Jul 032018
 


Edward Hopper Summer interior 1909

 

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)
Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)
A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)
The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)
UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)
Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)
Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)
Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)
Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)
Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)
The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)
Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)
‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

 

 

And then QE ends.

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)

Stocks right now are hanging by a thread, boosted by a bonanza of corporate buying unrivaled in market history and held back by a burst in investor selling that also has set a new record. Both sides are motivated by fear, as corporations find little else to do with their $2.1 trillion in cash than buy back their own shares or make deals, while individual investors head to the sidelines amid fears that a global trade war could thwart the substantial momentum the U.S. economy has seen this year. “Corporate cash is going to find a home, and it’s either going to be in buybacks, dividends or M&A activity. What it’s not going to be is in capex,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR.

“Individuals are looking at the turbulence we’ve seen this year that we had not seen last year. That creates its own sort of exit sign for investors who don’t want to deal with that.” The numbers showing where each side put their cash in the second quarter are striking. Companies announced $433.6 billion in share repurchases during the period, nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion in the first quarter, according to market research firm TrimTabs. Dow components Nike and Walgreens Boots Alliance led the most recent surge in buybacks, with $15 billion and $10 billion, respectively, last week. In all, 31 companies announced buybacks in excess of $1 billion during June.

At the same time, investors dumped $23.7 billion in stock market-focused funds in June, also a new record. For the full quarter, the brutal June brought global net equity outflows to $20.2 billion, the worst performance since the third quarter of 2016, just before the presidential election. The selling is particularly acute in mutual funds, which saw $52.9 billion in outflows during the quarter and are typically more the purview of the retail side.

Read more …

“People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick.”

Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)

The FT has reported this morning that: “Debt at UK listed companies has soared to hit a record high of £390bn as companies have scrambled to maintain dividend payouts in response to shareholder demand despite weak profitability.” They added: “UK plc’s net debt has surpassed pre-crisis levels to reach £390.7bn in the 2017-18 financial year, according to analysis from Link Asset Services, which assessed balance sheet data from 440 UK listed companies.” So what, you might ask? Does it matter that companies are making sense of low-interest rates to raise money when I am saying that government could and should be doing the same thing?

Actually, yes it does. And that’s because of what the cash is being used for. Borrowing for investment makes sense. Borrowing to fund revenue investment (that is training, for example, which cannot go on the balance sheet but still adds value to the business) makes sense. But borrowing to pay a dividend when current profits and cash flow would not support it? No, that makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, you are CEO on a large share price linked bonus package and your aim is to manipulate the market price of the company. It is that manipulation that is going on here, I suggest. These loans are being used to artificially inflate share prices.

The problem is systemic. In the US the problem is share buybacks, which I read recently have exceeded $5 trillion in the last decade, meaning that US companies are now by far the biggest buyers of their own shares. That is, once again, market manipulation. And this manipulation does matter. People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick. And companies claim that their pension funds are better funded as a result of these share prices, and so they are meeting their obligations to their employees when that too is a con-trick. They may be insolvent when the truth is known, so serious is the fraud.

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Japan plays a strange role in the global economy. It won’t be able to keep that up much longer. The Bank of Japan has many options; none are good.

A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)

Japan is at the very centre of the global financial system. It has run current account surpluses for decades, building the world’s largest net foreign investment surplus, or its accumulated national savings. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US, have borrowed from nations like Japan to live beyond their own means, building net foreign investment deficits. We now have unprecedented levels of cross-national financing.

Much of Japan’s private sector saving is placed in Yen with financial institutions who then invest overseas. These institutions currency hedged most of their foreign assets to reduce risk weighted asset charges and currency write down risks. The cost of hedging USD assets has however risen due to a flattening USD yield curve and dislocations in FX forwards. As shown below, their effective yield on a 10 year US Treasury (UST) hedged with a 3 month USDJPY FX forward has fallen to 0.17%. As this is below the roughly 1% yield many financial institutions require to generate profits they have been selling USTs, even as unhedged 10 year UST yields rise. The effective yield will fall dramatically for here if 3 month USD Libor rises in line with the Fed’s “Dot Plot” forecast for short term rates, assuming other variables like 10 year UST yields remain constant.

As Japanese financial institutions sell US Treasuries, which are considered the safest foreign asset, they are shifting more into higher yielding and higher risk assets; foreign bonds excluding US treasuries as well as foreign equity and investment funds. This is a similar pattern to what we saw prior to the last global financial crisis. In essence, Japan’s financial institutions are forced to take on more risk in search of yield to cover rising hedge costs as the USD yield curve flattens late in the cycle. Critically as the world’s largest net creditor they facilitate significant added liquidity for higher risk overseas borrowers late into the cycle.

I follow these flows closely. One area I think is rather interesting is US Collateralised Loan Obligations (CLOs) which Bloomberg reports “ballooned to a record last quarter thanks in large part to unusually high demand from Japanese investors”. CLOs are essentially a basket of leveraged loans provided to generally lower rated companies with very little covenant protection. Alarmingly, some US borrowers have used this debt to purchase back so much of their own stock that their balance sheets now have negative net equity. A recent Fed discussion paper shows in the following chart that CLOs were the largest mechanism for the transfer of corporate credit risk out of undercapitalised banks in the US and into the shadow banking sector. Japanese financial institutions have been the underwriter of much of that risk in their search for yield.

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“This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.”

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and even a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euros of asset purchases and a zero interest rate policy, it is long overdue. The massive quantitative easing (QE) program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks far outweigh the questionable benefits. The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40 percent of the eurozone GDP. The governments of the eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli. They often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of government debt.

Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels. In other words, the problems are still there, they were just hidden for a while, swept under the rug of an ever-expanding global economy. The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to German media outlet Handelsblatt. This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability will rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive amounts of debt coming due in the 2018–2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. The recent troubles of Italian banks are just one precursor of things to come. Taxes rose for families and small and medium-sized enterprises, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor, and a massive 1 trillion euro in nonperforming loans raises doubts about the health of the European financial system.

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Good overview. Crises wherever you look.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)

When considering where the global credit cycle is at, it’s often easy to form a view based on a handful of recent articles, statistics and anecdotes. The most memorable of these tend to be either very positive or negative otherwise they wouldn’t be published or would be quickly forgotten. A better way to assess where the global credit cycle is at is to look for pockets of dodgy debt. If these pockets are few, credit is early in the cycle with good returns likely to lie ahead. If these pockets are numerous, that’s a clear indication that credit is late cycle.

In reviewing global debt, twelve sectors standout for their lax credit standards and increasing risk levels. There’s excessive risk taking in developed and emerging debt, as well as in government, corporate, consumer and financial sector debt. This points to global credit being late cycle. Central banks have failed to learn the lessons from the last crisis. By seeking to avoid or lessen the necessary cleansing of malinvestment and excessive debt, this cycle’s economic recovery has been unusually slow. Ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing have increased the risk of another financial crisis, the opposite of the financial stability target many central bankers have.

For global debt investors, the current conditions offer limited potential for gains beyond carry. With credit spreads in many sectors at close to their lowest in the last decade, there is greater potential for spreads to widen dramatically than there is for spreads to tighten substantially. Keeping credit duration low, staying senior in the capital structure and shifting up the rating spectrum will cost some carry. However, the cost of de-risking now is as low as it has been for a long time. If the risks in the dirty dozen sectors materialise in the medium term, the losses avoided by de-risking will be a multiple of the carry foregone.

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I’d say it’s about time for the British to wake up to the damage May et al are inflicting on the nation.

UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)

A draft of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has already been dismissed as unrealistic by senior EU officials, who say the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles. The prime minister is gathering her squabbling ministers at Chequers on Friday for a one-day discussion to thrash out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But EU sources who have seen drafts of the long-awaited British white paper said the proposals would never be accepted. “We read the white paper and we read ‘cake’,” an EU official told the Guardian, a reference to Boris Johnson’s one-liner of being “pro having [cake] and pro-eating it”. Since the British EU referendum, “cake” has entered the Brussels lexicon to describe anything seen as an unrealistic or far-fetched demand.

May’s white paper is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border. While the UK is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, said it would be impossible for the EU to split the “four freedoms” underpinning the bloc’s internal market, which are written into the 1957 treaty that founded the European project: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. “The EU is in difficulties at the moment; the one and only success which glues all these countries together is a little bit the money and the internal market,” Piris said. “If you fudge the internal market by allowing a third state to choose what they want … it is the beginning of the end.”

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Not easy to find the right position on the topic. But Europe seems to show that uncontrolled immigration leads to the rise of right wing movements. Merkal gave birth to Salvini.

Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)

As liberals across America continue to attempt to one-up one another with the volume of virtue they can signal, specifically on the question of ‘open borders’ – especially since ‘jenny from the bronx’ victory over the weekend, none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb unleashed a trite 3-tweet summary of how farcical this argument is…

What intellectuals don’t get about MIGRATION is the ethical notion of SYMMETRY:

1) OPEN BORDERS work if and only if the number of pple who want to go from EU/US to Africa/LatinAmer equals Africans/Latin Amer who want to move to EU/US

2) Controlled immigration is based on the symmetry that someone brings in at least as much as he/she gets out. And the ethics of the immigrant is to defend the system as payback, not mess it up. Uncontrolled immigration has all the attributes of invasions.

3) As a Christian Lebanese, saw the nightmare of uncontrolled immigration of Palestinians which caused the the civil war & as a part-time resident of N. Lebanon, I am seeing the effect of Syrian migration on the place.

So I despise these virtue-signaling open-borders imbeciles.

Silver Rule in #SkinInTheGame

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Mutti’s holding centers.

Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government. In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.

In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this – likely including frontline state Italy – be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna. CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.

But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”. Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.

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And Merkel made Kurz possible, too.

Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)

Austria’s government warned Tuesday it could “take measures to protect” its borders after Germany planned restrictions on the entry of migrants as part of a deal to avert a political crisis in Berlin. If the agreement reached Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the Austrian government said in a statement. It added it would be “ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular,” those with Italy and Slovenia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal Monday on migration with her rebellious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to defuse a bitter row that had threatened her government.

Among the proposals is a plan to send back to Austria asylum seekers arriving in Germany who cannot be returned to their countries of entry into the European Union. Austria said it would be prepared to take similar measures to block asylum seekers at its southern borders, with the risk of a domino effect in Europe. “We are now waiting for a rapid clarification of the German position at a federal level,” said the statement, signed by Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his allies of the far-right Freedom party, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. “German considerations prove once again the importance of a common European protection of the external borders,” the statement said.

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Wonder what the strategy meetings were like.

Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.” [..] Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.

David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly … that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.” Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions. Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court. “It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”

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He did pull it off. But it may be too little too late. Biggest no-no: Model 3 was supposed to be $35,000. ended up at $78,000.

Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)

Tesla’s burning the midnight oil to hit a long-elusive target of making 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week failed to convince Wall Street that the electric carmaker could sustain that production pace, sending shares down 2.3% on Monday. Tesla met the target by running around the clock and pulling workers from other projects, workers said. The company also took the unprecedented step of setting up a new production line inside a tent on the campus of its Fremont factory, details of which Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted last month. Tesla’s heavily-shorted shares rose as much as 6.4% to $364.78 in early trading, but sank after several analysts questioned whether Tesla would be able to sustain the Model 3 production momentum, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of the company.

“In the interim, we do not see this production rate as operationally or financially sustainable,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy. “However, over time, we expect the manufacturing rate to become sustainable and even rise.” Levy cut CFRA’s rating on Tesla stock to “sell” from “hold.” Tesla, which Chief Executive Elon Musk hailed on Sunday as having become a “real car company,” said it now expects to boost production to 6,000 Model 3s per week by late August, signaling confidence about resolving technical and assembly issues that have plagued the company for months. Tesla also reaffirmed a positive cash flow and profit forecast for the year. Tesla has been burning through cash to produce the Model 3. Problems with an over-reliance on automation, battery issues and other bottlenecks have potentially compromised Tesla’s position in the electric car market as a host of competitors prepare to launch rival vehicles.

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NATO is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.”.

The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)

Whenever I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, I turn to The New York Times’ editorial page. It’s always a gas to see how far the empire’s leading propaganda outfit is prepared to go in its mission to pull the wool over we the people’s gullible little eyes. The good editors have come through for me again with their latest entry, “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit.” (Original title: “Trump and Putin: Best Frenemies for Life”). No doubt the original headline was deemed rather too impish for such a serious newspaper—it might, for instance, have alerted readers to the fact that the editorial’s content is not to be taken very seriously—and so was understandably jettisoned.

“One would think,” the editors write, “that the president of the United States would let Mr. Putin know that he faces a united front of Mr. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders, with whom he would have met days before the [Putin] summit in Helsinki.” Alas, during said meeting Trump reportedly remarked that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”—the “free trade” agreement that has succeeded in decimating most of the manufacturing jobs spared by the automation wrecking ball. In other words, Trump does not necessarily think it’s a good idea to encircle Russia with a hostile military alliance whose existence, according to geopolitical expert Richard Sakwa, is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” (If you haven’t read Professor Sakwa’s comprehensive study of the Ukrainian crisis, Frontline Ukraine, put it at the top of your summer reading list.)

One notes the Turgidsonian delight with which the Times reminds us that, should push come to shove, we’ve got those Russki bastards outgunned. Of course, gullibles like you and I are to pay no mind to the fact that such a confrontation (a military one, for the Times brought up NATO) would almost certainly involve a nuclear exchange, rendering the disparity in manpower that so excites the Times totally meaningless. No, what’s important is that NATO has twenty-nine member states and counting, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty-seven years ago: ergo, unless he wants the old mailed fist, Putin had better ask “how high?” when we tell him to jump. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more delusional assessment of where things stand.

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“We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it.”

Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)

Like “swing vote” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before him, “swing vote” justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the worst Supreme Court jurists of the modern era. With swing-vote status comes great responsibility, and in the most consequential — and wrongly decided — cases of this generation, O’Connor and Kennedy were the Court’s key enablers. They • Cast the deciding vote that made each decision possible • Kept alive the illusion of the Court’s non-partisan legitimacy. Each of these points is critical in evaluating the modern Supreme Court. For two generations, it has made decisions that changed the constitution for the worse. (Small “c” on constitution to indicate the original written document, plus its amendments, plus the sum of all unwritten agreements and court decisions that determine how those documents are to be interpreted).

These horrible decisions are easy to list. They expanded the earlier decision on corporate personhood by enshrining money as political speech in a group of decisions that led to the infamous Citizens United case (whose majority opinion, by the way, was written by the so-called “moderate” Anthony Kennedy); repeatedly undermined the rights of citizens and workers relative to the corporations that rule and employ them; set back voting rights equality for at least a generation; and many more. After this next appointment, many fear Roe v. Wade may be reversed. Yet the Court has managed to keep (one is tempted to say curate) its reputation as a “divided body” and not a “captured body” thanks to its so-called swing vote justices and the press’s consistent and complicit portrayal of the Court as merely “divided.”

The second point above, about the illusion of the Court’s legitimacy, is just as important as the first. If the Court were ever widely seen as acting outside the bounds of its mandate, or worse, seen as a partisan, captured organ of a powerful and dangerous political minority (which it certainly is), all of its decisions would be rejected by the people at large, and more importantly, the nation would plunged into a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it. We should have been done with it long ago. Both O’Connor and Kennedy are responsible for that delay.


Image credit: Mike Thompson / Detroit Free Press

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A tale of two refugees
Putin: Snowden is free to do whatever he wants
Lenin: I ordered Assange to be gagged and isolated and am coordinating “next steps” with US

‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made. “I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked. “Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said. Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.

The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week. “The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.

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Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

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It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

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“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

Read more …

Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

Read more …

The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

Read more …

David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

Read more …

Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

Read more …

Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

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“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

Read more …

Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

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Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

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As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

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Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

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The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

Read more …

Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018  Posted by at 7:27 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Winslow Homer Mending the nets 1881

 

Yes, it’s 10 years ago today, on January 22 2008, that Nicole Foss and I published our first article on the Automatic Earth (the first few years on Blogger). And, well, obviously, a lot has happened in those 10 years.

For ourselves, we went from living in Ottawa, Canada to doing a lot of touring starting in 2009, to support Nicole’s DVDs and video downloads. We visited Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, US of course, with prolonged stays in France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, times that I miss a lot here and there, to now with Nicole settled in New Zealand and my time divided between Athens, Greece and the Netherlands.

We met so many people both online and in the flesh in all these countries it’s impossible to remember everyone of them, and every town we found ourselves in. Overall, it was a humbling experience to have so many people share their views and secrets, especially since we never stayed at hotels (or very rarely), we were always invited to stay with our readers. Thank you so much for that.

Since we started publishing 8 months before the fall of Bear Stearns, and we very much predicted the crisis that followed (we had been doing that before as well, since 2005 at the Oil Drum), we were the first warning sign for many people that things were going off the rails.

