Dec 272018
 
 December 27, 2018  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Giovanni Bellini The Feast of the Gods c1514 (completed by his disciple, Titian, 1529)

 

Trump Declares End To US ‘Policeman’ Role In Surprise Iraq Visit (AFP)
Dow Rallies 1,000 Points, Biggest Single-Day Point Gain Ever (CNBC)
Why Stocks Soared: US Pension Funds Rebalance With $64 Billion Buy Order (ZH)
Plunge Protection And/Or Deeply Underwater Public Sector Pension Funds (CI)
Pretty Much All Of Wall Street Thinks The Market Will Rally In 2019 (CNBC)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in America Decline (WS)
Kremlin Considers Changing Constitution To Extend Putin Presidency (ZH)
US Population Growth Hits 80-Year Low (ZH)
Japan Shrinks As Birthrate Falls To Lowest Level In History (G.)
Falling Total Fertility Rate Should Be Welcomed, Population Expert (G.)

 

 

Strangest thing was the level of secrecy, blinded windows the whole flight, no phones; Trump felt really under threat.

Trump Declares End To US ‘Policeman’ Role In Surprise Iraq Visit (AFP)

President Donald Trump used a lightning visit to Iraq — his first with US troops in a conflict zone since being elected — to defend the withdrawal from Syria and to declare an end to America’s role as the global “policeman.” Trump landed at 7:16 pm local time at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, accompanied by his wife Melania, following what he described as a stressful, secrecy shrouded flight on a “pitch black” Air Force One. The president spoke to a group of about 100 mostly special forces personnel and separately with military leaders before leaving a few hours later. A planned meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi was scrapped and replaced by a phone call, the premier’s office said.

White House video showed a smiling Trump shaking hands with camouflage-clad personnel, signing autographs and posing for photos at the base in Iraq. Morale-boosting presidential visits to US troops in war zones have been a longstanding tradition in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Trump has taken considerable criticism for declining to visit in the first two years of his presidency. But speculation had been mounting that he would finally make the gesture following his controversial plan to slash troop levels in Afghanistan and his order to withdraw entirely from Syria. At the Iraqi military base, Trump sought to defend his “America First” policy of pulling back from multinational alliances, including what to many Americans seem like the endless wars of the Middle East.

“It’s not fair when the burden is all on us,” he said. “We don’t want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don’t pay for it and they’re going to have to.” “We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous,” he added. Trump told reporters he had overruled generals asking to extend the Syria deployment, where about 2,000 US forces, joined by other foreign troops, assist local fighters battling the Islamic State jihadist group. “You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time,” he said he told the top brass.

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Precisely what you’d expect in a non-functional market, or a non-market, whatever the immeditate trigger.

Then again, Trump DID say to buy the dip. Made a lot of people a lot of money.

Dow Rallies 1,000 Points, Biggest Single-Day Point Gain Ever (CNBC)

Stocks posted their best day in nearly a decade on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average notching its largest one-day point gain in history. Rallies in retail and energy shares led the gains, as Wall Street recovered the steep losses suffered in the previous session. The 30-stock Dow closed 1,086.25 points higher, or 4.98 percent, at 22,878.45. Wednesday’s gain also marked the biggest upside move on a percentage basis since March 23, 2009, when it rose 5.8 percentage points. The S&P 500 also catapulted 4.96 percent — its best day since March 2009 — to 2,467.70 as the consumer discretionary, energy and tech sectors all climbed more than 6 percent. The Nasdaq Composite also had its best day since March 23, 2009, surging 5.84 percent to 6,554.36. Wednesday also marked the biggest post-Christmas rally for U.S. stocks ever.

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Losses on bonds are so big they have to move into the stocks that lost 20% or so lately?!

Why Stocks Soared: US Pension Funds Rebalance With $64 Billion Buy Order (ZH)

Last Friday, when stocks were tumbling, we reported “some good news for the bulls” which was lost in the overall chaos over the latest mutual fund liquidation discussed earlier. And no, we did not anticipate that President Trump would activate the Plunge Protection Team over the weekend: the good news in question was that as Wells Fargo calculated U.S. defined-benefit pensions fund would need to implement a “giant rebalancing out of bonds and into stocks” – in fact the biggest in history – with the bank estimating roughly $64 billion in equity purchases in the last trading days of the quarter and year, prompting the banks to ask if traders are about to make pension rebalancing “great” again.

