Aug 102016
 
 August 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 10 2016


Lewis Wickes Hine Workshop of Sanitary Ice Cream Cone Co., OK City 1917

Bank Of England Suffers Stunning Failure On Second Day Of QE (ZH)
Bank of England QE and the Imaginary “Brexit Shock” (AM)
Negative-Yield Debt Is Doing The Opposite Of What It Was Supposed To Do (CNBC)
The Private Pain of China’s Economy (WSJ)
Oil Companies Face $110 Billion Debt Wall Over Next 5 Years (BBG)
The Problem With Europe Is The Euro (Stiglitz)
The EU Enters Its Endgame (Dowd)
Marc Faber: Tesla Shares Are Going To $0 (CNBC)
The US Public Pensions Ponzi (ZH)
Housing ‘Shell Shock’ Faces Danes Who Think Market Can Only Rise (BBG)
Call Blockchain Developers What They Are: Fiduciaries (Walch)
Construction Of Giant Dam In Canada Prompts Human Rights Outcry (G.)

 

 

Did Carney really not see this coming? That would be stunning indeed. Not hard at all to find out.

Bank Of England Suffers Stunning Failure On Second Day Of QE (ZH)

It started off well enough. On the first day of the Bank of England’s resumption of Gilt QE after the central bank had put its monetization of bonds on hiatus in 2012, bondholders were perfectly happy to offload to Mark Carney bonds that matured in 3 to 7 years. In fact, in the first “POMO” in four years, there were 3.63 offers for every bid of the £1.17 billion in bonds the BOE wanted to buy. However, earlier today, when the BOE tried to purchase another £1.17 billion in bonds, this time with a maturity monger than 15 years, something stunning happened: it suffered an unexpected failure which has rarely if ever happened in central bank history: only £1.118 billion worth of sellers showed up, meaning that the BOE’s second open market operation was uncovered by a ratio of 0.96.

Simply stated, the Bank of England encountered an offerless market. What makes this particular failure especially notable – and troubling – is that while technically uncovered sales of government securities happen frequently, and Germany is quite prominent in that regard as numerous Bund auctions have failed to find enough demand in the open market in recent years forcing the “retention” of the offered surplus, when it comes to a central bank’s buying of securities, there should be, at least in practice, full coverage of the operation as the central bank is willing and able to pay any price to sellers to satisfy its quota. For example, in today’s operation, the scarcity led to the BOE accepting all submissions, even as some investors offered prices above the prevailing market.

The highest accepted price for the 4% bond due in 2060, for example, was 194.00, compared with a weighted average of 192.152, which means that the happy seller obtained a yield well in excess of that implied by the market. And yet, despite having a completely price indiscriminate buyer, some £52 million worth of bond sellers simply refused to sell to the BOE at any price! The QE failure quickly raised alarm signals among the bond buying community. In a Bloomberg TV interview, Luke Hickmore at Aberdeen Asset Management said that “lots of people are bidding us for bonds – Mark Carney is now bidding me for bonds and he still can’t have them. The problem is he was trying to buy 15-year plus bonds today in the gilt market. That’s a really difficult area.”

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“One might as well try to improve one’s health by playing a few rounds of Russian roulette every morning before breakfast.”

Bank of England QE and the Imaginary “Brexit Shock” (AM)

For reasons we cannot even begin to fathom, Mark Carney is considered a “superstar” among central bankers. Presumably this was one of the reasons why the British government helped him to execute a well-timed exit from the Bank of Canada by hiring him to head the Bank of England (well-timed because he disappeared from Canada with its bubble economy seemingly still intact, leaving his successor to take the blame). The adulation he receives is really a major head-scratcher. What has he ever done aside from operating the “Ctrl. Prnt.” buttons? As far as we are aware, nothing. As we have discussed previously, his main legacy is that he has left Canada with one of the greatest and scariest real estate and consumer credit bubbles extant in the world today. Some accomplishment!

With respect to his economic analysis, it seems not the least bit different from the neo-Keynesian/ semi-monetarist mumbo jumbo we get to hear from central bankers everywhere. This is by the way no surprise: they’re an incestuous bunch and have largely received their education at the same institutions. Most of them seem genuinely convinced that central planning not only works, but is necessary to improve on the alleged drawbacks of an “unfettered market” (i.e., the mythical unhampered free market economy no-one alive today has ever experienced). If one looks closely at what they are actually doing, it soon becomes clear that it is in principle not much different from what John Law did in France in the early 18th century (the difference is one of degree only).

The much-dreaded “Brexit” has now given Mr. Carney the opportunity to do what he does best, namely open the monetary spigots wide. One might as well try to improve one’s health by playing a few rounds of Russian roulette every morning before breakfast.

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NIRP scares the sh*t out of people. And rightly so.

Negative-Yield Debt Is Doing The Opposite Of What It Was Supposed To Do (CNBC)

Paying someone to borrow your money sounds like a questionable idea on paper, and seems not to be working out so well in practice. Yet that’s exactly what people who buy negative-yielding bonds do: Instead of collecting payments in the form of yields, investors have to pay someone to take their cash. Investors ostensibly hope they can sell the debt elsewhere and make a profit, as prices go up when yields fall. It’s a strange arrangement that nonetheless has become policy in Japan and parts of Europe. The goal that sovereign debt issuers and central banks hope to achieve is a world where money is pushed toward risk and all that no-yielding debt causes inflation that leads to growth.

However, as the arrangement spreads around the world to the point where more than $11 trillion of global debt holds negative yields, questions are growing quickly about its efficacy. “It’s the definition of insanity: Keep doing the same thing over and again and expect a different result. That’s my assessment of central banks in a nutshell,” said Kim Rupert, managing director of global fixed income analysis at Action Economics. “I never thought I’d say that. I had a lot of respect for central bankers. But they’re getting way overindulgent with very little success as far as I can tell.”

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“..urged local officials to “chant bright songs about the China economy loudly” to boost confidence..”

The Private Pain of China’s Economy (WSJ)

Private investment is withering in China. Companies are shying away from risking their capital, discouraged by a cloudy global outlook and four years of slowing Chinese growth, intermittent deflation and conflicting policy messages. The development risks setting back Beijing’s aim to shift the economy from low-end manufacturing to the kind of high-tech industries and services that dynamic private companies tend to provide. Private investment on capital goods like factories and trucks grew by just 2.8% in the year’s first half following nearly 30% annual average growth over the past decade. In June, it fell for the first time since China started tracking the data in 2004. The July figure, to be released Aug. 12, is expected to show further weakness.

In a bid to reverse the trend, Beijing has stepped up efforts to slash red tape and reduce barriers for entrepreneurs and urged local officials to “chant bright songs about the China economy loudly” to boost confidence, according to one circular. Beijing also has tried to flood the economy with credit to compensate for the decline in private investment. It boosted total social financing, a broad measure of credit that includes both bank loans and nonbank lending, to a first-quarter record. But state banks, China’s main lenders, aren’t always cooperating. In the second quarter, state banks charged private companies interest rates that were 6 percentage points higher than for their public-sector counterparts, according to investment bank CICC. Officials at two state banks said they are careful when lending to smaller private borrowers given concerns over risk and lack of sufficient collateral.

Private companies also report more difficulty in raising informal loans from nonbank lenders, friends and relatives as bad loans increase and lenders grow more cautious. China’s leaders also have pressured state-owned firms to invest more. They responded with a 23% first-half jump in investment that helped prop up economic growth. But the strategy sidelines private companies that account for three-fifths of China’s economy and four-fifths of its workforce. “The government plans a lot of large-scale investments but rarely thinks about private investors getting squeezed out,” said Jon Chan Kung, founder of research group Beijing Anbound Information Co. “Companies are facing a lot of confusion and questions about China’s future.”

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It’s all about hoping prices will rise. If they don’t, and soon, these guys are toast.

Oil Companies Face $110 Billion Debt Wall Over Next 5 Years (BBG)

The worst may be yet to come for some strained oil services companies as $110 billion in debt, most of it junk rated, creeps closer to maturity. More than $21 billion of debt from oilfield services and drilling companies is estimated to be maturing in 2018, almost three times the total burden in 2017, according to a report from Moody’s Investors Service on Aug. 9. More than 70% of those high-yield bonds and term loans are rated Caa1 or lower, and more than 90% are rated below B1. Speculative-grade debt is becoming increasingly risky, as the default rate is expected to reach 5.1% in November, according to a separate Moody’s report.

The 12-month global default rate rose to 4.7% in July, up from its long-term average of 4.2%, Moody’s wrote. Of the 102 defaults this year, 49 have come from the oil and gas sector, Moody’s noted. “While some companies will be able to delay refinancing until business conditions improve, for the lowest-rated entities, onerous interest payments and required capital expenditure will consume cash balances and challenge their ability to wait it out,” Morris Borenstein, an assistant vice president at Moody’s, said in the report.

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The problem is the silly assumptions it was built on.

The Problem With Europe Is The Euro (Stiglitz)

Advocates of the euro rightly argue that it was not just an economic project that sought to improve standards of living by increasing the efficiency of resource allocations, pursuing the principles of comparative advantage, enhancing competition, taking advantage of economies of scale and strengthening economic stability. More importantly, it was a political project; it was supposed to enhance the political integration of Europe, bringing the people and countries closer together and ensuring peaceful coexistence. The euro has failed to achieve either of its two principal goals of prosperity and political integration: these goals are now more distant than they were before the creation of the eurozone. Instead of peace and harmony, European countries now view each other with distrust and anger.

Old stereotypes are being revived as northern Europe decries the south as lazy and unreliable, and memories of Germany’s behaviour in the world wars are invoked. The eurozone was flawed at birth. The structure of the eurozone – the rules, regulations and institutions that govern it – is to blame for the poor performance of the region, including its multiple crises. The diversity of Europe had been its strength. But for a single currency to work over a region with enormous economic and political diversity is not easy. A single currency entails a fixed exchange rate among the countries, and a single interest rate. Even if these are set to reflect the circumstances in the majority of member countries, given the economic diversity, there needs to be an array of institutions that can help those nations for which the policies are not well suited.

Europe failed to create these institutions. Worse still, the structure of the eurozone built in certain ideas about what was required for economic success – for instance, that the central bank should focus on inflation, as opposed to the mandate of the Federal Reserve in the US, which incorporates unemployment, growth and stability. It was not simply that the eurozone was not structured to accommodate Europe’s economic diversity; it was that the structure of the eurozone, its rules and regulations, were not designed to promote growth, employment and stability. Why would well-intentioned statesmen and women, attempting to forge a stronger, more united Europe, create something that has had the opposite effect? The founders of the euro were guided by a set of ideas and notions about how economies function that were fashionable at the time, but that were simply wrong.

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Strong by Kevin Dowd: “..what is the point of her insisting that the UK maintain completely open borders with the EU when nearly a dozen continental EU members no longer do so?”

The EU Enters Its Endgame (Dowd)

The list of countries with strong sentiment for their own Exit votes is a long one: according to a recent opinion poll, over half of the French and Italian electorates want their own exit referenda, and around 40% of the Swedish, Belgian, German, Hungarian, Polish and Spanish electorates want them. There is also strong support in Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden. Other opinion polls suggest even stronger support, but by my count, there is strong support for exit referenda in at least 16 of the 28 member countries of the EU—and then there is Greece, which has its own bone or two to pick with the EU.

Further afield, there were calls for secessionist votes in the United States and the Canadian Prime Minister was soon fending off calls for a Quexit vote. The cat is well and truly out of Pandora’s bag. The issues now are not whether there will be a similar referendum in another country but rather which country will be next and then how many will follow after that. Brexit was merely the first domino. The EU will not survive the process—and by that I do not mean that it will not survive in its current form, which is obvious—I mean that it will not survive at all. The EU “project”—the attempt to establish a federalist European superstate against the wishes of many of its subjects—has failed and the EU itself is unraveling. The only question now is how unpleasant the endgame will be.

[..] A week or so ago, I saw the German Chancellor on the news again repeat her mantra that the UK will only have access to the Single Market if it complies with her demand that it maintain free movement of peoples across what is still now the EU. I found myself scratching my head. Memo to Planet Merkel: does she not see that free movement no longer exists? Schengen has largely broken down: border controls within the EU are already a reality and the Nordics are preparing or already have plans to impose further controls to prevent their welfare states being overwhelmed by migrants. So would someone please explain to me: what is the point of her insisting that the UK maintain completely open borders with the EU when nearly a dozen continental EU members no longer do so?

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“Anybody in the world can make it eventually, at much lower cost and probably much more efficiently..”

Marc Faber: Tesla Shares Are Going To $0 (CNBC)

Marc Faber, editor of the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, is well-known his perennially bearish take on the overall market. But there are also some specific stocks of which the investor known as “Dr. Doom” takes a particularly dim view – and right now, prime among those is Tesla. “What they produce can be produced by Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Nissan. Anybody in the world can make it eventually, at much lower cost and probably much more efficiently,” Faber said Monday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.”

“The market for Toyota and these large automobile companies is simply not big enough, but the moment it becomes bigger, they’ll move into the field and then Tesla will have a lot of competition.” Faber sees this increased competition causing more than a small dent in the company’s business and stock performance. “I think Tesla is a company that is likely to go to zero eventually,” Faber said.

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“Others have suggested that returns should be closer to risk-free rates which would imply an even more draconian $8.4 trillion underfunding.”

The US Public Pensions Ponzi (ZH)

Defined Benefit Pension Plans are, in many cases, a ponzi scheme. Current assets are used to pay current claims in full in spite of insufficient funding to pay future liabilities… classic Ponzi. But unlike wall street and corporate ponzi schemes no one goes to jail here because the establishment is complicit. Everyone from government officials to union bosses are incentivized to maintain the status quo…public employees get to sleep better at night thinking they have a “retirement plan,” public legislators get to be re-elected by union membership while pretending their states are solvent and union bosses get to keep their jobs while hiding the truth from employees.

We even published a note several days ago entitled “Establishment Tries To Suppress “Dissident Actuaries” Explosive Report On Public Pensions,” which pointed out that the American Academy of Actuaries and the Society of Actuaries killed a report that would have warned about the implications of lowering long-term expected returns on pension assets. Apparently the truth was just too scary. Bill Gross has been warning of the unintended consequences of low interest rates for years, and reiterated his concerns to Bloomberg recently: “Fund managers that have been counting on returns of 7% to 8% may need to adjust that to around 4%, Gross, who runs the $1.5 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said. Public pensions, including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest in the U.S., are reporting gains of less than 1% for the fiscal year ended June 30.”

To our great surprise, certain pension funds are finally taking notice. Richard Ingram of Illinois’s largest pension fund recently announced that he would be taking another look at long-term return expectations noting that “anybody that doesn’t consider revisiting what their assumed rate of return is would be ignoring reality.” Ingram’s Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System is only 41.5% funded and currently assumes annual returns of 7.5%, down from 8% in 2014. We decided to take a look at what would happen if all federal, state and local pension plans decided to heed the advice of Mr. Gross. As one might suspect, the results are not pleasant.

We conservatively assume that public pensions are currently $2.0 trillion underfunded ($4.5 trillion of assets for $6.5 trillion of liabilities) even though we’ve seen estimates that suggest $3.5 trillion or more might be more appropriate. We then adjusted the return on asset assumption down from the 7.5% used by most pensions to the 4.0% suggested by Mr. Gross and found that true public pension underfunding could be closer to $5.5 trillion, or over 2.5x more than current estimates. Others have suggested that returns should be closer to risk-free rates which would imply an even more draconian $8.4 trillion underfunding.

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There’s lots of this in Europe.

Housing ‘Shell Shock’ Faces Danes Who Think Market Can Only Rise (BBG)

Denmark’s biggest mortgage bank is urging homeowners to remember that a seemingly unstoppable series of price gains can end, and even go into reverse. At Nykredit, chief analyst Mira Lie Nielsen says Danes need to start putting the possibility of housing price declines “on their radars” or risk going into “shell shock when it happens.” “Our expectation isn’t that home prices will fall in the near future, but it’s important to say, again and again, that especially apartment prices can also fall,” Nielsen said in an e-mail. After almost half a decade of negative interest rates, many homeowners in Denmark are being paid to borrow, excluding bank fees.

Most analysts estimate Danish rates won’t go positive until 2018 at the earliest, threatening to create an atmosphere of complacency as borrowers take on bigger mortgages based on assumptions that low rates are here to stay. Home prices rose an annual 4.5% across Denmark in July, according to Boligsiden.dk, a web portal that tracks the property market. Copenhagen apartment prices soared 9.4%, underpinning the “continued need to be particularly aware” of the potential risks, Nielsen said. “Prices for city dwellings are at a markedly higher level today and are in a range where few people who aren’t already benefiting from the price gains can join in,” Nielsen said.

“So the price level is playing its own damping role on the market, because incomes haven’t quite been able to keep up. This is already visible in Copenhagen.” Apartment prices in Denmark are about 5% above their 2006 peak, according to the latest data from Statistics Denmark. Back then, the country’s bubble burst and apartment prices slumped about 30% through 2009. But there’s also a flip side to record-low interest rates. Banks have suffered fewer writedowns as borrowers find it easier to repay cheaper loans. The number of homeowners unable to honor their mortgage commitments is falling, with just 0.19% failing to meet payment deadlines in the first quarter, according to industry data published on Tuesday.

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“..the romance of decentralization..”

Call Blockchain Developers What They Are: Fiduciaries (Walch)

The recent hack of the DAO (short for Decentralized Autonomous Organization) and the subsequent reversal of funds on Ethereum’s blockchain should finally put an end to a decentralization charade. People are, in fact, governing public blockchains, and we need to be able to trust them. From the beginning, the core developers (who write, evaluate and modify the software code) and the powerful miners (holders of significant chunks of computing power within the network) have been the governing bodies of these so-called decentralized systems. Yet the romance of decentralization – with the seductive idea that we don’t have to trust anyone because no human is doing anything – has allowed many to overlook this important truth.

In the techno-utopian world of blockchain technology, it has become fashionable to proclaim that software code and its operation can replace the need for human governance. Hence, the push toward “decentralized autonomous organizations,” which are essentially corporations run through code rather than by people. The first of these, the DAO, began operating in May 2016, raising $150 million from investors to operate as a venture fund for blockchain technology. The DAO is just software, coded by an ambitious group at the company Slock.It. It was embarrassingly compromised through a computer hack for $60 million within a month of its inception.

The theft’s fallout has been dramatic. Since the DAO was built on the Ethereum blockchain, everyone involved with the technology was affected: DAO investors, owners of ether (the cryptocurrency of Ethereum) and anyone building anything on Ethereum, which has sought to be a platform for so-called smart contracts. This raised serious questions like: Should folks try to get the stolen ether back? Should they leave it be, as the hack was simply an exploitation of a bug in the purportedly unstoppable code?

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“The rivers are the arteries of the Earth. When we block them up, the earth becomes unhealthy.”

Construction Of Giant Dam In Canada Prompts Human Rights Outcry (G.)

Human rights campaigners are calling on Canadian authorities to halt construction of a huge hydroelectric dam in western Canada over concerns that the mega-project tramples on the rights of indigenous peoples in the area. A global campaign launched by Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the federal government and the provincial government of British Columbia to withdraw all permits and approvals for the Site C hydroelectric dam, a C$9bn project that will see more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) of land – roughly equivalent to about 5,000 rugby fields – flooded in north-east British Columbia. The land is part of the traditional territories of indigenous peoples in the region, said Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada.

“It’s an area that people have used for thousands upon thousands of years. Their ancestors are buried in the land; there are hundreds of unique sites of cultural importance; there is cultural knowledge of how to live on land that is associated with this specific spot.” Many continue to rely on the land to hunt, fish, plant medicines, gather berries and conduct ceremonies. “There are really few other places where they can go to practice their culture and to exercise their rights because this is a region that has been so heavily impacted by large-scale resource development.” Amid protests by several First Nations groups, the project was approved by provincial and federal authorities in 2014, allowing preparatory work to begin last summer.

Earlier this year, as clear-cutting began in the area, part of the construction was held up by a protest camp set up by indigenous activists. “This is home,” said Helen Knott, one of the half a dozen protesters who occupied the site. “The rivers are the arteries of the Earth. When we block them up, the earth becomes unhealthy. It’s about being able to protect something to pass on to our children.” After two months in the snow and braving temperatures that dropped as low as -20C, a provincial court ordered them to dismantle the camp.

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May 262016
 
 May 26, 2016  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


NPC Graf Zeppelin over Capitol 1928

Britain’s Property Market Is Going To Implode (BI)
Trillions in Debt—but for Now, No Reason to Worry (WSJ)
IMF: No Cash Now for Greece Because Europe Hasn’t Promised Debt Relief (WSJ)
China’s ‘Feud’ Over Economic Reform Reveals Depth Of Xi’s Secret State (G.)
Chinese Officials To Ask US Counterparts When Fed Will Raise Rates (BBG)
Fear Of UK Steel Sector’s ‘Death By 1,000 Cuts’ (Tel.)
Varoufakis: Australia Lives In A Ponzi Scheme (G.)
Venezuela Sells Gold Reserves As Economy Worsens (FT)
Wall Street Crime: 7 Years, 156 Cases and Few Convictions (WSJ)
Quantitative Easing and the Corruption of Corporate America (DMB)
Brexit, And The Return Of Political Lying (Oborne)
We Have Entered The Looting Stage Of Capitalism (PCR)
France Digs In to Endure Oil Strike With Release of Fuel Reserve (BBG)
Union Revolt Puts Both Hollande’s Future And France’s Image On The Line (G.)
Bayer Could Get ECB Financing For Monsanto Bid (R.)
Putin Closes The Door To Monsanto (DDP)

No doubt here. Ditto for all bubbles.

Britain’s Property Market Is Going To Implode (BI)

Property prices in Britain may be surging due to a horrendous imbalance of supply and demand — but the market is poised to implode. Why? Because Britons are not earning enough money to either get on the housing ladder or are spending such a large portion of their wages on mortgages that may not be sustainable. Well, not unless everyone suddenly gets a huge pay rise over the next year or so. That’s the assumption in the latest figures from think tank Resolution Foundation, which show that lower- and middle-income households are spending 26% of their salaries on housing, compared to 18% back in 1995. In London, households spend 28% of their income on housing. The think tank said this is the equivalent to adding 10 percentage points onto income tax.

Only the rich are not feeling the pressure of rising house prices. Higher-income households spend 18% of their income on housing, compared to 14% in 1995. The average price to buy a house in Britain now stands at £291,504, according to the Office for National Statistics. Meanwhile, the average London property price is at a huge £551,000. To put this into perspective, Resolution Foundation estimated that median income, at £24,300, is only around 3% higher than it was when the credit crunch hit in 2007/2008. [..] the house price-to-earnings ratio is near the pre-crisis peak. Considering the average deposit to secure a home is around 10% of the total property price, this means Britons are taking on huge amounts of debt and eating into the little savings they have to buy a home.

[..] the market is poised on a knife edge between interest rates and wages. If interest rates were to rise — and they will eventually — it could prove a major problem for the Britons who already spend 25-28% of their salaries on housing. Similarly, if another downturn depresses wages, mortgage payments will become an increasing portion of their income even without an interest rate increase. That situation is pricing out low- and middle-income people from the market, as the chart shows. Ownership rates in this group have sunk from nearly 60% in 1997 to just 25% today. That’s how fragile the housing market is: With those buyers unable to afford to buy, the market is dependent on a thinner slice of owners, whose incomes are increasingly stretched by housing costs, who can’t afford a decrease in wages, and who may not be able to afford any increase in interest.

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“Global debt—including households, businesses and governments—has risen from 221% of GDP at the end of 2008 to 242% at the end of the first quarter.”

Trillions in Debt—but for Now, No Reason to Worry (WSJ)

If current trends persist through the end of the year, U.S. households will owe as much as they did at the peak of borrowing in 2008. Global debt has already topped 2008 levels and keeps rising. That’s pretty astonishing so soon after debt-driven crises in the U.S. and Europe and endless worries about too much borrowing in Japan, China and emerging markets. But for all the hand-wringing, a near-term debt crisis is unlikely. Lower interest rates mean debt payments are far lower than they were before the crisis. In the U.S., household debt compared with the overall economy is way down. And overseas, loans can easily be rolled over. Yet even with low rates, the cycle of borrowing and rolling over loans has a cost. People, governments and businesses spend now instead of later, likely reducing future growth.

The cycle also allows borrowing to go on for years, which can be good—allowing reform to take hold—or not, allowing bad policies to go on almost indefinitely. U.S. households owed $12.25 trillion at the end of the first quarter, up 1.1% from the end of 2015, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, released Tuesday. If the first quarter repeats itself through the end of the year, U.S. household debt will approach its peak of $12.68 trillion, which it hit in the third quarter of 2008. Many people remember that quarter because it’s when the global financial system went off a cliff. This time is different because short-term interest rates have been stuck near zero since then. For U.S. consumers, that means household debt-service payments as a percent of disposable personal income are at their lowest level since at least 1980, despite a much higher debt load. In addition, more loans are going to higher-quality borrowers.

[..] Low rates have had an even more dramatic impact overseas, where economies are weaker or less stable. Global debt—including households, businesses and governments—has risen from 221% of GDP at the end of 2008 to 242% at the end of the first quarter. But the cost of interest payments, as a share of GDP, has fallen to 7% from a peak of 11%, according to J.P. Morgan. Japan is the prime example of how low interest rates can change the rules of the game. At 400% of GDP, Japan’s debt level is by far the highest in the world. One of the great mysteries of finance is why investors lend the government money for negligible or negative yields when it seems impossible for Japan to pay off its debt.

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“..no one does what’s in Greece’s best interests..”

IMF: No Cash Now for Greece Because Europe Hasn’t Promised Debt Relief (WSJ)

A senior IMF official Wednesday said it can’t help Europe with fresh emergency financing for Greece because Athens’s creditors haven’t yet committed to detailed debt relief. The comments show that the agreement touted by European finance ministers last night to release fresh bailout cash for Greece hasn’t nailed down the key elements the IMF says are critical to finally return the debt-laden country to health. Rather, the IMF’s reserved support for the deal has paved the way for Germany to approve new funds and sets the stage for more tough negotiations later this year. “Fundamentally, we need to be assured that the universe of measures that Europe will to commit to…is consistent with what we think is needed to reduce debt,” the senior official told reporters on a conference call. “We do not yet have that.”

But the official said Europe’s acknowledgment that debt relief is needed and would be detailed later this year was enough to win the fund’s conditional backing. “All the stakeholders now recognize that Greek debt is…highly unsustainable,” the official said. “They accept that debt relief is needed, they accept the methodology that is needed to calibrate the necessary debt relief. They accept the objectives of gross financing needs in the near term and in the long run. They even accept the time tables.” Many outside economists see the deal as papering over the differences and once again prolonging the crisis. “Summary of Eurogroup: Germany always wins, IMF caves under pressure from Germany and U.S., no one does what’s in Greece’s best interests,” said Megan Greene at Manulife and John Hancock Asset Management. Marc Chandler at investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman called the deal a “paper charade” that saves Europe more than it does Greece.

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Li wants more debt, Xi at least sees the danger in that.

China’s ‘Feud’ Over Economic Reform Reveals Depth Of Xi’s Secret State (G.)

It was hardly a headline to set the pulse racing. “Analysing economic trends according to the situation in the first quarter: authoritative insider talks about the state of China’s economy,” read the front page of the Communist party’s official mouthpiece on the morning of Monday 9 May. Yet this headline – and the accompanying 6,000-word article attacking debt-fuelled growth – has sparked weeks of speculation over an alleged political feud at the pinnacle of Chinese politics between the president, Xi Jinping, and the prime minister, Li Keqiang, the supposed steward of the Chinese economy.

“The recent People’s Daily interview not only exposes a deep rift between [Xi and Li], it also shows the power struggle has got so bitter that the president had to resort to the media to push his agenda,” one commentator said in the South China Morning Post. “Clear divisions have emerged within the Chinese leadership,” wrote Nikkei’s Harada Issaku, claiming the two camps were “locking horns” over whether to prioritise economic stability or structural reforms. The 9 May article – penned by an unnamed yet supposedly “authoritative” scribe – warned excessive credit growth could plunge China into financial turmoil, even wiping out the savings of the ordinary citizens.

As if to hammer that point home, a second, even longer article followed 24 hours later – this time a speech by Xi Jinping – in which the president laid out his vision for the Chinese economy and what he called supply-side structural reform. “Taken together, the articles signal that Xi has decided to take the driver’s seat to steer China’s economy at a time when there are intense internal debates among officials over its overall direction,” Wang Xiangwei argued in the South China Morning Post. Like many observers, he described the front page interview as a “repudiation” of Li Keqiang-backed efforts to prop up economic growth by turning on the credit taps.

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“A less aggressive Fed stance is in China’s interest.” Look, the dollar will rise no matter what the Fed does. China must devalue.

Chinese Officials To Ask US Counterparts When Fed Will Raise Rates (BBG)

Chinese officials plan to ask their American counterparts in annual talks next month about the chance of a Fed interest-rate increase in June, according to people familiar with the matter. The Chinese delegation will try to deduce whether a June or a July rate rise is more likely, as their nation’s policy makers prepare for the potential impact on financial markets and the yuan, the people said, asking not to be named as the discussions were private. In China’s view, if the Fed does lift borrowing costs, a July move would be preferable, the people said. China’s exchange rate has already been weakening as expectations rise for the U.S. central bank to boost its benchmark rate for the first time since it ended its near-zero policy in December with a quarter%age point increase.

It’s not unusual for senior officials to press each other on their policies, and any inquiries by the Chinese about the Fed would follow repeated expressions of concern from the U.S. about China’s intentions with its exchange rate. The Treasury Department put China on a new currency watch list last month to monitor for unfair trade advantages. “The Chinese side will argue that the U.S. should tread cautiously as it tightens monetary policy and avoid any surprises,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics in London, who participated in U.K.-China meetings when working at Britain’s Treasury. “The Federal Reserve will make its decision solely on what it deems best for the U.S. economy, but it is clear that concerns about China have influenced its thinking about the balance of risks facing the U.S.”

[..] “Chinese officials are pretty anxious about the Fed as a June rate hike – which is not fully discounted in the market – may boost the dollar,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho in Hong Kong. “This could pose a threat or make it difficult for the PBOC to keep a stable RMB exchange rate,” he said, referring to the People’s Bank of China’s management of the renminbi, another term for the yuan. “A less aggressive Fed stance is in China’s interest.”

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Trying to rewrite UK pensions laws just to sell one company. Wow.

Fear Of UK Steel Sector’s ‘Death By 1,000 Cuts’ (Tel.)

Tata has refused to rule out holding on to its crisis-hit British steel division, raising fears that the business could suffer “a death by a thousand cuts”. Delivering annual results for the Tata’s global steel business, Koushik Chatterjee, executive director, declined to give details on the board’s thoughts on the seven bids the company has received for the loss-making UK plants. But pressed on whether Tata could do a U-turn and hold on to the business – which the Government has said it is willing to take a 25pc stake in and offer financial support to if this will keep it alive – he refused to deny this was an option “I don’t think we have a case as yet,” said Mr Chatterjee. “There is lots of focus only on a sale.” The results announcement – which showed Tata Steel’s revenues down 6pc to £11.9bn and an annual loss of £309m – echoed Mr Chatterjee, saying: “The board… is actively reviewing all options for the Tata Steel UK business, including a potential sale.”

Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, met with Tata’s directors on Monday night for several hours ahead of their monthly meeting, which considered the bids. It is thought Mr Javid sees Tata keeping the UK business as a way of retaining a viable steel industry in the Britain, after bidders signalled their reluctance to take on the Tata pension scheme, which has a £500m deficit. Ministers are this week expected to start consultations on controversial proposals to restructure the pension scheme [..] The changes would alter the way pension payments are calculated by swapping from RPI inflation to the lower CPI, potentially shaving billions from the scheme’s liabilities. However, such a move would require a change off law and could set what some pensions experts have described as a dangerous precedent.

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Like Britain, like New Zealand, like Canada.

Varoufakis: Australia Lives In A Ponzi Scheme (G.)

Varoufakis’s answers are quick, sharp and eloquent – and ready. He barely needs a pause when asked what he’d do if suddenly installed as Australia’s treasurer, before he’s firing off a prescription for the economy. “The first thing that has to happen in this country is to recognise two truths that are escaping this electorate, and especially the elites. “Firstly, Australia does not have a debt problem. The idea that Australia is on the verge of becoming a new Greece would be touchingly funny if it were not so catastrophic in its ineptitude. Australia does not have a public debt problem, it has a private debt problem. “Truth number two: the Australian social economy is not sustainable as it is. At the moment, if you look at the current account deficit, Australia lives beyond its means – and when I say Australia, I mean upper-middle-class people. The luxurious lifestyle is not supported by the Australian economy.

It’s supported by a bubble, and it is never a good idea to rely on the proposition that a bubble will always be there to support you. “So private debt is the problem. And secondly, because of this private debt, you have a bubble, which is constantly inflated through money coming into this country for speculative purposes.” Varoufakis is unequivocal in his conviction that current growth – which he likens to a Ponzi scheme – needs to be replaced with growth that comes from producing goods. “Australia is switching away from producing stuff. Even good companies like Cochlear, who have been very innovative in the past, have been financialised. They’re moving away from doing stuff to shuffling paper around. That would be my first priority [if I were Australian treasurer]: how to go back to actually doing things.”

Varoufakis wouldn’t be the first to compare the Australian economy to a Ponzi scheme. Economist Lindsay David has made a similar criticism of the housing market, and has also heavily criticised Australia’s reliance on Chinese investment. David and fellow economist Philip Soos have predicted the economy is heading for a crash, and Varoufakis thinks they might be right. He is quick to point out that crashes can never be predicted, but he is in little doubt that it will happen if Australia doesn’t change direction soon. “There is no doubt, if you look at the pace of house prices over the past 20 years in Australia and the pace of value creation; they’re so out of kilter that something has to give.”

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US revenge on Chavez is nearing completion.

