Apr 162018
 
 April 16, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple 1883-4

 

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)
Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)
Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)
Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)
Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)
A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)
Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)
How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)
Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)
Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)
Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)
Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)
Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)
Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

 

 

The new markets.

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)

With the start of the first-quarter earnings season, U.S. stock-market investors are waiting to see whether the results point to a business environment that is thriving and supportive of the market’s rally over the past several years, or whether the move has been overdone. Turns out, both bulls and bears have data they can marshal in their favor. According to data from FTSE Russell and Thomson Reuters, the U.S. stock market was recently trading at its most expensive levels since the dot-com era, and — even after the first correction for the DJIA and the S&P 500 in about two years — it continues to trade one standard deviation above a historical range. The data is based on the forward price-to-earnings ratio for stocks, which is currently above 17, compared with the long-term average of about 15.

This measure of valuation can be seen mapped out in the following chart. The recent peak of the forward P/E represented a nearly 20-year high, per FTSE Russell.

In another potential warning sign for investors, the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio gives the S&P 500 a ratio of 31.6, nearly twice its long-term mean of 16.85, and at its highest level since the dot-com era. Both of these statistics may give investors pause, as they suggest a market’s that is overstretched and could have more room to fall. However, they only tell half the story. The forward P/E comes at a time when first-quarter earnings growth isn’t just expected to be strong, but coming in at its strongest rate in years. According to FactSet, earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are estimated to grow 17.3% in the first quarter, while sales grow 10%. For both, such rates would represent the fastest pace of growth since the first quarter of 2011.

Accounting for that high level of expansion paints a very different picture for stock valuations, so much so that they go from being at or near multiyear highs, to being at multiyear lows. FTSE Russell also provided the following chart to MarketWatch, which looks at the market in terms of its PEG, or a P/E ratio that accounts for earnings growth. Based on this metric, stocks have a PEG of 1.2, which means they’re not only trading one standard deviation below their long-term average of a little more than 1.3, but also at their cheapest level since 2012.

Read more …

Really? Killing the golden eggs?

Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)

A toughening of lax lending standards in Australia is threatening an already-cooling property market. An inquiry into misconduct in the financial industry is likely to lead to greater regulation of the nation’s A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) mortgage market. Banks have routinely relied on an unrealistically low estimate of homebuyers’ living expenses, and a more genuine assessment of spending could reduce borrowing power by as much as 35 percent, according to UBS analysts. That would mean many new buyers simply couldn’t afford current prices – a further drag on home prices that are already falling as a seven-year property boom tails off.

“What drives house prices is credit availability,” said Sean Fenton, director at Sydney-based Tribeca Investment Partners, which manages about A$2.5 billion. “A tightening of lending standards directly impacts the ability of the marginal buyer to buy a house.” The heat is already coming out of the housing market. Prices in Sydney, the world’s second-most expensive property market, fell 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic Inc. A year ago, annual price growth was running at almost 16 percent. The top end of the market has recorded the biggest falls, the data shows.

[..] “It’s really obvious that a lot of people have a lot of unmanageable debt,” said Karen Cox, coordinator of Sydney’s Financial Rights Legal Centre, which fielded 25,000 calls last year from people seeking financial help. “Because it’s such a benign interest rate environment, the problems can only get worse.” Based on historic income and price relationships, property prices in Sydney and Melbourne are overvalued by between 25 percent and 30 percent, according to Paul Dales, chief Australian economist at Capital Economics. For now, he’s predicting prices will just edge lower, with the crunch coming if interest rate increases coincide with tighter credit conditions. “All properties in those cities are particularly vulnerable.”

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Macron dreams big. About himself, mostly.

Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term”, adding that French air strikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention was legitimate and urged international powers to now push for a diplomatic solution to the brutal seven-year war. “We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” the 40-year-old centrist said at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.

But Macron again argued his first major military intervention as president was necessary to send a signal that the use of chemical weapons against civilians would not go unpunished. Saturday’s strikes targeted three alleged chemical weapons facilities in response to what the West says was a gas attack on the town of Douma that killed dozens of people. “We have full international legitimacy in intervening in this case,” Macron said. He said the US, France and Britain targeted “extremely precise sites of chemical weapons use” in an operation that went off “perfectly”. And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing Trump’s mind on the need to stay involved in the conflict.

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Makes sense.

Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)

President Donald Trump erupted in anger when he learned the U.S. was expelling 60 Russian diplomats in March, while France and Germany were only expelling four each, the Washington Post reported late Sunday. Trump reportedly only wanted to match the number of allies’ expulsions, and not to be seen as taking the lead. Trump believed his aides misled him, the Post said. “There were curse words,” one official told the Post, “a lot of curse words.” The expulsions were the most ever by the U.S. against Russia, and came in response to a suspected Russian nerve-agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in England. Separately, the Trump administration appears ready to impose more sanctions on Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that a new round of sanctions will target Russian companies that aid Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.

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Playing on Trump’s field.

Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)

If there’s any strategy in the world of President Donald Trump, it’s a simple one: Play on my field. And the Trump playing field is a salacious one. The scandals and affairs are literally too numerous to be chronicled in a single article. Large and small, Trump University to Trump Steaks, bankruptcies and legal judgements, all manner of infidelity and aberrant behavior, real or imagined. Former FBI Director James Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller were each charged with looking into an allegation of the most serious variety — colluding with a foreign hostile power to alter the presidential election. This week the headlines emanating from Mueller’s investigation, and Comey’s book, involve a porn star, a Playboy bunny, a pee tape, the size of Trump’s hands and a doorman with a history of fibbing apparently alleging the existence of an illegitimate child.

That is playing on Trump’s field. But wait. Isn’t it a violation of campaign law if Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels just ahead of the election? If Cohen used a home-equity loan to fund the payment, did he lie to the bank? Doesn’t it speak to Trump’s truthfulness on a variety of a matters — including alleged collusion with Russia — whether his persistent denials of engaging with prostitutes in Moscow are truthful? Doesn’t it have relevance to the question of whether payoffs were legal if Trump bought off a doorman? And didn’t Mueller actually hand off the investigation on Daniels? Yeah, sure, all of that. Those are all on the level of the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s perjury — legal matters, yes, that aren’t really the stuff of high crimes and misdemeanors.

They’re all gotchas reinforcing what we basically knew about Trump and his behavior before the election. By contrast, the consequences of playing on Trump’s field are enormous. For Comey, baiting Trump into a reaction, which sure as water is wet came on Friday morning, will result in better book sales. But it will come at the expense of holding any future higher office. His legacy as FBI director — already tarnished for the ridiculous, torturous inconsistencies in how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — is forever tarnished. Who in Washington could hire this guy? “Untruthful,” as Trump called him? No. “Slime ball?” Hmm.

Mueller, too, looks set to emerge damaged, if perhaps not as fatally. The question of whether Trump can, or should, fire him has returned. Mueller, also a former FBI director, does still have the support of both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to finish his investigation, and a few key Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, have expressed willingness to support legislation to protect him. But the idea of his dismissal is definitely more plausible — and, for that matter, the outrage it would generate a good bit lessened.

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“..how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction..”

A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)

Here’s another bone to pick with Facebook. Nearly one-third of Americans (31.7%) think the embattled social network is having a “negative impact on society,” according to a survey conducted in recent months by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s former personal pollster, Tavis McGinn. That view was even more widely held among respondents in Australia (33.4%), Canada (33.3%) and the U.K. (32.2%), per the results reported by Recode. The survey research was conducted on 10,000 respondents across 10 nations in January and February, prior to recent revelations that the British data firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested personal data from up to 87 million Facebook users to create targeted political ads.

Facebook had already come under fire for its role in the proliferation of fake news on the platform during the 2016 election. While McGinn and his Honest Data company didn’t delve into specifics of this “negative” societal impact, the pollster had some ideas. “In the U.S. obviously we’re very focused on election interference, and in the U.K. they’ve been focused on that as well with Brexit,” he told Recode. “But there are also things like, ‘how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction, how does the platform encourage extremism, how does the platform push American values onto other countries?’”

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Anyone but you does.

Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)

While GAFA in the US essentially controls the politics limiting the capacity for regulation, Brussels will continue to insist the only path towards healthy regulation comes from the EU. The other model is of course China. Beijing has domesticated its sprawling digital industry – which is a de facto extension of the state apparatus as well as a growing instrument of global influence. When Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook should be broken up – the monopoly issue once again – he said that would weaken the US’s competitive advantage against China, which by the way is fast disappearing. Facebook’s customer base though is not American; it’s global. Inside the Facebook HQ, the consensus is that it is a global company.

So all these issues at stake – from monopoly to regulation to privacy – are indeed global issues. Zuckerberg dodged extremely serious questions. Who owns “the virtual you?” Zuckerberg’s response was that you own all the “content” you upload, and can delete that content any time you want. Yet the heart of the matter is the advertising profile Facebook builds on each user. That simply cannot be deleted. And the user cannot alter it in any way. The GAFA galaxy, in fact, owns you when you click accepting those massive terms and conditions of use. As argued by philosopher Gaspard Koenig, director of the GenerationLibre think tank in France, data property should logically follow the evolution of property rights, land property, financial property and property of ideas, thus replacing the current figure of the “proletarian 2.0” at the heart of the value chain of the digital economy.

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Why would the number be limited to Facebok’s users? Isn’t it clear yet? It’s everyone.

How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)

Statistics are a staple of journalistic accuracy issues, but rarely is a number so big, consequential and hard to verify as the number of Facebook users directly affected by the still emerging Cambridge Analytica story. Is it no more than 30 million, as Cambridge Analytica says? Fifty million, as estimated by the Observer and Guardian journalists who have done so much to disclose the issue? Or 87 million, as Facebook has ventured? Facebook’s estimate has a fine-print caveat: “We do not know precisely what data the app shared with Cambridge Analytica or exactly how many people were impacted. Using as expansive a methodology as possible, this is our best estimate of the maximum number of unique accounts that directly installed the thisisyourdigitallife app as well as those whose data may have been shared with the app by their friends.”

The numbers seem to be calculated by multiplying the number of people known as “seeders” by the average number of Facebook friends seeders are thought to have. A seeder was a Facebook user who installed certain apps that permitted the apps’ controllers to harvest data from the user and the seeder’s (unknowing) Facebook friends. The wide variation in the estimates of people affected results partly from different estimates of seeders – 185,000, 275,000, 300,000 – and different average-number-of-friends figures – 160, 180, 250, 340.

Does it matter, in the sense that it is now evident that many, many other entities – academic, commercial, governmental – could have harvested the data of users under previous Facebook policies, for which Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s ethically callow controller, apologised before committees of the US Congress last week, without apparent loss of face? A sense of perspective was given by the Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, a sophisticated observer of the social and democratic impacts of digital technologies: “The Cambridge Analytica dataset from Facebook is itself but a lake within an ocean, a clarifying example of a pervasive but invisible ecosystem where thousands of firms possess billions of data points across hundreds of millions of people – and are able to do lots with it under the public radar.”

[..] Is it unreasonable to wonder whether the potential dataset for the team’s work is 2 billion, the total number of Facebook users?

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Former BOE governor sees stormy days ahead. The ECB must save the euro system, and that won’t be easy.

Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)

Many observers have drawn comfort from the likelihood that Germany’s new “grand coalition” and French President Emmanuel Macron will indeed reform the basic architecture of monetary union. The language will be warm and encouraging, but the substance less so. In recent months I’ve been struck by the dissonance between, on the one hand, a common French and German determination to move ahead on the principle of reform to the monetary union, and, on the other, their governments’ clashing ideas about how to do it. Macron wants a fiscal union and a finance minister for the euro area. Germany doesn’t: It insists that countries must be responsible for their own fiscal position.

The likely compromise is that any fiscal transfers will be kept as small as possible – no larger than needed to get past the immediate problem. That might suffice in reasonably normal times, but not if market confidence disappears as it did in 2010-12. At that point, the issue can no longer be fudged. As these events unfold, Draghi and his successor, due to take over in October 2019, can expect to face many tests. The rise of populist parties in southern Europe is one — but the greatest challenge is likely to come from opinion in Germany. So far, the monetary union has been good for German exporters and politicians but less so for German consumers, who’ve been denied the higher standard of living that an appreciating currency would have delivered.

[..] U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson famously remarked about his FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” I’ve no doubt Johnson would be strongly recommending the appointment of Jens Weidmann, the current president of the Bundesbank, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Europe’s governments see it the same way. My advice to Jens? Think twice before accepting.

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The NATO Secretary General is a dangerous man. He’s tasked with increasing NATO’s power.

Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg drew attention to already existing NATO presence in Turkey and called on all allies to provide more support to the country. “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks. NATO immediately condemned the coup attempt that targeted Turkey’s democratic institutions,” the secretary-general said. Stoltenberg spoke to Anadolu Agency (AA) at the NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of his official visit to Turkey on April 16. The NATO chief said the aim of his trip to Ankara is to “to prepare for the upcoming [NATO] summit in Brussels in July..”

[..] Stoltenberg said he highly values the visit to Turkey, as he sees the country it is “a highly valued and key ally for many reasons, not just for its strategic location.” He added that during the visit he will “discuss the preparations for the important summit where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment.” He said that NATO functions with the solidarity principle “one for all and all for one” and added: “We have deployed missile batteries that are augmenting the missile air defenses of Turkey. We have Italy and Spain deploying Patriot batteries and also SAMP-T batteries, and we conduct surveillance flights with our AWACS planes over Turkey. We have also increased our naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

[..] When asked about NATO’s approach to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, Stoltenberg said NATO welcomed Turkey’s transparency. “We’re aware that there are some challenges related to the situation in northern Syria and around Afrin. NATO has been a platform for direct dialogue between Turkey and the U.S. We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, which we expect to be addressed in a proportionate and measured way,” NATO chief said. “We all understand that Turkey has to address these threats. We welcome that Turkey has been transparent and briefed NATO several times on the operation in Afrin, both the military operations and the humanitarian assistance.”

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Erdogan gambles on being needed by the US.

Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)

An American pastor Monday went on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. Brunson, wearing a white shirt and a black suit, was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said. In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.

Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says is behind the failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes. If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, his lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP. [..] The Brunson case has further raised the temperature of heated relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Relations are already tense over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey.

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam. Turkey has sent a spate of documents to back up its repeated request for Gulen’s extradition from the United States, which has so far shown no sign of interest in expelling the preacher. In September last year, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, raising the idea of a swap deal. “They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back,” Erdogan said then. The idea was brushed off by the United States.

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Turkey’s a neighbor of Syria. Stoltenberg will have no qualms about selling out Greece.

Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)

The leaders of Greece and Turkey need to address the issues that have been causing tension between the two countries in recent months and this is “not an issue for NATO,” the head of the alliance of which both countries are members said on Sunday. Speaking to Turkey’s Anadolou news agency ahead of a visit to Turkey on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey are “two highly valued NATO allies” and “both contribute to our collective defense.” “I expect that the differences we see on some issues are solved between Turkey and Greece in the spirit of good relations,” he added.

“In this context, I welcome that the PMs of both countries have recently held a phone conversation and that they have agreed to resolve these differences through dialogue.” Stoltenberg’s visit is planned in preparation for a crucial NATO summit in Brussels in July, “where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” he said. Asked to respond to criticism that NATO is not doing enough to help Turkey in its fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg said “there’s a lot of NATO presence in Turkey but I call on the allies to provide even more support.” “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks,” the alliance chief told Anadolou.

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Also about Turkey.

Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)

Consider what Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is up against. As Greece prepares to free itself from an eight-year European bailout, its 43 year-old premier is confronting challenges at home and abroad. On the domestic front: preparations for post-bailout economic life and the first general election since the end of the program, including feuds with both allies and rivals. On the foreign-policy front: increased tensions with traditional rival Turkey and regional instability stemming from a dispute over a neighboring country’s name. Tsipras’s ability to navigate through all this could determine just how stable the country and its region will be in coming years, experts say, and the European Union, the U.S. and NATO are all watching with interest.

“The worst problem for Tsipras, for the government, but also for Greece is the evolving ‘rogueness’ of Turkey,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “Diminishing American influence on the region is a destabilizing factor and the stakes are very high,” Hatzis said, adding that Greece is not a primary concern for Turkey, but a part of an overall plan by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish hegemony in the region. Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated in March after two Greek soldiers, who Greece says wandered across the border during a routine patrol, were arrested by Turkey. Greece has demanded their return. Relations between Greece and Turkey, always fraught, worsened further after a Greek court declined to extradite eight Turkish soldiers allegedly involved in a military coup attempt in July 2016.

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“No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied – from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm wide – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straws, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces. Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has spent the past 15 years studying the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote spots on the planet – the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific – to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes – the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production. Just one washed-up fishing net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surrounding sand a lucid green splash. “You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called “ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles. “Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere,” says Lavers. “No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

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Mar 272018
 


Paul Klee Cat 1939

 

Dow Surges 670 Points But Stock Market Is On The Brink Of A Breakdown (MW)
Trump Sends To-Do List to China on Trade (WS)
America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam Part 2 (Stockman)
Integrity Has Vanished From The West (Paul Craig Roberts)
Western Allies Expel Scores Of Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Attack (G.)
New Zealand Says It Would Expel Russian Spies … But It Can’t Find Any (G.)
Whistleblower Questions Brexit Result, Says Campaigners Broke Election Law (R.)
Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules (BBG)
Theresa May Stands By Adviser Who Outed Brexit Whistleblower (G.)
Underfunded Public Pensions To Persist (R.)
Hood Ornament Buffer (Jim Kunstler)
Meeting Paris Agreement Targets Will Take Massive Cuts in Emissions (BBG)
Ultra-Thin Sun Shield Could Protect Great Barrier Reef (AFP)
Brazil Senate Considers Lifting Ban On Sugarcane Production In Amazon (G.)

 

 

What you’re watching is not real.

Dow Surges 670 Points But Stock Market Is On The Brink Of A Breakdown (MW)

The stock market surged on Monday—and it really needed to. U.S. stocks are coming off the biggest weekly decline in more than two years, and the aftermath of that drop has market technicians warning that major indexes are on the verge of a full-fledged, technical breakdown. “The extent of the deterioration in equities is very much a concern given the combination of near-term technical damage, along with the decline in longer-term momentum after having reached record overbought conditions into late January,” wrote Mark Newton at Newton Advisors, in a Monday research note. Here are some levels that the market is trying to defend or retake after last week’s withering action:

A Dow Theory sell signal was close to forming. According to MarketWatch columnist Mark Hulbert there are a number of steps, but as of Friday, the market had just to see the Dow Jones Transportation Average close below its Feb. 9 low of 10,136.61 to trigger that sell signal after the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, on Friday closed below its February low. On Monday, the transports closed up 2.1% at 10,373.21.

According to data from Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading, a little more than half of Dow components were trading below their 200-day moving averages, which hadn’t happened since 2015. Meanwhile, about 50% of the S&P 500 components were trading above their 200-day moving averages, with a break below indicating “notable technical damage has been done to this market,” O’Rourke wrote.

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All obvious.

Trump Sends To-Do List to China on Trade (WS)

Negotiations – led on the US side by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and on the Chinese side by Liu He, a newly anointed vice premier and President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser – about how to address the gigantic China-US trade imbalance have quietly begun, the infamous “people with knowledge of the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. On Saturday, Mnuchin called Liu, which was confirmed by the Treasury Department. A spokesman said that they “also discussed the trade deficit between our two countries and committed to continuing the dialogue to find a mutually agreeable way to reduce it.” Now Mnuchin is considering a trip to Beijing to pursue the negotiations, one of these people told the Wall Street Journal.

And last week, according to these people, Mnuchin and Lighthizer sent Liu a to-do list on trade with specific items the White House wants China to undertake, including:
• A reduction of the 25% tariffs that China imposes on US-made cars
• Increased purchases by China of US-made semiconductors. China would need to shift these purchases from Japanese and South Korean manufacturers, which aren’t going to be happy
• Reduce subsidies to state-owned enterprises
• Provide more regulatory transparency
• Ease restrictions on US companies in China, particularly requirements that they operate as joint ventures in which the US company’s ownership may be limited to 51%
• Giving US financial firms greater access to the Chinese market.

Clearly, in leaking these negotiations and the existence of this to-do list to the financial press, the White House is hoping to calm the markets, because the last thing it wants is to preside over a stock market plunge, though the stock market has all the best reasons to swoon, and the US-China trade situation isn’t needed to accomplish that.

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“Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever..”

America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam Part 2 (Stockman)

Last week the Donald’s incipient trade war got Wall Street’s nerves jangling, but that wasn’t the half of what’s coming. To wit, Trump has now essentially formed a War Cabinet and signed a Horribus spending bill that is a warrant for fiscal meltdown. Indeed, the two essentially comprise a self-fueling doom loop which means Washington’s descent into fiscal catastrophe is well-nigh unstoppable; it’s all over except for the screaming in the bond pits. That is, Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever assembled by a sitting President.

We cannot think of a single country that has even looked cross-eyed at Washington in recent years where one or all four of them has not threatened to drone, bomb, invade or decapitate its current ruling regime. That means Imperial Washington’s rampant War Fever owing to the Dem-left declaration of war on Russia and Putin is now about to be drastically intensified by the complete victory of the neocon-right in the Trump Administration. The result will be sharpened confrontation, if not actual outbreak of hostilities, across the full spectrum of adversaries – Iran, Russia, China, Syria and North Korea – and an escalating tempo of military operations and procurement to implement the policy.

At the same time, the Donald’s pathetic Fake Veto maneuver on Friday cemented the special interest lobbies’ absolute control over domestic appropriations. Of course, Chuckles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi crowed loudly about the $63 billion annual domestic spending increase they got in return for the Donald’s $80 billion defense add-on, but the victory was not partisan; it belonged to the Swamp creatures who suckle the politicians of both parties and own the appropriations committees lock, stock and barrel.

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TV was just a first step in creating opinions from scratch. We can do much more than that now. Will we still curtail Facebook, Google?

Integrity Has Vanished From The West (Paul Craig Roberts)

Among Western political leaders there is not an ounce of integrity or morality. The Western print and TV media is dishonest and corrupt beyond repair. Yet the Russian government persists in its fantasy of “working with Russia’s Western partners.” The only way Russia can work with crooks is to become a crook. Is that what the Russian government wants? Finian Cunningham notes the absurdity in the political and media uproar over Trump (belatedly) telephoning Putin to congratulate him on his reelection with 77% of the vote, a show of public approval that no Western political leader could possibly attain. The crazed US senator from Arizona called the person with the largest majority vote of our time “a dictator.” Yet a real blood-soaked dictator from Saudi Arabia is feted at the White House and fawned over by the president of the United States.

The Western politicians and presstitutes are morally outraged over an alleged poisoning, unsupported by any evidence, of a former spy of no consequence on orders by the president of Russia himself. These kind of insane insults thrown at the leader of the world’s most powerful military nation—and Russia is a nation, unlike the mongrel Western countries—raise the chances of nuclear Armageddon beyond the risks during the 20th century’s Cold War. The insane fools making these unsupported accusations show total disregard for all life on earth. Yet they regard themselves as the salt of the earth and as “exceptional, indispensable” people.

Think about the alleged poisoning of Skirpal by Russia. What can this be other than an orchestrated effort to demonize the president of Russia? How can the West be so outraged over the death of a former double-agent, that is, a deceptive person, and completely indifferent to the millions of peoples destroyed by the West in the 21st century alone. Where is the outrage among Western peoples over the massive deaths for which the West, acting through its Saudi agent, is responsible in Yemen? Where is the Western outrage among Western peoples over the deaths in Syria? The deaths in Libya, in Somalia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Afghanistan? Where is the outrage in the West over the constant Western interference in the internal affairs of other countries? How many times has Washington overthrown a democratically-elected government in Honduras and reinstalled a Washington puppet?

The corruption in the West extends beyond politicians, presstitutes, and an insouciant public to experts. When the ridiculous Condi Rice, national security adviser to president George W. Bush, spoke of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction sending up a nuclear cloud over an American city, experts did not laugh her out of court. The chance of any such event was precisely zero and every expert knew it, but the corrupt experts held their tongues. If they spoke the truth, they knew that they would not get on TV, would not get a government grant, would be out of the running for a government appointment. So they accepted the absurd lie designed to justify an American invasion that destroyed a country.

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Diplomats are stationed abroad to make communication possible. This does not help.

Western Allies Expel Scores Of Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Attack (G.)

The US has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who Washington says are spies, including a dozen based at the United Nations, and told Moscow to shut down its consulate in Seattle, which would end Russian diplomatic representation on the west coast. The EU members Germany, France and Poland are each to expel four Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds. Lithuania and the Czech Republic said they would expel three, and Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands two each. Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Sweden and Romania each expelled one Russian. Iceland announced it would not be sending officials to the World Cup in Russia.

Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats, while Albania, an EU candidate member, ordered the departure of two Russians from the embassy in Tirana. Macedonia, another EU candidate, expelled one Russian official. Canada announced it was expelling four diplomatic staff serving in Ottawa and Montreal who the Canadian government said were spies. A pending application from Moscow for three more diplomatic posts in Canada is being denied. Australia confirmed that it too would expel two Russian diplomats who were in the country as undeclared intelligence officers, giving them seven days to leave.

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Someone will find some for them.

New Zealand Says It Would Expel Russian Spies … But It Can’t Find Any (G.)

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, say they would expel Russian spies from the country, if there were any. More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries have been told to return to Moscow, in response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russia/UK double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on 4 March. The New Zealand government has condemned the attack and supports the international action, but says there are no such “Russian intelligence agents” in the country.

The Russian ambassador to New Zealand was summoned to a meeting “to reiterate our serious concern” over the Salisbury attack. “While other countries have announced they are expelling undeclared Russian intelligence agents, officials have advised there are no individuals here in New Zealand who fit this profile. If there were, we would have already taken action,” said Ardern. She said New Zealand will review what further action it can take to support the international community over the attack. “We remain steadfast with our international partners in our shared concern about the Salisbury nerve agent attack,” Ardern said.