Judging by today’s market action, the answer is a resounding yes, even though as Wells warned investors and traders looking for a desperately needed respite from market gyrations “may have to deal with yet one more seismic bout of volatility before Dec 31 finally pops up on their calendar dials.” For those who missed our Friday post on the topic, Wells explained where this massive rebalancing comes from: the huge, end-of-quarter buy order was precipitated by the jarring divergence between equity and bond performances both in Q4 and the month of December. The stocks in the bank’s pro forma pension asset blend had suffered a 14% loss this quarter, including about an 8.5% drop in December. Contrast this with a roughly +1.6% quarterly total return for the domestic aggregate bond index.

The gap between equity and bond performance in pension portfolios would have been even larger had IG credit OAS not widened nearly 40 bps in Q4. As a result of this need for massive quarter-end rebalancing, corporate pensions would need to boost their equity portfolios by as much as $64 billion into year-end. Getting a bit more granular, Wells analyst Boris Rjavinski wrote that domestic stocks – both large cap and small cap – may need disproportionately large boosts of $35 billion and $21 billion, respectively, compared to “only” $9 billion for global developed equities. This is driven by large performance gaps within equity markets: U.S. stocks have trailed global and EM equities in Q4 and December after outperforming the ROW for quarters on end.

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A bit of both.

Plunge Protection And/Or Deeply Underwater Public Sector Pension Funds (CI)

The Dow rose over 1,000 points (almost 5%) after President Trump’s adviser Kevin Hassett assured skittish markets that Fed Chair Jerome Powell is 100% safe. Talk about plunge protection. After numerous jawboning by Fed board members, the Trump administration did its own plunge protection. Of course, an alternative explanation is a rotational shift of public sector pension funds from fixed-income in equities. OR did we just experience the first leg down in the eventual deflation of the massive asset bubble with the bubble deflation taking months … or years. Welcome to the financial circus!

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That means they expect Jay Powell to reverse course.

Pretty Much All Of Wall Street Thinks The Market Will Rally In 2019 (CNBC)

Wells Fargo strategist Christopher Harvey sharply reduced his expectations for the stock market in 2019, making him easily the least optimistic forecaster on Wall Street. Even with the sharp cut, though, pretty much every major house on the Street sees the market higher in the year ahead, despite the brutal correction and potential bear market that looms over investors as 2018 comes to a tumultuous close. Before the new year even begins, Harvey cut his price target for the S&P 500 from an original outlook of 3,079 to a much more muted 2,665. That’s a 13.4 percent reduction that the bank’s head of equity strategy attributed largely to fears of an over-aggressive Federal Reserve, which hiked its benchmark interest rate four times this year, most recently on Dec. 19.

The move “is due to our more comprehensive understanding of the Fed’s near-term philosophy and the belief that it will cause the growth deceleration to intensify,” Harvey said in a note to clients. Still, the new target represents a virtually exact 13.4 percent upside from Monday’s close. Harvey’s peers all agree that stocks are heading higher, from Morgan Stanley’s 2,750 price target all the way up to Deutsche Bank’s robust 3,250 for the large-cap index.

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By far the biggest bubble. The economy runs on this bubble.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in America Decline (WS)

Seattle house prices drop 4.4% in four months, biggest drop since Housing Bust 1; Prices deflate in San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Denver, and Portland. Some of the markets in this select group of the most spending housing bubbles in America have turned the corner, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, released this morning for October, confirming other more immediate data. This includes the Seattle metro, the five-county San Francisco Bay Area, the San Diego metro, the Denver metro, and the Portland metro. In these metros, house prices have skidded the fastest, and in some cases for the first time, since the Housing Bust. In other markets, house prices have been flat for months. And in a few markets on this list, prices rose.

On a national basis, these dynamics get washed out. Single-family house prices in the US, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, ticked up a smidgen on a month-to-month basis in October, and rose 5.5% compared to a year ago (not seasonally-adjusted). This year-over-year growth rate has been slowing from the 6%-plus range that reigned from September last year to July this year. The index is now 11.6% above the July 2006 peak of “Housing Bubble 1” (the first housing bubble in this millennium), which came to be called “bubble” and “unsustainable” only after it had begun to implode during “Housing Bust 1”:

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“What am I going to do, stay until I’m 100 years old? No.”