Venezuela Sells Gold Reserves As Economy Worsens (FT)

Venezuela’s gold reserves have plunged to their lowest level on record after it sold $1.7 billion of the precious metal in the first quarter of the year to repay debts. The country is grappling with an economic crisis that has left it struggling to feed its population. The OPEC member’s gold reserves have dropped almost a third over the past year and it sold over 40 tonnes in February and March, according to IMF data. Gold now makes up almost 70% of the country’s total reserves, which fell to a low of $12.1 billion last week. Venezuela has larger crude reserves than Saudi Arabia but has been hard hit by years of mismanagement and, more recently, depressed prices for oil. Oil accounts for 95% of its export earnings. Despite the recent price rebound, declining oil output is likely to take a further toll on the economy. The IMF forecasts the economy will shrink 8% this year, and 4.5% in 2017, after a 5.7% contraction in 2015.

Inflation is forecast to exceed 1,642% next year, fueled by printing money to fund a fiscal deficit estimated at about 20% of GDP. Venezuela began selling its gold reserves in March 2015, according to IMF data. At roughly 367 tonnes, Venezuela has the world’s 16th-biggest gold reserves, according to the World Gold Council. In contrast, China and Russia both added to their gold holdings this year, the data show. Gold prices have risen 15% this year. Last year Venezuela’s central bank swapped part of its gold reserves for $1 billion in cash through a complex agreement with Citi. The late president Hugo Chávez had said he would free Venezuela from the “dictatorship of the dollar” and directed the central bank to ditch the US dollar and start amassing gold instead. In 2011, as a safeguard against market instability, Chávez brought most of the gold stored overseas back to Caracas.

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What an incredible charade this has turned into.

Wall Street Crime: 7 Years, 156 Cases and Few Convictions (WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal examined 156 criminal and civil cases brought by the Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission against 10 of the largest Wall Street banks since 2009. In 81% of those cases, individual employees were neither identified nor charged. A total of 47 bank employees were charged in relation to the cases. One was a boardroom-level executive, the Journal’s analysis found. The analysis shows not only the rarity of proceedings brought against individual bank employees, but also the difficulty authorities have had winning cases they do bring. Most of the bankers who were charged pleaded guilty to criminal counts or agreed to settle a civil case, with those facing civil charges paying a median penalty of $61,000.

Of the 11 people who went to trial or a hearing and had a ruling on their case, six were found not liable or had the case dismissed. That left a total of five bank employees at any level against whom the government won a contested case. They include Mr. Heinz, the former UBS employee. One of the few successful government cases was overturned Monday. A federal appeals court tossed civil mortgage-fraud charges and a $1 million penalty against Rebecca Mairone, a former executive at Countrywide Financial Corp., now part of Bank of America Corp. The court also threw out a related $1.27 billion penalty against Bank of America. Representatives of Ms. Mairone and the bank this week welcomed the verdict, while the Justice Department, which brought the cases, declined to comment.

There are plenty of possible explanations for the small number of successful cases. For starters, much of the institutional conduct during and after the financial crisis didn’t break the law, said law-enforcement officials. Even when the government has been able to prove illegal activity, it has rarely been traced to the upper echelons of big banks. “The typical scenario is not that the bank has this plan for world domination being cooked up by the chairman and CEO,” said Adam Pritchard, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s some midlevel employee trying to keep his job or his bonus, and as result the bank gets into trouble.”

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“The Fed might want to imitate the ECB but may be restricted from doing so by its charter..” “We wouldn’t discount the possibility it will try to amend, or get around, any prohibitions, however.”

Quantitative Easing and the Corruption of Corporate America (DMB)

[..] corporate leverage is hovering near a 12-year high and domestic capital expenditures have plunged. In the interim, reams of commentary have been devoted to share buybacks and with good reason. Companies reducing their share count have, at least in recent years, been where the hottest action is, courtyard-seat level action. But now, it looks as if the trend is finally cresting. A fresh report by TrimTabs found that companies have announced 35% less in buybacks through May 19th compared with the same period last year. And while $261.5 billion is still respectable (for the purpose of placating shareholders), it is nevertheless a steep decline from 2015’s $399.4 billion. Even this tempered number is deceiving – only half the number of firms have announced buybacks vs last year.

Have U.S. executives and their Boards of Directors finally found religion? We can only hope. The devastation wrought by the multi-trillion-dollar buyback frenzy is what many of us learned in Econ 101 as the ‘opportunity cost,’ or the value of what’s been foregone. As yet, the value of lost investment opportunities remains a huge unknown. In the event doing right by future generations does not suffice, executives might be motivated to renounce their errant ways because shareholders appear to have stopped rewarding buybacks. According to Marketwatch, an exchange traded fund that affords investors access to the most aggressive companies in the buyback arena is off 0.8% for the year and down 9.8% over the last 12 months.

The hope is that Corporate America is at the precipice of an investment binge that sparks economic activity that richly rewards those with patience over those with the burning need for instant gratification. The risk? That central bankers whisper sweet nothings the likes of which no Board or CFO can resist. Mario Draghi may already have done so. In announcing its latest iteration of QE, the ECB added investment grade corporate bonds to the list of eligible securities that can satisfy its purchase commitment. Critically, U.S. multinationals with European operations are included among qualifying issuers. As Evergreen Gavekal’s David Hay recently pointed out, McDonald’s has jumped right into the pool, issuing five-year Euro-denominated paper at an interest rate of a barely discernible 0.45%.

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Yeah, like it was ever gone.

Brexit, And The Return Of Political Lying (Oborne)

During the run-up to the Iraq invasion, intelligence officers would hand ministers an estimate, an allegation, a straw in the wind, in certain cases (the 45-minute claim being the most notorious example) an outright fabrication. Tony Blair’s office would then bless it with the imprimatur of a government assessment, usually employing vague wording — in the hope that the media would repeat and then amplify the message. Cameron and Osborne have become masters of this kind of politics. ‘We’re paying down Britain’s debts,’ said David Cameron in 2013. This was a straight lie: the national debt was soaring as he spoke. ‘When I became Chancellor,’ observed Osborne last year, ‘debt was piling up.’ True – and he has been piling it up ever since, even now rising by £135 million a day.

This kind of deception works: polls show that only a minority of voters realise that the national debt is still rising. George Osborne has now converted the Treasury into a partisan tool to sell the referendum, exactly as Tony Blair used the Joint Intelligence Committee to make the case for war against Iraq. Before becoming Chancellor, Osborne was critical of Gordon Brown’s Treasury, and rightly so, because it had been so heavily politicised. He rightly stripped the Treasury of its forecasting function and created an independent Office for Budget Responsibility — an encouraging sign that he was determined to avoid the culture of deceit which was such a notable feature of the Brown/Blair era. It is therefore very troubling that the Office for Budget Responsibility has not come anywhere near the two Treasury dossiers that make the case for the EU.

It’s easy to see why – they would point out straight away that the Chancellor has been engaged in fabrication. For example, let’s take a hard look at how he induced Treasury officials to endorse his central claim that families would be £4,300 ‘worse off’ if Britain left the EU. The main technique that Osborne used was his conflating GDP with household income – and referring to ‘GDP per household’, a phrase that has never been used in any Budget. As the Chancellor used to argue, GDP is a misleading indicator which can be artificially inflated by immigration. Immigration of 5% may well raise GDP by the same amount, but nobody would be any better off. ‘GDP per capita is a much better indicator,’ said Osborne when newly in office. He made no mention at all of GDP per capita when launching the Brexit documents published by the Treasury.

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“We have entered the looting stage of capitalism. Desolation will be the result.” Paul Craig Roberts doesn’t hold back.

We Have Entered The Looting Stage Of Capitalism (PCR)

Having successfully used the EU to conquer the Greek people by turning the Greek “leftwing” government into a pawn of Germany’s banks, Germany now finds the IMF in the way of its plan to loot Greece into oblivion . The IMF’s rules prevent the organization from lending to countries that cannot repay the loan. The IMF has concluded on the basis of facts and analysis that Greece cannot repay. Therefore, the IMF is unwilling to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private banks. The IMF says that Greece’s creditors, many of whom are not creditors but simply bought up Greek debt at a cheap price in hopes of profiting, must write off some of the Greek debt in order to lower the debt to an amount that the Greek economy can service.

The banks don’t want Greece to be able to service its debt, because the banks intend to use Greece’s inability to service the debt in order to loot Greece of its assets and resources and in order to roll back the social safety net put in place during the 20th century. Neoliberalism intends to reestablish feudalism—a few robber barons and many serfs: the 1% and the 99%. The way Germany sees it, the IMF is supposed to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private German banks. Then the IMF is to be repaid by forcing Greece to reduce or abolish old age pensions, reduce public services and employment, and use the revenues saved to repay the IMF. As these amounts will be insufficient, additional austerity measures are imposed that require Greece to sell its national assets, such as public water companies and ports and protected Greek islands to foreign investors, principallly the banks themselves or their major clients.

So far the so-called “creditors” have only pledged to some form of debt relief, not yet decided, beginning in 2 years. By then the younger part of the Greek population will have emigrated and will have been replaced by immigrants fleeing Washington’s Middle Eastern and African wars who will have loaded up Greece’s unfunded welfare system. In other words, Greece is being destroyed by the EU that it so foolishly joined and trusted. The same thing is happening to Portugal and is also underway in Spain and Italy. The looting has already devoured Ireland and Latvia (and a number of Latin American countries) and is underway in Ukraine. The current newspaper headlines reporting an agreement being reached between the IMF and Germany about writing down the Greek debt to a level that could be serviced are false. No “creditor” has yet agreed to write off one cent of the debt.

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Euro Cup starts in a few weeks, but “The French government said it was prepared to endure weeks of strikes at refineries..” Oh, sure.

France Digs In to Endure Oil Strike With Release of Fuel Reserve (BBG)

The French government said it was prepared to endure weeks of strikes at refineries and began releasing strategic oil reserves to help ease nationwide fuel shortages. While panic-buying by motorists drove demand to three times the normal level Tuesday, France has enough stocks even if the strikes persist for weeks, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said. The problem isn’t about supply but about delivery, he said. Oil companies have mobilized hundreds of trucks to ship diesel and gasoline around the country since the start of the week as filling stations ran dry after all the nation’s refineries experienced disruptions or outright shutdowns. By Wednesday Exxon Mobil reported that its Gravenchon plant was operating normally and able to transport fuel while elsewhere strikers have blocked refineries to try to bring shipments to a halt.

Workers are protesting against President Francois Hollande’s plans to change labor laws to reduce overtime pay and make it easier to fire staff in some cases. While the government has watered down its proposals since first floating them in February, unions are calling for them to be scrapped altogether. The new law will not be withdrawn and police will continue to ensure access to fuel depots, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Parliament Wednesday. Total’s Feyzin refinery near Lyon and its Normandy plant have stopped production. La Mede was working at a lower rate Wednesday, while the facilities at Grandpuits near Paris and Donges close to Nantes will come to a complete halt later this week, according to a company statement.

Total may reconsider a plan to spend €500 million to upgrade the Donges facility as workers take the plant “hostage,” CEO Patrick Pouyanne said Tuesday. He urged motorists not to rush to gas stations and create an “artificial” shortage. Some 348 of Total’s 2,200 gas stations ran out of fuel and 452 faced partial shortages as of Wednesday morning, the company said. The figures are little changed from Tuesday. About one in five of the country’s 12,200 stations were facing shortages Tuesday afternoon, the government said.

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All Marine Le Pen has to do is to sit back and watch.

Union Revolt Puts Both Hollande’s Future And France’s Image On The Line (G.)

As smoke rises from burning tyres on French oil refinery picket-lines, motorists queue for miles to panic-buy rationed petrol, and train drivers and nuclear staff prepare to go on strike. With the 2017 French presidential election nearing, the Socialist president François Hollande is facing his toughest and most explosive crisis yet. It is not just Hollande’s political survival at stake, though, but the image of France itself. The country is preparing to host two million visitors at the showpiece Euro 2016 football tournament in two weeks, and the back-drop is not ideal: strikes and feared fuel shortages, potential transport paralysis, a terrorist threat, a state of emergency and a mood of heightened tension and violence between street protesters and police.

Hollande, the least popular leader in modern French history whose approval ratings are festering, according to various polls, at between 13% and 20%, might not seem as though he has further to fall. But in fact he is clinging, white-knuckled, to the edge of a cliff. The Socialist was supposed to be spending May and June testing the waters for a possible re-election bid by repeating his new mantra “things are getting better” – even if more than 70% of French people don’t believe that that is true. Instead, France has been hit by an explosive trade union revolt over Hollande’s contested labour reforms. The beleaguered president has framed these reforms as a crucial loosening of France’s famously rigid labour protections, cutting red-tape and slightly tweaking some of the more cumbersome rules that deter employers from hiring.

This would, he has argued, make France more competitive and tackle stubborn mass employment that tops 10% of the workforce. But after more than two months of street demonstrations against the labour changes, the hardline leftist CGT union radically upped its strategy and is now trying to choke-off the nation’s fuel supply to force Hollande to abandon the reforms.

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Win win win squared. That’s why you feel so happy right now; look in the mirror. You get to finance a winning proposition!

Bayer Could Get ECB Financing For Monsanto Bid (R.)

Bayer could receive financing from the European Central Bank that would help to fund a takeover of Monsanto, according to the terms of the ECB’s bond-buying program. U.S.-based Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer’s $62 billion bid on Tuesday, but said it was open to further negotiations. The ECB can buy bonds issued by companies that are based in the euro area, have an investment-grade rating and are not banks, provided that they are denominated in euros and meet certain technical requirements. The purpose for which the bonds are issued is not among the criteria set by the ECB, which will start buying corporate bonds on the market and directly from issuers next month.

This means that, in theory, the ECB could buy debt issued by Bayer, which said on Monday it would finance its cash bid for Monsanto with a combination of debt and equity. “It will be interesting to observe how much of such a deal would be absorbed by the central bank,” credit analysts at UniCredit wrote in a note. The ECB is buying €80 billion worth of assets every month in an effort to revive economic growth in the euro zone by lowering borrowing costs. Central bank sources told Reuters that it would not be the ECB’s first choice if the money it spent ended up financing acquisitions. But even this would have a silver lining if consolidation made an industry or sector more efficient and if it gave fresh impetus to the stock market, the source added. And if issuers ended up exchanging the euros raised through bond sales for dollars, that would also help the euro zone by weakening the euro against the greenback, the sources said.

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“Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost..”

Putin Closes The Door To Monsanto (DDP)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is taking a bold step against biotech giant Monsanto and genetically modified seeds at large. In a new address to the Russian Parliament Thursday, Putin proudly outlined his plan to make Russia the world’s ‘leading exporter’ of non-GMO foods that are based on ‘ecologically clean’ production. Perhaps even more importantly, Putin also went on to harshly criticize food production in the United States, declaring that Western food producers are no longer offering high quality, healthy, and ecologically clean food. “We are not only able to feed ourselves taking into account our lands, water resources – Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost, especially given the fact that demand for such products in the world market is steadily growing,” Putin said in his address to the Russian Parliament.

And this announcement comes just months after the Kremlin decided to put a stop to the production of GMO-containing foods, which was seen as a huge step forward in the international fight to fight back against companies like Monsanto. Using the decision as a launch platform, it’s clear that Russia is now positioning itself as a dominant force in the realm of organic farming. It even seems that Putin may use the country’s affinity for organic and sustainable farming as a centerpiece in his economic strategy. “Ten years ago, we imported almost half of the food from abroad, and were dependent on imports. Now Russia is among the exporters. Last year, Russian exports of agricultural products amounted to almost $20 billion – a quarter more than the revenue from the sale of arms, or one-third the revenue coming from gas exports,” he added.

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Feb 162016
 
 February 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Byron On the streets after a New York blizzard 1899

Central Bankers ‘Don’t Have A Clue’ – Jim Rogers (CNN)
There Is Worse To Come As QE Loses Its Impact (FT)
Markets Putting Faith in QE4? (WSJ)
BOJ Launches Negative Rates, Already Dubbed A Failure By Markets (Reuters)
China’s Problems ‘Just Gargantuan’ (CNBC)
China Created A Record Half A Trillion Dollars Of Debt In January (ZH)
China’s Bad Loans Rise to Highest in a Decade (BBG)
Chinese Premier Faults Regulators’ Handling of Stocks, Yuan Rout (BBG)
China Favors Flexibility in Managing Yuan (WSJ)
Capital Flight Signals Investors Still Bracing For China To Devalue Yuan (MW)
A Massive Banking Crisis Is Brewing In Singapore, Says Zulauf (SBR)
Keiser: Deutsche Bank ‘Technically Insolvent’, Running A ‘Ponzi Scheme’ (RT)
The Never-Ending Story: Europe’s Banks Face a Frightening Future (BBG)
Low Oil Prices Claim New Victim, an Offshore Driller From Texas (NY Times)
Sellers Of Auckland Houses Want $100,000 More Than They Did Last Year (Stuff)
Repricing Reality (Jim Kunstler)
German Minister Asks For Half A Billion To Create Jobs For Refugees (EA)
Greek Minister: Hungary Has Sent Nothing, Not Even A Blanket (EA)
Unknown Dead Fill Lesbos Cemetery For Refugees Drowned At Sea (Reuters)

Love the CNN side link: “Related: Rogers wants to buy North Korea.” Jim Rogers is so dead on.

Central Bankers ‘Don’t Have A Clue’ – Jim Rogers (CNN)

Famed investor Jim Rogers is warning that financial Armageddon is just around the corner, and it’s being fueled by moronic central bankers. “We’re all going to pay a horrible price for the incompetence of these central bankers,” he said Monday in a TV interview with CNNMoney’s Nina dos Santos. “We got a bunch of academics and bureaucrats who don’t have a clue what they’re doing.” The Singapore-based American investor said central bankers are doing everything they can to prop up financial markets, but it’s all for naught. He predicts their unconventional monetary strategies will lead to a stock market rally in the near future, but deep trouble later this year and into 2017. “This is going to be a disaster in the end,” he said. “You should be very worried and you should be prepared.”

Central bankers around the world have been increasingly using negative interest rates to prop up inflation and support their economies, but Rogers said the moves aren’t working. He said they are simply trying to rescue stock markets and help brokers keep their Lamborghinis. “The mistake they’re making is, they’ve got to let the markets sort themselves out,” he said. “It’s been over seven years since we’ve had a decent correction in the American stock market. That’s not normal … Markets are supposed to correct. We’re supposed to have economic slowdowns. That’s the way the world has always worked. But these guys think they’re smarter than the market. They’re not.”

Rogers made his fortune several times over by investing where others feared to tread. He made a name for himself in the 1970s after co-founding a top-performing fund with George Soros. He has also penned a range of investment books and become a fixture on the international speakers’ circuit. Rogers set a Guiness world record between 1999 and 2002 by visiting more than 100 countries by car.

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“..It is an odd world where the failure of unconventional monetary policies leads to more rather than less of the same. There will be worse to come.”

There Is Worse To Come As QE Loses Its Impact (FT)

Ahead of a recent appearance in Hong Kong, one minder for Ben Bernanke suggested the former chairman of the Federal Reserve be asked not about the cost of quantitative easing, but about the impact of the policy instead. For years, central bankers have been reluctant to suggest that unconventional monetary policies even had costs. But while developed markets plunge ever deeper into uncharted financial territory as a result of central bank actions, the drawbacks and the limitations of such policies are finally becoming apparent. The negative effects will become even more obvious over time. This will come as asset price inflation — the main consequence of central bank policies — goes into reverse, robbing financial engineering of its efficacy and flattening the yield curve.

Suddenly, the success of central bankers in lifting financial asset prices through unconventional monetary policies seems to be coming to an end. Those policies did little for the real economy on the way up, as most companies engaged more in share buybacks than in investing in capacity, and economic growth in the US never broke through a range of 2% to 2.5%, falling under 1% in the fourth quarter. The impact on the real economy on the way down will be greater. The Bank of Japan’s embrace of negative rates, dovish coos from New York Fed Chairman William Dudley, and carefully worded statements from Mr Bernanke’s successor, Janet Yellen, last week spooked markets rather than soothed them. The fallout is already being felt in stock and credit markets, and in sectors from the banks to tech companies.

The extent to which quantitative easing is losing effectiveness can be seen best in the drop in the share prices of the private equity firms. In the past few years, it is possible to argue that no single group of investors has been as big a beneficiary of QE as these large alternative investment firms. They could finance their deals with cheap debt, sell down their holdings of portfolio companies in stock markets which kept rising, and mark up the value of their privately held portfolio companies on the basis of their listed peers. Now those perfect conditions are going into reverse. That’s why last week both Apollo Global Management and Carlyle announced that they were planning on some financial engineering by buying back their own shares for the first time ever. They may be too late.

“The share buyback boom has peaked,” notes Christopher Wood, strategist for the CLSA arm of Citic Securities, citing “the dramatic underperformance of the S&P 500 Share Buyback Index relative to the S&P 500 itself. The stock market has been ignoring the clear evidence of deteriorating margins and profitability, a form of deception encouraged by the share buybacks.” Meanwhile, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman spent much of his recent earnings call with his investors talking up the dividend yield (11% as of January 28, the day of the call) and value of his firm’s shares. “Right now you’re getting Blackstone on sale,” said the eternal salesman. We are in a world where the yield curve is flattening and there is little demand to borrow other than to engage in financial engineering. Banks’ inability to earn money in that world dominated headlines last week. But it will leave other kinds of financial institutions in even worse shape, especially insurers that sold guaranteed investment contracts. And savers will earn even less on their savings.

In an election year in the US, it seems unlikely that the Fed will return to its previous pattern of purchasing more securities, given the fact that such policies are partly responsible for deepening income inequality. It is even more risky for the Fed to adopt negative interest rates policy (NIRP) as so many other developed nations now have given that the impact on huge money market funds is unknown. “The US is not close to considering NIRP,” concluded JPMorgan economists in a report. “However, if recession risks were realised, the need for substantial additional policy support would likely push the Fed towards NIRP.” However, disconcertingly, the Fed’s latest stress test includes just that scenario, Mr Wood says. Meanwhile, JPMorgan late last week predicted that both the Bank of Japan and the ECB are likely to ease more in coming weeks. It is an odd world where the failure of unconventional monetary policies leads to more rather than less of the same. There will be worse to come.

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Worshipping idols.

Markets Putting Faith in QE4? (WSJ)

Since the medieval church clamped down on the sale of indulgences, it has been hard to put a price on religious faith. Not so with central banks. The value of trust in the world’s leading policy makers is calculated second by second, and stood at about $1,209 an ounce on Monday. The gold price is far from a perfect measure of belief—or lack of it—in policy makers. But its 14% rise supports one popular explanation for this year’s tumbling markets: Investors have lost faith that the central bankers know what they are doing. The supporting evidence seems pretty convincing. The most obvious comes from moves in currencies and from banks, which suffer when they cannot pass on negative interest rates to most of their customers.

Currencies haven’t moved as expected. Negative rates ought to weaken a currency by making it less attractive to hold, one reason that central banks in the eurozone, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark are so keen on them. But when the Bank of Japan surprised economists by cutting to negative rates for the first time at the end of January, the yen had just one weak day before strengthening back to be worth more than it was before the cut. Against the dollar, it is now worth 4% more than before the cut. Sweden faced the same problem last week, as its central bank, the Riksbank, cut its main policy rate more than expected to minus 0.5%. By the next morning, the krona was in fact stronger than before the action.

Both cases seem to show that investors fear negative rates more than they respect their power to stimulate. Part of this is down to the effect on the banking system, particularly in Europe. Banks haven’t been able to pass on negative rates to customers, hurting their margins even as bondholders worry that corporate defaults are set to rise. If central banks were trusted to boost the economy, higher demand for loans and fewer bad debts should amply offset negative rates’ effects on bank profits. Bank shares suggest otherwise. In Japan, bank shares fell more than 40% in three months, before Monday’s nearly 9% rally. This is their third-worst three-month drop since 1983, behind only the postbubble crash in the early 1990s and the 2008 Lehman Brothers panic.

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We don’t see nearly enough on Japanese banks. “..Japanese bank shares have slumped by as much as 30%..”

BOJ Launches Negative Rates, Already Dubbed A Failure By Markets (Reuters)

The Bank of Japan’s negative interest rates came into effect on Tuesday in a radical plan already deemed a failure by financial markets, highlighting Tokyo’s lack of options to spur growth as global markets sputter. The central bank, which announced the shock decision on Jan. 29, will charge banks 0.1% for parking additional reserves with the BOJ to encourage banks to lend and prompt businesses and savers to spend and invest. While the announcement briefly drove down the yen and buoyed Japanese share prices, markets quickly went into reverse. “It’s getting clearer that Abenomics is a paper tiger,” said Seiya Nakajima, chief economist at Office Niwa, a consultancy, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy mix of monetary easing, spending and reform.

“The impact of monetary easing is similar to currency intervention. The first time they do it, there’s a huge impact. But as they repeat it, the impact will wane,” said Nakajima. Though senior BOJ officials were at pains to say they had calibrated only a minor impact on Japanese banks, their stock prices plunged, contributing to a global market sell-off, particularly in financial shares. The problem was partly bad timing, as global markets were already in a tailspin over concerns about China’s slowdown, U.S. rate hikes and tumbling oil prices. But the reaction leaves BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s assertion that his policy is having its intended effects looking increasingly threadbare. “It seems as though the BOJ’s action triggered the market moves,” said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “But a better explanation would be that concerns elsewhere overwhelmed the BOJ action.”

In the 11 days since the BOJ board’s announcement, the benchmark Nikkei index has fallen 8.5%, despite a sharp rebound on Monday, while the yen has climbed 6.5% against the dollar. Japanese bank shares have slumped by as much as 30% as they are unlikely to pass on negative rates to savers, who already get negligible interest on their deposits but would baulk at paying to save. Negative rates could push down bank operating profits by 8-15%, Standard and Poor’s said. The 10-year Japanese government bond yield nitially fell below zero on the easing – a first among Group of Seven economies. But it has recovered from minus 0.035% last week to 0.090% above zero, with Japanese markets becoming more unstable as investors are at a loss on how to reckon fair value.

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“This is the equivalent of drinking whiskey and taking aspirin at the same time..”

China’s Problems ‘Just Gargantuan’ (CNBC)

Despite China’s yuan hitting its highest level this year against the U.S. dollar Monday, the country’s fundamental problems are “just gargantuan”, Stewart Paterson, portfolio manager at Tiburon Partners, told CNBC. “They (the Chinese) have deflation, they have a slowing economy,” said Paterson, “To say there is no downward pressure on the RMB (Renminbi) or no fundamental reason for it to weaken, I think is very disingenuous and symptomatic of the fact that the Chinese population themselves are starting to lose confidence in their own currency.” The Chinese authorities are bolstering the yuan, in part, by selling off chunks of their foreign currency reserves and dumping dollars in the market. Nonetheless, the money stock in China is growing about twice the pace of its economy, at about 14% year-on-year.

“If using your foreign exchange reserve is just a way of tightening monetary policy, as you support your own exchange rate… [then] the POBC (People’s Bank of China) are easing monetary policy by handing money out to the monetary market,” said Paterson. “This is the equivalent of drinking whiskey and taking aspirin at the same time… what you’re doing with one hand is counteracting the effects of what you’re doing with the other.” Paterson believes the yuan could devalue by a further 35%. However, economist George Magnus does not believe China will devalue the yuan in ways “that people think it will be forced or choose to.” “Instead, and if pushed by the capital flight that’s bleeding its reserves, China’s basic instinct will be to carry on tightening capital controls, and punishing those that try to breach them,” he wrote in a note on Friday.

And what is happening in China is having repercussions across the world, not least Europe, said Paterson. “If a country could just print as much money as it wanted, and at the same time, preserve the external purchasing power of its currency, clearly there would be no poverty in the world…we would have all done this,” he said. “The failure of Europe to generate nominal GDP (gross domestic product) growth is why the leverage is so damaging. The credit risk is rising in the risk-free sovereigns, which the banks are all up to their eyeballs in … and so a deflationary shock from China that makes nominal GDP growth in Europe an ever more distance prospect , of course that manifests itself in real stress in the European financial system,” he said.

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Diminishing returns. [That’s half a QE3 in one month]

China Created A Record Half A Trillion Dollars Of Debt In January (ZH)

Yes, you read that right. Amid a tumbling stock market, plunging trade data, weakening Yuan, and soaring volatility, China’s aggregate debt (so-called total social financing) rose a stunning CNY3.42 trillion (or an even more insane-sounding $520 billion) in January alone. In fact, since October, China has added over 1 trillion dollars of credit… and has nothing but margin calls, ghost-er cities, and over-supplied commodity-warehouses to show for it… oh and even-record-er debt-to-GDP ratio. This is what the unprecedented addition of half-a-trillion dollars in one month looks like – Hyman Minsky called, he wants his chart back. [That’s half a QE3 in one month]

In the process of this gargantuan debt creation, China has smashed its recently record debt/GDP of 346% pushing it to even more ridiculous levels. Why is China doing this? Because as we showed three years ago, China needs ever greater stimuli to achieve the same effect: This is what else we said back in April 2013 which by now seems painfully (and plainfully) obvious: “What should become obvious is that in order to maintain its unprecedented (if declining) growth rate, China has to inject ever greater amounts of credit into its economy, amounts which will push its total credit pile ever higher into the stratosphere, until one day it pulls a Europe and finds itself in a situation where there are no further encumberable assets (for secured loans), and where ever-deteriorating cash flows are no longer sufficient to satisfy the interest payments on unsecured debt, leading to what the Chinese government has been desperate to avoid: mass corporate defaults.”

This could be the end as the last bubble standing (in China corporate debt) has begun to burst amid the over-supply of credit. What happens next?

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A) They’re lowballing. B) It’s not much use to look at China NPL without including shadow banks.

China’s Bad Loans Rise to Highest in a Decade (BBG)

Soured loans at Chinese commercial banks rose to the highest level since June 2006 as the nation’s economic expansion slowed to the weakest pace in a quarter century. Nonperforming loans rose 7% from September to 1.27 trillion yuan ($196 billion) by December, the slowest quarterly increase in two years, data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission showed Monday. Including “special-mention” loans, where future repayment is at risk but yet to become nonperforming, the industry’s total troubled loans swelled to 4.2 trillion yuan, representing 5.46% of total advances. Concern over borrowers’ ability to service debt has weighed on Chinese lenders, with shares of the nation’s four largest banks trading at valuations at least 35% below a gauge of their emerging-nation peers. China’s economy grew last year at its slowest pace since 1990.

“The slower quarterly increase in NPLs are likely to be results of stepped-up efforts by banks to recollect loans, more aggressive write-offs, and some relaxation in their bad-loan recognition standards,” said Chen Shujin at DBS Vickers Hong Kong. “We don’t expect to see any turnaround of asset quality until the end of this year.” Separately, the People’s Bank of China reported Tuesday that new credit surged in January to a record 3.42 trillion yuan, almost double the amount in December and exceeding the median forecast of 2.2 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey of analysts. The increase was linked to a seasonal binge as banks front-loaded lending and Chinese borrowers refinanced foreign-denominated debt. The CBRC data comes amid speculation that soured loans could be much larger than indicated by official data.

Kyle Bass, a hedge fund manager who successfully bet against mortgages during the subprime collapse, said earlier this month that the Chinese banking system may see losses of more than four times those suffered by U.S. lenders during the 2008 credit crisis. That claim has been disputed by DBS’s Chen and analysts at China International Capital Corp and Macquarie. Should the Chinese banking system lose 10% of its assets because of nonperforming loans, the nation’s banks will see about $3.5 trillion in their equity vanish, Bass, the founder of Dallas-based Hayman Capital Management, wrote this month in a letter to investors obtained by Bloomberg. Larry Hu, a China economist at Macquarie in Hong Kong, said in a research note on Monday that Bass’s estimate could be too large as it implied a true bad-loan ratio for China banks at 28 to 30%.

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Scapegoats are easy to find in a central control system. But the system at the same time always points upward when it comes to blame.

Chinese Premier Faults Regulators’ Handling of Stocks, Yuan Rout (BBG)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang took the nation’s financial regulators to task for the way they handled a rout in stocks and the yuan, making him the most senior official to date to fault the response to the turmoil. Regulators didn’t respond actively to declines and some even have management problems, Li said in a State Council meeting on Monday, according to a Beijing News report carried on the government’s website. Li didn’t specify the regulators at fault and defended the decision to intervene in equity and foreign-exchange markets as necessary to head off systemic risks and “defuse some bombs.” “Looking back, the major responsible departments took inadequate actions and had internal management issues,” Li said.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission has drawn criticism recently over a series of steps such as as the circuit-breaker system that had to be rescinded just four days after it was introduced in January. The CSRC’s chairman, Xiao Gang, blamed factors including incomplete trading rules and an inappropriate regulatory system, and said officials will learn from their mistakes. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled more than 40% since a June high even after state funds spent billions of dollars to prop up equities. The government also tightened capital controls and spent almost $300 billion of its foreign exchange reserves in the last three months to prop up the exchange rate. The yuan posted its biggest advance in more than a decade on Monday in Shanghai after central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan voiced his support for the currency.

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Beijing tries to impress by showing it can raise the yuan. We are not impressed.

China Favors Flexibility in Managing Yuan (WSJ)

China’s yuan had its biggest jump against the dollar in more than a decade on Monday, as Beijing keeps markets off guard with a shifting approach to managing its currency. The central bank is keeping its options open, swinging between its pledge to attach the yuan’s value to the currencies of its major trading partners and, when that works against it, repegging it to the dollar. Since mid-January, the People’s Bank of China has quietly rehitched the yuan’s value to a weakening dollar, despite vowing just a month earlier to use multiple currencies as the yuan’s reference points. For investors, China’s opportunistic approach sows confusion, which has led to volatile trading. On Monday, the central bank suddenly guided the yuan sharply higher.