There are still to this day people expressing their gratitude for that. Others, though, not so much. And that has to do with the fact that governments, media and central banks came together to create the illusion of an economic recovery, something many if not most people still believe in. Just read the headlines and the numbers, on housing markets, stocks, GDP, jobs. Unfortunately, it was an illusion then and it still is now.

 

To get back to 10 years ago: Nicole and I decided to leave the Oil Drum because they didn’t want us to write about finance. Given what happened with Lehman while we were leaving, and as said with Bear Stearns later, it would appear that finance was indeed the hot issue back then, more than peak oil or associated themes.

The main reason we wanted to focus on finance was that we realized it was the most imminent of all the crises mankind faced and still faces. Energy and environmental issues are real and threaten our way of life, but before they hit us, the mother of all financial crises will.

What has changed, and increased, a lot over the past decade is the media. They have moved, more than before, into a kind of la la land where narratives are invented and presented with the express intention of keeping people feeling good about themselves in the face of all the distortion and disasters they face.

The big move in energy is not so much peak oil, but a meme of moving away from oil. ‘Renewable energy’ is all the fad, and it works, because it holds the promise that we can maintain our levels of energy consumption, and our lifestyles in general, pretty much up to some undefined moment in the future. For all you know, a seamless transition.

It’s a nonsense narrative, which originates not just in wishful thinking, but much more than that in widespread ignorance about what energy actually is and does, and what qualities oil and gas bring to the table that no other energy source can.

We must have written a hundred articles about such themes as energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and that the EROEI on renewables doesn’t allow for our present complex societies to continue as they are. Renewables are not useless by any means, but switching to them from oil will mean a huge simplification from our present lives. More than anything, probably, we have to ask if that would be such a bad thing.

But that is a question we avoid at all costs, because it is a threatening one. It implies we may have to do with less, and that’s not what we’re hardwired to do. Like any other species, we always want more. This is so ingrained in our world that our economies depend squarely on a perpetual need to strive for more tomorrow than we have today. Not as individuals, perhaps, but certainly as a group.

More trinkets, more gadgets, more energy. And for a -relatively- long time, more people. Relatively, because population growth is a recent phenomenon. It started at the very moment we began to have sources of ‘free’ or ‘surplus’ energy. Give any species a source of ‘surplus’ energy, and it will use it up as fast as it can, and proliferate to achieve that, until the surplus is gone. We are no different.

 

Of course, as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics holds, the use of energy produces waste. More energy use produces more waste. One source may be slightly less polluting than another, but it’s thermodynamics that dictates the limits here. No energy source is fully renewable, and clean energy is just an advertizing term. And with an energy return too low to run complex societies on, those are hard limits. The only way out is to use less energy, but our economic models are geared towards the opposite, as are our brains.

Meanwhile, we’re saddling our children with the consequences of our prolific use of energy. Species extinction runs a hundred or a thousand times faster than is ‘natural’, ever more of our arable land is too polluted or wasted to produce food, and the grand mass of plastics in our oceans exceeds that of the living creatures that fed us for a very long time, taking the numbers of these creatures down so fast our grandchildren will have to eat jellyfish.

Ironically (and there’s lots of irony in the story of our tragic species), we produce more food per capita today than ever before, but its distribution is so warped that one group of us throw away more than we consume, while another goes hungry. And to top it off, much of what we eat lacks nutrition, and is often even downright toxic for us; it makes us fat and it makes us sick.

Then again, our entire environment is also fast becoming toxic. We’re a bloated, obese, asthmatic, allergic and cancer-riddled species, and yet we call ourselves a success. It’s all about the narrative.

 

But as Nicole and I said 10 years ago, and still do, it’s finance that will be the first crisis to hit. It will hit so hard it’ll make any other crises, environment and energy, feel like an afterthought. Pension plans across the board will prove to be a Ponzi, housing will collapse, shares will crumble, scores of people will lose all their savings and their jobs, their homes.

This is because, in an ostensible effort to ‘save’ our societies and economies, our -central- bankers and politicians decided to put everything on red, and loaded another $20 trillion into the upper shelf of the financial world, the very shelf that was most rotten to begin with in more than one sense of the word. And they’re not the ones paying the heftiest price for this stupidest bet of all times, you are.

 

All in all, the only possible conclusion we can draw is that in the past 10 years, things have indeed changed. Thing is, they have changed for the worse. Much worse. And the recovery narrative can’t and won’t hold. Question is who realizes this, and what they are planning to do with the knowledge.

Friend of the Automatic Earth Nomi Prins said recently that in her view, the Fed is scared to death of causing a global financial crash. I think they may have recognized the inevitability of that crash quite a while ago, and they’re working to minimize the impact on themselves and their buddies and masters.

A global central bank tightening looks an easy sale now that people have swallowed the recovery myth whole. The crash that will lead to might take long enough to develop for them to deny any responsibility.

And then we’re all on our own. The political ramifications will be gigantic. Because the incompetence and corruptness of incumbent politicians will be exposed, and governments overthrown.

Nothing we couldn’t have, and didn’t, see coming in January 2008. Best advice today, as it was back then: get out of debt.

And thank you so much for 10 years of reactions, responses, comments, your hospitality, and all other forms of support -including financial of course.

 

 

Jan 062018
 
 January 6, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Acrobat 1930

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 

 

 

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)
QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)
Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)
US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)
Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)
Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)
US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)
Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)
Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)
Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)
Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)
Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

 

 

“”In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly..”

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)

Wall Street’s eye-popping gains should be of great concern to global investors, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average broke above 25,000 on Thursday for the first time, following the release of stronger-than-expected jobs data. In terms of trading days, it was the fastest 1,000-point gain to a round number in the Dow’s history. The 30-stock index broke above 24,000 on Nov. 30, 23 trading days earlier. It took the Dow 24 trading days to go from 20,000 to 21,000 last year. “We’re really terrified,” Paul Gambles, managing partner at MBMG Group, told CNBC. When asked why he believed traders should avoid investing in stocks given the “Goldilocks” global growth conditions, Gambles said: “In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly, and we think that could well happen again [to stocks].”

Gambles said that collective global growth at the level seen through 2017 was the GDP equivalent to a “blow-off top.” He added that similar levels of concerted worldwide growth were seen during previous financial crises and therefore the current risk to investors is “exponential.” The Dow gained 152 points on Thursday to 25,075, while the broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq also hit milestones. Earlier Thursday, ADP and Moody’s Analytics reported that the U.S. private sector added 250,000 jobs in December, well above the expected 190,000. In 2017, prices were supported by a rebound in global economic growth and renewed investor optimism that looming corporate tax cuts would result in bigger dividends and share buybacks. A low interest rate environment was also believed to make stocks a relatively attractive investment.

Read more …

All central banks making the same moves, except perhaps for China. Rattling nerves.

QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)

An amazing – or on second thought, given how central banks operate, not so amazing – thing is happening. On one hand… Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda keeps saying that the BOJ would “patiently” maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy, so too in his first speech of 2018 in Tokyo, on January 3, when he said the BOJ must continue “patiently” with this monetary policy, though the economy is expanding steadily. The deflationary mindset is not disappearing easily, he said. On December 20, following the decision by the BOJ to keep its short-term interest-rate target at negative -0.1% and the 10-year bond yield target just above 0%, he’d brushed off criticism that this prolonged easing could destabilize Japan’s banking system. “Our most important goal is to achieve our 2% inflation target at the earliest date possible,” he said.

On the other hand… In reality, after years of blistering asset purchases, the Bank of Japan disclosed today that total assets on its balance sheet actually inched down by ¥444 billion ($3.9 billion) from the end of November to ¥521.416 trillion on December 31. While small, it was the first month-end to month-end decline since the Abenomics-designed “QQE” kicked off in late 2012. Under “QQE” – so huge that the BOJ called it Qualitative and Quantitative Easing to distinguish it from mere “QE” as practiced by the Fed at the time – the BOJ has been buying Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), corporate bonds, Japanese REITs, and equity ETFs, leading to astounding month-end to month-end surges in the balance sheet. But now the “QQE Unwind” has commenced. Note the trend over the past 12 months and the first dip (red):

JGBs, the largest asset class on the BOJ’s balance sheet, fell by ¥2.9 trillion ($25 billion) from November 30 to ¥440.67 trillion on December 31. In other words, the BOJ has started to unload JGBs – probably by letting them mature without replacement, rather than selling them outright. Some other asset classes on its balance sheet increased, including equity ETFs, Japanese REITs, “Loans,” and “Others” On net, and from a distance, the first decrease of the BOJ’s assets in the era of Abenomics was barely noticeable. Total assets are still a massive pile, amounting to about 96% of Japan’s GDP (the Fed’s balance sheet amounts to about 23% of US GDP):

[..] None of this – neither the 12 months of “tapering” nor now the “QQE Unwind” – was announced. They happened despite rhetoric to the contrary. During peak QQE, the 12-month period ending December 31, 2016, the BOJ added ¥93.4 trillion (about $830 billion) to its balance sheet. Over the 12-month period ending December 31, 2017, it added “only” ¥44.9 trillion to its balance sheet. That’s down 52% from the peak. This chart shows the rolling 12-month change in the balance sheet in trillion yen, going back to the Financial Crisis:

Read more …

You might as well. But do get out of the way.

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)

People are hard to please these days. Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot. They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions. The recently retired always seem to have the biggest axe to grind. Take Jack Lew, for instance. He started off the New Year by sharpening his axe on the grinding wheel of the GOP tax bill. On Tuesday, he told Bloomberg Radio that the new tax bill will explode the debt and leave people sick and starving. “It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt. “The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society. How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut? We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security. One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”

The tax bill, without question, is an impractical disaster. However, that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal. The Trump administration is merely doing what every other administration has done for the last 40 years or more. They’re running a deficit as we march onward towards default. We don’t like it. We don’t agree with it. But how we’re going to pay for it shouldn’t be a mystery to Lew. We’re going to pay for it the same way we’ve paid for every other deficit: with more debt. Of all people, Jack Lew should know this. If you recall, Lew was the United States Secretary of Treasury during former President Obama’s second term in office. Four consecutive years of deficits – totaling over $2 trillion – were notched on his watch.

[..] In truth, no one really cares about deficits and debt. Not former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Not current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Not Trump. Not Obama. Not your congressional representative. Not Dick Cheney. Plain and simple, unless there are political points to score like Lew was aiming for this week, no one gives a doggone hoot about the debt problem. That’s a problem for tomorrow. Not today. Quite frankly, everyone loves government debt – DOW 25,000! Aging baby boomers know they need massive amounts of government debt to pay their social security, medicare, and disability checks. On top of that, many employed workers are really on corporate welfare. They’re dependent upon the benevolence of government contracts to provide their daily bread.

What’s more, in this crazy debt based fiat money system, the debt must perpetually increase or the whole financial system breaks down. Specifically, more debt is always needed to keep asset prices inflated and the wealth mirage visible. By providing a quick burst to the rate of debt increase, President Trump expects to get a quick burst to the rate of GDP growth. We suspect President Trump and his followers will be underwhelmed by what effect, if any, the tax cuts have on the economy. Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t fret about government deficits and debt. The political leaders may say deficits don’t matter. But they do matter. In fact, soon they’ll matter a lot. We’re in the twilight of the debt bubble age. Embrace it. Love it. What choice do you have, really?

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The drop in retail jobs in the holiday season stands out.

US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)

The U.S. economy added a disappointing 148,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate held at 4.1%, according to a closely watched Labor Department report Friday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting nonfarm payrolls to grow by 190,000. The total was well below the November pace of 252,000, which was revised up from the initially reported 228,000. An unexpected loss of 20,000 retail positions during the holiday season held back the headline number. The unemployment rate for blacks fell to 6.8%, its lowest ever. “A little bit of a disappointment when you only get 2,000 jobs out of the government and get retail at the absolute busiest time of the year losing 20,000 jobs. It just goes to show the true struggle that traditional brick and mortar is having now,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Outside of that I actually thought it was a good report.”

Biggest gains came from health care (31,000), construction (30,000) and manufacturing (25,000). Bars and restaurants added 25,000, while professional and business services grew by 19,000. Average hourly earnings rose modestly to the same 2.5% annualized gain as in November. Federal Reserve policymakers were watching the jobs data closely, both for payroll gains and for wage growth. Though central bank economists estimate the jobs market is near full employment, wage pressures have remained muted. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, said of the lower-than-expected number. “I certainly don’t think this has any impact in terms of what the Fed will do in the future. The economy continues to be on solid footing.”

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Remember: we are the ones making big tech bigger by using their products. We don’t have to.

Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)

Last year was the year of the tech mega-cap, with the six most valuable companies in the world now coming from that industry. Yet, even with the consolidation of money and power, 2017 featured a notable dearth of large tech deals. Don’t expect 2018 to be so quiet. As Alphabet, Amazon and Apple expand their product portfolios and their market share, boards and CEOs of technology companies with less reach are being forced to consider if they can still thrive independently, said Robert Townsend, co-chair of global mergers and acquisitions at law firm Morrison & Foerster. On top of that, the tech giants are staring at a drop in corporate taxes starting in 2018, and they can bring some of the many billions of dollars they have stashed overseas back to the U.S. at a dramatically reduced tax rate.

“There’s truly getting to be a few companies at such a scale, like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Alibaba and Tencent that the world is going to be like a barbell, with a large gap in between with humongous tech and IT service providers on one side and everyone else on the other,” Townsend said. “That’s an uncomfortable place to be if you’re not at the very top.” There were only three technology deals of more than $5 billion announced last year involving a U.S. buyer or seller – Toshiba’s memory chip sale to a consortium led by Bain Capital, Intel’s purchase of Mobileye, and Marvell’s takeover of Cavium, according to FactSet. A fourth hostile offer – Broadcom’s $103 billion bid for Qualcomm – was rejected late in the year. That marked a big dip from 2016, when 12 tech deals over $5 billion were announced. Among them was Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn and Tencent’s $8.6 billion acquisition of game developer Supercell.

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All over the western world, this may be the no. 1 problem. Lies, ignorance and evaporated entitlements. Ponzi 2.0.

Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)

U.S. public pension fund members are generally unaware that their pension is underfunded and of the risk this poses, according to a survey released Thursday by Spectrem Group. The study also reveals a wide gap between how members want their pension funds managed and the actual approach many managers take. The survey, conducted online in the second half of November, compared CalPERS and NYC Retirement Systems (NYC Funds) against a “national” group, comprising individuals from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Florida Retirement System, the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, as well as a small group from other public pension plans.

All told, 807 CalPERS members, 771 NYC Funds members and 1,687 “national” members responded to the survey. The survey results showed that 48% of members said they would rely on their pension for at least half of their retirement income. 92% of respondents considered their pension fund’s ability to generate returns at or above its target level important or very important, and 93% said the same about their fund’s ability to generate returns at or above overall market performance. In both instances, CalPERS members were the respondents most likely to identify these things as important or very important. 95% of respondents believed the fund’s ability to effectively manage risk was important or very important. “There’s a clear disconnect between pension fund managers, who are testing new investment styles and strategies, and members, who would prefer to see their pension fully funded,” Spectrem Group president George Walper said in a statement.

“Pension fund managers should refocus their efforts on the wants and needs of their investors, prioritizing investment decisions to maximize performance, while limiting votes to shareholder proposals that directly impact their fund and its members.” [..] 56% of members surveyed believed they are very well or moderately informed about their pension’s actual investment return, 54% about its target investment return, 60% about expenses and fees paid and 61% about the benefit structure. They were less confident in their knowledge of the costs associated with shareholder activism, the composition and investing experience of the fund’s board and the amount of time fund managers spent reviewing and voting on shareholder proposals.

However, the survey results uncovered a clear gap in how much members really knew about their pension’s actual performance and funding level. 40% of members believed their funds had performed in line with the market for the past few years — often not the case, according to Spectrem. 46% of NYC Funds members believe their pension fund has outperformed the market, when in fact their returns have been below both market performance and their target level. Likewise, 42% of CalPERS members held this mistaken belief.

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Yes, but MAGA…

US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)

Will 2018 be the year of the household hangover? The latest data on the saving rate, which broke under 3% to 2.9% in November, the lowest since 2007, suggest that an encore to the ebullient buying over the holidays will not happen in the new year. Without a doubt, households are as buoyant as they’ve been in years. In the most recent consumer confidence report, only 15.2% of those surveyed reported jobs were “hard to get,” a 16-year low. The few economists who have forecast that the unemployment rate would fall below 4% are looking prescient. So what’s to follow? Barring a repeat of 2017’s natural disasters, demand for employment seems likely to ebb headed into the second half of the year. Supply chains will be restored, tempering the need for emergency workers, and the auto recession disrupted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma appears set to resume.

In a recent report, Moody’s Vice President Rita Sahu maintained her stable outlook for the U.S. banking sector for 2018, citing the benefits of a rising rate environment and that ultralow unemployment rate. Aside from signs that the commercial sector is “overheating,” Sahu pointed to auto loans and credit cards as “negative outliers.” “Auto loan delinquencies are above pre-crisis levels at around 2.3%,” Sahu warned, “and credit card charge-offs have increased sharply to around 3.6% as of the third quarter 2017.” Those levels of distress are tame compared with dedicated non-bank lenders who are seeing 90-day serious delinquency rates run at four times those of conventional banks and credit unions.