Kremlin Considers Changing Constitution To Extend Putin Presidency (ZH)

After last March’s not so shocking vote by China’s National People’s Congress to overwhelmingly pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate China’s presidential term limits, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power after his second term ends in 2023, it appears Russia is now inching toward the same scenario at a moment when, as one Moscow-based analyst put it, “The general sense is that there’s no one to replace Putin as the guarantor of the system.” Just prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin getting elected to his final possible term allowed under the constitution last March, Newsweek announced The End of The Putin Era is in Sight — looking ahead to the end of his term in 2024 — but even this could be in doubt, perhaps predictably, as this week Russian parliament raised the possibility of altering the constitution as rumors continue to circulate that the Kremlin is seeking ways to keep the popular 66-year old multi-term leader in power.

Currently the Russian constitution prohibits a president from being elected for more than two consecutive terms, but on Tuesday during a scripted meeting with Putin the speaker of Russia’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, broached the issue, saying according to Bloomberg: “There are questions in society, esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Volodin said, addressing Putin in the respectful form, according to a Kremlin transcript. “This is the time when we could answer these questions, without in any way threatening the fundamental provisions” of the constitution, he added. “The law, even one like the Basic Law, isn’t dogma.”

Noting that the current constitution was drafted a quarter-century ago, Volodin continued, “That was a very difficult time. A time when the state stood on the edge of collapse, when social obligations weren’t fulfilled, when our citizens lost faith in the authorities.” [..] Perhaps the best quote on the issue came last Spring, however, when Putin was presented with a question of his prospects after 2024 just after his reelection to a second consecutive term. He said, “At present I don’t plan any constitutional reforms.” And when asked about seeking office in 2030, as allowed by current law, he quipped, “What am I going to do, stay until I’m 100 years old? No.”

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And the US is nowhere near as extreme as Europe, Japan, China. Because: immigration.

US Population Growth Hits 80-Year Low (ZH)

Last week, the Brookings Institution published a new report regarding population data from the US Census Bureau. The data showed population change estimates for the year ending in July 2018. Brookings said the national rate of population growth collapsed to its lowest level since 1937, “a result of declines in the number of births, gains in the number of deaths, and that the nation’s under age 18 population has declined since the 2010 census.” This new report comes after recent government data showed geographic mobility within the US is at historic lows. Some states —particularly in the Mountain West—are expanding at a quick rate, but approximately 20% of all states showed evidence of population losses over the last two years. The aging American population (i.e., those pesky baby boomers) is the broader cause for the downward shift in demographic trends that could cripple the nation in the years and decades ahead.

The population growth rate of 0.62% for 2017-2018 is the lowest registered since the end of the Great Depression. While the nation’s growth rate has fluctuated through wars, economic upheavals, baby booms, and baby busts, the current rate reflects a further fall that has also registered below the Great Recession low in 2007-2009. “These downward growth trends initially reflected declines in immigration as well as lower natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) because the economy was down. But over the past few years, as immigration gained slight momentum, reduced natural increase was more responsible for the overall decline in population growth—as it dropped from 1.6 million in 2000-2001 to just above 1 million in 2017-2018. There were fewer births than in recent decades and more deaths than in earlier years,” said Brookings.

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A development that’s clearest perhaps in Japan, but will spread all over.

Japan Shrinks As Birthrate Falls To Lowest Level In History (G.)

Japan suffered its biggest population decline on record this year, according to new figures that underline the country’s losing battle to raise its birth rate. The number of births fell to its lowest since records began more than a century ago, the health and welfare ministry said, soon after parliament approved an immigration bill that will pave the way for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers to address the worst labour shortage in decades. The ministry estimated 921,000 babies will have been born by the end of 2018 – 25,000 fewer than last year and the lowest number since comparable records began in 1899. It is also the third year in a row the number of births has been below one million.

Combined with the estimated number of deaths this year – a postwar high of 1.37 million – the natural decline of Japan’s population by 448,000 is the biggest ever. The data suggests the government will struggle to reach its goal of raising the birth rate – the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime – to 1.8 by April 2026. The current birth rate stands at 1.43, well below the 2.07 required to keep the population stable. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has described Japan’s demographics as a national crisis and promised to increase childcare places and introduce other measures to encourage couples to have more children.