Chinese officials and advisers close to the central bank said the move was aimed at shoring up dwindling confidence in the Chinese currency, also known as the renminbi, that has led businesses and individuals to rush to move capital out of the country. Analysts estimate China’s capital outflows ranged between $500 billion and $1 trillion last year. “The central bank wants to be flexible,” one of the officials said. “The goal is to reference the renminbi, instead of strictly pegging it, to the basket.” In published remarks over the weekend, China’s central-bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, gave a hint of Beijing’s desire to be opportunistic in remaking its exchange-rate regime. Speaking to Caixin, a prominent Chinese magazine, Mr. Zhou said China would proceed with the reform of referencing the yuan to the currency basket when there is “a window” of opportunity and will be “pragmatic and patient” when there is not.

“The direction is clear, but the path to reform won’t be a straight line,” Mr. Zhou said. Returning to what some analysts call a quasi-dollar peg has helped Beijing at a time when the dollar has weakened sharply against the yen and the euro as expectations for interest-rate increases in the U.S. fade. That has allowed the yuan to ride down with the dollar and discreetly depreciate against the currencies of China’s trading partners. “Things right now are working in the central bank’s favor,” said David Loevinger, a managing director and emerging-market sovereign analyst at TCW Group, with $180.7 billion of assets under management. “For the moment, that’s taken a lot of the pressure from the Chinese yuan. There’s less need for them to have the yuan depreciate against the dollar.” But it isn’t clear how long the favorable winds will blow for China. Monday’s currency movements gave an indication of the complexity of China’s gambit.

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We are not impressed. “The PBOC might like to flex its muscles by pegging the yuan higher but this has considerable costs if it continues to use up its reserves in the process.”

Capital Flight Signals Investors Still Bracing For China To Devalue Yuan (MW)

While China’s currency had a strong jump after the lunar new year holidays, it is moves by capital, not moves by policy makers, that investors should pay attention to. At the weekend People’s Bank of China Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan ended his silence to make his first comments in a number of months, reiterating that there was no intention to devalue the yuan, while also ruling out imposing capital controls. He added that the PBOC would be cautious when using resources to fight international speculators, while also saying he supported a more flexible yuan. A slide in the dollar last week likely contributed to this more sanguine tone, with the central bank moving to set the yuan almost 1% stronger at 6.5118 to the dollar on Monday.

But any suggestion the troubled yuan is now at a turning point still looks decidely premature. For one thing, no central banker would decisively flag in advance an intention to move off an effective currency peg as this would be an open invitation to speculators. Indeed, some have commented that this was exactly the problem with the PBOC’s surprise and poorly explained devaluation last August. Further, China is still burning through its foreign reserves at an alarming pace to support the yuan after they fell another $99.47 billion to US$3.23 trillion in January. Hedge funds that have been targeting the yuan are betting that Beijing will eventually tire of intervention if currency outflows persist as it contracts the money supply and piles more pain on the economy.

The PBOC might like to flex its muscles by pegging the yuan higher but this has considerable costs if it continues to use up its reserves in the process. In a recent report, BMI Research explained that using reserves to backstop the onshore yuan market contradicts the policy goal of supporting economic growth and easing credit conditions. The key pain point is the extremely large stock of debt, which is becoming increasingly difficult for local governments and corporates to service as economic growth slows. This underpins their view that the central bank would eventually have to relent and allow the yuan to weaken. Societe Generale is also forecasting a weaker yuan and in a recent report looks at what will happen if Beijing succumbs to a one-off devaluation or moves to a free float by the end of the year.

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Anything close to China will see fallout.

A Massive Banking Crisis Is Brewing In Singapore, Says Zulauf (SBR)

The three biggest banks are losing capital. A crisis of staggering proportions is looming in China, and tiny Singapore will be caught right in the middle of the storm once the disaster finally erupts. Speaking at the annual Barron’s roundtable, Swiss billionaire investor Felix Zulauf warned that Singapore’s largest banks are at risk of massive capital outflows if the Chinese economy experiences a hard landing, which he expects will happen this year. “We are in a down cycle that will end with crisis and calamity. China in today’s cycle is what US housing was during the financial crisis in 2008,” Zulauf warned. Zulauf warned that capital outflows in China will continue, prompting regulators to devalue the yuan by as much as 15% to 20% within the year.

When this happens, Asian economies which are heavily dependent on China—particularly Singapore—will suffer because Chinese corporates will cut their imports even more, while indebted Chinese companies will be placed at greater risk of default. “I expect the situation the deteriorate to a point where we will witness a banking crisis in Asia that will hit Singapore and Hong Kong particularly hard,” Zulauf said. “It is conceivable that Singapore, which has attracted a lot of foreign capital over the years because of its image as a strong-currency state, will be extremely exposed to the situation in China. Singapore’s banking-sector loans have grown dramatically in the past five or six years. Singapore is now losing capital, which means the banking industry is losing deposits,” Zulauf said.

He said that such a situation will cause carry trades to go awry, which will result in steep losses for heavily-leveraged traders. “I mentioned the potential for a banking crisis in Singapore. I don’t recommend shorting Singapore bank stocks, but rather the EWS, or iShares MSCI Singapore ETF. In this case, an investor will benefit from both declining local stock prices and a decline in the Singapore dollar against the U.S. dollar,” said the report.

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“You can’t just miss coupon payments. It’s called insolvency.”

Keiser: Deutsche Bank ‘Technically Insolvent’, Running A ‘Ponzi Scheme’ (RT)

Max Keiser hit out against Deutsche Bank in the latest episode of his RT program Keiser Report, saying the bank was “technically insolvent” despite assurances from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble that he had “no concerns” over his country’s biggest bank. Deutsche Bank shares are down 40% since the beginning of the year, falling below their price at the time of the 2008 financial crisis. The bank suffered record losses of €6.8 billion in 2015. With a balance sheet now eclipsing JP Morgan’s, Keiser warned that the bank will sooner or later have to admit to insolvency and say “we need either a huge bailout or we gotta close up shop.” However, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble dismissed concerns over Germany’s biggest lender, telling Bloomberg he was not worried about its future.

Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan also played down the concerns in a published letter to staff on February 9, describing the bank as “absolutely rock-solid” and “strong”. “On Monday, we took advantage of this strength to reassure the market of our capacity and commitment to pay coupons to investors who hold our Additional Tier 1 capital,” Cryan wrote. “This type of instrument has been the subject of recent market concern. The market also expressed some concern about the adequacy of our legal provisions but I don’t share that concern. We will almost certainly have to add to our legal provisions this year but this is already accounted for in our financial plan.” The bank’s contingent convertible (CoCo) bonds also plunged in value this year. CoCo bonds are designed to be converted to equity when the bank gets into trouble.

They have no maturity date and come with no promise to investors that they will get their money back. Coupon payments on the bond are contingent on the bank’s ability to keep its capital above certain thresholds. If the bank does not make a coupon payment, investors cannot call for a default. Deutsche Bank said last week that they would likely be able to make its coupon payment for 2016, after telling investors last month that it couldn’t make its 2015 payments. Keiser described the move as a ponzi scheme saying, “You can’t just miss coupon payments. It’s called insolvency.”

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“..European institutions are girding yet again for another round of restructuring. [..] So much so that analysts in London call them “building sites..”

The Never-Ending Story: Europe’s Banks Face a Frightening Future (BBG)

If you had to pick the moment when European banking reached the point of no return, which would you choose? The July day in 2012 when Bob Diamond resigned as Barclays’s chief executive officer amid the Libor rigging scandal? Or the fall morning later that year when UBS announced it was pulling out of fixed income and firing 10,000 employees? How about Sept. 12, 2010, when Basel III’s raft of costly capital requirements started upending the economics of global finance? All signature events, to be sure. But try May 21, 2015. That’s when Deutsche Bank stockholders filed into the dome-shaped Festhalle arena in Frankfurt to take part in one of the most venerated and, let’s be honest, boring rituals in corporate life: casting a vote on management’s strategy and performance.

It wasn’t dull this time. Almost 40% of the bank’s investors gave co-CEOs Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen a big thumbs down. While winning six out of 10 votes is a landslide in politics, it’s a crushing blow at a publicly traded company. By the end of June, Jain was out and Fitschen had agreed to leave the company by May of this year. Investors are running out of patience with European bank chieftains, and no wonder. Since the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, eight of Europe’s biggest banks have announced layoffs adding up to about 100,000 employees, paid $63 billion in legal penalties, and lost $420 billion in market value. In 2015, Deutsche Bank lost a record €6.8 billion ($7.6 billion).

In mid-February the industry suffered an epic selloff as subzero interest rates, China’s slowdown, the oil crash, and looming regulatory and litigation costs triggered an outbreak of fear not seen since the fall of 2008. Just last year new CEOs took over at Barclays, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and Standard Chartered. Now they have to find a way to prosper in a marketplace that’s being reshaped simultaneously by strict new capital regulations and myriad financial technology startups that don’t have to abide by them. While American banks appear to have turned the corner since that gut-churning autumn nearly eight years ago, European institutions are girding yet again for another round of restructuring.

So much so that analysts in London call them “building sites,” Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its forthcoming issue. Credit Suisse’s new CEO, Tidjane Thiam, is “right-sizing” the investment bank and pushing for a 61% jump in pretax income from his international wealth management unit over the next two years. At Barclays, Jes Staley wasted no time cutting 1,200 investment banking jobs and closing offices in Asia and Australia after taking charge in December. Meanwhile, John Cryan, the British executive who replaced the India-born Jain, is pursuing an unprecedented overhaul of Deutsche Bank’s entire information technology infrastructure to shore up shaky risk-management systems.

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Creatively broke.

Low Oil Prices Claim New Victim, an Offshore Driller From Texas (NY Times)

Yet another oil company has filed for bankruptcy, as the energy industry and its lenders brace for a prolonged slump. Paragon Offshore, which operates offshore drilling rigs from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Sea, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday evening, the latest filing in a painful shakeout buffeting the oil industry. Over the last 16 months, about 60 oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy as commodity prices slide, and that figure is expected to double in the coming months if prices remain low. All told, analysts say as much as a third of the sprawling oil and gas industry in the United States could be consolidated as a result of the downturn. Paragon, based in Houston, was one of the more fortunate companies that has contemplated bankruptcy.

The company was able to negotiate a deal with its lenders — a mix of bondholders and banks — ahead of its bankruptcy filing. The so-called prepackaged bankruptcy agreement sealed last week allowed Paragon to cut its $2.7 billion of debt by about $1.1 billion and to keep operating. For other energy companies, the swift drop in oil prices from $100 a barrel in late 2014 to just around $30 last week has drained cash reserves so quickly they have not been able to agree on an out-of-court debt restructuring, which is likely to lead to a series of drawn-out and messy bankruptcies. Unlike other recent oil restructurings, which have all but wiped out equity holders, Paragon’s existing equity investors will retain 65% of the company.

Paragon, which traces its roots to the Great Depression and now employs about 2,900 people around the world, had not run out of cash when it filed, but company executives determined that it could not hold out forever, said Lee M. Ahlstrom, Paragon’s senior vice president for investor relations, strategy and planning. Paragon’s biggest customers for its drilling services, including the Mexican oil giant Pemex and Petrobras of Brazil, have been cutting back on new projects as the global supply remains high. In the shale oil fields of the United States, there are very few wells that are profitable to drill at current prices. With large producers like Saudi Arabia showing no signs of cutting back production and the global economy slowing, oil executives and investors expect the market to remain in turmoil until 2017.

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This is going to hurt. NZD=0.66USD

Sellers Of Auckland Houses Want $100,000 More Than They Did Last Year (Stuff)

Auckland house-sellers now want more than $100,000 more for their houses than they did in January last year. Trade Me Property has released its data for the month, showing the national average asking price across the country fell to $541,900 in January, down 2% from December. But the average was still up 9% on the same time in 2015. The Auckland average asking price dropped 0.5%, to $801,400 – up more than $107,000 or 15.4% on January 2015. Head of Trade Me Property Nigel Jeffries said that over the past 18 months the average asking price of a property in Auckland had surged up in “an almost unbroken run” from $641,500 to $801,400.

“We’ve seen a staggering $160,000 added to the average asking price of a house in Auckland over the past year and half, which is an average rise of over $8,500 per month. And if we look back to January 2011, we’ve seen the average asking price up 60% or a shade below $300,000.” The Bay of Plenty continued to power ahead with average asking prices rising 12.2% over the past 12 months, edging closer to Auckland’s 15.4% increase. “While Auckland has started to take its foot off the gas, the Bay of Plenty remains solidly in overdrive. Outside these two, no other region is showing a double-digit rise. In the past 12 months the asking price in the Bay of Plenty has risen by $55,300 and pushed the five-year increase beyond 30% for the first time,” Jeffries said.

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“.. it appears for now that America is fixing to elect either a primal screamer or a road-tested grifter..”

Repricing Reality (Jim Kunstler)

It ought to be a foregone conclusion that Mr. Obama’s replacement starting January 20, 2017 will preside over conditions of disorder in everyday life and economy never seen before. For the supposedly thinking class in America, the end of reality-optional politics will come as the surprise of their lives. Where has that hypothetical thinking class been, by the way, the past eight years? Don’t look for it in what used to be called “the newspapers.” The New York Times has become so reality-averse that the editors traded in their blue pencils for Federal Reserve cheerleader pompoms after the Lehman incident of 2008. Every information-dispensing organ has followed their lede: The Recovery Continues! It’s a sturdy plank for promoting the impaired asset known as Hillary.

Don’t look for the thinking class in the universities. They’ve surrendered their traditional duties to a new hybrid persecution campaign that is equal parts Mao Zedong, the Witches of Loudon, and the Asylum at Charenton. For instance the President of Princeton, Mr. Eisgruber, was confronted with a list of demands that included 1) erasure of arch-segregationist Woodrow Wilson’s name from everything on campus, and 2) creation of a new all-black (i.e. segregated) student center. He didn’t blink. Note: nobody in the media asked him about this apparent contradiction. That’s how we roll these days. Don’t look for the thinking class in business. The C-suites are jammed with people still busy buying back stock in their own companies at outlandish prices with borrowed money. Why?

To artificially boost share price and thus their salaries and bonuses. Does it do anything for the fitness of enterprise? No, in fact it makes future failure more likely. Why is their no governance of their insane behavior? Because they’ve also bought and paid for boards of directors composed of a rotating cast of praetorian shills, with fresh recruits entering the scene weekly through the fabled “revolving door” between business and government regulators. Oh, and then there’s government. Anyone viewing the boasting-and-defamation contests that the cable TV networks call “debates” knows that these spectacles are based on the opposite of thinking. They are not only reality-optional, they’re thought-optional. Hence, it appears for now that America is fixing to elect either a primal screamer or a road-tested grifter to preside over the epochal collapse of our hobbled, exhausted, way of life.

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Bit late perhaps?

German Minister Asks For Half A Billion To Create Jobs For Refugees (EA)

Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Andrea Nahles has called for €450 million to help integrate refugees into the labour market. EurActiv Germany reports. Nahles has asked for nearly half a billion euros from Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble in order to provide better access to jobs, according to German media. Nahles told the Funke Mediengruppe that the current budget is not sufficient. In order to create 100,000 new jobs for new arrivals to Germany, she needs at least €450 million extra per year. “So far, people have had to sit around doing nothing for 12 months at a time,” she said. “This creates tension for everyone. We must act as quickly as possible, but I can only do this with the support of the Finance Minister.” However, Nahles warned against taking the money from the long-term unemployed, as this would “stoke the fires of fear” and create even more tension.

Negotiations with the Finance Ministry have started already. Nahles expects the number of recipients of unemployment benefits, under the so-called Hartz IV system, to rise to 270,000 this year. Of these, about 200,000 are fit for work. The arrival of over 1 million refugees last year has put a strain on nearly every aspect of German society, with the health, education and employment sectors all struggling to cope with the influx of people. Germany’s situation is paralleled In Turkey, where legislation has been passed to allow Syrians to work legally in the country. Turkish Ambassador Selim Yenel told EurActiv in an interview that this measure will have a knock-on effect for education, where Syrian teachers will now be able to work legally and help educate the significant number of Syrian children that have arrived in the country.

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How bad is this going to get for Greece?

Greek Minister: Hungary Has Sent Nothing, Not Even A Blanket (EA)

Athens blamed Hungary for not contributing to the country’s efforts to tackle the refugee crisis and for its “political decision” to help Macedonia build a fence at the Greek border. In an interview with Hungary’s Népszabadsàg, Greece’s Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Nikos Xydakis, wondered why Budapest wanted to tell others what to do with the refugee crisis. “We have never criticized the policy of the Hungarian Premier, Victor Orbán,” Xydakis said. The leaders of the ‘Visegrad Four’ (also known as V4) are meeting today in Prague for a mini-summit ahead of the 18-19 February EU Council meeting. The Visegrad leaders seek a possible “plan B” in case of a collapse of the Schengen system and in particular an exit of Greece from the group. In particular, they want to make sure that the borders between Bulgaria and Greece and Macedonia and Greece are sealed and effectively stop the migration flows.

Earlier this month, the Greek government said that the Visegrad Four were pressing Athens not to abide by the international rules, and to stop rescuing refugees at sea. Athens, also, noted that the Visegrad leaders urged the EU to shut the Greek borders. “It’s weird that from Budapest – which is attacking Athens – we have not received a single blanket or a tent within the EU Civil Protection Mechanism until the end of January,” the minister said. The Civil Protection Mechanism was established in 2001 as a means of fostering cooperation among national civil protection authorities across Europe. The Greek official stressed that other EU member states helped and had already provided equipment to take care of the refugees. “Lithuania -which is quite far from the Mediterranean zone crisis, sent two patrol ships,” Xydakis said.

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“It doesn’t matter if it’s your job. It breaks your heart.”

Unknown Dead Fill Lesbos Cemetery For Refugees Drowned At Sea (Reuters)

She drowned trying to reach Europe, but her headless body was never identified. Her tombstone will bear no name. Like others buried beside her in an olive grove on the Greek island of Lesbos, the marble plaque on her unmarked grave will proclaim the victim “Unknown”. Her epitaph an identification number, the date she washed ashore, and her presumed age: one. Sixty-four earthen graves have been dug in this land plot for refugees and migrants who drowned crossing the Aegean Sea trying to reach Europe. Just 27 of those are named. The others state plainly: “Unknown Man, Aged 35, No 221, 19/11/2015;” “Unknown Boy, Aged 7, No 40, 19/11/2015;” “Unknown Boy, Aged 12, No 171, 19/11/2015.”

[..] In 2015, the deadliest year for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean, more than 3,700 people are known to have drowned or gone missing, the International Organization for Migration says. The actual number is believed to be higher. Hundreds have drowned in Greece since arrivals surged last summer. So many, in fact, that the section of one Lesbos cemetery designated for refugees and migrants has long run out of space. Locals conclude that entire families have drowned in the same shipwreck, leaving no survivors to identify the victims. They recall bodies found severely decomposed after days at sea, or dismembered from crashing against the rocks of the island’s long coastline. “It doesn’t feel right, seeing a child of unknown identity, an unknown child, a child of ‘roughly this age’,” said Alekos Karagiorgis, a caretaker who has transported hundreds of corpses from beaches across the island to the morgue since summer. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your job. It breaks your heart.”

[..] In October, following a nighttime shipwreck from which more than 200 were rescued but dozens died, the St. Panteleimon cemetery ran out of space to bury the dead and the island’s morgue had to bring in a container to keep the bodies. That prompted local authorities to set aside a plot of land in one village for burials. There Mustafa Dawa, a boyish-looking 30-year-old from Egypt in Greece since his 20s, has taken on the unofficial role of washing, shrouding and burying the dead, their heads faced towards Mecca. “I did 57 funerals in seven days. In one day I did 11,” he said, recalling spending a few minutes crouched in the grave of the headless child, weighed down by emotion. Dawa says it’s the least he can do. “I can’t stop the war there, I can’t make them cross (to Europe) legally. All I can do is bury them.”

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Feb 102016
 
 February 10, 2016  Posted by at 10:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Arthur Rothstein Scene along Bathgate Avenue in the Bronx 1936

Europe’s Dead Cats Bounce, Deutsche Up 10% (BBG)
Surging Credit Risk for Banks a Major Issue in European Markets (WSJ)
Banks Eye More Cost Cuts Amid Global Growth Concerns (Reuters)
Europe Banks May Face $27 Billion Energy-Loan Losses (BBG)
European Banks: Oil, Commodity Exposure As High As 160% Of Tangible Book (ZH)
Europe’s ‘Doom-Loop’ Returns As Credit Markets Seize Up (AEP)
Options Bears Circle Nasdaq (BBG)
Deutsche Bank’s Big Unknowns (BBG)
The Market Isn’t Buying That Deutsche Bank Is ‘Rock Solid’ (Coppola)
Deutsche Considers Multibillion Bond Buyback (FT)
Distillates Demand Signals US Recession Is Imminent (BI)
US Oil Drillers Must Slash Another $24 Billion This Year (BBG)
Five Reasons Behind US Bank Stocks Selloff (FT)
10-Year Japanese Government Bond Yield Falls Below Zero (FT)
EU Probes Suspected Rigging Of $1.5 Trillion Debt Market (FT)
Italy, A Ponzi Scheme Of Gargantuan Proportions (Tenebrarum)
Maersk Profit Plunges as Oil, Container Units Both Suffer (BBG)
Australia Admits Recent Stellar Job Numbers Were Cooked (ZH)
Pentagon Fires First Shot In New Arms Race (Guardian)
NATO Weighs Mission to Monitor Mediterranean Refugee Flow (BBG)
Border Fences Will Not Stop Refugees, Migrants Heading To Europe (Reuters)

Brimming with confidence. Deutsche buying back its debt at this point in the game screams EXIT.

Europe’s Dead Cats Bounce, Deutsche Up 10% (BBG)

European stocks rebounded from their lowest level since October 2013 as investors assessed valuations following seven days of declines. A measure of lenders posted the best performance of the 19 industry groups on the Stoxx Europe 600 Index, with Deutsche Bank rising 10% as a person familiar with the matter said the German bank is considering buying back some of its debt. Commerzbank climbed 6%. Greece’s Eurobank Ergasias recovered 11% after falling to its lowest since at least 1999 on Tuesday, and Italy’s UniCredit SpA gained 10%. The Stoxx 600 advanced 1.6% to 314.39 at 9:27 a.m. in London, moving out of so-called “oversold” territory.

Global equities have been battered in 2016 in volatile trading amid investor concern over oil prices, earnings, the strength of the U.S. and Chinese economies, as well as the creditworthiness of European banks. The Stoxx 600 now trades at 13.9 times estimated earnings, about 20% below its April 2015 peak. A gauge tracking stock swings has jumped 47% this year. “When it feels this bad, it’s usually a good buying opportunity,” said Kevin Lilley at Old Mutual Global Investors in London. “But we’ve just been through a huge crisis of confidence and I think a long-term rebound is still very dependent on central-bank policy and global macro data. You’re fighting negative newsflow with very low valuations at the moment, and that’s the trade off.”

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Not just in Europe either.

Surging Credit Risk for Banks a Major Issue in European Markets (WSJ)

If there’s one thing on the mind of analysts and investors in Europe right now, it’s credit risk. The recent selloff in equities has sparked questions over whether a similar bearishness on credit is justified, particularly among European banks that have been slammed in stock markets over the last month. The iTraxx Senior Financials index tracks the cost of credit default swaps, which protect the investors buying them against a company’s default, for major financial institutions in Europe. More credit risk means pricier CDS, and the cost of European bank CDS has taken off. The index is still far from the extremely elevated levels reached in 2012, during the dismal days of the euro crisis.

Some of the latest analysts to weigh in on the subject come from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. In a research note out on Monday titled “the tide has turned,” analysts Ioannis Angelakis, Barnaby Martin and Souheir Asba argue that risk is becoming more systematic. The authors go on: “Risks are not contained any more within the EM/oil related names. Global growth outlook fears and risks of quantitative failure have led to weakness into cyclical names. Add also the recent sell-off in financials and you have the perfect recipe for a market sell-off that looks and feels systemic.” Within the last week we’ve spoken to analysts and investors that disagreed, suggesting that European bank credit was quite secure. Either way, it’s clear that the worries about credit risks have become heightened. How far the threat to balance sheets now goes is one of the biggest questions in European markets right now.

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The more you try to look confident, the less you do.

Banks Eye More Cost Cuts Amid Global Growth Concerns (Reuters)

Goldman Sachs and other U.S. banks are looking at ways to slash expenses further this year as market turmoil, declining oil prices and concerns about Germany’s Deutsche Bank have sent the sector’s shares down sharply. “We can absolutely do a lot more on the cost side if we have to, especially now, when you have to deliver a return,” Goldman Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein said on Tuesday at the Credit Suisse financial services forum in Miami. “We take a particular and energetic look at continued cost cuts when revenues are stalled,” he said. ” … Necessity is the mother of invention.” U.S. Bancorp CFO Kathy Rogers echoed Blankfein’s comments at a separate panel, saying her bank would continue cutting costs this year. She cited a smaller chance that interest rates would rise, which would have indicated a stronger economy and more revenue for the bank.

As executives were speaking at the conference, Deutsche Bank shares hit a record low, following their 9.5% plunge on Monday. Although the bank has said it has sufficient reserves, investors have worried that it will not be able to repay some bonds that are coming due. The bonds, called AT1 securities, convert into equity in times of market stress. Deutsche Bank’s woes reflect broader concerns about the health and profitability of euro zone banks. Last week, for instance, Sanford Bernstein analyst Chirantan Barua said Barclays should spin off its investment bank in an effort to revive its core UK retail and commercial business. Major Wall Street banks have also had a brutal start to 2016, with the KBW Nasdaq Bank index down nearly 20% on concerns about profitability.

Since demand for U.S. bank shares began to weaken in late November, the sector’s top five stocks have lost 20% of their market capitalization, or around $120 billion. Almost 70% of the banks deemed globally significant are trading below their tangible book values, or what they would be worth if liquidated. Analysts say if this continues, banks may have to restructure more drastically to cut costs. Investors said bank executives would need to look at other ways to boost profitability now that hopes for further interest rates hikes have faded. “They’re going to have to come up with other levers to pull, whether it is investing in technology or reducing headcount,” said John Fox at Feinmore Asset Management, which invests in financials. “There will be more pressure on expenses because of the interest rate environment.”

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Bloomberg lowballing.

Europe Banks May Face $27 Billion Energy-Loan Losses (BBG)

European banks face potential loan losses from energy firms of $27 billion, or about 6% of their pretax profit over three years, according to analysts at Bank of America. “We believe European banks with large exposures to energy and commodities lending will be increasingly challenged over these positions by shareholders,” analysts Alastair Ryan and Michael Helsby wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday. “While long-term oil- and metal-price forecasts are well above current levels, we expect the equity market to continue to stress exposures to current market prices and deduct potential losses from the earnings multiple of the banks.”

The $27 billion estimate is “potentially a smaller figure than is implied in the share prices of a number of banks,” and lenders’ potential losses aren’t a threat to the capitalization of the banking system or its ability to provide credit to the economy, they wrote. European banks are getting walloped by the global market rout and plunge in global oil prices while struggling to bolster their capital buffers amid record low interest rates in the euro zone. The 46-member Stoxx Europe 600 Banks Index has lost about 27% this year, outpacing the 15% drop by the wider Stoxx 600.

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Tyler Durden doesn’t lowball.

European Banks: Oil, Commodity Exposure As High As 160% Of Tangible Book (ZH)

[..] Morgan Stanley writes, “Europeans have not typically disclosed reserve levels against energy exposure, making comparison to US banks challenging. Moreover, quality of books can vary meaningfully. For example, we note that Wells Fargo has raised reserves against its US$17 billion substantially non-investment grade book, while BNP and Cred Ag have indicated a significant skew (75% and 90%, respectively) to IG within energy books. Equally we note that US mid-cap banks typically have a greater skew to higher-risk support services (~20-25%) compared to Europeans (~5-10%) and to E&P/upstream (~65% versus Europeans ~10-20%).” Morgan Stanley then proceeds to make some assumptions about how rising reserves would impact European bank income statements as reserve builds flow through the P&L: in some cases the hit to EPS would be .

A ~2% reserve build in 2016 would impact EPS by 6-27%, we estimate:We believe noticeable differences exist between US and EU banks’ portfolios in terms of seniority and type of exposure. As such, applying the assumption of a ~2% further build in energy reserves in 2016, versus ~4% assumed for large US banks, we estimate that EPS would decline by 6-27% for European-exposed names (ex-UBS), with Standard Chartered, Barclays, Credit Agricole, Natixis and DNB most exposed. [..] But the biggest apparent threat for European banks, at least according to MS calulcations, is the following: while in the US even a modest 2% reserve on loans equates to just 10% of Tangible Book value…

… in Europe a long overdue reserve build of 3-10% for the most exposed banks, would immediately soak up anywhere between 60 and a whopping 160% of tangible book!

Which means just one thing: as oil stays “lower for longer”, and as many more European banks are forced to first reserve and then charge off their existing oil and gas exposure, expect much more diluation. Which, incidentlaly also explains why European bank stocks have been plunging since the beginning of the year as existing equity investors dump ahead of inevitable capital raises. And while that answers some of the “gross exposure to oil and commodities” question, another outstanding question is what is the net exposure to China. As a reminder, this is what Deutsche Bank’s credit analyst Dominic Konstam said in his explicit defense of what needs to be done to stop the European bloodletting:

The exposure issue has been downplayed but make no mistake banks are heavily exposed to Asia/MidEast and while 10% writedown might be worst case for China but too high for the whole, it is what investors shd and do worry about — whole wd include the contagion to banking hubs in Sing/HKong

Ironically, it is Deutsche Bank that has been hit the hardest as the full exposure answer, either at the German bank or elsewhere, remains elusive; it is also what has cost European banks billions (and counting) in market cap in just the past 6 weeks.

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“..Liquidity is totally drained and it is very difficult to exit trades. You can’t find a buyer..”

Europe’s ‘Doom-Loop’ Returns As Credit Markets Seize Up (AEP)

Credit stress in the European banking system has suddenly turned virulent and begun spreading to Italian, Spanish and Portuguese government debt, reviving fears of the sovereign “doom-loop” that ravaged the region four years ago. “People are scared. This is very close to a potentially self-fulfilling credit crisis,” said Antonio Guglielmi, head of European banking research at Italy’s Mediobanca. “We have a major dislocation in the credit markets. Liquidity is totally drained and it is very difficult to exit trades. You can’t find a buyer,” he said. The perverse result is that investors are “shorting” the equity of bank stocks in order to hedge their positions, making matters worse. Marc Ostwald, a credit expert at ADM, said the ominous new development is that bank stress has suddenly begun to drive up yields in the former crisis states of southern Europe.

“The doom-loop is rearing its ugly head again,” he said, referring to the vicious cycle in 2011 and 2012 when eurozone banks and states engulfed in each other in a destructive vortex. It comes just as sovereign wealth funds from the commodity bloc and emerging markets are forced to liquidate foreign assets on a grand scale, either to defend their currencies or to cover spending crises at home. Mr Ostwald said the Bank of Japan’s failure to gain any traction by cutting interest rates below zero last month was the trigger for the latest crisis, undermining faith in the magic of global central banks. “That was unquestionably the straw that broke the camel’s back. It has created havoc,” he said. Yield spreads on Italian and Spanish 10-year bonds have jumped to almost 150 basis points over German Bunds, up from 90 last year.

Portuguese spreads have surged to 235 as the country’s Left-wing government clashes with Brussels on austerity policies. While these levels are low by crisis standards, they are rising even though the ECB is buying the debt of these countries in large volumes under quantitative easing. The yield spike is a foretaste of what could happen if and when the ECB ever steps back. Mr Guglielmi said a key cause of the latest credit seizure is the imposition of a tough new “bail-in” regime for eurozone bank bonds without the crucial elements of an EMU banking union needed make it viable. “The markets are taking their revenge. They have been over-regulated and now are demanding a sacrificial lamb from the politicians,” he said.

Mr Guglielmi said there is a gnawing fear among global investors that these draconian “bail-ins” may be crystallised as European banks grapple with €1 trillion of non-performing loans. Declared bad debts make up 6.4pc of total loans, compared with 3pc in the US and 2.8pc in the UK.

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Pop some more.

Options Bears Circle Nasdaq (BBG)

Options traders are betting the pain is far from over in the Nasdaq 100 Index. Unconvinced a two-day decline of 5% found the bottom, they’re loading up on protection in the technology-heavy index, pushing the cost of options on a Nasdaq 100 exchange-traded fund to the highest in almost two years versus the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, data compiled by Bloomberg show. It’s the latest exodus from risk in the U.S. equity market, with selling that started in energy shares spreading to everything from health-care to banks. Technology companies, which until recently had been spared because of their low debt burden and rising earnings, joined the rout as investors focus on elevated valuations among the industry’s biggest stocks.

“Exuberance has turned to panic pretty quickly,” said Stephen Solaka at Belmont Capital. “Technology stocks have had quite a run, and now they’re seeing momentum the other way.” The S&P 500 slipped less than 0.1% to 1,852.21 at 4 p.m. in New York, extending its three-day decline to 3.3%. The Nasdaq 100 lost 0.3%. Options are signaling more trouble ahead just as professional speculators dump bullish wagers on the group. Hedge funds and large speculators have pared back their long positions on the Nasdaq 100 for a fourth week out of five, data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show. Investors were dealt a blow on Friday when disappointing results from LinkedIn and Tableau sent both companies down more than 40%.

The selloff has been heaviest in a handful of momentum stocks that boosted returns in the Nasdaq 100 last year, sending the gauge’s valuation to a one-year high versus the S&P 500’s in December. Since then, the Nasdaq multiple has tumbled faster than the S&P 500’s, dropping 20% versus 13%, as stocks from Amazon to Netflix faced scrutiny from investors amid broader economic concerns. Even after a 16% plunge from a record in November, Nasdaq 100 companies still trade at 16.3 times projected profits, higher than the S&P 500’s 15.4 ratio. Scott Minerd at Guggenheim Partners said in an interview that technology stocks will tumble even further this year as investors flee to safety and buyers stay on the sidelines.

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Tick. Tock.