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There are tw0 such whistleblowers now. Here’s no. 1:

Whistleblower Questions Brexit Result, Says Campaigners Broke Election Law (R.)

A whistleblower at the heart of a Facebook data scandal on Monday questioned the result of Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum as his lawyers presented evidence that they said showed the main campaign for leaving the EU had broken the law. With just a year until Britain is due to leave the European Union, two whistleblowers – one from the British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica and one from the Vote Leave group – have alleged that Brexit campaigners funded their campaign illegally. By doing so, they have pulled Brexit into a scandal that has forced Mark Zuckerberg to apologise for how Facebook handled users’ data, and raised questions about how Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign employed data.

Vote Leave officials on Monday denied breaking election rules and said they were facing an attempt to undermine Brexit by smearing their reputations. The whistleblowers’ law firm, London-based Bindmans, released 53 pages of selected evidence on Monday. In a legal opinion, Bindmans said there was a prima facie case that Vote Leave broke election spending limits by donating to an allied group known as BeLeave, with which it was working closely.

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And this is no. 2:

Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules (BBG)

Campaigners for Brexit may have conspired to break spending limits in the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, according to allegations by a whistle-blower who worked for one of the Leave groups. Vote Leave, the main pro-Brexit campaign, gave money to a smaller campaign group, BeLeave, and then helped direct how it was spent, according to a 50-page legal opinion by attorneys from London’s Matrix Chambers. The lawyer are acting on behalf of people who flagged potential violations in the campaign.

If that 625,000-pound ($889,000) donation had been included in Vote Leave’s accounts, it would have taken the group over its 7 million-pound spending limit. “It’s important that it’s the will of the people and not the bought will of the people that is expressed at the ballot box,” Tamsin Allen told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon in London. Allen is a lawyer for Shahmir Sanni, a BeLeave campaigner who argues the rules were broken.

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No. 2 was outed as gay by his own government as revenge for being a whistleblower. His family in Pakistan has hired security.

Theresa May Stands By Adviser Who Outed Brexit Whistleblower (G.)

Theresa May has insisted her political secretary, Stephen Parkinson, “does a very good job”, as he faces mounting pressure over the outing of the Brexit whistleblower Shahmir Sanni. Sanni said he had endured one of the “most awful weekends” of his life after telling the Observer how Vote Leave channelled money through BeLeave, a group linked to Cambridge Analytica, to get around electoral law. On Friday Sanni was outed as gay by Parkinson, one of May’s closest advisers and a former Vote Leave official, with whom Sanni had a relationship during the campaign. Privately, some Conservative MPs believe Parkinson should stand down. “He’ll have to go,” said one backbencher.

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw challenged the prime minister in the House of Commons on Monday about what Downing Street said was a “personal statement” by Parkinson. “How is it remotely acceptable that when a young whistleblower exposes compelling evidence of law-breaking by the leave campaign, implicating staff at No 10, one of those named instead of addressing the allegations issues an officially sanctioned statement outing the whistleblower as gay and thereby putting his family in Pakistan in danger?” he said. “It’s a disgrace, prime minister, you need to do something about it.”

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As sure as death and taxes.

Underfunded Public Pensions To Persist (R.)

Investment returns have been uneven and funding levels have yet to recover. Many pension funds have meanwhile attempted to boost returns by loading up on alternative investments to levels unheard of a decade earlier. “Some just cannot grow their way out of it. We have had several years of stellar (stock market) returns and it barely improved the underfunding situation,” said Mikhail Foux, municipal credit analyst at Barclays in New York. The benchmark S&P 500 U.S. stock index has tripled in the past nine years, driven in part by unprecedented zero interest rate policies and massive monetary stimulus from central banks around the globe aimed at combating the deepest recession in a generation.

But pension returns struggled to match the broad market, and recent wobbles in U.S. equities have fed fears of another downturn. “Now what happens when markets are falling 10 to 15%?” Foux asked. In 2007, a year before the crisis began, the median funded level was 92% for state retirement and 97% for local plans, according to Wilshire Funding Studies. That fell to 68% for states and 72% for local governments by 2016, the most recent data. A lower funded ratio indicates the overall soundness of a pension fund is weaker and more money is required to meet future obligations.

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Best description yet of Stormy. Big announcements and an empty interview. Presidents showing their virility makes them more popular, not less. Ask France.

Hood Ornament Buffer (Jim Kunstler)

Newsflash: President Donald J. Trump had sex with a whore twelve years ago. Let that sink into your limbic lobes, you poor, opiated, Facebook-addled, morbidly-obese, fly-over nation of lumbering, deplorable, gun-gripping, Jesus-haunted voters. A hoor! Do you hear? Wait a minute, you say. Stormy Daniels is no such thing, She’s an actress in, and director of, adult films, an auteur, if you like, at least a sex worker, toiling in the rolling mills of eros, sweating and grunting as much as any Mahoning Valley steel worker, or hood ornament buffer on the Tesla assembly line. And anyway, three times over the years she denied having sex with that man, at least once in writing, though last night on CBS’s Sixty Minutes she stated that she actually did have sex with the Golden Golem of Greatness.

In which case, she may be some kind of a lyin’ hoor… or savior of a nation yearning to cast off the loathsome rule of this odious president-by-mistake. The Sixty Minutes make-up and costume crew knocked themselves out coming up with her on-camera look Sunday night: WalMart Shopper. That reddish blouse, for instance, which did not display Stormy’s… er… assets in the usual way (i.e., an enticing fleshy slot descending into deep milky realms of mystery), but just innocently swimming around in there like a couple of frolicking dolphins confined in an above-the-ground backyard pool. Who wouldn’t want to jump in and swim with them? Maybe not the undistractible Anderson Cooper, who did ferret out many interesting particulars of that one romantic encounter: Stormy accepted Trump’s invitation for dinner… in his hotel suite. Just the two of them, ahem.

They watched a TV show about sharks. It apparently lacked aphrodisiac punch. So he showed her a magazine with his picture on the cover, perhaps to get the point across that he was a really important person in case she didn’t already know. She said she ought to take it and spank him with it. He concurred, dropped trou, and presented the rear of his tighty-whitey small-clothes to facilitate that proposal. After that ice-breaker, he said, “I really like you!” and “You remind me of my daughter” — instantly be-sliming the proceedings with overtones of incest. Stormy went to the bathroom and emerged to find Trump perched on the bed. “Here we go,” the thought popped into her head, she says. But she didn’t say “no.”

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Not going to happen. Paris was just meant to make you feel good.

Meeting Paris Agreement Targets Will Take Massive Cuts in Emissions (BBG)

Meeting the Paris accord’s temperature targets will take massive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions within 15 years, but won’t require them to be reduced to zero, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. If those targets—between 1.5 to 2ºC (2.7 to 3.6ºF)—are overshot, the consequences would likely require both drastic cuts to emissions and geoengineering efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere, according to the paper by Katsumasa Tanaka at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan and Brian O’Neill at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “If we overshoot the temperature target, we do have to reduce emissions to zero. But that won’t be enough,” Tanaka said in a statement.

“We’ll have to go further and make emissions significantly negative to bring temperatures back down to the target by the end of the century.” Tanaka’s team began looking at both the accord’s temperature goals and requirement that countries “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of this century,” according to the statement. The scientists created scenarios that would achieve both the temperature goals and emissions guidelines. The group concluded to do so would necessitate cutting emissions 80% by 2033 to meet the 1.5 degree target or about 66% by 2060 to meet the 2 degree mark. “In both these cases, emissions could then flatten out without ever falling to zero,” according to the statement.

[..] The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is working on a report which is expected to conclude that geoengineering will be needed to meet the 1.5 degree goal. Recognizing this difficulty, Tanaka and O’Neill looked at the possibility the targets would be missed. If the 1.5-degree mark is missed, emissions would have to fall to zero by 2070 and then be negative for the rest of the century. In the 2-degree scenario emissions would have to drop to zero by 2085 and then stay negative for a shorter period of time to get back below 2 degrees. Both scenarios would require removing carbon from that atmosphere. The researchers also looked at scenarios reducing emissions to zero by 2060 and 2100. In the first case, the temperature rose 2 degrees before declining. In the second instance, it rose above that mark by 2043 and stayed there for 100 years or more.

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Yes, of course. We’ll cover the ocean in plastic, just as we do our food. And then ourselves.

Ultra-Thin Sun Shield Could Protect Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

An ultra-fine biodegradable film some 50,000 times thinner than a human hair could be enlisted to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental degradation, researchers said Tuesday. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists each year, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Biology have been buoyed by test results of a floating “sun shield” made of calcium carbonate that has been shown to protect the reef from the effects of bleaching. “It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said.

The trials on seven different coral types found that the protective layer decreased bleaching of most species, cutting off sunlight by up to 30 percent. “It (the project) created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching,” Marsden said. Researchers from a breadth of disciplines contributed to the project, which was headed by the scientist who developed the country’s polymer bank notes. “In this case, we had chemical engineers and experts in polymer science working with marine ecologists and coral experts to bring this innovation to life,” Marsden said.

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Yeah, just great. The entire deterioration process of teh planet is fast accelerating.

Brazil Senate Considers Lifting Ban On Sugarcane Production In Amazon (G.)

A bill being rushed through Brazil’s senate would lift a ban on the cultivation of sugarcane for ethanol fuel in the Amazon, driving more deforestation and making it harder for the country to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Deal. The bill, which has been roundly condemned by environmentalists, companies and even Brazil’s union of sugarcane producers (UNICA), marks the latest move by a conservative congress to unravel Amazon protections. Five former environment ministers have also criticised it. “This is another setback that should not thrive,” said one, José Carvalho. Under a 2009 decree, sugar cane production is not allowed in the Amazon biome.

Allowing the highly-profitable crop to be raised on deforested land in the region would push out other crops and encourage more deforestation, said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace in Brazil. It could be “one of the biggest disasters for the forest,” he said. The bill was first introduced in 2011 by Flexa Ribeiro, a senator for the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic party in the Amazon state of Pará, and suddenly put up for a vote on Tuesday afternoon. It would allow ethanol production on vaguely-defined areas of Amazon land, including “altered areas” and “general land”. If approved on Tuesday and given presidential sanction, it could become law. Brazil’s ethanol fuel is seen as a clean fuel alternative to gasoline by millions of motorists. According to UNICA, 27m cars in Brazil, 73% of the total can use either gasoline or ethanol, as can 4m motorbikes.

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Mar 232018
 
 March 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edvard Munch Spring 1889

 

China Hits Back on Trump Tariffs as Europe Off the Hook for Now (BBG)
Asian Stocks Plunge As Trump’s Trade War Heats Up (MW)
Dow Jones Closes Down More Than 700 Points (Ind.)
UK Politicians To Be Exempt From Data Crackdown (Ind.)
Steve Bannon: ‘Facebook Data Is For Sale All Over The World’ (G.)
Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic (G.)
The Digital Military Industrial Complex (NYBooks)
EU Countries Prepare To Follow May And Expel Russian Diplomats (G.)
Number Of British Children In Poverty Surges By 100,000 In A Year (Ind.)
UK Rebel Bank Prints Its Own Notes And Buys Back People’s Debts (G.)
Shaking the Superflux (Varoufakis)
‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ 16 Times Larger Than Previously Estimated (G.)
Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Rapidly Accumulating Plastic (Nature)
‘Collapse Of Civilisation Is A Near Certainty Within Decades’ – Ehrlich (G.)
Mammoth Survey Of Nature’s Vital Signs Released (AFP)

 

 

All involved know a realignment was inevitable. This is simply the art of the deal.

China Hits Back on Trump Tariffs as Europe Off the Hook for Now (BBG)

The trade conflict between China and the U.S. escalated, with Beijing announcing its first retaliation against metals levies hours after President Donald Trump outlined fresh tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports and pledged there’s more on the way. On Friday, China unveiled tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to steel and aluminum duties ordered by Trump earlier this month. The White House then declared a temporary exemption for the European Union and other nations on those levies, making the focus on China clear. Though Beijing’s actions so far are seen by analysts as measured, there may be more to come.

Equity indexes from Tokyo to Shanghai tumbled more than 3% and U.S. stock futures fell, signaling a further retreat for the S&P 500 Index after it fell 2.5%, on risks a further escalation in trade tensions will undermine an unusual phase of synchronized global economic growth. Suppliers to Apple were among the hardest hit in Hong Kong and mainland markets on Friday, as investors focused on potential losers from the trade spat. “China’s response is surprisingly modest in light of the U.S. actions, suggesting there could be a good deal more to come,” said Stephen Roach, a former non-executive chairman for Morgan Stanley in Asia and now a senior fellow at Yale University. “As America’s third largest and most rapidly growing export market and as the largest foreign owner of Treasuries, China has considerably more leverage over the U.S. than Washington politicians care to admit.”

[..] The White House gave the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea, until May 1 to negotiate levies on steel and aluminum. The administration said the suspensions can be renewed or revoked then, “pending discussions of satisfactory long-term alternative means to address the threatened impairment to U.S. national security.” “This has been long in the making,” Trump said signing the intellectual-property order, adding that the tariffs could affect as much as $60 billion in goods. He told reporters, “This is the first of many.”

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There’ll be a bit of to and fro, with big words and big numbers and big threats, and then everyone will get back to business.

Asian Stocks Plunge As Trump’s Trade War Heats Up (MW)

The global equities swoon rolled over to Asia on Friday, where markets reacted negatively to the Trump administration’s trade broadside against China. Although the import tariffs had been telegraphed for weeks, Thursday’s package, covering about $60 billion in goods, sent investors running for havens. Bonds and gold prices rose and the Japanese yen hit its highest point against the U.S. dollar since Donald Trump won the presidential election. “Yes, the news was out for a while, but the actual action was a bit of a surprise to the market,” said Shinchiro Kadota, a senior forex and rates strategist at Barclays. “Maybe they thought it would be smaller, maybe later.”

China’s commerce ministry responded Friday morning and announced it would levy tariffs against $3 billion worth of U.S. goods including pork and recycled aluminum. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average closed down 4.5% as the yen’s sharp gains on Thursday also pressured stocks lower. The yen rose further on Friday, hitting 16-month highs as the dollar went below ¥105. The WSJ Dollar Index fell 0.2% in Asia, extending the afternoon pullback seen during U.S. trading. Stocks in China also fell with the Shanghai Composite Index down 4%, the Shenzhen Composite Index down 5.3% and the small-cap-heavy Chinext Index down 5.1%.

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Realignment.

Dow Jones Closes Down More Than 700 Points (Ind.)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down more than 700 points, with investors fearing that trade tensions will spike between the US and China after President Donald Trump unveiled new tariffs against Beijing. Industrial and technology companies, which depend heavily on foreign trade, took some of the worst losses with Boeing, Caterpillar and Microsoft all falling sharply. The Dow sank 724 points, or 2.9%, to 23,957. The Nasdaq lost 178 points, or 2.4%, to 7,166. The S&P 500 index dropped 68 points, or 2.5%, to 2,643, erasing its gain for the year. It is the fifth-worst daily point drop ever for the Dow and the worst since the beginning of February.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Trump unveiled a plan to impose up to $60bn in new tariffs on Chinese goods, as well as limiting the country’s investment in the US as payback for what his administration alleges is years of intellectual property theft. The president’s order – which report from the White House had previously suggested would be nearer $50bn – is likely to trigger retaliation by Beijing and could further stoke fears of a global trade war. Just before signing the trade action, Mr Trump said it was “the first of many” as he looks to correct what has repeatedly called “unfair” trade deals with nations around the world.

“Markets are saying that these tariffs are going to cut into the global growth story that looked pretty strong just a few weeks ago. The prospect of more tariffs is making markets very unsettled and you’re going to see choppy trading until we see the effect they are having on earnings,” Jamie Cox, a managing partner for Harris Financial Group told Reuters.

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All you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica outrage. It’s theater.

UK Politicians To Be Exempt From Data Crackdown (Ind.)

Britain’s political parties are poised to grant themselves special powers to use personal data to find out how people are likely to vote, despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Independent can reveal. Legislation set to clear Parliament within weeks will allow the profiling of voters to help infer their political opinions, privacy campaigners have warned. The move comes as controversy has engulfed Cambridge Analytica over its collection of Facebook data, with the aim of using it to profile and target people during election campaigns. Even before the scandal erupted, political parties had faced questions about their use of social media to carry out online campaigning.

All the major parties have agreed to the exemption from new data protection laws, arguing it clarifies their widely recognised right to canvas voters in order to target possible supporters. But critics say technological advances now enable such data to be mined to discover people’s opinions without their active consent. Organisations outside of the main political parties will be barred from collating voting data in this way. Ailidh Callander, a lawyer at the group Privacy International, told The Independent that “no meaningful justification” had been given for the powers in the Data Protection Bill. “This exemption is open to abuse by political parties and those working for them and can be used to facilitate targeted and exploitative political advertising,” she warned.

[..] “As we can see from the work of Cambridge Analytica, personal data that might not have previously revealed political opinions can now be used to infer information about the political opinions of an individual,” Ms Callander added. It would allow private firms, under contract to political parties, to “process personal data revealing political opinions for a wide range of purposes” without the explicit consent of the person concerned, Ms Callander said. Mr Bernal said data that could reveal voting preferences should be given “more protection”, warning: “Almost anything can be used to at least have a guess at your political leanings.”

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Business model. And if anyone can buy this stuff, you wonder what the NSA keeps for itself.

Steve Bannon: ‘Facebook Data Is For Sale All Over The World’ (G.)

Steve Bannon tried to distance himself from the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Thursday, claiming: “I didn’t even know anything about the Facebook mining.” Bannon is a former vice-president and board member of the political consultancy, which he agreed he “put together.” He claimed to a conference in New York that neither he nor Cambridge Analytica had anything to do with “dirty tricks” in the use of information harvested from Facebook to make computer models to sway elections. Besides, he said, “Facebook data is for sale all over the world”.

Bannon – Donald Trump’s former chief strategist – later said outside the conference room that he “did not remember” being part of any scheme to buy data that came from Facebook and divert it to use for election propaganda, as the Observer revealed last weekend. He blamed any “dirty tricks” on Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, which he described as “the British guys, old Etonians and guys from Oxford and Cambridge” [..] Bannon denied there was any scandal involving companies acquiring people’s personal information from Facebook and using it for other purposes.

“It’s just about the cost of it. It’s bought and sold every day, it’s just a marketplace,” he said, adding: “I didn’t even know about the Facebook mining, that’s Facebook’s business … They went to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and told him all about the power of personal data.” Bannon turned to the conference audience and said: “You’re all serfs. Well paid serfs, but still serfs … The data is all out there, they [Facebook] take your stuff for free and monetize it for huge margins, they take over your life.”

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About that claim that Facebook was cheated, it wasn’t. It was always part of the whole thing. This is not something Kogan ‘harvested’, Facebook had already done that.

Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic (G.)

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting “scam” at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. Facebook provided the dataset of “every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level” to Kogan’s University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time.

A University of Cambridge press release on the study’s publication noted that the paper was “the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre’s lab in Cambridge and Facebook”. Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. “The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “It’s not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook.”

Facebook downplayed the significance of the dataset, which it said was shared with Kogan in 2013. “The data that was shared was literally numbers – numbers of how many friendships were made between pairs of countries – ie x number of friendships made between the US and UK,” Facebook spokeswoman Christine Chen said by email. “There was no personally identifiable information included in this data.”

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Excellent long background by Tamsin Shaw for the Facebook story. It’s a who’s who.

The Digital Military Industrial Complex (NYBooks)

In a 2014 interview, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, speaking then as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that such open-source data initiatives, and in particular the study of social media such as Facebook, had entirely transformed intelligence-gathering. He reported that traditional signals intelligence and human intelligence were increasingly being replaced by this open-source work and that the way in which intelligence agents are trained had been modified to accommodate the shift. A growing portion of the military’s $50 billion budget would be spent on this data analytics work, he claimed, creating a “gold rush” for contractors. A few weeks after this interview, Flynn left the DIA to establish the Flynn Intel Group Inc. He later acted as a consultant to the SCL Group.”

Carole Cadwalladr reported in The Observer last year that it was Sophie Schmidt, daughter of Alphabet founder Eric Schmidt, who made SCL aware of this gold rush, telling Alexander Nix, then head of SCL Elections, that the company should emulate Palantir, the company set up by Peter Thiel and funded with CIA venture capital that has now won important national security contracts. Schmidt threatened to sue Cadwalladr for reporting this information. But Nix recently admitted before a parliamentary select committee in London that Schmidt had interned for Cambridge Analytica, though he denied that she had introduced him to Peter Thiel. Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie allowed Cambridge Analytica to evolve into an extremely competitive operator in this arena.

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Proof is overrated.

EU Countries Prepare To Follow May And Expel Russian Diplomats (G.)

EU leaders have thrown their weight behind Theresa May’s stance on Russia, with several countries poised to announce expulsions of diplomats, in a bid to dismantle Vladimir Putin’s spy network. Following a summit in Brussels to discuss the response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack, EU leaders gave their full-throated backing to the prime minister by adopting a statement declaring it was “highly likely Russia is responsible” for poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, tweeted that all leaders agreed Russia’s responsibility for the attack was highly likely. In a significant point for May, the statement goes further than a declaration by foreign ministers earlier this week, which avoided pinning the blame on Russia.

British diplomats believe that a strong message of solidarity with the UK, from Russia’s closest European neighbours, will hit home with President Putin. France, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are understood to be considering expelling Russian diplomats, as requested by the UK government, in a coordinated strike against Moscow. The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said: “All of us, we are considering such measures.” She added that she had not congratulated Putin on his election victory. EU leaders discussed their response to the Salisbury poisoning over a European council summit dinner in Brussels. The UK prime minister told her fellow leaders the attack formed part of a long-term pattern of behaviour by Russia, and urged them to present a united front.

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What all the talk about Russia serves to hide…

Number Of British Children In Poverty Surges By 100,000 In A Year (Ind.)

The number of children in poverty across the UK has surged by 100,000 in a year, new figures show, prompting calls for ministers to urgently review cuts to child welfare. Government statistics published on Thursday show 4.1 million children are now living in relative poverty after household costs, compared with four million the previous year, accounting for more than 30% of children in the country. Compared to the overall population, children remained the most likely to be in relative poverty, at almost one in three compared with 21% of working age adults and 16% of pensioners.

The figures will fuel concerns that benefit cuts and tax credits under the Tory Government are seeing children hardest hit, with around one and a half million more under-18s forecasted to live in households below the relative poverty line by 2022. Relative child poverty is measured as children living in homes where the income is 60% of the median household income in the UK, adjusted for family size and after housing costs. Separate government statistics published on Thursday show the number of households in temporary accommodation has surged 64% since the Tories came to power in 2010, of which more than 2,000 had children.

Responding to the rise in child poverty levels, Labour MP Margaret Greenwood, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “These figures show that after eight years of Conservative austerity, Labour’s progress in tackling child poverty has been reversed with a shocking increase in the numbers of children living in poverty.

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Don’t get too successful, or else…

UK Rebel Bank Prints Its Own Notes And Buys Back People’s Debts (G.)

First there were the banks. Sending credit cards through the post, offering easy loans. They overstretched, teetered. Then came the billion-dollar bailouts, recession, austerity, poverty and payday loans. Then, slowly, came the movement: a piecemeal, sporadic effort to buy back the debt of ordinary people. Now in north-east London, an enterprise that is part art installation, part stunt and part charitable endeavour, has brought all the threads together: a bank that prints its own money, sells it for real tender and uses the proceeds to buy back the debt.

Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn have taken over an old Co-op Bank on a high street in Walthamstow and are printing money featuring the faces of people behind four local services – a primary school, a foodbank, a youth project and a soup kitchen. As well as raising money for those projects, Hoe Street Central Bank aims to raise enough money to buy out £1m of debt owned by people within the E17 postcode, in a London borough ranked 35th most deprived in the country.

“We see it as a community heist taking on the economic discourse,” says Powell. One of the delightful ironies of the undertaking is that the ‘bank’ could only have to raise as little as £20,000 to buy out £1m of local debt, because bad loans are often written down to a fraction of their face value in the secondary market. “The system forces people into debt for basic needs,” says Powell. “We are the forerunners of what we hope will be a bigger movement for debt abolition.” As the bank did its unusual trade this week, schoolchildren were invited in to watch a batch of £5, £10 and £20 notes, all designed by artists, roll off the presses. After all, it’s not every day that you see your headteacher’s face on a fiver.

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Varoufakis’ Shakespeare lecture. The recent Facebook and Novichok stories would fit right in.

Shaking the Superflux (Varoufakis)

As is, alas, well known, my country went bankrupt in 2010. And the oligarchies, Greek and European, in power decided to cover it up by means of largest loan in History to the most bankrupt European state – money that was, always, meant to flow on to France’s and Germany’s bankrupt bankers while the Greeks were thrown indefinitely into debtor’s prison and treated to the harshest austerity this planet has ever seen. Yes, there was method to the madness of the powers-that-be, just as in any Shakespearean play. Watching them stumble from one idiotic decision to the next, making things up as they were going along, and intensifying the crisis that they were trying to quell, was like watching a version of Othello, wondering how smart people could be so foolish, or of a Macbeth scheming in the land of Oedipus.