Credit cards are merely the next step along households’ path to living beyond their means. The decline in the saving rate is the mirror image of consumer credit outstanding as it’s ballooned in recent years. As has been heavily reported, student loans have been responsible for the bulk of the buildup, followed by car loans. Over the last two years, however, credit card growth has acted as an accelerant, outpacing income growth at an increasing pace. By its very nature, credit card debt gets more expensive to carry with every rate hike the Federal Reserve pushes through. What is perhaps most unsettling in the lack of alarm among conventional economists is that so much of the debt in the current cycle is unsecured.

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Maybe the biggest problem is that there’s no successor for Merkel.

Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)

Across the cobbled square in the city of Weimar where Germany’s national assembly met in 1919, plans to mark that first, stumbling attempt at a democratic government have taken on greater significance in recent weeks. The new center for events dedicated to the short-lived Weimar Republic is due to open in 2020, but it’s already a timely reminder of the past as the country struggles with political gridlock and the rise of the far right. The upheaval that preceded World War II and the need to avoid any repeat have cast a long shadow since Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected in September with no obvious coalition partner. While no-one is predicting a return to fascism, the unexpected threat of instability at the heart of Europe’s biggest economy has alarmed business and political leaders alike.

“We couldn’t have imagined that the issue of the danger to democracy and the Weimar Republic would become so contemporary,” Weimar’s mayor, Stefan Wolf, said at his office overlooking a square flanked by the 16th century St. Peter and Paul Church. The historic echoes reflect Merkel’s tarnished election victory and Germany’s slipped halo as Europe’s anchor of liberal stability. But Weimar also serves as a powerful reminder of Germany’s sense of collective responsibility to ensure the lessons of the descent into Nazi dictatorship and war are learnt by each new generation. The current dilemma stems from the erosion of support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc and the Social Democrats, which have governed together for eight of her 12 years in office.

As backing for the two main parties ebbed, a wrench has been thrown into coalition-building, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany a prime beneficiary: it swept into parliament for the first time last year with almost 13% of the vote. According to a detailed account in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkel invoked Weimar to her party colleagues, reminding them of the reasons for the collapse of the grand coalition under Chancellor Hermann Mueller in 1930 in an attempt to steel them for compromise. Former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now Bundestag president, also recalled the need to remember the lessons of the Weimar Republic, whose collapse led to Adolf Hitler ramming through dictatorial powers three years later. “Too much polarization – meaning a competition for who’s the best anti-fascist combatant – ultimately only strengthens the right,” he said in an interview with Die Welt published on Dec. 27.

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Where would Twitter be without Trump?

Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)

Twitter on Friday reiterated its stance that accounts belonging to world leaders have special status on the social media network, pushing back against users who have called on the company to banish U.S. President Donald Trump. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said in a post on a corporate blog. Twitter had already said in September that “newsworthiness” and whether a tweet is “of public interest” are among the factors it considers before removing an account or a tweet. The debate over Trump’s tweeting, though, raged anew after Trump said from his @realDonaldTrump account on Tuesday that he had a “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Critics said that tweet and Trump’s continued presence on the network endanger the world and violate Twitter’s ban on threats of violence. Some users protested at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters on Wednesday. Twitter responded in its blog post that even if it did block a world leader, doing so would not silence that leader. The company said that it does review tweets by world leaders and enforces its rules accordingly, leaving open the possibility that it could take down some material posted by them. “No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions,” the company added. “We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.”

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Caitlin Johnstone provides balance.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)

Not a lot of people remember this, but George W Bush actually campaigned in 2000 against the interventionist foreign policy that the United States had been increasingly espousing. Far from advocating the full-scale regime change ground invasions that his administration is now infamous for, Bush frequently used the word “humble” when discussing the type of foreign policy he favored, condemning nation-building, an over-extended military, and the notion that America should be the world’s police force. Eight years later, after hundreds of thousands of human lives had been snuffed out in Iraq and Afghanistan and an entire region horrifically destabilized, Obama campaigned against Bush’s interventionist foreign policy, edging out Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries partly because she had supported the Iraq invasion while he had condemned it.

The Democrats, decrying the warmongering tendencies of the Republicans, elected a President of the United States who would see Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq and raise him Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, along with a tenfold increase in drone strikes. Libya collapsed into a failed state where a slave trade now runs rampant, and half a million people died in the Syrian war that Obama and US allies exponentially escalated. Eight years later, a reality TV star and WWE Hall-of-Famer was elected President of the United States by the other half of the crowd who was sick to death of those warmongering Democrats. Trump campaigned on a non-interventionist foreign policy, saying America should fight terrorists but not enter into regime change wars with other governments. He thrashed his primary opponents as the only one willing to unequivocally condemn Bush and his actions, then won the general election partly by attacking the interventionist foreign policy of his predecessor and his opponent, and criticizing Hillary Clinton’s hawkish no-fly zone agenda in Syria.

Now he’s approved the selling of arms to Ukraine to use against Russia, a dangerously hawkish move that even Obama refused to make for fear of increasing tensions with Moscow. His administration has escalated troop presence in Afghanistan and made it abundantly clear that the Pentagon has no intention of leaving Syria anytime soon despite the absence of any reasonable justification for US presence there. The CIA had ratcheted up operations in Iran six months into Trump’s presidency, shortly before the administration began running the exact same script against that country that the Obama administration ran on Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Maybe US presidents are limited to eight years because that’s how long it takes the public to forget everything.

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Trump depends on bubbles.

Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)

Is he fit for office? This question hangs in the air of the DC swamp like a necrotic odor that can’t be seen while it can’t be ignored. In a way, the very legitimacy of the republic comes into question — if Trump is the best we can do, maybe the system itself isn’t what it was cracked up to be. And then why would we think that removing him from office would make things better? How’s that for an existential quandary? We’re informed in The New York Times today that “Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot,” though “moron” (Rex Tillerson) and “dope” (General H.R. McMaster) figure in there as well. Imagine all the energy it must take for everyone in, say, the cabinet room to pretend that the chief executive belongs in his chair at the center.

It reminds me of that old poker game, “Indian,” where each player holds a hole card pressed outward from his forehead for all to see but him. Ill winds are blowing and dire forces are converging. Do you think that it’s a wonderful thing that the Dow Jones Industrial Average just bashed through the 25,000 gate? The President obviously thinks so. And, of course, he’s egged on by all the fawning economic viziers selling stories about a booming economy of waiters, bartenders, and espresso jockeys. But, I tell you as sure as there is a yesterday, today, and tomorrow, those stock indexes, grand as they seem, are teetering on the brink of something awesomely sickening. And when they go over that no-bid Niagara cascade into the maelstrom, Mr. Trump’s boat will be going over the falls with them.

It’s an unappetizing spectacle to watch such a tragic arc play out. After all, these are the lives of fragile, lonely, human creatures trying hard to fathom their fate. You have to feel a little sorry for them as you would feel sorry even for a sad little peccary going down one of those quicksand holes in the Okeefenokee Swamp. Surely, many feel that these are simply evil times in which goodness and mercy are AWOL. I’m not sure exactly how this story ends, but it is beginning to look like a choice between a bang and a whimper.

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How to sell your book: Make outrageous claims.

Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

The author of a book that is highly critical of Donald Trump’s first year as U.S. president said his revelations were likely to bring an end to Trump’s time in the White House. Michael Wolff told BBC radio that his conclusion in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” that Trump is not fit to do the job was becoming a widespread view. “I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview broadcast on Saturday. “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said. “Suddenly everywhere people are going ‘oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes’. That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.” Trump has dismissed the book as full of lies. It depicts a chaotic White House, a president who was ill-prepared to win the office in 2016, and Trump aides who scorned his abilities.

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Nov 012017
 
 November 1, 2017  Posted by at 2:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Léon Gérôme Slave market 1866

 

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Ultra low interest rates mark a shift away from people’s wealth residing in their savings and pension plans, and into to so-called wealth residing in their homes, which are bought with ever growing levels of debt. When interest rates rise, they will lose that so-called wealth.

It is grand theft auto on an unparalleled scale, and it’s a piece of genius, because while people are getting robbed in plain daylight, they actually think they’re winning. But as I wrote back in March of this year, home sales, and bubbles, are the only thing that keeps our economies humming.

We haven’t learned a thing since March, and we haven’t learned a thing for many years. People need a place to live, and they fall for the scheme hook line and sinker. Which in a way is a good thing because the economy would have been dead without that ignorance, but at the same time it’s not because it’s a temporary relief only and the end result will be all the more painful for it.

Whatever Yellen decides as per rates, or Draghi, it doesn’t really matter anymore, this sucker’s going down something awful. This is a global issue. Housing bubbles have been blown not only in the Anglosphere, though they are strong there, many other countries have them as well, Scandinavia, Netherlands, even Germany and France. It’s what ultra low rates do.

First, here’s what I said in March:

 

Our Economies Run On Housing Bubbles

What we have invented to keep big banks afloat for a while longer is ultra low interest rates, NIRP, ZIRP etc. They create the illusion of not only growth, but also of wealth. They make people think a home they couldn’t have dreamt of buying not long ago now fits in their ‘budget’. That is how we get them to sign up for ever bigger mortgages. And those in turn keep our banks from falling over.

Record low interest rates have become the only way that private banks can create new money, and stay alive (because at higher rates hardly anybody can afford a mortgage). It’s of course not just the banks that are kept alive, it’s the entire economy. Without the ZIRP rates, the mortgages they lure people into, and the housing bubbles this creates, the amount of money circulating in our economies would shrink so much and so fast the whole shebang would fall to bits.

That’s right: the survival of our economies today depends one on one on the existence of housing bubbles. No bubble means no money creation means no functioning economy.

 

 

What we should do in the short term is lower private debt levels (drastically, jubilee style), and temporarily raise public debt to encourage economic activity, aim for more and better jobs. But we’re doing the exact opposite: austerity measures are geared towards lowering public debt, while they cut the consumer spending power that makes up 60-70% of our economies. Meanwhile, housing bubbles raise private debt through the -grossly overpriced- roof.

This is today’s general economic dynamic. It’s exclusively controlled by the price of debt. However, as low interest rates make the price of debt look very low, the real price (there always is one, it’s just like thermodynamics) is paid beyond interest rates, beyond the financial markets even, it’s paid on Main Street, in the real economy. Where the quality of jobs, if not the quantity, has fallen dramatically, and people can only survive by descending ever deeper into ever more debt.

 

 

Australia’s housing boom has been a thing of beauty, with New Zealand, especially Wellington and Auckland, following close behind. UBS now says the Oz bubble is over. Prices are still rising quite a bit though.

Fresh New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has announced new policies to deter foreign buyers from purchasing more property in the country. She may not like what that does to the country’s economy. Most new Zealanders can no longer afford property in major centers, and forcing prices down this way will expose many present owners to margin calls and foreclosures.

Moreover, because Australian banks own their New Zealand peers, if the Aussie boom is really gone, these banks are going to get hit so hard they’ll take down New Zealand with them. Close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears.

 

Australia’s Housing Boom Is ‘Officially Over’

The housing boom that has seen Australian home prices more than double since the turn of the century is “officially over,” after data showed prices now flatlining, UBS said. National house prices were unchanged in October from September, while annual growth has slowed to 7% from more than 10% as recently as July, CoreLogic data released Wednesday showed. “There is now a persistent and sharp slowdown unfolding,” UBS economists led by George Tharenou said in a report. “This suggests a tightening of financial conditions is unfolding, which we expect to weigh on consumption growth via a fading household-wealth effect.”

An end to Australia’s property boom will be welcome news for first-time buyers, who have struggled to break into the market after surging prices propelled Sydney past London and New York to be the second-most expensive housing market. Less impressed may be property investors, already squeezed by regulatory lending curbs that drove up mortgage rates. The cooling housing market may encourage the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates at a record low. A rate hike would be undesirable as it would put further downward pressure on dwelling prices, said Diana Mousina, senior economist at AMP Capital Investors.

 

 

But perhaps a bigger, and more surprising, story is shaping up in the US. Looks like the American housing bubble is back with a vengeance. It’s always amusing to see claims that this is due to a lack of supply. The real problem is not supply, but artificially fabricated demand. Fabricated by low rates. Though the NAR is not known for its accuracy (it’s a PR firm), this Bloomberg piece is still relevant.

 

Homes Are Getting Snapped Up at the Fastest Pace in 30 Years

Homes are sitting on the market for the shortest time in 30 years, according to an annual report on homebuyers and sellers published today by the National Association of Realtors. The typical home spent just three weeks on the market, according to the report, which focused on about 8,000 homebuyers who purchased their home in the year ending in June. That was down from four weeks in the year ending June 2016 and 11 weeks in 2012, when the U.S. housing market was still reeling from the foreclosure crisis.

It was the shortest time since the NAR report began including data on how long homes spend on the market, in 1987. Buyers are snapping up homes quickly at a time when for-sale listings are in short supply, forcing them to compete. The number of available properties declined in September, according to NAR’s monthly report on existing home sales, marking the 28th consecutive month of year-on-year decline in inventory. In addition to moving fast, buyers also had to pony up to close the deal. 42% of buyers paid at least the listing price, the highest share since the NAR survey started keeping track in 2007.

 

Where the fine bubble plan runs astray is in affordability. Ultra low rates can encourage sales, but that also raises prices, and if and when wages do not keep up there must be a point where you hit a wall. In the US that wall is fast approaching, suggests Tyler Durden:

 

US Homes Have Never Been More Unaffordable

Just under a year ago, US home prices finally surpassed their prior all time highs, one decade after the 2006 bubble… and haven’t looked back since. Which, all else equal, would be great news for America, where the bulk of middle-class wealth is not in the stock market contrary to conventional wisdom, but in its biggest, and most illiquid asset-cum-investment: one’s home. There is just one problem: while house prices are once again hitting new all time highs every month, household incomes have failed to keep up; in fact, as the Political Calculations blog shows, in the past two years there has been a distinct trend in home affordability, or lack thereof.

[..] starting in September 2015, the TTM average median new home sale price in the U.S. has been rising at an average rate of $906 per month. That’s the good news; the bad news is that in terms of affordability, the ratio of the trailing twelve month averages of median new home sale prices to median household income in the U.S. has risen to an all time high of 5.454, which following revisions in the data for new home sale prices, was recorded in July 2017. The initial value for September 2017 is 5.437. In other words, the median new home in the US has never been more unaffordable in terms of current income.

 

 

Never more unaffordable is a bold statement, but it’s probably correct. The graph only goes back as far as 1987, but that should do. Another angle on the same issue, also from Tyler:

Home Prices In All US Cities Grow Faster Than Wages… And Then There’s Seattle

US national home prices are up 6.07% YoY in August – the fastest rate since June 2014. We note this data is for August – before the hurricanes. Seattle (up 13.2%), Las Vegas (up 8.6%), and San Diego (up 7.8%) were the top three cities in terms of year-over-year price appreciation; all cities showed gains of at least 3%. Pushing home prices to a new record high…

“Home-price increases appear to be unstoppable,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “At the same time, “measures of affordability are beginning to slide, indicating that the pool of buyers is shrinking, and the Fed’s interest-rate hikes are likely to push mortgage rates higher over time, “removing a key factor supporting rising home prices,” he said.

 

 

There’s nothing anyone can do to raise wages, and while Yellen may claim not to understand why wages and inflation refuse to shine, it’s not that hard. Whatever is called a job these days is America didn’t use to be labeled that. We’ve all been conned into redefining what a job is, but the benefits and security and all that have still vanished. So what can people afford? They can’t even afford to rent anymore:

 

Renting In The US Has Never Been More Unaffordable

Over the weekend, when looking at the record high ratio in median new home sale prices to household incomes in the US, we concluded that US homes have never been more unaffordable for the average American. What about renting? Isn’t it intuitive that if buying a house has never been more expensive, then at least renting should be cheap(er). Unfortunately no, because not only is renting not cheap(er) in either absolute or relative terms, but when observed through the prism of the only thing that matters, namely disposable income, renting – just like buying a house – has never been more unaffordable.

 

 

Now remember what I said before: millions upon millions see their savings and pensions melt away before their eyes, while at the same time they are forced to spend ever more on housing costs. And when that scheme hits the wall, the economy will remember it’s alive only because of the housing bubble, and then croak. Leaving both renters and owners without jobs and eventually places to live.

A lovely example of where all this is heading comes from a Statista report on the Netherlands 3 weeks ago. The Dutch have tons of interest-only mortgages, just like the Australians, but you can take this graph as a general model for what many of not most countries that have low interest rates and thus housing bubbles, will face:

 

Heading Towards A Mortgage Crisis In The Netherlands?