Deutsche Bank’s Big Unknowns (BBG)

Regulation is forcing banks to retrench from some previously lucrative businesses. Lacklustre economic growth and low interest rates are stymieing profit growth in other areas. Concerns about China’s economy and the energy industry are rippling through markets, reducing activity among bank clients.There are specific concerns about Deutsche Bank. Cryan is trying to reshape the business while facing these ominous economic and market headwinds. There’s still a slew of litigation costs to be settled. And he’s trying to offload parts of the bank that don’t fit any more, including Postbank, the domestic German retail unit. The announced full-year net loss of €6.8 billion darkened the mood.

The bank’s shares now trade at about 35% of the tangible book value of the bank’s assets, partly because equity investors can’t get a clear handle on what lies ahead. In the credit market, concerns were fueled Monday by a note from CreditSights analyst Simon Adamson that spelled out “a base case” for Deutsche Bank to pay AT1 coupons this year and next year. But there is a caveat – a bigger than expected loss this financial year, because of a major fine or other litigation cost, could wipe out the bank’s capacity to pay. In other words, what happens if a big unknown strikes? Deutsche Bank, for its part, made the case that it has more than enough capacity for the 2016 payment due in April – 1 billion euros of capacity compared with coupons of about €350 million.

The bank says it estimates it has €4.3 billion of capacity for the April 2017 payment, partly driven by the proceeds from selling its stake in a Chinese lender. That sale is still pending regulatory approval but should go through in coming months. So, Deutsche Bank ought to have enough to make its payments and will be desperate to do so. Can pay, will pay. Unless, the bank is hit with a big shock, like a major, unforeseen litigation cost. Nervous investors await further communication.

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“I have said before that Deutsche Bank should be broken up. Now is the time to do it.”

The Market Isn’t Buying That Deutsche Bank Is ‘Rock Solid’ (Coppola)

This has been a terrible day for Deutsche Bank. The stock price has collapsed, and shares are now trading lower than they were in the dark days of 2008 after the fall of Lehman. Yields on CoCos and CDS are spiking too. Despite a reassuring statement from the German Finance Minister that he had “no concerns” about Deutsche Bank, markets are clearly worried that Deutsche Bank may be in serious trouble. And when “serious trouble” means that shareholders, subordinated debt holders and even senior unsecured bondholders could lose part or all of their investment, because of the bail-in rules under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD), it is hardly surprising that investors are running for the hills. Even if Deutsche Bank were not in trouble before, it is now.

Unsurprisingly, the CEO, John Cryan, is upbeat about it. Today he issued a statement to staff advising them how to address the concerns of clients:

Volatility in the fourth quarter impacted the earnings of most major banks, especially those in Europe, and clients may ask you about how the market-wide volatility is impacting Deutsche Bank. You can tell them that Deutsche Bank remains absolutely rock-solid, given our strong capital and risk position. On Monday, we took advantage of this strength to reassure the market of our capacity and commitment to pay coupons to investors who hold our Additional Tier 1 capital. This type of instrument has been the subject of recent market concern. The market also expressed some concern about the adequacy of our legal provisions but I don’t share that concern. We will almost certainly have to add to our legal provisions this year but this is already accounted for in our financial plan.

I reviewed Deutsche Bank’s financial position as stated in their interim results last week. My findings do not support John Cryan’s statement that the bank is “rock solid”. Its capital and leverage ratios were not particularly strong by current standards, and have deteriorated since the full-year results. More worryingly, I found evidence that profits in two of the four divisions were only achieved by risking-up: the other two divisions were loss-making. Risking-up to generate profits would, if sustained over the medium-term, require substantially more capital than Deutsche Bank currently has. For two divisions of a bank that is currently delivering NEGATIVE return on equity to adopt strategies which would in due course require more capital does not appear remotely sensible.

Though I suppose actually admitting that the bank cannot generate anything like a reasonable return for shareholders without taking significantly more risk would be even worse. I also share the market’s concern about lack of legal provisions. A large part of the write-off of 5.2bn Euros due to litigation costs and fines in the interim results arose from cases already settled, particularly the record multi-jurisdictional fine for benchmark rate rigging in April 2015, though it also includes the 1.3bn Euros increase in provisions announced in October 2015 to cover charges potentially arising from the investigation of Deutsche Bank’s Russian operation for money laundering. But since these provisions seem light for what is a serious offense, and Deutsche Bank faces other potentially very expensive regulatory investigations and legal cases, I do not consider this write-off adequate.

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They’re so f**ked. Biggest bank, biggest derivatives portfolio. Run for the hills. When you even need your finance minister to do a reassurance call, you know you’re cooked.

Deutsche Considers Multibillion Bond Buyback (FT)

Deutsche Bank is considering buying back several billion euros of its debt, as Germany’s biggest bank steps up efforts to shore up the tumbling value of its securities against the backdrop of a broader rout of financial stocks. After European banks suffered a second consecutive day of sharp falls, Deutsche Bank is expected to focus its emergency buyback plan on senior bonds, of which it has about €50bn in issue, according to the bank. The move was unlikely to involve so-called contingent convertible bonds which, along with the bank’s shares, have been the butt of a brutal investor sell-off in recent days, people briefed on the plan said. The news came as Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Deutsche CEO John Cryan both sought to assuage market fears.

Mr Schäuble said he had “no concerns” about the bank, while Mr Cryan insisted Deutsche’s position was “absolutely rock-solid”. The bank’s shares still fell 4%, taking the decline since the start of the year to 40%. Other European banks fared even worse on Tuesday, with Credit Suisse falling 8% and UniCredit 7%, as investor nervousness intensified over the relative weakness of European bank capital and earnings amid broader market turmoil. US banks, which have been hit hard in recent weeks, too, were only marginally weaker at lunchtime on Tuesday. Investors have also been rattled by the prospect of negative interest rates spreading across the developed world.

On Tuesday Japan became the first major economy with a sub-zero borrowing rate for 10-year debt as the total of government bonds trading with negative yields climbed to a new peak of $6tn. Concern about the solidity of bank debt — principally European bank cocos, which can suspend coupons and may convert into equity in a crisis — has prompted an investor dash to buy protection. A popular credit derivatives index that tracks the likelihood of default of investment-grade debt of European companies and banks was trading at 119 basis points on Tuesday, near its highest level since June 2013. Broader investor concerns about the health of the financial sector have coincided with more specific questions about Deutsche’s nascent restructuring programme.

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Ouch. Peddling fiction, sir?

Distillates Demand Signals US Recession Is Imminent (BI)

The US economy is flashing warning signs, particularly the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Demand for oil, and particularly so-called distillates – which are refined oil products such as jet fuels and heating oils – is crashing. Here’s the Barclays commodities team on the indicator:

January US demand for the four main refined products came in at -568k b/d (-3.9% y/y), compared with January 2015. Distillates were the weakest sector, down 18% y/y. Whether or not the data itself point to much weaker underlying growth in the US economy is still open to question, but not much. As illustrated in Figure 4, the scale of the decline in distillates demand in January has only ever been seen before during full-blown US recessions.

And here’s that chart:

Barclays does cite some mitigating factors, such as unusually warm winter weather and the fact this is based on preliminary data that may get revised upward later on. But it doesn’t look great.

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And counting.

US Oil Drillers Must Slash Another $24 Billion This Year (BBG)

North American oil and natural gas drillers will need to cut an additional 30% from their capital budgets to balance their spending with the cash coming in their doors even if crude rises to $40 a barrel, according to an analysis by IHS Inc. A group of 44 North American exploration and production companies are planning to spend $78 billion on capital projects this year, down from $101 billion last year. Those companies need to cut another $24 billion this year to get their spending in line with a historical 130% ratio of spending to cash flow, IHS said Monday.

“These spending cuts will be particularly troublesome for the highly leveraged companies,” said Paul O’Donnell at IHS Energy. “These E&Ps are torn between slashing spending further to avoid additional weakening of their balance sheets, and the need to maintain sufficient production and cash flow to meet financial obligations.” The analysis is based on IHS’s low-case price scenario of $40-a-barrel oil and $2.50-per-million-cubic-feet natural gas prices. IHS cited Concho Resources, Whiting Petroleum, WPX Energy, and PDC Energy. as examples of companies displaying the best spending discipline.

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“..“There is not any kind of imaginary line where you can say, ‘OK this has gone down enough,’ and it’s now a recovery play or a turnround play. They just go down more, until they are done going down..”

Five Reasons Behind US Bank Stocks Selloff (FT)

US bank stocks have suffered a brutal start to 2016. Out of the 90 stocks on the S&P financials index, just eight were in positive territory for the year at mid-morning on Tuesday. Two of the biggest losers, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, are down 27% and 28% respectively. Citigroup, also down 27%, is now trading at just 6.5 times earnings, not far off its post-crisis trough of 5.9 times, reached during the depths of the European debt crisis five years ago.

• Collapsing expectations of US interest rate rises Analysts offer a lot of different reasons for the big sell-off, but on this they agree. “Lift-off” in December was supposed to usher in an era of higher interest rates — which are always good news for the banks. In previous rate-raising cycles, assets have always re-priced faster than liabilities, earning banks a bigger spread between the yields on their loans and the cost of their funds. But worsening data since then from big economies, notably China, has investors worried that the world economy is a lot sicker than they had assumed. Expectations of another three rate rises from the Fed this year have collapsed in a matter of weeks. Talk of a rate cut, or even a move to negative rates, is entering the picture.

• Worsening credit quality In itself, a lower oil price will not do much direct damage to the big banks’ balance sheets, say analysts. Total energy exposures amount to less than 3% of gross loans at the big banks, which have mostly investment-grade assets, and which have already pumped up reserves. Perhaps more worrying are the second-round effects: if weakness in oil-dependent communities begins to spill into commercial real estate loan books, say, or if consumers find they cannot afford repayments on loans for their new gas-guzzling cars. In an environment of precious little growth — the big six US banks produced exactly the same amount of revenue last year as they did in 2014 — rising credit costs are likely to lead to lower profits.

• Deutsche Bank Every sell-off needs a point of focus and in recent days it has been Deutsche Bank. The contortions of the Frankfurt-based lender weighed on the entire banking sector on Monday, as it fought to dispel fears that it could not pay a coupon on a bond. “I think maybe counterparty risk is emerging,” says Shannon Stemm at Edward Jones in St Louis. “At the root, are some of these [European] banks as well capitalised as the US banks? Probably not. Can they continue to build capital in an environment where there is not a lot of revenue growth, and a lot of expenses have already been taken out of the business?”

• Banks are banks These are confidence stocks. When markets are doing well, banks tend to do well, as companies feel better about doing deals and raising money, investors put on a lot of trades, and asset management arms benefit from big inflows. But when confidence disappears, banks tend to bear the brunt of the sell-off. Matt O’Connor at Deutsche Bank notes that in 15 corrections going back to 1983, the US banks sector has been hit roughly twice as hard as the rest of the market — regional banks about 1.8 times worse, and capital markets-focused banks about 2.3 times worse. “At the end of the day when markets get scared, banks go down more, that is just what happens,” he says. “There is not any kind of imaginary line where you can say, ‘OK this has gone down enough,’ and it’s now a recovery play or a turnround play. They just go down more, until they are done going down or markets feel better about macro conditions.”

• Bank stocks were not cheap before the slide At the peak last July, the S&P 500 was trading about 20% above historical levels, and bank stocks were up to 25% higher than their historical averages, based on multiples of estimated earnings.* But none of these reasons is providing much comfort to investors at the moment. At Edward Jones, Ms Stemm is recommending clients ride out the turmoil by switching big global universal banks for steadier, US-focused lenders such as Wells Fargo and US Bancorp. “If there are global macro concerns, if recession concerns really are on the table, investors would rather get out than wait to see what happens,” she says.

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Japan is getting cooked. Fried. Roasted. Torched.

10-Year Japanese Government Bond Yield Falls Below Zero (FT)

The universe of government bonds trading with negative yields climbed to a new peak of $6tn on Tuesday as Japan became the first major economy with a sub-zero borrowing rate for 10-year debt. Benchmark bonds issued by the world’s third-largest economy dropped to a yield of minus 0.05%, as investors sought shelter from market convulsions triggered by sliding oil prices, concern for the health of the global economy and mounting fears over parts of the financial system. Japan’s recent decision to introduce a charge on new reserves parked with the central bank has rippled out across global government bond markets as investors expect central banks in Europe to push their overnight borrowing rates further into negative territory. That has spurred strong buying of positive yielding government debt across the eurozone, US and UK markets, while also bolstering other havens such as gold and the yen.

“The bear market in risk assets is evolving very quickly,” said Andrew Milligan at Standard Life. “A month ago the focus was China, then oil, then the prospect of US recession, now it is European financial companies.” The move comes just 11 days after the Bank of Japan’s surprise decision to follow in the footsteps of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and the eurozone by adopting negative interest rates, raising fresh concern about the side-effects of ultra-loose monetary policy by central banks. The growing trend of negative yields within the $23tn universe of developed world government debt tracked by JP Morgan has also sapped sentiment for financial shares and bonds, intensifying the demand for havens, as investors reassess their holdings of equities and corporate bonds. David Tan at JPMorgan said negative interest rates were being viewed as negative for bank earnings.

“The principal driver of negative JGB yields was the Bank of Japan’s deposit rate cut to -10bp, and the market now expects additional cuts during this year starting from as soon as the next Bank of Japan meeting,” he said. “This has contributed to a sell-off in banking stocks and a renewed flight to safety into government bonds.” Leading the slide among financials has been Deutsche Bank, with investors worried that it may have trouble repaying its debts. David Ader, CRT Investment Banking bond strategist, said market skittishness was understandable, if not expected. “The European banking system clearly remains a meaningful concern and memories of the credit crisis in the sector are still fresh,” he said.

For Japan’s government, the appreciating yen looms as an uncomfortable development. A weak currency is one of the major hallmarks of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revival plan, dubbed Abenomics. Investors now suspect Japan Inc’s assumptions of an average rate of Y117.5 against the dollar during 2016 could leave companies missing profit forecasts and force the BoJ and government into fresh action — if more is possible. “If a 20 basis points cut won’t stop the yen rising, what can the Japanese authorities do? That is the question the market is asking,” said Shusuke Yamada at Bank of America. Investors, especially foreign funds that poured into the Japanese stock market during 2013, are increasingly taking the view that the magic of the “Abenomics” growth programme has worn off. Foreigners sold a net Y1.66tn of Japanese equities in January, according to official figures.

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Why not have another one of these scams?

EU Probes Suspected Rigging Of $1.5 Trillion Debt Market (FT)

European regulators have opened a preliminary cartel investigation into possible manipulation of the $1.5tn government-sponsored bond market, in the latest efforts to root out rigging involving financial traders. The European Commission’s early-stage inquiry comes amid revelations that the US Department of Justice and the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority are also investigating the market. The investigations are part of a campaign by antitrust regulators to root out collusion in financial markets following revelations that groups of traders worked together to manipulate Libor, a key rate that underpins the price of loans around the world. Further allegations followed that traders colluded to rig foreign exchange markets.

The commission’s powerful competition department has sent questionnaires to a number of market participants as part of an early-stage probe into possible manipulation of the price of supranational, subsovereign and agency debt, known as the SSA market. This market covers a diverse range of debt issuers including organisations such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and regional borrowers like Germany’s Länder. A common feature is that the bonds often have a form of implicit or explicit state guarantee. Banks and interdealer brokers have so far been fined around $20bn by authorities around the world in response to the Libor and foreign exchange rate scandals which saw over a dozen leading financial institutions investigated by antitrust authorities.

The findings also led to criminal prosecutions of individual traders, and spurred investigations into other markets such as derivatives trading. The Financial Times reported last month that Crédit Agricole, Nomura and Credit Suisse are among a number of banks being investigated by the DOJ as part of its investigation into possible manipulation of SSA markets. London-based traders at these three banks, in addition to another trader at Bank of America, have been put on leave in response to the DOJ investigations, according to people familiar with the matter. It is understood that the commission’s inquiry started around the same time as the DoJ probe.

The commission’s enquiries concern a possible cartel or “concerted practice” according to the person familiar with the investigation, who did not provide further details. The questionnaires will help Margrethe Vestager, the commission’s competition chief, decide whether there are the grounds to launch a formal probe. Complex cartel cases typically take a minimum of four years to complete and are usually based on evidence from tip-offs provided by whistleblowers. The commission can fine a company involved in a cartel up to 10% of its global turnover.

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I picked one detail from the longer article on eurozone banks.

Italy, A Ponzi Scheme Of Gargantuan Proportions (Tenebrarum)

Ever since the ECB has begun to implement its assorted money printing programs in recent years – lately culminating in an outright QE program involving government bonds, agency bonds, ABS and covered bonds – bank reserves and the euro area money supply have soared. Bank reserves deposited with the central bank can be seen as equivalent to the cash assets of banks. The greater the proportion of such reserves (plus vault cash) relative to their outstanding deposit liabilities, the more of the outstanding deposit money is in fact represented by “covered” money substitutes as opposed to fiduciary media.


Euro area true money supply (excl. deposits held by non-residents) – the action since 2007-2008 largely reflects the ECB’s money printing efforts, as private banks have barely expanded credit on a euro area-wide basis since then.

Many funny tricks have been employed to keep euro area banks and governments afloat during the sovereign debt crisis. Essentially these consisted of a version of Worldcom propping up Enron, with the central bank’s printing press as a go-between. As an example here is how Italian banks and the Italian government are helping each other in pretending that they are more solvent than they really are: the banks buy government properties (everything from office buildings to military barracks) from the government, and pay for them with government bonds. The government then leases the buildings back from the banks, and the banks turn the properties into asset backed securities. The Italian government then slaps a “guarantee” on these securities, which makes them eligible for repo with the ECB. The banks then repo these ABS with the ECB and take the proceeds to buy more Italian government bonds – and back to step one.

Simply put, this is a Ponzi scheme of gargantuan proportions. Still, in view of these concerted efforts to reliquefy the banking system, one would expect that European banks should be at least temporarily solvent, more or less. Since they have barely expanded credit to the private sector, preferring instead to invest in government bonds, the markets should in theory have little to worry about.

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Overinvested.

Maersk Profit Plunges as Oil, Container Units Both Suffer (BBG)

A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S reported an 84% plunge in 2015 profit after its oil unit was hit by lower energy prices and its container division got squeezed between sluggish trade growth and overcapacity. Maersk said net income was $791 million last year compared with $5.02 billion in 2014. The result includes a writedown in the value of Maersk’s oil assets by $2.6 billion, the Copenhagen-based company said. “Given our expectation that the oil price will remain at a low level for a longer period, we have impaired the value of a number of Maersk Oil’s assets,” CEO Nils Smedegaard Andersen said in the statement. “We will continue to strengthen the Group’s position through strong operational performance and growth investments.”

In October, Maersk started cost cut programs for both of its two biggest units to address what analysts have described as a perfect storm for the conglomerate, which historically has found support from positive market conditions for at least one the two divisions. Maersk said Wednesday that 2016’s underlying profit will be “significantly below” last year’s $3.1 billion. The Maersk Line unit’s profit will also be “significantly below” 2015’s level, which was $1.3 billion. Maersk Oil will report a loss this year, it said. The unit currently breaks even when oil prices are in a range of $45 to $55 a barrel, the company said.

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“..with the Australian economy suddenly desperate for lower rates from the RBA, one can ignore the propaganda lies, and focus once again on the far uglier truth…”

Australia Admits Recent Stellar Job Numbers Were Cooked (ZH)

Two months ago the Australian media, which unlike its US counterpart refuses to be spoon fed ebullient economic propaganda, called bullshit on the spectacular October job numbers, when instead of adding 15,000 jobs as consensus expected, Australia’s Bureau of Statistics reported that a whopping 58,600 jobs had been added. [.] One month later, the situation got even more ridiculous, when instead of the expected 10,000 drop in November, the “statistical” bureau announced that 71,400 jobs had been added, the most in 15 years, and the equivalent of 1 million jobs added in the US. Once again the local media cried foul.

Two months later we find that the media, and all those mocking the government propaganda apparatus, were spot on, because moments ago today, Australia Treasury Secretary John Fraser, during testimony to parliamentary committee, admitted that jobs growth for the two months in question “may be overstated.” What’s the reason? The same one the propaganda bureau always uses when its lies are exposed: “technical issues”, the same explanation the Atlanta Fed used in its explanation for a strangely belated release of its GDP Now estimate one month ago. Here’s Bloomberg with more:

Australia has had some technical issues with its labor data, which “look a little bit better” than would otherwise have been the case, the secretary to the Treasury said, commenting on record employment growth in the final quarter of 2015. John Fraser, the nation’s top economic bureaucrat, told a parliamentary panel in Canberra Wednesday that he held discussions on the employment figures with the chief statistician this week. He didn’t elaborate on the meeting but said the recent strength in the jobs market is encouraging.

There were some “technical issues” in October and November that may have made the employment figures “look a little bit better than otherwise would be the case,” he said. The technical issues relate to “rolling off” of participants in the labor survey. Australia’s economy added 55,000 jobs in October and a further 74,900 in November, before shedding 1,000 in December to produce the record quarterly gain. Questions regarding the accuracy of the data have been raised following acknowledgment by the statistics agency in 2014 of measurement challenges.

Why the sudden admission it was all a lie? Simple: weakness in commodity prices “is far greater than people had been expecting,” Fraser said in earlier remarks to the panel. Australia is now “swimming against the tide” because of uncertainties in the global economy, he added. Translation: “we need more easing, and to do that, the economy has to go from strong to crap.” And with the Australian economy suddenly desperate for lower rates from the RBA, one can ignore the propaganda lies, and focus once again on the far uglier truth.

Which makes us wonder: with the Yellen Fed in desperate need of political cover for relenting on its terrible rate hike strategy, and once again lowering rates to zero or negative, a recession – something JPM hinted at yesterday – will be critical. And what better way to admit the US has been in one for nearly a year than to drastically revise all the exorbitant labor numbers over the past 12 months. You know, for “technical reasons”…

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The crazies are in charge: “Ash Carter said he would ask for spending on US military forces in Europe to be quadrupled in the light of “Russian aggression”. The allocation for combating Islamic State, in contrast, is to be increased by 50%.”

Pentagon Fires First Shot In New Arms Race (Guardian)

As the voters of New Hampshire braved the snow to play their part in the great pageant of American democracy on Tuesday, the US secretary of defence was setting out his spending requirements for 2017. And while the television cameras may have preferred the miniature dramas at the likes of Dixville Notch, the reorientation of US defence priorities under the outgoing president may turn out to exert the greater influence – and not in a good way, at least for the future of Europe. In a speech in Washington last week, previewing his announcement, Ash Carter said he would ask for spending on US military forces in Europe to be quadrupled in the light of “Russian aggression”. The allocation for combating Islamic State, in contrast, is to be increased by 50%. The message is unambiguous: as viewed from the Pentagon, the threat from Russia has become more alarming, suddenly, even than the menace that is Isis.

If this is Pentagon thinking, then it reverses a trend that has remained remarkably consistent throughout Barack Obama’s presidency. Even before he was elected there was trepidation in some European quarters that he would be the first genuinely post-cold war president – too young to remember the second world war, and more global than Atlanticist in outlook. And so it proved. From his first day in the White House, Obama seemed more interested in almost anywhere than Europe. He began his presidency with an appeal in Cairo addressed to the Muslim world, in an initiative that was frustrated by the Arab spring and its aftermath, but partly rescued by last year’s nuclear agreement with Iran. He had no choice but to address the growing competition from China, and he ended half a century of estrangement from Cuba.

But Europe, he left largely to its own devices. When France and the UK intervened in Libya, the US “led from behind”. Most of the US troops remaining in Europe, it was disclosed last year, were to be withdrawn. Nor was such an approach illogical. Europe was at peace – comparatively, at least. The European Union was chugging along, diverted only briefly (so it might have seemed from the US) by the internal crises of Greece and the euro. Even the unrest in Ukraine, at least in its early stages, was treated by Washington more as a local difficulty than a cold war-style standoff. Day to day policy was handled (fiercely, but to no great effect) by Victoria Nuland at the state department; Sanctions against Russia were agreed and coordinated with the EU. All the while – despite the urging of the Kiev government – Obama kept the conflict at arm’s length.

Congress agitated for weapons to be sent, but Obama wisely resisted. This was not, he thereby implied, America’s fight. In the last months of his presidency, this detachment is ending. The additional funds for Europe’s defence are earmarked for new bases and weapons stores in Poland and the Baltic states. There will be more training for local Nato troops, more state-of-the-art hardware and more manoeuvres. Now it is just possible that the extra spending and the capability it will buy are no more than sops to the “frontline” EU countries in the runup to the Nato summit in Warsaw in July, to be quietly forgotten afterwards. More probably, though, they are for real – and if so the timing could hardly be worse. Ditto the implications for Europe’s future.

By planning to increase spending in this way, the US is sending hostile signals to Russia at the very time when there is less reason to do so than for a long time. It is nearly two years since Russia annexed Crimea and 18 months since the downing of MH17. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has died down; there is no evidence of recent Russian material support for the anti-Kiev rebels, and there is a prospect, at least, that the Minsk-2 agreement could be honoured, with Ukraine (minus Crimea) remaining – albeit uneasily – whole.

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These people are inventing a entire parallel universe, and nobody says a thing. NATO to patrol the Med on refugee streams? NATO is an aggression force, an army way past its expiration date. It has zero links to refugees. There is no military threat there. Oh, but then we bring in Russia.. “Stoltenberg said naval patrols would fit into “reassurance measures” to shield Turkey from the war in neighboring Syria..” ‘We’ have lost our marbles. ‘We’ are on the war path.

NATO Weighs Mission to Monitor Mediterranean Refugee Flow (BBG)

NATO will weigh calls for a naval mission in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to police refugee streams as a fresh exodus from Syria adds to European leaders’ desperation. Such a mission, proposed by Germany and Turkey, would thrust the 28-nation alliance into the humanitarian trauma aggravated by the Russian-backed offensive by Syrian troops that drove thousands out of Aleppo and toward Turkey. “We will take very seriously a request from Turkey and other allies to look into what NATO can do to help them cope with and deal with the crisis,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. NATO is confronted with Russian intervention in the Middle East – including airspace violations over Turkey, an alliance member – after reinforcing its eastern European defenses in response to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and fomenting rebellion in Ukraine in 2014.

Allied warships now on a counter-terrorism mission in the Mediterranean and anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia could be reassigned to monitor and potentially go after human traffickers in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. A naval mission, to be discussed Wednesday and Thursday at a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, is controversial. It could produce unpleasant images of NATO sailors and soldiers herding refugee children behind barbed wire, handing a propaganda victory to Islamic radicals and the alliance’s detractors in the Kremlin. With her political standing in jeopardy as German public opinion turns against her open-arms approach, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Ankara on Monday with limited European leverage to persuade Turkey to house more refugees on its soil instead of pointing them toward western Europe.

Stoltenberg said naval patrols would fit into “reassurance measures” to shield Turkey from the war in neighboring Syria that already include Patriot air-defense missiles and air surveillance over Turkish territory and the coast. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute called on European Union governments to take the lead on civilian emergency management, with the alliance confined to offering backup. He said military planners will draw up options. “This is fundamentally an issue that should be addressed a couple miles from here at EU headquarters, but it doesn’t mean NATO can’t assist,” Lute told reporters.

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I could have spared them the research.

Border Fences Will Not Stop Refugees, Migrants Heading To Europe (Reuters)

Efforts by European countries to deter migrants with border fences, teargas and asset seizures will not stem the flow of people into the continent, and European leaders should make their journeys safer, a think-tank said on Wednesday. The Overseas Development Insitute (ODI) said Europe must act now to reduce migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, where nearly 4,000 people died last year trying to reach Greece and Italy, and more than 400 have died so far this year. European governments could open consular outposts in countries like Turkey and Libya which could grant humanitarian visas to people with a plausible asylum claim, the think-tank said. Allowing people to fly directly to Europe would be safer and cheaper than for them to pay people smugglers, and would help cripple the smuggling networks that feed off the migrant crisis, the London-based ODI said.

More than 1.1 million people fleeing poverty, war and repression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa reached Europe’s shores last year, prompting many European leaders to take steps to put people off traveling. But the ODI said new research showed such attempts either fail to alter people’s thinking or merely divert flows to neighboring states. Researchers interviewed 52 migrants from Syria, Eritrea and Senegal who had recently arrived in Germany, Britain and Spain. Their journeys had cost an average 2,680 pounds ($3,880) each. More than one third had been victims of extortion, and almost half the Eritreans had been kidnapped for ransom during their journey. Researchers said that, contrary to popular perception, many migrants left home without a clear destination in mind. Their experiences along the way and the people they met informed where they would go next.

Information from European governments was unlikely drastically to alter migrants’ behavior, the ODI said. “Our research suggests that while individual EU member states may be able to shift the flow of migration on to their neighbors through deterrent measures such as putting up fences, using teargas and seizing assets, it does little to change the overall number … coming to Europe,” said report co-author Jessica Hagen-Zanker. “As one of the people we interviewed put it ‘When one door shuts, another opens’.”

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Jan 182016
 
 January 18, 2016  Posted by at 10:39 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Berenice Abbott Columbus Circle, Manhattan 1936

We’ve only really been in two weeks of trading in the new year, things are looking pretty bad to say the least, so predictably the press are asking -and often answering- questions about when the slump will be over. Rebound, recovery, the usual terminology. When will we get back to growth?

For me personally, but that’s just me, that last question sounds a bit more stupid every single time I hear and read it. Just a bit, but there’s been a lot of those bits, more than I care to remember. Luckily, the answer is easy. The slump will not be over for a very long time, there will be no rebound or recovery, and please stop talking about a return to growth unless you can explain what you want to grow into.

I’m sorry, I know that’s not what you want to hear, but life’s a bitch and so’s the economy. You’ve lived on pink fumes for a long time, most of you for their whole lives, but reality dictates that real ‘growth’ stopped decades ago, and you never figured that out because, and I quote here (see below), you and the world you’re part of became “addicted to borrowing money, spending it, and passing this off as ‘growth'”.

That you believed this was actual growth, however, is on you. You fell for a scam and you’re going to have to pay the price. If there’s one single thing people are good at, it’s lying. It’s as old as human history, and it happens every day, so you’re no exception to any rule. You’re perhaps just not particularly clever.

How do we know a ‘recovery’ is so far off it’s really no use to even talk about it? As I said, it’s easy. Let me lead this in with a graph I saw just today, which deals with a topic the Automatic Earth has covered a lot: marginal debt, or more precisely, the productivity/growth gained from each additional dollar of debt.

Please note, this particular graph deals with private non-financial debt only, we’ll get to other kinds of added debt, but that restriction is actually quite illuminating.

Now of course, you have to wonder about the parameters the St. Louis Fed uses for its data and graphs, and whether ‘growth’ was all that solid in the run up to 2008. There’s plenty of very valid arguments that would say growth in the 1960’s was a whole lot more solid than that in the naughties, after the Glass-Steagall repeal, and after the dot.com blubber.

However, that’s not what I want to take away from this, I use this to show what has happened since 2008, more than before, when it comes to “passing debt off as ‘growth'”.

But it’s another thing that has happened since 2008, or rather not happened, that points out to us why this slump will have legs. That is, in 2008 a behemoth bubble started bursting, and it was by no means just US housing market. That bubble should have been allowed to fully deflate, because that is the only way to allow an economy to do a viable restart.

Instead, all that has been done since 2008, QE, ZIRP, the works, has been aimed at keeping a facade ‘alive’, and aimed at protecting the interests of the bankers and other rich parties. That facade, expressed most of all in rising stock markets, has allowed for societies to be gutted while people were busy watching the S&P rise to 2,100 and the Kardashians bare 2,100 body parts.

It was all paid for, apart from western QE, with $28 trillion and change of newfangled Chinese debt. The problem with this is that if you find yourself in a bubble and you don’t go through the inevitable deleveraging process that follows said bubble in a proper fashion, you’re not only going to kill economies, you’ll destroy entire societies.

And that is not just morally repugnant, it also works as much against the rich as it does against the poor. It’s just that that is a step too far for most people to understand. That even the rich need a functioning society, and that inequality as we see it today is a real threat to everyone.

Recognizing this simple fact, and the consequences that follow from it, is nothing new. It’s why in days of old, there were debt jubilees. It’s also why we still quote the following from Marriner Eccles, chairman of the Federal Reserve under FDR and Truman from 1934-1948, in his testimony to the Senate Committee on the Investigation of Economic Problems in 1933, which prompted FDR to make him chairman in the first place.

It is utterly impossible, as this country has demonstrated again and again, for the rich to save as much as they have been trying to save, and save anything that is worth saving. They can save idle factories and useless railroad coaches; they can save empty office buildings and closed banks; they can save paper evidences of foreign loans; but as a class they cannot save anything that is worth saving, above and beyond the amount that is made profitable by the increase of consumer buying.

It is for the interests of the well to do – to protect them from the results of their own folly – that we should take from them a sufficient amount of their surplus to enable consumers to consume and business to operate at a profit. This is not “soaking the rich”; it is saving the rich. Incidentally, it is the only way to assure them the serenity and security which they do not have at the present moment.

Everything would all be so much simpler if only more people understood this, that you need a – fleeting, ever-changing equilibrium- to prosper.

Instead, we’re falling into that same trap again. Or, more precisely, we already have. We have been fighting debt with more debt and built the facade put up by the Fed, the BoJ and the ECB, central banks that all face the same problems and all take the same approach: save the rich at the cost of the poor. Something Eccles said way back when could not possibly work.

Anyway, so here are the graphs that prove to us why the slump has legs. There’s been no deleveraging, the no. 1 requirement after a bubble bursts. There’s only been more leveraging, more debt has been issued, and while households have perhaps deleveraged a little bit, though that is likely strongly influenced by losses on homes etc. plus the fact that people were simply maxed out.

First, global debt and the opposite of deleveraging:

And global debt from a longer, 65 year, more historical perspective:

It’s a global debt graph, but it’s perhaps striking to note that big ‘growth’ spurts happened in the days when Reagan, Clinton and Obama were the respective US presidents. Not so much in the Bush era.