Like King Laius of Thebes unwittingly brought about his own murder by his son Oedipus because he believed the prophecy that Oedipus would kill him once he grew up, so too did Europe’s Deep Establishment, in a bid to save their bankers while safeguarding their legitimacy, undermined their legitimacy by committing successive, Macbeth-like, crimes against logic – so much so that, today, the so-called political centre traditionally in the service of the Establishment lays in ruins everywhere in Europe: Think France, Austria, Germany, recently Italy, where political monsters are rising up across Europe bringing to mind Brutus’ line in Julius Caesar about the hatchling of the serpent’s egg that must be “killed in the shell” before it emerges. Except that, instead of crushing the shell before the new serpents hatched, the Establishment kept it warm, facilitated its hatching, and is now repeatedly bitten by them.

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Global plastic production is increasing exponentially.

‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ 16 Times Larger Than Previously Estimated (G.)

An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic. The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer.

The analysis, conducted by boat and air surveys taken over two years, found that pollution in the so-called Great Pacific garbage patch is almost exclusively plastic and is “increasing exponentially”. Microplastics, measuring less than 0.5cm (0.2in), make up the bulk of the estimated 1.8tn pieces floating in the garbage patch, which is kept in rough formation by a swirling ocean gyre. While tiny fragments of plastic are the most numerous, nearly half of the weight of rubbish is composed of discarded fishing nets. Other items spotted in the stew of plastic include bottles, plates, buoys, ropes and even a toilet seat.

“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” said Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study. Lebreton works for the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch-based non-profit that is aiming to tackle the garbage patch. [..] The organization is developing a system of large floating barriers with underwater screens that capture and concentrate plastics into one area ready to be scooped out of the ocean. A prototype, to be launched from San Francisco this summer with the aim of spawning a clutch of devices each of which can collect five tons of waste a month, will, if successful, be followed by dozens of other boom-like systems measuring up to 2km (1.2 miles) long.

The project comes with caveats, however – its system will not catch the proliferation of microplastics measuring under 10 millimeters (0.39in) and the whole operation will require further funding from next year. Any successful clean-up may also be overwhelmed by a global surge in plastic production – a recent UK government report warned the amount of plastic in the ocean could treble within the next decade. “There is a big mine of microplastics there coming from larger stuff that’s crumbling down, so we need to get in there quickly to clean it up,” said Joost Dubois, a spokesman for the Ocean Cleanup.

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The official report. Half of the garbage is fishing nets. A recent report estimated 70% of all visible plastic is discarded nets.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Rapidly Accumulating Plastic (Nature)

Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45-129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported.

We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1-3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.

Global annual plastic consumption has now reached over 320 million tonnes with more plastic produced in the last decade than ever before. A significant amount of the produced material serves an ephemeral purpose and is rapidly converted into waste. A small portion may be recycled or incinerated while the majority will either be discarded into landfill or littered into natural environments, including the world’s oceans. While the introduction of synthetic fibres in fishing and aquaculture gear represented an important technological advance specifically for its persistence in the marine environment, accidental and deliberate gear losses became a major source of ocean plastic pollution. Lost or discarded fishing nets known as ghostnets are of particular concern as they yield direct negative impacts on the economy and marine habitats worldwide.

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Ehrlich still claims it’s preventable. Why?

‘Collapse Of Civilisation Is A Near Certainty Within Decades’ – Ehrlich (G.)

A shattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich. In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, the Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever. The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.

Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system – that hold the annual ‘world destroyer’ meetings in Davos – are unlikely to let it happen”. The Population Bomb, written with his wife Anne Ehrlich in 1968, predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture. Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall. “Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.”

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I doubt that “it’s not too late”.

Mammoth Survey Of Nature’s Vital Signs Released (AFP)

Scientists will deliver a comprehensive assessment Friday of the state of biodiversity — the animals and plants that humankind depends on to survive but has driven into a mass species extinction. The labor of some 600 scientists over three years, four reports will be unveiled in Medellin, Colombia, under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The diagnosis is expected to be dire. “If we continue the way we are, yes the… sixth mass extinction, the first one ever caused by humans, will continue,” IPBES chairman Robert Watson told AFP ahead of the much-anticipated release. But the good news, he said, “It’s not too late” to slow the rate of loss.

Scientists say mankind’s voracious consumption and wanton destruction of Nature has unleashed the first mass species die-off since the demise of the dinosaurs – only the sixth on our planet in half-a-billion years. The first major biodiversity assessment in 13 years comes in the same week that Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya – a stark reminder of the stakes. “The IPBES conference is going to tell us that the situation is continuing to deteriorate, they are going to tell us some ecosystems are being brought to the brink of collapse,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP on Thursday. “The IPBES is going to make a strong case for the importance of protecting Nature for our own wellbeing.”

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 March 11, 2018  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne Blue and Gold Southampton Water 1872

 

$21 Trillion And Rising: Central Banks’ Leveraged Buyout of The World (ZH)
The $233 Trillion Dollar Dark Cloud of Global Debt (GT)
Trump Is Going For A Clean Reset in The West Wing (Vanity Fair)
Trump ‘Clarity’ on Tariff Conditions Not What EU Was Looking For (BBG)
China Ties Future to Xi as Congress Scraps President Term Limits (BBG)
Putin Says He ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ If Russians Meddled In 2016 Elections (NBC)
Millions Of Struggling UK Families Face Deepest Benefit Cuts In Years (O.)
UK Government Leaves At Least £1 Billion For Affordable Housing Unspent (O.)
‘We Are Nowhere Near Out Of Austerity’ – Institute for Fiscal Studies (G.)
UK Consumers Losing Interest In Buying New Cars On Credit (Ind.)
Erdogan Slams Allies’ Refusal To Support Turkey Offensive In Syria’s Afrin (RT)
Greek Defense Minister: We’re Close To A ‘Fatal Accident’ With Turkey (K.)
Post-Bailout Credit Line For Greece Probably Not Needed – Regling (R.)
UK Government Asks Public For Ideas To Curb Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

 

 

$21 trillion to buy out a broken system.

$21 Trillion And Rising: Central Banks’ Leveraged Buyout of The World (ZH)

Back in late 2016, we showed the unprecedented domination of capital markets by central banks using a chart from Citi, which had put together a fascinating slideshow asking simply “Where is the utility in marginal QE” and specifically pointing out that the longer unconventional monetary policy such as QE continues, the bigger its marginal cost, until eventually QE becomes a detriment. A broad criticism of monetary policy, the presentation carried an amusing footnote: “This presentation does not change any of Citi’s existing, published views on the actual future path of monetary policy. It is merely intended as a contribution to the ongoing debate about the efficacy of available policy tools” – after all, the last thing the market wanted is the realization that even banks no longer have faith in the central planners.

Incidentally, Citi’s broad critique of global QE took place when central banks owned just over $18 trillion in assets. Fast forward to today when in its latest update of central bank holdings, Citi shows that as of this moment not only has the total increased by another $3 trillion to a grand total of $21 trillion and rising, but that the big six central banks now own over 40% of global GDP, more than double the 17% they held before the financial crisis less than a decade ago. Which is remarkable in a world where there is still some confusion about what is behind the “global coordinated recovery”, and where there are deluded people who claim that central banks are now out of the picture.

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I admit: it was the headline. Nothing much else there.

The $233 Trillion Dollar Dark Cloud of Global Debt (GT)

Global debt has reached record heights without any signs of relief. While central bankers try to explain away the phenomenon of these out-of-control numbers, it’s not much of a mystery. Immediate consumption with the promise of repayment sometime in the future has consequences. Global debt is staggering to the point most of it will never be repaid. Certainly not in our generation. Perhaps by our grandchildren, but as global debt keeps mounting, the picture is doubtful. The per capita global debt is $30,000. Who, exactly, will be making repayments? Economists insist that the 2007 financial crisis could not have been predicted. Yet, all the signs of out-of-control credit where there.

Today, economists are repeating the same mantra, despite the spiraling world debt. The question is not if the next bubble will strike. It’s a matter of when. The math is fairly simple. The more a country increases its debt to simply stay afloat, the more like the increasing debt will cause a tightening of credit. The next step in the equation is a burst bubble and economic crisis. This is what happened in 1929, happened again in 2007, and it’s happening now. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Out-of-control credit will undoubtedly slow down the US’s current economic growth. It probably won’t cause an outright crisis. Other countries may not be as fortunate.

Countries such as China, Belgium, South Korea, Australia, and Canada are experiencing an unprecedented credit bubble, with few systems in place to control it. The resulted inflation or simply write-offs of debts could result in a global financial disaster we have not seen before. The current economic upswing is unlikely to continue.

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Coming out of the sophomore year. Cohn wanted to be Chief of Staff… Still, Bolton would be a grave mistake, he would be shredded.

Trump Is Going For A Clean Reset in The West Wing (Vanity Fair)

Even before he decided to launch a trade war and roll the nuclear dice by agreeing in the course of a West Wing afternoon to a risky sit-down with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump was telling friends he was tired of being reined in. “I’m doing great, but I’m getting all these bad headlines,” Trump told a friend recently. A Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me Trump is “frustrated by all these people telling him what to do.” With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase—one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican said.

Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.” According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks. “Trump is going for a clean reset, but he needs to do it in a way that’s systemic so it doesn’t look like it’s chaos,” one Republican said. Sources said that the first officials to go will be Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom Trump has clashed with for months.

On Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office. When he plans to visit Mar-a-Lago next weekend, Trump is expected to interview more candidates for both positions, according to two sources. “He’s going for a clean slate,” one source said. Cohn had been lobbying to replace Kelly as chief, two sources said, and quit when he didn’t get the job. “Trump laughed at Gary when he brought it up,” one outside adviser to the White House said. Next on the departure list are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump remains fiercely loyal to his family, but various distractions have eroded their efficacy within the administration. Both have been sidelined without top-secret security clearances by Kelly, and sources expect them to be leaving at some point in the near future.

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But he’s clear.

Trump ‘Clarity’ on Tariff Conditions Not What EU Was Looking For (BBG)

Hours after European Union trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said she had “no immediate clarity” on whether the bloc will be let off the hook from planned U.S. tariffs, President Donald Trump laid down his conditions and repeated a threat if they’re not met. “The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum,” he wrote on Twitter. “If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!” Trump’s response came after Malmstrom on Twitter described what she called “frank” but fruitless talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.

There was still “no immediate clarity on the exact U.S. procedure on exemption,” Malmstrom, the 28-nation bloc’s trade commissioner, said after the meeting that also included Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko. “As a close security and trade partner of the U.S. the EU must be excluded from the announced measures,” she said. Canada, Mexico and Australia have secured exemptions from the tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum announced by Trump, though Canada’s and Mexico’s were conditioned on progress renegotiating NAFTA. Trump has called the tariffs a matter of national security while threatening to tax European car imports and impose “reciprocal taxes” on countries that charge higher duties on U.S. goods than the U.S. now charges on their products.

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Just as China’s economic model is about to ‘go into a next phase..’

China Ties Future to Xi as Congress Scraps President Term Limits (BBG)

China’s parliament voted to repeal presidential term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to retain power indefinitely in a formal break from succession rules set up after Mao Zedong’s turbulent rule. The rubber-stamp National People’s Congress agreed Sunday to strike a 36-year-old constitutional provision barring the president from serving more than two consecutive terms. The amendment – announced by the Communist Party two weeks ago – removes the only barrier keeping Xi, 64, from staying on after his expected second term ends in 2023. The vote – never in doubt – gives Xi more time to enact plans to centralize party control, increase global clout and curb financial and environmental risks.

It also ties the world’s most populous country more closely to the fate of a single man than at any point since reformer Deng Xiaoping began establishing a system for peaceful power transitions in the aftermath of Mao’s death. Before Sunday’s vote in Beijing, Donald Trump had joked that Xi was “now president for life.” The NPC could appoint Xi to a second term as soon as Saturday. “In the long run, the change may bring some uncertainties, like ‘key man’ risk,” Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst for Gavekel Dragonomics in Beijing, said before the vote. “Dissenting is becoming riskier. The room for debate is becoming narrower. The risk of a policy mistake could become higher and correcting a flawed policy could take longer.”

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They all reported on the Megyn Kelly interview a while ago. Now all of a sudden there’s a new headline from that same interview. And.. “he even said it might be Jews..”

Putin Says He ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ If Russians Meddled In 2016 Elections (NBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told NBC News that he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens tried to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election because, he claims, they were not connected to the Kremlin. In an exclusive and at-times combative interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin again denied the charge by U.S. intelligence services that he ordered meddling in the November 2016 vote that put Donald Trump in the White House. “Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” asked Putin, who will probably be returned as president in the March 18 elections.

Putin was unmoved by an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller last month that accused 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies of interfering in the election – including supporting Trump’s campaign and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton’s. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. “So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the people named in last month’s indictment. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? … I don’t care. I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.” Putin even suggested that Jews or other ethnic groups had been involved in the meddling.

“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.” Asked whether he was concerned about Russian citizens attacking U.S. democracy, Putin replied that he had yet to see any evidence that the alleged interference had broken Russian law. “Are we the ones who imposed sanctions on the United States? The U.S. imposed sanctions on us.” “We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said. “At least send us a piece of paper. … Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we’ll take a look at it.”

U.S. intelligence agencies and many Western analysts have said that Russian interference came at the orders of the Kremlin. Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin, dismissed this. “Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away … influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous even to you?” he said. “It’s not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering. There’s no goal.”

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In praise of austerity, of destroying the social and health care systems. A class society, more suited to the 19th than the 21st century.

Millions Of Struggling UK Families Face Deepest Benefit Cuts In Years (O.)

Families struggling to make ends meet will be hit by the biggest annual benefits cut for six years, according to a new analysis that exposes the impact of continuing austerity measures on the low paid. Chancellor Philip Hammond is preparing to give a stripped-down spring statement on Tuesday, where he is expected to boast of lower than expected borrowing figures. He will use them to suggest Britain has reached a “turning point”. He will point to forecasts showing the “first sustained fall in debt for a generation” to claim “there is light at the end of the tunnel” in turning around Britain’s finances. However, he will be speaking just weeks before a further public spending squeeze will see the second largest annual cut to the benefits budget since the financial crash.

According to new research by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, the changes from April will save around £2.5bn and dent the incomes of the “just about managing” families that Theresa May has vowed to help. The cuts will affect around 11 million families, including 5 million of the struggling families that the prime minister stated she would focus on. There will also be some good news for the low paid, with more than 1.5 million workers set to benefit from a 4.4% pay rise when the national living wage increases from £7.50 to £7.83 at the start of April. However, that measure will be outweighed by the effective £2.5bn cuts to working-age benefits.

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The real face of the British government.

UK Government Leaves At Least £1 Billion For Affordable Housing Unspent (O.)

MPs are demanding an urgent explanation from ministers after being told that £817m allocated for desperately needed affordable housing and other projects in cash-strapped local authorities has been returned to the Treasury unspent. The surrender of the unused cash has astonished members of the cross-party housing, communities and local government select committee at a time when Theresa May has insisted housebuilding is a top priority and when many local authorities are becoming mired in ever deeper financial crises. On Monday the committee, which discovered the underspend for 2017-18, will interrogate housing minister Dominic Raab and homelessness minister Heather Wheeler on the issue, before Tuesday’s spring statement by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

He is under heavy pressure from MPs, and the Tory-controlled Local Government Association, to signal extra help for the local authority sector, which has seen budget cuts of around 50% since 2010. The acting chair of the committee, the Tory MP Bob Blackman, said: “We will be wanting to know why this very large sum has not been spent at a time of great strain on local authority budgets, and why it was not channelled to other spending projects. It does not help those of us who argue that more should be given to local authorities if the chancellor knows money he gave last time has not even been spent.” MPs believe they can argue for more for local authorities because Hammond will announce that unexpectedly high tax receipts have left the Treasury with a windfall of between £7bn and £10bn.

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Never trust anything that sounds even remotely like “Institute for Fiscal Studies”. This wanker goes on to praise the achievements of Britain’s austerity.

‘We Are Nowhere Near Out Of Austerity’ – Institute for Fiscal Studies (G.)

When the chancellor Philip Hammond sits down on Tuesday after delivering his first spring statement – the streamlined replacement for what we used to call the budget – one man will be greatly in demand, popping up on every media outlet to tell us what the figures on borrowing levels and the projected deficit really mean. That man is Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). I suggest to him that his official role is to pour a bucket of cold water over Hammond’s head, and he doesn’t disagree. [..] The idea of the spring statement, with the budget now pushed back to autumn, is to tell us where we are financially, and to kickstart consultations about the long-term fiscal challenges facing the UK. That, for Johnson, is the important bit.

If the spring statement works, it is an opportunity to counteract the short-termism that bedevils British politics and to start thinking about the issues that really matter – the ageing population, the buckling health service, the lack of any coherent plan for social care, the fact that soon taxes are going to have to rise or public services will fall to pieces. There comes a point when you can no longer kick the can down the road because the road is no longer usable. The Office for Budget Responsibility numbers cited in the spring statement will be better than those projected last autumn because tax receipts have been higher than anticipated, and Johnson reckons Hammond will indulge in some self-congratulation for having met the government’s austerity targets (albeit two years later than his predecessor George Osborne forecast) and eliminated the deficit on day-to-day spending.

But Johnson is ready with his bucket of cold water. “Chancellors always talk up the positive numbers,” he says, “but we’re not out of austerity; we’re nowhere near out of austerity. There are still big spending cuts and big social security cuts to come.” [..] He says the government has done well to get the deficit under control [..] Local government until 2014 was coping fine. It really isn’t any more. Clearly, the health service is struggling in a way that, three or four years ago, it wasn’t. So it feels as if we’ve got to the crunch point. We’re really beginning to feel the cost.” Government borrowing is now back to pre-financial crash levels. “It is quite an achievement to have got borrowing down from the highest level since the war to pretty much normal kinds of levels,” he says.

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Followed by a car sales promo. No. 1 advertizers for newspapers.

UK Consumers Losing Interest In Buying New Cars On Credit (Ind.)

The march of the brand new car once seemed unstoppable. Cheap finance and personal contract plans (PCPs) fuelled a boom in new cars, accounting for more than 80% of all new car registrations. A fall at the start of 2017 was blamed on a collapse in consumer confidence in diesel vehicles and last year remains one of the highest on record for new car registrations. However, the latest figures reveal that the number of new cars registered in February fell by 2.8% compared with the same month last year, making it the 11th month in a row to show a decline. And once again it’s being blamed on falling demand for diesel vehicles; diesel cars accounted for just 35% of the new cars registered last month, compared with more than 44% in February 2017.

[..] The previous surge in new car registrations had been partly fuelled by changes to the way we buy vehicles. Buying a brand new car with a relatively small deposit and monthly fee can be more immediately affordable than buying an older car upfront. 37% of car buyers claim to have bought on finance because it enabled them to spread out their payment monthly, 36% to get a better deal and, revealingly, 36% because they couldn’t afford to purchase a car otherwise. [..] Justin Benson, KPMG’s UK head of automotive, says: “Consumers aren’t necessarily turning away from car finance. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the new car market is pretty saturated, ie most cars in the last few years have been bought using PCP plans. So many are using the vehicles they already have and we are seeing a drop in demand – although Brexit is also in the back of people’s minds.”

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Hollow phrases: “Washington has repeatedly called upon Turkey to stop its “aggression” against the Afrin region..”

Erdogan Slams Allies’ Refusal To Support Turkey Offensive In Syria’s Afrin (RT)

Turkey’s leader has scorched NATO allies over their failure to support his “counter-terrorist” operation in the Kurdish-held Syrian region of Afrin, but expressed gratitude that they at least had no guts to openly oppose Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered the inflammatory comments while speaking before a gathering of his ruling AK Party in the Turkish city of Mersin on Saturday. “Hey NATO where are you? We’re fighting so much. NATO, Turkey is not a NATO country? Where are you? You’ve invited NATO-member states to Afghanistan,” Erdogan said. NATO members not only show no support towards Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch and would even openly oppose Ankara’s actions in Syria, but did not have the guts to do so, Erdogan claimed.

The offensive against Kurdish militias in Syria’s region of Afrin was launched late in January. Turkey describes the militias as offshoots of the terrorist-labeled outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). So far, 3,213 “terrorists” have been killed during the operation, carried out by Turkish troops and affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants, Erdogan stated. “In fact, they would openly oppose Turkey in Syria if they could. But seeing Turkey’s adamant position, they did not find [the] resolve to do so,” the president said. The Turkish leader also reiterated his earlier statements, that his only goal in Syria was the “fight against terrorism.” When Ankara reaches it, the troops will be pulled out of the country, he stated.

[..] Washington has repeatedly called upon Turkey to stop its “aggression” against the Afrin region, omitting the fact that the US-led coalition itself spent years in Syria without any invitation from the government or international approval. The recent UNSC resolution, which urged a 30-days Syria-wide ceasefire, has been also used to call upon Erdogan to halt the invasion. “Turkey is more than welcome to go back and read the exact text of this UN Security Council resolution, and I would suggest that they do so,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on February 27, stating that the Afrin region was “certainly within Syria.”

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Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Greek Defense Minister: We’re Close To A ‘Fatal Accident’ With Turkey (K.)

As tensions rise over the detention of two Greek soldiers who crossed the Turkish border accidentally and over Turkish aggression off Cyprus, statements by both Greek and Turkish officials over the weekend underscored the fragility of the situation. In an interview with French daily Liberation on Saturday, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declared that “Greece is very close to a fatal accident with Turkey,” referring to Turkish violations of Greek air space and territorial waters. “We are obliged to defend our territory which is not only Greek but also European,” he said. Late last week, meanwhile, Kammenos had referred to two Greek soldiers being detained in Turkey as “hostages.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said Turkey’s judiciary was seeking to determine whether the Greek soldiers crossed into Turkey by accident or deliberately. Asked whether Ankara was considering exchanging the two men with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following an attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Cavusoglu ruled out such a prospect. “We do not want such an agreement,” he said.

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Oh yes, it will. Brussles won’t set its slaves free voluntarily.

Post-Bailout Credit Line For Greece Probably Not Needed – Regling (R.)

Greece will probably not need a precautionary credit line after its bailout ends in August if the country sticks to reforms, the head of Europe’s rescue fund said in an interview released on Saturday. Greece has received 260 billion euros in financial aid from euro zone countries and the IMF since 2010, and its third bailout expires in August. The country regained market access last year but some European Union policymakers and Greek central bankers believe Athens cannot go it alone without a standby line of credit after its financial support ends. But a precautionary credit line would come with conditions attached, something the government is keen to avoid after eight years of austerity that has worn down Greeks and hurt its popularity in polls.

In an interview with Proto Thema newspaper, the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling, said having a precautionary arrangement available is good because it gives more assurances to markets, investors and the Greek population. “But it very much depends whether it’s really needed,” he said. “If everything remains quiet, reforms continue and Greece continues to develop its market access, then based on what we know today it’s probably not needed.” The ESM and the European Financial Stability Facility are Greece’s largest creditors, together holding more than half of its 332 billion euro public debt, a sum equal to nearly 180% of economic output.

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They talk the talk because their pollsters say they must. And then deflect responsibility because they have no intention of doing anything. This way it becomes along term issue; the public must be heard first, and that takes years.

A tax on disposable cups is ridiculous. Just ban them, what’s the problem?

UK Government Asks Public For Ideas To Curb Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

The public will be urged by the Government to suggest tax changes to curb plastic pollution, amid growing criticism that ministers are dragging their heels. A “call for evidence” on how tax incentives could cut the amount of single-use plastics – such as cutlery, foam trays and coffee cups – that end up littering the land and poisoning the seas will be launched. But the move, in Tuesday’s Spring Statement, is not expected to include any specific proposals, nor will a formal consultation be launched by the Treasury. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, will tell MPs he is determined that Britain will “lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem”.

But the call for evidence was first proposed by Mr Hammond four months ago, the delay prompting criticism that ministers have simply “talked the talk on plastic pollution”. A proposal for a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, made by a cross-party Commons committee in January was met with a cool response from the Government. In January, Theresa May delivered the first major speech on the environment from a sitting prime minister since 2004 and published a 25-year Environment Plan with the ambition of abolishing plastic waste by 2042. However, it was widely criticised for being vague, for the lack of proposed legislation and for the lengthy timescales for dealing with the problems involved. [..] The UK still creates 2.26 million tons of plastic packaging waste a year and recycles only around a third.

On Tuesday, Mr Hammond will say the call for evidence is intended to find ways to use the tax system to deliver both technological progress and behavioural change. Individuals, green groups and industry will be urged to have their say, as the Chancellor announces a £20m innovation fund for businesses and universities to develop the new technologies and approaches needed. The Chancellor said: “Single-use plastics waste is a scourge to our environment. From crisp packets to coffee cups, each year the UK produces millions of tonnes of waste which is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. “That’s why I want British businesses and universities to lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem.

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Mar 092018
 
 March 9, 2018  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Broadway, New York 1954

 

Trump’s Historic Bet on Kim Summit Shatters Decades of Orthodoxy (BBG)
Trump Sets Steel And Aluminum Tariffs; Canada, Mexico Exempted (R.)
There Will Be No Economic Boom – Part II (Roberts)
“Gary Cohn, We Hardly Knew Ya” (David Stockman)
The Risk Lurking In The US Mortgage Market (CNN)
The End of Cheap Debt Will Bring a Wave of – Green- Bankruptcies (Mises)
Tesla Chief Musk Says China Trade Rules Uneven, Asks Trump For Help (R.)
China Will Rely Less On Stimulus As It Battles Risks From Debt – PBOC (CNBC)
UK Retirement Bill Rises More Than £1 Trillion In Five Years (Ind.)
Shares, Profits Of Britain’s Largest Estate Agent Countrywide Plummet (G.)
Toronto Home Builders Just Had Their Busiest February Since 1948 (BBG)
EU Freezes Brexit Talks Until Britain Produces Irish Border Solution (Ind.)
Calais ‘To Be 10 Times Worse Than Irish Border’ After Brexit (G.)
Bitcoin Tumbles Further In Broad Selloff For Cryptocurrencies (MW)
US Is Experiencing The Highest Drug Overdose Death Rates Ever (ZH)
Chinese Panda Conservation Park To Be Twice The Size Of Yosemite (G.)
Discarded Fishing Gear Massacres Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Turtles, Birds (Ind.)