Bank it or bust. In October 2017, the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) issued a warning on mortgages in the Netherlands. They claimed that almost 55% of the aggregate Dutch mortgage debt consisted of interest-only and investment-based mortgage loans, which did not involve any contractual repayments during the loan term. As prices in the the European housing, or residential real estate, market increase and mortgage rates decrease due the Asset Purchase Programme (APP) of the ECB, interest-only mortgages became more and more popular.

In addition, the Dutch government encouraged home ownership for many years, offering tax exemptions on Dutch mortgage payments alongside other benefits for homebuyers in the Netherlands. Consequently, the total mortgage debt from households in the Netherlands increased from approximately €548 billion in 2006 to approximately €664 billion in 2016. However, the debts must still be repaid when the interest-only mortgages expire.

The DNB stated there could be a risk that the households in question may not have the means to repay their debts before or when their loans expire, risking a new mortgage crisis. Lenders, they say, must actively alert customers to this risk and help them find a suitable solution. Unfortunately, the value of mortgages in 2017 is forecasted to increase with approximately 3.9% compared to 2016.

 

 

The debt accumulation is insane. Combine that with the wholesale erosion of savings and pensions, and you have an economy with either a lot of foreclosures and homelessness in its future, or a bankrupt banking system. More people should, before purchasing property, be shown graphs like that. But that would kill the bubble scheme, wouldn’t it?

Is there a way out of this mess? Well, there is in theory. Just grow your economy, and your wages etc., by let’s say 6.8% per year for decades on end. Problem with that is it’s possible only in a country like China, and that only because whatever Beijing says the growth rate is, goes. But that doesn’t make it real. Still, it entices Chinese grandmas into buying apartments.

What Beijing doesn’t tell them, or us, is how much debt the grandmas have gone into by now to buy all those new nice and shiny apartments. But since stocks and bonds are still not their thing, it’s all they have. Property in China is all on red. In the US about one quarter of household wealth is in housing, in China it’s three quarters.

 

 

So no, there’s no way out. My best guess is the first country to deal with this in an aggressive manner will be the -relative- winner. All others are goners. The governments and politicians who’ve lured their people into this biggest Ponzi in human history will probably be long gone when the house comes down, and if they know what’s good for them will have moved to some street with no name in a land far away.

 

 

Sep 122017
 
 September 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Juan Gris Grapes 1913

 

People ‘Fighting In The Streets’ For Last Remaining Food In Caribbean (Ind.)
20 Miles Made A $150 Billion Difference In Hurricane Irma’s Damage Bill (BBG)
The Role Of Climate Change In Extreme Weather Events (Rapier)
Stormy Weather (Davis)
US National Debt Tops $20 Trillion For First Time In History (Fox)
None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See (Steve Keen)
Behind the Potemkin Village (Hussman)
Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffett Valuation Indicator (AdPe)
After Roads And Railways, China’s Silk Road Dealmakers Eye Financial Firms (R.)
China Is Performing A High-Wire Balancing Act On The Yuan (CNBC)
2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart (Visual C.)
Italy’s Main Opposition Parties Call For New Currency To Flank Euro (EN)
UK Landmark EU Withdrawal Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle (Ind.)
Greek Taxpayers Failed To Pay €2 Billion In July (K.)
Austerity Is Laying Waste To Athens’ Architectural Heritage (G.)
Greece Ranked As The Worst Country To Live As An Expat (K.)

 

 

They could see Irma coming a week ahead. And nobody thought of storing extra food and water on the island? And police or soldiers? There are 70,000 people living on the combined St. Martin/St. Maarten island, and there were 6,000 American tourists alone -plus many others. St. Maarten has a ‘status aparte’ in the Dutch Kingdom: it’s self-governing. So much so, though, that no help can arrive until the Governor has explicitly asked for it. But all communication had broken down for days… Smart cookies.

People ‘Fighting In The Streets’ For Last Remaining Food In Caribbean (Ind.)

At dawn in St. Martin, people began to gather, quietly planning for survival after Hurricane Irma. They started with the grocery stores, scavenging what they needed for sustenance: water, crackers, fruit. But by nightfall on Thursday, what had been a search for food took a more menacing turn, as groups of looters, some of them armed, swooped in and took whatever of value was left: electronics, appliances and vehicles. “All the food is gone now,” Jacques Charbonnier, a 63-year-old resident of St. Martin, said in an interview on Sunday. “People are fighting in the streets for what is left.” In the few, long days since the storm Irma pummelled the north east Caribbean, killing more than two dozen people and levelling 90% of the buildings on some islands, the social fabric has begun to fray in some of the hardest-hit communities.

Residents of St. Martin, and elsewhere in the region, spoke about a general disintegration of law and order as survivors struggled in the face of severe food and water shortages, and the absence of electricity and phone service. As reports of increasing desperation continued to emerge from the region over the weekend, governments in Britain, France and the Netherlands, which oversee territories in the region, stepped up their response. They defended themselves against criticism that their reaction had been too slow, and insufficient. Both the French and Dutch governments said they were sending in extra troops to restore order, along with the aid that was being airlifted into the region. After an emergency meeting with his government on Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he would travel on Tuesday to St. Martin, an overseas French territory.

Macron also announced late on Saturday that he would double France’s troop deployment to the region, to 2,200 from 1,100; officials say the increase is in part a response to the mayhem on St. Martin. St. Maarten, the Dutch territorial side of the island, which uses a different spelling, has also experienced widespread looting of shops, though the problem was reported to have subsided by Sunday, though not completely. “There was some looting in the first few days, but the Dutch marines and police are on the street to prevent it,” Paul De Windt, publisher of The Daily Herald, a newspaper in St. Maarten, said Sunday. “Some people steal luxury things and booze, but a lot of people are stealing water and biscuits.”

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The Bermuda High.

20 Miles Made A $150 Billion Difference In Hurricane Irma’s Damage Bill (BBG)

Twenty miles may have made a $150 billion difference. Estimates for the damage Hurricane Irma would inflict on Florida kept mounting as it made its devastating sweep across the Caribbean. It was poised to be the costliest U.S. storm on record. Then something called the Bermuda High intervened and tripped it up. “We got very lucky,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If Irma had passed 20 miles west of Marco Island instead of striking it on Sunday, “the damage would have been astronomical.” By one estimate, the total cost dropped to about $50 billion Monday from $200 billion over the weekend. The state escaped the worst because Irma’s powerful eye shifted westward, away from the biggest population center of sprawling Miami-Dade County.

The credit goes to the Bermuda High, which acts like a sort of traffic cop for the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. The circular system hovering over Bermuda jostled Irma onto northern Cuba Saturday, where being over land sapped it of some power, and then around the tip of the Florida peninsula, cutting down on storm surge damage on both coasts of the state. “The Bermuda High is finite and it has an edge, which was right over Key West,” Masters said. Irma caught the edge and turned north. For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth – but by how all the models were going back and forth.”

For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth – but by how all the models were going back and forth.” “With Irma, little wobbles made a huge difference,”said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. With a tightly-wound storm like Andrew coming straight into the state, “a 30-mile wobble isn’t going to matter.” Still, when it comes to damage, “Irma may bump Andrew,” Watson said. The company’s most recent estimate is for $49.5 billion in Irma costs for Florida; Andrew’s were an inflation-adjusted $47.8 billion.

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Too many voices blaming Irma on climate change. Don’t make claims you can’t prove, it doesn’t help. Our former Oil Drum co-collaborator Robert Rapier takes a careful approach.

The Role Of Climate Change In Extreme Weather Events (Rapier)

First, is the climate changing? Almost everyone would agree that this is the case. What some would dispute is whether human activity is a significant contributor. I accept that it is, but I won’t attempt to make that case here. If you don’t accept that human activity is impacting the climate, I won’t be able to convince you in a short article here. But let’s agree that the climate is changing. There are multiple lines of evidence that indicate that the earth is warming. One piece of evidence is that the surface temperature of the oceans is climbing. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has determined that since 1880, the average global surface temperature of the ocean has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (°F). Relative to the average temperature from 1971 to 2000, the surface temperature over the past five years has risen about 0.5°F.

These measurements aren’t controversial, as they have been confirmed by many different studies. But the temperature change varies depending on where it is measured. For example off the coast of Greenland, the surface temperature has actually declined by about 1°F. But according to data from NOAA and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), across much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the surface temperature has risen 1.5°F-2.0°F since 1900. Again, you might dispute the reason, but there is really no disputing the measurements (other than perhaps the magnitude of the increase). There are some effects we can expect from a warmer ocean surface. I will discuss two, that are based on physics. Warmer water will lead to greater evaporation, which should show up as higher humidity in the atmosphere.

That has been observed, although as with the ocean surface temperature, some areas have seen humidity decline. The net effect is that more water vapor in the air means more rainfall on average. This helps explain why Houston, for example, could experience three “500-year” flood events in three years. Since there’s more water in the atmosphere, the probability of these heavy rainfall events has increased. In other words, they aren’t really “500-year” floods anymore. Normal has shifted. Some areas are going to experience more rain and some less, but on average precipitation is on the rise. The other impact of warmer ocean surfaces is stronger hurricanes. Hurricanes (as well as typhoons and cyclones elsewhere in the world) are massive heat engines that convert warm water into strong winds.

Hurricanes are fueled by warm seawater, which is why you see them dissipate when they move over land, or into cooler ocean waters. Thus, it would be expected that we would see stronger storms as a result of warmer ocean surfaces. That was certainly the case with Hurricane Irma, which set a record with top winds of 185 miles per hour (mph) for 37 hours. While some are quick to blame climate change any time there is an extreme weather event, these events have been taking place throughout history. It is wrong to blame any particular event on climate change, but the physics of why we can expect some of these events to become more extreme is well understood – even if some still reject that human activity is driving it.

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Great piece: “America is a delusion, the grandest one of all”

Stormy Weather (Davis)

In Capitalism: A Ghost Story, 2015, Arundhati Roy writes, “the middle class in India live side-by-side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeist of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 250,000 debt ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for them”. Is it any different in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Other than clarifying class-calibration whereby India’s emergent middle class can be equated with America’s mostly white ten-percenters, or upper-class, I suspect not. Indeed, as the precipitated waters of the gulf coast inundate the sunken oil and chemical lands of Texas and Louisiana, we are experiencing our own sub-continental, Bangladeshi nightmare.

The spirits of dead dinosaurs have arisen to re-arrange geographies and elide the physical certainties that used to exist between solid and liquid, between water and land, between salt water and fresh, and between the potable and the poisoned. Nature and Society now share equal billing. The elephant of climate change trumpets, as it rampages through what we used to think of as our room. Here and elsewhere, we are castaways amidst the hobgoblins of our own horror show. It is not only the demonic cries of over 100,000 suicides amongst Vietnam Vets and a further 25,000 ex-service men and women dead by their own hand since 2012 – from our more recent wars of empire – that we hear: the psychic airwaves tremor not only with their suffering, their sacrifices and their condemnations but also, as Roy writes of her country, are rent with screams from our own mountain-top lobotomies, sickened streams, clear-cut forests and our daily extinctions.

That pounding rhythm you may hear is propelled by the sonorous bass notes of our deeply troubled history. We too have a nether world populated with those trapped in the purgatory of three jobs, a superannuated car and sub-standard housing; or of those a step below them, who roam the black-top parking-lots and streets amidst shuttered malls and fast-food emporia, car-lots and other materially manifest survivors of our digital age; or lurk at night in the shadows between the mercury vapor security lights and surveillance cameras, thinking idle thoughts, perhaps, of what makes America great or, more pressingly, of where they might spend the night.

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And counting.

US National Debt Tops $20 Trillion For First Time In History (Fox)

The national debt surpassed $20 trillion Opens a New Window. for the first time in U.S. history on Friday. According to data released Monday, the total national debt climbed about $318 billion to $20.162 trillion as of Friday, the same day President Donald Trump signed a bill suspending the debt ceiling and allowing the federal borrowing limit to extend until Dec. 8. The deal Trump signed, which also allocated more than $15 billion in disaster aid for Hurricane Harvey, was passed 316-90 in a House vote; all opposed to the measure were Republicans. “Surpassing $20 trillion in debt is the latest indicator of our nation’s dire fiscal condition,” Michael A. Peterson, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said in a statement.

“As a result of our inability to address our growing debt, we are now on pace to spend $6 trillion on interest alone over the next 10 years.” The U.S. debt ceiling had been capped at around $19.84 trillion since March 15. The 2017 fiscal year budget expires at the end of September. “America’s debt is projected to grow and compound rapidly in the years ahead. Our budget deficit is on track to exceed $1 trillion annually in just five years,” Peterson said. “The good news is that many solutions exist. In the coming months, Congress and the administration have a critical opportunity to enact fiscally responsible tax reform that grows the economy, not the debt.”

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As you know by now, it’s not national debt that is most important. Private debt is.

None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See (Steve Keen)

The phrase “There are none so blind as those who will not see” normally turns up in religion, but there is no other way to describe the dominant sect in economics today as wilfully blind. One decade after the crisis, most still repeat their mantra that, though a Nobel Laureate had asserted in 2003 that such crises were now impossible, the one that occurred in 2008 could not have been predicted. Nonsense. The data that showed what would cause the crisis, and arguments by empirically oriented economists, were available before it hit: there was a runaway bubble in asset markets caused by too much credit being created by the banks. Credit—your capacity to buy something with money borrowed from a bank, rather than from your own cash—is exactly equal to the increase in private debt every year.

The bigger this is compared to GDP, the more the economy is dependent on credit; and the bigger the accumulated debt is when compared to GDP, the more likely it is that a reduction in credit will cause an economic crisis. The data, if you look at it, is incontrovertible—especially if you consider the epicentre of the 2008 crisis, the USA, in historical context. The Great Depression was preceded by a margin-debt-fuelled bubble on the US stockmarket, with private debt blowing out during the crisis and then collapsing. That’s exactly what happened in the Great Recession.

Private debt affects the economy in two ways: the higher debt is, relative to GDP, the more that a change in credit impacts on total demand. And credit adds to total demand by allowing people in the aggregate to spend more than just the money they currently have—with the price of leading to a higher level of debt in the future. The correlation between credit and employment is staggering—not just because it is so big (the correlation coefficient, for those who follow these things, is 0.8), but because according to mainstream economists like Ben Bernanke, the correlation should be close to zero.

Bernanke, who got the job as Chairman on the Federal Reserve because he was supposed to be the expert on what caused the Great Depression, didn’t even consider similar data that was available at the time, nor the “Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions” put forward by Irving Fisher at the time, because he believed that credit was a “pure redistribution”, and “pure redistributions should have no significant macro¬economic effects” (Bernanke 2000, p. 24). Empirically, this is manifestly untrue, but economists turn a blind eye (and not a Nelsonian one) to this data because it doesn’t suit their preferred model of how banks operate. They model them “as if” they are intermediaries who introduce savers to borrowers, not as originators of both money and debt.

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Growth keeps shrinking.

Behind the Potemkin Village (Hussman)

Market returns don’t just emerge from nowhere. They are driven by the sum of three factors: growth in fundamentals, income from cash distributions, and changes in valuations (the ratio of prices to fundamentals). Since 1960, for example, the S&P 500 has enjoyed an average rate of return of about 10% annually, which derives from three main components: growth in earnings (and the overall economy) averaging about 6.3% annually, dividend income averaging about 3.0% annually, and a gradual increase in price/earnings multiples that has contributed about 0.7% annually to total returns. One can also make a similar attribution using other fundamentals.

For example, the 10% annual total return of the S&P 500 since 1960 also derives from growth in S&P 500 revenues averaging 5.7% annually since the 2000 peak, dividend income averaging about 3.0% annually, and a much steeper increase in the S&P 500 price/revenue ratio contributing 1.3% annually (taking the current price/revenue multiple to the same level observed at the 2000 market peak). Consider these drivers today. Combining depressed growth prospects with an S&P 500 dividend yield of just 2.0%, the likelihood is that over the coming 10-12 years, even a run-of-the-mill reversion of valuations will wipe out the entire contribution of growth and dividend income, resulting in zero or negative total returns in the S&P 500 Index on that horizon, with an estimated interim market loss on the order of -60%.

Here are the facts: over the past several decades, due to a combination of demographic factors and persistently slowing productivity growth, the core drivers of real U.S. GDP growth have declined toward just 1% annually, with a likely decline below that level in the coming 10-12 years. Indeed, in the absence of any recession, U.S. nonfarm productivity growth has averaged just 0.8% annually since 2010 and 0.6% over the past 5 years, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates labor force growth of just 0.3% annually in the coming years (which would be matched by similar growth in employment only if the unemployment rate does not rise from the current level of 4.3%). Add 0.6% to 0.3%, and the baseline expectation for real GDP growth is just 0.9%.

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Thanks QE!

Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffett Valuation Indicator (AdPe)

Market Cap to GDP is a long-term valuation indicator that has become popular in recent years, thanks to Warren Buffett. Back in 2001 he remarked in a Fortune Magazine interview that “it is probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.” The four valuation indicators we track in our monthly valuation overview offer a long-term perspective of well over a century. The raw data for the “Buffett indicator” only goes back as far as the middle of the 20th century. Quarterly GDP dates from 1947, and the Fed’s balance sheet has quarterly updates beginning in Q4 1951. With an acknowledgment of this abbreviated timeframe, let’s take a look at the plain vanilla quarterly ratio with no effort to interpolate monthly data.

The denominator in the charts below now includes the Second Estimate of Q2 GDP. The latest numerator value is extrapolated based on the quarterly change in the Wilshire 5000. The current reading is 131.6%, up from 128.7% the previous quarter and an interim high. Here is a more transparent alternate snapshot over a shorter timeframe using the Wilshire 5000 Full Cap Price Index divided by GDP. We’ve used the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s FRED repository as the source for the stock index numerator (WILL5000PRFC). The Wilshire Index is a more intuitive broad metric of the market than the Fed’s rather esoteric “Nonfinancial corporate business; corporate equities; liability, Level”. This Buffett variant is also at its interim high.

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China is exporting its Ponzi. China is having a hard time attracting international institutions to get involved” in Belt and Road projects, Huo said. “If that persists it will become an one-man show, which is not sustainable.”

After Roads And Railways, China’s Silk Road Dealmakers Eye Financial Firms (R.)

After ports and industrial parks, the dealmakers leading China’s trillion-dollar push to build a modern Silk Road are turning to the financial sector, targeting Europe’s banks, insurers and asset managers to tap funds and expertise. Last week, sources familiar with the matter said two of China’s most acquisitive conglomerates, HNA and Anbang, had separately considered bidding for the German insurer Allianz. Neither of the two made an offer, but the talks marked a new level of ambition for China: Allianz is a German stalwart, a pillar for local pensions and a global powerhouse with €1.9 trillion ($2.3 trillion) of assets under management. HNA already owns a stake of just under 10% in Deutsche Bank.

Bankers, lawyers and company executives say more financial deals will come, led by state behemoths such as China Life and China Everbright, as well as private firms including Legend Holdings and China Minsheng Financial. “The message from the regulators is clear – they want these companies to go out and get access to large amount of funds and expertise,” said a financial M&A adviser at a global bank, who works with Chinese regulators and companies. “They would look very favorably at transactions that have some links to the Belt and Road program, because the country needs to boost its financial muscle,” the banker said. But Beijing “will ensure the excesses of the past couple of years do not happen again.” The banker said his firm was currently working on several “mid-sized to large” foreign financial takeover deals.

[..] “China is having a hard time attracting international institutions to get involved” in Belt and Road projects, Huo said. “If that persists it will become an one-man show, which is not sustainable.” [..] Chinese companies will not be expanding into the financial services sector at will, of course. Acquisitions of stakes in foreign banks – never mind full ownership – are already closely monitored by overseas regulators. But while banks may be tough targets, bankers and executives say Chinese institutions and conglomerates could instead target asset management, insurance or wealth managers. China Everbright plans to allocate $1.5 billion of its 2017 spending to the purchase of a fund manager, private bank or insurer overseas to help it raise cash more easily and extend its presence abroad.

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What happened to currency manipulation? “Policymakers have demonstrated that they have more control over the exchange rate in the short run than many people believed..”

Or is it the US who’s the manipulator these days?

China Is Performing A High-Wire Balancing Act On The Yuan (CNBC)

China’s yuan weakened against the U.S. dollar on Monday after the government scrapped measures meant to prop up the currency. The central bank removed reserve requirements for financial institutions settling currency forwards, and for foreign banks holding yuan deposits offshore, reversing actions put in place a few years ago to quash depreciation pressures. The actions were always meant to be temporary and scaled back when the yuan regained firmer footing. But the currency’s immediate market reaction to the rule unwinding is a reminder of how precarious Beijing’s high-wire balancing act really is when it comes to the yuan. “Policymakers have demonstrated that they have more control over the exchange rate in the short run than many people believed,” wrote Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, in a note.

“But they still struggle to manage the expectations that determine medium-term exchange rate pressures.” That’s because China is balancing a number of priorities when it comes to its currency, including engineering stability in the markets ahead of a major leadership shuffle next month. A stronger yuan prompts investors to keep money onshore to chase returns at home. It also lets China defend against long-standing critics, including the U.S., that claim the world’s second-largest economy purposefully keeps the value of the yuan low in order to get a leg up in global trade with cheaper exports. The move is well-timed, as it comes ahead of an expected visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to China later this year, said Callum Henderson, managing director at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Trade tensions have been bubbling between the U.S. and China. But the scales can tip easily the other way — a stronger yuan, coupled with waning demand, is already hurting trade activity. August exports were up 5.5%, posting weaker growth than the 7.2% increase seen in July. On Tuesday, the government lowered its official yuan parity rate to 6.5277 per dollar, snapping an 11-day climb, supporting analyst calls that depreciation worries are subsiding. Despite Monday’s weakness, the yuan is still up 6.5% so far this year against the greenback, and holding onto its erasure of last year’s losses.

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Mind the time scales. But nice graph.

2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart (Visual C.)

Long before the invention of modern day maps or gunpowder, the planet’s major powers were already duking it out for economic and geopolitical supremacy. Today’s chart tells that story in the simplest terms possible. By showing the changing share of the global economy for each country from 1 AD until now, it compares economic productivity over a mind-boggling time period. Originally published in a research letter by Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan, we’ve updated it based on the most recent data and projections from the IMF. If you like, you can still find the original chart (which goes to 2008) at The Atlantic. It’s also worth noting that the original source for all the data up until 2008 is from the late Angus Maddison, a famous economic historian that published estimates on population, GDP, and other figures going back to Roman times.

If you looked at the chart in any depth, you probably noticed a big problem with it. The time periods between data points aren’t equal – in fact, they are not close at all. The first gap on the x-axis is 1,000 years and the second is 500 years. Then, as we get closer to modernity, the chart uses mostly 10 year intervals. Changing the scale like this is a big data visualization “no no”, as rightly pointed out in a blog post by The Economist. While we completely agree, we have a made an exception in this case. Why? Because getting good economic data from the early 20th century is already difficult enough – and so trying to find data in regular intervals before then seems like a fool’s errand. Likewise, a stacked bar chart with different years also doesn’t really do this story justice.

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How to make Brussels nervous. And Berlin.

Italy’s Main Opposition Parties Call For New Currency To Flank Euro (EN)

Italy’s leading opposition parties are calling for the introduction of a parallel currency to the euro, which they say will boost growth and jobs. Three of the country’s four largest parties – the Five Star Movement, the Northern League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – have proposed introducing a new currency following an election scheduled for next year. The proposals for a parallel currency have replaced the opposition parties’ previous calls to leave the euro completely. By settling on a dual currency, analysts say the parties hope to appeal to anti-euro sentiment in the country while avoiding, for now, the upheaval of an outright exit.

While some lawmakers have said the primary goal of the new currency is to persuade Brussels to change European fiscal rules to allow them to spend more and cut taxes, others backing the scheme have admitted they hope it will help make an eventual euro exit more likely. The proposal is opposed by the European Commission, which says there can only be one legal tender in the eurozone. When the euro was introduced in Italy in 1999, it enjoyed widespread support. However, this has since waned, with many blaming the single currency for drops in living standards and rising unemployment. A poll by the Winpoll agency in March showed that only around half of Italians back the euro. As the election nears, and with opinion polls currently pointing to a hung parliament, only the ruling Democratic Party is not proposing changes to the current euro set-up.

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By the slimmest of margins. A deeply flawed idea, and dangerous, to push through things that way.

UK Landmark EU Withdrawal Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle (Ind.)

Theresa May’s landmark EU (Withdrawal) Bill has passed its first parliamentary hurdle, paving the way for greater powers to be handed to ministers through the first major piece of Brexit legislation. MPs passed the legislation – often referred to as the Repeal Bill – by 326 votes to 290, giving the Government a majority of 36 after no Conservatives rebelled and several Labour politicians defied Jeremy Corbyn’s instruction to vote against. The Prime Minister described the vote as a “historic decision to back the will of the British people”, adding: “Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, said it was “a deeply disappointing result” and described the Bill as as “an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab” by Government ministers. The Bill’s aim is to transpose relevant EU law onto the UK statute book when the UK formally leaves the bloc in March 2019 and will also overturn the 1972 act that took Britain into the European Economic Community. Major concerns had been raised, however, over the so-called Henry VIII powers in the Bill which grants ministers the power to amend law without normal parliamentary scrutiny – the reason for Labour’s decision to oppose the legislation. But as MPs concluded debates at midnight a series of votes were then held. The Bill passed while Labour’s amendment – attempting to block the legislation – was defeated by 318 votes to 296.

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Overtaxed. They don’t have it. This is the Shock Doctrine.

Greek Taxpayers Failed To Pay €2 Billion In July (K.)

The figure of €2 billion in unpaid taxes in July alone, shown the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, is a sharp illustration of the fatigue gripping tax-paying individuals and businesses in Greece. The slump in tax payments has brought expired debts to the state since the start of the year from €5.475 billion by end-June to €7.483 billion by end-July. IAPR officials explain that the debts of three enterprises that went bankrupt expanded the expired debts in July; they say that €700 million of debts concern those three companies that happened to have gone bankrupt in July, while the remaining €1.3 billion concerns unpaid taxes.

If this nightmarish picture continues into the rest of the year, the hole in budget revenues will grow considerably, having already come to €700 million in the first seven months of 2017. What concerns the government most is whether the taxpayers who failed to pay in July enter the Finance Ministry’s 12-installment payment plan. Otherwise – if they refrain from paying their taxes, for example – state coffers will find themselves in serious trouble after the addition of 172,704 taxpayers who added their names to those who defaulted on their obligations in July.

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I can attest to the demise of large swaths of the city. Utter insanity.

Austerity Is Laying Waste To Athens’ Architectural Heritage (G.)

Not that long ago I received a questionnaire through my door. How had the 1930s Bauhaus building in which I live survived the rigours of time? Who had designed it? Who was its first owner? And, the form went on, what were my memories of it? Circulated far and wide across Athens, the questionnaire and its findings are part of a vast inventory of 19th- and early 20th-century buildings that now stand at the heart of a burgeoning cultural heritage crisis in Greece. At least 10,600 buildings in the capital are under threat, as the country navigates its worst economic crisis in recent times. Under the weight of austerity – with bank loans frozen, repeated budget cuts and tax rises kicking in – many buildings have already been allowed to fall into disrepair, or have been pulled down altogether.

“In the present climate, people just don’t have the money to restore them,” says Irini Gratsia, co-founder of Monumenta, the association of archaeologists and architects that is collating the database. “There is a great danger that many will be demolished not because their owners want new builds, but because they want to avoid property taxes announced since the crisis began.” Monumenta estimates that, since the 1950s, as many as 80% of Athens’ buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries have been destroyed. Now at risk are some of the last surviving examples of Greek neoclassical architecture and Greek modernism, the latter scorned as “cement boxes” when they began to fill the great Attic plain. Mostly constructed between 1830 and 1940, these buildings comprise the rich architectural mosaic of a city – dominated by the 5th-century BC Acropolis – that often goes unnoticed.

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Salary considerations? People making €500 a month is normal now. That’s third world.

Greece Ranked As The Worst Country To Live As An Expat (K.)

Greece was at the bottom of this year’s ranking of the top countries for expats, according to InterNations’ Expat Insider survey. The survey, carried out between February and March this year, asked nearly 13,000 expats about their quality of life and to rank 43 different aspects of life abroad. Factors included job opportunities, salary considerations, quality of life, and safety. Greece was ranked as the worst country to live in mostly due to the financial situation, with half of the respondents saying that their household income was not enough to cover their daily expenses. Bahrain, Costa Rica, and Mexico were ranked the top three destinations for expats.

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Sep 062017
 
 September 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Summer evening 1947

 

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)
Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)
The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)
Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)
Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)
UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)
Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)
Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)
Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)
The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)
Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)
European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)
Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

 

 

Tropical storm José is close behind, and the next one, Katia, is forming in the Gulf. Prayers. The Saffir-Simpson scale doesn’t go to 6, or Irma would be that. 5++ for now.

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the north-east Caribbean on Tuesday night local time, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend. At the far north-eastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early on Wednesday. Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.” The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4. Other islands in the path of the storm included the US and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people. US president Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80m), said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.

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‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’

Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)

The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns. The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”. “The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says. “This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.

“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.” The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows. “Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.” LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.

“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says. The report largely sheets the blame home to Australia’s financial regulators, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. “ASIC and APRA have failed to protect borrowers from predatory and illegal lending practices,” it says. “Although ASIC has no official ‘duty of care’, APRA does, and will have some serious questions to answer in relation to systemic criminality within the mortgage market committed by the financial institutions they regulate. The evidence strongly suggests the regulators have done nothing to combat white-collar criminality in the mortgage market.”

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Because the world doesn’t know what it is.

The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)

The Great Recession may be over, but eight years later we can still see the deep scars and unhealed wounds it left on the global economy. In an attempt to prevent an unpleasant revisit to the Stone Age, global governments have bailed out banks and the private sector. These bailouts and subsequent stimuli swelled global government debt, which jumped 75%, to $58 trillion in 2014 from $33 trillion in 2007. (These numbers, from McKinsey, are the latest, but it’s fair to say they have not shrunk since.) There’s a lot about today’s environment that doesn’t fit neatly into economic theory. Ballooning government debt should have brought higher – much higher – interest rates. But central banks bought the bonds of their respective governments and corporations, driving interest rates down to the point at which a quarter of global government debt now “pays” negative interest.

The concept of positive interest rates is straightforward. You take your savings, which you amass by forgoing current consumption — not buying a newer car or making fewer trips to fancy restaurants — and lend it to someone. In exchange for your sacrifice, you receive interest payments. With negative interest rates, something quite different happens: You lend $100 to your neighbor. A year later the neighbor knocks on your door and, with a smile on his face, repays that $100 loan by writing you a check for $95. You had to pay $5 for forgoing your consumption of $100 for a year. The key takeaway: negative and near-zero interest rates show central banks’ desperation to avoid deflation. More important, they highlight the bleak state of the global economy. In theory, low- and negative interest rates were supposed to reduce savings and stimulate spending.

In practice, the opposite has happened: The savings rate has gone up. As interest rates on their deposits declined, consumers felt that now they had to save more to earn the same income. Go figure. Some countries resort to negative interest rates because they want to devalue their currencies. This strategy suffers from what economists call the fallacy of composition: the mistaken assumption that what is true of one member of a group is true for the group as a whole. As a country adopts negative interest rates, its currency will decline against others — arguably stimulating its export sector (at the expense of other countries). But there is absolutely nothing proprietary about this strategy: Other governments will do the same, and in the end all will experience lowered consumption and a higher savings rate.

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Draghi seeks to protect Europe’s biggest banks, but he can’t. Not anymore.

Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)

The European Central Bank may not have as much flexibility left in its bond-buying program as Mario Draghi insists. As the Governing Council kicks off discussion about the future of its asset purchases, the question that will loom large is how much wiggle room policy makers have to extend their 2.3 trillion-euro program ($2.7 trillion). Not much, according to two economists. They believe the ECB’s decision to wind down bond buying next year will be a matter of necessity rather a choice. “Bond scarcity is increasing in more and more countries,” says Louis Harreau, an ECB strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris. “The ECB will be forced to reduce its QE regardless of economic conditions, simply because it has no more bonds to purchase.”

But working out how much space the central bank still has is fiendishly hard. That’s because the asset-purchase program is like a three-dimensional game of chess spread over bonds from 18 euro-area states. The 19th member, Greece, is excluded from the program. The first rule the ECB could trip over is the one that prohibits the accumulation of more than 33% of debt from a single country. Germany could hit this mark as early as spring if the current pace of purchases is maintained, says Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer. It’s long been a red line for Draghi and revisiting it now when the program is awaiting a review at the European Union’s highest court could be particularly tricky.

Yet some rules of the program are more malleable, giving the ECB potential leeway. The euro-area central banks have quotas to meet in buying each nation’s debt based on the size of their economies. But they can deviate from those capital-key guidelines and have done so for months now. A good example is Germany, where debt-buying last month hit the lowest level since the program started more than two years ago. According to Harreau, the ECB could deviate from the capital key by a total of €5 billion a month, twice the amount they do now. That could ease the strain for some countries, but would still require the program to be wound down by the end of next year, he says.

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By the time Brexit is reality, they’ll need to lay them off anyway.

Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)

Frankfurt and Dublin are emerging as the clear favorites for post-Brexit relocation among U.K.-based banks, according to a top official at Germany’s central bank. “From the discussions I have, it is my clear impression that Dublin and Frankfurt are the two cities where there is most interest (from City lenders). We have received quite a number of applications,” Andreas Dombret, an executive board member at the German Bundesbank, told CNBC on Tuesday. “We encourage the banks to finalize their thinking, especially the ones that have not done so, and to really think where they want to move and how they want to move … Let’s all not try to walk through the same narrow door in the 11th hour,” he added. Britain’s financial services industry has been quietly preparing for Brexit given that it’s likely to lose its EU passporting rights – these are special licenses that allow U.K.-based banks to sell their services across the whole of the EU.