Next, China. What we’re looking at is what allowed the post 2008 global economic facade to have -fake- credibility, an insane rise in debt, largely spent on non-productive overinvestment, overcapacity highways to nowhere and many millions of empty apartments, in what could have been a cool story had not Beijing gone all-out on performance enhancing financial narcotics.

Today, the China Ponzi is on its last legs, and so is the global one, because China was the last ‘not-yet-conquered’ market large enough to provide the facade with -fleeting- credibility. Unless Elon Musk gets us to Mars very soon, there are no more such markets.

So US debt will have to come down too, belatedly, with China, and it will have to do that now. because there are no continents to conquer and hide the debt behind. We’re all going to regret engaging in the debt game, and not letting the bubble deflate in an orderly fashion when we still could, but all those thoughts are too late now.

What the facade has wrought is not just the idea that deleveraging was not needed (though it always is, after every single bubble), but that net US household worth rose by 55% in the 6-7 years since the bottom of the crisis, an artificial bottom fabricated with…more debt, with QE, and ZIRP.

Meanwhile, in today’s world, as stock markets go down at a rapid clip, China, having lost control of a market system it never had the control over that Politburos are ever willing to acknowledge they don’t have, plays a game of Ponzi whack-a-mole, with erratic ‘policies’ such as circuit breakers and CIA-style renditions of fund managers and the like.

And all the west can do is watch them fumble the ball, and another one, and another. And this whole thing is nowhere near the end.

China bad loans have now become a theme, but the theme doesn’t mean a thing without including the shadow banking system, which in China has been given the opportunity to grow like a tumor, on which Beijing’s grip is limited, and which has huge claims on local party officials forced by the Politburo to show overblown growth numbers. If you want to address bad loans, that’s where they are.

Chinese credit/debt graphs paint only a part of the picture if and when they don’t include shadow banks, but keeping their role hidden is one of Xi’s main goals, lest the people find out how bad things really are and start revolting. But they will anyway. That makes China a very unpredictable entity. And unpredictable means volatile, and that means even more money flowing out of, and being lost in, markets.

The ‘least worst’ place to be for what money will be left is US dollars, US treasuries and perhaps metals. But there’ll be a whole lot less left than just about anyone thinks. That’s the price of deleveraging.

The price of not deleveraging, on the other hand, is what we see in the markets today. And there is no cure. It must be done. The price for keeping up the facade rises sharply with each passing day, and the effort will in the end be futile. All bubbles have limited lifespans.

I’ll close this with a few recent words from Tim Morgan, who puts it so well I don’t feel the need to try and do it better.

The Ponzi Economy, Part 1

In order to set the Ponzi economy into some context, let’s put some figures on it. In the United States, total “real economy” debt (which excludes inter-bank borrowing) increased by $19.4 trillion – in real, inflation-adjusted terms – between 2000 and 2014, whilst real GDP expanded by only $3.7 trillion. Britain, meanwhile, added £1.9 trillion of new debt for less than £400bn on “growth” over the same period. I spent part of the holiday period unearthing quite how much debt countries added for each dollar of “growth” over a period starting at the end of 2000 and ending in mid-2015.

Unsurprisingly, the league is topped by Portugal ($5.65 for each $1 of growth), Ireland ($5.42) and Greece ($5.39). Britain’s ratio ($3.46) is somewhat flattering, in that the UK has used asset sales as well as borrowing to sustain its consumption. The average for the Eurozone ($3.54) covers ratios as diverse as Germany (just $1.87) and France ($4.22).

China’s $2.56 looks unexceptional until you note that the more recent (post-2007) number is much worse. Economies which seem to have been growing without too much borrowing (such as Brazil and Russia) are now experiencing dramatic worsening in their ratios, generally in the wake of tumbling commodity prices.

In the proverbial nutshell, then, the world has become addicted to borrowing money, spending it, and passing this off as “growth”. This is a copybook example of a pyramid scheme, which in turn means that the world’s most influential economic mentor is neither Keynes nor Hayek, but Charles Ponzi.

[..] How, in the absence of growth, can inflated capital values be sustained? The answer, of course, is that they can’t. Like all Ponzi schemes, this ends with a bang, not a whimper. This is why I find forecasts of a ‘big fall’ or ‘sharp correction’ in markets hard to swallow. Ponzi schemes don’t end gradually, any more than someone can fall off a cliff gradually, or be “slightly pregnant”.

The Ponzi economy simply continues for as long as irrationality prevails, and then implodes. Capital markets, though, are the symptom, not the cause. The fundamental problem is an inability to escape from an addictive practice of manufacturing supposed “growth” on the basis of borrowed money.

There may be shallow lulls in the asset markets, nothing ever only falls down in a straight line in the real world, but that debt I’ve described here will and must come down and be deleveraged.

The process will in all likelihood lead to warfare, and to refugee movements the likes of which the world has never seen just because of the sheer numbers of people added in the past 50 years.

When your children reach your age, they will not live in a world that you ever thought was possible. But they will still have to live in it, and deal with it. They will no longer have the facade you’ve been staring at for so long now, to lull them into a complacent sleep. And the Kardashians will no longer be looking so attractive either.

Jan 072016
 
 January 7, 2016  Posted by at 2:05 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Berenice Abbott William Goldberg, 771 Broadway, Manhattan 1937

If there’s one thing to take away from this year’s developments in markets and economies so far, it’s that they are all linked, they’re all part of the same thing. If you can’t see that, you’re not going to understand what’s happening.

Looking at falling oil prices as a separate thread is not much use, and neither is doing the same with Chinese stocks, or the yuan, or the millions of Americans who are one paycheck away from poverty, for that matter. It’s all one story.

And the take-away from that, in turn, is that focusing too much on ‘narrow’ conditions in your particular part of the globe has only limited value. We’re very much all in this together. In the UK today, it matters very little what George Osborne says or does, or Mark Carney, because they don’t shape the future of the economy.

The same goes for all finance ministers and central bank governors across the planet, Yellen, Draghi, Koruda, the lot: the influence they exert on their own economies, which was always limited from the start, is running into the boundaries imposed by global developments.

Even if central bankers could ever have ‘lifted’ anything at all (a big question mark), their power to do so is rapidly diminishing. The constraints global developments place on their powers will now be exposed -even more. And of course they’ll try to deny and ignore that, as naked emperors are wont to do.

And with the exposure of the limits to their abilities to make markets and economies do what they want, come the limitations of the mainstream financial press to make their long-promoted recovery narratives appear valid. Before we know it, we might have functioning markets back.

Oil -both Brent and WTI- have breached the $32 handle, and are very openly flirting with the $20s. China’s stock market trading was halted for a second time this year, just 14 minutes after the opening. This came about after the PBoC announced another ‘official’ devaluation of the yuan by 0.5% (stealth devaluation has been a daily occurrence for a while).

$2.5 trillion was lost in global equities in three days this year even before the Thursday China trading stop and ongoing oil price decline. Must be easily over $3 trillion by now. And counting: European markets look awful, and so do futures.

For the first time in years, markets begin to seem to reflect actual economic activity. That is to say, industrial production, factory orders, exports, imports and services sectors are falling both in China and the US. Many of these have been falling for a prolonged period of time.

In fact, Reuters quotes a Sydney trader as saying: The Chinese economy actually contracted in December. Given what I’ve written in the past year and change about China, that can hardly be a surprise anymore.

What we are looking at is debt deflation, in which virtual ‘wealth’ is being wiped out at a fast pace, and it’s taken some real wealth with it for good measure. It’s not going to be one straight line down, for instance because there are a lot of parties out there who need to cover bets they carry from last year, but it’s getting very hard to see what can stop the plunge this time. Volatility will be a popular term again.

The Fed could lose its last remaining shred of credibility through QE4,5,6 and a 180º turn on the rate hike, but it would lose that last shred for sure. Draghi’s ECB could start buying ever more paper, but they would have a hard time finding sufficient amounts of anything to buy that’s worth anywhere near the written value.

The PBoC can’t really do QE after the $25 trillion post-2008 credit pump, and the yuan devaluation today achieved the opposite of what it was intended for. The BoJ is being severely hampered by the rising yen. We’ll see crazy stuff from the global Oracles, for sure, but in reality they never had anything but expensive band-aids to offer, and they have nothing better now.

Ultimately, if China is a Ponzi (and $25 trillion in credit spent on overcapacity strongly suggests so), then the entire world economy is one. I would very much argue so, and have for years. And we all know what inevitably happens with Ponzi’s.

Economists like to think in cycles, in which things will simply bounce back at some point, but a lot of this stuff will not come back, not for a very long time. I’ve said it before: Kondratieff is also a cycle.

We’re watching the initial stages (though a lot has already vanished behind all sorts of curtains) of a massive ‘wealth’ destruction, a very loud POOF!, ‘wealth’ which can so easily be destroyed because most of it was never real, just inflated soap. It’s time to move to cash if you haven’t already, and if you have enough, perhaps a bit of gold, silver or bitcoin, but do remember those are not risk-free.

It’s tempting to see this as a China problem, but first of all there is no China problem that will not of necessity also gravely affect the west , and second of all when you read, just to name an example, that America’s new jobs pay 23% less than the jobs they replaced, it’s just plain silly to believe that the economy is doing well, let alone recovering.

Which is why a majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have enough savings even for a $500 car repair bill. All Ponzi’s burst, they can’t be tapered, and this one we have now is going down in epic fashion because there are no major economies left that are not overburdened by debt.

It’s also tempting, certainly for economists, to see money that’s lost in one ‘investment’ to automatically shift to another, but that’s not what’s happening. Much of it simply evaporates. That’s why investment funds where already in a huge high-yield bind last year, and why you should really worry about your pension fund.

Do prepare for rising taxes and services cuts: governments suffer along with everyone, and because they’re slow and lagging, probably even more so. And governments think they deserve to have their hands in your pockets. Prepare for mass lay-offs too. The consumption model is being broken and dismantled as we speak.

Nov 272015
 
 November 27, 2015  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Jack Delano Freight train on the Chicago & North Western, Chicago to Clinton, Iowa 1943

The $400 Billion Ripoff That Could Destroy The Greek Bailout (CNBC)
Good News, Holiday Shoppers: Retailers Are Desperate (MarketWatch)
China’s Stocks Sink Most in Three Months as Broker Probes Widen (Bloomberg)
China October Industrial Profits Fall For Fifth Straight Month (Reuters)
China’s Stock-Market Regulator is Investigating Citic Securities (WSJ)
Japan Spending Slumps Even As Unemployment Hits 20-Year Low (Reuters)
Japan Prime Minister Debuts New Social Programs to Help Economy (WSJ)
Japan’s Debt Trap Won’t Fix Itself (Bloomberg)
Bad Saudi PR Fuels Riyal Devaluation Talk (Reuters)
EU Warns 12 Eurozone Nations Including Germany Over Imbalances (Bloomberg)
Portugal’s Anti-Austerity Left Take Power In Watershed Moment For Euro (AEP)
VW’s Emissions Scandal Exposes Far Deeper Problems In Europe (Bloomberg)
‘Classic Ponzi Scheme’: Sydney House Prices Are 12 Times The Annual Income (SMH)
Biggest Overhaul Of Chinese Armed Forces In Six Decades (Bloomberg)
Hollande, Putin Propose Closing Turkey-Syria Border (AFP)
Russia Raiding Turkish Firms And Sending Imports Back (Al Jazeera)
Turkish Journalists Charged Over Claim Secret Services Armed Syrian Rebels (AFP)
Refugee Influx Threatens Fall Of EU, Warns Dutch PM (FT)
After Uproar, German Town Warms To Refugees Who Took Over Church (Reuters)
Stranded Migrants Try To Storm Into Macedonia, Tear Down Fence (Reuters)

Criminal behavior. “What is so disturbing is that this fire sale is going on with the blessings of European creditors. That makes it hard to brand it an asset looting. The loss for Greek taxpayers is enormous.”

The $400 Billion Ripoff That Could Destroy The Greek Bailout (CNBC)

As if Greece didn’t have enough economic market woes, last week foreign investment funds managed to take control of four of the country’s largest banks — Alpha Bank, Eurobank, National Bank of Greece and Piraeus Bank — through $6.42 billion worth of capital increases and a complex set of legal manipulations. As a result, bank shares sold like penny stocks, diluting state ownership in these important institutions that have assets totaling $358 billion. The country’s stake in the National Bank of Greece dropped to 24% from 57%, and in Eurobank it fell to 2.4% from 35%, while its stake in Alpha Bank was reduced to 11% from 64% and in Piraeus Bank it dropped to 22% from 67%. This translates to a loss of almost $44 billion that Greek taxpayers gave to bail out the banks over the past three years.

Greek stock market and legal experts believe that the maneuvers were engineered after a statutory legal provision was amended by the Greek Parliament that allowed private investors to price bank shares using a so-called “book-building method.” Under this method, the share price in capital increases is not predetermined, and investors set the price at which they want to buy the shares. It also made it mandatory for the country’s regulatory body, the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, to accept book-building prices, even if they were not properly reflecting share values. According to Greek banking sources, Capital Group, Pimco, WLR Recovery Fund, Wellington, Fairfax, Brookfield Capital Partners and Highfields Capital Management are among those who jumped at the opportunity to invest in Greek banks at below-market value this month.

The foreign investors valued the four banks at about $800 million, which is more than three times less than their current market value of $3 billion. Moreover, from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20, when the book building took place, the index of bank shares on the Greek stock market fell nearly 70%. This has hit the banks hard, according to Nikos Chryssochoidis, an Athens-based stockbroker. “In just 13 trading sessions, Alpha Bank’s stock dropped to .055 euros from its 0.125 euros closing on Nov. 4, losing 56%.” “These are horrendous figures,” Emilios Avgouleas, a professor of banking law at the University of Edinburgh, told CNBC. “What is so disturbing is that this fire sale is going on with the blessings of European creditors. That makes it hard to brand it an asset looting. The loss for Greek taxpayers is enormous.”

As the dust settles, the blame game is in full swing. The HFSF argues that its decisions are lawful and in line with the legislation passed by the Greek Parliament. The country’s creditors and euro zone officials have waived their responsibilities. In the meantime, there are worries about how this could affect overall trading on the Hellenic Stock Exchange. On Monday, Euro-area member states agreed to disperse €10 billion for the recapitalization of Greek banks after the nation completed the first set of milestones that included the overhaul of bank governance rules, eased restrictions on home foreclosures and raised wine and road taxes. These funds will be released to the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund on a case-by-case basis, as required by the European Commission.

At the same time, Greek creditors want the country’s authorities to tackle the remaining vulnerabilities in the banking system, notably those arising from $114 billion worth of nonperforming loans. If there is a capital shortfall in Greek banks that private investors cannot cover in 2016, then the EU will impose a surcap on unsecured bank deposits that are more than €100,000, like they did in Cyprus during its financial crisis three years ago. At that time, a €10 billion by the Eurogroup, European Commission and the IMF resulted in the closure of the country’s second-largest bank and a onetime bank deposit levy on all uninsured bank depositors. To date, the European Union has lent $49.22 billion to bail out Greek banks.

Read more …

“..they have literally never before had so much stuff they need to sell…”

Good News, Holiday Shoppers: Retailers Are Desperate (MarketWatch)

As Black Friday kicks off and you prepare for the annual shopping orgy, here’s something you may find useful to know: The retailers need your money. I mean, they really, really need your money. The companies you know down at your local mall are under incredible pressure this Christmas season. They have sky-high inventories, flat-lining sales and collapsing stock prices on Wall Street. And they’ve got a few weeks to turn that around. You think you want a deal? Oh, boy, these guys need to make a deal. Let’s start with the inventories. The people running the stores place their Christmas orders many months in advance — often, in fact, as much as a year in advance. And when it came time to buy inventories for this season, they were super-optimistic and they went large.

As a result, they have literally never before had so much stuff they need to sell. They’re piled high with cashmere sweaters and pashminas and diamond earrings and plastic action figures and “Frozen” tiaras and embroidered oven mittens and exercise bikes and “Italian Stallion” golf balls. The managers are feeling sick just looking at it all. According to U.S. government data, America’s retailers are entering this holiday season with an incredible $584 billion in inventory to sell — equal to almost $5,000 per household. When compared with annual sales, these inventory levels are the highest since the financial crisis. When adjusted for inflation, they’ve never been so high. Christmas is the key period for retailers. It’s when they make their money.

The Christmas shopping season makes or breaks their entire financial year. In fact, “Black Friday” is traditionally the day of the year when retailers finally move into profit. With all that stuff to sell, it’s no wonder that “Cyber Monday” has now been brought forward to Sunday — and Black Friday apparently started about a week ago. These guys are nervous. They’re under a lot of pressure. Shock profit warnings, including those from stalwarts such as Macy’s, have revealed that all is not well down at the mall. Shoppers aren’t buying as much as hoped. And they’re buying more of it online — at lower margins. Take a look at stock prices. They tell a story. And they’re in free-fall.

Best Buy is off 20% so far this year. Wal-Mart and Bed Bath & Beyond are down about 30%. Gap, Ralph Lauren and Urban Outfitters are down by about a third. Macy’s is down more than 40%. And even the high-end is hurting. Tiffany and Nordstrom are each down about 30%. Bad news for them. Great news for you. There are plenty of sensible strategies for making sure the holiday season doesn’t bankrupt you. They include setting a budget, setting gift value limits, agreeing on a Christmas truce or just adopting the Secret Santa strategy so everyone gets one gift. I’ll confess I am so over the Christmas shopping mania. But no matter what strategy you adopt, if you’re looking for deals, you should know your enemy. The retailers look like they’re hurting. And that should mean that the longer you wait, the better the deals you’ll find.

Read more …

Shanghai closed at -5.48%, Shenzhen -6.11%.

China’s Stocks Sink Most in Three Months as Broker Probes Widen (Bloomberg)

China’s stocks tumbled as some of the largest brokerages disclosed regulatory probes, the nation’s industrial profits fell and two companies flagged bond payment difficulties. [..] Citic Securities and Guosen Securities plunged more than 9% in Shanghai after saying they were under investigation for alleged rule violations, while Reuters reported Haitong Securities Co. is also being probed after the company suspended trading in its shares. Industrial profits slid 4.6% last month, data showed Friday, compared with a 0.1% drop in September. The crackdown in the finance industry comes as the government widens an anti-corruption campaign and seeks to assign blame for a $5 trillion stock-market rout.

Authorities are also testing a bull-market rebound by paring emergency support measures, including lifting a freeze on initial public offerings and scrapping a rule requiring brokerages to hold net-long positions. A Chinese fertilizer maker and a pig iron producer became the latest companies to struggle to repay bonds after at least six defaults this year as the earliest economic indicators for November show a deterioration. “The investigations may be related to their roles in the stock rout,” said Zhang Haidong, chief strategist at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai, who’s keeping his holdings unchanged. “The regulator will probably further step up oversight and crack down that area. In the short term, the market will be pressured by that.”

Read more …

“The mining industry was the laggard with profits falling 56.3% in the first 10 months of the year from a year earlier..”

China October Industrial Profits Fall For Fifth Straight Month (Reuters)

Profits earned by Chinese industrial companies fell 4.6% in October from a year earlier, data from the statistics bureau showed on Friday, declining for the fifth consecutive month. Industrial profits – which cover large enterprises with annual revenue of more than 20 million yuan ($3.13 million) from their main operations – fell 2.0% in the first 10 months of the year compared with the same period a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on its website. In September, profits fell 0.1% from a year earlier. The impact of foreign exchange and lower investment income on companies’ profits were less pronounced in October than in prior months, the statistics bureau said in a statement. Falling sales, rising costs and hits to profit in the oil, steel and coal industries all contributed to October’s disappointing industrial profits, the NBS said.

The mining industry was the laggard with profits falling 56.3% in the first 10 months of the year from a year earlier, the NBS data showed. China’s Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday that China was on track to reach its economic growth target of about 7% this year, and the economy was going through adjustments to maintain reasonable medium- to long-term growth. China’s customs authorities announced a number of new measures on Wednesday to help exporters and importers, describing the current foreign trade environment as “complicated and grim.” The new policies include lowering various costs for importers and exporters, streamlining the clearance of goods at customs and gathering more accurate statistics.

Read more …

Broad investigations going on.

China’s Stock-Market Regulator is Investigating Citic Securities (WSJ)

China’s securities regulator has launched a probe into Citic Securities for suspected violations of securities rules, escalating a crackdown on the country’s largest stockbroker at the center of a broad campaign to clean up the financial sector following the summer’s stock-market rout. In a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Citic Securities said that it has received notification from the China Securities Regulatory Commission regarding the investigation, without offering further details. The Beijing-based brokerage said it will cooperate with the authorities and that the firm’s operations remain normal.

The latest move by the Chinese authorities marks a significant shift in the nature of its probe into the brokerage, which has been at the forefront of Beijing’s effort to modernize its underdeveloped capital market and globalize the reach of its state-owned financial behemoths over the past decades. Guosen Securities, China’s third-largest broker by assets, also said on Thursday that it received investigation notification from the CSRC over suspected violation of securities rules, according to the company’s filing to the Shanghai Stock Exchange. No details were provided regarding the probe.

In recent months, Beijing has confined its investigation to Citic Securities’ employees, according to the company’s filings and reports by the official Xinhua news agency, with the Chinese police leading the effort after detaining a number of senior executives from the company. “The scope and depth of official crackdown on financial irregularities since the stock-market plunge in June has surpassed expectations,” said Hao Hong, managing director at Bank of Communications. “The probe into China’s leading broker serves as a clear warning to market participants.” Since August, several senior employees at Citic Securities, including general manager Cheng Boming , have been detained by the Chinese police over suspected illegal practices, such as insider trading.

Read more …

Can’t force spending. The more you try, the more people save, out of fear.

Japan Spending Slumps Even As Unemployment Hits 20-Year Low (Reuters)

Japanese household spending unexpectedly fell in October for a second straight month, even as unemployment hit a two-decade low, underscoring the challenge facing premier Shinzo Abe in persuading reluctant companies to boost wages. Consumer price inflation fell for the third consecutive month, but after excluding the effect of lower energy bills, household costs rose. The data underlined the difficulty Abe faces as he campaigns for companies to spend more of their record profits on wages and investment, in the hope of pulling Japan out of recession. “Job offers are surging but the average sum each employee is earning isn’t rising much. That’s why household income isn’t increasing and consumption remains weak,” said Taro Saito, senior economist at NLI Research Institute.

“It’s quite difficult to generate a positive economic cycle just by applying political pressure on companies.” The jobless rate fell to 3.1% in October from 3.4% in September, hitting the lowest level since 1995, government data showed on Friday. Household spending fell 2.4% in October from a year earlier, against market forecasts for a 0.1% rise, and disposable income slid 0.3%, separate data showed. The core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes volatile fresh food but includes oil costs, fell 0.1% in the year to October, matching a median market forecast.

Read more …

Abe’s games become more dangerous as time goes by and Abenomics is increasingly exposed as the failure it always was.

Japan Prime Minister Debuts New Social Programs to Help Economy (WSJ)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday he would increase spending on social programs and raise the minimum wage as he tries to jump-start the flagging economy ahead of an election next summer. Mr. Abe said the government would give cash handouts to the elderly poor, and build child-care and elder-care facilities to help people enter and stay in the workforce, as part of a stimulus package expected to cost at least ¥3 trillion ($24 billion). Mr. Abe hopes to revive an economy that has slipped into recession for the second time in two years, heightening skepticism about whether Abenomics will ultimately succeed in generating sustainable growth. He announced a “second phase” of the growth program in September, offering few details but pledging to expand the economy by 20% by 2020, a target many economists dismissed as unrealistic.

The measures outlined Thursday, though modest in scope, reflect a new focus for Abenomics, which has been criticized for benefiting mostly big businesses while average Japanese struggle to keep up. Mr. Abe said the theme of the second phase is “inclusion,” while the goal is to help more people contribute to and benefit from economic activity. Kazumasa Oguro, professor of economics at Hosei University, described the package as “not bad as a first step,” but warned that it would take a long time to lift labor-force participation or growth. One of the biggest obstacles to growth has been stagnant wages, something a higher minimum wage is supposed to address. Mr. Abe and the Bank of Japan have urged businesses to share more of their record profits with workers, with limited success.

The government will also give ¥30,000 ($245) in cash to each of the nation’s 10 million elderly poor, whose numbers are on the rise. These people wouldn’t benefit from the push for higher wages but because they are on fixed incomes they suffer when prices rise. To ease a shortage of workers, the government plans to make working easier for people with children or elderly parents who need care. It will build enough public child-care facilities to accommodate more than 500,000 additional children by fiscal 2017 and make more temporary workers eligible for child-care leave. Mr. Abe said the government would also build enough new nursing homes to accommodate 500,000 additional elderly people by the fiscal year 2020, and offer scholarships to those wishing to become certified care givers.

Read more …

Rock and a hard place.

Japan’s Debt Trap Won’t Fix Itself (Bloomberg)

When even Paul Krugman is worried about the national debt, you know you have a problem. The country in question isn’t Greece or the U.S., but Japan. With low unemployment and high labor force participation, Japan has essentially no idle resources. The scope for boosting the economy with fiscal stimulus or easy money is almost nil. But Japan continues to run an enormous budget deficit every year. In 2014, the government had a deficit of 7.7% of gross domestic product, with a primary deficit – which excludes interest payments – of just under 6%. Things are looking somewhat better for 2015. A hike in the consumption tax in 2014 has swelled revenues. Government coffers have also been boosted by increased profits at Japanese companies – which is then subject to the country’s high corporate tax rate.

As a result, the primary deficit is projected to be only about 3.3% in 2015. But 3.3% is still way too high. In the long run, any deficit that stays higher than the rate of nominal GDP growth is unsustainable. Japan’s nominal GDP growth is now about zero. Its long-term potential real GDP growth is no more than 1% (due to shrinking population), and the Bank of Japan has not managed to increase core inflation to the 2% target despite Herculean efforts. Even if interest rates stay at zero forever – allowing the country to eventually refinance all its debt in order to bring interest payments down to zero – borrowing 3.3% of GDP every year is just too much. And if interest rates rise, deficits would explode. The government, of course, knows this, and has pledged to cut the primary deficit to 1% by 2018 and to zero by 2020.

But its projections rely on unrealistically fast growth assumptions; it would require Japan to expand well above its long-term potential rate. As in the U.S., Japanese administrations are in the habit of over-optimism. The Ministry of Finance, full of sober-minded bureaucrats, projects that under more realistic growth assumptions, the primary deficit will shrink only to 2.2%. Even that improvement would require tax hikes, spending cuts or some combination of the two. A primary deficit of 2.2% would be at the very edge of long-term sustainability. If we assume a 1% real potential growth rate and 1.5% inflation, then a 2.2% deficit will be just barely under the maximum sustainable level of 2.5%. So Japan does have a chance to avoid disaster. But the risk is still high. A growth slowdown, a rise in interest rates or a fall in corporate profitability could easily nudge the government back to excessive debt growth. A secure future will require more serious deficit reduction.

Read more …

Saudi’s talk the talk. But there’s palpable uncertainty. And that’s what attracts predators.

Bad Saudi PR Fuels Riyal Devaluation Talk (Reuters)

“If Saudi cannot resist the gravitational forces created by a persistently strong U.S. dollar and de-pegs the riyal to follow the Russian or Brazilian currencies, oil could collapse to $25 per barrel,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote this week. In fact Riyadh is determined to avoid devaluation at almost any cost, the Gulf bankers said. The resulting market panic and import cost surge would outweigh the benefit to state finances from higher oil revenue after conversion from dollars to riyals. Saudi Arabia imports much of its food, consumer goods and machinery, and their rapid price inflation could stoke political discontent in the event of a devaluation. The state has reserves to support its currency for years to come. With Brent averaging $57.55 a barrel between March and September, the central bank’s foreign assets shrank at an annual rate of $87 billion, leaving it holding $647 billion.

Even if the asset depletion accelerated, it would take several more years to reach $225 billion, or a generous 18 months of import cover – twice the cushion most nations enjoy. Such arithmetic does little to ease market jitters, however, when Saudi officials have yet to explain how they will handle the pressure. Rare public pronouncements have so far been confined to general assurances of economic health, leaving many investors unconvinced. Earlier this month, as dwindling oil receipts drove interbank money rates SAIBOR= to their highest levels since 2009, the central bank governor brushed off what he called a “slight” rise in rates, insisting that banks had liquidity aplenty. Borrowing costs have since risen further.

In a country renowned for government secrecy, reluctance to engage with the markets may have been heightened by leadership changes ushered in with new King Salman’s accession in January. His son, Mohammed bin Salman, has taken over much of the economic policy apparatus just as it grapples with an oil price slump whose extent may have caught officials off-guard. The last serious bout of market speculation on a Saudi devaluation was handled by their predecessors, in 1998. Another reason to keep likely countermeasures under wraps is their political sensitivity. Curbing public sector wages, trimming subsidies and slowing construction projects would hit the lavish welfare policies that have helped maintain Saudi Arabia’s social peace. In a sign of their delicacy, Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has toned down comments last month that domestic energy prices may have to rise.

Read more …

Pointless.

EU Warns 12 Eurozone Nations Including Germany Over Imbalances (Bloomberg)

The European Commission flagged up potential economic troubles in 12 of the 19 euro-zone countries, from the export powerhouse Germany to the perpetually debt-ridden Italy. The commission said on Thursday that it will have a closer look at imbalances in those countries, under a monitoring policy introduced at the height of the euro debt crisis. In a repeat of criticism from last year, export-oriented Germany was faulted for a high trade surplus that leaves it vulnerable to an economic slowdown elsewhere. “The very large and increasing external surplus and strong reliance on external demand expose growth risks and underlines the need for continued rebalancing toward domestic sources,” the commission said.

Overall, the commission said it will conduct further analysis of Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Finland; it added Austria and Estonia to the list. Six countries not using the euro – Britain, Sweden, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary – also face renewed monitoring Findings will be published in February. Governments that ignore repeated warnings face financial penalties, though none have been imposed since the imbalances system was set up in 2011.

Read more …

President lost.

Portugal’s Anti-Austerity Left Take Power In Watershed Moment For Euro (AEP)

Portugal’s anti-austerity Left has taken power with the support of Communists and radical forces after eight weeks of bitter wrangling, breaking Germany’s grip on economic policy and setting the scene for a bruising fight with Brussels on budget plans. The triumph of the triple-Left alliance under Socialist leadership is a historic moment for the country and implies a sweeping reversal of austerity cuts imposed by the now-departed EU-IMF Troika. President Anibal Cavaco Silva warned the Socialists that he will sack the government if it violates eurozone deficit rules and the Fiscal Compact, or endangers the “external credibility” of the country. “It is an illusion to think that Portugal can dispense with the institutions and creditors,” he said. Yet his rhetoric cannot disguise the fact that an establishment centre-Left party has, for the first time, defied the prevailing ideology in the eurozone.

The Germans can no longer count on Lisbon to make the austerity case for them, and to provide political cover. “They have lost their best ally for fiscal discipline,” said Ricardo Amaro, from Oxford Economics. Portugal’s revolt is not a replay of the Syriza saga in Greece. The country escaped Troika tutelage last year, and is not dependent on money from the eurozone rescue fund (EMS). “We have no leverage,” said one EU official. The pro-European Socialist leader, Antonio Costa, has gone out of his way to reassure bankers and business leaders that he will avoid the sort of showdown that brought Greece to its knees. Yields on Portugal’s 10-year bonds have settled down to 2.33pc since spiking earlier this month – though this could change when the Europe Central Bank stops buying its bonds under quantitative easing.

The new finance minister is Mario Centeno, a Harvard-trained labour economist with “Blairite” leanings, deemed to be a cautious team-player. “He is not another Yanis Varoufakis,” said Rui Tavares, a Portuguese commentator. Yet the picture remains chaotic and fraught with danger. The Socialists are to rule by minority, with no encompassing coalition agreement. The Communists and the Left Bloc reserve the right to dissent, and have made it clear that they will do so. “It could break over Syria, or TTIP (trade deal), or anything,” said Mr Tavares. Mr Cavaco initially deemed the triple-Left grouping too dangerous for power, warning that there could be no government in Portugal that relied on parties opposed to the euro, the Fiscal Compact or Nato. He reappointed a Right-wing minority government even though it had lost its parliamentary majority, and openly urged rebel Socialists to switch sides.

This gambit failed. The Left held rock solid. He has been forced to back down. The issues of euro membership, debt restructuring and Nato have been finessed but have not gone away. While the Socialists vow to abide by eurozone budget rules, their policies are incompatible with the Fiscal Compact and go against the grain of market reforms. They will reverse wage cuts and a pension freeze for state workers. The minimum wage will be lifted to €600 a month, plus two months’ bonus. Electricity will be subsidized for poor families. VAT be will cut for restaurants. They will halt privatization of the water group EGF and the airline TAP, and suspend plans to open transport in Lisbon and Oporto to private competition.

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Every carmaker is included.

VW’s Emissions Scandal Exposes Far Deeper Problems In Europe (Bloomberg)

The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal might have started in the U.S., but it’s becoming clear that the controversy has opened far deeper wounds in Europe. Though the European Union is known for its strict vehicle carbon dioxide emissions standards, the Volkswagen ordeal – which centers around nitrogen oxides (NOx), a hazardous type of diesel pollutant – has revealed profound weaknesses in the EU’s entire regulatory system. With millions of diesel vehicles on the road across Europe, the stakes are high – and environmental groups are anxious not to let this scandal go to waste. Leading the charge against what he calls major weaknesses in regulation is Axel Friedrich, a chemist and activist who has spent the last 35 years agitating for cleaner auto emissions.

Friedrich, with help from environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), says the NOx emissions testing scandal extends well beyond VW. Vehicles from General Motors’s European division Opel and French automaker Renault have been tested under his guidance and found wanting: Opel’s Zafira 1.6 CDTi emitted up to 17 times the legally allowed levels of NOx in DUH tests, and Renault’s Espace 1.6 dCi exceeded the Euro 6 level by as much as 25 times. Friedrich argues that these results – along with those from a number of other automakers that he says DUH will reveal in the coming weeks – is mounting proof that VW’s scandal is just the tip of a massive iceberg. Behind Europe’s reputation for strict environmental regulation, he argues, lies a broken system.