 

 

Question is whether that is a bad thing. Or you could say: Trump brings along his own orthodoxy.

Trump’s Historic Bet on Kim Summit Shatters Decades of Orthodoxy (BBG)

Donald Trump took the biggest gamble of his presidency on Thursday, breaking decades of U.S. diplomatic orthodoxy by accepting an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The bet is that Trump’s campaign to apply maximum economic pressure on Kim’s regime has forced him to consider what was previously unthinkable: surrendering the illicit nuclear weapons program begun by his father. If the president is right, the U.S. would avert what appeared at times last year to be a steady march toward a second Korean War. It was classic Trump, showing an unerring confidence to get the better end of any negotiation.

But it was also Trump in another way: high risk and high reward, with little regard for those in the foreign policy establishment who worry it’s too much, too soon. “He’s taking a risk,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “By seizing an opportunity for a summit meeting, a decision that would have taken much more time in another administration, the president has said, ‘I’m going to go right now. And we’re going to test this.”’

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“If you don’t want to pay tax, bring your plant to the USA..”

Trump Sets Steel And Aluminum Tariffs; Canada, Mexico Exempted (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump pressed ahead on Thursday with import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% for aluminum but exempted Canada and Mexico and offered the possibility of excluding other allies, backtracking from an earlier “no-exceptions” stance. Describing the dumping of steel and aluminum in the U.S. market as “an assault on our country,” Trump said in a White House announcement that the best outcome would for companies to move their mills and smelters to the United States. He insisted that domestic metals production was vital to national security. “If you don’t want to pay tax, bring your plant to the USA,” added Trump, flanked by steel and aluminum workers.

Plans for the tariffs, set to start in 15 days, have stirred opposition from business leaders and prominent members of Trump’s own Republican Party, who fear the duties could spark retaliation from other countries and hurt the U.S. economy. Within minutes of the announcement, U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, said he would introduce a bill to nullify the tariffs. But that would likely require Congress to muster an extremely difficult two-thirds majority to override a Trump veto. Some Democrats praised the move, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said it was “past time to defend our interests, our security and our workers in the global economy and that is exactly what the president is proposing with these tariffs.”

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Perhaps somewhat surprising: The consumer spending part of GDP only rises.

There Will Be No Economic Boom – Part II (Roberts)

When the “tax cut” bill was being passed, everyone from Congress to the mainstream media, and even the CFP’s I spoke with yesterday, regurgitated the same “storyline:” “Tax cuts will lead to an economic boom as corporations increase wages, hire and produce more and consumers have extra money in their pockets to spend.” As I have written many times previously, this was always more “hope” than “reality.” The economy, as we currently calculate it, is roughly 70% driven by what you and I consume or “personal consumption expenditures (PCE).” The chart below shows the history of real, inflation-adjusted, PCE as a percent of real GDP.

If “tax cuts” are going to substantially increase the growth rate of the U.S. economy, as touted by the current Administration, then PCE has to be directly targeted. However, while the majority of consumers will receive an “average” of $1182 in the form of a tax reduction, (or $98.50 a month), the increase in take-home pay has already been offset by surging health care cost, rent, energy and higher debt service payments. [..] But this is nothing new as corporations have failed to “share the wealth” for the last couple of decades.

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Those crazy earnings numbers WILL come crashing down.

“Gary Cohn, We Hardly Knew Ya” (David Stockman)

That was quick. The trade war scare was over by noon yesterday, and by the market close they were singing “Gary Cohn, we hardly knew ya”. Folks, what more evidence do you need that the financial markets are completely uncoupled from reality and that these feeble bounces between the 50-day and 20-day chart points are essentially the rigor mortis of a dead bull? At the moment, the 50-day stands at 2740 on the S&P 500 and is functioning as “resistance” according to the chart mavens, while the 20-day at 2700 is purportedly acting as “support”. So there’s that, but also this: At the exact mid-point of 2720, the broad market is currently trading at 25.6X reported earnings for 2017.

That’s the nosebleed section of history no matter how you slice it – and most especially in the context of an earnings growth trend that is shackled to the flat line, and which has no prospect of breaking away before the next recession, either. With virtually every company having reported, it turns out that GAAP earnings for 2017 came in at $109.46 per share on the S&P 500. Then again, 40 months earlier in September 2014 reported LTM earnings were $105.96 per share. That tabulates to a 1.0% per year gain during what will surely prove to have been the sweet spot (month #63 to month #102) of the current long-in-the-tooth business expansion.

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Non-banks. How is that different from China?

The Risk Lurking In The US Mortgage Market (CNN)

Low interest rates. Easy credit. Poor regulation. Toxic mortgages. These were just a few reasons regulators gave for the collapse of the US housing market a decade ago. Since then, regulators have improved the standards that lenders use when Americans apply for mortgages. But today increasing danger lurks in the mortgage market, and economists say it could put the financial system at “even greater risk” when the next recession strikes or too many borrowers fall behind on their mortgage payments. A growing segment of the mortgage market is being financed by so-called non-bank lenders — financial institutions that offer loans to consumers but don’t provide saving or checking accounts.

Borrowers with poor credit have increasingly turned to these alternative lenders instead of traditional banks. The alternative lenders are subject to far less regulation and have fewer safeguards when borrower defaults start to pile up. “A collapse of the non-bank mortgage sector has the potential to result in substantial costs and harm to consumers and the US government,” economists at the Federal Reserve and the University of California, Berkeley, write in a paper released Thursday at a Brookings Institution conference. As of 2016, non-bank financial institutions originated close to half of all mortgages. They originated three-quarters of mortgages with explicit government backing, underscoring the risk to taxpayers.

“The experience of the financial crisis suggests that the government will be pressured to backstop the sector in a time of stress,” the authors write. The danger is that non-banks may have fewer resources to weather economic shocks to the mortgage market, like a rise in interest rates or a decline in house prices. “What happens if interest rates rise and non-bank revenue drops? What happens if commercial banks or other financial institutions lose their taste for extending credit to non-banks? What happens if delinquency rates rise and servicers have to advance payments to investors?” the authors write. “We cannot provide reassuring answers to any of these questions,” they write.

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The entire Green Facade depends on cheap credit. And subsidies.

The End of Cheap Debt Will Bring a Wave of – Green- Bankruptcies (Mises)

The end of the era of cheap money highlights the risk of “Enron-style” bankruptcies in many sectors, including renewable energy. With the path of three rate hikes in the United States in 2018 confirmed by the Federal Reserve and a nervous equity market, the challenges are more evident than ever. The past eight years of massive liquidity and low rates have not helped deleverage, and many companies have used this period to increase imbalances and create complex debt structures. In fact: • Corporate net debt to EBITDA levels is at record highs. About 20% of US corporates face default if rates rise, according to the IMF. • The number of zombie companies has risen above pre-crisis levels according to the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). • This is particularly evident in the renewable sector where, even in the years of high liquidity and low rates, bankruptcies soared.

The renewable sector has undergone an absolutely spectacular transformation in the past eight years. Technology advanced, costs fell and global leaders strengthened when their strategy was to develop an energy model. Understanding that disruptive technologies cannot be more leveraged than traditional ones was key. When technology reduces costs and disrupts inflationary models, basing the business on ever-increasing subsidies and higher prices and financing it with massive debt is suicidal. In the era of cheap money and extreme liquidity, many companies used the “green” subterfuge to implement an extremely leveraged builder-developer model, ignoring demand, costs, and competition. A model whose sole objective was to install for the sake of installing capacity, whether there was a demand or not, and that pursued subsidies while stating that it is very competitive.

Even in a period of falling interest rates and very high liquidity, there have been spectacular bankruptcies, so imagine what can happen when rates rise. [..] If a technology is viable, it does not need subsidies. If it is unviable, no subsidies will change it. Bankruptcies in the solar sector exceed all those of the inefficient coal and fracking companies combined. This domino of bankruptcies, which includes more than 120 corpses of large companies around the world, was self-inflicted. And now, winter is coming. [..] The global renewable sector faces refinancing needs in the next seven to eight years that exceed its entire market capitalization (134 billion euros, Renixx Index).

It is not a problem of technology, it is the addiction to cheap debt and growth for growth sake. And it’s not just a problem in the renewable sector. The combination of lower revenues and increased debt costs is a danger. Cost of debt rises, and cost of equity soars due to higher perceived risk, which in turn can dry up the market for capital increases and refinancing. It is not just renewables, but it is worth highlighting that energy is -again- the most vulnerable sector due to the cyclical nature of its revenues and the perpetuation of overcapacity of the past eight years.

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Musk is the leader of the Green Facade.

Tesla Chief Musk Says China Trade Rules Uneven, Asks Trump For Help (R.)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Thursday to call on U.S. President Donald Trump to challenge China’s auto trade rules, which limit foreign ownership of Chinese ventures and impose steep tariffs on imported cars. In a series of tweets aimed at the president, Musk said he was “against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult. It’s like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes.” Tesla has been pushing hard to build cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, but has hit roadblocks in negotiations with local authorities, in part because Musk is keen to keep full control of any local venture. “No U.S. auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV (electric vehicle) auto companies in the U.S.,” Musk wrote in another tweet.

Tesla “raised this with the prior administration and nothing happened. Just want a fair outcome, ideally where tariffs/rules are equally moderate. Nothing more. Hope this does not seem unreasonable,” he said. Trump quoted one of Musk’s tweets in his announcement on new tariffs and said American automakers have not been treated fairly by trade rules around the world. Trump announced steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on Thursday. Politicians “have known it for years and never did anything about it. It’s got to change,” Trump said, saying he plans to impose a “reciprocal tax” on other countries. “We’re changing things,” Trump added. “We just want fairness.”

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Yeah, we all believe that.

China Will Rely Less On Stimulus As It Battles Risks From Debt – PBOC (CNBC)

China has moved away from its old growth model which was heavily reliant on investment and will rely less on stimulus to boost the economy in future, People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on Friday. Zhou’s comments echoed those of other top officials at China’s parliament this week which suggested that Beijing will be more cautious about spending this year while it focuses on reducing the risks from a rapid build-up in debt. After years of heavy pump-priming, markets worry less generous stimulus could retard the pace of growth not only in China but globally. But analysts believe Beijing will continue to keep the system well supplied with cash to avoid the risk of a sharp slowdown in economic growth, even as they continue to tighten the screws on financial regulations.

“We now emphasize the new normal of the economy, shifting from the past growth model of quantitative growth… referring to the accumulation of capital and investment to boost economic growth,” Zhou told reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament session. “While pursuing higher quality growth, we will have to reduce our reliance on the old growth model of investment,” said Zhou, in what was likely his last news briefing before his expected retirement this month. Zhou said China needs to improve its regulatory supervision as soon as possible to curb risks to the financial system. He said China has begun to make progress in reducing such risks, but numerous threats remain, such as a lack of transparency at financial holding companies and digital currencies.

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The Brexit fiasco continues to expose the hidden weaknesses. Which in the case of pensions are global, but mostly remain hidden.

UK Retirement Bill Rises More Than £1 Trillion In Five Years (Ind.)

The UK’s pension funding crisis reached a new crisis milestone this week as the Office for National Statistics revealed the UK’s pension funding liabilities rose to £7.6 trillion at the end of 2015. The figure – the total amount promised to pay Brits’ future retirement income – includes £5.3 trillion of pension entitlements that were the responsibility of central and local government, most of which – around £4 trillion – came from State Pension entitlements. The remaining £2.3 trillion were private sector employee pension entitlements with £2 trillion due to final salary pensions, up from £1.4 trillion in 2010. As things stand, expert commentators suggest there is only around a third of that ‘in the bank’ in company pension funds.

The remainder, it is hoped, will be generated by future working populations. The figures are designed to provide a snapshot of household retirement entitlements, though they don’t include self-invested personal pensions, which have grown significantly in recent years thanks to legislative changes known as pensions freedoms. “While these are obviously large amounts of money, it is important to remember that the payments will be drawn over many years,” says Darren Morgan, head of national accounts for the ONS. “The figures say nothing about the sustainability of our pension system in future.”

In fact, pensions experts have been shocked by the statistics, which come just days after official warnings from the Government Actuary that National Insurance may have to increase by 5% to pay for future state pay outs. “The figures published by the ONS today are astonishing and bring into sharp relief the reasons behind proposed increases in the state pension age,” adds Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell. “Unfunded state pension entitlements are worth more than double UK GDP – these are promises that will, ultimately, have to be paid for by future generations either through higher taxes, a lower state pension income or a later retirement age.

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Why not say it like it is?

Shares, Profits Of Britain’s Largest Estate Agent Countrywide Plummet (G.)

Countrywide, Britain’s largest estate agent, has reported a 22.5% fall in core annual earnings and scrapped its dividend, sending its shares to record lows. It pledged to go “back to basics” to return its sales and lettings business to profitable growth after what it described as a disappointing year. “We have got to put our resources back in the front line and not at the head office,” said the executive chairman, Peter Long, adding that restructuring would reduce headcount to 350 from 400. Countrywide said its 2018 property pipeline was “significantly lower” and that it expected a fall of about 36% (£10m) in first-half adjusted earnings before interest, taxation and amortisation (Ebitda).

Its 2017 adjusted Ebitda fell 22.5% to £64.7m while group income fell almost 9% to £671.9m. Shares in Countrywide plunged to a record low of 66.64p before rising to 77p in mid-morning trading, down 13.4% . “The next few months will be messy as new plans are put into place,” Jefferies analysts said in a note to clients. “However, banks are lending their support to the new plan and we believe those equity investors who choose to do the same will have their patience rewarded.”

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As sales are down 35%.

Greater Toronto Home Sales Down 35% From February 2017

Toronto Home Builders Just Had Their Busiest February Since 1948 (BBG)

Toronto developers had one of their busiest months on record in February in another sign the condo market is alive and well in Canada’s biggest real estate market, even amid a broader slowdown. Builders began work on 5,677 units during the month, most of them multiple-unit projects like condos, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Thursday in Ottawa. That’s the strongest February, and the sixth-highest figure for any month, in records back to 1948. The bulk of Toronto condo units are typically sold before construction begins, so the latest surge may simply reflect past sales. But the report also suggests developers are betting the condo market will be less affected by headwinds including higher borrowing costs and tighter mortgage qualification rules that are currently hitting Toronto housing.

“It’s probably lagging a little bit. Historically you tend to see supply follow demand,” said Robert Kavcic, an economist at Bank of Montreal. “The other nuance here is that a lot of the policy changes we’ve seen over the last year, they really had a bigger impact on the higher end of the single detached housing market.” [..] Construction is picking up in Toronto just as sales begin to slide, after various levels of government and regulators took measures to curb surging prices. Most recently, tougher mortgage guidelines came into play on Jan. 1, making it harder for prospective buyers to qualify for loans. Many buyers rushed into the market in December to get ahead of the rules.

Transactions fell 35% in February from a year earlier to 5,175 units, according to data released Tuesday by the Toronto Real Estate Board. It was the weakest February for sales since 2009. Prices are holding up better, particularly in the condo segment, which has gained consistently over the past year and is up 20% since last February. Prices for single-detached homes have fallen 12% since reaching a record last year. Fundamentals that favor condos seem to be at work, as rising immigration levels drive demand. And since the net effect of the new regulations is to limit the size of mortgage credit, the tougher rules may be buoying the less-expensive condo market.

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Thumbscrews.

EU Freezes Brexit Talks Until Britain Produces Irish Border Solution (Ind.)

The EU has thrown down an ultimatum to Theresa May in Brexit talks, warning that it will not open discussions about trade or other issues until the Irish border question is solved. Speaking in Dublin alongside the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, European Council President Donald Tusk said talks would be a case of “Ireland first” and that “the risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs”. “We know today that the UK Government rejects a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, the EU single market, and the customs union,” the Mr Tusk said. “While we must respect this position, we also expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border.

“As long as the UK doesn’t present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations. “If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first before the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.” British negotiators have long been keen to move to discussions about trade and had hoped to do so after the March meeting of the European Council in two weeks, but Mr Tusk’s latest ultimatum suggests further delays could be in store. The EU says a withdrawal agreement must be negotiated by October to give it time to ratify the deal before the UK falls out of the bloc in March 2019.

Mr Tusk recalled that the Good Friday Agreement, whose 20th anniversary is next month, had been “ratified by huge majorities north and south of the border”. “We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016 – just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences,” he said, in a play on the rhetoric used by Brexiteers regarding the 2016 EU referendum. The EU27 nations granted the UK “sufficient progress” to move to the rest of Brexit talks in the December meeting of the European Council after the UK made a commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland at all costs.

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30-mile lines of waiting trucks. That was reason no. 1 to establish the EU. Well, they’re back.

Calais ‘To Be 10 Times Worse Than Irish Border’ After Brexit (G.)

The boss of the port of Calais has said there could be tailbacks up to 30 miles in all directions and potential food shortages in Britain if a Brexit deal involves mandatory customs and sanitary checks at the French ferry terminal. Jean-Marc Puissesseau made an impassioned plea to Theresa May and Michel Barnier to put plans in place immediately to avert congestion in Calais and Dover, where bosses have already warned of permanent 20-mile tailbacks. At the same time a leading politician for the Calais region said the problems in France would be 10 times worse than at the Irish border. At a private meeting at the European parliament, Xavier Bertrand, a former French health minister and the president of the Hauts-de-France political region, said politicians needed to grasp the magnitude of the problem.

“I know Ireland is going to be a real problem, but please remember the economic issues in Ireland are 10 times smaller than what is going to happen here,” he said. “This is a black scenario, but it is going to get darker and darker,” he said, urging politicians in Brussels and London to take urgent action by setting up working groups and listening to business. Bertrand angrily denounced those who had power to influence the Brexit outcome. It was not right that economic operators should be expected to “sit on their hands waiting very anxiously for something to happen”.

At the same meeting, Puissesseau said both sides would be affected by the problems at the ports, with suppliers from the UK trying to get their goods through strict EU controls treated no better than those from a developing country. “The UK is part of the 21st century. But this takes us back 100 years. This is sad,” he said. “From Brexit day, 100% of our traffic will be from outside the EU. I tell you honestly that GB will be a third country, this frightens me. There’s such a long history between the UK and EU.” “At the moment, 70% of food imported comes from the EU. Even if that goes down to 50% after Brexit because of controls, it still needs to flow smoothly; people still need to eat,” he said.

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$8,500 as I write this, -8.46%.

Bitcoin Tumbles Further In Broad Selloff For Cryptocurrencies (MW)

Selling intensified for digital currencies on Friday, as the price of the No.1 cryptocurrency bitcoin pushed below $9,000. The price of a single bitcoin fell 4.8% to $8,847.85, but bounced off a low of $8,370.80, according to CoinDesk. In a week, bitcoin has dropped around 20%. Losses were widespread across cryptocurrencies. Ether was down 4.5% to $671.66, bitcoin cash slid 6.4% to $970.66 and Litecoin fell 6.2% to $166.22, according to CoinDesk. Ripple tumbled 10% to $0.78, according to CoinMarketCap. The moves build on sharp drops on Thursday, which some suggested were due to technical factors.

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Winning.

US Is Experiencing The Highest Drug Overdose Death Rates Ever (ZH)

Across the United States, government officials are struggling to combat the next wave of the opioid epidemic, which is expected to deliver a massive blow to the heartland. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms the opioid crisis has dramatically worsened since the second half of 2016. Raw data from hospital emergency rooms show a significant increase in drug overdoses across the U.S. In a press briefing on Tuesday, CDC Director Anne Schuchat, M.D., warned that the U.S. is currently experiencing the highest drug overdose death rates ever.

In the newly issued report, which examined data from 16 states, emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses jumped 30% from July 2016 through September 2017. In some regions of the country, overdoses were far more significant, but overall, data from most areas showed the opioid crisis is worsening, despite President Trump’s new initiative to tackle the epidemic.

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Save the symbols?!

Chinese Panda Conservation Park To Be Twice The Size Of Yosemite (G.)

The Bank of China has pledged at least 10bn yuan (£1.1bn) to create a vast panda conservation park in south-west Sichuan province, the Chinese forestry ministry has said. The Sichuan branch of the central bank signed an agreement with the provincial government to finance the vast national park’s construction by 2023. The park aims to bolster the local economy while providing the endangered animals with an unbroken range in which they can meet and mate with other pandas in order to enrich their gene pool.The ministry said the park will measure 2m hectares (5m acres), making it more than twice the size of Yellowstone national park in the US.

Zhang Weichao, a Sichuan official involved in the park planning, told the state-run China Daily the agreement would help alleviate poverty among the 170,000 people living within the project’s proposed territory. Plans for the park were initiated in January last year by the ruling Communist party’s central committee and the state council, the China Daily reported. Giant pandas are China’s unofficial national mascot and live mainly in the Sichuan mountains, with some in neighbouring Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. An estimated 1,864 live in the wild, where they are chiefly threatened by habitat loss. Another 300 live in captivity.

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By treating the oceans as our garbage bin, we will make it exactly that.

Discarded Fishing Gear Massacres Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Turtles, Birds (Ind.)

The world’s biggest seafood firms are all contributing to the deaths of more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and seabirds that are killed in agony every year by discarded fishing equipment, according to a new report. Many of the creatures are drowned, strangled or mutilated by plastic gear lost or abandoned at sea, while others suffer “a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving” either because they cannot fish or their stomachs are full of plastic. Campaigners believe the fishing litter problem is becoming so bad that the oceans could end up unable to provide any catches for humans to eat.

They say “ghost gear” has become a huge but overlooked threat to marine life, and 640,000 tons of it are added to the oceans each year – a rate of more than a ton every minute. A new study analysed the approaches to fishing equipment of the world’s 15 biggest seafood companies, to rank them in five categories – but found that none could be ranked in the top two as having “best practice” or making “responsible handling” of their fishing gear integral to their business strategy. [..] The report, entitled Ghosts beneath the Waves, says abandoned and lost gear is four times more likely to trap and kill creatures than all other forms of marine debris combined, and more than 70% of visible plastic in the sea is fishing-related.

Microplastics – minuscule pieces – were found in the digestive tracts of 80% of seals tested off the coast of Ireland, while other research cited found that plastic accounted for 69% of the debris ingested by whales. Other studies said 98% of whale entanglements involved ghost gear, while 82% of North Atlantic right whales have become entangled at least once. “This is a huge crisis of animal suffering, yet hardly anyone is talking about it,” said World Animal Protection. In one deep water fishery in the north east Atlantic 25,000 nets have been recorded as lost or discarded each year, according to the report. “Even within small areas, the amount of ghost gear can be staggering,” it said. “The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for example, is estimated to be littered with 85,000 active ghost lobster and crab pots.

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Mar 062018
 
 March 6, 2018  Posted by at 11:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Le Moulin à Poivre, Montmartre 1887

 

EU Proposes Retaliatory Tariff of 25% Against U.S. Goods (BBG)
Trump’s Tariff Threat On European Cars Could Spell Big Trouble For Germany (CNBC)
Retail Investor Bullishness Collapses (WS)
World’s ‘Shadow Banks’ Continue To Expand (R.)
China to Ease Bad-Loan Provision Rules to Support Growth (BBG)
China Faces an ‘Impossible Challenge’ on Budget, Tax and GDP (BBG)
China’s Coming Meltdown Will Rapidly Spread to US (Rickards)
Sex, Money & Happiness (Roberts)
British Can’t Deliver Promises Of Frictionless Trade (Fintan O’Toole)
Canada’s Looming Economic Meltdown (GT)
Coinbase Accused of Cheating Consumers in More Ways Than One (BBG)
US, UK Support World’s Worst Humanitarian Disaster In 50 Years (CP)
Light It Up (Jim Kunstler)
The Ocean Currents Brought Us In A Lovely Gift Today (G.)

 

 

Trump said ‘if you don’t have steel, you don’t have a country’. Is he all that wrong?

EU Proposes Retaliatory Tariff of 25% Against U.S. Goods (BBG)

The EU is preparing punitive tariffs on iconic U.S. brands produced in key Republican constituencies, raising political pressure on President Donald Trump to ditch his plans for taxing steel and aluminum imports. Targeting $3.5 billion of American goods, the EU aims to apply a 25 percent tit-for-tat levy on a range of consumer, agricultural and steel products imported from the U.S. if Trump follows through on his tariff threat, according to a list drawn up by the European Commission and obtained by Bloomberg News. The list of targeted U.S. goods – including motorcycles, jeans and bourbon whiskey – sends a political message to Washington about the potential domestic economic costs of making good on the president’s threat.

Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, comes from the same state – Wisconsin – where motorbike maker Harley-Davidson is based. Earlier this week, Ryan said he was “extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war” and urged Trump to drop his tariff proposal. Other U.S. officials will also feel the pressure. Bourbon whiskey hails from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. San Francisco-based jeans maker Levi Strauss is headquartered in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s district. The EU’s retaliatory list targets imports from the U.S. of shirts, jeans, cosmetics, other consumer goods, motorbikes and pleasure boats worth around €1 billion; orange juice, bourbon whiskey, corn and other agricultural products totaling €951 million; and steel and other industrial products valued at €854 million.

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Tariff on US cars exported to Europe is 25%. Tariff on EU cars imported in US is 10%. Looks like there is room for talks there.

Trump’s Tariff Threat On European Cars Could Spell Big Trouble For Germany (CNBC)

The war of words between President Donald Trump and the EU could lead to some serious pressure on the German auto industry, one expert told CNBC. Trump threatened via Twitter on Saturday to hit back at any tariff measures from the European Union — floated in response to Trump’s recently announced global steel import tariffs — in kind. The billionaire businessman’s potential next target? European cars. And the biggest victim of them all may be Germany. “It would be quite severe if we were to face additional import duties to ship the cars into the U.S. — the Germans in particular are very, very exposed,” Arndt Ellinghorst, the head of global automotive research for advisory firm Evercore ISI, told CNBC Monday.