The negotiations between London and Brussels are still ongoing and it remains unclear how many employees will have to be moved from London to other European cities. At the moment, the disruption appears to be minimal compared to the overall size of the industry. But there are clear winners from the exit of some jobs from London with Frankfurt and Dublin perceived to be the top destinations for institutions that wish to continue working with clients across the EU. When asked whether vulnerable European banks could trigger a systemic crisis across the continent, Dombret said that such a prospect “doesn’t keep me up at night.” “I’m not that worried about a systemic crisis at all. There are regions, there are sectors and there are certain banks in certain countries which are more exposed than others but it is not a system wide or country wide issue,” he said.

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An event that shapes an entire nation is negotiated by just one segment of its population. Not even a majority at that.

UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit planning suffered a double blow as a top European Union official doubted that trade talks will start next month and the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge key legislation. The EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told German lawmakers that she’s skeptical officials will be able to begin discussing a trade deal in October, as they had hoped, according to two people present at the briefing. Her warning emerged as Labour announced it will seek to block May’s plan for a post-Brexit legal regime in London. May also has to contend with a leak of a draft plan for new immigration rules, which would end the free movement of workers on the day Britain leaves the EU, and impose restrictions on all but highly skilled workers from the region.

The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, said immigration should not just benefit the migrants, but “make existing residents better off.” The fresh trouble at home and abroad exposes how hard May is finding it to extricate the U.K. from the EU just days after the latest round of negotiations ended in acrimony with the two sides at odds over how much Britain should pay when it quits the bloc. [..] The EU has said it will not shift to discussing the sweeping new free-trade agreement that the U.K. wants until “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues – including the financial settlement, the rights of citizens and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Labour is challenging the government’s argument that with a shrinking amount of time available, ministers should be handed the power to revise aspects of EU law without full parliamentary scrutiny. As May has no majority in Parliament, she’d be vulnerable to rebels from her own Conservative side, and some Tories, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, have already expressed reservations about this aspect of the bill. If amendments to the bill mean ministers have to get parliamentary approval for each regulation, they risk being held up by constant roadblocks.

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In the hands of Congress now.

Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night said he would “revisit” the Obama-era policy shielding hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation in six months if Congress cannot legalize it. It is unclear what action Trump would take if he decided to again address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that he said he would end Tuesday with a six-month delay. However, his tweeted comment appears to cloud his view on the issue after a day in which he and his administration vehemently criticized President Barack Obama’s authority to implement the policy. Trump’s decision set up a potential rush for lawmakers to pass a bill protecting so-called dreamers before the Trump administration’s deadline. It is unclear if the GOP-led Congress, members of which voted to sink similar legislation in the past, can do so in the near future as it faces multiple crucial deadlines to approve legislation.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, Trump said he looks forward “to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to finally address all of these issues in a manner that puts the hardworking citizens of our country first.” “As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans,” Trump said. Trump allies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged him to end DACA, arguing it will be difficult to defend in court. “Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said Tuesday in announcing the move.

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“They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned that the escalating North Korean crisis could cause a “planetary catastrophe” and huge loss of life, and described US proposals for further sanctions on Pyongyang as “useless”. “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he told reporters in China. “It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.” On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date. The underground blast triggered a magnitude-6.3 earthquake and was more powerful than the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war. Putin was attending the Brics summit, bringing together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Speaking on Tuesday, the final day of the summit in Xiamen, China, he said Russia condemned North Korea’s provocations but said further sanctions would be useless and ineffective, describing the measures as a “road to nowhere”. Foreign interventions in Iraq and Libya had convinced the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that he needed nuclear weapons to survive, Putin said. “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged … We all know how this happened and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. “They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

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History does talk. Jimmy Carter was replaced with “We came, we saw, he died.”

Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)

The 1994 agreement was the United States’ response to a regional political crisis that began that year when North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear states to agree never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Although it had no nuclear weapon, North Korea was producing plutonium, an action that almost led the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against its plutonium facility. That war was averted when Jimmy Carter made a surprise trip to Pyongyang and met with North Korea’s founder and leader at the time, Kim Il-sung (he died a few months later, and his power was inherited by his son, Kim Jong-il). The framework was signed in October 1994, ending “three years of on and off vilification, stalemates, brinkmanship, saber-rattling, threats of force, and intense negotiations,” Park Kun-young, a professor of international relations at Korea Catholic University, wrote in a 2009 history of the negotiations.

In addition to shutting its one operating reactor, Yongbyon, the North also stopped construction of two large reactors “that together were capable of generating 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year,” according to Leon V. Sigal, a former State Department official who helped negotiate the 1994 framework and directs a Northeast Asia security project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Most important for the United States, it remained in the NPT. In exchange for North Korea’s concessions, the United States agreed to provide 500,000 tons a year of heavy fuel oil to North Korea as well two commercial light-water reactors considered more “proliferation resistant” than the Soviet-era heavy-water facility the North was using. The new reactors were to be built in 2003 by a US/Japanese/South Korean consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO. (The reactors, however, were never completed).

[..] First, the Agreed Framework led North Korea to halt its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program for over a decade, forgoing enough enrichment to make over 100 nuclear bombs. “What people don’t know is that North Korea made no fissible material whatsoever from 1991 to 2003,” says Sigal. (The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in 1994 that the North had ceased production of plutonium three years earlier.) “A lot of this history” about North Korea, Sigal adds with a sigh, “is in the land of make-believe.” Second, the framework remained in effect well into the Bush administration. In 1998, the State Department’s Rust Deming testified to Congress that “there is no fundamental violation of any aspect of the framework agreement”; four years later, a similar pledge was made by Bush’s then–Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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“Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth..”

The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)

These are not the bad guys. The bad guys are the ones refusing to respect the sovereignty of North Korea or any other nation under the sun. The bad guys are the ones invading sovereign nations at will and slaughtering civilians with explosives dropped from flying killing machines. The fact that something so simple and so obvious is not universally known in America speaks to the phenomenal efficacy of its corporate media propaganda machine. Because of that propaganda machine, Americans sincerely think that the bad guys are the tiny little nations that America bullies in proxy conflicts to maintain global hegemony. They’re watching Star Wars and cheering for the stormtroopers.

Because of the neoconservative American supremacist doctrine that the US power establishment has espoused, America has given itself the authority to intervene in any government’s affairs at any time and for any reason. This doctrine of American supremacy is founded on the belief that the United States was selected by destiny to lead the world when it won the Cold War, a divine right of sorts to dominion over the entire planet. This is the real evil. The North Koreans aren’t the bad guys, and the South Koreans want to get along with them. They’re sick of being in a constant state of war, they want dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea by a nearly four to one margin, and they staged large protests against America’s missile defense system which at one point mobilized 8,000 riot police to remove protesters from a South Korean THAAD site.

These are the people who are actually putting their lives on the line with Seoul’s close proximity to the DMZ, and they want peace and de-escalation. They should be allowed to have that, but their US-backed government is talking about bringing American tactical nukes back to the Korean Peninsula. [..] Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth, throughout their schooling and by every screen they interact with throughout their day; it’s a testament to their good will that the elites are forced to put on this Scooby Doo haunted house song and dance every time.

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The Mussolini kind.

Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)

The time for rhetorical reservations is over. Things have to be called by their name to make it possible for a co-ordinated democratic reaction to be initiated, above all in the public services. Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies. Neoliberalism is a form of economism in our day that strikes at every moment and every sector of our community. It is a form of extremism. Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.

I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought. The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy. The austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service. The nihilism that results from this makes possible the dismissal of universalism and the most evident humanistic values: solidarity, fraternity, integration and respect for all and for differences.

There is no place any more even for classical economic theory: work was formerly an element in demand, and to that extent there was respect for workers; international finance has made of it a mere adjustment variable. Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as depicted accurately in George Orwell’s 1984. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernisation of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernisation of social security in action.

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The EU seeks to forcefully redefine ‘sovereignty’, like it did in Greece. That will not end well. Even if these countries gave in and admitted refugees, how would they be treated?

European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)

The EU’s top court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge by eastern European members over the bloc’s mandatory refugee quota program. The ruling means that Hungary and Slovakia could face fines if they refuse to abide by the quota system. The ruling is a victory for EU immigration policy, which has divided the bloc as nearly 1.7 million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary argue the mandatory quota system violates their sovereignty and threatens their societies. The legal challenge was also backed by Poland, which alongside Hungary has not taken in any asylum seekers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have only taken in a few dozen asylum seekers. Only 24,000 of 160,000 refugees from frontline Mediterranean states like Greece and Italy have been transferred to other states under the EU’s refugee burden sharing policy agreed to in 2015.

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Because they have farmland to spare?

Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

China will expand its agricultural use of environment-damaging plastic film to boost crop production even as authorities try to curb soil pollution, a government scientist said. Some 1.45 million metric tons of polyethylene are spread in razor-thin sheets across 20 million hectares (49 million acres) — an area about half the size of California — of farmland in China. Use of the translucent material may exceed 2 million tons by 2024 and cover 22 million hectares, according to Yan Changrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The plastic sheets, used as mulch over 12% of China’s farmland, are growing in popularity because they trap moisture and heat, and prevent weeds and pests. Those features can bolster cotton, maize and wheat yields, while enabling crops to be grown across a wider area.

“The technology can boost yields by 30%, so you can image how much extra production we can get — it can solve the problems of producing sufficient food and fiber,” Yan said in an interview at his office at the academy’s Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture. The downside is that polypropylene film isn’t biodegradable and often not recycled. Potentially cancer-causing toxins can be released into the soil from the plastic residue, known locally as “white pollution,” which is present at levels of 60-to-300 kilograms (132-to-661 pounds) per hectare in some provinces. [..] Regrettably, there are no viable alternatives to polyethylene that possess the same agronomic advantages. That means farmers are compelled to keep using it to boost production and income, said Yan, as he flicked through slides showing pollution in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

The material enables crops to be grown in both drier and colder environments. In Xinjiang, which accounts for almost 70% of the country’s cotton output, plastic mulch is used on all cotton farms; and across 93% of the country’s tobacco fields, he said. The film reduces water demand by 20-to-30%.

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Aug 282017
 
 August 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Lou Reed New York City 1966

 

Harvey’s Cost Reaches Catastrophe: Only 15% Of Homes Have Flood Insurance (BBG)
Gasoline Surges, Oil Holds Near $48 as Harvey Shuts Refineries (BBG)
Mammoth Flood Disaster in Houston: More Rain Yet to Come (WU)
The Coming Collapse Of China’s Ponzi Scheme Economy (SCMP)
What’s Driving The Growth In US ‘Shadow Banking’ (CBR)
Volatility Makes a Comeback (Rickards)
YouTube “Economically Censors” Ron Paul (ZH)
Should The Rich Be Taxed More? (G.)
The West’s Wealth Is Based On Slavery. Reparations Should Be Paid (G.)
Danone Sends 5,000 Cows to Siberia in Quest for Cheaper Milk (BBG)

 

 

The real tragedy takes place below the surface. Sort of literally. Much more rain to come.

Harvey’s Cost Reaches Catastrophe: Only 15% Of Homes Have Flood Insurance (BBG)

Hurricane Harvey’s second act across southern Texas is turning into an economic catastrophe – with damages likely to stretch into tens of billions of dollars and an unusually large share of victims lacking adequate insurance, according to early estimates. Harvey’s cost could mount to $24 billion when including the impact of relentless flooding on the labor force, power grid, transportation and other elements that support the region’s energy sector, Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, said by phone on Sunday. That would place it among the top eight hurricanes to ever strike the U.S. “A historic event is currently unfolding in Texas,” Aon wrote in an alert to clients. “It will take weeks until the full scope and magnitude of the damage is realized,” and already it’s clear that “an abnormally high portion of economic damage caused by flooding will not be covered,” the insurance broker said.

[..] Most people with flood insurance buy policies backed by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program. As of April, less than one-sixth of homes in Houston’s Harris County had federal coverage, according to Aon. That would leave more than 1 million homes unprotected in the county. Coverage rates are similar in neighboring areas. Many cars also will be totaled. “A lot of these people are going to be in very serious financial situations,” said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “Most people who are living in these areas do not have flood insurance. They may be able to collect some grants from the government, but there are not a lot, usually they’re very limited. There are no-interest to low-interest loans, but you have to pay them back.”

The federal program itself is already struggling with $25 billion of debt. The existing program is set to expire on Sept. 30 and is up for review in Congress, which ends its recess Sept. 5. Costs still will likely soar for insurance companies and their reinsurers, biting into earnings. As Harvey bore down on the coastline Friday, William Blair, a securities firm that tracks the industry, said the storm could theoretically inflict $25 billion of insured losses if it landed as a “large category 3 hurricane.” Policyholder-owned State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance has the largest share in the market for home coverage in Texas, followed by Allstate, which is publicly traded. William Blair estimated that, in that scenario, Allstate could incur $500 million of pretax catastrophe losses, shaving 89 cents off of earnings per share.

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Most shutdowns so far are precautionary. But…

Gasoline Surges, Oil Holds Near $48 as Harvey Shuts Refineries (BBG)

Gasoline surged to the highest in two years and oil was steady as flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey inundated refining centers along the Texas coast, shutting more than 10% of U.S. fuel-making capacity. Motor fuel prices rose as much as 6.8%, while oil held gains near $48 a barrel. Harvey, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since 2004, made landfall as a hurricane Friday, flooding cities and shutting plants able to process some 2.26 million barrels of oil a day. Pipelines were closed, potentially stranding some crude in West Texas and starving New York Harbor of gasoline. Gasoline prices are going to continue to rise this week as we expect another three days of rain in the Houston area,” Andy Lipow, president of consultant Lipow Oil in Houston, said by phone.

“With pipeline operators beginning to shut down their crude oil and refined product infrastructure, I expect to see further curtailment of refinery operations. A spike in gasoline and diesel prices will drag up crude oil prices.” Oil has traded this month in the tightest range since February as investors weigh rising global supply against output cuts by members of OPEC and its allies. As Harvey led to widespread flooding, Shell shut its Deer Park plant, while Magellan Midstream suspended its inbound and outbound refined products and crude pipeline transportation services in the Houston area. Gasoline for September delivery climbed as much as 11.33 cents to $1.7799 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest intraday price for a front-month contract since July 2015.

It traded at $1.7621 at 12:36 p.m. in Hong Kong. West Texas Intermediate oil for October delivery fell 16 cents to $47.71 a barrel after advancing 0.9% on Friday. Brent crude’s premium to WTI widened to the largest in two years with the global benchmark trading at as much as $4.96 above the U.S. marker. Brent for October settlement gained 18 cents, or 0.3%, to $52.59 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

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Waether Underground is probably the best source.

Mammoth Flood Disaster in Houston: More Rain Yet to Come (WU)

Harvey’s winds are expected to remain modest, and it could become a tropical depression at any point, but winds are not the problem here. The NOAA/NWS National Hurricane Center now predicts that Harvey will inch its way into the Gulf of Mexico—though just barely—by Monday night, then arc northeast and make a second landfall just west of Houston on Wednesday. The 12Z GFS and 00Z European model runs agree on a general northward motion for Harvey across eastern Texas, beginning around midweek. At this point it may make little difference whether Harvey stays just inland or moves just offshore, since rainbands would continue to be funneled toward Houston either way. The fine-scale particulars of this outlook may shift over time, but the overall message is consistent: Harvey will be a devastating rainmaking presence in southeast Texas for days to come.

Harvey’s circulation is located in a near-ideal spot for funneling vast amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico toward the upper Texas coast. Here, converging winds at low levels have been concentrating the moisture into north-south-oriented bands of intense thunderstorms with torrential rain. Since Harvey is barely moving, these bands are creeping only slowly eastward as individual cells race north along them—a “training” set-up that is common in major flood events. Mesoscale models, our best guidance for short-term, small-scale behavior of thunderstorms, show little sign of relief for southeast Texas anytime soon. Convection-resolving mesoscale models, which have a tight enough resolution to depict individual thunderstorms, are an invaluable tool in situations like this. The mesoscale nested NAM model predicts that 20” – 30” of additional rainfall is likely through Tuesday across the Houston metro area, with even larger totals at some points.

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Hmm. But what if China manages to unload all its overcapacity on the Belt Road, and makes other countries pay?

The Coming Collapse Of China’s Ponzi Scheme Economy (SCMP)

Friends who have a greater interest than I do in reading the tea leaves in Beijing tell me that the emphasis in relations with Hong Kong from now on will be on one country rather than two systems. I think this phrases things the wrong way. The one country bit was never in issue. What they actually mean to say is that Beijing’s system of state command of the economy will become dominant and Hong Kong’s more freewheeling system will fade away. I don’t think it will happen. In my view human society is so dynamic that no command system can last long in charge of an economy. Attempts at this particular form of hubris inevitably end in either war or financial crisis. For the Soviet Union it was financial crisis. I think the same fate awaits Beijing.