And the damage he is trying to head off is not distant and only potentially controversial, as so many emissions issues are. Rather, NOx is a carcinogen whose concentrations in Europe’s urban centers are not dropping as fast as official emissions. “People need to understand that this is not a game,” he told me. “People are dying.” And yet the automakers that are failing Friedrich’s tests are playing legal gymnastics to defend themselves. Opel and Renault – just as VW initially did – say DUH’s testing methods deviate from official procedure and that, when “properly” tested, their vehicles meet all relevant regulations.

But this defense actually makes Friedrich and DUH’s point for them: Official test procedures are so specific that automakers can program their vehicles in myriad ways to recognize testing conditions and perform better in the tests than they do in the real world. The fact that NOx emissions rise above legal levels as soon as official testing conditions are abandoned shows that automakers essentially teach to the test, making emissions monitoring tools nearly irrelevant. By focusing on a merely legal approach to compliance, Friedrich says, regulators and automakers alike are hiding the problem of real-world NOx emissions from the public, whose health it directly affects.

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Incredible that some people still deny Sydney’s in a bubble.

‘Classic Ponzi Scheme’: Sydney House Prices Are 12 Times The Annual Income (SMH)

Sydney houses now cost 12 times the annual income, up from four times when Gough Whitlam was dismissed. As many first time buyers turn to the bank of mum and dad to top up their deposits, a new report “Parental guidance not recommended” warns Australians are being caught up in a classic “Ponzi scheme”. The report by economic consultancy LF Economics – which has previously sensationally warned of a “bloodbath” when Sydney’s property bubble bursts – estimates it will now take the average first time buyer in Sydney nine years to save a deposit, up from three years in 1975. Baby boomers, who have benefited from skyrocketing prices, are increasingly able to fast track their children’s path to property ownership by either stumping up part of the deposit or putting up their own homes as collateral.

LF Economics, founded by Lindsay David and Philip Soos, warns this may be helping a new generation to over-leverage into mortgages they can’t afford, leaving their parents’ homes exposed. “Unfortunately, this loan guarantee strategy in a rising housing market for securing ever-larger amounts of debt is essentially pyramid or Ponzi finance. This leaves many parents in a dangerous predicament should their children experience difficulties making loan payments, let alone defaulting and suffering foreclosure.” “In reality, many parents – the Baby Boomer cohort – are asset-rich but income-poor. The blunt fact is few parents have enough savings and other liquid assets on hand to meet their legal obligations without selling their home if their children default,” the report warns.

Property experts disagree furiously about whether prices are in a bubble and about the best measure of housing affordability. LF Economics argues that price gains have outstripped the fundamental worth of properties. “Financial regulators have ignored the Ponzi lending practices by lenders, believing the RBA will have the adequate ability to bail them out at taxpayers’ expense the day this classic Ponzi lending scheme breaks down.”

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Wonderful.

Biggest Overhaul Of Chinese Armed Forces In Six Decades (Bloomberg)

President Xi Jinping announced a major overhaul of China’s military to make the world’s largest army more combat ready and better equipped to project force beyond the country’s borders. Under the reorganization, all branches of the armed forces would come under a joint military command, Xi told a meeting of military officials in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Bloomberg in September reported details of the plan, which may also seek to consolidate the country’s seven military regions to as few as four. The Chinese president said the reform aimed to “build an elite combat force” and called on the officials to make “breakthroughs” on establishing the joint command by 2020, Xinhua said. Xi announced the changes at the end of a three-day meeting attended by about 200 top military officials, Xinhua said.

Xi, who also became chairman of the Central Military Commission upon taking power in 2012, is directly managing the overhaul. He made a public display of his commitment to the reforms when he announced that the People’s Liberation Army would shed 300,000 troops at a September military parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. “This is the biggest military overhaul since the 1950s,” said Yue Gang, a retired colonel in the PLA’s General Staff Department. “The reform shakes the very foundations of China’s Soviet Union-style military system and transferring to a U.S. style joint command structure will transform China’s PLA into a specialized armed force that could pack more of a punch in the world.”

Under Xi, China has been more assertive over territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, raising tensions with neighbors such as Japan and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. Xi’s policy marks a shift from China’s previous approach of keeping a low profile and not attracting attention on the world stage, a philosophy laid out by former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. “The reform enhanced the power of the Central Military Commission and its chairman,” Yue said. “This is also a lesson learned from last generation of military leaders, as the former CMC chairman had little real power over the armed forces.”

The plan also seeks to strengthen the Communist Party’s grip on the military. The army was urged to strictly follow the Party’s orders, and the plan called for enhancing the military leadership of the Party, Xinhua said. Xi also said the PLA would build a new disciplinary structure and a new legal and political committee to make sure the army is under the rule of law. Xi has also made the military one of the targets of his anti-corruption campaign as he consolidates his power over the PLA. Two former CMC vice-chairman were both expelled from the party since Xi took power in 2012, as were dozens of generals accused of everything from embezzling public funds to selling ranks.

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The exact opposite of what Erdogan wants.

Hollande, Putin Propose Closing Turkey-Syria Border (AFP)

Russia vowed Thursday to cooperate in the fight against terrorism as French President Francois Hollande began the last leg of a diplomatic bid to step up efforts to crush the Islamic State group. Sitting down to talks with Hollande at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed to the November 13 assaults in Paris which 130 people were killed, and the IS-claimed bombing of a Russian jetliner over Egypt on October 31, with the loss of all 224 people onboard. These “make us unite our efforts against the common evil,” Putin said. “We are ready for this cooperation.” Hollande, pitching a message he had taken to other major capitals with varying degrees of success, said, “We have to form this large coalition together to strike against terrorism.” Moscow was the last stage of a whirlwind campaign by Hollande to intensify efforts to crush IS in Iraq and Syria.

[..] Hollande’s diplomatic foray suffered a heavy blow after Turkey shot down a Russian jet on Tuesday. Turkey’s military said the following day it did not know the jet was Russian but Moscow called the incident a “planned provocation”. The sole surviving pilot said he received no warning and the aircraft did not violate Turkish air space, but the Turkish military released audio recordings claiming to show the Russian jet was repeatedly warned to change course. “We still have not heard any articulate apologies from Turkey’s highest political level nor any proposals to compensate for the harm and damage,” Putin told Russian TV on Thursday. The Turkish foreign minister vowed that Ankara would not apologise for downing the plane, while Moscow said it was preparing a raft of retaliatory economic measures.

Moscow has intensified its strikes in Syria after IS claimed it brought down a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai. Ankara and Moscow have backed opposing forces in the four-year Syrian conflict, with Turkey supporting rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia is one of his last remaining allies. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed a proposal by Hollande to close off the Syria-Turkey border, considered the main crossing point for foreign fighters seeking to join IS. “I think this is a good proposal and… President Hollande will talk to us in greater detail about it. We would be ready to seriously consider the necessary measures for this,” Lavrov said.

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Russia will not forgive.

Russia Raiding Turkish Firms And Sending Imports Back (Al Jazeera)

Russian police have been raiding Turkish companies in different regions of Russia and, in some cases, have suspended their operations, two Turkish businessmen with investments in the country have told Al Jazeera. Moscow has also started sending back Turkish trucks loaded with exports at the border and stopped Turkish tourists – who normally do not need visas – entering the country, at least two businessmen said. Turkish companies in Russia, particularly construction companies, are being raided. Moscow’s move comes after Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 warplane on Tuesday for allegedly violating Turkish airspace. The two sides, who are at odds over the Syrian crisis, have opposite claims over whether the airspace breach is true or not.

“Turkish companies in Russia, particularly construction companies, are being raided,” a Turkish executive with a manufacturing company active in Russia told Al Jazeera, on condition of anonymity. “They check if anyone with expired or no working visas is actively working in these companies or not. They check if working regulations were implemented or not. “There have been serious breaches in this area within construction companies and Russian authorities know it. Activities of some companies have been frozen on these grounds.” Cevdet Seylan, a businessman with trade relations in the city of Kazan, also confirmed that police had been raiding Turkish companies there. Osman Bagdatlioglu, the chairman of Turkey’s Ornamental Plants and Products Exporters Union, said that several trucks loaded with flowers returned back to Turkey on Wednesday after Russian authorities blocked their entry into the country.

“Six trucks came back yesterday. We stopped all deliveries. We stopped deliveries by planes as well,” Bagdatlioglu told Al Jazeera. [..] Meanwhile, several Turkish citizens confirmed to Al Jazeera that Russia was sending back Turkish tourists trying to enter the country by finding “excuses” and was delaying entry of Turks with work or residence permit. Turkish and Russian tourists have been able to travel between the two countries without a visa since 2011, following an agreement signed between the two countries.

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Fast track into the EU, anyone?

Turkish Journalists Charged Over Claim Secret Services Armed Syrian Rebels (AFP)

A court in Istanbul has charged two journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper with spying after they alleged Turkey’s secret services had sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief, and Erdem Gul, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, are accused of spying and ‘divulging state secrets’, Turkish media reported. Both men were placed in pre-trial detention. According to Cumhuriyet, Turkish security forces in January 2014 intercepted a convoy of trucks near the Syrian border and discovered boxes of what the daily described as weapons and ammunition to be sent to rebels fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It linked the seized trucks to the Turkish national intelligence organisation (MIT).

The revelations, published in May, caused a political storm in Turkey, and enraged president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who vowed Dundar would pay a ‘heavy price’. He personally filed a criminal complaint against Dundar, 54, demanding he serve multiple life sentences. Turkey has vehemently denied aiding Islamist rebels in Syria, such as the Islamic State group, although it wants to see Assad toppled. “Don’t worry, this ruling is nothing but a badge of honour to us”, Dundar told reporters and civil society representatives at the court before he was taken into custody. Reporters Without Borders had earlier on Thursday urged the judge hearing the case to dismiss the charges against the pair, condemning the trial as political persecution .

The Cumhuriyet daily was awarded the media watchdog s 2015 Press Freedom Prize just last week, with Dundar travelling to Strasbourg to receive the award. “If these two journalists are imprisoned, it will be additional evidence that the Turkish authorities are ready to use methods worthy of a bygone age in order to suppress independent journalism in Turkey”, said RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire in a statement. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 in its 2015 press freedom index last month, warning of a dangerous surge in censorship .

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Rome fell because it didn’t protect its borders? Really?! Oh well, what do your voters know, right? Protect from whom, though? Barbarians? Is that what you now want to compare Syrian refugees to?

Refugee Influx Threatens Fall Of EU, Warns Dutch PM (FT)

The EU risks suffering the same fate as the Roman empire if it does not regain control of its borders and stop the “massive influx” of refugees from the Middle East and central Asia, the Dutch prime minister has warned. Mark Rutte, whose government assumes the EU’s rotating presidency in January, said southern EU countries had yet to implement policies agreed to stem the flow, which has exceeded 850,000 arriving by sea so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Mr Rutte said Greece, where more than 700,000 have landed this year, might have to increase its “reception capacity” to at least 100,000. Athens has so far committed to about half that, insisting that it does not want to become a giant refugee camp.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have travelled on from Greece and Italy to other EU countries -principally to Germany and Sweden- creating huge administrative and political strains across the union. “As we all know from the Roman empire, big empires go down if the borders are not well-protected”, said Mr Rutte in an interview with a group of international newspapers. “So we really have an imperative that it is handled.” His comments echoed a warning by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, that a breakdown of the EU s 26-country open-border system, known as Schengen, would put the whole union in peril. “We have to safeguard the spirit behind Schengen, Mr Juncker told the European Parliament on Wednesday.

“Yes, the Schengen system is partly comatose. But … a single currency does not exist if Schengen fails. It is one of the pillars of the construction of Europe”. Mr Rutte said the EU needed to act quickly to stem the migrant flow, adding that he was optimistic that Sunday’s summit in Brussels between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and EU leaders would help ease conditions by providing €3bn to improve refugee camps in Turkey and disrupting the “business model” of human smugglers channelling migrants in boats to Greece. “It’s not the case that you will close a deal and then, on Monday, everything is delivered”, he said. “It’s not like you buy a house. But I think, on both sides, we need confidence building.”

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Still plenty to learn: Reuters put this story in its ‘Lifestyle’ section.

After Uproar, German Town Warms To Refugees Who Took Over Church (Reuters)

When Daniela Handwerk looked out of her window earlier this month and saw the church across the street being emptied out and turned into a refugee shelter, she panicked – and she was not alone. As news of the plan to house 50 refugees in the church and suspend Sunday services spread through this community on the outskirts of Oberhausen, in the Ruhr valley, angry residents pressed church and city officials to reconsider. Some worried about safety, others about real estate values and, at a raucous meeting of locals held in the church shortly before the refugees arrived, one man complained that his new Mercedes might get scratched. But nearly a month on, the uproar, played up at the start in the German media, has died down and residents are beginning to warm to the refugees, including 20 children, who are camped out in the ochre-colored brick church built in the early 20th century.

“Initially, there was fear among the neighbors and I don’t exclude myself,” said Handwerk. “I have two small children and of course I was worried about what was going to happen here.” Now she is part of a local support group that counts roughly 100 volunteers. They teach German, assist with bureaucratic hurdles and play with the refugee children. The Protestant church, surrounded by pointy-roofed stone buildings that were built to house miners, is the first in Germany to have been set aside for refugees since they began streaming into the country by the thousands in late summer. Germany expects about 1 million migrants to arrive this year, far more than any other European country.

German politicians are under intense pressure to stem the flow as local communities complain that they are being overwhelmed. But the story of the church in Oberhausen suggests that Germany’s “Willkommenskultur”, or welcome culture, remains alive and well in some pockets of the country. Local resident Sebastian Possner launched a neighborhood initiative nearly a month ago to protest against the conversion of the church. Now he says his kids are playing with the refugee children and that he’s donated bicycles and toys. “Some of them even manage to greet us in German now,” Possner said. Up to 140 refugees are landing in Oberhausen every week, forcing authorities to come up with new locations to house them. City officials say they had little choice but to use the church.

In early November, workers removed the altar and dozens of chairs, replacing them with metal beds, which are separated by makeshift partitions to give the church’s new residents a semblance of privacy. There was no question of removing the large metal cross that sits in the church, even though many of the new residents are Muslim. One reason for the initial uproar, locals say, was that many of them learned about the plans in the newspaper. “In the beginning, many older members of the parish couldn’t comprehend what was happening to the church they had been going to for so many years, but we’ve come a long way and people now appreciate the importance of Christian charity,” pastor Stefanie Zuechner said.

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Bad weather coming this weekend. Gale force winds and lots of rain.

Stranded Migrants Try To Storm Into Macedonia, Tear Down Fence (Reuters)

Hundreds of Moroccans, Algerians and Pakistanis tried to storm the border between Greece and Macedonia on Thursday, tearing down part of the barbed wire fence at the crossing and demanding to be allowed to carry on into northern Europe. They were among about 1,500 migrants who have been stranded near Greece’s northern border town of Idomeni after Europe decided to filter migrants, allowing only those fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq to cross into the Balkans. Some threw stones at police while others fell to their knees shouting, “We want to go to Germany!” A few ran across into Macedonia but were quickly detained by police. Police in riot gear guarded a gap where migrants had torn down about 30-40 meters of fence, and a Reuters photographer saw riot police armed with assault rifles.

More than 800,000 refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, most through the Greek islands, seeking a better life in wealthier European countries such as Germany. Balkan countries have clamped down at their borders recently to stem the largely unchecked stream of people, leaving tens of thousands stranded in Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. The United Nations has condemned the new restrictions on travel based on nationality. So far, only 148 refugees have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU countries under a plan for transferring 160,000 agreed by EU leaders in September.

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Oct 092015
 
 October 9, 2015  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


DPC H.A. Testard Bicycles & Automobiles, New Orleans 1910

September Liquidity Crisis Forced Fed Into Massive Reverse Repo Operation (IRD)
Bank Of England Warns Financial Institutions Over Commodities Exposure (Guardian)
If You Thought China’s Equity Bubble Was Scary, Check Out Bonds (Bloomberg)
CEO: Deutsche Isn’t Worth What It Once Was And Can’t Pay What It Used To (BBG)
Day After Deutsche Says Not All’s Well, Credit Suisse Also Admits Trouble (ZH)
Bruised Germany Is Canary in Coal Mine for Europe Economic Woes (Bloomberg)
Saudi Arabia Orders Deep Spending Curbs Amid Oil Price Slump (Bloomberg)
Former IMF Chief Economist Blanchard Backs ‘People’s QE’ (Reuters)
Hong Kong High Street Shop Rents Fall Up To 43% From Their Peaks (SCMP)
Bill Gross Sues Pimco For At Least $200 Million (NY Times)
Ponzi Suspect’s 17 Accounts Raise Questions Over Bank Safeguards (Bloomberg)
Why This Feels Like A Depression For Most People (Jim Quinn)
VW Exec Blames ‘A Couple Of’ Rogue Engineers For Emissions Scandal (LA Times)
VW Facilities, Worker Homes Raided in Diesel Investigation (Bloomberg)
US House Slams Regulators For Not Catching VW For Years (Reuters)
Four More Carmakers Join ‘Dieselgate’ Emissions Row (Guardian)
Merkel Slams Eastern Europeans On Migration (Politico)
542 People Rescued In 24 Hours Off Greece (AP)
Baby Dies After Migrant Boat Breaks Down Off Greek Island Lesbos (Reuters)

Behind the curtain.

September Liquidity Crisis Forced Fed Into Massive Reverse Repo Operation (IRD)

Something occurred in the banking system in September that required a massive reverse repo operation in order to force the largest ever Treasury collateral injection into the repo market. Ordinarily the Fed might engage in routine reverse repos as a means of managing the Fed funds rate. However, as you can see from the graph below, there have been sudden spikes up in the amount of reverse repos that tend to correspond the some kind of crisis – the obvious one being the de facto collapse of the financial system in 2008. You can also see from this graph that the size of the “spike” occurrences in reverse repo operations has significantly increased since 2014 relative to the spike up in 2008. In fact, the latest two-week spike is by far the largest reverse repo operation on record.

Besides using repos to manage term banking reserves in order to target the Fed funds rate, reverse repos put Treasury collateral on to bank balance sheets. We know that in 2008 there was a derivatives counter-party default melt-down. This required the Fed to “inject” Treasury collateral into the banking system which could be used as margin collateral by banks or hedge funds/financial firms holding losing derivatives positions OR to “patch up” counter-party defaults (see AIG/Goldman).

What’s eerie about the pattern in the graph above is that since 2014, the “spike” occurrences have occurred more frequently and are much larger in size than the one in 2008. This would suggest that whatever is imploding behind the scenes is far worse than what occurred in 2008. What’s even more interesting is that the spike-up in reverse repos occurred at the same time – September 16 – that the stock market embarked on an 8-day cliff dive, with the S&P 500 falling 6% in that time period. You’ll note that this is around the same time that a crash in Glencore stock and bonds began. It has been suggested by analysts that a default on Glencore credit derivatives either by Glencore or by financial entities using derivatives to bet against that event would be analogous to the “Lehman moment” that triggered the 2008 collapse.

The blame on the general stock market plunge was cast on the Fed’s inability to raise interest rates. However that seems to be nothing more than a clever cover story for something much more catastrophic which began to develop out of sight in the general liquidity functions of the global banking system. Without a doubt, the graphs above are telling us that something “broke” in the banking system which necessitated the biggest injection of Treasury collateral in history into the global banking system by the Fed.

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BoA says $100 billion exposure to Glencore alone, and Bernstein says 6 UK traders have only $6 billion? Hard to believe.

Bank Of England Warns Financial Institutions Over Commodities Exposure (Guardian)

The Bank of England has told major banks to check the impact of falling commodity prices on their lending positions. Threadneedle Street has been asking for information from the major players in light of the rout in the shares in Glencore, the commodity trading and mining firm. Glencore’s shares plunged by 29% a week ago on Monday to 68.62p. Although they have subsequently recovered to 120p, the shares are trading far below their 2011 flotation price of 530p. The fall in Glencore stock came amid concerns about its debt position and fears that the Chinese economy was on the cusp of a hard landing that would further reduce already softening global demand for commodities.

The demand for information by the Bank of England has emerged at a time when banking analysts have been questioning the exposure of banks to the the fallout in the commodity sector. In a research note entitled The $100bn Gorilla in the Room, Bank of America analysts said: “The banking industry may have significantly more exposure to Glencore than is generally appreciated in the market.” Analysts at Bernstein, the broking firm, have conducted a wider analysis of UK banks’ exposure to six commodity trading houses, including Glencore, and concluded about $6bn (£3.9bn) worth of loans are outstanding. Standard Chartered, the Asian-focused London-based bank, was given the highest exposure of $1.9bn.

The move by the Bank to ask financial institutions to check their exposure to commodities follows similar health checks during the Greek crisis and amid Chinese stock market volatility in the summer. The requests are made through the Prudential Regulation Authority, the Bank of England’s regulatory arm. The Bank of England is launching stress tests on the major lenders and has said China is among the factors that will be included in the financial health check. The results are expected to be published in December.

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Bubble after bubble, until there’s none left.

If You Thought China’s Equity Bubble Was Scary, Check Out Bonds (Bloomberg)

As a rout in Chinese stocks this year erased $5 trillion of value, investors fled for safety in the nation’s red-hot corporate bond market. They may have just moved from one bubble to another. So says Commerzbank, which puts the chance of a crash by year-end at 20%, up from almost zero in June. Industrial Securities and Huachuang Securities are warning of an unsustainable rally after bond prices climbed to six-year highs and issuance jumped to a record. The boom contrasts with caution elsewhere. A selloff in global corporate notes has pushed yields to a 21-month high, and credit-derivatives traders are demanding near the most in two years to insure against losses on Chinese government securities.

While an imminent collapse isn’t yet the base-case scenario for most forecasters, China’s 42.1 trillion yuan ($6.6 trillion) bond market is flashing the same danger signs that triggered a tumble in stocks four months ago: stretched valuations, a surge in investor leverage and shrinking corporate profits. A reversal would add to challenges facing China’s ruling Communist Party, which has struggled to contain volatility in financial markets amid the deepest economic slowdown since 1990. “The Chinese government is caught between a rock and hard place,” said Zhou Hao, a senior economist in Singapore at Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest lender. “If it doesn’t intervene, the bond market will actually become a bubble. And if it does, the market could crash the way the equity market did due to fast de-leveraging.”

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Deutsche equals tens of trillions in derivatives exposure. Why is it getting scared, and why now?

CEO: Deutsche Isn’t Worth What It Once Was And Can’t Pay What It Used To (BBG)

Deutsche Bank’s new boss delivered a harsh message to shareholders and employees: Europe’s biggest investment bank isn’t worth what it once was and can’t pay them what they’re used to. Co-CEO John Cryan decided to mark down the value of the securities unit because of rules that will force the company to hold more capital, Deutsche Bank said in a statement late Wednesday. Higher equity requirements have hurt profitability. Cryan is preparing to shrink the trading empire built by his predecessor, Anshu Jain, to lower costs, lift capital levels and raise Deutsche Bank from its position as the worst-valued stock among global banks. That could mean giving up the aspiration to remain a top global investment bank and rolling back parts of the expansion it pursued over the last two-and-a-half decades.

“This perhaps is the beginning of the new chief executive taking a close look and saying, ‘actually, are we better off being the German champion bank, or do we want to maintain this ambition of being a global player?”’ Robert Smithson at THS Partners said. Deutsche Bank said it wrote down goodwill, a measure of the value a company expects to extract from acquisitions, to zero at both its investment- and consumer-banking units. The charge at the securities business relates in part to the $9 billion purchase of Bankers Trust in 1998, Cryan said in a memo to staff. That deal was a major step in the company’s transformation into a global investment bank because it expanded access to the U.S., home to the world’s biggest capital markets. Paul Achleitner, Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board chairman, advised the bank on the purchase while at Goldman Sachs.

The writedown at the securities unit, as well as charges at the company’s retail-banking division and legal costs, will probably cause a third-quarter net loss of €6.2 billion, Deutsche Bank said. The bank may cut or eliminate this year’s dividend, and employees, by way of compensation, will have to share the pain with investors, Cryan said. The stock fell 1.8% to €25.03. Cryan isn’t alone in writing down the value of acquisitions that failed to deliver anticipated returns. UniCredit, Italy’s biggest bank, posted a record loss for the fourth-quarter of 2013 after taking more than 9 billion euros of impairments, including those on the goodwill of units in Italy, central and eastern Europe and Austria. Investors were already valuing Deutsche Bank at less than it says its assets are worth. The company trades at about 0.6 times book value, the lowest ratio among its global peers.

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Deutsche, Credit Suisse and UniCredit. Dominoes starting to drop.

Day After Deutsche Says Not All’s Well, Credit Suisse Also Admits Trouble (ZH)

Not everything is “fine” in the land of European banks, in fact quite the opposite. One day after Deutsche Bank warned of a massive $7 billion loss and the potential elimination of the bank’s dividend which had been a German staple since reunification, a move which many said was a “kitchen sinking” of the bank’s problems (but not Goldman, which said it was “not a kitchen sinking, but a sign of the magnitude of the challenge” adding that “this development confirms our view that the task facing new management is very demanding. Litigation issues do not end with this mark down – we expect them to persist for a multi-year period. We do not see this as a “clean up” but rather an indication of what the “fixing” of Deutsche Bank will entail over the 2015-18 period), it was the turn of Switzerland’s second biggest bank after UBS, Credit Suisse, to admit it too needs more cash when moments ago the FT reported that the bank is “preparing to launch a substantial capital raising” when the new CEO Thiam unveils his strategic plan for the bank in two weeks’ time.

FT adds that “while not specifying an amount, they pointed to a poll published last week by analysts at Goldman Sachs concluding that 91% of investors expect the Swiss bank to raise more than SFr5bn in new equity.” The stock price did not like it, although just like with DB, we expect the “story” to quickly become that the Swiss bank is putting all its dirty laundry to rest, so an equity dilution is actually quite positive. Incidentally, with DB stock green on the day following a dividend cut, perhaps it would go limit up if Deutsche Bank had announced a negative dividend? The official narrative is well-known: the bank does not need the funds, it is simply a precaution ahead of new, more stringent capital requirements:

The capital is likely to be used to absorb losses triggered by a faster restructuring of the Swiss group, the people said. But Credit Suisse will also need higher capital ratios to comply with toughening demands from regulators. The Swiss authorities are expected to announce an increase of minimum capital ratios over the coming months, which could prove more challenging for the bank than its better capitalised local rival, UBS. Credit Suisse’s common equity tier one capital ratio of 10.3% compares with UBS’s 13.5%..

The real reason, of course, has nothing to do with this, and everything to do with the collapse of manipulation cartels involving Liebor, FX, commodities, bonds, equities, gold, and so on, because when banks can no longer collude with each other to push markets in any given direction, that’s when they start losing money. That and, of course, the fact that central bank intervention in capital markets has made it virtually impossible to trade any more. Or as they call it, “miss capital ratios.” Expect many more such announcements in the coming weeks.

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While Brussels insists there is a cyclical recovery…

Bruised Germany Is Canary in Coal Mine for Europe Economic Woes (Bloomberg)

The euro area’s pillar of economic strength is starting to show cracks. Germany’s manufacturing industry is taking a hit from cooling demand in emerging markets. Two of its icons – Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen – are in turmoil. And refugees are flooding across its borders at a rate of 10,000 a week. The strains are putting the resilience of Europe’s economic powerhouse to the test after exports in August fell the most since the height of the 2009 recession, and factory orders and industrial output unexpectedly declined. The flood of bad news is all the more troubling as the 19-nation euro area strives to sustain an economic revival that remains fragile. “Germany is the canary in the mine for Europe,” said Pau Morilla-Giner at London & Capital Asset Management in London.

“It is the most exposed country to what happens outside of the continent.” German exports slumped 5.2% in August from the previous month, the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden said on Thursday. That’s the most since the recession of 2009. Imports slid 3.1%, shrinking the trade surplus to €15.3 billion from €25 billion. Weakening trade with China and Russia prompted Hamburger Hafen und Logistik, which handles about three in four containers at the city port, to cut its 2015 earnings forecast on declining container volume. Germany’s gateway to Asia serves as a major transfer hub for containers carried by deep-sea ships from the Pacific region and then reloaded onto smaller feeder vessels destined for Baltic Sea ports, including the Russian harbor of St. Petersburg.

BASF, whose dominance in the global chemical industry makes it a barometer for the German economy, is curbing spending and scrapped its 2020 profit and sales target on Sept. 28 after becoming more pessimistic on economic growth and chemical production. The risks for Germany’s steel producers “have increased significantly, especially in the area of foreign trade, in recent weeks and months,” the Wirtschaftsvereinigung Stahl industry group said on Thursday in a report showing crude steel production fell almost 4% in September. “One of the biggest pressure points for the euro zone’s fragile economic recovery is German export orders,” said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. “News that they fell sharply throws the China-driven weakness in the global economy into sharp relief.”

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Problems mount for the House of Saud. Only option left is to increase pumping.

Saudi Arabia Orders Deep Spending Curbs Amid Oil Price Slump (Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia is ordering a series of cost-cutting measures as the slide in oil prices weighs on the kingdom’s budget, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The finance ministry told government departments not to contract any new projects and to freeze appointments and promotions in the fourth quarter, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. It also banned the buying of vehicles or furniture, or agreeing any new property rentals and told officials to speed up the collection of revenue, they said. With oil accounting for about 90% of revenue in the Arab world’s largest economy, a drop of more than 40% in crude prices in the past 12 months has combined with wars in Yemen and Syria to pressure Saudi Arabia’s finances.

While public debt is among the world’s lowest, with a gross debt-to-GDP ratio of less than 2% in 2014, that may rise to 33% in 2020, according to estimates from the IMF. “In order to demonstrate a bit of fiscal discipline the government needed to take some measures in 4Q to moderate spending,” John Sfakianakis, Middle East director at Ashmore Group, said. “Going forward Saudi Arabia will have to implement spending cuts and efficiencies in order to avoid a runaway fiscal deficit in 2016.” To help shore up its finances, authorities plan to raise between 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) and 100 billion riyals in bonds before the end of the year, people with knowledge of the matter said in August. The kingdom’s net foreign assets fell for a seventh month to $654.5 billion in August, the lowest level in more than two years.

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Maybe someone should define PQE. Would seem handy for future discussion.

Former IMF Chief Economist Blanchard Backs ‘People’s QE’ (Reuters)

“People’s QE” could be an option to help economies fight future crises, Olivier Blanchard, who has just stepped down as chief economist of the IMF, said on Wednesday. Quantitative easing, where central banks buy assets such as government bonds from banks in exchange for newly created money, has been used in the euro zone, the United States and Britain to increase financial market liquidity and stimulate growth. But the verdict is still out on whether central banks should be buying assets, as they do now, or instead tie up with governments to spend it on ‘real’ goods, known as “people’s QE”, as a way of stimulating the economy, Blanchard said during a lecture at the Cass Business School.

“There is clearly something else you can do if you get to zero (inflation) and still want to increase spending. You can buy goods.” “Which one should you choose? We haven’t asked the question in the crisis but we should,” he said. Blanchard said that this does not mean central banks would buy goods directly. Rather, governments can increase their fiscal deficits by spending on infrastructure projects. Central banks can then buy this debt with newly created money. He also stressed that these fiscal deficits should be “a certain size and not more”. People’s QE was a prominent part of the leadership election campaign for British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

QE has come under popular criticism because banks, which were supposed to lend out the new money into the wider economy to stimulate growth, have not necessarily done so. Blanchard argues that buying goods rather than assets can get the money out into the economy another way. People’s QE has also been criticised because it may compromise central bank independence. Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane said in September people should be “very cautious” about encroaching on the separation between fiscal and monetary policy.

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Any questions?

Hong Kong High Street Shop Rents Fall Up To 43% From Their Peaks (SCMP)

Hong Kong’s high street shop rents have fallen as much as 43% when compared with the peak levels in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to international property consultant DTZ/Cushman & Wakefield. Plagued by smaller growth in tourist arrivals and a decrease in sales of luxury products, retailers have been facing a challenging business environment and find the rents they are paying in prime street shops as too expensive. Some retailers requested landlords to cut rents while others opted to relocate. As a result, the retail high street rents in Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Mongkok had gone down by 26-43% as of the third quarter from their respective peak levels in the fourth quarter of 2013, or during lease renewal compared to the last rent a few years ago, said Kevin Lam, DTZ/Cushman & Wakefield’s Head of Business Space, Hong Kong.

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It was all El-Erian after all.

Bill Gross Sues Pimco For At Least $200 Million (NY Times)

The man known as the bond king, William H. Gross, is suing the company that he built into one of the largest asset managers in the world, providing his own colorful version of an ugly feud that led to his departure last year. The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, represents a bold effort by Mr. Gross to repair the damage that was done to his reputation in the year before and after he was fired from Pimco. News media reports have portrayed Mr. Gross’s departure as a product of his erratic and domineering behavior at the firm he helped found in 1971. Mr. Gross is seeking “in no event less than $200 million” from Pimco for breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, among other causes of action.

But to underscore the degree to which the suit is motivated by Mr. Gross’s desire to correct the public record, he has promised to donate any money he recovers to charity, his lawyer, Patricia L. Glaser, said. The lawsuit presents a picture of Pimco — an asset manager based in California that is responsible for billions of dollars in retirement savings — as a den of intrigue riven by back stabbing and competing egos. The first sentence of the suit says that Mr. Gross was pushed out by a “cabal” of Pimco managing directors who were “driven by a lust for power, greed, and a desire to improve their own financial position.” “Their improper, dishonest, and unethical behavior must now be exposed,” the opening paragraph concludes.