He noted the example of BMW, which sells about 350,000 cars in the U.S. annually, roughly 70% of which come from Europe. “That’s probably an $8 billion to $9 billion revenue stream, if you put a 5 to 10% additional cost on it, it would cost something like $400 million to $800 million. Some of that would be absorbed by the company, and some of it would have to be absorbed by the consumer in the U.S.” Ellinghorst did add that cars being shipped from the U.S. into Europe faced a 10% import duty while European cars into the U.S. faced a 2.5% import duty. “I think what the administration is talking about is to balance out this difference in tariffs to make it more of an equal playing ground for American and European carmakers,” he said.

Out of roughly six million cars exported by Europe in 2016, more than one million were absorbed by the U.S. — just over 16% — its largest country market by a wide margin. Meanwhile, of America’s $53.6 billion in car exports that same year, the value of its car exports into Europe was $11.8 billion, or roughly 22% of the total, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. The U.S. is the third-largest car exporter globally after Germany and Japan, accounting for 7.7% of total world exports. It ran a trade deficit of more than $151 billion overall with Europe in 2017.

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The aftermath of the reurn of volatility.

Retail Investor Bullishness Collapses (WS)

TD Ameritrade’s Investor Movement Index – “designed to indicate the sentiment of retail investors” based on what they’re doing in their accounts and “how they are actually positioned in the markets” – plunged 23% in February to 5.95, the biggest month-over-month plunge in the history of the index, “as volatility returned to the market.” This comes after a 9% plunge of the index in January, the largest month-over-month plunge in three years, which occurred despite the final spurt of the rally that took the stock market indices to new highs on January 26. It’s as if retail investors, for once, smelled a rat. After which the sell-off started:

TDA Chief Market Strategist JJ Kinahan explained in an interview that TDA’s clients “didn’t want to be as exposed” in February to risk “as they were.” “What’s interesting is they were net buyers, and they were net buyers because of the February 9th move,” he said. “They bought a lot of stocks that day. But as the month went on, they just continued to sell those stocks back out, and then some. So it was a really interesting pattern that developed.” The stocks they bought had “lower beta than some of the stocks they sold,” he said. “So it was really and truly a risk-off trade. But the bigger part about it is they lightened up their exposure across the board. So one or two days truly of buying,… but after that, not only selling what they’d bought that day, but selling on top of it what they’d bought earlier” this year and last year.

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Hard to gauge how much of a grip the Financial Stability Board has on the actual numbers. 2016 is the first time they include China. But what do they actually know, and how much is guesswork?

World’s ‘Shadow Banks’ Continue To Expand (R.)

Growth in global bond, real estate and money market funds continued to swell the world’s“shadow banking” sector, a watchdog that coordinates financial regulation for the G20 big economies said on Monday. The Financial Stability Board said its“narrow” measure of shadow banking activities that could pose a threat to stability, rose 7.6% to $45.2 trillion in 2016, the latest year for which figures have been collated. It represents 13% of total financial system assets in the 29 jurisdictions surveyed. Data from China and Luxembourg were included in the measure for the first time. “Non-bank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank financing and helps support real economic activity,” the FSB said in its report. Nevertheless, increased reliance on non-bank funding could give rise to new risks, it said.

The so-called shadow banking sector, made up of companies other than banks that provide financial services, has been treated with suspicion by some regulators since the financial crisis a decade ago. Still, it has some champions among policymakers who say it helps keep capital markets more liquid. The European Union actively courts participants to diversify away from heavy reliance on bank loans for EU companies. Apart from debt investment funds, the measure of shadow banking also includes the repurchase and debt securitization markets as well as hedge funds involved in credit. Faced with few rules in the past, sub-sectors like securitization are now regulated and seen to pose less risk to stability.

Open-ended bond funds, hedge funds that offer credit and money market funds account for 72% of the narrow measure, and grew by 11% in 2016. Regulators have asked funds to have safeguards in place for extreme market turbulence to avoid instability from fire sales of assets if many investors ask for their money back. The United States accounts for 31% of the narrow measure, followed by China with 16%, the Cayman Islands at 10% and Japan at 6%. A broader measure, which includes all financial firms that are not central banks, banks, pension funds or insurers, rose 8% to $99 trillion to represent 30% of global financial assets, its highest level since at least 2002, the FSB said.

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How transparent are these shadows?

China to Ease Bad-Loan Provision Rules to Support Growth (BBG)

China is relaxing rules governing how much banks must set aside to cover bad loans, people with knowledge of the matter said, a sign that regulators are comfortable the nation’s lenders are sound enough to extend additional credit and support the economy. The China Banking Regulatory Commission has issued a notice lowering the bad-loan coverage ratio to a minimum 120% from the previous 150%, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter isn’t public. Relaxed bad-loan coverage rules will allow banks to extend more credit, supporting an economy the government expects to expand about 6.5% this year, a slower pace than in 2017. Additional lending from giants such as Industrial & Commercial Bank of China would also counter some of the effects on the economy of President Xi Jinping’s campaign to curb financial risk, one of the government’s top priorities.

The changes also indicate regulators are confident that they’ve come to grips with a bad-loan epidemic that plagued lenders over the past few years. In 2016, when problem loans at Chinese banks were on the rise, the CBRC resisted lobbying from the nation’s lenders to relax the provisioning thresholds. The timing of the CBRC move suggests that “nonperforming loans are not a problem,” analysts at Shenwan Hongyuan said in a research note. [..] According to the notice, the CBRC will differentiate the amount of provisions an individual bank must hold within the new band of 120% to 150%, based on the level of its capital, the accuracy of its loan classification policies and its proactiveness in handling nonperforming loans, the people said.

China’s banking industry has a bad loan coverage ratio above 180%, CBRC official Xiao Yuanqi said at a briefing last week, indicating banks have plenty of room to reduce provisions. As well as lowering the threshold, the CBRC notice said it will reduce the amount of provisions banks must hold against their total loan book, including healthy loans, to as low as 1.5% from the previous 2.5% minimum.

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They can’t have it all.

China Faces an ‘Impossible Challenge’ on Budget, Tax and GDP (BBG)

Premier Li Keqiang has an “impossible challenge” if he wants to slash China’s budget deficit target, deleverage the economy, and cut taxes, according to Pantheon Macroeconomics. Li on Monday said this year’s deficit goal was cut to 2.6% of gross domestic product, from 3%, the first reduction since 2012. At the same time, he pledged tax cuts of 800 billion yuan ($126 billion) for companies and individuals and set a 6.5% annual economic growth target – the same as last year’s target but slower than the actual performance of 6.9%. “These targets suggest tight monetary conditions and tight fiscal policy, with GDP growth holding up, despite an intensified deleveraging campaign,” said chief Asia economist Freya Beamish in London. “Something’s got to give. We reckon it’s fiscal policy, though monetary policy could also turn out on the easier side, with the yuan also set to weaken.”

[..] While China is aiming for a narrower official deficit, leaders still plan to expand the issuance of special purpose bonds, which are sold by local governments to finance items that aren’t included in the general public budget and not counted in the deficit ratio released annually. Local governments have used special bonds to help pay for highways, railroads and other construction projects in recent years, and the securities are designed to be covered by returns of the projects rather than general revenues. Special purpose bond issuance will jump to 1.35 trillion yuan this year to prioritize “supporting ongoing local projects to see them make steady progress,” the Finance Ministry said Monday. That’s up from 800 billion yuan in 2017 and 400 billion yuan in 2016.

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An entire series of companies guaranteeing each other’s debt. How does that surface in those shadow reports?

China’s Coming Meltdown Will Rapidly Spread to US (Rickards)

The coming credit crisis in China is no secret. China has $1 trillion or more in bad debts waiting to explode. These bad debts permeate the economy. Some are incurred by Chinese provincial authorities trying to get around spending limitations imposed by Beijing. Some are straight commercial loans on bank balance sheets. Some are external dollar-denominated debts owed to foreign creditors. The most dangerous type of debt involves a daisy chain of insolvent corporations buying debt from each other. A single cash advance of $100 million can be passed from corporation to corporation in exchange for a new promissory note, used to extinguish an old unpayable promissory note. Repeated enough times, the $100 million can be used as window dressing to prop up $1 billion or even $2 billion of bad debts.

These kinds of accounting tricks will land you in jail in the U.S., but it’s an accepted practice in China as long as the corporate CEO is a “Princeling” (a politically connected Communist Party insider descended from the old guard) or an oligarch willing to pay bribes. This state of affairs has existed for years. The question investors keep asking is, “How long can this last?” How long can the daisy chain keep operating to gloss over a sea of bad debt and give the Chinese economy an appearance of good health? Well, the answer is the Ponzi will not likely last much longer. Even compliant Chinese regulators are starting to blow the whistle on bad loans and the banks that cover them up. So the good news is that China is starting to address the problem. The bad news is that if China gets serious about cleaning up bad debts, their growth will slow significantly and so will world economic growth.

That’s bad news for global stock markets. Essentially, China is on the horns of a dilemma with no good way out. On the one hand, China has driven growth for the past eight years with excessive credit, wasted infrastructure investment and Ponzi schemes like wealth management products (WMPs). The Chinese leadership knows this, but they had to keep the growth machine in high gear to create jobs for millions of migrants coming from the countryside to the city and to maintain jobs for the millions more already in the cities. The Communist Chinese leadership knew that a day of reckoning would come. The two ways to get rid of debt are deflation (which results in write-offs, bankruptcies and unemployment) or inflation (which results in theft of purchasing power, similar to a tax increase). Both alternatives are unacceptable to the Communists because they lack the political legitimacy to endure either unemployment or inflation. Either policy would cause social unrest and unleash revolutionary potential.

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Americans can’t get away from the money makes you happy syndrome.

Sex, Money & Happiness (Roberts)

“Sex” and “Money” are probably two of the most powerful words in the English language. First, those two words got you to look at this article. They also sell products, books, and services from “How To Have Better Sex” to “How To Make More Money” — ostensibly so you can have more of the former. Unfortunately, they are also the two primary causes of divorce in the country today. But “happiness,” is also an interesting word because it is ultimately derived from the ability to obtain money and the lifestyle with which it will afford. Researchers at Purdue University recently studied data culled from across the globe and found that “happiness” doesn’t rise indefinitely with income. In fact, there were cut-off points at which more annual income had a negative effect on overall life satisfaction.

So, what’s that number? In the U.S., $65,000 was found to be the optimal income for “feeling” happy. In the U.S., despite higher levels of low income (now there’s an oxymoron), inflation-adjusted median incomes have remained virtually stagnant since 1998.

However, the chart above is grossly misleading because the income gains have only occurred in the Top 20% of income earners. For the bottom 80%, they are well short of the incomes needed to obtain “happiness.”

For most American “families”, who have to balance their living standards to their income, the “experience” of “happiness” is more of a function of “meeting obligations” each and every month. Today, more than ever, the walk to the end of the driveway has become a dreaded thing as bills loom large in the dark crevices of the mailbox. If they can meet those obligations, they are “happy.” If not, not so much.

In my opinion, what the study failed to capture was the “change” in what was required to achieve “perceived” happiness following the “financial crisis.” Just as with “The Great Depression,” individuals forever altered their feelings about banks, saving and investing after an entire generation had lost “everything.” It is the same today as sluggish wage growth has failed to keep up with the cost of living which has forced an entire generation into debt just to make ends meet. As the chart below shows, while savings spiked during the financial crisis, the rising cost of living for the bottom 80% has outpaced the median level of “disposable income” for that same group. As a consequence, the inability to “save” has continued.

[..] Not surprisingly, the “financial stress” in American households is leading to other factors which are fueling the “demographic” problem in the future. The equation is very simple – when individuals are stressed over finances they are less active sexually. This was shown in a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Ahead of the past three US recessions, the number of conceptions began to fall at least six months before the economy started to contract. As the FT notes, while previous research has shown how birth rates track economic cycles, the scientific study is the first to show that fertility declines are a leading indicator of recessions. [..] To the researchers’ surprise, they found that falls in conceptions were a far better leading indicator of recessions than many commonly used indicators such as consumer confidence, measures of uncertainty, and purchases of big-ticket items such as washing machines and cars.

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Sheer incompetence. Much more of that to come.

British Can’t Deliver Promises Of Frictionless Trade (Fintan O’Toole)

In 2016, more than 310 million people and nearly 500 million tonnes of freight crossed the UK’s borders. If this continues to happen in a “frictionless” way after Brexit, the disturbances to the status quo in Ireland will be limited. If it doesn’t, hang on to your hats. Frictionless trade is the only condition under which Brexit can happen without inflicting a hard border on Ireland. It is almost certainly a political impossibility if the UK leaves the customs union. But even if it could somehow be agreed in principle, there is another enormous obstacle: the actual capacity of the British to handle it. On Friday, after Theresa May’s big set-piece speech on Brexit, the DUP leader Arlene Foster issued a glowing endorsement. She referred back to a paper issued by the UK government last August: “Those proposals can ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after we exit the EU.”

Foster recognises how much unionism is staking on that document and on the ability of the UK’s bureaucracies to deploy technology to take the sting out of the potentially toxic irritant of the Irish Border. This forces us to consider something that would previously have been of little interest to Irish people: the recent and dismal history of the UK’s adventures in using digital technology to control its borders. In 2003, the British established a spanking new “e-borders” system which was meant to collect and analyse advance passenger information for people travelling into the UK. It had a generous timescale – the full programme was meant to be in place by 2011. In 2010, the Home Office admitted that e-borders was so useless it had to be abandoned. By then, it had spent £340 million (€380 million) on the programme.

The cancellation of the contract led to a legal settlement for another £150 million. The Home Office then spent another £303 million on a new programme, bringing expenditure to £830 million. In 2015, the National Audit Office reported that all of this expenditure “has failed, so far, to deliver the full vision” of what was supposed to be achieved. The current date for completion of the programme is 2019. The whole thing will have taken a mere 16 years. On the same timescale, the new post-Brexit systems on which the future of Ireland may hinge would be delivered in 2035. In 2015, 55 million UK customs declarations were made by 141,000 traders. Once Brexit happens, that will increase fivefold to 255 million. Leaving aside all the issues of political principle, this is the vast logistical challenge that will have to be dealt with if May and Foster are to get the Brexit they want.

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The numbers are interesting, the political stance not so much.

Canada’s Looming Economic Meltdown (GT)

Canada’s Fourth Quarter economic growth was 1.7% following positive signs of growth earlier in the year. This growth, however modest, is attributable to easy credit and the increased consumer spending. At this time, Canadian households are facing one the largest indebtedness when compared to most other countries. For every $1.00 of income, consumers owe $1.68. This is the highest income to debt ratio in the world. For low-income Canadian households, the $1.00 disposable income to $3.33 debt ratio is even worst. Canada, along with other nations, especially emerging markets are carrying records levels of consumer debts, may be facing a serious crash as further growth becomes unsustainable.

Canada combined deficit rose to $18.1 billion in 2016, from $12.9 billion in the previous year. Higher debts and increased spending are causing serious concerns that the Canadian economy is on an unsustainable economic path. A considerable portion of Canada’s future economic growth has been predicated on strengthening and improving the country’s infrastructure. However, Prime Minister Trudeau’s policies are destined to strangle potential economic growth by shifting C$7.2 billion allocated to infrastructure improvements to government programs such as gender equality hiring opportunities. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s Craig Alexander: “This isn’t a budget that’s about growth, as much as it’s about equality and breaking down barriers to opportunity.”

Canada appears to be stunting its own economic growth as a matter of policy. Three major infrastructure projects, The Northern Gateway pipeline ($7.9 billion), the Pacific Northwest LNG project ($36 billion), and possibly the Energy East pipeline ($15.7 billion) would have been instrumental in guaranteeing economic growth for decades to come. However, these have been stymied in favor of Trudeau’s economic egalitarian vision. As a result, investors have been abandoning certain projects. The last time Canada’s saw such heavy-handed government interference in its economy was during the presidency of Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

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This could hurt.

Coinbase Accused of Cheating Consumers in More Ways Than One (BBG)

Coinbase was slapped with a pair of lawsuits by disgruntled consumers, one alleging insider trading by employees at the giant digital currency exchange and the other accusing the company of failing to deliver cryptocurrencies to people who didn’t have accounts. The class-action suits come as Coinbase and other crypto startups are beefing up their staffs with regulatory experts to legitimize themselves as they prepare for government authorities to impose stricter rules. The first of the complaints filed in San Francisco federal court centers on Coinbase’s announcement in December that it would enable purchases of the bitcoin spinoff known as Bitcoin Cash. The customer who sued alleges that employees were tipped off a month in advance, allowing them to instantly swamp Coinbase with buy and sell orders and leaving other traders at a great disadvantage.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said at the time that the company would investigate an increase in the price of bitcoin cash in the hours before its Dec. 19 announcement and that any employee or contractor found to have violated internal policies would be terminated. “To date, neither Armstrong nor the company has disclosed the result of its purported investigation,” according to the March 1 lawsuit. In the other suit, two men claim that they were unable to redeem bitcoin that had been transferred to them through Coinbase via their email addresses in 2013. They allege that when they got reminder notices in February, they tried to recover the bitcoin only to discover that the links provided by Coinbase were broken. They accused the company of keeping their funds and say they want to represent “thousands” of other people in the same position.

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As long as the press continue to ignore this, who cares really?

US, UK Support World’s Worst Humanitarian Disaster In 50 Years (CP)

“The situation in Yemen – today, right now, to the population of the country,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told Al Jazeera last month, “looks like the apocalypse.” 150,000 people are thought to have starved to death in Yemen last year, with one child dying of starvation or preventable diseases every ten minutes, and another falling into extreme malnutrition every two minutes. The country is undergoing the world’s biggest cholera epidemic since records began with over one million now having contracted the disease, and new a diptheria epidemic “is going to spread like wildfire” according to Lowcock. “Unless the situation changes,” he concluded, “we’re going to have the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years”.

The cause is well known: the Saudi-led coalition’s bombardment and blockade of the country, with the full support of the US and UK, has destroyed over 50% of the country’s healthcare infrastructure, targeted water desalination plants, decimated transport routes and choked off essential imports, whilst the government all this is supposed to reinstall has blocked salaries of public sector workers across the majority of the country, leaving rubbish to go uncollected and sewage facilities to fall apart, and creating a public health crisis. A further eight million were cut off from clean water when the Saudi-led coalition blocked all fuel imports last November, forcing pumping stations to close.

[..] As of late January, fuel imports through the country’s main port Hodeidah were still being blocked, with cholera cases continuing to climb as a result. And on 23rd January, the UN reported that there are now 22.2 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance – 3.4 million more than the previous year – with eight million on the brink of famine, an increase of one million since 2017.

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America’s fast becoming a cartoon nation.

Light It Up (Jim Kunstler)

It must be hard on The New York Times editors to set their hair on fire day after day in their effort to start World War Three. Today’s lead story, Russian Threat on Two Fronts Meets Strategic Void in the U.S., aims to keep ramping up twin hysterias over a new missile gap and fear of Russian “meddling” in the 2018 midterm elections. The Times’s world-view begins to look like the script of a Batman sequel with Vlad Putin cast in The Joker role of the cackling psychopath who must be stopped at all costs! America’s generals have switched on the Batman signal beacon, but Donald Trump in the role of the Caped Crusader, merely dithers and broods in the splendid isolation of his 1600 Penn Avenue Bat Cave, suffering yet another of his endless bipolar identity crises.

For God’s sake, The Times, shrieks, do something! The Russians are coming! (Gotham City’s Chief of Police Hillary said exactly that last week in a Tweet!) I think they misunderstood Mr. Putin’s recent message when he announced a new hypersonic missile technology that would, supposedly, cut through any imaginable US missile defense. The actual message, for the non mental defectives left in this drooling idiocracy of a republic, was as follows: Nuclear war remains unthinkable, so kindly stop thinking about it. Mr. Putin’s other strategic position is also misrepresented — actually, not even acknowledged — in Monday’s NYT propaganda blast, namely, to discourage the USA’s decades-long policy of regime change here, there, and everywhere on the planet, creating a debris trail of one failed state after another.

As a true-blue American, I must say these are two admirable propositions. Is it fatuous to add that atomic war is unlikely to benefit anyone? Or that the world has had enough of US military “meddling” in foreign lands? Of course the shopworn trope of Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election still occupies the center ring of the American political circus. Today’s Times story includes another clumsy attempt to set up expectations that the 2018 midterm elections will be hacked by Russia, in order to keep the hysteria at code-red level. As usual, the proposition assumes that the alleged 2016 hacking is both proven and significant when, going on two years, there is no evidence of hacking besides the obviously amateurish Facebook troll farm.

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Sickening to watch.

The Ocean Currents Brought Us In A Lovely Gift Today (G.)

A British diver has captured shocking images of himself swimming through a sea of plastic rubbish off the coast of the Indonesian tourist resort of Bali. A short video posted by diver Rich Horner on his social media account and on YouTube shows the water densely strewn with plastic waste and yellowing food wrappers, the occasional tropical fish darting through the deluge. The footage was shot at a dive site called Manta Point, a cleaning station for the large rays on the island of Nusa Penida, about 20km from the popular Indonesian holiday island of Bali. In a Facebook post on 3 March Horner writes how the ocean currents had carried in a “lovely gift” of jellyfish and plankton, and also mounds and mounds of plastic.

“Plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic sheets, plastic buckets, plastic sachets, plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic, plastic,” he says, “So much plastic!” The video shows Horner swimming through the mess for several minutes and also how the waste coagulated on the surface, mixing in with some organic matter to form a slick of floating rubbish. Manta Point is regularly frequented by numerous manta rays that visit the site to get cleaned of parasites by smaller fish, but the video shows just one lone manta in the background. “Surprise, surprise, there weren’t many mantas there at the cleaning station today…” notes Horner, “They mostly decided not to bother.”

Several weeks ago thousands across Bali took part in a mass clean up, in attempt to rid the island’s beaches, rivers and jungles of waste, and raise awareness about the harmful impacts of trash. Rich Horner said that while divers regularly see “a few clouds of plastic” in the rainy season, the slick he identified is the worst yet. Divers returned to the site the next day, he reports, by which time the slick had already moved on, “continuing on its journey, off into the Indian Ocean..”

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Feb 282018
 
 February 28, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Le moulin de la galette 1886

 

Fed Chairman Powell: Market Volatility Won’t Stop More Rate Hikes (CNBC)
The Albatross Of Debt Part 4 (David Stockman)
Slowing Euro-Area Inflation Helps Draghi Push Back Exit Debate (BBG)
Banks Have The Right To ‘Do What They Want’ In Leveraged Lending: Otting (R.)
EU and China Consider Retaliation To Potential Trump Tariffs (CNBC)
People in Sweden at Risk of Losing Access to Cash Altogether (BBG)
May Is Ready to Fight With EU Over Draft Brexit Deal (BBG)
“We’ve Got To DO Something About Syria!” Uh, No You Don’t. Please Don’t. (CJ)
Protesters in FYROM Decry Proposed ‘Macedonia’ Name Compromise (AP)
World’s First Plastic-Free Aisle Opens In Netherlands Supermarket (G.)
Arctic Warming: Scientists Alarmed By ‘Crazy’ Temperature Rises (G.)

 

 

The news about Powel’s first speech is as boring as the man himself. “We’re doing so well I just gotta wear shades..”

Fed Chairman Powell: Market Volatility Won’t Stop More Rate Hikes (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell played down concerns about recent market volatility, arguing Tuesday that the dramatic swings do not weigh heavily on his outlook for the economy and maintaining his expectation for further gradual increases in interest rates. In Capitol Hill testimony, Powell emphasized that the job market remains robust, consumer spending is solid and wage growth is accelerating. He also highlighted gains in U.S. exports and stimulative fiscal policy as new “tailwinds” for the economy. “After easing substantially during 2017, financial conditions in the United States have reversed some of that easing,” he said in prepared remarks. “At this point, we do not see these developments as weighing heavily on the outlook for economic activity, the labor market and inflation. Indeed, the economic outlook remains strong.”

Powell’s appearance before the House Financial Services committee was his first as the powerful chairman of the world’s most influential central bank. The Fed has been aiming to boost inflation to 2%, but the recent pickup in monthly readings has spooked some investors who worry the central bank might overshoot its target. Instead, Powell’s remarks suggested the firmer data give Fed officials confidence they will actually hit a goal that has long proved elusive. He characterized inflation as “low and stable.” “Despite the recent volatility, financial conditions remain accommodative. At the same time, inflation remains below our 2% longer-run objective. In the FOMC’s view, further gradual increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives.”

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Stockman has the best assessment of Powell. A longtime and clueless Fed puppet with no opinion of his own.

The Albatross Of Debt Part 4 (David Stockman)

Donald Trump is all about delusional and so are the casino punters. They keep buying what the robo-machines are buying, which, in turn, persist in feasting on the dip because it’s there and because it’s worked like a charm for nine years running. So doing, the punters have become downright reckless. After all, the market was already sky high last January – trading at 23X earnings on the S&P 500 and resting precariously on a record $554 billion of margin debt . Yet in order to load up on even more of these ultra risky shares, punters have since added $112 billion to their already staggering margin accounts, thereby helping to propel the S&P index to a truly ludicrous 27X by the end of January 2018.

And therein lies the true danger of the Fed’s 30-year long regime of Bubble Finance and the $67 trillion of debt it has piled upon the US economy. To wit, it has completely unmoored Wall Street from the main street economy, meaning that the speculative momentum and internals of the casino are operating in free flight: They will just keep levitating financial asset prices higher until some powerful shock triggers another meltdown of the type experienced during 2008, 2000 and 1987.

