enough.

Another theme running through both films is the idea that girls can be what boys used to be, that it’s “their turn” to be masters-of-the-universe, that men are past their sell-by date and only exist to defile and humiliate females. That this message is really only a mendacious effort to rake in more money by enlarging the teen “audience share” for the reigning wishful fantasy du jour is surely lost on the culture commentators, who are so busy these days celebrating the triumph and wonder of transgender life. The reviewers are weighing these two movies on the popular pessimism / optimism scale. These are the only choices for the masses: whether to be a “doomer” or a “wisher.” Both positions are cartoon world-views that don’t provide much guidance for continuing the project of civilization, in case anyone is actually interested in that.

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“We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades.”

Flawed Science Triggers U-Turn On Cholesterol Fears (Daily Mail)

For decades they have been blacklisted as foods to avoid, the cause of deadly thickening of the arteries, heart disease and strokes. But the science which warned us off eating eggs – along with other high-cholesterol foods such as butter, shellfish, bacon and liver – could have been flawed, a key report in the US has found. Foods high in cholesterol have been branded a danger to human health since the 1970s – a warning that has long divided the medical establishment. A growing number of experts have been arguing there is no link between high cholesterol in food and dangerous levels of the fatty substance in the blood. Now, in a move signalling a dramatic change of stance on the issue, the US government is to accept advice to drop cholesterol from its list of ‘nutrients of concern’.

The US Department of Agriculture panel, which has been given the task of overhauling the guidelines every five years, has indicated it will bow to new research undermining the role dietary cholesterol plays in people’s heart health. Its Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee plans to no longer warn people to avoid eggs, shellfish and other cholesterol-laden foods. The U-turn, based on a report by the committee, will undo almost 40 years of public health warnings about eating food laden with cholesterol. US cardiologist Dr Steven Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic, said: ‘It’s the right decision. We got the dietary guidelines wrong. They’ve been wrong for decades.’ Doctors are now shifting away from warnings about cholesterol and saturated fat and focusing concern on sugar as the biggest dietary threat.

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Regard: your future.

EU Dropped Pesticide Laws Due To US Pressure Over TTIP (Guardian)

EU moves to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility were shelved following pressure from US trade officials over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal, newly released documents show. Draft EU criteria could have banned 31 pesticides containing endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But these were dumped amid fears of a trade backlash stoked by an aggressive US lobby push, access to information documents obtained by Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe show. On 26 June 2013, a high-level delegation from the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) visited EU trade officials to insist that the bloc drop its planned criteria for identifying EDCs in favour of a new impact study.

Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that “although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards”. The TTIP is a trade deal being agreed by the EU and US to remove barriers to commerce and promote free trade. Responding to the EU officials, AmCham representatives “complained about the uselessness of creating categories and thus, lists” of prohibited substances, the minutes show. The US trade representatives insisted that a risk-based approach be taken to regulation, and “emphasised the need for an impact assessment” instead.

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