The suit takes aim at the man who was once in line to succeed Mr. Gross, Mohamed El-Erian, and at the man who has succeeded Mr. Gross as Pimco’s group chief investment officer, Daniel J. Ivascyn. Mr. El-Erian is now the chief economic advisor at Allianz, Pimco’s parent company. Both men, the suit says, were eager to take Pimco away from its traditional focus on bond funds and into riskier investment strategies that would earn it higher fees and lead to bigger bonuses for top executives. Mr. Gross, on the other hand, is said in the suit to have consistently advocated for keeping the firm focused on lower-fee investment products.

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“If the banks had just Googled this guy, they would have known enough to stay away..”

Ponzi Suspect’s 17 Accounts Raise Questions Over Bank Safeguards (Bloomberg)

The U.S. requires banks to know their customers. Looks like several big ones, including Citigroup, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, may have missed getting acquainted with Daniel Fernandes Rojo Filho. Filho, a 48-year-old Brazilian self-proclaimed billionaire living in Orlando, Florida, came under U.S. investigation in 2009 related to an alleged conspiracy involving drug trafficking, money laundering and a Ponzi scheme. Around then, he and others under the federal probe forfeited tens of millions of dollars worth of Lamborghinis, gold bars and other assets, according to court documents. He agreed in 2013 to forfeit another $25 million in accounts registered to his children and businesses. That was all a matter of public record in mid-2014, when Filho started opening new bank accounts.

He set up at least 17 of them in the name of his company – DFRF Enterprises, derived from his initials – and signed his own name. Filho’s banking flurry is detailed in several fresh cases against him, including an August criminal indictment alleging he used some of these accounts in a scheme that promised investors income from nonexistent gold-mining operations. Filho faces similar allegations in separate lawsuits filed this year by the Securities and Exchange Commission and by a group of investors. “If the banks had just Googled this guy, they would have known enough to stay away,” said Evans Carter, a Framingham, Massachusetts-based attorney who brought the investors’ class-action suit early this year. Filho, who was arrested in July, awaits a hearing today in Boston connected to the criminal charges against him.

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“Today, there are 46 million Americans in an electronic soup kitchen line..”

Why This Feels Like A Depression For Most People (Jim Quinn)

Everyone has seen the pictures of the unemployed waiting in soup lines during the Great Depression. When you try to tell a propaganda believing, willfully ignorant, mainstream media watching, math challenged consumer we are in the midst of a Greater Depression, they act as if you’ve lost your mind. They will immediately bluster about the 5.1% unemployment rate, record corporate profits, and stock market near all-time highs. The cognitive dissonance of these people is only exceeded by their inability to understand basic mathematical concepts. The reason you don’t see huge lines of people waiting in soup lines during this Greater Depression is because the government has figured out how to disguise suffering through modern technology. During the height of the Great Depression in 1933, there were 12.8 million Americans unemployed.

These were the men pictured in the soup lines. Today, there are 46 million Americans in an electronic soup kitchen line, as their food is distributed through EBT cards (with that angel of mercy JP Morgan reaping billions in profits by processing the transactions). These 46 million people represent 14% of the U.S. population. There are 23 million households on food stamps in a nation of 123 million households. Therefore, 19% of all households in the U.S. are so poor, they require food assistance to survive. In 1933 there were approximately 126 million Americans living in 30 million households. The government didn’t keep official unemployment records until 1940, but the Department of Labor estimated 12.8 million people were unemployed during the worst year of the Great Depression or 24.9% of the labor force.

By 1937 it had fallen to 14.3% or approximately 8 million people. The number of people unemployed during the 1930’s is an excellent representation of the number of households on government assistance during the Great Depression because 79% of all households were occupied by married couples with 4 people per household versus 48% married couple households today with 2.5 people per household. The unemployment rate averaged 19% during the heart of the Great Depression. Therefore, approximately 19% of all the households in the U.S. needed government assistance to feed themselves. That happens to be the exact %age of households currently needing food stamps to feed themselves.

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Do they really think this’ll fly? “..it sure does cause you to scratch your head that we have this software that just happens to be in 11 million cars and no one in the whole company noticed it.”

VW Exec Blames ‘A Couple Of’ Rogue Engineers For Emissions Scandal (LA Times)

A top Volkswagen executive on Thursday blamed a handful of rogue software engineers for the company’s emissions-test cheating scandal and told outraged lawmakers that it would take years to fix most of the nearly half million vehicles affected in the U.S. “This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason,” Michael Horn, VW’s U.S. chief executive, told a House subcommittee hearing. “To my understanding, this was not a corporate decision. This was something individuals did.” Horn, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America, revealed that three VW employees had been suspended in connection with software that detects and fools emissions testing equipment in the company’s diesel vehicles. The automaker said that the so-called defeat device is loaded onto as many as 11 million vehicles worldwide.

Horn’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations panel coincided with a raid Thursday by German investigators at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters. The exact number of engineers the company blames remained unclear. Horn said both “couple” and three, then said under questioning that he did not yet know the exact number. Regardless, the claim that such a small number of people could have pulled off such a massive fraud brought immediate skepticism from lawmakers and industry experts. “I cannot accept VW’s portrayal of this as something by a couple of rogue software engineers,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). “Suspending three folks — it goes way, way higher than that.”

Auto industry veterans agreed. “There are not rogue engineers who unilaterally decide to initiate the greatest vehicle emission fraud in history. They don’t act unilaterally,” said Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “They have teams that put these vehicles together. They have a review process for the design, testing and development of the vehicles.” James Womack, an expert on the international auto industry, also expressed doubts. “It might not be reviewed and discussed leaving an email or voicemail trail,” Womack said, “but it sure does cause you to scratch your head that we have this software that just happens to be in 11 million cars and no one in the whole company noticed it.”

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The bosses knew. But will that come out?

VW Facilities, Worker Homes Raided in Diesel Investigation (Bloomberg)

Police and prosecutors swooped in on Volkswagen facilities and private homes on Thursday in a dawn raid to gather evidence about who was behind the carmaker’s decision to cheat on diesel emissions tests. Three prosecutors and some 50 state criminal investigators searched the carmaker’s factories and employees’ homes starting in the early morning and continuing through the afternoon in Wolfsburg, its headquarters city, and elsewhere, said Birgit Seel, a senior prosecutor in the German state of Lower Saxony. Investigators took documents and electronic media, and it may take several weeks to review the material, Seel said. She didn’t identify employees whose homes were searched.

“We will fully support the prosecutor’s office with its investigation into the facts of the case and into the people responsible to swiftly and completely get to the bottom of the matter,” Volkswagen said in an e-mailed statement. The company filed its own criminal complaint on Sept. 23. The raids come as pressure on Volkswagen intensifies. The company’s U.S. chief, Michael Horn, will face U.S. lawmakers Thursday in the first public hearing on the scandal. In Europe alone, Volkswagen will probably need to exchange or rebuild parts for about 3.6 million engines equipped with illegal software that turned on full pollution controls only during tests, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said. Volkswagen told German regulators the parts for 1.6-liter engines that need the fix won’t be available until September 2016, Dobrindt said.

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“.. I think the American people ought to ask that we fire you and hire West Virginia University to do our work.”

US House Slams Regulators For Not Catching VW For Years (Reuters)

Volkswagen US chief executive blamed “individuals” for using software to cheat on diesel emissions at a House hearing on Thursday as lawmakers attacked federal environmental regulators for failing to catch the fraud for years. Michael Horn, head of Volkswagen Americas, testified before a House of Representatives oversight and investigations panel about the emissions scandal that has chopped more than a third of the company’s market value and sent tremors through the global auto industry. Volkswagen’s use of defeat devices, software that evaded U.S. tests for emissions harmful to human health, was not a corporate decision, but something a few employees engineered, Horn said under oath. “This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason,” Horn said about the software code inserted into diesel cars since 2009.

Volkswagen used different defeat devices in Europe and the United States, Horn said, as emissions standards are different in the two regions. “Some people have made the wrong decisions in order to get away with something,” Horn said when asked by lawmakers if Volkswagen cheated with defeat devices because it was cheaper than using special injection systems to cut emissions. Lawmakers slammed an Environmental Protection Agency official who testified after Horn for not catching Volkswagen. Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, questioned the size of EPA’s annual budget, noting that the cheating was uncovered by a West Virginia University study that had a budget of less than $70,000.

“I’m not going to blame our budget for the fact that we missed this cheating,” replied the EPA’s Christopher Grundler, who said his transportation and air quality office has an annual budget of roughly $100 million. “I do think we do a very good job of setting priorities.” Burgess replied: “With all due respect, just looking at the situation, I think the American people ought to ask that we fire you and hire West Virginia University to do our work.”

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“What we are seeing here is a dieselgate that covers many brands and many different car models..”

Four More Carmakers Join ‘Dieselgate’ Emissions Row (Guardian)

Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi have joined the growing list of manufacturers whose diesel cars are known to emit significantly more pollution on the road than in regulatory tests, according to data obtained by the Guardian. In more realistic on-road tests, some Honda models emitted six times the regulatory limit of NOx pollution while some unnamed 4×4 models had 20 times the NOx limit coming out of their exhaust pipes. “The issue is a systemic one” across the industry, said Nick Molden, whose company Emissions Analytics tested the cars. The Guardian revealed last week that diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and Jeep all pumped out significantly more NOx in more realistic driving conditions.

NOx pollution is at illegal levels in many parts of the UK and is believed to have caused many thousands of premature deaths and billions of pounds in health costs. All the diesel cars passed the EU’s official lab-based regulatory test (called NEDC), but the test has failed to cut air pollution as governments intended because carmakers designed vehicles that perform better in the lab than on the road. There is no evidence of illegal activity, such as the “defeat devices” used by Volkswagen. The new data is from Emissions Analytics’ on-the-road testing programme, which is carefully controlled and closely matches the real-world test the European commission wants to introduce. The company tested both Euro 6 models, the newest and strictest standard, and earlier Euro 5 models.

[..] “These new test results [from Emissions Analytics] prove that the Volkswagen scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. What we are seeing here is a dieselgate that covers many brands and many different car models,” said Greg Archer, an emissions expert at Transport & Environment. “The only solution is a strict new test that takes place on the road and verified by an authority not paid by the car industry.”

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“The eastern Europeans — and I’m counting myself as an eastern European — we have experienced that isolation doesn’t help..”

Merkel Slams Eastern Europeans On Migration (Politico)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel harshly criticized eastern European governments for not having learned from their own history in their responses to the migration crisis. “The eastern Europeans — and I’m counting myself as an eastern European — we have experienced that isolation doesn’t help,” she told members of the center-right European People’s Party Wednesday in a closed-door meeting, according to a recording of the session obtained by POLITICO. “It makes me a bit sad that precisely those who can consider themselves lucky that they have lived to see the end of the Cold War, now think that one can completely stay out of certain developments of globalization,” Merkel said, referring to the reluctance of some EU countries to accept refugees.

“It just strikes me as somehow very weird. And that’s why we have to keep talking about that, as friends,” Merkel said, speaking German, as she responded to a question from a Czech MEP on the refugee crisis. “A rejection [of taking refugees in] as a matter of principle, that is — excuse me for being that blunt — that’s a danger for Europe,” Merkel said.

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This just keeps going on as the EU discusses ‘fighting’ the smugglers.

542 People Rescued In 24 Hours Off Greece (AP)

The latest developments as hundreds of thousands of people seeking safety make an epic trek through Europe. All times local.

9:40 a.m. – Greece’s coast guard says it has rescued 542 people in 12 search and rescue incidents from Thursday morning to Friday morning. The rescues occurred off the coasts of the eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Agathonissi and Farmakonissi, the coast guard said. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in their homelands have reached Greece so far this year, the vast majority on rickety boats or cheap inflatable dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast. Although a short sea journey, it can be fatal as the unseaworthy and overloaded boats sometimes sink.

9:30 a.m. – Greece’s coast guard says a wooden boat carrying a large number of refugees or other migrants has run aground on the small eastern Aegean island of Leros, while an infant died after the inflatable dinghy he was in partially sank off the coast of Lesbos island. The wooden boat, carrying about 100 people, ran aground Friday on the northeast coast of Leros, the coast guard said. Those on board were being taken to shore by coast guard and private vessels that arrived to help. In the Lesbos incident, the coast guard rescued 56 people from the sea Thursday night after the rear part of their dinghy burst, partially sinking the boat. A 1-year-old boy was recovered unconscious and transported to a hospital, but rescuers were unable to revive him.

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And so does this. No humanity, no shame, no decency.

Baby Dies After Migrant Boat Breaks Down Off Greek Island Lesbos (Reuters)

A baby died after the rubber boat carrying him and another 56 migrants broke down and was left adrift off the Greek island of Lesbos, the Greek coastguard said on Friday. The 1-year-old boy, whose nationality was not made known, was found unconscious on a rubber dinghy which had broken down and went adrift late on Thursday. The boy was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The coastguard rescued the rest of the migrants, some of whom were in the sea. The baby was one of thousands of refugees – mostly fleeing war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – who attempt the short but perilous crossing from the Turkish coast to Greek islands by boat, often in rough seas.

Almost 400,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has said, overwhelming the crisis-stricken government’s ability to cope. Most have rapidly headed north towards Germany. The coastguard has rescued a total of 542 migrants and refugees off the Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Farmakonisi and Agathonisi since early on Thursday. Europe’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and Luxembourg Foreign Affairs Minister Jean Asselborn are expected in Athens on Friday and will give a joint news conference on the refugee crisis on Saturday.

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 September 11, 2015  Posted by at 1:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  18 Responses »


Lewis Wickes Hine Game of craps. Cincinnati, Ohio 1908

The following is a veritable tour de force by Nicole Foss on the value of gold in a crashing economy, for different people in different circumstances.

Nicole Foss: In light of the rapidly-propagating loss of confidence, and consequent shift to deflation, with falling prices across the board as a result, it is appropriate to review our stance on gold. The yellow metal is often perceived as a panacea – a safe haven guarding against all manner of potential financial disruption. It has long been our stance at the Automatic Earth that this is far too simplistic a position to take. We live in a complex world for which there are no simple one-dimensional solutions. It is important to distinguish between the markets for paper gold and for physical gold, and to understand the risks inherent in gold ownership in order to manage them. As we wrote back in 2009:

Firstly, the goldbugs are right that physical gold is real money (unlike paper gold, which is just another Ponzi scheme). It has held its value for thousands of years and will continue to do so over the long term. However, that does not mean that gold prices cannot fall or that purchasing gold now is the right way for everyone to preserve capital….People’s circumstances are different. Those circumstances determine their freedom of action, both now and in the future.

Bubble Dynamics

It is our view that (paper) gold has been in a bubble which peaked in 2011, along with the rest of the commodity complex. It has been subjected to the same dynamic as other commodities, which have collectively lost touch with their own fundamentals as they have become increasingly over-financialized. Financialization moves the dynamics into the virtual world, while simultaneously subjecting them to perverse incentives. Substantial price movements having at best a tenuous connection with actual supply and demand are the result.

Commodity tops are fear-driven, generally on fear of scarcity. This causes market participants to anticipate ever greater demand and tighter supply, to the point where price is bid up in advance of what the fundamentals would justify. In addition, in bubble times momentum chasing becomes a major factor, with speculators assuming that which rises will continue to do so. Once ever-increasing prices become received wisdom, it no longer matters what one has to pay to buy, because there is a false perception that someone else will always pay more. This is true for a while, until it abruptly is not – until the Greatest Fool has been found. At that point a sharp reversal is on the cards.

Our view of market dynamics as swings of positive feedback in a fractal structure is grounded in human psychology.  There are no efficient markets, no rational utility maximization, no equilibrium, no negative feedback, no perfect competition and no perfect information – in short the mainstream model for the functioning of markets bears no resemblance to reality. Prices do not reflect the fundamentals, but the collective state of confidence of market participants engaging in subconscious herding behaviour. 

We agree with George Soros that markets are reflexive:

Soros rejected the prevailing idea that “market prices are … passive reflections of the underlying fundamentals”, a dogma he dismissed as market fundamentalism, or that there were stabilizing forces which would automatically drive prices back towards equilibrium. Instead, Soros propounded a theory of “reflexivity”, in which fundamentals shape perceptions and prices, but prices and perceptions also shape fundamentals. Instead of a one-way, linear relationship in which causality flows from fundamentals to prices and perceptions, Soros developed the theory of a loop in which prices, fundamentals and perceptions all act on one another. “I contend that financial markets are always wrong in the sense that they operate with a prevailing bias, but that the bias can actually validate itself by influencing not only market prices but also the fundamentals that market prices are supposed to reflect”. 

Later he writes more bluntly: “[The efficient market hypothesis and theory of rational expectations] claims that the markets are always right; my proposition is that markets are almost always wrong but often they can validate themselves”. Beyond a certain point, self-reinforcing feedback loops become unsustainable. But in the meantime positive feedback causes bubbles to inflate further and for longer than anyone could have foreseen at the outset. “Typically, a self-reinforcing process undergoes orderly corrections in the early stages, and, if it survives them, the bias tends to be reinforced, and is less easily shaken. When the process is advanced, corrections become scarcer and the danger of a climactic reversal greater”….

….Crucially, the successful speculator responds to bubbles not by shorting them and waiting for stabilizing forces to drive the market quickly back to some fundamental value, but by identifying them early and riding the wave, hoping to get out before the whole edifice finally comes crashing down. Reading people (other investors, narratives) is as important — if not more important — as understanding the fundamentals of an asset itself. Identifying the next “new new thing” earlier than the rest of the crowd and getting aboard, and then being willing to liquidate before the deluge, is at the heart of the speculator’s success….

….Using the Soros idea of a bubble as a process, rather than simply a frothy end-state, gold has already been a bubble for some time as an ever larger group of investors has climbed aboard, propelling prices higher.

This is of course a perfect description of the Ponzi dynamics upon which bubbles are based, where the winners are those who get in early and out early, leaving everyone else holding an empty bag. This has been a consistent theme at The Automatic Earth. Bubbles are very much a process, one of collectively developing a commitment to a view which transitions from being merely self-reinforcing to becoming firmly entrenched to being publicly indisputable, unless one wishes to be dismissed as insane. Unfortunately, contrarians are typically viewed as insane just at the point where their perspective is the most crucial.

Apart from the fundamental model, we also agree with Soros’ 2010 opinion that gold was forming the “ultimate bubble”:

Soros: In this world, gold is the ultimate bubble because apart from the cost of actually digging it out of the ground it has almost no real fundamentals other than price itself. Investors have been buying it precisely because the price has been going up and is expected to carry on rising. Rising prices have created their own demand. It is the ultimately reflexive investment.

In August 2011, gold had reached the blow-off euphoria stage, with everyone having already bet on further prices rises, and therefore no one left to place the further bets required to take the price higher. In our view this constituted a major top:
 

August 2011: Of all the commodity bubbles, it is the end of the explosive rise in gold that is set to surprise the largest number of people. Very few expect it to follow silver’s lead, but that is exactly what we are suggesting. Gold has been increasingly considered to be the ultimate safe haven. The certainty has been so great that prices rose by hundreds of dollars an ounce in a blow-off top over a mere two months. The speculative reversal currently underway should be rapid and devastating for the True Believers in gold’s ability to defy gravity eternally.

Sentiment is the crucial contrarian indicator:

Ultimately, one has to recognize that the metals are not driven by inflation nor are they driven by deflation. We have clear periods of time in our history where they have acted in the exact opposite manner in which each of the prominent camps would have believed. So, maybe there is another driver of metals which can be relied upon at all times? My answer to that question is that market sentiment is what can be relied upon at all times to point you in the correct direction for the precious metals….One must analyze the market before them irrespective of what other markets may or may not be doing. The main reason is because sentiment is what drives each market, and it varies by market.

The behaviour of central banks is highly indicative of major turning points, given that their actions are lagging indicators of persistent trends, as we have pointed out before:
 

The Automatic Earth, August 2011: Central banks are buying gold, which some consider to be a major vote of confidence, and therefore bullish for gold prices. However, it is instructive to look at the previous behaviour of central banks in relation to gold prices. When gold hit its low point eleven years ago, after a long and drawn out decline, central bankers were selling, in an atmosphere where gold was dismissed as a mere industrial metal of little interest, or even as a ‘barbarous relic’. 

Selling by central banks, which are always one of the last parties to act on developing received wisdom, was actually a very strong contrarian signal that gold was bottoming. They would not have been selling if they had anticipated a major price run up, but central banks are reactive rather than proactive, and often suffer from considerable inertia. As a result they tend to be overtaken by events. Regarding them as omnipotent directors and acting accordingly is therefore very dangerous. 

Now we are seeing the opposite scenario. After eleven years of increasingly sharp rises, central banks are finally buying, and they are doing so at a time when the received wisdom is that gold will continue to reach for the sky. Once again, central banks are issuing a strong contrarian signal, this time in the opposite direction. While commentators opine that central banks will hold their gold even if they develop an urgent need for cash, this is highly unlikely. In a deflationary environment, it is cash that is scarce, and cash that everyone, including central bankers, will be chasing.

An urgent need for cash does indeed appear to be precipitating selling, and this rationale is going to become far more powerful in the relatively near future:

Gold is now sitting on a 5-year low after China dumped 5 tonnes of gold into the Shanghai markets on Monday during the first minutes of trading, with a slow, but steady sell-off continuing through the week. IVN has reported on China’s financial crisis since February, and this was not a wholly unexpected move to liquidity.

The psychology has once again shifted. Instead of a barbarous relic, gold is now being referred to as a “pet rock” of questionable value:

Gold is supposed to be a haven amid hard times and soft money. So why, even as Greece has defaulted, the euro has sunk against the dollar, and the Chinese stock market has stumbled, has gold been sitting there like a pet rock? Trading this week below $1,150 an ounce, the yellow metal has fallen more than 39% since it peaked at nearly $1,900 in August 2011. Since June 2014, investors have yanked $3 billion out of funds investing in precious metals, estimates Morningstar, the financial-research firm; total assets at precious-metal funds have shrunk 20% in 12 months. “A lot of investors have become disillusioned with gold,” says Suki Cooper, head of metals research at Barclays in New York. “Safe-haven demand hasn’t been strong enough to lift prices, but has only been strong enough to keep them from falling.”

Many people may have bought gold for the wrong reasons: because of its glittering 18.7% average annual return between 2002 and 2011, because of its purportedly magical inflation-fighting properties, because it is supposed to shine in the darkest of days. But gold’s long-term returns are muted, it isn’t a panacea for inflation, and it does well in response to unexpected crises—but not long-simmering troubles like the Greek situation.

It is not inflation we are facing, and therefore not an inflation hedge that is currently required:

Inflation continues to undershoot the Fed’s goals despite extremely low interest rates and years of massive bond purchases. In fact, the recent collapse in the commodities complex is only lowering inflation and inflation expectations. Everything from coffee, sugar, beans to crude oil is heading south. Industrial metals like copper and aluminum have renewed their tumble in recent days as soft global economic growth hurts demand and supply gluts deepen. All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.

Much darker days are coming as we move into a highly deflationary era, driven by an inevitable credit implosion. Such an event will be relatively rapid, as it always has been in the past, given that credit expansion creates virtual wealth in the form of copious ‘financial assets’ with little or no connection to any form of tangible underlying wealth:

Laurens Swinkels, a senior researcher at Norges Bank Investment Management in Oslo, reckons that the total market value of the world’s financial assets at the end of 2014 was about $102.7 trillion. The World Gold Council estimates that the world’s total quantity of gold held for investment was about $1.4 trillion as of late 2014. So, if you held the same proportion of gold as the world’s investors as a whole, you would allocate 1.3% of your investment portfolio to it.

Of course there are many forms of tangible real wealth besides gold, but even if one included all forms of collateral, there remains an extreme crisis of under-collateralization, or an extreme quantity of excess claims to underlying real wealth. That which has no substance can disappear very quickly back into the thin air from where it originated:

In the days of a gold – or more correctly – a gold exchange standard, the collapse of excessive bank credit was always sudden, and vicious in proportion to the previous expansion. Since credit was expanded out of thin air by banks without underlying stocks of gold to cover it, inevitably slumping prices became associated with bank failures, and central banks were set up to insulate commercial banks from this brutal reality. Saving over-extended banks always requires the artificial lowering of interest rates and the expansion of the money quantity to restrain the currency’s purchasing power from rising against declining commodities. Gold therefore remains a store of value for savers because it cannot be devalued in this way by a central bank.

It is not is not, however, always possible to save over-extended banks. It depends on the degree to which they are over-extended and the existence, or lack thereof, of a lender of last resort with sufficiently deep pockets. 2008 was an extremely expensive attempt to disguise an intractable financial predicament while simultaneously making it worse by propping up the credit Ponzi scheme – doubling down on a losing bet. During the bursting of particularly large financial bubbles, the system breakdown is likely to be sufficiently extreme to preclude attempts to expand the money supply for many years, meaning that neither the banking system nor the value of financial assets can be saved. Deflation and economic depression are mutually reinforcing and this will be the dominant dynamic for a prolonged period. Gold, and other forms of tangible assets, will remain stores of value during this period.

Paper Gold Versus Physical Gold

Gold has not yet retraced it’s steps to an extent which would indicate a full correction of the preceding advance. In paper terms, it has much further to fall, especially as the world moves further into the deflationary spiral which is only just beginning. Gold has already fallen to its cost of production, with up to half of primary producers losing money at the current price, but in a deflationary spiral we can expect a major undershoot in a race to the cost of the lowest price producer. The implication is that prices can fall many hundreds of dollars an ounce more, which is exactly what we expect.

As we said in 2011::
 

Expect to hear all about the enormous Ponzi scheme in paper gold, and a lot more about plated tungsten masquerading as gold. It doesn’t even matter whether or not that rumour is true. What matters is whether or not people believe it, and how it could feed into a spiral of fear as prices fall….Typically a speculative bubble is followed by the reversal of speculation causing prices to fall, and then by falling demand, which undermines prices further. As the bubble unwinds, people begin to jump on a new bandwagon in the opposite direction, chasing momentum as always. The need to access cash by selling whatever can be sold (rather than what one might like to sell), and the on-going collapse of the effective money supply as credit tightens mercilessly, will also factor into the developing vicious circle.

 

This is the scenario that is now unfolding, particularly in relation to the realization of excess claims to underlying real wealth in the gold market. The paper Ponzi scheme in gold is extreme, with over vastly more paper gold claims than actual gold in existence, and this leverage ratio has greatly increased in recent times, particularly in the last month:


This means that what was already a record dilution factor, with over 200 ounces of paper gold claims for every ounce of deliverable gold, just soared even more, and following today’s [September 9th] 8% drop, there is now a unprecedented 228 ounces of paper claims for every ounce of deliverable “registered” gold.

In fact, this may represent a significant underestimate of the real smoke-and-mirrors problem:

The numerical reports from which fancy graphs and and dry detailed data presentations are created originate from the Too Big To Fail Banks. I’ve said for quite some time that IF the bullion banks who control the Comex and the LBMA are submitting honest data reports for the Comex and LBMA, it would be the only business line in which they do not hide the truth and report fraudulent numbers. What is the probability of that?…

….The obvious conclusion is that the supply deficits in gold and silver are being remedied by hypothecating gold and silver bars from allocated accounts held at bullion banks, including the accounts held in behalf of the gold/silver ETFs, like GLD and SLV. This is why ABN Amro and Rabobank stopped allowing their physical gold account investors to take physical delivery of the gold they thought they have invested in – the gold was not there to deliver. This also occurred in 2013.

Where there is pure paper with nothing to back it up, there is considerable potential for large price movements independent of physical supply and demand:

For investors the present marketplace for gold and silver and other precious metals, has lost any real connection to the regular forces of supply and demand. The issuance of paper gold and silver has allowed a separation from market forces. It has divorced the true monetary values from the quantities of precious metals that are actually in existence. This has vastly inflated the supposed supply, thus putting a downward pressure on price.

The reality is that there is far less physical gold and silver than the supply of the paper equivalence. This situation is allowed to exist because there are many players and speculators in the market that do not actually take possession of their holdings. What they have instead, is pieces of paper that gives an impression of ownership. As long as only a small and manageable number of participants in the futures markets for both gold and silver actually demand delivery of their investment, spot prices can move independently of the real fundamentals.

There is considerable debate as to whether this constitutes active manipulation. Some would argue (in an analogous commodity situation), that dynamics in over-financialized markets move prices as an emergent property, without necessarily having malignant motives or prior outcomes in mind:

The huge drop in oil prices came from the action of traders who had bid up the price of crude in the futures market by momentum trading based on unrealistic assumptions about demand growth. When the price started heading in the opposite direction, traders couldn’t catch a bid on their positions, and the whole market went drastically net short, bidding down the price of the commodity….We can see from this that without the slightest bit of skullduggery, the futures market can greatly affect commodity prices in ways that have nothing to do with supply and demand.

Others suggest that movements in the paper market constitute deliberate manipulation:

An enormous amount of paper gold contracts were dumped into the Comex’s globex electronic trading system during one of the slowest trading periods at any point in time during the trading week (July 19th). A bona fide seller trying to sell a big position at the best possible execution prices would never have dumped a position like this. The only explanation is that someone wanted to drive the price the price of gold lower and make a point of doing so. This particular occurrence in the gold market has been a recurring event over the life of the gold bull market. However, the frequency of the above trading pattern has significantly increased since 2011….There is a definitive correlation between the big spike in gold OTC derivatives and the downward pressure on the price of gold.

Gaming the paper gold market by further inflating the Ponzi scheme can engineer considerable collateral advantages, even as it increases the extent of leverage, and therefore of under-collateralization:

Precious metal prices are determined in the futures market, where paper contracts representing bullion are settled in cash, not in markets where the actual metals are bought and sold. As the Comex is predominantly a cash settlement market, there is little risk in uncovered contracts (an uncovered contract is a promise to deliver gold that the seller of the contract does not possess). This means that it is easy to increase the supply of gold in the futures market where price is established simply by printing uncovered (naked) contracts. Selling naked shorts is a way to artificially increase the supply of bullion in the futures market where price is determined. The supply of paper contracts representing gold increases, but not the supply of physical bullion.

As we have documented on a number of occasions, the prices of bullion are being systematically driven down by the sudden appearance and sale during thinly traded times of day and night of uncovered future contracts representing massive amounts of bullion. In the space of a few minutes or less massive amounts of gold and silver shorts are dumped into the Comex market, dramatically increasing the supply of paper claims to bullion. If purchasers of these shorts stood for delivery, the Comex would fail. Comex bullion futures are used for speculation and by hedge funds to manage the risk/return characteristics of metrics like the Sharpe Ratio. The hedge funds are concerned with indexing the price of gold and silver and not with the rate of return performance of their bullion contracts.

A rational speculator faced with strong demand for bullion and constrained supply would not short the market. Moreover, no rational actor who wished to unwind a large gold position would dump the entirety of his position on the market all at once. What then explains the massive naked shorts that are hurled into the market during thinly traded times? The bullion banks are the primary market-makers in bullion futures. They are also clearing members of the Comex, which gives them access to data such as the positions of the hedge funds and the prices at which stop-loss orders are triggered. They time their sales of uncovered shorts to trigger stop-loss sales and then cover their short sales by purchasing contracts at the price that they have forced down, pocketing the profits from the manipulation.

As always, this is at the expense of smaller investors:

According to the Zero Hedge piece, the equivalent of 17 tons of gold was sold on the New York Comex in two bursts in one morning. Think how crazy that is. A seller trying to optimize profits would not make huge sales like this in a short period of time. The size of the sale itself causes the price to drop. Someone (person or entity) owning that much gold would know such things. So, one has to wonder why someone would work against its own interests like that.

The only answer I can come up with is that the sellers had already accumulated huge short positions in derivatives that they wanted to push into the money. The bottom line effect was that someone who wanted a lot of real gold got it, and the seller probably made a bundle on the other side of trade by shorting in the paper market. Two deep-pocketed entities came out happy. Rank and file gold investors were left licking their wounds.

Some regard gold’s rather more ambivalent recent image as evidence that powerful parties are attempting to undermine gold’s monetary legitimacy, presumably in order to drive the price down and purchase it in quantity at a much lower price:

The bullion banks’ attack on gold is being augmented with a spate of stories in the financial media denying any usefulness of gold. On July 17 the Wall Street Journal declared that honesty about gold requires recognition that gold is nothing but a pet rock. Other commentators declare gold to be in a bear market despite the strong demand for physical metal and supply constraints, and some influential party is determined that gold not be regarded as money.

Why a sudden spate of claims that gold is not money? Gold is considered a part of the United States’ official monetary reserves, which is also the case for central banks and the IMF. The IMF accepts gold as repayment for credit extended. The US Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency classifies gold as a currency, as can be seen in the OCC’s latest quarterly report on bank derivatives activities in which the OCC places gold futures in the foreign exchange derivatives classification.

The manipulation of the gold price by injecting large quantities of freshly printed uncovered contracts into the Comex market is an empirical fact. The sudden debunking of gold in the financial press is circumstantial evidence that a full-scale attack on gold’s function as a systemic warning signal is underway.

While it is possible that gold’s recent bad press could be an attempt to talk the price down for nefarious purposes, it is not necessary to invoke conspiracy. Just as gold sentiment was extremely bearish at it’s price nadir in 2000, and then rose to fever pitch as the price increased to nearly $1900/ounce, one would expect sentiment to have gone off the boil with prices down substantially over the last four years. Price and sentiment move in tandem in a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Considering the huge extent of excess claims to underlying physical gold, and therefore the approaching destruction of virtual wealth as the paper gold pyramid implodes, both price and sentiment would appear to have much further to go to the downside. At the point where gold sentiment is the diametric opposite of its peak in 2011, price will be bottoming, but a great deal of upheaval will be unfolding at that point, and paper gold will likely be essentially worthless:

If the owners of this paper gold begin to want a conversion to physical gold, panic will ensue and the entire market in precious metals will collapse. The ratio between paper gold and physical gold is now at a record low of 0.08%. This situation has now become a Ponzi scheme, where the majority of investors will be wiped out, when the next crisis unfolds. It is no longer a matter of if, but when this happens.