We happen to believe strongly that a bond market “yield shock” will be the crash-trigger this time around and for a self-evident reason. The central banks of the world have unleashed a credit monster – $67 trillion in the US, $40 trillion or more in China and $230 trillion on a global basis—and know they must finally stop the relentless monetization of existing debt and other assets. The leadership for that task falls to the new Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, who is a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian and lifetime crony capitalist bubble rider. Indeed, during the 45 meetings during which he served as a member of the Bernanke-Yellen Fed, he did not dissent a single time.

So he now owns the epic bubble generated by that madcap regime of massive money printing and drastic interest rate repression, but through his Keynesian beer goggles Powell is thoroughly clueless about the resulting giant disconnect between main street and Wall Street. Accordingly, he seems to think that there is a strong full-employment economy on main street, when it’s nothing of the kind; and a reformed, prudently regulated banking system at the center of Wall Street, when in fact it’s teeming with the fruits of relentless speculation – FANGS, leveraged ETFs, options gambling, risk parity trades, structured finance deals loaded with hidden risk and debt and countless more.`

In other words, the Fed’s new chairman avers that there is smooth sailing ahead, even suggesting to Congress today that the US economy is blessed with considerable tailwinds – including exports and fiscal policy! We will address that tommyrot below, but what’s ahead is tumult, not smooth. That’s because the disconnect between a flat-lining main street economy and Wall Street’s bubble ridden financial house of cards is blatantly unstable and unsustainable. Indeed, this fraught condition, which Powell and his Keynesian posse fail to see, will soon give rise to a thundering upheaval triggered by the Fed’s own action.

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And Draghi too just keeps claiming the economy is doing great, and it’s due to him.

Slowing Euro-Area Inflation Helps Draghi Push Back Exit Debate (BBG)

A third month of slowing inflation in the euro-area has given European Central Bank President Mario Draghi ammunition to ward off the hawks a little while longer. The rate of price growth slowed to 1.2% this month from 1.3%, dropping to its weakest since 2016. The core measure was unchanged at 1%. The figures follow a series of releases that have checked the economy’s thundering momentum at the start of 2018, which had emboldened policy makers who want a faster unwinding of the central bank’s crisis-era monetary stimulus. Draghi emphasized to European lawmakers this week that an expansionary policy is still warranted even as the economic situation is “improving constantly.”

At the same time, he’s more confident that declining unemployment will boost pay and inflation eventually, even if the rate remains below the ECB’s target of just under 2% for now. The ECB’s Governing Council meets next week and is likely to discuss a change in its policy language to pave the way for an end of quantitative easing. Executive Board member Benoit Coeure – an architect of the program who has more recently taken a hawkish turn – said last week that the ECB can afford to slow bond purchases, as long as it gives clear guidance on the path of interest rates. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, who has long argued in favor of unwinding stimulus, chimed in on Tuesday, saying in a Bloomberg TV interview that the ECB’s guidance on interest rates is “rather vague” and could be strengthened as the end of bond buying approaches.

The European Commission said on Tuesday euro-area economic sentiment slipped for a second month in February after touching a 17-year high in December. Data last week showed business confidence in Germany and manufacturing and services activity in the euro area all weakened more than economists forecast. Such bumps along the road of Europe’s recovery from the ravages of its debt crisis underscore why Draghi is not yet ready to pare back support for the euro area.

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You mean the ones we bailed out, right?

Banks Have The Right To ‘Do What They Want’ In Leveraged Lending: Otting (R.)

Banks have the “right” to do the leveraged lending they want as long as it does not impair their “safety and soundness,” Joseph Otting, Comptroller of the Currency, said on Tuesday. Otting was speaking to an audience at the ABS Vegas conference co-hosted by SFIG, in response to a question from the audience about whether the OCC would be more lenient with banks about leveraged lending. The Government Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress, said last October that US bank guidelines on leveraged lending are subject to Congressional review, clearing the way for them to possibly be overturned. The GAO said the guidelines, which critics said have hampered the leveraged debt market, are under the purview of the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which they would not be if the GAO had deemed them to be less formal instruments of policy.

“As long as banks have the capital, I am supportive of banks doing leveraged lending,” said Otting. That stands even if leveraged lending activities transgresses guidelines, he said. “When (the idea of the) guidance came out – it was like people were afraid to jump over the line without feeling the wrath of Khan from the regulators,” Otting said. “But you have the right to do what you want as long as it does not impair safety and soundness. It’s not our position to challenge that.” US regulators said they are open to revising restrictions on leveraged lending, offering an olive branch to a Republican-controlled Congress keen to roll back banking regulations. The response from regulators indicated a desire to avoid a protracted battle with a Congress.

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Trump the anti-globalist. That should appeal to some people.

EU and China Consider Retaliation To Potential Trump Tariffs (CNBC)

As the Trump administration considers what action to take on trade tariffs on steel and aluminum, EU and Chinese officials are considering taking aim at politically strategic products made in the U.S., such as bourbon and motorcycles. Of the options laid out by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the administration is considering the most wide-reaching penalty: slapping tariffs on all steel and aluminum imported into the U.S., not just imports from specific countries. The EU is targeting products with political punch, revisiting a list compiled during George W. Bush-era trade disputes of symbolic American brands. Potentially in the EU’s sights: items such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, whose corporate headquarters is in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin.

Bourbon is another target, having enjoyed a surge in exports to the EU. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky exported $154 million worth of bourbon to the EU, up from $128 million in 2016, according to data from the International Trade Commission. Agriculture products such as cheese, orange juice, tomatoes and potatoes are also targets for retaliation. “The EU stands ready to react swiftly and appropriately in case our exports are affected by any restrictive trade measures from the U.S.,” a European Commission source tells CNBC. The counterpunch from China could land harder because of the scale of trade between the two countries and the reliance of American farmers on China as an export destination. China’s Ministry of Commerce is already investigating whether to limit imports of U.S. sorghum, a cereal grain used to feed livestock, in response to previous tariffs from the White House on solar panels and washing machines.

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NOW they find out: “Cash is important in a crisis situation…”

People in Sweden at Risk of Losing Access to Cash Altogether (BBG)

People living in the world’s most cashless society may soon lose their access to notes and coins. To avoid that extreme scenario, Swedish cash-handling provider Loomis wants authorities to force banks and retailers to continue accepting cash. The warning follows similar calls from the Swedish central bank, which is worried that the rapid disappearance of cash will ultimately lead to the disintegration of the infrastructure needed to use notes and coins and undermine its task to promote a safe and efficient payment system. “We have to have cars, vaults and all that, and in order to maintain the infrastructure we also need a base volume,” Loomis CEO Patrik Andersson said in an interview. He says Sweden’s more remotely populated areas in the north are most at risk of losing access to cash.

Such a scenario would be worrying in the event of natural disaster or a technological breakdown, with Swedes potentially unable to buy the basics needed to survive. “Cash is important in a crisis situation,” Andersson said. “Swedes don’t maybe have the insight to understand the effects of such a crisis, that it pervades the whole community.” A parliament committee reviewing the broader framework for the Riksbank plans to publish a special report this summer looking at the challenges posed by declines in cash usage. Riksbank Governor Stefan Ingves this week called for legal changes to safeguard the central bank’s governance of the payment system amid the rapid decrease in the use of cash. [..] The amount of cash in circulation in Sweden last year dropped to the lowest level since 1990 and is now more than 40% below its 2007 peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record.

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Much as you may wish this were to vanish from the news, it’ll drag on for a very long time.

May Is Ready to Fight With EU Over Draft Brexit Deal (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is preparing to reject the EU’s draft Brexit deal when it’s published Wednesday, a senior official said, as her government steps up its fight with the bloc over the terms of Britain’s departure. With just three weeks left to agree on the Brexit transition phase, the EU will unveil a legal text that’s likely to infuriate euroskeptics in May’s Conservative government, piling further pressure on the premier at a critical time. According to the senior official, May will take on the EU over two of its key proposals that are unacceptable to her government. These are allowing the European Court of Justice to oversee the final deal, and arranging a separate trading regime for Northern Ireland – which, although it could avoid a “hard border” with Ireland, would impose new barriers with mainland Britain.

Almost a year in since May triggered the U.K.’s withdrawal from the 28-nation club, talks have yet to begin on what kind of trade accord will follow. Time is running out to limit the damage this ongoing uncertainty will cause to British businesses, who want a status quo transitional phase to be agreed by the end of March at the latest, to help them prepare and adapt when Britain leaves in March 2019. Yet key conflicts remain unresolved between the U.K. and the EU negotiating teams. “I maintain the evaluation that I gave you three weeks ago, which is that in light of these divergences, that we haven’t achieved the transition,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Tuesday. His remarks raise the prospect that the deal will miss its crucial end-March deadline.

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Caitlin Johnstone has it right. It’s out leadership that has turned Syria into such a mess (like Lybia, Iraq), not Assad or Putin.

“We’ve Got To DO Something About Syria!” Uh, No You Don’t. Please Don’t. (CJ)

Arguing that the western war machine is a good way to bring about peace and justice is like arguing that a bulldozer is a useful tool for brain surgery. Arguing that the western war machine is a good way to bring about peace and justice in Syria is like arguing that the gasoline which was used to start a house fire can also be used to extinguish it. The cutesy fairy tale you will hear from empire loyalists is that what started out as peaceful protests slowly morphed into a battle between the Syrian government and various terrorist factions, with the west only backing the terrorists later on in the conflict. This is false. [..] This has never been about “saving children”; this is about money, power, and resources, which are all of course ultimately the same thing as far as the empire is concerned.

Longtime US rival Russia has recently been awarded exclusive rights to oil and gas production in Syria in return for its efforts in helping its longtime ally stop the regime change, a predictable step in the fight for fossil fuel dominance in the region. Syria’s border dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights means that Israel has every reason to want to keep Syria destabilized, not only because the Golan Heights contains oil but because it provides a third of Israel’s water supply. Bashar al-Assad also launched what he called his “Five Seas Vision” in 2004, a strategy to use Syria’s supreme geographic location to become an economic superpower. Such a plan wouldn’t sit well with the US hegemon, which can only maintain its dominance by keeping other nations down.

“Once the economic space between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran becomes integrated, linking the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Arabian Gulf, will not only be important in the Middle East,” Assad once famously said in 2009. “When these seas are connected, we will become the inevitable intersection of the whole world in investment, transportation, and more.” It’s not hard to imagine how the imperialists would suddenly accelerate the urgency of removing Assad once he began speaking like that. Go try and find anything damning about Bashar al-Assad in the western mainstream media prior to 2009. You’ll find a bunch of positive expressions, including a nomination for honorary knighthood in 2002 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Interesting how he then suddenly transformed overnight into a bloodthirsty sexual sadist who gets off on gassing children to death for no reason.

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The name dispute continues. Came upon a map recently (below), which explains quite well why Greeks don’t want FYROM to call itself Macedonia: 90% of former Macedonia is in Greece.

Protesters in FYROM Decry Proposed ‘Macedonia’ Name Compromise (AP)

Several thousand protesters rallied in Skopje, the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), late Tuesday for the government to call off talks with Greece aimed at settling a decades-long name dispute. The protesters marched peacefully from the main Orthodox cathedral in Skopje past the European Union office, chanting “Macedonia! Macedonia!” and waving national flags. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s 9-month-old center-left government has opened negotiations with Greece to resolve the dispute over the country’s name. Greece says the country’s name in its current form implies a territorial claim against its own region of Macedonia. Zaev has said he is willing to support a modified name. But the head of the so-called “World Macedonian Congress” group, Todor Petrov, told the protesters that changing the country’s name would be tantamount to committing treason.

“Our country has a name….To change it would mean that the Macedonian identity would be permanently lost,” he said. The rally was organized by several hard-line nationalist associations. The rally ended peacefully, but a Greek flag was burned during the march. Greeks also held a large rally in Athens earlier this month to reject a proposed compromise. Zaev has said he could accept a “geographical qualifier” in Macedonia’s name – such as “new”, “upper” or “north” – to forge a compromise, but insisted the new name must “respect the dignity” of people in both countries. Greece is also seeking changes in FYROM’s Constitution to eliminate what Athens considers tacit territorial claims. FYROM insists constitutional amendments made in 1995 already addressed Greek concerns.

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1) It’s crazy that we find this so special.

2) Shops have had plastic free aisles for many years, and in many places. Just not your supermarket.

3) That unfortunate photo makes it look as if everything is wrapped in plastic.

World’s First Plastic-Free Aisle Opens In Netherlands Supermarket (G.)

Shoppers in the Netherlands will get the chance to visit Europe’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle on Wednesday in what campaigners claim is an turning point in the war on plastic pollution. The store in Amsterdam will open its doors at 11am when shoppers will be able to choose from more than 700 plastic-free products, all available in one aisle. The move comes amid growing global concern about the damage plastic waste is having on oceans, habitats and food chains. Scientists warn plastic pollution is now so widespread it risks permanent contamination of the natural world. [..] Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, the group behind the campaign, said the opening represented “a landmark moment for the global fight against plastic pollution”.

“For decades shoppers have been sold the lie that we can’t live without plastic in food and drink. A plastic-free aisle dispels all that. Finally we can see a future where the public have a choice about whether to buy plastic or plastic-free. Right now we have no choice.” The aisle will open in the Amsterdam branch of the Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza. The company says it will roll out similar aisles in all of its 74 branches by the end of the year. Ekoplaza chief executive, Erik Does, has been working with the campaign for the past month and said the initiative was “an important stepping stone to a brighter future for food and drink”. “We know that our customers are sick to death of products laden in layer after layer of thick plastic packaging. Plastic-free aisles are a really innovative way of testing the compostable biomaterials that offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic packaging.”

The aisle will have more than 700 plastic-free products including meat, rice, sauces, dairy, chocolate, cereals, yogurt, snacks, fresh fruit and vegetables. Campaigners say the products will not be anymore expensive than plastic-wrapped goods and will be “scalable and convenient”, using alternative biodegradable packing where necessary rather than ditching packaging altogether. They add the aisles will be a “testbed for innovative new compostable bio-materials as well as traditional materials such as glass, metal and cardboard.” Sutherland said: “There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic. Plastic food and drink packaging remains useful for a matter of days yet remains a destructive presence on the Earth for centuries afterwards.”

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Really? ‘Alarmed’? ‘Crazy’? They knew weeks ago the polar vortex was about to split. And still don’t know why that is. Keep it real.

Arctic Warming: Scientists Alarmed By ‘Crazy’ Temperature Rises (G.)

An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic is causing blizzards in Europe and forcing scientists to reconsider even their most pessimistic forecasts of climate change. Although it could yet prove to be a freak event, the primary concern is that global warming is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once insulated the frozen north. The north pole gets no sunlight until March, but an influx of warm air has pushed temperatures in Siberia up by as much as 35C above historical averages this month. Greenland has already experienced 61 hours above freezing in 2018 – more than three times as many hours as in any previous year. Seasoned observers have described what is happening as “crazy,” “weird,” and “simply shocking”.

“This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying – it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “The Arctic has always been regarded as a bellwether because of the vicious circle that amplify human-caused warming in that particular region. And it is sending out a clear warning.” Although most of the media headlines in recent days have focused on Europe’s unusually cold weather in a jolly tone, the concern is that this is not so much a reassuring return to winters as normal, but rather a displacement of what ought to be happening farther north.

At the world’s most northerly land weather station – Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland – recent temperatures have been, at times, warmer than London and Zurich, which are thousands of miles to the south. Although the recent peak of 6.1C on Sunday was not quite a record, but on the previous two occasions (2011 and 2017) the highs lasted just a few hours before returning closer to the historical average. Last week there were 10 days above freezing for at least part of the day at this weather station, just 440 miles from the north pole.


Snowstorm nears London Photo: NPAS

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Feb 222018
 
 February 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Wasatch Mountains. Summit County, Utah 1940

 

Bond Yields Moving From ‘Sweet Spot’ To Riskier Area (CNBC)
Who Will Buy All Those Trillions of US Treasury’s? (Hamilton)
A Major Misconception About The Market Exposed In One Chart (CNBC)
Spiking Mortgage Rates, High Home Prices, New Tax Law, the Housing Market (WS)
Existing US Home Sales In January See Biggest Drop In 3 Years (R.)
Homeownership Is Increasingly For The Wealthy (CNBC)
Dallas Fed President Kaplan Sounds Panic Over Level Of US Debt (ZH)
Trump Gov’t May Make It Easier To Wipe Out Student Debt In Bankruptcy (CNBC)
Top US Treasury Official Slams China’s ‘Non-Market Behavior’ (R.)
Extending Brexit Transition Period Would Cost UK Billions More (Ind.)
Give Antidepressants To A Million More Britons, Doctors Urged (Ind.)
Are Driving Bans Coming for German Cities? (Spiegel)
Three Months On And Still No Action From Government On Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

 

 

It’s the investors and reporters that live in sweet spots.

Bond Yields Moving From ‘Sweet Spot’ To Riskier Area (CNBC)

The 10-year Treasury yield is getting dangerously close to 3%, a level that some say will set off serious alarm bells for some stock investors. While the entire Treasury market is moving, the 10-year is the benchmark, the rate most widely watched by investors and the one tied to a whole range of business and consumer loans, including mortgages. On Wednesday, it rose to a fresh four-year high of 2.957%, and that helped turn a strong stock market rally after the Fed minutes into a bloodbath. The Dow closed down 166 points at 24,797. That puts the focus again on the bond market Thursday and the events that could impact trading. That would include an appearance by New York Fed President William Dudley on Thursday morning and a 7-year bond auction Thursday afternoon.

The 3% level does not necessarily have to stop the stock market’s bull run, but it is a level where the probability for losses in the S&P 500 increases, according to a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “You’re on the cusp of leaving the sweet spot, but that being said, the rising rates are not necessarily bad for the stock market. Yes, from your finance courses, a higher discount rate means you’re going to see lower valuations, all else being equal. But the ‘all else being equal’ missing ingredient is a high growth rate,” said Marc Pouey, equity and quant strategist at BofAML. Pouey said the “sweet spot” for stocks is a 10-year yield between 2 and 3%, but the fact that not only U.S. growth but global economic growth is strong makes it more likely that stocks will be able to positively navigate a zone where the 10-year is above 3%.

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These buyers don’t exist.

Who Will Buy All Those Trillions of US Treasury’s? (Hamilton)

As of the latest Treasury update showing federal debt as of Wednesday, February 15…federal debt (red line below) jumped by an additional $50 billion from the previous day to $20.76 trillion. This is an increase of $266 billion essentially since the most recent debt ceiling passage. Of course, this isn’t helping the debt to GDP ratio (blue line below) at 105%.

But here’s the problem. In order for the American economy to register growth, as measured by GDP (the annual change in total value of all goods produced and services provided in the US), that growth is now based solely upon the growth in federal debt. Without the federal deficit spending, the economy would be shrinking. The chart below shows the annual change in GDP minus the annual federal deficit incurred. Since 2008, the annual deficit spending has been far greater than the economic activity that deficit spending has produced. The net difference is shown below from 1950 through 2017…plus estimated through 2025 based on 2.5% average annual GDP growth and $1.2 trillion annual deficits. It is not a pretty picture and it isn’t getting better.

Even if we assume an average of 3.5% GDP growth (that the US will not have a recession(s) over a 15 year period) and “only” $1 trillion annual deficits from 2018 through 2025, the US still continues to move backward indefinitely.

The cumulative impact of all those deficits is shown in the chart below. Federal debt (red line) is at $20.8 trillion and the annual interest expense on that debt (blue line) is jumping, now over a half trillion. Also shown in the chart is the likely debt creation through 2025 and interest expense assuming a very modest 4% blended rate on all that debt. So, for America to appear as if it is moving forward, it has to go backward into greater debt?!? If you weren’t troubled so far, here is where the stuff starts to hit the fan.

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These guys can make themselves believe anything.

A Major Misconception About The Market Exposed In One Chart (CNBC)

There’s one chart that could cast doubt on an age-old market adage. As Treasury yields hover around multiyear highs with the 10-year inching toward the 3% mark, Oppenheimer technician Ari Wald says that history shows that rising rates are actually bullish for the market. A more common belief is that a rising rate environment bodes ill for stocks, but Wald says the technicals point to the opposite. “The key point for us is that the direction of interest rates is equally, if not more important, than the level of interest rates,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “So in general, we’re of the view that low and rising tends to be bullish for stocks and high and [falling rates] is what’s bearish.”

On a chart of the 10-year yield and the S&P 500 going back to 2000, Wald points out that since then falling interest rates have actually coincided with a drop in the market. “If you look back through history, you’ll see that it was a downturn in interest rates that coincided with market tops in 2000 and 2007, as well as what we’ve been calling the top in risk in that 2014 to 2015 period,” he said. “So we see rising rates as growth coming back into the market.” As a result, Wald believes that if investors are looking to put money to work, cyclical sectors like financials look to be a good bet right now. He cautions against bond proxies like utilities, telecom and real estate investment trusts as he believes they are going to “get hammered” in the current environment.

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US housing approaches a bottleneck.

Spiking Mortgage Rates, High Home Prices, New Tax Law, the Housing Market (WS)

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with a 20% down-payment and with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) that qualify for backing by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rose to 4.64%, the highest since January 2014, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, released this morning. This chart shows the recent spike in mortgage rates, as reported by the MBA. There are two spikes actually: The spike off near-historic lows in the summer of 2016 (the absolute low was in late 2012) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping about rate hikes; and the spike when the subsequent rate hikes started belatedly driving up the 10-year Treasury yield late last year. It’s the 10-year yield that impacts mortgage rates. Note that, except for the brief mini-peak in 2013, the average mortgage rate would be the highest since April 2011:

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA with 20% down rose to 4.58%, the highest since April 2011, according to the MBA. And the average interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages with 20% down rose to 4.02%, also the highest since April 2011. This may be far from over: “What worries investors is that if inflation increases faster than expected, the Fed may be obliged to ‘slam on the brakes’ to keep the economy from overheating by raising interest rates faster than expected,” the MBA mused separately. Home prices have skyrocketed in many markets since those years of higher mortgage rates, such as 2011 and before. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index has surged 40% since April 2011:

That’s the national index, which papers over the big differences in individual markets, with prices lagging behind in some markets and soaring in others. For example, in the five-county San Francisco Bay Area, according to the CaseShiller Index, home prices have surged 80% since April 2011:

So with home prices surging for years and with mortgage rates now spiking, what gives? Today the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes fell 4.8% year-over-year in January – the “largest annual decline since August 2014,” it said – even as the median price rose 5.8% year-over-year to $240,000. I’m not sure if the new tax law, which removes some or all of the tax benefits of homeownership, has had an impact yet since it just went into effect. But the lean inventories and falling sales combined with rising prices tell a story of potential sellers not wanting to sell, and this could be exacerbated by the new tax law.

And they have a number of financial and tax reasons for not wanting to sell, including: • They’d lose some or all of the tax benefits that they still enjoy with their existing mortgages that have been grandfathered into the new law. • Given the higher mortgage rates that they would have to deal with on a new mortgage (which might exceed their existing rate by a good margin after repeated refinancing on the way down), and given the high prices of homes on the market, they might not be able to afford to move to an equivalent home, and thus cannot afford to sell.

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Now try and square this with that recovery story.

Existing US Home Sales In January See Biggest Drop In 3 Years (R.)

U.S. home sales unexpectedly fell in January, leading to the biggest year-on-year decline in more than three years, as a chronic shortage of houses lifted prices and kept first-time buyers out of the market. The supply squeeze and rising mortgage interest rates are stoking fears of a lackluster spring selling season. The second straight monthly drop in home sales reported by National Association of Realtors on Wednesday added to weak retail sales and industrial production in January in suggesting slower economic growth in the first quarter. “There may be some headwinds ahead for home resales with rising mortgage costs affecting how much the buyer can afford and this could put a damper on existing home sales and take some of the wind out of the economy’s sails,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Existing home sales dropped 3.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million units last month, with purchases declining in all four regions. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast home sales rising 0.9% to a rate of 5.60 million units in January. Existing home sales, which account for about 90% of U.S. home sales, declined 4.8% on a year-on-year basis in January. That was the biggest year-on-year drop since August 2014. The weakness in home sales is largely a function of supply constraints rather than a lack of demand, which is being driven by a robust labor market. The shortage of properties is concentrated at the lower end of the market. While the number of previously-owned homes on the market rose 4.1% to 1.52 million units in January, housing inventory was down 9.5% from a year ago.

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Everything is.

Homeownership Is Increasingly For The Wealthy (CNBC)

The sharp drop in January home sales was not due to a shortage of homes for sale. It was due to a shortage of affordable homes for sale. While real estate economists continue to blame the pitiful 3.4-month supply of total listings (a six-month supply is considered a balanced market), a better indicator is a chart on the second-to-last page of the National Association of Realtors’ monthly sales report. It breaks down sales by price point. Sales of homes priced below $100,000 fell 13% in January year over year. Sales of homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000 dropped just more than 2%. The share of first-time buyers also declined to 29%, compared with 33% a year ago.

“Affordable inventory has been more depleted than expected and the upcoming spring homebuying season will likely be filled with bidding wars and multiple offers,” said Joe Kirchner, senior economist at Realtor.com. The biggest sales gains were in homes priced between $500,000 and $750,000, up nearly 12% annually. Apparently there are more of those homes for sale. That’s a problem, because higher price points are not where the bulk of buyers exist and especially not where most first-time buyers exist. If you look at sales distribution, about 55% of buyers are in the below $250,000 category. Just 13% are above $750,000. Unfortunately, the entry-level price point is not where most new-home builders exist either today, given the significantly higher costs of construction.