But the number of children on waiting lists for state-funded daycare increased for the third year in a row last year, raising doubts over his plans to provide a place for every child by April 2020. Japanese people have an impressive life expectancy – 87.2 years for women and 81.01 years for men – which experts attribute to regular medical examinations, universal healthcare coverage and, among older generations, a preference for Japan’s traditional low-fat diet. But the growing population of older people is expected to place unprecedented strain on health and welfare services in the decades to come.

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Look, you can be an expert on population change, if you want, but that doesn’t make you an expert on the influence of artificial intelligence on populations, or on population decline and economies. Those are completely different topics.

Falling Total Fertility Rate Should Be Welcomed, Population Expert (G.)

Declining fertility rates around the world should be cause for celebration, not alarm, a leading expert has said, warning that the focus on boosting populations was outdated and potentially bad for women. Recent figures revealed that, globally, women now have on average 2.4 children in their lifetime a measure known as total fertility rate (TFR). But while in some countries that figure is far higher – in Niger it is more than seven – in almost half of countries, including the UK, Russia and Japan, it has fallen to below two. Such declines have been met with alarm, with some warning that the “baby bust” puts countries at risk of a depopulation disaster.

But Sarah Harper, former director of the Royal Institution and an expert on population change, working at the University of Oxford, said that far from igniting alarm and panic falling total fertility rates were to be embraced, and countries should not worry if their population is not growing. Harper pointed out that artificial intelligence, migration, and a healthier old age, meant countries no longer needed booming populations to hold their own. “This idea that you need lots and lots of people to defend your country and to grow your country economically, that is really old thinking,” she said.

Having fewer children is also undoubtedly positive from an environmental point of view; recent research has found that having one fewer child reduces a parent’s carbon footprint by 58 tonnes of CO2 a year. Capping our consumption, said Harper, was crucial, not least because countries in Africa and Asia, where the fastest population rises were occurring, would need a bigger share of resources if global inequality were to be curbed. “What we should be saying is no, [a declining total fertility rate] is actually really good because we were terrified 25 years ago that maximum world population was going to be 24bn,” said Harper, who has three children herself.

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Feb 082018
 
 February 8, 2018  Posted by at 11:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin A Day of No Gods 1894

 

The State of the American Debt Slaves (WS)
Reality Returns to Wall Street (Rickards)
Plunge Protection Team To The Rescue- Again (PCR)
Weidmann: ECB Should Wind Down QE After September (WSJ)
Tesla Announces Biggest Quarterly Loss Ever (G.)
Turkey Accused Of Recruiting ISIS Fighters To Attack Kurds In Syria (Ind.)
Huge Levels Of Antibiotic Use In Us Farming Revealed (G.)
Concerns Grow Over Conditions At Greek Refugee Camps (K.)

 

 

Behind the curtain.

The State of the American Debt Slaves (WS)

Total consumer credit rose 5.4% in the fourth quarter, year over year, to a record $3.84 trillion not seasonally adjusted, according to the Federal Reserve. This includes credit-card debt, auto loans, and student loans, but not mortgage-related debt. December had been somewhat of a disappointment for those that want consumers to drown in debt, but the prior months, starting in Q4 2016, had seen blistering surges of consumer debt. Think what you will of the election – consumers celebrated it or bemoaned it the American way: by piling on debt. The chart below shows the progression of consumer debt since 2006 (not seasonally adjusted). Note the slight dip after the Financial Crisis, as consumers deleveraged – with much of the deleveraging being accomplished by defaulting on those debts. But it didn’t last long. And consumer debt has surged since. It’s now 45% higher than it had been in Q4 2008. Food for thought: Over the period, the consumer price index increased 17.5%:

Credit card debt and other revolving credit in Q4 rose 6% year-over-year to $1.027 trillion, a blistering pace, but it was down from the 9.2% surge in Q3, the nearly 10% surge in Q2, and the dizzying 12% surge in Q1. So the growth of credit card debt in Q4 was somewhat of a disappointment for those wanting to see consumers drown in expensive debt. The chart below shows the leap of the past four quarters over prior years. This pushed credit card debt in Q3 and Q4 finally over the prior record set in Q4 2008 ($1.004 trillion), before it came tumbling down via said “deleveraging.” These are not seasonally adjusted numbers, and you can see the seasonal surges in credit card debt every Q4 during shopping season (as marked), and the drop afterwards in Q1. But then came 2017. In Q1 2017, credit card debt skyrocketed to an even higher level than Q4, when it should have normally plunged – a phenomenon I have not seen before.