Apart from the machinations in the paper gold, and silver, markets, physical precious metals are increasingly in demand, and for a considerable premium over the spot price as supplies tighten. The divergence between paper prices and physical prices will continue to widen, with a major discontinuity expected in the future at the point where extent of the paper Ponzi scheme is finally recognized:

Public demand for physical bars and coins of gold and silver are soaring, since the middle of June. At the same time demand for paper gold and silver has leveled off and is actually falling during this period. As a result, government and private mints are struggling to maintain sufficient supplies of precious metals, for the orders they receive. Some have even been forced to temporarily halt sales. Interest in buying physical gold and especially silver, is at the highest level since the financial meltdown of 2008.

Premiums are already being given, above the spot price for both raw gold and silver, at a number of private mints. Some major national depots in the United States are running empty and more investors than ever, are seeking physical delivery of their investment from Comex (Commodity Exchange) warehouses, which are rapidly becoming depleted as well….

…For the first time, knowledge of the thin inventory of gold and silver held in exchange vaults that back the enormous volumes of paper being traded on a daily basis, is beginning to seep out. For those who are shorting these metals, they are counting on being able to settle accounts in cash or to make a withdrawal from a vault. If too many investors start wanting delivery of gold and silver, the whole present corrupt system will rapidly unravel….

….The United States Mint in July ran out of silver the same day the price of the metal dropped to the lowest level in 2015. The same month the US Mint had sold 170,000 ounces of gold. This was the highest rate since April of 2013 and the fifth highest rate on record. Yet, it was occurring as gold was dipping to the lowest price in five years. The Perth Mint in Australia is also struggling to keep up with demand, as interest surges with new customers in Asia, Europe and the United States. The problem for the mint is the amount of unrefined gold delivered, is not meeting the present physical demand.

In Europe numerous dealers had their inventories emptied, as investors decided given the financial crisis in Greece, that owning gold and silver would be a hedge against any further instability. The UK (United Kingdom) Royal Mint for example, saw demand from Greek customers alone, double earlier this summer. In the United States the amount of Comex registered gold dropped to 359,519 ounces or just over 10 tons, by the beginning of this month. It has never been lower. Meanwhile, the paper gold demand for these remaining stocks, is at a whopping 43.5 million ounces.

Gold’s physical movements are somewhat obscure, but it appears that significant parties are already seeking physical delivery:

Back in April, the publication said that JPMorgan Chase, which has the largest private gold vault in the world, showed a 20% drop in “eligible” gold in its vault in one day. That day was April 5, just five days before the two-day $210 plunge in gold prices. (Eligible gold is gold stored that is not registered to a specific owner, but is available to be either registered or traded.)…Comex-registered gold remained relatively flat in the following days. JPMorgan’s vault is one of the Comex vaults, so the data suggest that the gold was not reclassified from “eligible” to “registered” but actually left the building.

Where did it go? China? India? Russia? We will probably never know. We do know that while the price of paper gold (ETFs, funds, stocks, futures) plunged, demand for the actual metal soared, with buyers paying significant premiums to the spot price.

It is no surprise to see ‘cashing out’ of a Ponzi scheme before a crash that is obviously coming, and this this case ‘cashing out’ means claiming physical possession before a flood of claims collapses the paper gold market. It will, however, be interesting to see what transpires when that crash occurs. Physical gold must be stored somewhere, and the security of storage is also suspect, especially in times of upheaval were storage companies involved in many different aspects of the financial system may fail. As account holders at MF Global discovered in 2011, holders of financial derivatives enjoy super-priority in bankruptcy. Customer segregated accounts had been fraudulently pledged as collateral for derivative bets in Europe that went against the company. Despite the fraud involved, the customer accounts, including those holding physical gold, were removed by the owners of the derivative rights. 

Thus even those who take physical possession early may lose later to paper claims by those higher up the ‘financial food chain’ if they store their wealth within the system and are therefore dependent on the solvency of middle-men. Warehouse receipts for gold will be worthless if the warehouse has been emptied, and possession will be nine tenths of the law. This is already happening:

By the time auditors and lawyers got access to Bullion Direct’s 14th-floor offices six weeks ago, there were only a handful of gold and silver coins in an office safe. A second vault it had recently rented held only slightly more. An estimated $30 million in cash, metal bullion and valuable coins, meanwhile, had vanished. The cumulative weight of the unaccounted for metal is the equivalent of dozens of standard-sized gold bullion bars and hundreds of silver ones. Also missing are an estimated 1,400 ounces of platinum and palladium.

What is clear is that the news has devastated those who believed the company was safekeeping the futures they’d bet on the rounds and bricks of gold and silver. Some lost hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of the precious metal with little apparent prospect of regaining it. Jesse Moore, an attorney representing several creditors, predicted that investors can hope to recover 2 or 3 percent of their money, at best….Philosophically, the disappearance of their precious metal has left many Bullion Direct customers, who turned to gold as a safe port in a turbulent financial world, with a crisis of confidence. Attracted to an investment specifically because of its detachment from a government and financial system they didn’t believe in, now that their treasure has disappeared they find themselves wondering what, really, is permanent.

Similarly, safety deposit boxes may well not be secure. They would not be accessible in a systemic banking crisis, and are too obvious a location for the storage of valuables. Following a bank holiday, or a raid by authorities looking for what they believe are ill-gotten gains, as they did in 2008, there may be nothing left to recover:

More than 300 officers and staff were involved in simultaneous raids at three depots in London’s Park Lane, Hampstead and Edgware. Officers have secured the concrete and steel vaults and will take several weeks to remove each box, using angle grinders, to a secret location where they will be prized open with diamond-tipped drills. It is believed that a top tier of criminal masterminds may have rented out “the majority” of the boxes. The safe-keeping company – Safe Deposit Centres Ltd – has been operating for more than 20 years.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates said: “Each box will be treated as a crime scene in its own right.” Members of the public who have innocently and legally stored their valuables were “inevitably” going to get swept up in the disruption, it was predicted.

In short, if you do not own metals in physical form, you do not own them at all, and ownership is only as secure as the storage method chosen:

To those who have some gold ETF certificates in a brokerage account, which by law are the possession by DTCC’s Cede & Co. – a bank owned institution – we wish the best of luck to anyone hoping to preserve or even recover any of the invested wealth in such instruments.

Confiscation?

In times of extreme financial crisis, states are highly likely to seek to control the money supply. As previously noted, gold has been considered money for thousands of years, whether or not a gold standard is in force. Financial crisis will involve the loss of monetary equivalence for credit instruments representing promises which will obviously not be kept, leaving relatively few forms of wealth still accepted as having value. Cash, particularly US dollars and a few other favoured currencies, will hold value for the period of deleveraging, but only precious metals will likely retain value in the longer term. The desire to control the supply is going to be powerful, as it was in the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when gold was subject to confiscation.

The Emergency Banking Act of 1933 amended the Trading With the Enemy act of 1917, which had granted the President power to investigate, regulate, or prohibit any transactions in foreign exchange, export or earmarkings of gold or silver coin or bullion or currency by any person within the United States, and to prevent the hoarding of gold by Americans. The provisions of the earlier Act, referring to wars and enemies were extended in 1933 in order to encompass “any other period of national emergency declared by the President”, specifically the protection of a currency on a gold standard at the time.

Emergencies allow for legislation to be rushed through with little scrutiny:

A key piece of legislation in this story is the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, which Congress passed on March 9 without having read it and after only the most trivial debate. House Minority Leader Bertrand H. Snell (R-NY) generously conceded that it was “entirely out of the ordinary” to pass legislation that “is not even in print at the time it is offered.” He urged his colleagues to pass it all the same: “The house is burning down, and the President of the United States says this is the way to put out the fire. And to me at this time there is only one answer to this question, and that is to give the President what he demands and says is necessary to meet the situation.”

Executive Order 6102 under the 1933 Act criminalized the possession of monetary gold by any individual, partnership, association or corporation, requiring that gold be exchanged for paper currency. In accordance with the eminent domain clause of the 5th Amendment, market value compensation was paid at $20.67 per ounce.

Only a month was given for compliance, and the penalty for non-compliance was $10,000 and up to ten years imprisonment. Only jewellery and a few rare collectable coins were exempted. Since currency had previously be convertible into gold on demand, those who surrendered their gold would not initially have thought the surrender permanent, but this reality dawned shortly, especially after the Gold Reserve Act of 1934 altered the conversion price by fiat to $35 per ounce, engineering a devaluation of the gold-based dollar. The Act also made gold clauses in private contracts unenforceable, forcing payment in paper currency instead, without reference to an equivalent value of gold, despite the fact that such contracts had been deliberately constructed to guard against the risk of a currency devaluation:

On June 5, 1933, at the behest of the president, Congress took the next step, passing a joint resolution making it illegal to “require payment in gold or a particular kind of coin or currency, or in an amount in money of the United States measured thereby.” Any provision in a private or public contract promising payment in gold was thereby nullified. Payment could be made in whatever the government declared to be legal tender, and gold could not be used even as a yardstick for determining how much paper money would be owed.

After 1934, only foreign governments and central banks were allowed to convert dollars into gold, and only until 1971. Gold ownership remained off-limits to ordinary people until 1975, but the restriction could be circumvented by those with the means to do so through off-shoring:

Many Americans dutifully turned in their meager holdings. But not everyone. Many simply ignored the order, assumed the risks and stashed them away knowing that gold was more valuable than the paper given in exchange. Keeping it literally meant the difference between living or dying for some. There are not significant historical legal records of US citizens being fined or imprisoned for failing to comply. This was the bottom of the depression and average citizens did not have large quantities of gold. Many were jobless, bankrupt and barely surviving; selling pencils and apples on the street corners as so often depicted in the old black and white newsreels from that era. 

But wealthy businessmen, bankers and society elites did own considerable gold. They obviously did not turn in their gold. How do we know? Most of the US mint made gold coins that were in circulation at the time ($2.50, $5.00, $10.00 and $20.00 denominations, but mostly the 10 and 20 dollar coins) were simply shipped off in bags by the thousands to European banks (primarily in Switzerland and Great Britain) for anonymous safekeeping, far away from the reach of US authorities. They simply sat there in darkness and dust buried at the bottom of bank vaults. When gold ownership was again legalized for US citizens in 1975, tons of the coins appeared back on the US market.

In the depths of the Depression, President Roosevelt was attempting to decrease unemployment, raise wages and increase the money supply, but these goals were complicated by the country’s adherence to the gold standard. Gold confiscation allowed for greater concentration of wealth in the hands of the government in order to fund the programmes of the New Deal:

The forced call-in was done not as a punitive measure against gold owners but as a way to enrich the government at the expense of the entire US population, whose purchasing power would be reduced in the future by both inflation and the subsequent devaluation. The government’s new-found wealth supported New Deal programs such as Social Security (1937)….The motivation of the government for a call-in must be to gain some value, not to merely to deprive, discourage or punish investors. In 1933 the purpose was to enable the government to expand the money supply to overcome deflation and to fund the vast social programs of the New Deal, something impossible to do when the country was on the gold standard and the public held significant quantities of gold.

Ironically, the devaluation created an incentive for foreigners to export their gold to the United States, even as many wealthy Americans were preserving their holdings by sending them in the other direction. In combination with domestic confiscation, foreign inflows resulted in a substantial increase in the supply of gold in the hands of the US Treasury:

Even in 1900 the U.S. only held 602 tonnes of gold in reserve. This was 61 tonnes less than Russia and only 57 tonnes more than France. Over the next 20 years countries’ reserves grew as the amount of gold in the market increased and as normal trading occurred. However, in the 1930s there was a sudden shift up in reserves in the U.S. From 1930 to 1940, treasury holdings had tripled, mostly due to foreign investing….The Bank of France also saw over 200 tonnes of gold get transferred to New York following the raising of prices in America.

This in turn allowed for a major expansion of the money supply during the Depression:

The Gold Reserve Act, an act of monetary policy, drastically increased the growth rate of the Gross National Product (GNP) from 1933 to 1941. Between 1933 and 1937 the GNP in the United States grew at an average rate of over 8 percent. This growth in real output is due primarily to a growth in the money supply M1, which grew at an average rate of 10 percent per year between 1933 and 1937. Previously held beliefs about the recovery from the Great Depression held that the growth was due to fiscal policy and the United States’ participation in World War II. “Friedman and Schwartz stated that the ‘rapid rate [of growth of the money stock] in three successive years from June 1933 to June 1936… was a consequence of the gold inflow produced by the revaluation of gold plus the flight of capital to the United States’”. Treasury holdings of gold in the US tripled from 6,358 in 1930 to 8,998 in 1935 (after the Act) then to 19,543 metric tonnes of fine gold by 1940.

The largest inflow of gold during this period was in direct response to the revaluation of gold. An increase in M1, which is a result of an inflow of gold, would also lower real interest rates, thus stimulating the purchases of durable consumer goods by reducing the opportunity cost of spending. If the Gold Reserve Act had not been enacted, and money supply would have followed its historical trend, then real GNP would have been approximately 25 percent lower in 1937 and 50 percent lower in 1942.

For the following forty years, the US government was able to build enormous gold reserves:

Not only did the government remove the incentive for ordinary citizens to hold gold by establishing price and criminal controls over possession, it also changed the rules in the middle of the game allowing it to build up a massive gold hoard of over 8000 tons today which is maintained at Fort Knox, and is, to the best of our knowledge, unauditable by any mere mortal. Critically, it made the US government the sole source and monopoly agent of gold purchases, using reserve fiat currency it could print with impunity, beginning in 1933 and continuing through 1974 when the limitation on gold ownership was repealed after President Gerald Ford signed a bill legalizing private ownership of gold coins, bars and certificates by an act of Congress codified in Pub.L. 93-373, which went into effect December 31, 1974. In summary, the US government, which is now the largest official holder of physical gold in the world, had 40 years of uncontested zero cost gold accumulation.

The gold confiscation of the Depression years has been described as “grabbing private wealth, and using it to try and reboot the system”. At the time, this was motivated by a combination of the gold standard and the holding of gold reserves by a significant fraction of the population:

It is important to realize that the motivation for confiscating gold which existed for FDR in 1933 has largely disappeared. Back then the U.S. was still on the gold standard (the U.K. had been forced off 18 months earlier). So seizing private gold and then devaluing the currency was in fact a 1930s version of quantitative easing. Saving our banks from their stupidity still means swelling the money supply, and hurting cautious savers by devaluing their wealth.

While gold is still hoarded by governments (and increasingly by fast-growing emerging economies), it is only tenuously tied to our currency system as the “foundation” of sovereign reserves. Gold also makes a disappointing asset to grab, especially in the rich but troubled West. Because few people own it compared for instance to real estate (a sitting duck for local government levies and the new talk of “wealth taxes”) or readily-captured financial assets such as pension pots (already so enticing to distressed governments in Argentina, Hungary and Portugal).

The risk of such a confiscation occurring again in modern times is complicated. The rationale for doing so has changed, since the gold standard is no longer operative. So some regard the risk as remote:

To assess the likelihood of confiscation today, we need to look at what the government could gain by calling in privately held gold. My view is that the Federal government has little to gain by calling in gold today and that therefore the likelihood of confiscation is remote. Because the size and cost of the federal government has expanded so much since the 1930’s, and because the quantities of gold currently held by Americans are too small to fund the huge federal budget for more than a few weeks, the government has little to gain by a call-in today. Furthermore, doing so would send the dollar tumbling toward worthlessness, which would be a disaster when so many dollar-denominated bonds are held as central bank reserves by creditor nations like China. So, while confiscation is certainly possible, we consider it unlikely….Investors who are concerned about confiscation today are often assiduous about keeping their purchases from any one dealer small and their holdings secret. Some avoid keeping their gold in a bank safe-deposit box, and some keep their gold in a non-bank vault outside the country.

Others point out that the mechanisms for a modern confiscation still exist:

On March 9, 1933, the statute was amended to declare (as it remains today) that “during time of war or during any other period of national emergency declared by the President,” the President may regulate or prohibit (under such rules and regulations as the President may prescribe) the hoarding of gold bullion.

Other jurisdictions besides the USA also have confiscation mechanisms on the books, albeit presently in suspension. These could quickly be revived if it were thought expedient:

In Australia, part IV of the Banking Act 1959 allows the Commonwealth government to seize private citizens’ gold in return for paper money where the Governor-General “is satisfied that it is expedient so to do, for the protection of the currency or of the public credit of the Commonwealth.” On January 30, 1976, this part’s operation was “suspended”.

Targeting other more prevalent forms of private wealth may well be a more significant risk at this point. Indeed it is already happening in our current era, for instance with the hijacking of pension funds. Expect significant attacks on real estate holdings as well, since this form of wealth is a ‘sitting duck’ to which punitive property taxation can be applied. Unlike the 1930s, however, confiscation of private wealth by the government will not be able to fund a recovery along the lines of the New Deal. The ocean of bad debt is simply too large this time for any amount of confiscated wealth to fill the gap.

Storing gold outside of one’s home country, in order to avoid whatever confiscation risk may exist today, is a consistent theme, exactly as it was in the 1930s:

People can also own gold in ways which make it inaccessible to government decree. In our opinion, a good way to own gold is directly (i.e. not through a trust), in allocated physical form, and offshore, in a place with a strong tradition for protecting international investors’ property.  This makes it a tough target for confiscation by your government, and one that would upset other countries for little reward.  BullionVault stores gold in four separate jurisdictions, all of which have a reasonable (if imperfect) tradition of defending private property rights: London, New York, Zurich and Singapore. There are clear potential benefits to diversifying physical property across international jurisdictions.

Even with the reduced focus on the monetary role of gold in recent times, it is not at all difficult to imagine desperate governments seeking to concentrate ownership in their own hands. This would not be a simple matter, but it would be extremely naive to presume that the attempt would not be made. Ultimately, consolidation of central control over money is the goal, and that requires preventing capital preservation by the public:

Since gold acts as a stand-alone asset that is not another’s liability, it functioned as an effective store of value prior to 1933 for those who either converted a portion of their capital to gold bullion or withdrew their savings from the banking system in the form of gold coins before the crisis struck. Those who did not have gold as part of their savings plan found themselves at the mercy of events when the stock market crashed and the banks closed their doors (many of which had already been bankrupted)….

….That, by the way, is the primary reason governments tend to restrict gold ownership when confronted with widespread bank runs and failing financial markets. Governments seize gold not because they need the money; they seize it to cut off the escape route and force capital flows back into banks and financial markets. As an aside, that is precisely the reason why governments have an interest in controlling the price of gold. Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, it has been copiously reported, once said, “Gold is my enemy. I’m always watching what it is doing.”…Gold, in the end, is not just competition for the dollar; it is competition for bank deposits, stocks and bonds most particularly during times of economic stress — and that is the source of enduring interest among policy-makers.

As Alan Greenspan wrote in 1966, gold represents economic freedom. It is economic independence – the ability to opt out of the system – which is inimical to the Ponzi dynamics upon which the system is based. Ponzi schemes require continued buy-in, therefore buy-in becomes less and less optional over time, as the potential lack of it becomes an ever greater threat to an increasingly tenuous credit expansion. Credit expansion actively requires that there be no safe store of value, and therefore no true independence:

In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holding illegal, as was done in the case of gold. If everyone decided, for example, to convert all his bank deposits to silver or copper or any other good, and thereafter declined to accept checks as payment for goods, bank deposits would lose their purchasing power and government-created bank credit would be worthless as a claim on goods. The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights.

Greenspan’s focus is on government spending and the welfare state, but this is far too narrow a focus. Public spending and debt is much less of an issue than private credit expansion and debt. The bulk of the Ponzi scheme requiring continued buy-in is based in the private sector, in derivatives and shadow banking. This is the heart of the credit expansion that governments are required by their Big Capital paymasters to protect. Regulations preventing independence and opting-out result from pervasive regulatory capture. The system creates artificial scarcity and rationing on price, forcing the population to obtain the essentials of its own existence through ever greater amounts of borrowing, and in doing so pay its dues to the system as it keeps the credit expansion going. The end comes when the debt overhang is so large that it can no longer be serviced, even by all the income streams of the productive economy which credit expansion has so thoroughly parasitized. The supply of willing borrowers and lenders dries up, and the game is over.

It is not simply deficit spending which amounts to a confiscation of wealth, but the global credit Ponzi scheme which has generated a vast excess of claims to underlying real wealth. As we have pointed out many times before at the Automatic Earth, those excess claims will be invalidated in the coming financial crisis. People will be trying to protect and fulfil their claims, but larger entities will be trying to prevent them from doing so. Under such circumstances, an attempt at gold confiscation, even in the absence of a gold standard, seems to be a very real threat.

Putting Gold Ownership in Perspective

Gold ownership is not a panacea, nor a guarantee of security. It could even represent a threat to personal security. Confiscation is a distinct possibility during a substantial economic contraction. At least gold, unlike real estate, is, for the time being, capable of being transferred to another jurisdiction for remote storage. The risk, of course, is whether or not it might be possible to reclaim it from another location at some point in the future, given that the degree of upheaval is likely to be larger this time than in the 1930s, and that possession is nine tenths of the law.

If stored remotely, its usefulness in the meantime would be very limited. If concealed locally under a confiscation scenario, rather than held in a foreign ‘secure facility’, it may still be extremely difficult and dangerous to exchange for anything of more immediate value, such as cash, or essential supplies. Even with the best forethought, gold ownership is no guarantee of wealth preservation in a major depression. Depressions are not times when much of anything can be guaranteed. 

Gold represents an extremely concentrated source of value, and it is not always advisable to own that which others are very highly motivated to obtain for themselves. Being too close to a highly concentrated source of value is comparable to being too close to the centre of power. If everyone wants what you have, having it creates substantial risks in its own right, and creates a need to manage those additional risks. Where risk management would become too complex or expensive, taking the risk in the first place may not be the best course of action. Other lower risk strategies, with better risk management potential, may be preferable.

The advisability of owning gold would depend very much on one’s own personal circumstances. There are many things one would wish to secure first, before pondering gold as an option. Cash will temporarily be king in a deflationary scenario, where a systemic banking crisis is increasingly likely. As we have seen in Cyprus, for instance, a country can be forced to revert to a cash-only economy very rapidly, meaning that access to cash would be critical for obtaining supplies not already in storage. Supplies cannot normally be purchased directly with gold, and if cash is exceptionally scarce, the cash price for distressed gold sales would not be high. 

While all fiat currencies are destined to die eventually, and competitive devaluation currency wars have indeed already begun, cash will nevertheless be necessary during the period of deleveraging, and is likely to see its purchasing power rise substantially in relation to goods and services domestically. The falling prices characteristic of deflationary times, as prices follow a contracting money supply to the downside, amount to  bull market in cash, for those lucky enough to have some. However, as the vast majority of the money supply is credit rather than physical cash, and ephemeral credit is going to disappear under such circumstances, little cash will remain, and relatively few will have any unless they have secured it in advance.

Following the destruction of much of the money supply with the evaporation of credit, those with very scarce cash would be less an less likely to want to part with it as the value of access to liquidity rises. What little actual cash remains is likely to be hoarded, so that very little cash circulates.

In other words, the velocity of money is going to fall much further than it already has. Obtaining cash will become very difficult, even as the need for it becomes acute. Supplies could be exchanged for gold, but under a scenario where such a thing might be necessary, distressed gold exchange would not result in as many supplies as one might think. Cash on hand will be more important in the initial stages of a financial crisis than gold, as it is cash that confers freedom of action, including the freedom to seize opportunities presented. 

The argument relating to cash does have caveats however, in that where currency re-issue is a substantial risk in the short term, holding much of such a currency makes much less sense. This is clearly the case in the European Union, where the single currency is already under threat and national currencies are arguably likely to be revived within the foreseeable future. 

Another higher priority than gold ownership would be the elimination of debt. Debt repayments create a structural dependence on cash flow at a time when cash will likely be very difficult to come by. Eliminating debt will remove this requirement for cash and secure important assets, such as homes, from the potential for foreclosure. A debt servicing requirement at a time when debt servicing is becoming increasingly difficult (due to high unemployment, falling salaries, rising taxation and pay-as-you-go services), would be a factor in forcing distressed gold sales at much lower prices than one would get today. In addition, the burden of debt will rise as the increasing perception of risk creates a move towards much higher interest rates. This will compound the potential for distressed gold sales.

Obtaining critical supplies and control over the essentials of one’s own existence would also be a higher priority than gold ownership. Securing access to food, water, energy and other essentials would confer relative peace of mind, and also reduce the need for cash going forward. Ultimately, one cannot eat gold. Also, while prices fall in a deflation, volatile currency inter-relationships are going to affect the price of imported goods, meaning that not all prices will necessarily fall, where imported goods are denominated in weak currencies. Imports could rise in price, or cease to be available at all as the evaporation of credit undermines international trade, hence certain imported goods should be obtained as a matter of priority.

In addition, a good strategy could be the establishment of a business dealing in essential goods and services, with local supply chains and local distribution networks. Returns will typically be low in comparison to the returns one might be used to from financial speculation, but the risks will also be much lower, and will be far more manageable with a certain amount of forethought. Deploying a certain amount of capital in the real economy today in order to set up such ventures could secure a vital source of income in the future, as well as providing a means of maintaining essential social stability in uncertain times. This would be a far better use of resources than purchasing a hoard of gold. Business risks during a liquidity crunch would be very large, so a substantial operating cushion would probably be required, however.

For ordinary people, having cash on hand, getting out of debt and securing access to essential supplies is likely to push them to, or beyond, their financial limits. They may need to pool resources with family or friends in order to be able to accomplish these goals, or make hard choices between them. Gold ownership makes little sense unless these hurdles have already been crossed. It represents an insurance policy for those who can afford to own it, but such insurance is a luxury that will not be available to all.

Those who can afford the luxury of insurance are likely to be those who have all higher priority issues already addressed and who can afford to sit on their gold for perhaps twenty years without relying on the value it represents in the meantime. In other words, the benefit of gold ownership would accrue to those who would not need to make distressed sales over the next few years when gold prices would be very depressed – those who are wealthy enough not to have to make hard choices between competing basic priorities. 

For those who can afford to hold gold for the long term, and who are lucky enough to have found a secure and trustworthy storage mechanism in the meantime, gold will hold its value in terms of goods. One can buy approximately the same number of loaves of bread for an ounce of gold as one could have done during the Roman Empire. At that time an ounce of gold would have bought a good toga, and now it would buy a good suit.

It represents a long term store of value for those who are both wealthy enough to own it, and lucky enough to keep it, but this will be a very small minority. For most people, wealth will be measured not in terms of gold, but in terms of far more prosaic, but far more essential commodities and skills. For most people, wealth will not be measured in terms of having something inert to bury in a hole in the ground, or to send abroad for someone else to bury in an armoured hole in the ground.

The real value of gold will always be difficult to establish, as that relative value will always depend on prevailing circumstances, and so many of those circumstances will be subject to rapid change in the coming era of extreme volatility:

And you will put lightning in a bottle before you figure out what gold is really worth. With greenhorns in gold starting to figure all this out, the price has gotten tarnished. It is time to call owning gold what it is: an act of faith….Own gold if you feel you must, but admit honestly that you are relying on hope and imagination. Because gold, unlike stocks, bonds, real estate and other financial assets, generates no income, valuing it is all but impossible. It’s intrinsically worthless or intrinsically priceless. You can build a financial model to value it, but every input is going to be your imagination.

Aug 262015
 
 August 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

Look, it’s very clear where I stand on China; I’ve written a lot about it. And not just recently. Nicole Foss, who fully shares my views on the topic, reminded me the other day of a piece I wrote in July 2012, named Meet China’s New Leader : Pon Zi. China has been a giant lying debt bubble for years. Much if not most of its growth ‘miracle’ was nothing but a huge credit expansion, with an outsize role for the shadow banking system.

A lot of this has remained underreported in western media, probably because its reporters were afraid, for one reason or another, to shatter the global illusion that the western financial fiasco could be saved from utter mayhem by a country producing largely trinkets. Even today I read a Bloomberg article that claims China’s Q1 GDP growth was 7%. You’re not helping, boys, other than to keep a dream alive that has long been exposed as false.

China’s stock markets have a long way to fall further yet. This little graph from the FT shows why. The Shanghai Composite closed down another 1.27% today at 2,927.29 points. If it ‘only’ returns to its -early- 2014 levels, it has another 30% or so to go to the downside. If inflation correction is applied, it may fall to 1,000 points, for a 60% or so ‘correction’. If we move back 10 or 20 years, well, you get the picture.

That is a bursting bubble. Not terribly unique or mind-blowing, bubbles always burst. However, in this instance, the entire world will be swept out to sea with it. More money-printing, even if Beijing would attempt it, no longer does any good, because the Politburo and central bank aura’s of infallibility and omnipotence have been pierced and debunked. Yesterday’s cuts in interest rates and reserve requirement ratios (RRR) are equally useless, if not worse, if only because while they may provide a short term additional illusion, they also spell loud and clear that the leadership admits its previous measures have been failures. Emperor perhaps, but no clothes.

Every additional measure after this, and there will be many, will take off more of the power veneer Xi and Li have been ‘decorated’ with. Zero Hedge last night quoted SocGen on the precisely this topic: how Beijing painted itself into a corner on the RRR issue, while simultaneously spending fortunes in foreign reserves.

The Most Surprising Thing About China’s RRR Cut

[..] how does one reconcile China’s reported detachment from manipulating the stock market having failed to prop it up with the interest rate cut announcement this morning. The missing piece to the puzzle came from a report by SocGen’s Wai Yao, who first summarized the total liquidity addition impact from today’s rate hike as follows “the total amount of liquidity injected will be close to CNY700bn, or $106bn based on today’s onshore exchange rate.” And then she explained just why the PBOC was desperate to unlock this amount of liquidity: it had nothing to do with either the stock market, nor the economy, and everything to do with the PBOC’s decision from two weeks ago to devalue the Yuan. To wit:

In perspective, the PBoC may have sold more official FX reserves than this amount since the currency regime change on 11 August.

Said otherwise, SocGen is suggesting that China has sold $106 billion in Treasurys in the past 2 weeks! And there is the punchline. It explains why the PBOC did not cut rates over the weekend as everyone expected, which resulted in a combined 16% market rout on Monday and Tuesday – after all, the PBOC understands very well what the trade off to waiting was, and it still delayed until today by which point the carnage in local stocks was too much. Great enough in fact for China to not have eased if stabilizing the market was not a key consideration.

In other words, today’s RRR cut has little to do with net easing considerations, with the market, or the economy, and everything to do with a China which is suddenly dumping a record amount of reserves as it scrambles to stabilize the Yuan, only this time in the open market!

The battle to stabilise the currency has had a significant tightening effect on domestic liquidity conditions. If the PBoC wants to stabilise currency expectations for good, there are only two ways to achieve this: complete FX flexibility or zero FX flexibility. At present, the latter is also increasingly unviable, since the capital account is much more open. Therefore, the PBoC has merely to keep selling FX reserves until it lets go.

And since it can’t let go now that it has started off on this path, or rather it can but only if it pulls a Swiss National Bank and admit FX intervention defeat, the one place where the PBOC can find the required funding to continue the FX war is via such moves as RRR cuts.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, too, touches on the subject of China’s free-falling foreign reserves.

China Cuts Rates To Stem Crisis, But Doubts Grow On Foreign Reserve Buffer

The great unknown is exactly how much money has been leaving the country since the PBOC stunned markets by ditching its dollar exchange peg on August 11, and in doing so set off a global crash. Some reports suggest that the PBOC has already burned through $200bn in reserves since then. If so, this would require a much bigger cut in the RRR just to maintain a neutral setting. Wei Yao said the strategy of the Chinese authorities is unworkable in the long run.

If they keep trying to defend the exchange rate, they will continue to bleed reserves and will have to keep cutting the RRR in lockstep just to prevent further tightening. They may let the currency go, but that too is potentially dangerous. She said China can use up another $900bn before hitting safe limits under the IMF’s standard metric for developing states.

“The PBOC’s war chest is sizeable, but not unlimited. It is not a good idea to keep at this battle of currency stabilisation for too long,” she said. Citigroup has also warned that China’s reserves – still the world’s largest at $3.65 trillion but falling fast – are not as overwhelming as they appear, given the levels of short-term external debt. The border line would be $2.6 trillion. “There are reasons to question the robustness of China’s reserves adequacy. By emerging market standards China’s reserves adequacy is low: only South Africa, Czech Republic and Turkey have lower scores in the group of countries we examined,” it said.

It is a dangerous game they play, that much should be clear. And you know what China bought those foreign reserves with in the first place? With freshly printed monopoly money. Which is the same source from which the Vinny the Kneecapper shadow loans originated that every second grandma signed up to in order to purchase ghost apartments and shares of unproductive companies.

And that leads to another issue I’ve touched upon countless times: I can’t see how China can NOT descend into severe civil unrest. The government at present attempts to hide its impotence and failures behind the arrest of all sorts of scapegoats, but Xi and Li themselves should, and probably will, be accused at some point. They’ve gambled away a lot of what made their country function, albeit not at American or European wealth levels.

If the Communist Party had opted for what is sometimes labeled ‘organic’ growth (I’m not a big afficionado of the term), instead of ‘miracle’ Ponzi ‘growth’, if they had not to such a huge extent relied on Vinny the Kneecapper to provide the credit that made everything ‘grow’ so miraculously, their country would not be in such a bind. It would not have to deleverage at the same blinding speed it ostensibly grew at since 2008 (at the latest).

There are still voices talking about the ‘logical’ aim of Beijing to switch its economy from one that is export driven to one in which the Chinese consumer herself is the engine of growth. Well, that dream, too, has now been found out to be made of shards of shattered glass. The idea of a change towards a domestic consumption-driven economy is being revealed as a woeful disaster.

And that has always been predictable; you can’t magically turn into a consumer-based economy by blowing bubbles first in property and then in stocks, and hope people’s profits in both will make them spend. Because the whole endeavor was based from the get-go on huge increases in debt, the just as predictable outcome is, and will be even much more, that people count their losses and spend much less in the local economy. While those with remaining spending power purchase property in the US, Britain, Australia. And go live there too, where they feel safe(r).

I fear for the Chinese citizen. Not so much for Xi and Li. They will get what they deserve.