The median home price of a newly built home is around $335,000, according to the U.S. Census. The lower-price tier is, however, where investors exist. During the recession, when the supply of homes for sale was about four times what it is today, investors bought millions of properties, saving the housing market overall by putting a floor on tumbling home prices. Realtors say now is the time for those same investors to sell.

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“..when US debt doubled in the past decade the Fed had no problems, and in fact enabled it. And now, it’s time to panic…”

Dallas Fed President Kaplan Sounds Panic Over Level Of US Debt (ZH)

Nearly a decade after the US unleashed its biggest debt-issuance binge in history, doubling the US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion under president Obama, which was only made possible thanks to the Fed’s monetization of $4 trillion in deficits (and debt issuance), the Fed is starting to get nervous about the (un)sustainability of the US debt. The Federal Reserve should continue to raise U.S. interest rates this year in response to faster economic growth fueled by recent tax cuts as well as a stronger global economy, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Wednesday. “I believe the Federal Reserve should be gradually and patiently raising the federal funds rate during 2018,” Kaplan said in an essay updating his views on the economic and policy outlook.

“History suggests that if the Fed waits too long to remove accommodation at this stage in the economic cycle, excesses and imbalances begin to build, and the Fed ultimately has to play catch-up.” The Fed is widely expected to raise rates three times this year, starting next month. Kaplan, who does not vote on Fed policy this year but does participate in its regular rate-setting meetings, did not specify his preferred number of rate hikes for this year. But he warned Wednesday that falling behind the curve on rate hikes could make a recession more likely. [..] The most ironic warning, however, came when Kaplan predicted the US fiscal future beyond 2 years: he said that while the corporate tax cuts and other reforms may boost productivity and lift economic potential, most of the stimulative effects will fade in 2019 and 2020, leaving behind an economy with a higher debt burden than before.

“This projected increase in government debt to GDP comes at a point in the economic cycle when it would be preferable to be moderating the rate of debt growth at the government level,” Kaplan said. A higher debt burden will make it less likely the federal government will be able to deliver fiscal stimulus to offset any future economic downturn, he said, and unwinding it could slow economic growth. “While addressing this issue involves difficult political considerations and policy choices, the U.S. may need to more actively consider policy actions that would moderate the path of projected U.S. government debt growth,” he said. So to summarize: when US debt doubled in the past decade the Fed had no problems, and in fact enabled it. And now, it’s time to panic…

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Something’s in the air.

Trump Gov’t May Make It Easier To Wipe Out Student Debt In Bankruptcy (CNBC)

Student loan borrowers may finally have their day in court. The Education Department said Tuesday it would review when borrowers can discharge student loans, an indication it could become easier to expunge those loans in bankruptcy. The department said it is seeking public comment on how to evaluate undue hardship claims asserted by student loan borrowers to determine whether there is any need to modify how those claims in bankruptcy are evaluated. As of now, “it’s almost impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert. “The problem was undue hardship was never defined and the case law has never led to a standardized definition.”

Meanwhile, college-loan balances in the United States have jumped to an all-time high of $1.4 trillion, according to Experian. The average outstanding balance is $34,144, up 62% over the last 10 years. Roughly 4.6 million borrowers were in default as of Sept. 30, 2017, also up significantly from previous years. The national student loan default rate is now over 11%, according to Department of Education data. Student loans are considered in default if you fail to make a monthly payment for 270 days. Your loan becomes delinquent the first day after you miss a payment. “I’m encouraged that they are asking the question,” Kantrowitz said of the Department of Education’s request for comment, although “this doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any policy changes.” And even still, bankruptcy should only be considered as a very last resort, he added.

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“..what they’re doing is perpetuating a system that worked for their benefit but ended up costing jobs in most of the rest of the world..”

Top US Treasury Official Slams China’s ‘Non-Market Behavior’ (R.)

The U.S. Treasury’s top diplomat ramped up his criticisms of China’s economic policies on Wednesday, accusing Beijing of “patently non-market behavior” and saying that the United States needed stronger responses to counter it. David Malpass, Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, said at a forum in Washington that China should no longer be “congratulated” by the world for its progress and policies. “They went to Davos a year ago and said ‘We’re into trade,’ when in reality what they’re doing is perpetuating a system that worked for their benefit but ended up costing jobs in most of the rest of the world,” Malpass said, at the event hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation.

He said market-oriented, democratic governments were awakening to the challenges posed by China’s economic system, including from its state-owned banks and export credit agencies. He reiterated his view that China had stopped liberalizing its economy and was actually reversing these trends. “One of the challenges for the world is that as China has grown and not moved toward market orientation, that means that the misallocation of capital actually increases,” Malpass said. “They’re choosing investments in non-market ways. That is suppressing world growth,” he added. China said that its state-owned enterprises operate on free-market principles and is battling within the WTO’s dispute settlement system to be recognized as a “market economy” — a designation that would weaken U.S. and EU trade defenses.

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Tightening the noose…

Extending Brexit Transition Period Would Cost UK Billions More (Ind.)

Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will soar by billions of pounds if it tries to extend the transition period beyond the date suggested by Brussels, EU officials have told The Independent. Sources near the EU’s negotiating team said the UK would inevitably have to pay more – with the bill agreed by Theresa May already as high as £39bn – if it wants more time to prepare for its final break from the bloc. It came after a British Government document opened the way for a transition that could go on longer than the EU’s proposed end-date of 31 December 2020, though Downing Street was adamant the period will still be around “two years”. The prospect of a higher divorce bill, charged at millions of pounds a day, is likely to anger Tory Brexiteers as Ms May’s Cabinet gathers at Chequers today to try and hammer out a joint negotiating position for a trade deal with the EU.

Many hardline Eurosceptics are already uncomfortable with the idea of following EU rules with no say in making them – which some MPs have compared to making the UK a “vassal state”. One EU official close to talks told The Independent the financial settlement would “of course” have to be renegotiated if the transition extended into the next budget period, while another added: “Britain will have to pay for any transition beyond 2020, probably annual payments with no rebate.” In a statement published yesterday the Government said that the “period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership” and that while “the UK agrees this points to a period of around two years” it “wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date”.

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Wonder who paid for the study.

Give Antidepressants To A Million More Britons, Doctors Urged (Ind.)

More people should be offered drugs when suffering from mental health problems, according to a new study which calls into question recent concerns about over prescription. Research from Oxford University, which was published in The Lancet, found that more than one million extra people would benefit from being prescribed drugs and criticised “ideological” reasons doctors use to avoid doing so. Data from 522 trials, involving 116,000 patients, found that every one of the 21 antidepressants used were better than a placebo. In general, newer antidepressants tended to be better tolerated due to fewer side effects, while the most effective drug in terms of reducing depressive symptoms was amitriptyline – a drug first discovered in the 1950s.

“Antidepressants are routinely used worldwide yet there remains considerable debate about their effectiveness and tolerability,” said John Ioannidis of Stanford University, who worked with a team of researchers led by Andrea Cipriani. Mr Cipriani said the findings offered “the best available evidence to inform and guide doctors and patients” and should reassure people with depression that drugs can help. “Antidepressants can be an effective tool to treat major depression, but this does not necessarily mean antidepressants should always be the first line of treatment,” he told a briefing in London. The study looks at average effects and therefore should not be interpreted as showing how drugs work for every patient.

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It’s clear where Der Spiegel stands: “Preparing for Chaos”, “Normal city life would be rendered impossible.”

Ironically, the bans may get support from the car industry, since many people and firms would need to buy new vehicles.

Are Driving Bans Coming for German Cities? (Spiegel)

Emissions standards passed by the European Union in 2010 are regularly exceeded, essentially robbing residents of clean air to breathe. They have not, however, stayed quiet. Three years ago, 30 local residents launched a crusade against the city, demanding that traffic-calming measures be implemented and, ultimately, suing the city for inaction. In response, all they got were assurances that the city was looking into it or excuses that they didn’t have enough staff to deal with the problem. “Nothing has happened,” Lill says. That could change on Thursday. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is set to consider whether vague plans to maintain clean air go far enough or whether problematic cities like Hamburg must ensure clean air as rapidly as possible, even if that means implementing driving bans. And there is plenty to indicate that the judges will prioritize health, just as lower courts in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart have done.

The landmark decision could very well send out shock waves affecting more than 60 municipalities in which, like Hamburg, limits on poisonous nitrogen oxide emissions are consistently exceeded. Germany’s major carmakers would also be put on notice, as would the German Chancellery and the ministries responsible. All have ignored the problem for years and are hardly prepared should the court prove stubborn. Things threaten to get even worse after that: Just a few weeks after the Leipzig ruling, the European Commission is also set to decide whether to initiate legal proceedings against Germany at the European Court of Justice for its failure to do anything about high levels of harmful emissions in its cities. Should Brussels decide to do so, it would clearly expose Berlin’s cozy relationship with the automobile industry at the expense of public health. “That would be a real disgrace for the German government,” says a state secretary in Berlin.

[..] The German government is now facing the consequences of its inactivity — or at least it will if the court rejects the appeals from Stuttgart and Düsseldorf against driving bans. Depending on the grace period the court decides on, the cities could be forced to close down their streets within three to six months. A verdict of that nature would destroy billions in value because drivers would suddenly be unable to drive into the city for work or to go shopping. Cars that already have to be marked down significantly in many places could then only be sold in foreign countries. Millions of cars would be affected by the ban and there is a possibility that even delivery vehicles and trucks belonging to craftsmen would not be permitted. Normal city life would be rendered impossible.

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Did anyone actually believe they’d do something?

Three Months On And Still No Action From Government On Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

MPs have attacked a three-month delay since the Chancellor pledged to tackle the huge environmental damage from plastic pollution – protesting that no action has followed. In his November Budget, Philip Hammond vowed to investigate new charges to make the UK a “world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans”. “We cannot keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future,” he told the Commons. But, three months later, the Treasury has failed to start a consultation on what action to take, or even explain which Government department will run it. The protest comes from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which has – in the meantime – recommended a 25p charge is levied on all drinks sold in disposable cups, which are lined with polyethylene.

Mary Creagh, the committee’s chairwoman, said: “Pollution from single use plastic packaging is choking our oceans and devastating marine wildlife. “Three months ago, ministers promised to look at using the tax system reduce the use of throwaway plastics, but still have not published a call for evidence. “The Government has talked the talk on plastics pollution, but it has been too slow to walk the walk.” In a stinging letter, sent to Mr Hammond and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, the committee demands to know when ministers will set out action to curb the “700,000 plastic bottles that are littered every day”. “These are just one example of single-use plastics that can end up in our seas and oceans, killing wildlife and breaking down into harmful microplastics,” Ms Creagh added.

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Feb 202018
 
 February 20, 2018  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Emanuel Leutze Washington Crossing the Delaware 1851

 

Morgan Stanley Says Stock Slide Was Just Appetizer for The Real Deal (BBG)
Weak Dollar Could Bring 3% Boost To Global Trade Growth (BBG)
More Than 80% Of American Adults Owe Somebody Else Money (Snyder)
Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich (Jim Kunstler)
Seeking Post-Brexit Unity, EU Leaders Find More Fights (AFP)
UK Has a Secret Plan to Hold Brexit Cash If EU Refuses to Trade (BBG)
London’s Property Crash Has Begun (Reilly)
BOJ To Keep Retreating From Stimulus Under Kuroda (R.)
Italians Find Way Around Election Poll Ban With ‘Horse Races’ (BBG)
Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece (Bulut)
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector (CP)
France To Let Wolf Population Grow By 40% Despite Anger From Farmers (AFP)
Ocean Plastic Tide ‘Violates International Law’ (BBC)

 

 

A very safe bet.

Morgan Stanley Says Stock Slide Was Just Appetizer for The Real Deal (BBG)

The U.S. stock market only had a taste of the potential damage from higher bond yields earlier this year, with the biggest test yet to come, according to Morgan Stanley. “Appetizer, not the main course,” is how the bank’s strategists led by London-based Andrew Sheets described the correction of late January to early February. Although higher bond yields proved tough for equity investors to digest, the key metric of inflation-adjusted yields didn’t break out of their range for the past five years, they said in a note Monday. uld be at worst neutral, if they boost earnings along the way. Higher real yields, on the other hand, mean a bigger discount rate to value future earnings. Should they break out of the range over the past five years as investors anticipate greater central bank policy normalization, that could hit stocks harder, according to the Morgan Stanley thinking.

Relatively low real yields were a big support for equity valuations, so a break higher would indicate that stocks will have to rely on earnings – not multiple expansion – to drive them higher, Sheets and his colleagues wrote. And the challenge there is that a slowdown may loom starting in the second quarter, they said. “It’s when growth softens while inflation is still rising that returns suffer most,” the strategists wrote. “Strong global growth and a good first-quarter reporting season provided an important offset. We remain on watch for ‘tricky handoff’ in the second quarter, as core inflation rises and activity indicators moderate.”

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That’s real growth, right?!

Weak Dollar Could Bring 3% Boost To Global Trade Growth (BBG)

The weak greenback may prove to be a boon for global trade. On top of the boost already coming from robust global GDP growth, the dollar’s fall over the past year may add over 3% to the level of world trade, according to Gabriel Sterne, global head of macro research at Oxford Economics Ltd. Tipping further dollar weakness, the risks are skewed to the upside for Oxford’s baseline forecast for 5% growth in world trade in 2018. “Falls in the value of the dollar oil the wheels of the global financial system, boosting global liquidity by strengthening balance sheets and alleviating currency mismatches,” Sterne wrote in a note.

“One important channel is variation in the differential between the cost of raising dollars onshore and offshore. Dollar weakness reduces the cross-currency basis, increases cross-border lending and boosts bank equities.” The biggest winners will likely be emerging economies given the weaker dollar will lower the value of their dollar-denominated debt, taking pressure off their balance sheets and from credit conditions more generally. “The seven-year link between dollar strength and U.S. recovery (2009-16) now appears broken, and we think it will remain so, with relatively strong U.S. growth and a weakening dollar providing a significant boost to global activity,” Sterne wrote.

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“..As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host…”

More Than 80% Of American Adults Owe Somebody Else Money (Snyder)

How long can our debt levels keep growing much, much faster than the overall economy? We haven’t had a year of 3 percent growth for the U.S. economy since the middle of the Bush administration, but we keep borrowing money as if there is no tomorrow. Much of the focus has been on the exploding debt of the federal government, and that is definitely something I plan to address once I get to Washington. But on an individual level, U.S. consumers have been extremely irresponsible as well. In fact, one new survey has found that more than 80 percent of all American adults are currently in debt… It’s no secret that America is a nation that runs on debt, but it may surprise you to learn that the overwhelming majority of U.S. adults owe money in some way, shape, or form. According to new data from Comet, here’s how many Americans have debt at present:

• 80.9% of Baby Boomers • 79.9% of Gen Xers • 81.5% of Millennials For most of us, it starts very early. We were told that going into debt to get a college education would not be a problem because we would be able to pay those loans off with the good jobs we would get after graduation. Unfortunately, those good jobs never really materialized for many of us, and now millions of former college students are absolutely drowning in debt. A study released Friday by the Brookings Institution finds that most borrowers who left school owing at least $50,000 in student loans in 2010 had failed to pay down any of their debt four years later. Instead, their balances had on average risen by 5% as interest accrued on their debt.

As of 2014 there were about 5 million borrowers with such large loan balances, out of 40 million Americans total with student debt. Large-balance borrowers represented 17% of student borrowers leaving college or grad school in 2014, up from 2% of all borrowers in 1990 after adjusting for inflation. Large-balance borrowers now owe 58% of the nation’s $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt. In addition to owing more than a trillion dollars on student loans, Americans are also now carrying more than a trillion dollars of auto loan debt and more than a trillion dollars of credit card debt. Corporations have been incredibly irresponsible as well. Corporate debt has doubled since the last financial crisis, and corporate bankruptcies have been rising steadily in recent years. All it would take for the dominoes to really start falling is some sort of a major economic downturn.

[..] We can’t keep doing this to ourselves. Our incessant greed is literally destroying the future, but anyone that tries to warn about the collective insanity that has descended upon our society is mocked and ridiculed. Let me ask you a question. Would you willingly choose to give yourself cancer? Of course not, but that is essentially what we are doing to ourselves as a society. Debt is economic cancer, and as Lance Roberts has pointed out, if we continue to allow debt levels to grow like this eventually it will kill our entire economy… Debt is, by its very nature, a cancer on economic growth. As debt levels rise it consumes more capital by diverting it from productive investments into debt service. As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host.

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“..the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.”

Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich (Jim Kunstler)

Remember that one from 1996? Funny, that was the American mainstream media bragging, after the fact, about our own meddling in another nation’s election.

WASHINGTON — A team of American political strategists who helped [California] Gov. Pete Wilson with his abortive presidential bid earlier this year said this week that they served as Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s secret campaign weapon in his comeback win over a Communist challenge. —The Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1996

The beauty in Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian Facebook trolls is that they’ll never face trial, so Mr. Mueller will never have to prove his case. In the new misrule of law made popular by the #Me Too movement, accusations suffice to convict the target of an investigation. Kind of sounds like going medieval to me, but that’s how we roll now in the Land of the Free. Readers know, of course, that I’m not a Trump supporter, that I regard him as a national embarrassment, but I’m much more disturbed by the mindless hysteria ginned up Washington’s permanent bureaucracy in collusion with half a dozen major newspapers and cable news networks, who have run a psy-ops campaign to shove the country into a war mentality. The New York Times published a doozy of a lead story on Saturday, the day after the indictments were announced.

The headline said: Trump’s Conspicuous Silence Leaves a Struggle Against Russia Without a Leader. Dean Baquet and his editorial board are apparently seeking an American Napoleon who will mount a white horse and take our legions into Moscow to teach these rascals a lesson — or something like that. I’m surely not the only one to notice how this hysteria is designed to distract the public attention from the documented misconduct among FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department officials and the leaders of the #Resistance itself: the Democratic National Committee, its nominee in the 2016 election, HRC, and Barack Obama’s White House inner circle. You would think that at least some of this mischief would have come to Robert Mueller’s attention, since the paper trail of evidence is as broad and cluttered as the DC Beltway itself. It actually looks like the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.

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How to fake democracy.

Seeking Post-Brexit Unity, EU Leaders Find More Fights (AFP)

EU leaders face difficult talks this week on the thorny issues of how to plug holes in the post-Brexit budget and choose a successor for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. A special one-day summit in Brussels on Friday of the 27 leaders without Britain is meant to be a key step in the roadmap to a leaner and more unified bloc after Britain leaves in just over a year. But cracks have already appeared between French President Emmanuel Macron, leading the charge for a reformed Europe, and Juncker with his federalist vision of how top EU officials should be chosen in future. The row means the EU’s attempts to overcome the shock of losing a major member are running into the classic problems that have bedevilled it for its six decades of existence: money and sovereignty.

Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate” — under which the political group with the most votes gets to nominate its candidate for the job. Both the European Parliament and Juncker back a repeat after the May 2019 European election, saying it gives the public a direct say in who heads the commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm. European Council President Donald Tusk — who coordinates summits and represents the EU member states — is expected to lay out options at the summit, including whether to continue with the Spitzenkandidat system. Leaders are expected to say it is their own “right and obligation” to choose the commission chief, while “taking into account” the views of parliament, as the EU treaties state, an EU source told AFP.

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“Formerly” secret?

UK Has a Secret Plan to Hold Brexit Cash If EU Refuses to Trade (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s team is eyeing up a contingency plan to hold back billions of pounds in Brexit payments, if the EU refuses to give the U.K. the trade deal it wants. Senior British officials have privately discussed the idea as a fall-back option that could be triggered if negotiations go wrong, three people familiar with the matter said. The plan is not the U.K.’s preferred outcome, but some in May’s administration believe it could be necessary in case the EU tries to renege on a future commitment to a free-trade deal. The proposal comes at a sensitive time, with British ministers seeking in public to build mutual trust with the EU rather than stoke suspicions. The U.K. is trying to persuade the bloc to cooperate on plans for an ambitious trade agreement, which will come into force after the split.

On Tuesday, Brexit Secretary David Davis will outline his idea for collaboration, promising the other 27 member countries that the U.K. won’t try to undercut them by tearing up regulations when it leaves. May is planning to announce her goals for a detailed draft trade accord in a major speech next week, with the aim of having a deal drafted by October to be signed soon after Brexit in March 2019. But the EU says a full trade agreement will be impossible to finish before Brexit. October’s conclusions are likely to form only an outline political declaration rather than a legally binding contract, raising fears among British lawmakers that the U.K. could be vulnerable if the EU backslides on the deal.

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It’ll be a steep fall.

London’s Property Crash Has Begun (Reilly)

The average age of a first time mum at London’s Chelsea and Westminster hospital is 37, a statistic that tells you everything you need to know about the choices supposedly affluent city dwellers are being forced to make in the capital. For the middle classes, the cost of living in London -the cost of getting by- long ago went past insane (£17,040: the cost per year of educating a four year-old child at Thomas’s school in Fulham, not including uniform). It’s the incredible price of property, of course, that’s been the engine driving this madness, ratcheting the pressure ever higher on Londoners who don’t own a home while making very wealthy, on paper at least, those who do.

For the last two decades and more, the capital’s property market to all intents and purposes has behaved like a giant Ponzi scheme played on a global scale. Money from all over the world has poured into London bricks, inflating values unrealistically in relation to wages, while the lavish bonuses paid to European bankers working in the City have also stoked momentum responsible for pushing up, for example, the average price of a London semi-detached house by 553 per cent between January 1995 and November 2017, from £133,820 to £873,603. Over the same period, the average cost of a detached house in the capital went from £257,748 to £1,453,271.

At last, however, the party is over. London property prices, now still flailing cartoonishly in mid-air despite being well over the edge of a cliff, are at the start of what we can call, for want of a better term, a death plunge. Although the carnage is only just beginning in earnest, desperate homeowners looking to sell are already dropping asking prices by tens of thousands of pounds and more. They know the tide is going out quickly. The reasons you would have to be clinically insane to buy property in London today are blessedly easy to understand. Describing a modern financial disaster normally requires some pretence of understanding, say, derivatives markets or the myriad immensely complex ways international banks package and trade debt. Not this time.

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Abenomics continues to its last breath.

BOJ To Keep Retreating From Stimulus Under Kuroda (R.)

The reappointment of Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda for another five-year term means the central bank will continue to gradually edge away from crisis-mode stimulus, former BOJ board member Takahide Kiuchi said. Premier Shinzo Abe’s decision to reappoint Kuroda, whose massive easing efforts failed to accelerate inflation to his 2% target since becoming governor in 2013, is a sign the government is no longer insisting that the BOJ meet its price goal quickly, he said. Since abandoning a policy targeting the pace of money printing in 2016, the BOJ is already whittling down its sweeping stimulus program by slowing its bond purchases, Kiuchi said.

“A de-facto normalization of monetary policy is already taking place and will continue under a reappointed Kuroda,” said Kiuchi, who served at the BOJ’s nine-member board until July. “The reappointment was a signal from the government that it wants continuity in monetary policy,” he told Reuters on Monday. The government reappointed Kuroda for another five-year term on Friday, signaling its hope the BOJ will keep up efforts to reflate the economy. During his tenure at the BOJ, Kiuchi has warned of the pitfalls of Kuroda’s monetary experiment and rightly predicted that the bank would be forced to slow its bond buying given the rising costs of its stimulus program. He retains deep insight into the workings of BOJ policy.

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Does that come with actual betting?

Italians Find Way Around Election Poll Ban With ‘Horse Races’ (BBG)

Italians have hit on a way around a ban on publishing polls in the two weeks before March 4 general elections: turn them into horse races. Bloggers Andrea Mancia and Simone Bressan have begun writing up the results of fictitious “underground” races as a means of conveying the performance of various political parties and coalitions without falling foul of the law. Hence, avid politics watchers can check on favorites like Burlesque and his stable — a not-so-thinly veiled reference to former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his center-right coalition. They can also learn more about the performance of jockeys like Louis le Subjonctif, a reference to Five Star Movement lead candidate Luigi Di Maio and his supposed difficulties in correctly using the subjunctive tense in Italian.

This isn’t the first time the two bloggers have attempted to circumvent blackout legislation and they are not the only ones. Another blog, YouTrend.it, is known for publishing supposed polls with references to papal conclaves and names of imaginary cardinals to indicate the different candidates. During the two-week blackout period, pollsters continue to conduct surveys which circulate among politicians, market analysts and others, but are barred from publishing their findings. Newspapers and other media are also banned from publishing any indications of voting intentions so as not to influence the election.

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Jihad. Inside NATO.

Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece (Bulut)

In an incident that took place less than two weeks after the Greek Defense Ministry announced that Turkey had violated Greek airspace 138 times in a single day, a Turkish coast guard patrol boat on February 13 rammed a Greek coast guard vessel off the shore of Imia, one of many Greek islands over which Turkey claims sovereignty. Most of the areas within modern Greece’s current borders were under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1832. The islands, however, like the rest of Greece, are legally and historically Greek, as their names indicate. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, and even much of the opposition seem intent on, if not obsessed with, invading and conquering these Greek islands, on the grounds that they are actually Turkish territory.

[..] The Ottoman dynasty and empire was established by a nomadic Turkmen chief sometime around the year 1300. During the more than 600 years of the Ottoman period, the Ottoman Turks, who also represented the Islamic Caliphate, regularly launched wars of jihad, invading and occupying lands across five continents. Neo-Ottomanists in Turkey still proudly embrace the concept of jihad (Islamic holy war) against the kafirs (infidels). The head of the state-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has openly described Turkey’s recent military invasion of Afrin as “jihad.”

This designation makes sense when one considers that Muslim Turks owe their demographic majority in Asia Minor to centuries of Turkish Muslim persecution and discrimination against the Christian, Yazidi and Jewish inhabitants of the area. In the 11th century, Turkic jihadists from Central Asia invaded and conquered the Greek-speaking, Christian Byzantine Empire, paving the way for the gradual Turkification and Islamization of the region through methods such as murder, kidnapping, rape and forced conversions.