This shows what kind of credit-card party 2017 and Q4 2016 was. Over the four quarter period, Americans added $58 billion to their credit card debt. Over the five-quarter period, they added $109 billion, or 12%! Celebration or retail therapy. Auto loans rose 3.8% in Q4 year-over-year to $1.114 trillion. It was one of the puniest increases since the auto crisis had ended in 2011. Since then, the year-over-year increases were mostly in the 6% to 9% range. These are loans and leases for new and used vehicles. So the weakness in new-vehicle sales volume in 2017 was covered up by price increases in both new and used vehicles in the second half and strong used-vehicle sales:

[..] Student loans surged 5.6% in Q4 year-over-year. This seems like a shocking increase, but the year-over-year increases in Q3 and Q4 were the only such increases below 6% in this data series. Between 2007 – as far back as year-over-year comparisons are possible in this data series – and Q3 2012, the year-over-year increases ranged from 11% to 15%:

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It hasn’t yet though. Wall Street can’t handle reality.

Reality Returns to Wall Street (Rickards)

In a recent article, Yale scholar Stephen Roach points out that between 2008 and 2017 the combined balance sheets of the central banks of the U.S., Japan and the eurozone expanded by $8.3 trillion, while nominal GDP in those same economies expanded $2.1 trillion. What happens when you print $8.3 trillion in money and only get $2.1 trillion of growth? What happened to the extra $6.2 trillion of printed money? The answer is that it went into assets. Stocks, bonds, emerging-market debt and real estate have all been pumped up by central bank money printing. What makes 2018 different from the prior 10 years? The answer is that this is the year the central banks stop printing and take away the punch bowl. The Fed is already destroying money (they do this by not rolling over maturing bonds).

Last week, the Fed reduced its balance sheet by $22 billion. While that doesn’t seem like much when you’re talking about a $4 trillion balance sheet, it was the Fed’s largest cut to date. Funny how the market hit the skids just after this happened. But you haven’t heard the mainstream media mention that. By the end of 2018, the annual pace of money destruction will be $600 billion — if the Fed under new chairman Jerome Powell stays on course. The ECB and Bank of Japan are not yet at the point of reducing money supply, but they have stopped expanding it and plan to reduce money supply later this year. In economics everything happens at the margin. When something is expanding and then stops expanding, the marginal impact is the same as shrinking. Apart from money supply, all of the major central banks are planning rate hikes, and some, such as those in the U.S. and U.K., are actually implementing them.

Reducing money supply and raising interest rates might be the right policy if price inflation were out of control. But despite a recent uptick in some inflation measures, prices have mostly been falling. The “inflation” hasn’t been in consumer prices; it’s in asset prices. The impact of money supply reduction and higher rates will be falling asset prices in stocks, bonds and real estate — the asset bubble in reverse. [..] This will not be a soft landing. The central banks — especially the U.S. Fed, first under Ben Bernanke and later under Janet Yellen — repeated Alan Greenspan’s blunder from 2005–06. Greenspan left rates too low for too long and got a monstrous bubble in residential real estate that led the financial world to the brink of total collapse in 2008. Bernanke and Yellen also left rates too low for too long. They should have started rate and balance sheet normalization in 2010 at the early stages of the current expansion when the economy could have borne it. They didn’t.

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Obviously.

Plunge Protection Team To The Rescue- Again (PCR)

What happened? Did the market sneeze, cough, or was something misread and today perceived in a different light? In my opinion this is what happened: The Plunge Protection Team, as they have done on previous equity market drops, or the Federal Reserve operating for the Working Group on Financial Markets, sent a purchase order for S&P futures to the trading floor. The hedge funds, seeing the incoming bid, front-ran the bid by stepping in and buying S&P futures. This pushed the market back up, ended the correction, and prevented financial panic.

The Plunge Protection Team was created in 1987, approaching the end of the Reagan administration, in order to prevent a market correction from costing George H. W. Bush the presidential election as Reagan’s successor. The Republican Establishment was desperate to reestablish its control over the party. The Republican Establishment, convinced by Wall Street that the Reagan tax cut would result in high inflation, found themselves instead confronted with a long economic expansion. In those days that meant that the expansion could be nearing its end, and a stock market correction could deny the presidency to George H.W. Bush. To prevent any such correction, the US Treasury and Federal Reserve created a “working group” to intervene in the stock market in order to support values. Whenever the market starts to drop, the team purchases S&P futures which halts the market decline.