Consider crude steel production, a test-tube example of how command economies get it wrong. In the mainland this stood in June at an all time monthly record of 73 million tonnes, five times the total production in all of Europe. Steel was recently targeted for a reduction in capacity but then a regime of easy money intended to help the industry overcome a difficult period of contraction instead stimulated production. It has happened across the mainland’s rust belt industries. Why is so much steel needed? Simple. It is needed to build more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways and bridges so that more ships can be built to carry more iron ore to more ports and thence along more rails and bridges to more steel mills so as to build more shipyards, ports, railways …

What we have here, in short, is a giant Ponzi scheme. In a Ponzi scheme you pay out the winnings of the first entrants with what others later pay into it. As long as it keeps growing everything is fine. When it stops growing it collapses. In this case you justify production with demand based purely on more production. As long as you keep pushing production up everything looks fine. At its peak in 2014 China turned out 30 times more cement than the United States, and the latest production figures are only a smidgen less than 2014’s.

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What do you think? A good sign? It isn’t in China….

What’s Driving The Growth In US ‘Shadow Banking’ (CBR)

In the wake of the 2007–10 financial crisis, there’s been sizeable growth of “shadow banking”— companies without banking charters entering lines of business traditionally associated with deposit-taking banks. Hedge funds that make direct loans to midsize businesses, online mortgage originators, peer-to-peer lending platforms, and payday lenders have all been on the rise. What’s behind this? According to Chicago Booth’s Gregor Matvos, Booth PhD candidate Greg Buchak, Columbia’s Tomasz Piskorski, and Stanford’s Amit Seru, much of the growth is due to regulations that have pushed banks out of traditional lending businesses. The researchers also attribute some growth to online technology that has lowered the barrier to entry in markets where lenders once needed networks of physical branches to have any hope of building business.

The researchers focus on the US residential lending market, the largest consumer loan market in the country—and the market that drew the most attention from regulators after 2008. Between 2007 and 2015, shadow banks nearly tripled their market share, from 14% to 38%. They gained the most in the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage market, which serves lower-quality borrowers and is where shadow banks’ share rose from 20% to 75%. Traditional banks retreated from sectors of the mortgage market where the regulatory burden grew the most, the researchers note. Traditional banks have been particularly hindered by rules that increased monitoring of balance-sheet holdings and constrained what banks could hold in their own accounts.

Their retreat helped shadow banking succeed in the riskier FHA market and in more-traditional, conforming mortgages. The researchers also separated shadow banks into those that did and didn’t originate loans online. During the study period, lenders that originated loans online (fintech lenders) saw market share rise from 4% to 13%—but that remains less than half of the shadow-banking sector.

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Super spikes.

Volatility Makes a Comeback (Rickards)

Volatility has languished near all-time lows for months on end. That’s about to change. For almost a year, one of the most profitable trading strategies has been to sell volatility. Since the election of Donald Trump stocks have been a one-way bet. They almost always go up, and have hit record highs day after day. The strategy of selling volatility has been so profitable that promoters tout it to investors as a source of “steady, low-risk income.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, sellers of volatility have made steady profits the past year. But the strategy is extremely risky and you could lose all of your profits in a single bad day. Think of this strategy as betting your life’s savings on red at a roulette table. If the wheel comes up red, you double your money. But if you keep playing eventually the wheel will come up black and you’ll lose everything.

That’s what it’s like to sell volatility. It feels good for a while, but eventually a black swan appears like the black number on the roulette wheel, and the sellers get wiped out. I focus on the shocks and unexpected events that others don’t see. Right now looks like one of those highly favorable windows when the purchase of volatility is the right move. You could collect huge winnings as the short sellers scramble to cover their bets before they are wiped out completely. The chart below shows a 20-year history of volatility spikes. You can observe long periods of relatively low volatility such as 2004 to 2007, and 2013 to mid-2015, but these are inevitably followed by volatility super-spikes. During these super-spikes the sellers of volatility are crushed, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy because they can’t cover their bets.

The period from mid-2015 to late 2016 saw some brief volatility spikes associated with the Chinese devaluation (August and December 2015), Brexit (June 23, 2016) and the election of Donald Trump (Nov. 8, 2016). But, none of these spikes reached the super-spike levels of 2008 – 2012. In short, we have been on a volatility holiday. Volatility is historically low and has remained so for an unusually long period of time. The sellers of volatility have been collecting “steady income,” yet this is really just a winning streak at the volatility casino. The wheel of fortune is about to turn and luck is about to run out for the sellers. It will soon be time for the buyers of volatility to collect their winnings, big time.

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Sliding scales. One step before large tech is declared utility?!

YouTube “Economically Censors” Ron Paul (ZH)

Former US Congressman Ron Paul has joined a growing list of independent political journalists and commentators who’re being economically punished by YouTube despite producing videos that routinely receive hundreds of thousands of views. In a tweet published Saturday, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange tweeted a screenshot of Paul’s “Liberty Report” page showing that his videos had been labeled “not suitable” for all advertisers by YouTube’s content arbiters. Assange claims that Paul was being punished for speaking out about President Donald Trump’s decision to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan, after Paul published a video on the subject earlier this week. The notion that YouTube would want to economically punish a former US Congressman for sharing his views on US foreign policy – a topic that he is unequivocally qualified to speak about – is absurd.

Furthermore, the “review requested” marking on one of Paul’s videos reveals that they were initially flagged by users before YouTube’s moderators confirmed that the videos were unsuitable for a broad audience. Other political commentators who’ve been censored by YouTube include Paul Joseph Watson and Tim Black – both ostensibly for sharing political views that differ from the mainstream neo-liberal ideology favored by the Silicon Valley elite. Last week, Google – another Alphabet Inc. company – briefly banned Salil Mehta, an adjunct professor at Columbia and Georgetown who teaches probability and data science, from using its service, freezing his accounts without providing an explanation. He was later allowed to return to the service. Conservative journalist Lauren Southern spoke out about YouTube’s drive to stifle politically divergent journalists and commentators during an interview with the Daily Caller.

“I think it would be insane to suggest there’s not an active effort to censor conservative and independent views,” said Southern. “Considering most of Silicon Valley participate in the censorship of alleged ‘hate speech,’ diversity hiring and inclusivity committees. Their entire model is based around a far left outline. There’s no merit hiring, there’s no support of free speech and there certainly is not an equal representation of political views at these companies.” Of course, Google isn’t the only Silicon Valley company that’s enamored with censorship. Facebook has promised to eradicate “fake news,” which, by its definition, includes political content that falls outside of the mainstream. Still, economically punishing a former US Congressman and medical doctor is a new low in Silicon Valley’s campaign to stamp out dissent.

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The most prosperous times of our societies coincide with the highest tax levels for the rich.

Should The Rich Be Taxed More? (G.)

The past four decades have been extremely kind to those at the top. They have seen their incomes grow faster than the rest of the population and hold a far bigger share of wealth in the form of property and financial investments than the rest of the population. Over the years a bigger slice of national income has gone to capital at the expense of labour, and the rich have been the beneficiaries of that, because they are more likely to own shares and expensive houses. The trend has been particularly strong in the US, where labour’s share of income has fallen from a recent peak of 57% at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency to 53% by 2015. The Gini coefficient – a measure of inequality – has been steadily rising since 1970 and is now at levels normally seen in developing rather than advanced economies.

Hatgioannides, Karanassou and Sala seek to take account of these profound changes in the distribution of income and wealth. They do so by dividing the average income tax rate of a particular slice of the US population by the%age of national income commanded by that same group and by their share of wealth. They then look at whether by this measure – the fiscal inequality coefficient – the US tax system has become more or less progressive over time. The findings show quite clearly that it has become less progressive. In terms of income, the poorest 99% of the US population paid nine times as much income tax as the richest 1%, both when John F Kennedy was president in the early 1960s and when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in the 1980 race for the White House. By 2014, they paid 21 times as much.

Similarly, the bottom 99.9% in the US paid 28 times as much tax as the elite 0.1% in the early 1960s and the early 1980s, but by 2014 they were paying 76 times as much. The same trend applies – although it is not pronounced – when income tax is divided by the share of wealth. The bottom 99% paid 22 times as much income tax as the wealthiest 1% in 1980 but were paying 47 times as much in 2014. The bottom 99.9% paid 58 times as much income tax as the top 0.1% before the onset of Reaganomics; by 2014 they were paying 175 times as much. [..] As the authors note, since 1980, economic policy making has been dominated by the idea that deregulation, less generous welfare and tax cuts will stimulate higher investment, higher productivity, higher growth and higher living standards for all. None of this has occurred and, what’s more, the social mobility in the decades after the second world war has been thrown into reverse. The great American dream – the notion that anybody can strike it rich – is dead.

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They won’t be.

The West’s Wealth Is Based On Slavery. Reparations Should Be Paid (G.)

Malcolm X explained that “if you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made”. Instead of attempting to fix the damage, we are completely unable to progress on issues of equality because countries such as Britain “won’t even admit the knife is there”. It is the height of delusion to think that the impact of slavery ended with emancipation, or that empire was absolved by the charade of independence being bestowed on the former colonies.

[..]It is not just governments that owe a debt; some of the biggest institutions and corporations built their wealth on slavery. Lloyds of London is one of Britain’s most successful companies and its roots lie in insuring the merchant trade in the 17th century. The fact that this was the slave trade has already led to civil action being taken by African Americans in New York. The church, many of the biggest banks, much of the ironworks industry and port cities gorged themselves on the profits from human flesh. It is clear that it would be just to pay reparations, and it is also possible to calculate the amount that Britain and other nations owe. A lot of work has been done in the United States to determine the damages owed to African Americans. The figure owed comes to far more than the “forty acres and a mule” that were promised to some African Americans who fought in the civil war.

The latest calculations from researchers estimates that for unpaid labour, taking into account interest and inflation, African Americans are owed anywhere between $5.9tn and $14.2tn. It would not be prohibitively complicated to work out the debts owed by the western powers, or the companies that enriched themselves off exploitation. The obviousness of the issue is such that a federation of Caribbean countries (Caricom) is now demanding reparations, as is the Movement for Black Lives in America and Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe. In many ways the calls for reparatory justice do not take go far enough. Caricom includes a demand to cancel third world debt, and the Movement for Black Lives for free tuition for African Americans.

Both of these are examples of removing the knife from our backs, rather than healing the wound. Third world debt was an unjust mechanism for maintaining colonial economic control and; allowing free access to a deeply problematic school system will not eradicate the impacts of centuries of oppression. In order to have racial justice we need to hit the reset button and have the west account for the wealth stolen and devastation caused. Nothing short of a massive transfer of wealth from the developed to the underdeveloped world, and to the descendants of slavery and colonialism in the west, can heal the deep wounds inflicted.

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Cows to Qatar, cown to SIberia: the new backpackers?!

Danone Sends 5,000 Cows to Siberia in Quest for Cheaper Milk (BBG)

President Vladimir Putin’s ban on European Union cheese imports has driven up milk prices in Russia by so much that French yogurt maker Danone is transporting almost 5,000 cows to a farm in Siberia to ensure it has an affordable supply. The Holstein cows are traveling as many as 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) in trucks from the Netherlands and Germany, boosting the herd on a farm near the city of Tyumen, according to Charlie Cappetti, head of Danone’s Russian unit. That should protect the company from the increase in raw milk prices, which are up 14% this year, he said. “Milk prices have been going up steadily,” Cappetti said in an interview in Moscow. “That puts products such as yogurt under pressure.” While the French dairy company doesn’t normally invest in agriculture, it made an exception for Russia.

After Putin’s ban on dairy imports took hold in 2014, demand for milk surged as local cheesemakers rushed to replace French camembert and Italian pecorino. That has exacerbated the inflationary effects of the ruble’s weakness. Danone invested in the 60-hectare (150-acre) farm with local producer Damate, Cappetti said. The first cows started to provide milk for Danone in May, and a final shipment of cattle is due to arrive in September. “We hope that Russian milk inflation will slow down next year,” the executive said. The difference between supply and demand is narrowing as new milk is coming to the market, including from the Siberian farm. While easing milk inflation may help the Russian dairy market rebound in volume terms, Danone isn’t expecting a fast economic recovery in the country, according to Cappetti. Sales in Russia have been growing in line with inflation in the first half and should rise in 2018, he said.

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Aug 242017
 
 August 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Egon Schiele Meadow, Church and Houses 1912

 

Wall Street Banks Warn Downturn Is Coming (BBG)
Big US Banks Could See Profit Jump 20% With Deregulation (BBG)
ECB Chief Draghi: QE Has Made Economies More Resilient (BBC)
Yellen’s Coming Speech Could Mark The ‘End Of An Era’ (BI)
Here’s Why New Home Sales Tanked (CNBC)
Autos Put Economic Downside Risks on Full Display (DDMB)
Merkel Aide Says Germany Has ‘Vital Interest’ in Diesel Survival (BBG)
China’s ‘Belt And Road’ Could Be Next Risk To Global Financial System (CNBC)
Being Here (Brodsky)
All The Countries The USA Has Invaded, In One Map (Indy)
America, Home of the Transactional Marriage (Atlantic)

 

 

More cycles.

Wall Street Banks Warn Downturn Is Coming (BBG)

HSBC, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley see mounting evidence that global markets are in the last stage of their rallies before a downturn in the business cycle. Analysts at the Wall Street behemoths cite signals including the breakdown of long-standing relationships between stocks, bonds and commodities as well as investors ignoring valuation fundamentals and data. It all means stock and credit markets are at risk of a painful drop. “Equities have become less correlated with FX, FX has become less correlated with rates, and everything has become less sensitive to oil,” Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley’s chief cross-asset strategist, wrote in a note published Tuesday. His bank’s model shows assets across the world are the least correlated in almost a decade, even after U.S. stocks joined high-yield credit in a selloff triggered this month by President Donald Trump’s political standoff with North Korea and racial violence in Virginia.

Just like they did in the run-up to the 2007 crisis, investors are pricing assets based on the risks specific to an individual security and industry, and shrugging off broader drivers, such as the latest release of manufacturing data, the model shows. As traders look for excuses to stay bullish, traditional relationships within and between asset classes tend to break down. “These low macro and micro correlations confirm the idea that we’re in a late-cycle environment, and it’s no accident that the last time we saw readings this low was 2005-07,” Sheets wrote. He recommends boosting allocations to U.S. stocks while reducing holdings of corporate debt, where consumer consumption and energy is more heavily represented. That dynamic is also helping to keep volatility in stocks, bonds and currencies at bay, feeding risk appetite globally, according to Morgan Stanley. Despite the turbulent past two weeks, the CBOE Volatility Index remains on track to post a third year of declines.

Oxford Economics macro strategist Gaurav Saroliya points to another red flag for U.S. equity bulls. The gross value-added of non-financial companies after inflation – a measure of the value of goods after adjusting for the costs of production – is now negative on a year-on-year basis. “The cycle of real corporate profits has turned enough to be a potential source of concern in the next four quarters,” he said in an interview. “That, along with the most expensive equity valuations among major markets, should worry investors in U.S. stocks.” The thinking goes that a classic late-cycle expansion – an economy with full employment and slowing momentum – tends to see a decline in corporate profit margins. The U.S. is in the mature stage of the cycle – 80% of completion since the last trough – based on margin patterns going back to the 1950s, according to Societe Generale.

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They warn about a downturn, but not for themselves. Their asses are covered.

Big US Banks Could See Profit Jump 20% With Deregulation (BBG)

The deregulation winds blowing through Washington could add $27 billion of gross profit at the six largest U.S. banks, lifting their annual pretax income by about 20%. JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley would benefit most from changes to post-crisis banking rules proposed by Donald Trump’s administration, with pretax profit jumping 22%, according to estimates by Bloomberg based on discussions with analysts and the banks’ own disclosures. Goldman Sachs would have the smallest percentage increase, about 16%. Bloomberg’s calculations are based largely on adjustments banks could make to the mix of securities they hold and the interest they earn from such assets. The proposed changes would allow the largest lenders to take on more deposits, move a greater portion of their excess cash into higher-yielding Treasuries and municipal bonds, and issue a lower amount of debt that costs more than customer deposits.

Of the changes proposed in June by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the one that would probably have biggest impact on profit is allowing banks to buy U.S. government bonds entirely with borrowed money. Three others could also boost income: counting municipal bonds as liquid, or easy-to-sell, assets; requiring less debt that won’t have to be paid back if a bank fails; and making it easier to comply with post-crisis rules. Regulators appointed by Trump could make these changes without congressional approval. Doing so would reverse their agencies’ efforts since 2008 to strengthen capital and liquidity requirements for U.S. banks beyond international standards. While bringing U.S. rules in line with global ones probably wouldn’t threaten bank safety, some analysts and investors worry the pendulum could swing even further.