The greatest 20th century Turkish assault against Christians took place in the 1914-1923 genocide of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians (Syriacs/Chaldeans) in Ottoman Turkey. This did not prevent Turkey, which continues to deny the genocide, from becoming a member of NATO in 1952. The assault also did not stop Turkey, three years after joining NATO, from committing a savage anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul or from forcibly expelling the remaining Greeks from Turkey in 1964. It is precisely because the Turks have never been held accountable for their criminal actions and aggression that they continue to threaten the security and sovereignty of their neighbors. It is high time for the West wake up and take Ankara to task.

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The church of science is not objective.

The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector (CP)

The Royal Society in the UK is a self-governing fellowship of distinguished scientists. Its purpose is reflected in its founding charters of the 1660s: to recognise, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Its motto, nullius in verba, is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts based on experiment. In 2015, Steven Druker challenged the Royal Society to justify its outspoken and partisan support of GMO crops and to correct any errors of fact in his book ‘Altered Genes,Twisted Truth’. Not long after the book’s release, he wrote an open letter to the Society calling on it to acknowledge and correct the misleading and exaggerated statements that is has used to actively promote GMOs and in effect convey false impressions.

Druker cited specific instances where members of the Royal Society have at various times made false statements and the Society’s actions were not objective or based on scientific reasoning but biased and stridently pro-GMO. He argued that the Royal Society has misrepresented the case for GMOs and has effectively engaged in a campaign of disinformation. Almost three years later, from what we can gather, the Royal Society has not responded to Druker. [..] In a new, fully-referenced 45-page open letter, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason is strident in her criticism of the Royal Society: “The Royal Society of London has thrown its hand in with the agrochemical industry, has received funding from it and accepted its word that GM crops are safe. The scientists who founded The Royal Society (Wren, Boyle, Wilkins and Newton) would turn in their graves.”

Rosemary Mason’s letter is addressed to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society. She sets out in some detail the disturbing effects of the rising use of agrochemicals on human health, the environment, biodiversity and ecology in the UK and beyond. As she notes, many have sounded the alarm over global mass poisoning as a result of tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals entering world markets with no evidence of safety. It has reached the point where we now have an ‘ecological Armageddon’ after a dramatic plunge in insect numbers. Given Mason’s concerns about the Royal Society’s collusion with corporate interests, she refers Ramakrishnan to the reputation of Monsanto and the findings of the Monsanto Tribunal, the Monsanto Papers and the dozens of lawsuits in the US involving that company.

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You can try… But French farmers are what they are..

France To Let Wolf Population Grow By 40% Despite Anger From Farmers (AFP)

The French government has announced it will allow the wolf population to grow 40% despite pressure from farmers in mountain regions who are worried about their sheep flocks. A new strategy unveiled by the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron will enable the number of wolves to increase from an estimated 360 now to 500 by 2023. Hunting wiped out the grey wolf in France during the 1930s and they only returned in 1992 via Italy – currently home to around 2,000 wolves – before spreading into Switzerland and Germany. The regeneration of the population in France has led to tensions between the government and farmers in the Alps and Pyrenees mountains who complain that attacks on their livestock cause major financial losses.

In a bid to respond to that anger, hunters will be allowed to kill 10% of the population every year, which can be raised to 12% if attacks are more frequent than usual. “We place trust in all of the stakeholders and local lawmakers to calm the debate and enable a co-existence over the long-term,” agriculture minister Stephane Travert and environment minister Nicolas Hulot wrote in a foreword to the report. Hulot, a celebrity environmentalist, spoke recently of how wolf culling “makes me sick to the stomach” but he accepted it was a necessary measure to take farmers’ concerns into account. Hundreds of sheep were let loose on the streets of the city of Lyon last November in one of a number of protests against the wolf, which has protected status.

The 100-page wolf strategy will also enable livestock owners to apply for state funds to shield their animals, but it will make compensation contingent on them installing fencing and taking other protective measures. Wolves eat between 2-4kg (4.4 to 8.8lb) of meat a day on average and the predators have been blamed for an explosion in the number of attacks on livestock in mountainous areas. A total of 10,000 sheep were killed in the Alps region in 2016, according to official figures from the regional government, but the wolf is also known to feast on deer, wild boar or even domestic animals.

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When everyone’s guilty, who goes to jail?

Ocean Plastic Tide ‘Violates International Law’ (BBC)

The global tide of ocean plastic pollution is a clear violation of international law, campaigners say. They have been urging for a new global treaty to tackle the problem. But a new report – to be presented to a Royal Geographical Society conference on Tuesday – says littering the sea with plastics is already prohibited under existing agreements. The report urges those governments that are trying to tackle the issue to put legal pressure on those that are not. The paper has been written by the veteran environment journalist Oliver Tickell. His conclusions are backed by ClientEarth, the legal group that successfully sued the UK over failures to meet air pollution laws. Tickell says legal action against big polluters such as China, India and Indonesia can be taken only by a nation state.

So he calls for governments and green groups to support small island nations suffering most from plastic pollution. Tickell maintains that marine plastic litter can already be controlled through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the London Convention; the MARPOL Convention; the Basel Convention; Customary Law, and many other regional agreements. Article 194 of UNCLOS, for instance, requires states to “prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source. “Measures shall include, inter alia, those designed to minimize to the fullest possible extent… the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent, from land-based sources… [and] shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.”

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Jan 252018
 
 January 25, 2018  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Grete Stern Sueño No. 27: No destiñe con el agua 1951

 

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)
A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)
Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)
Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)
IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)
Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)
Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)
Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)
Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)
How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)
Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)
We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)
Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)
Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)
Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)
Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

 

 

Winning bigly. Triumphant talk of the town in Davos. Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein are on board. “They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.” How long will it last?

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)

President Donald Trump has a familiar message for the global elites populating the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: You were wrong. A year ago, some Davos participants predicted Trump’s protectionist rhetoric would lead to sluggish economic growth and lackluster stock market gains. It didn’t. And the president isn’t about to let that go unnoticed. Trump will arrive at the conference Thursday, joining a large delegation of U.S. officials already there, where he’s expected to boast about U.S. economic performance during his first year in office – unemployment down, the stock market up, robust growth. He’ll also seek to persuade the Davos audience in a major speech on Friday that his populist, “America First” policies can co-exist with globalism.

The president said on Twitter that he plans “to tell the world how great America is” and that “our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better.” “He wants to shatter the myth that he is only an ‘America First’ president,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who was briefly Trump’s communications director and still informally advises the president. “That’s not the case. He is a globalist. He has a duality to his personality. He’s here to disrupt things, which he does a reasonably good to great job of.” The Swiss mountainside gathering of bankers, corporate chiefs and academics isn’t exactly Trump’s scene, and his administration deliberately spurned the conference prior to his inauguration last year. But now, chief executives are warming up to the president after a year in which his administration began a major deregulation effort and won passage of a law that slashes the U.S. corporate tax rate.

“What I’m bulled up about is that policy makers are making good policy decisions in the U.S. about taxes, about proper regulatory reform,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in Davos. “I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview with CNBC. [..] Trump will host European executives on Thursday night to argue that the U.S. is a better place for businesses as a result of the tax overhaul and deregulation, his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, said Tuesday at a briefing. [..] Trump told reporters late Wednesday that he decided to go to Davos “to get them to bring back a lot of money. They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.”

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When does Beijing start to talk about currency manipulation.

A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is open for business and welcomed a weaker dollar, saying that it would benefit the country. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday, he made a bid for investment into the U.S., saying the government was committed to growth of 3% or higher. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, according to Bloomberg, adding that the currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

On the eve President Donald Trump’s arrival at the event, he said that the U.S. delegation to Davos was its largest ever. “(The) size of the delegation to Davos this year is testament to the scale of Trump’s work over the past year,” Mnuchin said. “What’s happening in the U.S. (is a) reflection of programs being put in place. As we look at U.S. growth, it continues to look quite good and is a very attractive place to invest,” he added. The dollar dipped slightly after his comments and hit a session low, with the dollar index slipping 0.47% for the day. The British pound climbed to a post-Brexit vote high shortly after 8:30 a.m. London time. Mnuchin iterated that his country is “absolutely” committed to free and fair trade, according to the Associated Press. He added that strong U.S. growth was good for the economy and that there was no inconsistency with Trump’s “America First” agenda, according to the news agency.

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Calculation: others lose more than the US does short term.

Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)

Speaking one’s mind can be dangerous, especially for the U.S. Treasury secretary. Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that a weaker dollar was good for his country. Textbook theory certainly supports his view that a depreciating currency is good for exporters. But the remarks are a break with what his predecessors have publicly asserted since 1995. If the greenback became a trade weapon it would be to the detriment of foreign holders of U.S. debt. Treasury secretaries since Robert Rubin have repeated the mantra that a strong dollar is in U.S. interests. That meant something when Rubin articulated it in 1995 with the aim of shoring up a weak dollar. But it has been used ad nauseam since then, both when the U.S. authorities were intervening in the currency markets to buy their currency and when they were selling it.

What qualified as strong is up for grabs. Since 1995, an index of the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies has risen as high as 121 and then fallen more than 40% without the wording being questioned or amended. The maxim has served its purpose, though, by reassuring investors and other countries that the United States would not try to talk its currency down to win a trade advantage. Little wonder then that the dollar index, which has been on a losing streak since the year started, hit a three-year low after Mnuchin’s comments. He probably had no intention of weakening the dollar and there is no evidence that President Donald Trump’s administration is about to embark on such a policy. The remarks do, however, reveal how focused U.S. policymakers are on domestic interests. From there, actually egging on such moves is only a small step.

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There’s no way to keep the reserve currency down, and there’s no alternative either, but they’ll take what they can get today.

Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)

U.S. presidents and Treasury secretaries have a long tradition of declaring their allegiance to a strong dollar policy in public remarks, even if privately many welcomed a softer dollar to boost U.S. exports and reduce trade deficits. If the U.S. is publicly supporting a weak dollar while also imposing tariffs on foreign imports — as the Trump administration did this week — it could invite retaliation from other countries, potentially sparking both currency and trade wars, economists say. “It’s remarkable, really, this kind of bomb-throwing from Mnuchin on the dollar the same week they slap on tariffs,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, referring to action this week by the Trump White House to impose tariffs on some imported solar panels and washing machines. “The problem with this is it just invites retaliation. This is not a friendly action.”

A weaker U.S. dollar, while potentially a boost for exports, makes many foreign consumer goods more expensive for Americans to buy. That could hit lower-income consumers the hardest, including less well-off voters in Trump’s political base. Retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports could also hurt domestic manufacturers. The concept of a public strong-dollar policy dates back at least three administrations to when Lloyd Bentsen and Robert Rubin served as Treasury secretaries under President Bill Clinton. The general approach reflects the belief that a stronger dollar improves the value of U.S. Treasury bonds, equities and other dollar-denominated assets and gives Americans more purchasing power. It also generally reflects an improving U.S. economy.

“I have been consistent in saying, as my predecessors have said, that a strong dollar is good for the United States. If you look at the U.S. economy right now, the truth is our economy is performing quite well,” then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in January 2015, echoing the regular public refrain of U.S. officials. Mnuchin did nod to this tradition in his Davos comments after remarking on the benefits of a weaker dollar. “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

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She must appear impartial. But this of course is utter crap: “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets..”. There are no markets. There’s only central banks.

IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde suggested that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin may wish to explain his comments in which he appeared to back a weak dollar, adding that U.S. tax cuts will probably cause the world’s reserve currency to rally. “I really hope that Secretary Mnuchin has a chance to clarify exactly what he said,” Lagarde said in Bloomberg TV interview with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene in Davos, Switzerland. “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets and geared by the fundamentals of U.S. policy.” The dollar slid to the lowest since December 2014 on Thursday, a day after Mnuchin’s endorsement of a weaker greenback at the WEF. The euro also climbed to its strongest against the dollar since 2014. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos.

The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” Losses for the greenback have mounted since U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration a year ago, with the currency weakening against every Group-of-10 peer. Lagarde reiterated the IMF’s view, presented in its World Economic Outlook this week, that the U.S. tax reform is likely to lead to dollar’s strengthening in the medium term. For many market analysts, Mnuchin’s comments represent a stark break from previous U.S. administrations and could provoke pushback from other regions before too long. “This is a further break away from the ‘strong USD’ mantra launched in the mid-1990s by Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Rubin and adhered to by subsequent Treasury leaders,” wrote Credit Agricole CIB strategists led by Valentin Marinov in a note to clients. “Inevitably, the Administration’s vocal preference for a weak dollar is likely to raise the risk of global currency wars.”

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A carrot for the Democrats. They’ll take it.

Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)

Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would support a plan that offered a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, as part of a broader immigration package that the White House is expected to unveil next week. Trump made the comments to a group of reporters assembled for a briefing on the president’s immigration plan before he departs to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. According to the Associated Press, Trump said he would be open to allowing certain immigrants to become citizens after “10 or 12 years”. Trump told reporters he would allow the Dreamers to “morph into” citizens over a period of time.

“Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive, of after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.” Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican Senators deeply involved in the negotiations over immigration, called Trump’s statement “a major breakthrough”. “I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for Daca recipients,” he said. “This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law.” Trump had previously rejected the idea of citizenship for the young immigrants as “amnesty”. According to the AP, a senior White House official immediately clarified the remarks, telling reporters that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers was only a “discussion point” in the plan that the White House would preview to Congress on Monday.

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He’s not bluffing.

Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)

Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he would be willing to speak to the special counsel office’s under oath, adding that he was “looking forward” to talking with Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including alleged contacts with the Trump campaign. Speaking with reporters at the White House before he set out for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked about a potential interview with Mueller. “I’m looking forward to it,” he answered. “I would love to do it.” He added that the interview could occur in “two or three weeks”. Trump’s statement would seem to end months of speculation about whether the special counsel would interview the president, though he also said he would testify under oath last year. The president’s attorneys have met with their counterparts in the special counsel’s office.

Mueller’s team is tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the election, including hacks of Democratic party emails and contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russians. The special counsel’s office has charged Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort with money laundering and conspiracy, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and one of his former foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, have each pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. The special counsel’s office is also investigating potential obstruction of justice, and has questioned the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in part to discuss the president’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Also on Wednesday, Trump rejected criticism of his attacks on the Russia inquiry. “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump said. He added: “We’re going to find out” if he gets a fair shake from Robert Mueller. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever,” Trump said. “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”

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For what it’s worth.

Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)

Weiss Ratings, which claims to offer the first “ratings” on cryptocurrencies, has judged ethereum to be better than bitcoin. The securities ratings agency announced Wednesday that it gave ethereum a B rating because it “benefits from more readily upgradable technology and better speed, despite some bottlenecks.” Bitcoin received a “fair” C+ rating because the digital currency is “encountering major network bottlenecks, causing delays and high transactions costs,” according to a release. “Despite intense ongoing efforts that are achieving some initial success, Bitcoin has no immediate mechanism for promptly upgrading its software code.” None of the 74 cryptocurrencies the agency covers received an “excellent” A rating. B-rated ethereum and digital currency EOS have the highest ratings.

That tough take is apparently a trademark of the 47-year-old independent financial ratings agency. Reports from Barron’s and The New York Times from 2002 and 1992, respectively, note Weiss’ lack of A ratings in coverage of insurance stocks, mutual funds and other securities. The Florida-based company usually flies under the radar in comparison to better-known agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Weiss says it does not accept compensation from the companies it rates for issuing the rating. Foreign cryptocurrency investors were apparently very worried that Weiss would issue negative ratings on digital currencies. The agency said in a release Wednesday that “staff was up all night last night fending off denial of service attacks from Korea” and cited Korean social media posts calling others to bring down the ratings agency’s website. The hackers then broke into the website, took information from it and are distorting it on social media, the company said.

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No, Beppe is not ‘gaffe-prone’. He built a formidable force, and he’s the first to recognize he’s too old to take the next step. M5S was always going to be movement by and for the young. Because they’re not yet corrupt.

Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)

Beppe Grillo, the bombastic comedian who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has stepped aside in what some speculate could be a move to bolster the party’s chances before the general election on 4 March. Grillo, who has been instrumental in turning the movement into Italy’s most popular party, roared on to the political scene in 2009 after joining forces with the late web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio to launch a blog that railed against political corruption. The blog struck a chord among an electorate weighed down by the economic crisis and fed up with the traditional political class, and became the driving force behind the movement’s phenomenal success in the 2013 elections, when it snatched the second-largest share of the votes.

But the blog has now removed most references to the party. The 69-year-old has started a new blog, which he said will focus on technology and visions for the future as part of an “extraordinary liberating adventure”. He added that while he “likes to have points of view” he is “fed up with opinions”. Quite what that means has left commentators guessing, but Grillo has been distancing himself from the party for some time. In 2015, just a year after the party made gains in the European elections, he announced that he was leaving politics and returning to comedy. As he toured comedy clubs, the gaffe-prone Grillo was thrust back into the spotlight a year later after taking a swipe at Sadiq Khan, saying the Muslim mayor of London would “blow himself up in front of Westminster”.

After that Grillo took more of a back seat, gradually grooming 31-year-old Luigi di Maio for the party’s leadership. Di Maio, who was elected leader in September and is the party’s candidate for prime minister, said on Tuesday night that the split did not mean “patricide” or “reneging on the past”. “The party is now moving forward on its own legs and getting stronger,” he said. The Five Star Movement is leading in opinion polls, ahead of the centre-left Democratic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League. Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “Maybe [Grillo] wants to guarantee its survival and see how it will fly in his absence.”

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“..we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work.”

How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)

What’s in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal for Australia? There’s no way to tell until we’ve seen the text, and we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work. After that, there’s still time to back out if we don’t want to ratify it, and there’s a precedent. All 12 would-be members signed up to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2016. Barack Obama found himself unable to get it through Congress and Donald Trump didn’t try. As best as we can tell, the new deal, TPP-11, is the old one with fewer bad bits. Twenty of the most contentious provisions included at the insistence of the US have been “suspended” until the US decides to join. They include enforced protections for the owners of pharmaceutical patents and extensions to copyright law.

There’s no guarantee they would come back if the US did decide to join. Each of the 11 other members would have to agree. Still in the agreement, although somewhat weakened, are the investor-state dispute settlement provisions insisted on by the US and Korea. They will allow private companies to sue national governments in extraterritorial tribunals, as Philip Morris did over Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws using the terms of an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement. John Howard successfully resisted having them in the US-Australia agreement and the Abbott government managed to avoid them in the Australia-Japan agreement, but we have apparently agreed to them now, for Japan, Korea and eight other nations. The upside is that our companies will also be able to sue governments.

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It’s time for Putin to tell Erdogan to back off.

Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation. Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict. “He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria. However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call. “President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

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Get him out of there, to a safe place. Get him treatment. A society that persecutes its smartest and bravest cannot succeed.

We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has not stepped outside the heavily surveilled confines of the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he entered the building almost six years ago. Naturally, much of the media attention has focused on his international legal drama and threats to his safety, including arrest and possible extradition to the US. In contrast, ongoing violations of his human rights, including his fundamental right to healthcare in the context of his unusual confinement, have received less coverage. As clinicians with a combined experience of four decades caring for and about refugees and other traumatised populations, we recently spent 20 hours, over three days, performing a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation of Mr Assange.

While the results of the evaluation are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare. Packing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and after being conspicuously photographed entering the embassy, we performed our examinations in a poorly ventilated conference room. The reason for examining Mr Assange in these conditions is that he has no access to proper medical facilities. Although it is possible for clinicians to visit him in the embassy, most doctors are reluctant to do so. Even for those who will see him, their capacity to provide care is limited. At the embassy, there are none of the diagnostic tests, treatments and procedures that we have concluded he needs urgently.

As clinicians, it is our ethical duty to advocate for the health and human rights of all people as promised under international law, and to call on our colleagues to hold our professional societies, institutions and governments accountable. In 2012, Ecuador, in accordance with its right as a sovereign state, formally determined that Mr Assange meets the requirements enshrined by the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. Regardless of the allegations against Mr Assange, he remains a citizen of Australia and a refugee, and, as the Guardian reported last week, he is now also a citizen of Ecuador.

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Trump should support Assange vs their common enemy.

Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)

At this juncture, it bears reminding that Jeff Bezos, the current owner of the Washington Post, has a $600 million contract with the CIA in relation to his monolithic company Amazon. The Nation wrote in 2013: “Amazon, under the Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, recently secured a $600 million contract from the CIA. That’s at least twice what Bezos paid for the Post this year. Bezos recently disclosed that the company’s Web-services business is building a “private cloud” for the CIA to use for its data needs. Critics charge that, at a minimum, the Post needs to disclose its CIA link whenever it reports on the agency. Over 15,000 have signed the petition this week hosted by RootsAction.” The Nation’s coverage of the CIA’s contract with Amazon has since been removed from their web page for unknown reasons, but is available through archive services.

When discussing The Washington Post’s exercise in gaslighting, it is important to keep the outlet’s well-documented financial connection with the CIA through Bezos in mind. In so doing, it is also pertinent to note that the CIA has made its hatred for Assange very clear, especially over the course of the last year. CIA Director Mike Pompeo put the agency’s hatred for Wikileaks were on full display as recently as yesterday, when the CIA Director lambasted the journalistic organization as a threat on par with Al Qaeda. Pompeo said of Al Qaeda and Wikileaks: “They don’t have a flag at the UN, but they represent real threats to the United States of America.” That a group who publishes information that is inconvenient for the CIA would be likened to a terrorist network speaks to the threat which Wikileaks represents not to the safety of the American public, but to the plutocratic class and the American deep state.

Pompeo is well known for his previous reference to Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The Hill wrote of the incident: “In his first major public appearance since taking the top intelligence post in the Trump administration, Pompeo took aim at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden…” The Hill also cited Pompeo’s characterization of Assange as a: “fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.” Pompeo’s vitriolic characterization of Wikileaks is helpful, because it demonstrates that the CIA’s response to Wikileaks is on par with the force with which terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are pursued. In that light, the magnitude of the threat faced by Assange and Wikileaks associates cannot be over-estimated. Pompeo’s words are not only absurd in light of Wikileaks being an extremely accurate journalistic organization, but also depict the real impetus behind Assange having been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years.

The CIA Director’s statements, even taken at face value, completely undercut the manipulative coverage of Wikileaks and Assange by outlets like the Washington Post. That providing evidence of corruption is considered an existential threat by the establishment is indicative of the value of Wikileaks to the public. The publisher is only a threat to those whose lies are exposed by their publications. The same plutocracy that has aggressively targeted Assange and Wikileaks has progressively strangled free press and freedom of thought in the United States and the world for decades.

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The zenith of EU cruelty: starve a gutted economy of investment. It’s how you guarantee it can’t ever recover.

Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)

Greece ended 2017 with a revenue shortfall of 719 million euros that was covered by the failure to implement budgeted investments of 1.57 billion euros, leading to a primary surplus of 1.94 billion euros. At the same time Greek taxpayers piled up more arrears to the state, with December witnessing an increase in the creation of new debts. The definitive data of the budget’s execution last year, issued on Wednesday by the Finance Ministry, showed that the primary surplus was far above the target, exceeding it by some 877 million euros. Public Investments Program spending was 800 million euros below target, depriving the economy of much-needed cash just as it is trying to recover.

The shortfall was particularly evident on the program’s EU co-funded side, which missed the target by 1.127 billion euros, while the national part of the program showed a 327-million-euro increase in investment. It is therefore no surprise that the economy is now seen to have grown by an even smaller rate than the revised estimate included in the 2018 budget. The 1.941-billion-euro primary surplus, if confirmed by Eurostat in April, will be added to the so-called cash buffer to be created ahead of the conclusion of the bailout program. The non-execution of public investments co-funded by the EU also had an impact on budget revenues, as inflows from Brussels were 1.213 billion euros short of the target.

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Those that have jobs, that is.

Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)

Greeks work the longest hours in Europe, while Germans clock the least hours, new data by the OECD reveal. The OECD includes 35 developed countries and some developing nations. The data were presented during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mexicans are shown to be the hardest workers in the world, as the average Mexican spends 2,255 hours working per year, the equivalent of around 43 hours per week. In Europe, Greeks work the longest hours, averaging 2,035 hours per year. Germans, on the other hand, work the least in Europe and the world, averaging only 1,363 hours per year. The differences between countries has to do with differences in work cultures, the OECD says.

For instance, Mexicans work the most hours because they have a fear of unemployment, while lax labor rules allow employers to break a 48-hour-week law. However, although South Koreans come third in hours worked per year, employees there aim to boost economic growth. The Japanese, who are stereotyped as working very long hours, in fact put in only 1,713 hours per year, below the OECD average. An important factor regarding hours of work is the level of productivity. According to the study, Germans work the least hours but manage to maintain high productivity levels. The average German worker is reported to be 27% more productive than their British counterparts who work 1,676 hours per year. The Dutch, French and Danes also work fewer than 1,500 hours per year on average, while Americans average 1,783 work hours per year.

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The easiest problem to solve, isn’t. So what hope is there then? If you must have plastic, and you rarely do really, make it compostable, edible. By next year, not 20-30 years from now.

Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

Plastic packaging waste is a huge problem around the world. Despite efforts in some European countries such as plastic bottle deposit schemes or having to pay for plastic bags in the supermarket, Statista’s Martin Armstrong notes that the average EU citizen creates 31kg of plastic waste per year. Eurostat figures show that the UK lies above this average, with its citizens responsible for 35kg of waste. The worst country by a long way though is Ireland. 61kg of packaging is thrown away by the average Irish person, 9kg more than the second most prolific country, Luxembourg. The least is created in Bulgaria where a more acceptable 14kg is disposed of over the year.

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