We have witnessed this on several occasions. And, most likely, again this week. Pundits who speak about “market forces” are speaking about something that doesn’t exist. “Market forces” are the interventions that support existing values with money infusions. How long can the fraudulent valuation of equities continue? My sometimes coauthor Dave Kranzler and I think it can continue until the dollar as reserve currency comes under attack. Neither of us believed that the fraud could be perpetrated this long. The two other world powers, Russia and China, are moving away from use of the US dollar, but the consequence for the dollar could still be in the future. In the meantime, liquidity supplied by central banks and the interventions of the Plunge Protection Team could send equity prices higher.

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Time to replace Draghi.

Weidmann: ECB Should Wind Down QE After September (WSJ)

The European Central Bank should wind down its giant bond-buying program after September despite a stronger euro currency and volatility on global financial markets, German central bank President Jens Weidmann said Thursday. Speaking at a conference in Frankfurt, Mr. Weidmann, who sits on the ECB’s 25-member rate-setting committee, said “substantial net [asset] purchases beyond the announced amount do not seem to be required” if economic growth “progresses as currently expected.” ECB officials are weighing how quickly to phase out their stimulus policies as the region’s economy heats up. The ECB has pledged to buy €30 billion a month of eurozone bonds at least through September under its €2.5 trillion quantitative easing program, and ECB President Mario Draghi has signaled that the program won’t end abruptly.

Mr. Weidmann didn’t rule out a short extension of QE. But he argued that the eurozone’s economic recovery might be more advanced than that in the U.S. when the Fed wound down its own QE program in 2014. “The favorable economic outlook lends credence to the expectation that wage growth and therefore domestic price pressures will gradually increase,” Mr. Weidmann said. This week’s pay deal in Germany’s engineering sector “is consistent with this picture,” suggesting that inflation will pick up in Germany as unemployment falls, he said. Crucially, he urged policy makers not to be distracted by a rising euro or the situation in financial markets, which have gyrated wildly in recent days amid concerns about the reduction of monetary stimulus from central banks. “U.S. equity prices rose over a prolonged period without any notable corrections, which was unusual given that valuations have been high overall, Mr. Weidmann said.

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There’s more to this than meets the eye. Expected loss was more than three times that. A mixed bag.

Tesla Announces Biggest Quarterly Loss Ever (G.)

The tech billionaire Elon Musk sent one of his Tesla electric cars into space yesterday, a day before the company that built it announced its biggest ever quarterly loss. Musk’s Tesla electric car and energy storage company lost $675.4m in the three months ending 31 December, the company announced on Thursday, compared with a loss of $121m for the same period last year. The company has been spending heavily as it rolls out the next generation of electric cars, the Model 3 sedan, a semi truck and other products. The company has struggled to keep up with is production targets for the Model 3 but said it would probably build about 2,500 Model 3s per week by the end of the first quarter and that it plans to reach its goal of 5,000 vehicles per week by the end of the second quarter. On Wednesday Musk’s private aerospace company, SpaceX, blasted a cherry red Tesla Roadster sports car into space in a successful test of its Falcon Heavy rocket.

The car and its dummy driver are now heading towards the asteroid belt. Tesla delivered 101,312 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs last year, up 33% over 2016 and ahead of its targets, according to preliminary figures released last month. But it fell woefully short on the Model 3, which went into production in July. Tesla made just 2,425 Model 3s in the fourth quarter, and has pushed back production targets multiple times. At one point, Tesla had 500,000 people on a waiting list for the Model 3, but it’s not clear if all of them are continuing to wait. On a call with analysts Musk said production was getting back on track. “If we can send a Roadster to the asteroid belt we can probably solve Model 3 production,” he said. Musk is set to collect a $55.8bn (£40bn) bonus – probably be the largest ever – if he can build Tesla into a $650bn company over the next decade. In the meantime the 46-year-old has agreed to work unpaid for the next 10 years.

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WIll it really require Russia to halt this disaster? The US can’t do it?

Turkey Accused Of Recruiting ISIS Fighters To Attack Kurds In Syria (Ind.)