“Since the crisis, we’ve had the luxury of excess capital buildup in the banking system and regulators reining in risky activities,” said William Hines at Standard Life Aberdeen. “If there’s too much pullback on minimum capital requirements, too much relaxation of restraints, we’re concerned there’ll be more risk-taking by banks, and the system will become vulnerable.”

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Blowing bubbles everywhere and claiming they bring strength. It’s Orwell.

ECB Chief Draghi: QE Has Made Economies More Resilient (BBC)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has said unconventional policies like quantitative easing (QE) have been a success both sides of the Atlantic. QE was introduced as an emergency measure during the financial crisis to pump money directly into the financial system and keep banks lending. A decade later, the stimulus policies are still in place, but he said they have “made the world more resilient”. But he also said gaps in understanding these relatively new tools remain. As the economic recovery in the eurozone gathers pace, investors are watching closely for when the ECB will ease back further on its €60bn a month bond-buying programme. Central bankers, including Mr Draghi, are meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, later this week, where they are expected to discuss how to wind back QE without hurting the economy.

On Monday, a former UK Treasury official likened the stimulus to “heroin” because it has been so difficult to wean the UK, US and eurozone economies off it. In a speech in Lindau, Germany on Wednesday, Mr Draghi defended QE and the ECB’s policy of forward guidance on interest rates. “A large body of empirical research has substantiated the success of these policies in supporting the economy and inflation, both in the euro area and in the United States,” he said. The ECB buying relatively safe assets such as government bonds means that banks can lend more and improve access to credit for riskier borrowers, Mr Draghi said. He added: “Policy actions undertaken in the last 10 years in monetary policy and in regulation and supervision have made the world more resilient. But we should continue preparing for new challenges.”

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End the Fed.

Yellen’s Coming Speech Could Mark The ‘End Of An Era’ (BI)

Janet Yellen could be on her way out as chair of the Federal Reserve. On Friday, she’s set to deliver a speech on financial stability at the Fed’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It could be her last, following months of speculation that President Donald Trump plans to nominate a different candidate when her four-year term ends in February. And Yellen’s successor could have a very different approach to the job. Yellen’s Jackson Hole showing could be the last one, for now, under a Fed chair who takes a technocratic approach to monetary policy, according to Luke Bartholomew, an investment strategist at Aberdeen Standard Investments. “There could be an end-of-an-era feel to Jackson Hole this year,” Bartholomew told Business Insider.

The Fed chair could be replaced by someone who’s “probably not the sort of academic economist that’s been leading it through the Bernanke/Yellen period,” he said, adding that there’s “a broader feeling that under the Trump administration, the technocratic approach of the Fed is increasingly out of favor.” Yellen, 71, was a career economist and academic before President Barack Obama nominated her to replace Ben Bernanke in 2014. Trump told The Wall Street Journal last month that Gary Cohn, Yellen, and “two or three” other candidates were in the running for the job. One of those other people could be Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution. But Cohn, the National Economic Council director and Trump’s top economic adviser, is reportedly the top contender. He’s the “archetype of Wall Street, given his job at Goldman in the past,” Bartholomew said. “He certainly brings financial acumen to the job. I’m not sure that’s what the job of Fed chairman is, but he’s a fine candidate.”

Walsh brings some years of Fed experience to the table. But he has worked for seven years in investment banking, at Morgan Stanley, and isn’t an academic policymaker like Yellen or Bernanke. That’s not the only red flag Yellen’s exit would raise. On one extreme, Yale School of Management’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld thinks markets would crash if Cohn were to leave the White House for the Fed. Stocks dipped last week as rumors spread that he was leaving the administration following Trump’s response to the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there is a lot of faith that he is going to help carry through the tax reform that people are looking for,” Sonnenfeld told CNBC last week.

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“Long term, the new home median price has been mostly 10% to 20% above the existing home median since 1990. Since 2011, however, new home prices have been at a 35% to 40% premium over resale prices..”

Here’s Why New Home Sales Tanked (CNBC)

Newly built homes are more expensive than they’ve ever been before. They are also more expensive when compared to similar existing homes than they’ve ever been before. And that is why sales are suffering, dropping an unexpected 9.4% in July compared to June, according to the U.S. Census. They are simply out of reach for too many potential buyers. You don’t have to do a lot of math to see it. The median sale price of a newly built home in July jumped more than 6% compared to July 2016, to $313,700. That marks the highest July price ever. Last December, the median price hit the highest of any month on record. In addition, the price premium for newly built homes compared to comparable existing homes has more than doubled since 2011, according to John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

“Long term, the new home median price has been mostly 10% to 20% above the existing home median since 1990. Since 2011, however, new home prices have been at a 35% to 40% premium over resale prices,” John Burns wrote in a recent note to clients. “While the exact percentages aren’t perfect due to ‘apples and oranges’ comparisons, our consultants have been confirming for years that new home sales have been slowed by larger than usual new home premiums.” The supply of existing homes for sale is still extremely low, but the supply of newly built homes moved higher in July to 5.8 months of inventory. “The scars of the housing bust are still fresh in the minds of many homebuilders, so it is not surprising that many are taking a cautious approach to ramping up production,” noted Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist at Zillow, in reaction to the July report.

Homebuilders are feeling slightly better about their business lately, but they continue to complain about the costs of land, labor, materials and regulation. They claim that is why they cannot build cheaper homes. Unfortunately, the lower end of the market is where most of the demand is and where supply is weakest. “There is still no pickup in sales for homes priced below $300,000, and this is where most of the first time households would be shopping in,” wrote Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group in a note following the Census release on new home sales. “I repeat that the housing industry needs a moderation in home price gains in order to better compete with renting where rents increases are now moderating.”

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Auto loans are a huge part of money creation.

Autos Put Economic Downside Risks on Full Display (DDMB)

Federal Reserve data released last week on July industrial production offered little more than more of the same. Despite post-election optimism for a rebound in activity on the nation’s factory floors, the data reveal a continued throttling down in the growth rate to just over 2% compared with this time last year. The main drag on activity – the auto sector – should come as no surprise to investors. Rather than rising by 0.2% over June as projected, manufacturing production contracted by 0.1%, marking the third decline in five months. Motor vehicles and parts production fell by 3.6% on the month, taking the year-over-year slide to 5%. Evidence continues to build that a sampling error may be to blame for the surprising strength in June and July car sales.

Inventory continues to pile up, suggesting more production cuts are in the offing: As of June, the latest data on hand, auto inventories were up 7.4% over last year, leaving manufacturers choking for air. In July, General Motors alone was sitting on 104 days of supply, well above its target of 70 days. Industry-wide, the July/August average of 69 days ties the August 2008 record and sits above the historic average of 56 days of supply. In all, automakers have 3.9 million units of unsold light vehicles, up 324,600 from last August and the highest on record for the month. For context, July and August tie for the leanest stock levels of the year. The decline in July sales was already the steepest this year. Fresh loan delinquency data suggest more pain ahead.

“Deep subprime” borrowers have been a big boost at the margin, propelling back-to-back record years of sales in 2015 and 2016 as lending standards loosened sufficiently to allow millions with credit scores below 530 to access financing. Equifax, the consumer credit reporting firm, didn’t hold back in its second-quarter update, saying the performance of recent vintages of deep subprime loans was “awful.” While industry insiders are quick to point out that the overall pace of defaults across all borrowers remains in check, up just marginally over last year, there is growing concern that deep subprime delinquencies are back at 2007 levels. “The bottom line is excess auto inventories are clearly evident and the auto sector is now in recession,” said The Lindsey Group’s Peter Boockvar.

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We’re about to winess the political power of German carmakers. How many execs are being prosecuted? Right.

Merkel Aide Says Germany Has ‘Vital Interest’ in Diesel Survival (BBG)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff said Germany has a “vital interest” in ensuring diesel engines survive, defending the embattled technology as the industry comes under fire for cheating on emissions tests. Excessive pollution from diesel, as well as traditionally close ties between the government and auto industry, have emerged as a campaign issue in the run up to the country’s federal election in September. Merkel has been confronted by voters on the campaign trail, who accused the government of being too lenient on automakers, prompting the chancellor to question high bonuses for auto executives embroiled in Volkswagen’s cheating scandal. “We have a vital interest in preserving diesel as a technology because it emits far less CO2 than other technologies,” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Berlin.

“At the same time we have to make sure that all the rules are respected and all the regulations are fully implemented.” Car bosses and government officials reached a compromise deal earlier this month to lower pollution that calls for software updates on million of vehicles instead of more costly hardware fixes. Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW also agreed to a trade-in bonus for cars with outdated emissions controls. The measures have been criticized as a slap on the wrist for Germany’s biggest industry. “We have the responsibility to fight for a good deal but also to preserve the strength and the performance of the automobile industry,” Altmaier said in the interview late on Tuesday. “I’m very optimistic that we will overcome this.”Diesel software updates alone are “insufficient” for many cities to meet the legal limit for nitrogen oxides in the air, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told reporters on Wednesday, citing ministry tests conducted this month.

Excessive pollution impacts 70 German towns and cities, and the fixes agreed earlier this month would cut car emissions by a maximum of 6%, she said. Hendricks – a member of Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats – said her ministry and others will ascertain in the coming weeks whether hardware changes in diesels currently on the road are necessary to further lower emissions and will present their findings after the election. “Nobody wants to ban diesels from our cities,” she said. Merkel, who has so far largely steered clear of the debate, is hosting a meeting on Sept. 4 with representatives of the major cities, including the hometowns of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, struggling to lower their pollution levels. A number of cities and courts continue to evaluate potential diesel driving bans as the most effective means to meet regulation quickly.

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China exports its Ponzi.

China’s ‘Belt And Road’ Could Be Next Risk To Global Financial System (CNBC)

China has pitched its mammoth, pan-Eurasian “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative as a means of promoting economic prosperity and fostering diplomatic ties on a global scale. That rhetoric may win plaudits at a time when other global powers are voicing increasingly protectionist agendas, but it also comes with risks, and increasing levels of state-backed funding have raised concerns about just how safe of a gamble it is. Reports on Tuesday claimed that some of China’s biggest state-owned commercial banks will begin raising capital to fund investments into the initiative, also known as “One Belt, One Road,” which aims to connect more than 60 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa with physical and digital infrastructure. China Construction Bank, the country’s second-largest bank by assets, has been conducting roadshows to raise at least 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) from on- and offshore investors.

Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China are also said to be raising tens of billions of dollars. The news highlights the risk that the state could amass hundreds of billions of dollars in nonperforming loans if the projects fail. For Xu Chenggang, professor of economics at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, it was not a surprise. “It supports my concerns,” Xu told CNBC over the phone. “The impact could be damaging not just for China, but for the global financial system.” “These loans are being extended to governments in risky countries to fund risky infrastructure projects. If the projects were launched by private firms we wouldn’t have to worry because they would know they had to bear the consequences. But here we are talking about government-to-government lending and, ultimately, intergovernmental relations.”

[..] It took decades of economic reforms and loss-making firms before it succeeded in what Xu termed a process of “quiet privatization” at the turn of the 21st century. However, the process has lost momentum over the past 10 years, and the state remains burdened with issues of overcapacity and myriad “zombie firms,” especially within the metals and construction and materials sectors. Xu said that has partially been the motivation for the “Belt and Road” initiative: “Instead of solving the overcapacity problems, they are expanding the problem to projects overseas.” “They (China) are proposing lending money to foreign governments, who will then use the Chinese funds to pay the Chinese companies,” he explained.

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“.. one might say Mr. Trump represents a triumph of democracy..”

Being Here (Brodsky)

It should not surprise anyone that Western societies are becoming restless. Trump, Brexit, Charlottesville and, arguably, even radical Islamic terrorism are bi-products of global economic distortions largely created by the unwillingness of the Western political dimension to let the global factors of production naturally settle global prices and wages. (Sorry, it had to be said.) Donald Trump is a sideshow. His ascension, or someone like him, was inevitable. He may have official authority to behave like the leader of the free world (even if he is unable to do so), but so far he has only shown that virtually anyone can become president. Indeed, one might say Mr. Trump represents a triumph of democracy. Behold the robustness of America: the most powerful nation on Earth is unafraid to elect a cross between P.T. Barnum and Chauncey Gardner!

This is not to say a US president cannot raise and emphasize truly meaningful economic goals and mobilize countries around the world to help achieve them; but it is to say that this President seems to not know or be interested in what those goals might be. As discussed, the biggest challenges facing the US economy and US labor stem from a distorted global price and wage scale. Mr. Trump’s domestic fiscal, regulatory, tax and immigration goals seek only to raise US output and wages. This cannot be achieved without the participation of global commerce. There is no such thing anymore as a US business that makes US products sold only in the US without being influenced by global prices, wages and exchange rates. The romantic, patriotic “made in the USA” theme does not comport with the reality that the US also seeks to keep the dollar the world’s reserve currency and that maintaining America’s power requires the US to control the world’s shipping lanes.

Mr. Trump and his base cannot have one without the other. (Do we really have to articulate this?) Mr. Trump’s “Being There” presidency is reflecting an inconvenient truth back on a society that has, until maybe now, successfully deluded itself into believing government is functionally the glue holding society together. Though he does not mean to, Mr. Trump is single-handedly demonstrating to groups ranging from idealistic Washington elites to social media zombies to southern white supremacists that Madisonian government has become a dignified cover for the financial, commercial and national security interests that control it. We suspect those interests would rather the reach of their power be less visible.

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Two maps, actually. Click the link for fully interactive versions.

All The Countries The USA Has Invaded, In One Map (Indy)

From Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, the US has had a military presence across the world, from almost day one of her independence. What constitutes invasion? As one map below shows, the US has a military presence in much of the world without being an occupying force (though some would dispute that definition). For instance, although the Confederacy considered the US to be a hostile invading power, indy100 are not counting the Civil War or any annexation within the continental United States as an ‘invasion’. Using data on US military interventions published by the Evergreen State College, in Olympia Washington, indy100 has created this map (below). The data was compiled by Dr Zoltan Grossman, a professor of Geography and Native Studies. The map documents a partial list of occasions, since 1890, that US forces were used in a territory outside the US.

Caveats: This includes: Deployment of the military to evacuate American citizens, Covert military actions by US intelligence, Providing military support to an internal opposition group, Providing military support in one side of a conflict (e.g. aiding Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War 1988-89), Use of the army in drug enforcement actions (e.g. Raids on the cocaine region in Bolvia in 1986 It does not include threats of nuclear weapons against a territory, such as during the Berlin Air Lift (1948-49). It also excludes any time US military personnel were deployed to a foreign country for an exclusively humanitarian purpose – e.g. sending troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide assistance to refugees fleeing the Rwandan genocide (1996-97).

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The demise of a society. Not because of marriages declining, but because of why they are.

America, Home of the Transactional Marriage (Atlantic)

Over the last several decades, the proportion of Americans who get married has greatly diminished—a development known as well to those who lament marriage’s decline as those who take issue with it as an institution. But a development that’s much newer is that the demographic now leading the shift away from tradition is Americans without college degrees—who just a few decades ago were much more likely to be married by the age of 30 than college graduates were. Today, though, just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree; in the 1970s, there was barely a difference. The marriage gap for men has changed less over the years, but there the trend lines have flipped too: 25% of men with high-school degrees or less education have never married, compared to 23% of men with bachelor’s degrees and 14% of those with advanced degrees.

Meanwhile, divorce rates have continued to rise among the less educated, while staying more or less steady for college graduates in recent decades. The divide in the timing of childbirth is even starker. Fewer than one in 10 mothers with a bachelor’s degree are unmarried at the time of their child’s birth, compared to six out of 10 mothers with a high-school degree. The share of such births has risen dramatically in recent decades among less educated mothers, even as it has barely budged for those who finished college. (There are noticeable differences between races, but among those with less education, out-of-wedlock births have become much more common among white and nonwhite people alike.)

[..] Autor, Dorn, and Hanson found that in places where the number of factory jobs shrank, women were less likely to get married. They also tended to have fewer children, though the share of children born to unmarried parents, and living in poverty, grew. What was producing these trends, the researchers argue, was the rising number of men who could no longer provide in the ways they once did, making them less attractive as partners. Furthermore, many men in these communities became no longer available, sometimes winding up in the military or dying from alcohol or drug abuse. (It’s important to point out that this study and similar research on employment and marriage focus on opposite-sex marriages, and a different dynamic may be at work among same-sex couples, who tend to be more educated.)

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Apr 132017
 
 April 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1944

 

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

 

 

More on the Ponzi.

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

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

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

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

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Break up the banks!

It’s Time for Bank Hardball (Tan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And gets away with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Lays Groundwork for Federal Government Reorganization (BBG)

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

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

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

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

The Politics of the IMF (WF)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NY Fed Boss May Have Blabbed During Blackout (Crudele)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Madness.

No Greek Pensions Expected To Avoid Cuts (K.)

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

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

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

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

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

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They have no interest in solving Greece’s problems.

Stop Pretending on Greek Debt (BBG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s that time of year.

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

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

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

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