Turkey is recruiting and retraining Isis fighters to lead its invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria, according to an ex-Isis source. “Most of those who are fighting in Afrin against the YPG [People’s Protection Units] are Isis, though Turkey has trained them to change their assault tactics,” said Faraj, a former Isis fighter from north-east Syria who remains in close touch with the jihadi movement. In a phone interview with The Independent, he added: “Turkey at the beginning of its operation tried to delude people by saying that it is fighting Isis, but actually they are training Isis members and sending them to Afrin.” An estimated 6,000 Turkish troops and 10,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) militia crossed into Syria on 20 January, pledging to drive the YPG out of Afrin.

The attack was led by the FSA, which is a largely defunct umbrella grouping of non-Jihadi Syrian rebels once backed by the West. Now, most of its fighters taking part in Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” were, until recently, members of Isis. Some of the FSA troops advancing into Afrin are surprisingly open about their allegiance to al-Qaeda and its offshoots. A video posted online shows three uniformed jihadis singing a song in praise of their past battles and “how we were steadfast in Grozny (Chechnya) and Dagestan (north Caucasus). And we took Tora Bora (the former headquarters of Osama bin Laden). And now Afrin is calling to us”.

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SImply refuse all US food imports. It’s not that hard.

Huge Levels Of Antibiotic Use In Us Farming Revealed (G.)

Livestock raised for food in the US are dosed with five times as much antibiotic medicine as farm animals in the UK, new data has shown, raising questions about rules on meat imports under post-Brexit trade deals. The difference in rates of dosage rises to at least nine times as much in the case of cattle raised for beef, and may be as high as 16 times the rate of dosage per cow in the UK. There is currently a ban on imports of American beef throughout Europe, owing mainly to the free use of growth hormones in the US. Higher use of antibiotics, particularly those that are critical for human health – the medicines “of last resort”, which the WHO wants banned from use in animals – is associated with rising resistance to the drugs and the rapid evolution of “superbugs” that can kill or cause serious illness.

The contrast between rates of dosage in the US and the UK throws a new light on negotiations on Brexit, under which politicians are seeking to negotiate trade deals for the UK independently of the EU. Agriculture and food are key areas, particularly in trading with the US, which as part of any deal may insist on opening up the UK markets to imports that would be banned under EU rules. When negotiating outside the EU for a new trade deal, the UK will come under severe pressure to allow such imports. Over the summer, a row broke out over the potential for imports of US chlorinated chicken – bleaching chicken, according to experts in the UK, is a dangerous practice because it can serve to disguise poor hygiene practices in the food chain.

But Ted McKinney, US under-secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, told an audience of British farmers last month he was “sick and tired” of hearing British concerns about chlorinated chicken and US food standards, providing further indication that the US government is likely to strike a hard deal on agricultural products as part of any trade agreement. Antibiotic use in the US is three times higher in chickens than it is in the UK, double that for pigs, and five times higher for turkeys, according to research by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics [..]

Suzi Shingler, at the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “US cattle farmers are massively overusing antibiotics. This finding shows the huge advantages of British beef, which is often from grass-reared animals, whereas US cattle are usually finished in intensive feedlots. Trade negotiators who may be tempted to lift the ban on US beef should not only be considering the impact of growth hormones, but also of antibiotic resistance due to rampant antibiotic use.”

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Gorundhog Day in all its glory.

Concerns Grow Over Conditions At Greek Refugee Camps (K.)

Concerns are rising about conditions at reception centers for migrants on the islands of the eastern Aegean amid delays in much-needed infrastructure upgrades and increasingly cramped conditions, with reports of a spike in cases of mental health problems. Last summer, authorities completed a feasibility study for an upgrade of the drainage and sewerage systems at Moria, the main reception center on Lesvos. But the plan appears to have become mired in bureaucracy. Originally designed to house 1,000 migrants, the camp at Moria is currently hosting nearly seven times that number. The overcrowded and dirty conditions, and the uncertainty, are taking their toll on the mental health of many camp residents, Gavriil Sakellaridis, the head of Amnesty International’s Greek chapter, said on Wednesday.

Following a visit to camps on Lesvos and Chios, Sakellaridis expressed concern at the large number of migrants suffering from depression and called for the transfer of asylum seekers to the mainland. “The living conditions of asylum seekers at Moria and Vial [on Chios] are an open wound for Greece and Europe and for human rights,” Sakellaridis said. “The lives of those people have been put on hold for a period of up to two years in some cases and as a result the cases of despair and mental distress are growing,” he said.

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